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

Saturday, December 29, 2012

What Do You See?

What you see is what you get is for all too many of us the way we view those who cross our path in life.  Once we feel that we have sized up a person thoroughly enough to hit his bottom line we then tend to extrapolate out from there to what will be with him down the road.  And this is especially true as concerns parents, teachers, and those dealing with people with issues, such as mental health professionals, social workers and the like.

If someone is established as an ois varf today that’s the lens through which we will look at him tomorrow.

And if he does Teshuva and gets his act together?

It’s possible that we could be looking right at him and all we’ll see is the ois varf because we’re invested in the negative image we have created for his future.

Or we could even see nothing.

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein tells us of the principal who threw a 10th grade Bais Yaakov girl out of school.  Years later he ran into her wearing a shaitel in one of the local stores and didn’t recognize her.  When she introduced herself he said: “I can’t believe it’s you.”

Of course he couldn’t.  He expected her to end up as a waitress in a Mexican restaurant if that much.  That he would find her wearing a shaitel at a kosher meat market wasn’t on his screen.

Here’s a girl.  Her top can be charitably described as having a low neckline and ditto in reverse for the hemline when there happens to be one.

She sports the number of piercings that is de rigueur in her social circle and keeps them on public display until 1:00 A.M. on weekdays and 4:00 A.M. plus on Shabbos Night and Motzoi Shabbos.

In addition to smoking she also drinks more than her brothers and is not one to say no when pot and cocaine are proffered at the numerous parties she attends.

She also hangs out with a large group of boys, mascot like, and she is very egalitarian.

So when one looks at such a girl what does one see?  A life on the street perhaps?  An abusive marriage somewhere down the road that will be a poster child for a dysfunctional family?  That’s pretty much what that principal saw.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Rabbi Wallerstein says that if you’re Ronnie Greenwald you don’t see a kid at risk or one already lost.  Instead of using the present as a template for the future, he flips it around and uses a goal oriented future as a template for the present.

He sees a young woman lighting the Shabbos candles with her children standing around her.

This is the image before his eyes and he then does everything in his power and then some to get her to that point.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Measuring Rod

In EmunahSpeak: The Proteksia of Gentle Speech we learned as per the Ramban’s Iggeres that gentle speech will protect one from anger.  And then in EmunahSpeak: The Most Serious Character Flaw we reported that the Ramban amplified on the importance of that piece of advice by explaining that anger is a most serious character flaw which causes one to sin.

We went on to say that While there are myriad reasons why this is so, Rabbi Yisroel Brog tells us that probably the most important of them is that when a person gets angry he loses his connection with reality, and having done so, even after he calms down he will still be disconnected from Hashem.  Not only is he, as Chazal tell us, like one who is considered to have worshipped idols, and therefore as one who has no G-d, but he is also like one who has no self.

But it’s more than a case of losing it in the heat of anger, even if that which is lost refers to one’s G-d or one’s portion the Olam Haba.  Rabbi Itamar Schwartz tells us that the presence of anger points to a basic weakness in a person’s emunah because a person’s anger and emunah are inversely proportional to each other.

Whereas in EmunahSpeak: PLAN B we spoke in terms of disappointment as regards the shredding of our day’s plans by way of the inevitable speed bumps that  tend to morph wishful thinking into the reality of the present, anger is cut from different cloth.

If you have a flat tire on the way to the airport, you get temporarily upset because in the aggravation of the moment your emunah has left you and you have forgotten that your current circumstances came to you by way of Hashem.

But if you actually get angry because of the flat rather than being simply upset it’s an indication that you probably had serious emunah problems to begin with.  

Rabbi Schwartz explains that anger is a measuring rod for a person, through which the extent of one’s faith in Hashem’s Providence can be checked.  The greater one’s emunah in His Providence, the weaker is his trait of anger.  But the further one is from faith in His Providence, the greater will be his anger.

So if you have been reading EmunahSpeak regularly for a year and a half and the intensity of your anger has been weakening you should know to that extent you have in all probability ramped up your emunah in Hashem’s Providence.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

What’s Needed Here?

