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

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Panim el Panim

In EmunahSpeak: Goin’ Ostrich we pointed out that:

As a proxy for earthquakes and floods we have missiles, but instead of seeing them through the eyes of the Gemara so as to utilize them as a means of bringing us to Teshuva, all we see, to the extent that we trouble ourselves to look, is missiles and the wickedness of the Arabs that rain them down on our heads. 

True enough, but Rabbi Yehuda Litwen makes the point even more explicit, as he gives it to us black on white in the name of R’ Elchonon Wasserman:

When we had Neviim they told us what the demands in Shomayim were from us.  But now we do not have Neviim, so how do we know what Hashem wants from us?  R' Elchonon said that Hashem speaks to us through the other nations of the world-if rockets are flying then Hashem is telling us WAKE UP!

If Hashem is speaking to us amidst the missiles falling on Ashdod and sundry venues, He’s no doubt screaming at us out of the carnage in Toulouse, but the screaming, as such, is not substantively a function of decibels.  It’s procedural, and it comes to us in the manner of its delivery.

We learn from the Ariza’l that a wife is a mirror of the husband.  Whatever deficiency he has he sees in her.  Moreover, and this is the point that concerns us, Rabbi Shalom Arush tells us something that distinguishes the horror of Toulouse from the other body counts that have (hopefully) humbled us in the not so distant past.  He lets us hear that Hashem also speaks to the husband through the wife. 

Eva Sandler, r”l, no longer has a husband to speak to.

While still sitting shiva for her husband, Yonatan and her two sons h”yd, she wrote a letter that was posted on Chabad.org and published in Hamodia, in which, amongst other things, she said the following:

Along with our tearful remembrance of our trials in Egypt so many years ago, we still tell over how “in each and every generation, they have stood against us to destroy us.” We all will announce in a loud and clear voice: “G-d saves us from their hands.”

The spirit of the Jewish people can never be extinguished; its connection with Torah and its commandments can never be destroyed.

Parents, please kiss your children. Tell them how much you love them, and how dear it is to your heart that they be living examples of our Torah, imbued with the fear of Heaven and with love of their fellow man.

Please increase your study of Torah, whether on your own or with your family and friends. Help others who may find study difficult to achieve alone.

May it be G-d’s will that from this moment on, we will all only know happiness.

Does this sound like a widow so recently bereft of her husband and two sons that our tears haven’t had time to dry yet?

Who’s speaking here, anyway? 

Is it not Hashem?  And is he not speaking directly to us?

What we are hearing here is not your every day wake up call.  Hashem is not hinting to us by way of missiles and the like in lieu of the Neviim, to which He came in visions and dreams.

He’s speaking to us Panim el Panim in a scream couched in the barely audible whisper of a widow. And we don’t have to ponder our reaction because this time He tells us exactly what it should be.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Whence the Real Deal Teshuva (2)?

Project Cheshvan

In EmunahSpeak: A Real Deal Teshuva (2) the emphasis was prospective with an eye to growth rather than a retrospective inventory of our accumulated aveiros.  We said there:

In Elul you are what you want to be.  You are the sum total of all the aspirations and kavanas you have for growth in the ensuing year.  During the rest of the year, however, you are what you do on a daily basis, with the reality check of what you aspired to in Elul being what you do on a daily basis in Shevat.  If your growth was real enough to take root then it will still be around to blossom in Shevat.

If it was stunted, it won’t. 

In Elul I was on the cutting edge of big hasagos.  If I was the sum total of all my aspirations, kavanas, and the like then I must of have been at least ten feet tall at the time.  

Then, as was stated above, came the reality check of what I do on a daily basis in Shevat, and the ten feet that I imagined myself to be back in Elul quickly morphed into an imagined five feet standing on shifting sands.

Well here we are in Nissan already, and my Elul Do List is still in mint condition, finger print free, and I probably could sell it to a collector on eBay.  The way things are going I may well be spared writing a new one for this coming Elul.

And it wasn’t like I put it into a draw or something.  I had it right on my desk next to my laptop along with sundry reminders scotched taped to my desk lamp and my laptop so that it has been in my face since Elul.

So what happened?  The same thing that happens every year.


And after giving it some serious thought I think I understand why.  For one to take on to improve in any number of given areas over the course of the coming year is like deciding to do something between now and the rest of one’s life.

A year is simply too long.

Not that it wouldn’t take a year or more (and quite likely a lifetime) to effect a proper tikkun in certain areas in desperate need of improvement.  It’s just that with the finish line so far off into the distance of next Elul/Tishrei we tend to space out as to the immediacy of it all, and with all the time in the world to get started we never do.

