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

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Look, Judge, and See

In these three words Rabbi Mordechai Groner shares with us a series of pass words that will take us past the barriers that stand between us and the good kvittel that will give us yet another year to effect a gut rehab that will transform our total essence.

By means of Look, Judge, and See we are able to leverage Hashem’s system of midda keneg midda (measure for measure) in our favor to such an extent that our actions in this regard are actually co-extensive with the first draft of our judgment. 

Everything else we do during the Yemei HaDin, be it Tefillah, Teshuva or Tzedakah is for the purpose of getting that first draft signed in indelible ink.

Look, says Rabbi Groner, at everyone with an ayin tov.  In the way we look at yenem that’s how Hashem will look at us.  And as far as Hashem is concerned, you can take it to the bank.  But we’re a different story.

You have four kids in shidduchim and your neighbor’s girls are always engaged before their twentieth birthday.  You may be able to effortlessly flash a sincere smile but you can’t fake your ayin tov, or rather the lack thereof.  When put to a test it doesn’t come easy but that’s the only way to merit Hashem flashing an ayin tov in your direction.  If not for your Yetzer Hora stirring the pot what would your ayin tov be worth anyway?  

Rabbi Groner also admonishes us to judge everyone favorably, and if that’s not a ticket just waiting to get punched by Hashem for a good year then what is?  But the devil’s in the details because everyone means everyone, not just tzaddikim and other people of which you happen to approve.

And favorably means in a case where unfavorably is at least as likely to be the correct assessment of the situation on the ground.  But it’s much more than that because we’re not speaking in a halachic context as to when we are required to judge others favorably.  To have Hashem judge us favorably in all circumstances no matter how rough the edges, we have to judge everyone favorably even in the most unfavorable circumstances.

Rabbi Groner also lets us hear that we have to see the good in people.

And this one doesn’t come easy either because the default position of most of humanity is to notice in others the aberrations of the norm as defined by us.  Seeing the good in others requires us to penetrate layers of what we shouldn’t be looking at just to get to that upon which we should be casting our gaze.

As we said in GuardYourSpeak: The One Thing, There’s someone in your shul that shows up late every morning about two minutes before Borchu, and he doesn’t come rushing in either.  And it just so happens that you’re the first one there.  You don’t know him that well but you do know that there’s nothing doing in his house that would slow him up in the morning.  

What we see here is most definitely not what we get because we’re talking here about our inability to see past our self imposed delineation of reality.

In contexts such as these, when there is a clear distinction in our favor between our avoda and that of our friend, it never occurs to us that for all we know maybe coming late to shul is the one thing he does wrong whereas coming early is the one thing we do right.

Seeing the good in people means if the good is not readily apparent then keep looking until you find it because it’s surely there.  And as far as your field of vision is concerned, nothing else exists.
And if we do it right, then Hashem will look for our good until He finds it, and as far as His field of vision is concerned nothing else will exist.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Morphing Hurt Into Blessing

We have to be careful of what we say to people and, no less important, how we say it.  And people also includes one’s wife (okay, okay, husbands also).

The aveira of Onas Devarim (hurtful words) is big stuff, which is bad news for most of us.  On Hashem’s scales of justice, which are so finely calibrated that the measurements are beyond human comprehension, Onas Devarim exceeds the recommended weight thereby setting off a cacophony of Heavenly bells and whistles that are immediately responded to by Hashem Himself because matters of Onas Devarim are not given over to a shaliach.  That one Jew should be suffering emotional distress from the verbal sting of another Jew is enough for Hashem to clear His desk, so to speak, and get Personally involved.

Moreover, as we know, the Gate of Tears is never closed.  

At the very least, Onas Devarim brings on tears of the heart, and those tears are given the red carpet treatment as they pass through the Gate of Tears.  In fact, some say that there may even be a special Gate for Onas Devarim that keeps the same hours as the Gate of Tears, but in either case the result is the same in that all of those tears are Personally massaged by Hashem Himself.

In the normal course of things, when someone who has suffered from Onas Devarim cries out in pain to Hashem, the story’s not going to have a good ending for the Mouth that Roared.  But that’s in the normal course of things.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

As Rabbi Yisroel Brog tells us, there’s a tremendous opportunity here for anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear.  After all, who says that the Gate of Tears only deals in kind?  Tears open them for sure, but once opened, anything can march through.

Even Brochos.

He says in the name of HaRav HaGaon Chaim Kanievsky Shilta that if someone blitzes you with Onas Devarim (speaks to you harshly) you shouldn’t answer back.  It’s not easy to stand there and take one for the team, with the team being Hashem’s desire, but all in all it’s a concept that most of us are familiar with.  Reb Chaim then takes it a step further and says that you shouldn’t even complain to Hashem.  Instead, you should take advantage of your direct access to Hashem by way of the Gate of the Tears that was opened by your pain and ask for anything you need because vis á vis you at this moment in your life Hashem is all ears.

This is not just a nice vort that Reb Chaim once said at a seudah shlishis once upon a time.  This is what he tells people who come for a brocha.