In the same way a person needs Nikias (cleanliness) in his actions he also requires Nikias in his middos.  And to reach this state one has to go into middos de-tox per the Mesillas Yesharim as was described in EmunahSpeak: A Gut Rehab, where we said that: Simply put, in paralleling what we are doing to our houses (because of Sandy) we have to rip out our gaiva, taiva, kas, and kina and toss it into the dumpster with the sheet rock.

Anyone familiar with the sayings of Chazal vis á vis any of the bad middos knows how difficult it is to successfully smooth out even one of these speed bumps.  And that’s with score card in hand to let you know that screaming at your wife won’t put you on the express track to Gan Eden and all the other manifestations of rotten middos that we are all too familiar with.

And that’s the good news.

At least the players (gaiva, taiva, kas, and kina) are easily identifiable.  But a top to bottom middos de-tox reaches into realms where it is difficult to tell who the players are without a score card, and there often isn’t one.

You’re looking at a person and your assessment of him is terminally negative.  It is quite possible that, strictly speaking, you haven’t run afoul of either gaiva, taiva, kas, or kina.  Maybe you don’t approve of how he is dressed or groomed.  And it could also be that he’s wedded to a hacking cough that’s proceeding not so slowly up your spine or a myriad of other defects (real, not imagined) that would stoke the flames of your negative assessment.  And yet, as Rabbi Yisroel Brog tells us, you have to know that this is a defect in middos.

A person not prone to negative assessment looks at that very same person positively as he tries to determine what is needed.  Maybe he is in need of something proper to wear, a hot shower, some cough suppressant or just a glass of water.

When a person comes upon a place looking to make things better he’s proactively controlling his middos as opposed to reactively trying to hold the line against the Yetzer Hora’s provocations. 

One should enter a room and look to see what’s needed here.  If there’s a tissue on the floor then pick it up. 

And if you think it’s not your job, rather than you controlling your middos, those subtly defective middos that sailed under the radar of your Tikkun HaMiddos are now controlling you.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Clarity of Context


(In June 2012 we launched GuardYourSpeak which, as its name implies, was dedicated to focusing on all aspects of Shmiras HaLoshon.  In short order it became burdensome to maintain both sites, so in recognition of the fact that the material posted on GuardYourSpeak was a natural fit for EmunahSpeak, it was decided to discontinue GuardYourSpeak and repost all of those pieces on EmunahSpeak over the course of the next few months.)

In the wonderful world of average people a.k.a. our world, we the people, the Beinonim who occupy the great center that fills in the divide between the Tzaddikim from the Reshoim all tend to stumble in very similar ways.

Whatever you see your neighbor do you also did once upon a time or may well do tomorrow with but a slight variation on the theme, not enough to take it out of whatever aveira was the touchstone between your two neshamos at different points in time.

So why is it that there is a Grand Canyon disconnect between the understanding with which you view your actions and the jaundiced eye that you cast upon the missteps of your friend, sufficient to ignite within you a desire to talk about it?

When assessing the doings of our friend we have nothing in front of us but the bare bones of undefined actions which by themselves are meaningless without the benefit of the what, why and who of the matter.

Where’s that back story that would flesh out the possible motivation for whatever it was that ran afoul of your perception of right and wrong? 

Better yet, what happened to the mitzvah aseh of one must love his fellow Jew as he loves himself?

The Chofetz Chaim tells us that someone who speaks loshon hora or gossips about a fellow Jew, or someone who listens to these remarks and accepts them as the truth, even if the remarks are truthful, clearly demonstrates that he has no love at all for his fellow Jew and most certainly not fulfilling his obligation from the Torah “to love your fellow Jew as you love yourself.”

But by us, by our faults, foibles, speed bumps, and sometimes blatant aveiros, it’s a different story because when we shine the light on our less than gallant doings we dust off a different pair of eyes of a somewhat softer variety.