The solution, as such, consists of reducing the year to a month, which forces us to start now, not then.

Bowing to the reality that approximately eighteen children under the age of ten will be running loose in my house at various times during the run up to Pesach, the Yom Tov itself, and its aftermath, my intention to afflict some wear and tear on my Elul list will be put off until Iyar.

If I can’t make a significant start, and hopefully a serious dent, in my Elul list during Project Iyar’s attempt to play catch up after six months of treading water, then EmunahSpeak: A Real Deal Teshuva (2) gets deleted from the archives.  The failure to do what needs to be done is already enough for my plate.  It doesn’t have to be seasoned with hypocrisy.

Henceforth, we’re talking Project Cheshvan, not Iyar.  That’s the deadline to seriously massage all those things you promised to do in Elul.  Aside for things such as committing not to speak loshon hora and the like, which people tend to jump into right away (and usually fail) there’s too much doing in Tishrei for most people to make a go of it with any hope of success.

If you're one of those truly rare people who thinks he could pull it together in Tishrei with enough presence of mind to make a frontal assault on his Elul list you shouldn’t be reading this.

You should be writing it instead.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Purely Righteous

So who are they, anyway?

While the tzaddikim are most certainly purely righteous, the purely righteous do not necessarily have to be tzaddikim. 

They could also be Beinonim on a roll who are rising to the challenge of the tests being placed before them in contradistinction to their literal soul brother, the Rasha, who simply goes with the flow of his inherent bent toward wickedness without making any attempt at staying the course.

As we said in reference to the Beinoni in EmunahSpeak: The Beinoni HaKodosh (2), Our whole purpose in this world is to defeat the Ra, and defeat in this context doesn’t mean changing the Ra into something you would be comfortable inviting to your home for a Shabbos seuda.  Ra is an integral part of Creation with a fundamental role to play for the duration. Our job here is not to change the Ra but rather to push it away.

The mechanics of the pushing away process was also laid out in EmunahSpeak: The Beinoni HaKodosh (2)  where we also spoke about the Beinoni’s ability to push the Sitra Achra (Ra) down every time he abstains from doing something he shouldn’t do and the fact that he possesses that koach only by virtue of the possibility of his not abstaining.

But by merely staying on defense, ever so vigilant not to do that which the Torah prohibits, a Beinoni doesn’t qualify as yet as being purely righteous. In addition to being able to administer a smack down to the Ra he has to bring something to the table in the way of spreading light if he wishes to do as the purely righteous do.

And what exactly do the purely righteous do, be they of the Tzaddikim or of the Beinonim?

Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook z”l, explained as follows:

Rather than complain about wickedness, the purely righteous go on offense and increase righteousness.  And they do it by example, which in turn brings people close as opposed to pushing them away.

And rather than complain about heresy, the purely righteous increase faith. They instill in others the foundations of emunah which, in and of itself, pushes heresy out the door, because as we know from EmunahSpeak: Nothing but Thoughts, we have it on good authority from Chazal that one cannot hold onto two disparate thoughts at the same time, so all we have to do is to decide to put good thoughts into our heads, thereby pre-empting the dark side competition.

And rather than complain about ignorance, the purely righteous increase wisdom.  They know that the only antidote to ignorance is to give over the Toras Moshe that they received from their rebbeim who are links in a chain extending all the way back to Har Sinai.

The approach of the purely righteous is the Rosetta Stone of achdus.  Rather than snipe from the sidelines on all the ills, real and imagined, that plague us, the purely righteous proactively give of their essence with the aim of qualifying those very ills for the endangered species list.

They understand that a little light can dispel a great amount of darkness, so rather than complain about darkness the purely righteous increase light.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Goin' Ostrich

My brother’s keeper?

 Back in Elul, in EmunahSpeak: Red Alert! we noted the recent missile attacks on Ashdod.  And although through the course of the year the intermittent firing of missiles triggered additional Red Alerts, it wasn’t till this past Shabbos and the days following, that the Red Alert siren was heard in Ashdod with a frequency approaching that of last Elul. 

And as it was back in Elul, it falls to Rabbi Lazer Brody to give us the play by play at street level:
GRAD rockets continue to be fired from Gaza toward Ashdod. We had 5 Red-alerts this morning, at 6:30 AM, 8:15 AM, 8:35 AM, 10:07 and just now at 10:55 AM.

That was yesterday’s bulletin. 

