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

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Here We Go Again

Anyone who lives on the east coast of the United States has by this time heard the dire predictions concerning Hurricane Sandy.  Maybe these predictions will chas v'shalom come to fruition in whole or in part in the next few days or they won't.  In either case that will be a fact that those affected by it will deal with.  But lest we make the same mistake as we collectively did last year in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene when we cut Hashem out of the postmortem, I'm reposting EmunahSpeak: A Divinely Pulled Punch before Sandy hits for the purpose of assessing the storm in its proper context in whatever form it ends up taking.

A Divinely Pulled Punch

Hurricane Irene or Tropical Storm Irene or just a rainy day named Irene depending on where one lives and the condition of one’s basement, has (almost) come and gone leaving most of us a little wetter, no wiser, and maybe even less so.

While there was plenty of water to go around in upstate New York, Northern New Jersey, and Vermont to mention but a few of the waterlogged venues visited by Irene, these and most of the others severely affected by the storm were victims of fresh water flooding courtesy of voluminous amounts of rain that overwhelmed storm sewers and sent local rivers over their banks.

The flooding in parts of Westchester County was such that if not for the occasional sighting of a guardrail ever so slightly poking out above the water line, it would have been impossible to distinguish the Saw Mill River Parkway from the Saw Mill River.

On the other hand, the threatened Storm Surge that put to flight thousands of residents of the South Shore of Long Island and forced the evacuation of the entire Rockaway Peninsula failed to significantly materialize, and as a result my neighbors and I still have where to live, Boruch Hashem.
In the aftermath of Irene,Weatherdom, by means of satellite tracking, high speed computers, and specialized software modeling, all of which comprise the heart and soul of weather forecasting, has every answer to any conceivable question as to what did or did not happen, storm wise, to the New York Metropolitan area between Friday and Sunday the week before last.

It’s all a matter of timing.

After the fact, we are treated to cutting edge sophisticated analysis.  And before the fact, like when it might count for something, one could do just as well by flipping a coin.  It’s the high tech version of drawing the bull’s eye around the arrow wherever it lands. 

It’s bad enough when the Weatherman attempts to explain away weather in general and Hurricane Irene in particular in the language of teva.  But as insufferable as the Weatherman’s teva babble may be to the ears of those whose heads are screwed on according to the Manufacturer’s specifications, it’s beyond inexcusable when those of us who profess to see through the teva smokescreen begin to think and speak in the tevadik language by which Weatherdom and the rest of the secular world defines its existence.

As I look out across the street to the peaceful ocean beyond I am less troubled about reports of another hurricane forming south east of the Bahamas that will put the entire coast from North Carolina to New England definitely at risk than I am by the general response to Irene, or rather lack thereof. 

In advance of the storm, some of us went to the Catskills, some to Queens, others to Brooklyn, and a number of us sought refuge in Monsey.

But where did Hashem go?

To hear people talk, one would think that at the same time many of us were packing out of the area in a hurry, Hashem was also heading for the high ground to points north and west of the city.

While most of us correctly see the Yad Hashem in devastating manifestations of “Nature” we seem to have a blind spot with the flip side of the equation which, in the absence of the predicted devastation, leads all too many of us to see no more than another "mistake" by the Weatherman, and "mistakes" by the Weatherman tend to preclude the perception of a hatzala which in turn is not particularly conducive to a teary eyed Modim.

The weather people tell us that in the last twenty years or so they have made great advances in tracking violent storms, and indeed, the predicted path of Irene was almost spot on to the tract the storm actually took.  Hashem allows them to follow His Shadow around as He flashes them the picture He wants them to see, which is accurate at its inception.  And then, not being bound by the teva that is driving the computer models that are trying to make sense of the storm, He does as He pleases.

Had Hashem stuck with the original picture of Irene that He revealed to the weather satellites, the storm would have whacked us pretty good.  But at the end of the day rather than devastating most, if not all of the kehillas stretching from Baltimore to Boston, He withdrew His Hand and threw water in our face instead.

And all we saw was rain.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thanks for the Freebie

In a number of pieces, with EmunahSpeak: "Interior Decorating” being but the most recent, we have established the core principle of the Chovos Halavovos as being that we should recognize the munificent kindnesses that Hashem bestows upon us from the time of our inception until our neshamas are recalled to their source.  And we also learned that, as a consequence thereof, this recognition should quite naturally instill in us a desire to be makker tov for all of the aforementioned kindnesses.