The irony of course is that while we are only privy to a mere smattering of our friend’s left turns, the complete and very detailed accounting of our own rebelliousness against what the Torah demands of us is constantly in our face.  Given the enormity of our debit balance in contradistinction to the little we know of our friend’s red ink, how is it possible for our eye (and then tongue) to be drawn in the direction of our friend’s weaknesses?

The Chofetz Chaim lets us know that even though we are aware of our many sins, far more than have been disclosed about our friend, we push them all aside because we love ourselves.

We are more accepting of ourselves because we possess the clarity that comes from being cognizant of the context from which all of our mistakes flow, which in turn enhances our understanding of all of our shortcomings.

In keeping with the mitzvah of “love your fellow Jew as yourself, the Torah demands that we deal with our fellow Jew in exactly the same manner, to zealously guard and protect his honor and interests to the best of our abilities.

And this can only happen if his comings and goings are assessed within their natural context.  Then and only then can we obtain the clarity necessary to see ourselves in him.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

There is No Other Solution

Looking Through the Abyss

In the post-mortem that followed the recently concluded Operation Pillar of Cloud, the accuracy and overall effectiveness of the Iron Dome anti-missile system was conceded by virtually everyone, including the Arabs. But there were those who took it a step further past the battlefield results to project a long term deterrent mode of warfare that they claim will stay the course for the State of Israel in its struggle for survival.

Rabbeinu HaGaon HaGadol Rav Moshe Shapiro shlit"a wasn’t one of them.

In a most profound analysis, he took what many find to be a terminally complex situation facing Eretz Yisrael/Klal Yisrael, and reduced it to a problem and a solution that can be comprehended by anyone.

In EmunahSpeak I more often than not quote from one or two seforim or shiurim that I have heard and then use them as building blocks to construct a thesis.  But these are extraordinary times and Rav Moshe has matched the tenor of these times with extraordinary words so I will let the Gadol speak for himself, resigning myself to a few stage directions and sundry comments where appropriate.

The Rav lets us hear flat out that according to Teva (natural means) we are in a problem that has no possibility of a solution, period.  He says further that a solution that is similar to the “solution,” (with as many double quotes as we can put there) that we recently experienced vis á vis the Iron Dome and the pin point surgical strikes by which the IAF took out 1500 Hamas launch sites, may last once or twice, but this is not a solution.

And whoever thinks of sitting and talking, to negotiate and make agreements as a “solution,” insults the intelligence of a ten year old.  These are nothing but words of vanity.

The bottom line of our current and future situation, as Rav Moshe sees it, is that the Creator of the world has placed us between the ultimate rock and hard place with an unsolvable problem. 

Not the sort of line that one would expect Nefesh B’Nefesh to be pushing, to say the least.

If we would be talking about any other People or country their future would be toast because the parameters of their existence are delineated by Teva.  Not so Klal Yisrael.

Rav Shapiro reminds us that the Rambam states clearly that Israel will only be redeemed through Teshuva.  And the Torah already promised that eventually Israel will do Teshuva at the end of the Exile and immediately they will be redeemed.
The Rav is not saying a nice vort, a shmuz or giving a Shabbos Shuva drasho.  He’s speaking in the context of hatzolas nefoshos, and after looking into the aforementioned Rambam he states categorically:

To live like this is impossible and to do something against it is impossible. But we have found a solution; the definite solution!  We learn from this that there is no other solution.  Any thought in the direction of another solution is stupidity!

In Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer we learn that HKB”H will raise up for Klal Yisrael a king whose decrees are as harsh as Haman, and they will do Teshuva.  We further learn that Yishmael was given that name because in the future Hakodesh Boruch Hu will hear the sound of Klal Yisrael from what Yishmael will do in the land in the End of Days.

Rav Shapiro tells us that we know exactly what they will do in the Land in the End of Days because we already saw it.  Part of this has passed, some of it is happening in the present, and we have the ability to ensure that it does not occur in the future.  Chazal revealed that this will be the form of conduct, and this is how the Creator of the world will bring us to be redeemed.  Someone will come and force us to repent.  Every thinking person understands that this is the one and only explanation for what is occurring here.  There is no other explanation!  The Creator of the world appointed Yishmael to be that harsh king through whom we need to pray, and the prayer will be accepted.  HKB”H will hear the sound of the cries of the Jewish people. 

