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

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Missing the Message

Virtually all of us, somewhere in our lives, have to deal with those who can be charitably described as being difficult.  And for most, it’s practically a cradle to grave experience.

Be it a close relative, teacher, co-worker, roommate or simply the guy that sits next to you in shul, the one who thinks that Hashem is deaf; we are constantly challenged, if not assaulted, by people whose behavior runs decidedly south of the norm.

So how do we react?

Some of us (ME) don’t do well with this sort of thing.  We tend towards a somewhat less than tolerant view of our fellow man if he is thought to be other than normal as defined by us.  Whereas the more egalitarian disposed amongst us see little more than the quirks and idiosyncrasies that are nuts and bolts of what might benignly be thought of as eccentric behavior, we get fixated on the sundry abnormalities that confront us to the exclusion of all other considerations.

We are admonished to go with the flow of the yissurim that we encounter in the course of our lives as opposed to kicking back at it, and yet that’s exactly what we do with the emotional yissurim that come our way as a by-product of our relationships with people perceived to be difficult.

In EmunahSpeak: The Stick we spoke about 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.

We asked there: why is it that we (who should know better) are constantly angry at the stick?

And we answered that: 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.

So if we're reacting to everything that comes our way as opposed to discerning its underlying message, what then is the difference between the challenges presented by the difficult ones amongst us and the everyday stuff that gets in our face?

Those things to which we react adversely in the every day give and take of our existence are more or less speed bumps on an otherwise fairly smooth road. Not so vis รก vis those that challenge us by their very existence. Speed bumps are not the exception.  They’re the default position, and we react accordingly by being in permanent anticipation mode.  Rather than wait for a shoe to drop, we act as if it already did.

Dr. Dovid Lieberman directs our focus where it should be when he tells us that it is our responsibility to perceive the wider reality which is that Hashem is speaking to us through every person and situation.  While this is certainly true for all people as was pointed out above, as far as the difficult ones are concerned, Hashem never stops talking.

The truth, says Dr. Lieberman, is that such relationships are a very common area in which people often miss the message by focusing on the messenger instead because they don't understand that difficult people are not in our lives to add to our woes, but to help us.

Rather than get aggravated by the people who don’t act normally, we should be reflecting on what lesson can learned from such encounters or relationships by asking:

Nu?  So what does Hashem want from me now?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Tefillah Chronicles (a second look)

Reflections on the DIVINE Dialogue

Way back in September, in the run up to Rosh Hashana, we posted four pieces in seven days, and somehow this one got lost in the shuffle.  For all those whose heads were buried in their Tehillim's last Elul, here's what you missed:

Three steps back, a perfunctory nod to the left followed by one to the right, a few mumbled words facing forward and you’re but two words away from shlepping through yet one more Shemoneh Esrei.  Those two words are V’eemru ahmain, and at this point Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z”l suggests that one reflect on the kind of Amidah he just davened.


Most of us, nebach, were mentally past the last two words before we even uttered the first two.  So now with but two words to go to the finish line we’re supposed to slam on the brakes to bring the express to a halt and reflect, as if we were philosophers, on the davening we just blew through at warp speed.

What’s so important about these two words anyway?

If people actually understood that they were addressing malachim (one good and one bad), and asking them to say AMEN to the nineteen pit stops that served as way stations during their five minute trek across the expanse of their spaced out universe, they might be too ashamed to finish the Shemoneh Esrei.

More specifically, we are asking the malachim to sign off on our ruminations over the stock market in Boreich Aleinu, our reflections on the Yankees in Shema Koleinu, the deal that slipped through our fingers in Re’ay, and the deal we hope to make today in Modim, to name but a few of our imaginative wanderings.

Okay, so most of us are somewhere else when we’re davening Shemoneh Esrei, and we’re not that picky about it either.  Apparently, anyplace will do, the only criteria being that we wind up “there” as opposed to “here.”

The irony, of course, is that those who are focused on their davening are also someplace else.  Proper d’veikus and kavanah means going to another planet.  Those who do it right aren’t here during that time either.

It’s quite unbelievable when you think about it.  We call it Tefillah B’Tzibur but everyone’s “there” in one form or the other, except for the two malachim.  They’re here, and they are waiting for those last two words.  The good news, however, is that they aren’t all that makpid.

If your mind took you to a place where you talked to Hashem, they will answer your Amen with one of their own.  But if you drifted off to a place (or rather places) where the whole world talked to you, fugetaboutit.

You’ll get another chance to change addresses at Mincha.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Punching the "Plan A" Time Clock

In EmunahSpeak: PLAN B we noted that our self-absorption notwithstanding, the truth is that this is a theocentric world, which requires us to understand that what we propose to do is actually Plan B.  All that other stuff: the flats, the medical emergencies etc. is in reality Plan A, because it obviously reflects the Yad Hashem which is manifesting itself in our lives.

It’s all a matter of focus.

It’s all about looking at life’s curve balls as the real Plan A rather the ruination of what we thought was Plan A.

Our plans, short range or long are put forth as the manifestation of our collective egos.  It is all about us: what we propose, how we see it, what we would like etc.  It all comes down to this:  We spend virtually every day of our entire lives writing a ticket that may well end up as Plan B at Hashem’s discretion if He doesn’t choose to punch it, whereas the reality that supplants our intentions, be they worthy or otherwise, is revealed after the fact as the true Plan A.

I am beginning to think that maybe we are more prolific writers than we would have ever imagined.

It could well be that in certain instances, specifically concerning the speed bumps that we hit in the course of our daily routine that are no more than time wasters, such as being stuck in traffic and the like, that we essentially write the script notwithstanding the fact that its very existence is put into play by Hashem to thwart the one in which we were emotionally invested.

How so?

Sometimes, the reality show that ends up getting stamped as Plan A is a snapshot of the Ribbono Shel Olam’s principle of midda keneged midda in the context of what you do with your time.

If you are the polar opposite of one who moves with alacrity to do Hashem’s will, in that you are terminally late for davening or learning, and/or you waste much of your actual face time in the aforementioned and similar mitzvah oriented activities, maybe Hashem pays you back by wasting even more of your time.  And it’s not just limited to the ruchniyas aspects of our lives.  Anything you do, or to be more precise, don’t do in terms of what proper hishtadlus would require in any given situation would be grist for a midda keneged midda lost time payback.

To the extent that this is true it comes out that we ultimately write our own ticket on many of life’s petty, time wasting irritations.  Ironically, we set in motion the very forces that dumb down our aspirations to Plan B status by inadvertently signing at the bottom line of what Hashem has seen fit to present us with as Plan A.