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

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Someone’s Knockin’

We live in a very fateful generation.  It’s a twilight generation, something akin to bein hashmashos.

The period of radiance has passed, and we already hear the sounds of what is to come.  Moreover, we are living in a period when even looking out the window can be dangerous.

Someone who is wise can already hear a voice calling out from Shomayim.

These are the words of Rav Shimshon Pincus z”l, and whether or not he had even heard of the Internet when he said them, he was already seeing past it.

In EmunahSpeak: The Call of the Hour, we quoted HaRav HaGaon Moshe Wolfson as saying that every generation has its mitzvah, and that ours is emunah.  This is where the battle lines will be drawn between every Jew as an individual and the Satan/Yetzer Hora in whatever form it chooses to manifest itself at any given time. 

And the main thrust of that piece was that it is not a coincidence that a number of very serious seforim on emunah in English have been published in the last few years by some very great people.  One of the common threads running through all of these works is the sensitivity of their authors to what they perceive to be the call of the hour.  All of them, including Rav Wolfson, as articulated in his shiurim on emunah, concur that the tenacity of the Satan’s thrust at the emunah infused jugular of every Jew will put us to the same challenges with which Hashem tested Avraham Aveinu.

They have independently come to the conclusion that it is a matter of pikuach nefesh for this last generation before Moshiach to seriously strengthen its emunah in order to stay the course for what’s coming our way.

Simply put, we’re headed for a very bumpy ride, and if we don’t buckle up with emunah we risk being thrown from this world.

We also noted in EmunahSpeak: Living With Hashem, that 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.

Our tachlis, as seen through eyes of Emunah, is to turn into destiny the fate that is subsumed in what Rav Pincus z”l has referred to as this very fateful generation.

Hashem changes the times, and in consideration thereof Rav Pincus  held that we must be cognizant of what is going on around us so as to be able to devise corrective strategies.  

And he didn’t mean keeping on top of the news because he constantly spoke out against wasting time reading newspapers and such.

Being cognizant of what’s going on around us as per Rav Pincus refers to those times when Hashem shows His hand, be it ever so subtly.

As we also said in EmunahSpeak: Living With Hashem, 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.

In other words, what are our marching orders?

It’s essential to ratchet up the staying power of our Emunah so as to brace ourselves to stand firm come what may, no matter how difficult the circumstances.  But it’s not enough.

We must go on offense.

Our marching orders, as per Rav Pincus z”l, are that we should do Teshuva and swing the whole world to the side of merit.

So why are we leaving Hashem out of the cheshbon?  

He reminds us that the foundation of Judaism that was laid down at the giving of the Torah was the creation of a relationship.  So why are we not leveraging that relationship by crying out to Hashem to morph difficult circumstances into something more benign?

From the words of Rav Pincus z”l, as recorded above, it is clear that he was looking into the same abyss, the only difference being that unlike the others who could feel the coming storm in their bones, he could already see it and hear it, and therefore his approach was more proactive because when Someone’s knocking one has to answer the door already.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Darkness of Night

The Mesillas Yesharim quotes the following Gemara (Baba Metzia 83b):

You laid down darkness and it was night (Tehillim 104:20). This refers to a world that is similar to night.

If we hadn’t heard in the name of the Vilna Gaon that he didn’t find one superfluous word in the first eight chapters of Mesillas Yesharim we would suspect otherwise because just two sentences north of this quote the Ramchal says that the evil inclination literally blinds his eyes and he becomes as one who walks in the darkness where there are stumbling blocks before him which his eyes do not see.

And we would be wrong because the Mesillas Yesharim tells us that the darkness of night can cause two types of errors in relation to a man’s eye:

  • It may either cover his eye so that he does not see what is before him at all (as in there are stumbling blocks before him which his eyes do not see) or
  • It may deceive him so that a pillar appears to him as a man, or a man as a pillar.
The Ramchal tells us that the second error is the worse of the two because it stems from the distortion of their sight, so that they see evil as though it were goodness itself, and good as if it were evil, and because of this they strengthen themselves in clinging to their evil ways.

We are being told that everything in Olam Hazeh is total darkness. In a literal sense a blind man is better off because he is not susceptible to the second mistake.