On Sunday, he reported that in addition to a number of hits that day, the Red Alert was heard many times in the wee hours of Shabbos morning.  So much so, that people were nodding out in shul from lack of sleep.

And today, for the fourth day in a row it was more of the same with attacks coming at 2:25 P.M., 2:45 P.M., 3:15 P.M., and 5:00 P.M.

As for the rest of the country, the part that’s outside of siren range, it’s not clear if they’re hearing anything at all, be it with their ears or their hearts.

In EmunahSpeak: Now We Know we said in reference to the Leiby Kletsky tragedy:

Like rolling thunder he (the Satan) moved from one place to the next.  Way out at first on the other side of the world through New Zealand and Japan, leaving earthquakes in his wake, then a lot closer in the form of tornadoes tearing through the Deep South and then through Joplin, Missouri.  From there he went into the flood business as he devastated the Mississippi Valley, and then, back in tornado mode, he dropped in for a quick pit stop next door in Springfield, Massachusetts to quench his thirst by almost sucking up the Connecticut River.

These weren’t isolated incidents.

As is well known, the Gemara in Yevamos teaches that every disaster that comes upon the world comes only because of Klal Yisroel.  It’s always about us.  It always was and it always will be.

Rav Miller, z”l used to say that if you see a small news item on the bottom of page 89 in the New York Times reporting a cyclone in Bangladesh that killed 200,000 people, the whole purpose for this devastation was that a Jew named Miller in Flatbush should hear about it and do Teshuva.  And if he doesn’t do Teshuva, then it’s a waste of a lot of goyim for nothing.

Like rolling thunder, the Satan moved from one place to the next.  Each stop along the way Hashem knocked on our door, but we didn’t answer.  And so it went until he reached Boro Park.

And when he finally got there, Hashem didn’t knock.  He let the Satan kick the door down instead.

You can’t say we weren’t warned.

And in like manner both those living in Ashdod and all the rest of us for that matter, who are doing our best to avert our eyes, have also been warned.

As a proxy for earthquakes and floods we have missiles, but instead of seeing them through the eyes of the Gemara so as to utilize them as a means of bringing us to Teshuva, all we see, to the extent that we trouble ourselves to look, is missiles and the wickedness of the Arabs that rain them down on our heads. 

Rather than see a wake up call, we see a routine, or more accurately we succumb to a routine much akin to garbage collection or bread delivery.

A couple of years ago, Mishpacha Magazine ran a piece about Netivot when the first kassim rockets fell within a kilometer of the town. The people quoted in that story made it very clear that they viewed the possibility of rockets, chas v'shalom, falling on Netivot as a tragedy of major proportions.  That it was happening tog and nacht in Sederot which is only a few kilometers up the road was not even mentioned, and therein lays the real tragedy.  One does not have to look further than Parshas Vayeira to see what kind of a midda this is. 

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? 

Instead of deciphering and internalizing what the Gemara tells us should be on our screen, we do a one-eighty by not daring to take a peak outside our daled amos. And as a consequence thereof, we are the ultimate losers because when we go ostrich vis á vis yenem we are at the same time closing our eyes to that which was sent our way to awaken us to our dire need to do Teshuva.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Yetzer Hora’s Purim

That’s pretty much what we have, isn’t it?

There’s an inyan to drink on Purim "until one does not know (ad d'lo yoda) the difference between "cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai".  There is also an inyan to be b’simcha and to do things out of our norm like dress up in costumes etc.

And when it comes to these inyanai Purim the Yetzer Hora does more than simply answer present at the roll call.  It's a real frumak so the order of the day, as far as it is concerned, is to be super machmir.  In its zealousness to be mehuder in all of the inyanai Purim, it pushes the envelope on ad d'lo yoda and takes it to new and uncharted territory where Simchas Purim morphs into kalos rosh so as to make the two indistinguishable.

As far as the drinking is concerned, the Yetzer massages the definition of ad d'lo yoda to such an extent that it’s hard to tell the difference between the Irish and the Jews, leaving the Irish green with envy over how we do them one better on St. Purim Day.

It comes out that instead of V'nahafoch Hu meaning an inversion of reality as in an upside down world, it more accurately represents an inside out Yiddishkeit with Purim definitely on the outside looking in.


And so it goes.


That’s not to say that we don’t get anything right.  After all, we do go through the motions rather well.  As per the Halacha, we’re attentive to every word of the Megillah.  We spare no expense on Shalach Manos and we give Matanos L’evyonim with a full hand.  And we readily comply with the directive of Chazal that states Kol haposhet yad nos'nim lo (Whoever stretches out their hand on Purim should be given tzeddakah) (Talmud Yerushalmi, Megilah 1,4).