And that’s the Halacha as decided by the Rambam: A community, whenever they do Teshuva and cry out with a complete heart, they are answered.

Rav Moshe asks: What do we have to do?  What obligates us from these words?

And he answers: Don’t go after any analysis (in the newspapers etc.) which is spot on advice because the papers are full of solutions for what he has already established to be a problem that is insolvable (in Teva).

The Rav further asks: Should we sit and wait until a king as harsh as Haman will rise against us and then do Teshuva?

Toward where will we bring our shame, asks the Rav, when the day will come and they will ask us, “Where were you? Where were you when everything was so clear?”

What will we answer?  That we were too busy writing a letter to a newspaper or reading it?!

So what should we do?  We are at the End of Days and Yishmael is doing exactly as Chazal wrote.
When a person is brought to Final Judgment, he is asked, “Did you expect salvation?”  Such a question is asked of someone who really wants it.  The problem is that he is not sitting and expecting it, so that is why he is asked this.

I suspect that we will be asked, “Did you want salvation?”  Forget “Did you expect.Did you want it?  Or did you want that it should not come?  This is the first thing.  This is Aleph.  Without this, it is impossible to even begin.

This is the very point we made in EmunahSpeak: A Burning Need where we said that the reason Moshiach is not here is because we want Moshiach now as opposed to we need Moshiach now.  In its terminal passivity, the wanting of Moshiach in and of itself will do nothing to bring the Geula. If he comes, he comes.  If not, we’ll keep on wanting until he does, whereas the need for Moshiach will inevitably push Klal Yisroel in innumerable directions that will create the conditions to bring the Geula ever so closer, speedily in our days.

This is the first thing, says the Rav, We first need to enter reality---not to live in our imagination.  This is the truth and it is very clear.  One who expects salvation will merit it.

Hashem, for his part, is waiting.  But what about us?

Rav Shapiro says that we are preventing: 

We, the ones who accepted the Torah, are preventing the revelation of His Glory in the world.  We are preventing the Redemption of the entire world.  How?  By the fact that we are not waiting.  This fact makes us into murderers.  Not just murderers, but mass-murderers.

Know and understand, says the Rav, that these words are completely clear and serious.  There is no toying around here or room for playing games. We can forgo the multitude of words of encouragement and awakening and another 2 chapters of Tehillim after davening.  This is not what is requested.  What is requested is that we don’t prevent!  We should not prevent!

And then he says a very big chiddush:

If the heads of communities repent or if one community repents, in their merit the entire exile will be gathered in.

One community in Israel, one synagogue.  It is enough with this so that all of us will leave the exile. 

In the Torah we are taught that Hashem agreed to heed Avraham Aveinu’s plea to spare the wicked city of S’dom if ten righteous people could be found therein.

And now that the entire non-Jewish world has taken on a striking resemblance to S’dom we have it on the good authority of Rabbi Moshe Shapiro that if only one community (minimum of ten adult males) or one synagogue repents Klal Yisroel will be instantly redeemed in their merit.

This is already doable because given the thousands of Yidden these days that are focused on growth the existence of a congregation capable of the requisite Teshuva moves from a slight possibility to a definite probability.

But what is the requisite Teshuva?

This we are not told, but what passes as Teshuva for most of us on Erev Yom Kippur isn’t going to hack it.  It could be as we said in EmunahSpeak: The Yesod of Teshuva that To do Teshuva you have to strip away all of the excuses.  So say goodbye to all of the ifs, buts, and maybes, as you take yourself down to your spiritual socks.

Or maybe it goes even deeper than that.