With this teaching before us we can readily understand how hardcore Leftists, Islamists, and their like can see wickedness and sheker as goodness and truth.

And we also see that at the end of the day Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland was not an inversion of reality. The Mesillas Yesharim makes it very clear that the bottom line truth of this world is that due to the darkness of night things aren’t as they seem which describes Wonderland to a tee.

Our world is the real inversion of reality because it lets us think that things are what they appear to be. 

As we said in EmunahSpeak: So Who are You Relying on… That we live lives of misplaced reliance flows naturally from the fact that we have misplaced reality itself.

Over and above any improvement computers have brought to the lives of literally billions of people alive today and billions more who have passed this way in the last thirty years or so, they have also enriched our understanding of how Hashem runs His world.  The words virtual reality are more than simply a code name for the digital Potemkin village that holds forth on every computer screen only to vanish in a nano second with a flip of the switch.

Virtual reality is also an accurate description of what we carelessly refer to as the “real world,” the one we physically inhabit. 

This is the Ramchal’s darkness of night brought into the digital age.

So how does one make his way through the darkness of night with his neshama intact?

Night vision goggles!

That’s what Rabbi Avigdor Miller z”l, would say if he were still amongst us.  When he gave his aitza on how to navigate through the sheker laden darkness of the night of this world, night vision goggles weren’t known to the wider public so he used spectacles/glasses as a moshal (example) instead.

He taught us that the one and only way to exercise one’s bechira (free will) within the darkness of night that is this world, and land on one’s feet in the process was to see this world through the words of the seforim (with his two most favored being the Mesillas Yesharim and the Chovos Halevavos) as one looks through his eyeglasses. 

It’s the only game in town that isn’t rigged against you.

With merely one’s own eyes to rely on a person can figuratively go over a cliff, and not even realize it even after hitting the ground.

The irony of this world, which is enveloped in the darkness of night, is that to the extent that you think it's real, it's not real at all.  But if you see it, or rather see through it for what it actually is, then it’s very real indeed.

The darkness that is night is the very antithesis of the phrase, what you see is what you get.

Or maybe not.

Maybe what you see is what you get after all if what you see is actually something in your eyes, because if what you see in this world has substance in your eyes then that’s what may well pass for substance in terms of your portion in the next.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Protection Trumps Salvation

Two stops short of the finish line in Tehillim 145, which we recite thrice daily under the code name of Ashrei, in verses 19 and 20 to be exact, Dovid HaMelech reveals to us that we essentially write our own protekzia ticket vis รก vis Hashem, in that the way He relates to us is dictated by the way we first relate to Him.

In verse 19, Dovid HaMelech tells us that He (Hashem) will do the will of those who fear Him and He will hear their cry and save them.

In the eyes of the Malbim, as brought to us by Rabbi Asher Boruch Wegbreit in his sefer on Ashrei, it works something like this: Hashem will hear their cry, and only then will He save them.  Or put another way, as long as the sun is out we’re flying solo, with Hashem not putting in an appearance, salvation wise, until it starts pouring.  Moreover, those who fear Hashem are only saved from their enemies.

What’s this business about only saving us?  How about whacking the bad guys while You’re at it?

This brings us to verse 20, where we hear that Hashem protects all who love Him and (that) He will destroy all of the wicked.

As can be seen, the first posuk speaks of fear which means fear of punishment.  And even though unstated in this particular case, the flipside of fear is always the expectation of reward.

Reward and punishment is no small thing mind you.  The Rambam includes it in his list (ani ma’amins) of 13 bedrock principles of Judaism.  And yet even so, as important and fundamental as it surely is, the fear of Hashem is but the handmaiden to the love of Hashem that is spoken of in verse 20.  And this is born out by the different ways in which Hashem takes care of us, as recorded in these two verses.

As we saw above, those who fear Hashem are only saved from those who would do them harm.

Verse 20 comes to tell us that Hashem does it one better for those who love Him by protecting them.  As Rabbi Wegbreit explains it, Hashem’s protection means that His loved ones (those that love Hashem) never encounter situations that would force them to cry out because Hashem shields them completely from the sources of distress.