And he tells them even more.  He says that if you see someone getting verbally ripped and he doesn’t answer back you should ask that person for a brocha for whatever you need because the Gate of Tears is open for him and Hashem is listening.

This is not a segula.  We’re talking about a direct line here.

For my part, I can’t think of anyone who’s going to punch my ticket for a deal like this.  But my wife’s going to make out like a bandit.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over

And so goes one of the most well known aphorisms of the mid-Twentieth Century American philosopher, Yogi Berra.

Although in his hands these six words never ran deeper than baseball, in ours they plummet the depths of the run up to Rosh Hashana 5773.

This past Nissan (5772), Rav Yaakov Akiva Mashinsky z”l left this world for the Olam HaEmes.  On the 29th of Elul 5771(Erev Rosh Hashana 5772) he spoke in Yeshiva Ohr Somayach in Monsey where he was a maggid shiur and said the following:

If you’re davening Mincha Erev Rosh Hashana, in Boruch Aleinu you are davening that all of the good things that you davened for last year will happen this year.

In other words, NOW.

Have you ever thought about that?

Those of us who have the shofar of Elul ringing in our ears are so focused on our Teshuva in preparation for the Yom HaDin and on all the changes we intend to make in the coming year that we tend to forget that the current year has yet to run its course.

It was inscribed on last Rosh Hashana and sealed last Yom Kippur how many will pass on and how many will be created in these last few days of 5772.  It was also written down and sealed, how many of us will be tranquil amidst all the tumult raging fore and aft and how many of us will be emotionally and/or mentally swept away by the same in these waning days of our current cheshbon.  And so it goes for every facet of our lives.

I don’t know whether Rabbi Mashinsky z”l was already not well when he spoke last Erev Rosh Hashana or whether his subconscious was pointing him in the direction of grabbing the moment.  In either case, he was sharing something with us that was both profound and simple at the same time.

We’re davening for the whole Shemona Esray to be NOW.

From today until Rosh Hashana when you say Selach lanu (Forgive us) you are asking to be forgiven Now, not next year.  And when you say Refuainu (Heal us) you are davening that you will hear good news NOW, not after your doctor returns from Succos in Eretz Yisroel.

And Tikah B’Shofar Gadol (Sound the Great Shofar) is no exception. You’re not waiting for the election results or to see how things play out with Iran a few months down the road.  You are davening for Kibbutz Golious (the ingathering of the exiles), NOW, today, this year.  

But Rabbi Mashinsky z”l also takes us past Shemona Esray to show us a bigger picture of the 5772 countdown.  He tells us that every year Dovid HaMelech comes to Hashem and asks for his Malchus back.  Up until 5771 Hashem hadn’t yet acceded to Dovid’s request. 

It’s our hope that on Rosh Hashana 5772 Hashem did indeed return the Malchus to Dovid HaMelech and that we will still see it yet, NOW before the curtain comes down on 5772.

It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Hashem Is Looking

At the very beginning of the Torah it states that G-d created Man in His image.

Although there are five methods by which the Torah may be interpreted, we never go away from the basic meaning of a verse, and the simple meaning of G-d created Man in His image is that a man’s face is the image of Hashem, is it not?

Rabbi Avigdor Miller z”l reveals to us that one of the Torah’s chief purposes of teaching that G-d created Man in His image is that we should behave in the presence of others as if Hashem is looking through their eyes.

And truth be told, He is.

So when you look at someone’s face don’t forget that Hashem is staring you down through the eyes of that person.

And is it not human nature to try and behave when someone is looking?

If we really took to heart the reality that Hashem is looking at us through everyone’s eyes we would have to behave at least as well as we do in public, would we not?

We would indeed, but Rav Miller z”l tells us that we can’t appreciate that the human face is the image of Hashem unless we have Hashem in mind.  As he puts it, in order to have the proper attitude as to what a Tzelem Elokim means in relation to those around us, we first have to work on our understanding of Elokim.

With Rav Miller z”l pointing the way we try to understand Hashem in terms of our Emunah which, if correctly calibrated, lets us feel Hashem right here/right now.  And when a person is zoche to a feeling that he is locked in Hashem’s gaze from on high then he is ready to come to the realization that He’s also looking at him through the eyes of all those round about.

And with but one exception, what goes on in your house is no different from what takes place in public. Hashem is also looking at you through the eyes of your children and most certainly through those of your wife.

Unfortunately, the once exception is you.

As Rav Miller reminds us, a man is true in his house.  At home there is no posturing in front of neighbors, co-workers, or anyone else, in front of which one might be embarrassed to be himself.  It’s just the wife and kids.
And because it’s perceived to be only the wife and kids, Hashem gets to see a lot more than He otherwise would.  And He gets an earful also because Chazal tell us that the walls of a man’s house testify against him.

So on Yom Kippur, when you’re confessing all of your sins, don’t forget the ones that you commit in your house.  And especially don’t forget how you spoke to your wife (husband).

Hashem was looking at you.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Seeing With the Heart

“Look!  There’s an antelope!”


“Over to the left.”

Yossi turned his head a full ninety degrees and smiled.    “We just saw an antelope.”

“And what else have we seen?

