emunah, tefillah, a little mussar, and a shmeck of geula

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Stick

Most of us are familiar with the moshal that compares the way we react to the events in our lives, be they big or small, to a dog barking at a stick being wielded against it.

A dog is not blessed with a wide angle view of life, so it goes after the stick because it is incapable of seeing past it in terms of a cause and effect cheshbon.  We are, Boruch Hashem, cut from different cloth in that we clearly apprehend that everything in this world comes from Hashem.

So why is it that we are constantly angry at the stick?

Unlike the dog, we never see Anyone holding it.  If we did, we would no doubt do a lot better than a dog in zeroing in on the cause of our discomfort.  The “sticks” in our lives are physically detached from the One that wields them, and as a consequence thereof, we all too often fail to fill in the spiritual blanks in our field of visual understanding.  And so we lash out at the stick, be it a spouse, a neighbor, a flat tire, a boss or a migraine, missing the essential point of the encounter in the process.

And as Rav Brevda tells us, we also make the mistake of thinking that this is a world of smooth sailing and menucha, so when we hit a speed bump, the proper Torah hashkafa relevant to the situation at hand may well find itself on the endangered species list leaving all eyes locked on the “stick” bereft of the means of dancing around it.

But there is yet another reason.

The bomb craters of life notwithstanding, most of our “stick” encounters come in small doses, and Rabbi Lazer Brody tells us that we terminally fail to see the brocha inherent in these tiny tribulations, which he says are worth their weight in gold.

Where we see a stick we should be seeing a life preserver.

Instead of being upset at the petty irritations that have come our way we should be makker tov to Hashem for sending them.  Tosfos in Nedarim lists the four greatest requests that we should be asking Hashem, and one of them is that we shouldn’t be blind.

So what do you think about when your ophthalmologist tells you that you need stronger glasses?  The inconvenience of the visit and how much it cost you to park the car or that you can see, and when that prescription is filled you will see even better?

You sprained your ankle, and it’s in a cast?  A real bummer, isn’t it?  Are you fixated on your sprained ankle to the exclusion of being makker tov to Hashem for the fact that you don’t have diabetes and have not lost any toes on that foot?

It is an emotional imperative that we see Hashem in the “stick” of the tiny tribulations that invariably get to know us on a first name basis.  As Rabbi Brody relates, these tiny tribulations can run interference for us only if we accept them with a smile and emunah, and if we do so we are spared tribulations that are 5,000 times worse.

Truth be told, the moshal of the dog barking at the stick is somewhat anemic because a dog, for its part, is not endowed with the ability to connect the dots.

What exactly is our excuse?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Samayach B'Chelko

It’s one who is satisfied with his lot, is it not?

But Chazal teach us that if a person has one hundred he wants two hundred. And in another place they tell us that a person doesn’t leave this world with half his desires fulfilled.

So who then is really samayach b’chelko?

Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg z”l, explains that when Pirkei Avos asks, Who is Rich, it is a major mistake to translate it as one who is satisfied with his lot, because he says that one who is satisfied with his lot is dead.

Who is Rich more correctly refers to someone who takes pleasure and joy in his life.  He would like a little bit more to be sure, but he’s not suffering without it.  He is samayach b’chelko because he is joyous over his lot in life, though not necessarily satisfied with it.  His focus is qualitative, not quantitative for his thoughts are permeated with what he’s blessed with as opposed to the raw calculation of what he’s got, which might lead one to pine for what he’s missing.

Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg z”l, asks:  So how does one achieve the character trait of joyousness anyway?

We create it.

And with this we part company with the nations of the world, who look to outside stimuli to forge their happiness, because joyousness is not something external to ourselves.  It’s not to be found hither and yon in what comes to us from the outside world. It is rather in how we deal internally with life’s externalities that will define the parameters of our joyousness.

Rabbi Weinberg is telling us here that the essential ingredient of our happiness is not what happens to us but rather what happens within us.

It’s all about whom and what we are, and we write our own ticket.  And if we write it in indelible ink, then our sense of joy will be such that even when we suffer pain in any of its manifestations, be it physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, etc., we will not lose sight of the essential goodness of our lives.

One who is samayach b’chelko may well be dissatisfied with the pain in his life, but he doesn’t allow that pain to take over and become the center of his life.  The pain can be pain, but it doesn’t take way from the joyousness inherent in a life in which everyday blessings are counted like pearls. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Why Me?