In contradistinction to how Hashem deals with those who oppress the G-d fearing amongst us by merely extricating His People from the evil that they are enduring, when it comes to the enemies of those who love Hashem, He will zap them totally simply for the evil they intended to do but couldn’t, due to Hashem’s all encompassing protection of those who love Him.

Rabbi Wegbreit sums up the fear addressed in verse 19 and the love spoken of in verse 20 as follows:

If they fear Him, He saves them from the source of their fear.

If they love Him, He spares them from the fear itself.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Soul Choice

The body wants to do what feels good.
The ego wants to do what looks good.
The soul wants to do what is good.

If you have ever felt like you were being pulled in several directions now you know why.

That the neshama wants to do what is good should come as no surprise.  After all, it’s part and parcel of the Ribbono shel Olam, so what should it want to do if not good, as that term is generally understood by those who don’t believe that the concept of good is relative?

And it’s also not what one would call a shocker to posit that the body wants to do what feels good.  Are not the cravings of the body the clock by which most of us mark our time in this world?  We want to eat, sleep, bathe, and indulge our eyes and ears now or at the earliest possible convenience for one reason and one reason only.  The myriad of sensations that come to us by way of our five senses on our terms make us feel good.

But when it comes to the ego it’s somewhat of a different story, and we would do well to let Dr. Dovid Lieberman tell it.

For starters he lets us know, as was mentioned above, that the ego wants to do what looks good, and then hits us with the fact that the ego is no less than the Yetzer Hora.  We are to understand from this that just as it would be risky to sit with our back to the door if the doorman was the Yetzer Hora, any aspect of our life that is driven by form as opposed to substance is being driven recklessly with the Yetzer Hora in the driver’s seat, or as Dovid Lieberman puts it, when we are motivated by ego we do things that we believe project the right image of ourselves.  These choices are not based on what is good but on what makes us look good.

For our purposes, the essential importance of the ego is in the context of the self-esteem/ego continuum.

The vast majority of us have internalized a distorted image of what the ego is all about.  We tend to think that a person with a healthy ego who projects an aurora of confidence is a poster boy for self-esteem.  As Dovid Lieberman tells us, nothing could be further from the truth.

We only gain self-esteem when we are able to make responsible choices and do what is right regardless of what we feel like doing or how it appears to others.  This is a soul choice. In turn we rise to a higher and healthier perspective, because self-esteem and the ego are inversely related; like a see-saw, when one goes up the other goes down.

In case you missed that, the point being made was that self-esteem comes from making good choices which by definition are soul choices because the soul, not so incidentally, is the Yetzer Tov.

Logic therefore dictates that if we are in control of ourselves and act responsibly, we can never be deeply bothered by anyone or anything (which translates into a healthy sense of self-esteem).  And then Dovid Lieberman adds that we are not a casualty of anyone or anything other than our own behavior because nothing affects us; we affect everything by virtue of our soul choices.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Fundamental Rules….

….to follow by one who wants to guard his tongue is to be patient and also to be mivater:

  • as in letting things go
  • looking the other way
  • passing, on what’s very much in one’s face
  • and goin’ ostrich by just plain closing one’s eyes to what would otherwise drive one up a wall
Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits takes it a step further by telling us that the basic principle of loshon hora is not restraint, but self-respect.  It's beneath our dignity to dwell on the negative. 

With these fundamental rules in hand, all one has to do is to learn Sefer Chofetz Chaim with the commentary of the Be’er Maim Chaim, both parts of Sefer Shemiras HaLoshon, Kuntres Chovas HaSemirah, and Kuntres Zachor LeMiriam.

And if one can then figure out how to make all of that knowledge the property of his tongue he can then safely open his mouth without trepidation as to the consequences.


Those of us, who would like to get a firm handle on what emanates from the workings of our tongues, take note of the dos, don’ts and exhortations contained in these aforementioned seforim and others, and sometimes feel overwhelmed by what we perceive to be the impossibility of seriously getting with the program of Shemiras HaLoshon as laid out, for the most part, by the Chofetz Chaim z”l.

Intimidating it is, but hopeless it’s not.  

In an attempt to morph the fears of failure into hopes for success in the life and death struggle over the disposition of one’s tongue, we are, Chasdei Hashem, proud to announce the launching of a new blog (in addition to EmunahSpeak, not in lieu thereof) which will be dedicated to matters of the tongue et al.