On 11 Tammuz 1941, Rav Elchonon Wasserman HY”D was murdered in Kovno’s Ninth Fort along with a few talmidim and some other Rabbonim.  These were his last words:

In Shomayim it seems that they consider us to be tzaddikim, because we have been chosen to be korbanos for Klal Yisroel. Therefore, we must do Teshuvah now. We don’t have much time. We must keep in mind that we will be better korbonos if we do teshuvah. In this way we will save the Yidden in America. Let no foreign thought enter our minds, Chas V’Shalom, as that will make us pigul, an unfit korban. We are now fulfilling the greatest mitzvah. Yerushalayim was destroyed with fire and will be rebuilt with fire. The same fire that will consume our bodies will one day rebuild Klal Yisrael.

Klal Yisrael has been rebuilt (at least quantitatively) and yet we find ourselves threatened by that same fire.

We can’t say that we are tzaddikim or that we have been chosen as korbanos for our brothers in America or anywhere else.  But as Rav Moshe Shapiro has taught us, we definitely have to do Teshuva and we have to do it now, because we don’t know how much time we have.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Was it Just a Storm?

In EmunahSpeak: A Gut Rehab we opined that In the ruins of Long Beach, Belle Harbor, Seagate, and Staten Island, to name but a few of the worst hit areas, Hashem has revealed to us where we go from here. The gut rehab that hundreds of us are doing to all or part of our houses is a moshol for the gut rehab we have to do to ourselves.

You have to become a different you, period.

And we don’t mean doing the Daf, writing a big check for disaster relief, or becoming a regular on the Shemiras HaLoshon Hot Line or at the Ohel Sara Amen Group.

As we said above, “The days where we could throw Hashem a bone so to speak and go about our business are over.”

We’re talking Tikkun HaMiddos here as the Mesillas Yesharim understands it. Simply put, in paralleling what we are doing to our houses we have to rip out our gaiva, taiva, kas, and kina and toss it into the dumpster with the sheet rock. 

And this is poshit, because as Rabbi Yehuda Litwen reminds us, the Gra writes in Mishlei that the purpose of life is to break the middos that we have not yet broken, and if not then there is no point in living.

Leaving aside those who were displaced from their homes because Sandy had invaded their actual living space as opposed to their basement or a rental unit, the moshol was apparently a tad north of where most of the rest of us were holding because rather than use the sheet rock etc. as a template for the heavy lifting that a real Tikkun HaMiddos would require, we did the opposite.

We remodeled instead with a better floor (ceramic tile), carpet, appliances, doors and anything else we could get the insurance company and/or FEMA to pay for.

Vos ken men zogen?

In sharp contradistinction to how the big picture of the events in which they were engulfed and the meaning of their place therein was so clear to the Gedolim of previous generations, that’s how unclear the tenor of our times, with its associated disruptions, is to us.  We are a generation of pygmies, not tzaddikim, and the best that can be asked of us is to endure the dislocations that have followed in the wake of Sandy, as we put our lives back together again with the aforementioned new walls, floors, appliances, and anything else that would improve upon what heretofore defined the contours of our material existence.

Is there nothing more to this than a plague of mold?

Could it not be that our extended community, its manifold imperfections notwithstanding, was zoche to have the tircha and the losses resulting from the fury that the Ribbon Shel Olam unleashed, amidst the Jewish communities stretching from Lido Beach to Seagate, piled onto the z’chus side of the scales of life and death that were at that time precariously balancing the merits of the Yishuv in Eretz Yisroel against the Satan’s bill of indictment? 

And if so, could it also not be that having tilted the scale towards life, our travail was then morphed into the Iron Dome interceptors that shot Yishmael’s arrows out of the sky?

Or was it just a storm?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Cure

We live in a much fractured society, and in such an environment any rational concept of shelaimos is on the endangered species list.  And to further complicate the situation on the ground, we’re looking in the wrong places for the little shelaimos that is recognizable as such, for as the Kotsker Rebbe says, there is nothing as whole as a broken heart.

Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, in the name of Rav Kook z”l, explains that a broken heart is like a fire that purifies the soul and restores it to its healthy basis of natural joy (when employed in the right proportion).

Not so the person who is sad.

Rav Kook warns against the danger of sadness, which prevents the light of teshuvah from penetrating to the depth of the soul.