When was the last time you asked Hashem this question when things were going well for you?  Better yet, when was the first time?

But when our expectations take a left at the fork of Life’s road rather then the anticipated right, Why Me is the de rigueur kasha on what we perceive to be somewhat of an unjust breakdown in the order of things.

Virtually all of us suffer to one degree or another from Life Expectation Syndrome, which can be loosely defined as, something that usually happens is expected to continue happening with no questions asked.  

The fact is that most babies are born without incident so we expect no less.  For every car stuck on the Long Island Expressway with a flat or worse hundreds of cars are passing by unscathed (ever so slowly) toward their destinations.  And so on for every facet of our lives including ruchniyas.

And so we consider it quite natural to seek a normative existence, and in doing so we bottom out on a humongous speed bump called reality because in Hashem’s world, which just happens to be the only game in town, nothing that takes place should be considered as normal.

Rav Dessler tells us in Michtav Me-Eliyahu that the difference between nes and teva is the frequency of occurrence.  The caterpillar that morphs itself into a butterfly is nothing less than Techias Ha Meisim, and yet, our collective jaw doesn’t drop upon beholding this phenomenon because due to its predictability and frequency we consider it to be a phenomenon of Nature.

But Rav Dessler’s differentiation between nes and teva was only meant as a labeling mechanism for these two phenomena, for in reality the two are actually one because everything is a miracle.

You woke up today?  Is this not a miracle of miracles?  You were for all practical purposes dead because a person can’t live without a neshama and you didn’t get yours back until you woke up.

So did you say why me?

And even the Modeh Ani that you did say, when you said the words, were you makker tov to Hashem for yet another opportunity to make something of yourself or were you too preoccupied with yawning?

Life Expectation Syndrome has no application in a world where everything is a miracle because miracles follow no order of things within the realm of our understanding.  That they seem to is only to cover up the fact that they are, in fact, miracles.

If we truly understood that everything that happens to us is a nes, and I mean everything,  then our entire worldview would flip one hundred and eighty degrees, and we would be amazed when things went well, and not the other way round.  It may be one thing to expect to ride a Life merry-go-round that has been in motion forever, but it’s something else altogether to expect a nes to be done for one’s self as if it were an entitlement.  

And if we’re not so brazen as to take nissim for granted as we presently do Nature, then when things occasionally go south in our lives we won’t say why me because having no expectations, we will have no kashes.

And having no expectations, there can be only one response when one of life’s miracles puts a smile on our face:

Why me?

Living With Hashem

In EmunahSpeak: The Call of the Hour  we said that Rav Wolbe states in his sefer, Ali Shur, that emunah is a reality, not a concept.  It is the purpose of creation and the foundation of existence.  It’s our life preserver to which we cling with a vice like grip. 

And it’s also as close as we’ll ever get to Jewish body armor because a life with Emunah is a life that is not affected by death, by difficulty or by challenge.  There is always the knowledge that it’s with Hashem, and therefore it can’t be that bad.

In fact, Emunah is actually a way of thinking.  As Rav Wolbe also teaches us in Ali Shur, a person who looks at the world with the mindset of Emunah looks for the Hashgacha Pratis in everything.  He sees Hashem in “Nature” and in every historical event.

And as Rabbi Moshe Hauer puts it, if Emunah is the way we see the world in the tog taiglach of our every day existence then it will be there for us when we really need it, and the proposition that we are all going to need it sooner than soon was, after all, the premise of EmunahSpeak: The Call of the Hour.

Rabbi Hauer also tells us as per Rav Kook that the perspective of Emunah is the opposite of blind faith.  It’s a perspective of being able to see things with a perfect clarity because Emunah is not an intellectual conclusion.  It’s not even a regesh.  There is a live connection (Neshama) inside each of us that is part of Hashem that Hashem blew into us.  And that piece that is in us knows that there is Hashem out there.  It feels it and it knows it viscerally.  Navuah (Navi) means to be able to see Hashem, and Emunah is a piece of navuah.

It comes out that a ba’al Emunah is a person that knows with a certainty that Hashem is here, which culminates in a palpable feeling of living with Hashem.  Given Emunah’s spiritual essence,  he eschews the use of physical eyes and material yardsticks because a person can’t achieve Emunah in this world if he is holding up Hashem to material tests, nor should we measure our success in life by our physical experiences which tend to collide with Emunah.

Emunah also brings us to an understanding that this is not a happenstance world in which things occur solely by chance in an unending procession of “accidents.”