Yossi immediately ticked off a long list which read like a roll call of the animal kingdom, liberally punctuated with the words, we saw prefacing the name of each species.

Tante Miriam then matter-of-factly mentioned that the rhinoceros was an endangered species.

“What’s an endangered species?” asked Yossie.

“There are hardly any of them left.”

“How can that be? demanded Yossi in a respectfully incredulous tone.  “We just saw three of them!”

“Yes, we just saw three of them,” repeated Tante Miriam to herself in muffled tones, as she decided to change the subject.

“So how do you like your first trip to the zoo?”

“This is the most fun trip I ever had!” exclaimed Yossi.  But no sooner was the word had out of his mouth that his face dropped a bit, not precipitously mind you, but just enough to be attract the attention of Tante Miriam.

“If this is the most fun trip you ever had, Yossi, then why aren’t you smiling?”

“We didn’t see the barbarusa,” said Yossi in a tone that could qualify him as poster boy for the Unhappy Camper.

Tante Miriam thought for a moment and then asked, “how many animals did you see, Yossi?”

“So many!” shouted a now smiling Yossi, as the memory of the most fun trip he ever had once again took center stage in his mind.  “I would still like to see the barbarusa a different time,” said Yossi, “but I’m happy with all the animals I saw today.

It was Tante Miriam’s turn to smile now.

After all, it’s not every blind boy that can be happy with what he can see today while patiently waiting for the sights that tomorrow will bring.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Tam v’Emes

Even though mitzvahs whose performance are motivated by somewhat less than altruistic considerations are fraught with imperfections, Chazal have admonished us to do them anyway because mitzvahs not done for their own sake (shelo lishma) will eventually lead to mitzvahs which are properly motivated (lishma).

And as Reb Yitzchak Frank reminds us, the shelo lishma mitzvah comes to us courtesy of the Yetzer Hora, who can be counted on to be sitting in the wings waiting to pounce at the first opportunity to stir the pot vis á vis our motivations.

When dealing with not yet observant Jews, the Yetzer’s operational strategy is to keep them as far away as possible from anything that has even a shmeck of Torah and mitzvahs in any form.  But in relation to Torah Jewry it well understands that this approach is a losing proposition.  Instead it will endeavor to water down the effect of one’s efforts in the realm of his Avodas Hashem.

If someone has a propensity to give tzaddakah the Yetzer will, ever so subtly, steer him towards the most worthless tzeddakah it can get away with.  And if one has decided to take on learning Daf Yomi the Yetzer will try to work it out so that he will get the least out of his learning experience, be it by way of the ArtScroll gemaras for those who don’t need them or by pushing traditional gemaras in the direction of those who do.

Moreover, Reb Yitzchak reveals to us an even more insidious tactic of the Yetzer Hora.  He tells us that even when the Yetzer is incapable of inducing someone to dumb down the sundry manifestations of his Avodas Hashem, it will endeavor to allow him no time to reflect upon what his avodah is actually all about, thereby rendering him a member in good standing of a Judaism without meaning.  In such a case, the Yetzer will marshal all of its efforts simply to get you to ask, what is the point of all this anyway?

As Reb Yitzchak puts it, the Yetzer Hora is prepared to give a person everything except for that which would breathe life into what he has been given.

But when all else fails; when a person is not buffeted by big kashas as to what this world is all about, and he’s not dissuaded from learning in a way that’s appropriate for his station, and despite the Yetzer’s full court press he gives tzeddakah to places that are highly respected in Shomayim, the Yetzer then plays its favorite card and either influences him to do it shelo lishma (for the wrong reason) or it so perverts a person’s motivation that he would be better off not doing the mitzvah altogether.

But how is one to plummet the depths of one’s motivations in a world that, more often than not, is a study in shades of gray as opposed to black and white?

For this we need Rav Dessler z”l, who, in his famous essay on tam (taste) and emes (truth) gave us the tools to sort out the motivational aspects of our Avodas Hashem.  

You pledged $1,000 at an appeal in your shul with mixed motives?   What did you think of first?  Was it the tam or the emes?

Rav Dessler tells us that if you thought that it was a worthy tzeddakah and, by the way, everyone will think that you’re a big tzaddik, then write the check because you are the proud owner of a mitzvah shelo lishma compliments of the Yetzer Hora.  But if you first thought about showing off, and then you rationalized that in any case it’s a good cause, put your money back in your pocket because the Yetzer Hora has so bamboozled you that Rav Dessler holds that your $1,000 pledge is nothing but a demonstration of gaiva and/or chanifa.  And this is not a contradiction to Chazal’s admonishment above to do a mitzvah even if it’s shelo lishma because in Rav Dessler’s view, such a debasement of a mitzvah’s essence no longer rises to the level of a mitzvah shelo lishma.

The test of tam v’emes is a yardstick that can be applied to virtually any mixed motive situation because deep down you know what you thought first.  And if it just so happens that your Yetzer has nudged you to visit someone in the hospital that you only casually know from the neighborhood because you would like to get him for a customer, and while you’re there you’ll khap arein the mitzvah of being mevaker cholim, then save the gas.

Stay home instead and watch the ballgame.  At least you’ll be doing something lishma.