It’s called GuardYourSpeak, and it will, IY”H, go a ways in making what was heretofore thought by all too many to be impossible, to be not only possible, but most definitely probable.

As will be noted from the slug line under the title, the leitmotif of this effort will focus on what we say, why we say it, and why we shouldn't be saying most of it.

It’s a mouthful to be sure, but we’ll do our best to kasher it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


In the brocha of Asher Yatzar, which is recited upon relieving oneself,
we bless Hashem, Who fashioned man b’chochma (with wisdom)
and then we go on to detail several manifestations of that wisdom:

and created within him all manner of openings and all manner of cavities.  It is obvious and known before the throne of Your Glory that if there would be ruptured (even) one of them or would be blocked (even) one of them, it would not be possible to survive and to stand before You.

Query:  Why did our rabbis choose, what to most of us is a somewhat unpleasant necessity to illustrate the perfection of Hashem’s creation?

What’s so special here anyway?  We couldn't make similar observations about a plethora of bodily functions such as the heart beating, the lungs breathing etc.?

The other bodily functions work 24/7/365 in the background.  The heart is always pumping, the lungs are always breathing and the kidneys are always filtering.  At what point exactly in our day/week/month/year/life should we acknowledge them? 

The emes is that those parts of the body whose combined functions result in the elimination of bodily wastes also pump away on the backburner 24/7/365.  But unlike the incessant beating of the heart and a breathing mechanism that supports the illusion of being on automatic pilot, those organs and orifices that work in tandem to remove what is no longer useful to us bring their work to fruition several times during the day, and it’s at these finite points in time that we have the opportunity to bless and praise Hashem, not only for the chesed that he shows us by purging us of toxic and noxious substances, but also for the overall functioning of all of our organs and bodily functions whose incessant activity give us no specific time frame in which we can acknowledge their critical importance to our well being.

It’s sort of a twofer in which we leverage the occasion of our daily needs to bless Hashem for the absolute Wonder of the totality of our moveable parts.

Once we are given, as per Asher Yatzar, a bare bones description of our physical makeup with its attendant fragility, is it not self evident that the human body, inside and out screams out the fact that it was designed b’chochma? 

Why does the nusach of the brocha have to proclaim the obvious?

The brocho of Asher Yaztar is not narrowly focused.  As we mentioned above, it blesses Hashem both for the seamless perfection of our bodily functions in general and also specifically for the processes that cleanse us from the wastes that are detrimental to our health.

But it’s even more than that, because in addition to its function of being makker tov to Hashem for the aforementioned bodily wonders, without which one could not survive, the brocha of Asher Yatzar also serves as the poster child for our obligation to be makker tov to Hashem for the perfection inherent in all of creation, which if not addressed by its own specific brocha, is subsumed in the praise we give to Hashem in the brocha of Asher Yatzar. 

Hashem….fashioned man b’chochma and the b’chochma of Asher Yatzar extends past the immediate context of the brocha to the most infinitesimal and insignificant of His Works, even if not so obvious to the unlearned eye.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Asifa

The Real Achdus

If you were looking for a post-mortem on the Asifa at Citi Field, fuggedaboutit.

We’re talking here about the Asifa that never was.

In EmunahSpeak: The Satan’s Achdus we said, When our Rabbis admonish us as regards our lack of achdus they are not referring to the touchy feely variety that was on display in Boro Park at the time of the Leiby Kletzky a"h, tragedy. 

And it was different by the Asifa?

The Torah oriented Jewish papers all kvelled about the unbelievable achdus that was on display at Citi Field.

And why not?  

All those who were opposed to the Asifa for one reason or the other stayed home.  Those who came, for the most part, belonged to either a like minded Chasidishe chevra or to a homogenized Litvishe one.  In addition, they came to hear their Rabbis speak about things that they generally agreed with.

So why shouldn’t there have been achdus?

And as we further explained in EmunahSpeak: The Satan’s Achdus, The reason that the achdus that obtained in Boro Park was not of the variety that keeps the Satan up at night has nothing at all to do with what the people did or did not do.  It was simply impossible for the “Satan’s achdus” to exist in such an environment.