Appearances aside, we are not stuck in situations, we are placed in them. We are where we need to be.  The question asked by the ba’al Emunah is not, why this is happening to me, but rather what should I do now that it is.

The tachliss of this world as seen through eyes of Emunah is to turn fate into destiny.

Rabbi Hauer adds that when you walk around looking for Hashem, Hashem meets your gaze.  By seeking Hashem, and only Hashem, you are acknowledging Ein Od Milvado, that there is nothing other than Hashem.  And those who believe Ein Od Milvado in their bones will be provided protection when, in difficult times, they say Ein Od Milvado to maintain presence of mind.

Such are the rewards of those who walk this earth with the palpable feeling of living with Hashem.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Kol Isha

In "We’re Out of Stock" we ventured a few thoughts as to what may be driving at least part of the Shidduchim “crisis.”  Right or wrong, the focus of that piece was on a tevadik explanation of how we got to where we are, which for all too many girls is nebach nowhere r”l.  But tevadik explanations, as insightful as they may be on occasion, can not be expected to caress the bottom line of a problem that is solely a function of nissim without a shmeck of teva in sight.

It’s no less a nes for a top Brisker bochur, whose father happens to have more money than Bill Gates, to marry a Bais Yaakov princess charming than for a thirty-five year old dirt poor adopted girl in a wheel chair from twice divorced parents to marry a thirty-six year old Talmud Chochim who amazingly seemed to appear out of nowhere.  It’s all one and the same. 

Nissim only come in one size.  They're not easier nor are they harder.  They just are.

So how exactly does one caress the bottom line of a nes anyway? 

For this particular nes, the nes that will morph the angst laden tears of the Bnos Yisroel, both individually and collectively, into a baby’s tear trickling ever so slowly half way down his cheek, in juxtaposition to the smile induced by his mother’s soft kiss, we should be davening, and that’s pretty much all we should be doing.  After all, if it's all about nissim then it’s all about davening.  How else should one throw the Divine Presence into gear?

But isn’t everything a function of nissim?  As we said in EmunahSpeak: So Who are You Relying on…, doing one’s hishtadlus amounts to nothing more than answering “present” at Life’s roll call because Hashem does 100% of everything, not the 97% you didn’t do.

If everything is nissim, then what’s so special about the nissim inherent in the shidduchim process, and why is davening the only ticket to a destination, one stop past the shidduchim “crisis?”

The everyday nissim that Hashem causes to be subsumed into Nature are overwhelmingly not a contradiction to Teva, and that’s exactly the reason so few of us can see the Yad Hashem in the natural order of things.  At the other extreme are the Imahos who were more than barren.  They were actually born without reproductive organs.  The nissim that were done on their behalf didn’t go lost in Nature; they went into Nature’s face instead.  But no less miraculous was the means by which their nissim were put into play.  Hashem wanted to hear their davening.  And to that end He put the existence of Klal Yisroel on hold until such time as their davening broke Divine glass.

And it’s no different by shidduchim, or rather by the nes of shidduchim, because Hashem wants to hear the davening of those in this generation who are seeking a shidduch no less than He wanted the davening of the Imahos.  And like the Imahos, those who are davening for a shidduch are in essence davening for the ultimate fruits of that shidduch, the only substantive difference being the time frame, with davening for a shidduch commencing a little further upstream in the process. 

So it comes out that today’s Bnos Yisroel are standing in the shoes of the Imahos; they are also davening for children and they are not being answered.  But the problem, as such, is that while they may be standing in the shoes of the Imahos, vis รก vis their respective madreigas it will take the davening of our entire generation (men included) to hit the high note of the Tefilla of the Imahos.

Not only does it qualitatively make sense that it would take all of us to replicate in some fashion the effect that their davening had in Shomayim, but it happens to be quantitatively seicheldik also.

After all, the Imahos were actually their entire generation, each one in her own Dor.

We asked above: “If everything is nissim, then what’s so special about the nissim inherent in the shidduchim process?”

According to Rashi, even though all of Creation was set in place before Man was created, it was as if had been flash frozen.  Nothing happened until Adam davened for rain, and when he did his tefillos threw the whole Teva into motion.

Man  preceded the Teva as we know it; a Teva that is a study in divinely inspired animation. Therefore, a shidduch whose bottom line goal is to replicate the creation of Man is somewhat unique in its relation to nissim because it is part and parcel of a world that was nissim and only nissim without any Tevadik distractions.