Throw in a seuda that would make Achashverosh sit up and take notice, and you’re looking at the halakhically sound, hashkafically dormant Purim otherwise known as the Yetzer Hora’s Purim.  In the same way that a woman can be technically tznius from head to toe and still look like lady of the night, our Purim moves stealthily through all of the halachic checkpoints without setting off any alarms while hashkafically it’s hard to find a pulse.


What is there in any of these activities, proper and, unfortunately, universal as they may be, that bespeaks of the fact that Purim is the holiest day of the year, or as Rabbi Shimshon Pincus z”l, puts it, the epitome of kedusha?  And do we see from any of this that Purim is mesugal more than any other day of the year for any yeshua that one may require for whatever reason?  


It’s all part and parcel of all of those outstretched hands that we so generously shmeared with gelt during Purim. In the same way that we speak no evil, hear no evil, and see no evil vis á vis those extended hands irrespective of whatever they may be attached to, Hashem gives us whatever we’re davening for just for the asking without any kashas on His part.  The whole day of Purim, Hashem, Who's itching to love bomb us with everything and anything, waits for our tefillos that for the most part never come.


So why aren’t we davening in any semblance of a meaningful way?  Why is it that on a day that oozes kedusha, when our tefillos, brochos, and bentching should be different, our idea of different is chap lop?!


The story goes something like this: we get sucker punched by all of the tumult inherent in the whole inyan of simchas Purim and by the opportunity that the mitzvohs of the day give us to think that we have gotten to the core of the matter.


As Rabbi Mordechai Groner puts it, theYetzer Horah works very hard on distracting us from the "REAL" avodah of Purim.  And that avodah is to restoreV'nahafoch Hu to its traditional meaning by leaving the Yetzer outside looking in and by not being attracted/distracted by the leibidik levush of Purim at the expense of its inner sanctity and all that flows from it.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Beinoni HaKodosh (2)

In EmunahSpeak: The Beinoni HaKodosh we said, our job is to reach the level of Beinonim.  And we also noted that Hashem derives a tremendous nachas ruach from the Beinoni’s lifetime street fight with Ra (evil).

The entire existence of the Beinoni is a study in contradiction because the very strength of the Beinoni derives from an inherent weakness.

Unlike the Tzaddik, who for the most part travels under the radar as far as life’s temptations are concerned, the Beinoni never leaves his foxhole on the front line in the battle against Ra.  His weakness is that he sometimes forgets to keep his head down, which invariably leads to a grab bag of negative consequences.  But being a Beinoni, he licks his wounds and is back in the thick of it in short order. 

Our whole purpose in this world is to defeat the Ra, and defeat in this context doesn’t mean changing the Ra into something you would be comfortable inviting to your home for a Shabbos seuda.   Ra is an integral part of Creation with a fundamental role to play for the duration.  Our job here is not to change the Ra but rather to push it away.

And this is where the Beinoni’s strength lies.  It’s in his ability to push the Sitra Achra (Ra) down every time he abstains from doing something he shouldn’t do, and he possesses that koach only by virtue of the possibility of his not abstaining.  And that positive decision not to do wrong diminishes the koach of tuma which consequently causes the Kovod Shomayim to go up in the world.  And this elevating of Hashem is more important than anything else. In contradistinction, the Tzaddik has no taiva to do Ra as we understand that term, which means that he cannot subdue the influence of the Sitra Achra in this world.

As we said in EmunahSpeak: The Beinoni HaKodosh, At its root, this world was created with but two personality types that will always remain the way they are: The Tzaddik and the Rasha.  And as we also learned there, Beinonim, in the view of the Tanya, have the same spiritual DNA as the Rasha’im.
The Tzaddik and Beinoni are side by side with one not being higher than the other.  They represent two distinct ways for nachas ruach before Hashem.  And He doesn’t expect from one what he wants from the other.

Rabbi Yisroel Brog tells us that a Tzaddik can turn what’s bitter into something sweet and darkness into light.  The Tzaddik increases tov, but he’s not fighting to destroy the Ra.

And that’s why we need Beinonim.  Beinonim do the job.

Rabbi Brog points out that whereas the Tzaddik is all about sweetness, the Beinoni is loaded with charif.  The Yetzer Hora is always working on him inside with every tool at his disposal.

This is the lot of the Beinoni, and at the end of the day, no matter what he does he can’t turn the charif into something sweet.

But he can make it palatable.