Make that ditto for the Asifa. 

So what exactly is the Satan’s achdus?

As we said when we discussed the Kletsky tragedy, “The Satan’s Achdus” is about getting out of our comfort zone….it’s an achdus that can only be achieved by first withstanding a firestorm of vitriol emanating from the Yetzer Hora.  The existence of such an achdus draws a bull’s-eye around the Satan and then proceeds to hit it. 

The seeds of what could grow into the “Satan’s achdus” are not scattered to the four winds.  They are selectively sown.  In any situation in which you wouldn’t reflexively demonstrate a feeling of achdus the Yetzer Hora is all over you relentlessly justifying your hesitation.  Any attempt at real achdus has to have the staying power to weather the long march through our worst instincts.

This is “The Satan's Achdus."

That was the import of the message in that piece when it was originally written and it was clearly explained as such.  But upon reflection, I have come to realize that the term the Satan’s Achdus embodies two distinct meanings with neither one contradicting the other.  The first is the intended meaning, as explained above. 

The second, which was originally unintended, is no less true, and that is that the Satan’s Achdus is what we generally refer to as stam achdus, as in the Citi Field Asifa, the outpouring last year for the Kletzky family and every other situation where the Satan doesn’t challenge us, thereby allowing our good instincts to prevail by default.  In a certain sense they are two sides of the same coin.

It’s not that these things shouldn’t be engaged in on the merits.  They most certainly should.  It’s turning them into achdus happenings that shifts the Satan into smile mode.  After all, why bother with the tircha of all that is entailed in stepping outside our comfort zone to push ourselves in the direction of real achdus if we already think we’re riding high in achdus cruise control?

We are taught that davening is not results oriented.  The goal, as such, is not that which we are asking for but rather the connection to Hashem that’s in inherent in the act of davening itself.

We are also adjured to daven for others, and when we daven for others we are by extension also connecting with them also.

And this brings us to the Asifa that never was, the one that should have been held ten to fifteen years ago before the wildfire of the Internet began singeing the environs of Lakewood, Williamsburg and other impregnable bastions of Torah and Chassidus.

But this is all somewhat of a misnomer because it more accurately could be called the outcry that never was or even better yet the whimper that never was.

Way back then, when the not yet religious Jews (a.k.a Acheinu B’nai Yisroel) and their children were being spiritually and morally decimated by the tens of thousands, one could have heard a pin drop in the aforementioned impregnable bastions of Torah and Chassidus, given the silence that obtained therein as to the crisis.

It was very much the same reaction that we spoke of in EmunahSpeak: Goin’ Ostrich, where we noted the selective outrage that manifested itself when certain venues were hit by Hamas rockets as opposed to others.  And we said there:

What future is there in a country where the concern of anyone as to what’s happening runs only to the extent that it’s happening to him? 

And as this relates to our collective reaction to the initial Internet Tsunami that blindsided our less affiliated brethren, we paraphrase:

What future is there for a people where the concern of any segment thereof as to what’s happening runs only to the extent that it’s happening to it?


We are taught by one opinion in Avos that someone who says what’s mine is mine and what yours is yours is reflecting the middos of S’dom.

Query:  Isn’t the attitude of, I’ll care about my concerns and you’ll care about yours a close first cousin to this middas S’dom?

Theoretical asifas aside, had we davened for them it may have rendered the need for the Citi Field Asifa moot, because as we also know, not only are we adjured to daven for others but we are also told that those that do so are answered first.  Meanwhile, not only didn’t we daven, but it didn’t occur to most of us that there was either something or someone (else) to daven for.

That was an opportunity for Achdus if there ever was one, and we took a pass on it.  Not a conscious pass to be sure, because we were totally oblivious to the conflagration raging around us, but a pass just the same because had we related to them as Acheinu B’nei Yisroel we wouldn’t have been oblivious in the first place.

But we were, and what goes around comes around, so years later here we are reaping the whirlwind.

All of the spin notwithstanding, if the Citi Field Asifa saved even one Jew from the quicksand of the Internet then it was a worthy event.

But had the Asifa that never was put in an a timely appearance it would have been be worthy of Moshiach.