Moreover, sadness is the trait of the angry person, states Rebbe Nachman, who at his core is resentful that Hashem is not giving him what he wants.  Whereas the broken hearted individual is upset with himself over his tendency to walk a crooked mile in lieu of a straight path with Hashem, the sad person is upset with G-d.  If life’s not going his way then it’s Hashem’s fault.  And it doesn’t have to be anything big either.  If he so much as stubs his toe he’s smack in the face of the Heavenly Judgment with a counter-claim.

Rabbi Weinberger tells us that a broken heart is the opposite of sadness and depression.  Citing Rebbe Nachman (Sichos HaRan), he says that when a person has a broken heart, he recognizes his flaws and focuses on the imperfections that have kept him distant from the One Whom he loves.  He is able to see the reality of his condition because a broken heart proceeds from humility which by its very existence renders moot the distraction of the ego.

But in a one hundred eighty degree journey from the humility that drives the broken heart, the sad one’s anger is nothing but the outward manifestation of his gaiva, for as we recently said in EmunahSpeak: Watch Me Now:

In a certain sense, ka’as is a reactive mechanism that is put into play when one’s gaiva (arrogance) hits a speed bump.  A person’s gaiva causes him to want his way, and when his way is not forthcoming he loses it in almost as many different permutations as there are people.

Or put another way, one with a broken heart ponders as to what he would like to give to Hashem and/or what he has heretofore failed to put before Him.  A sad person, on the other hand, focuses on what Hashem has failed to give him.  And as we said in EmunahSpeak: Who Do You Put in the Center of Your Picture?, he puts himself in the center of the picture and says: “gimme.”

But isn’t one with a broken heart sad?  How do we distinguish between the two?

Sadness is in and of itself the problem while a broken heart is the cure.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Watch Me Now

The Mesillas Yesharim teaches us that there are four bad middos, all of which are beyond the reasoning of sechel and wisdom, and each one can bring a person to do serious aveiros.

One of them is ka’as (anger), and as we already learned in EmunahSpeak: The Most Serious Character Flaw, the Ramban explains that anger is a most serious character flaw which causes one to sin.

Rabbi Yisroel Brog explains there that while there are myriad reasons why this is so, probably the most important of them is that when a person gets angry he loses his connection with reality, and having done so, even after he calms down he will still be disconnected from Hashem.  Not only is he, as Chazal tell us, like one who is considered to have worshipped idols, and therefore as one who has no G-d, but he is also like one who has no self.

Lest one think that getting angry at a drunk driver who tore up your front lawn before his car came to rest half way through the door of your new car qualifies you as a worshipper of idols, the Ramchal tells us otherwise.  He opens our eyes as to what Chazal meant when they placed anger on the fast track to idol worship.

Rabbi Brog tells us that the Ramchal says that Chazal’s statement only applies to a certain type of person, and amplifying on what we quoted above from EmunahSpeak: The Most Serious Character Flaw, Rabbi Brog says that such a person loses his ability for rational thinking and if he had the power he would destroy the world.  The only thing driving him is ka’as, and he will go wherever it will bring him, even aveiros.

Query:  What is your reaction when someone doesn’t do what you want?

Do you take it in stride or do you do your very best imitation of Pearl Harbor from the Japanese perspective?

If you’re prone to going ballistic when things of an interpersonal nature don’t go your way then give a look at the mirror and smile at the certain type of person that the Ramchal identified as the one that Chazal considered to have worshipped idols.

In a certain sense, ka’as is a reactive mechanism that is put into play when one’s gaiva (arrogance) hits a speed bump.  A person’s gaiva causes him to want his way, and when his way is not forthcoming he loses it in almost as many different permutations as there are people.  

Rabbi Brog puts this gaiva/ka’as continuum in its proper perspective by informing us that every ka’as in the world is an expression of Watch Me Now How I Deal with the Way Somebody Acts (when those actions fly in the face of my gaiva).   

And if what you’re watching is uncontrolled rage, it’s the wrath of a fool who is no better than a dog responding to a tug from his master’s leash.