And in addition to spending our lives attempting to pay back some small part of what we owe to Hashem, in the form of Torah and Mitzvahs, for the 24/7/365/lifetime beneficences that have been bestowed upon us, we also said in EmunahSpeak: If You Feel Blessed that if you feel that Hashem has bestowed you with extra tov you should feel obligated to pay back a little more by adding something to your avoda, be it an extra twenty minutes of learning, a little more kavana in davening, or perhaps resolving to put more effort into doing chesed.

And this fact of Hakoras HaTov being the core principle of the Chovos Halavovos most assuredly means that it’s not limited in its application to Sha’ar Avodas Elokim which discusses the nature of our service to Hashem.

In Sha’ar HaTeshuvah of the Chovos Halavovos we are taken beyond what the Halacha requires as to normative teshuvah in cases between man and Hashem. In such a situation it is not enough just to say you’re sorry, coupled with viduy etc.  In addition to confessing our guilt in relation to the errors that we have committed, regretting those errors, and taking on never to the repeat them, the Chovos Halavovos adds a little something of its own.

Rav Chaim Malinowitz tells us in its name that if we err, it means that the organ, limb etc. with which we erred is, spiritually speaking, weak.  In order to properly complete the teshuvah process we therefore need to exercise the “muscle” that was weak and go to the other extreme in order to ‘tone it up.’

You spoke Loshon Hora?

It’s the view of the Chovos Halavovos that from now on you should only speak good thereby refraining even from negative comments that would be perfectly permissible.

You ate something that you shouldn’t have?

Henceforth, take on to stay away even from some food that is permitted.

And so it goes for every move you made that ended up requiring you to do teshuvah.

But isn’t teshuvah the ultimate free lunch?

Therefore the Chovos Halavovos, consistent with its view that the Hakoras HaTov that we owe Hashem for everything and then some is the touchstone of our existence, tacks on a little something to what the Halacha requires of us vis á vis teshuvah.

After all, if we should feel obligated to pay back a little more by adding something to our avoda, for those little right turns that our lives take, courtesy of Hashem, as opposed to lefts, then what should we say about teshuvah which is essentially a freebie that Hashem throws our way in the form of a second chance after we have made a train wreck out of chance numero uno?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

"Interior Decorating”

In both EmunahSpeak: If You Feel Blessed and EmunahSpeak: If You Feel Blessed (2) we put forth the yesod hayesodes of the Chovos Halavovos, which is that we owe everything to Hashem, and we rationally concluded that being makker tov to Hashem should be the focus of our lives.

In EmunahSpeak: If You Feel Blessed we said that if you feel that Hashem has bestowed you with extra tov you should feel obligated to pay back a little more by adding something to your avoda, be it an extra twenty minutes of learning, a little more kavana in davening, or perhaps resolving to put more effort into doing chesed.

And in EmunahSpeak: If You Feel Blessed (2) we took the proposition a step further by stating that this principle (of giving back a little more) also works on a national level because Klal Yisroel, even in golus, has almost always lived better than the people in whose midst they lived.

Okay, so in the spirit of all that is written above, you took stock of all of the tov (both gashmiyous and ruchnius) that Hashem has been showering upon you since day one of your earthly existence, and driven by a desire to be makker tov you began to learn seriously or took on one or a series of mitzvahs big time so as to bump up your Avodas Hashem.

As far as the Chovos Halavovos is concerned, you’re good to go, in that you have responded in kind to the beneficence that Hashem is bestowing upon you.  And we said in EmunahSpeak: If You Feel Blessed (2), in relation to your response, that Hashem will continue to shower upon you that special shefa that distinguished your lot from that of others. And that He will even add to it.

And when He in fact does, your recognition of such will once again push you to respond in kind, and so it goes in what will hopefully be an endless cycle of ever increasing Avodas Hashem.

But we’re not quite finished as yet.

Whereas the Chovos Halavovos looks upon your increased learning and all of your other aliyahs in Yiddishkeit as a form of payback for what Hashem has sent your way, the Mesillas Yesharim takes somewhat of a different view.

Rabbi Yisroel Brog tells us that rather than look upon your growth in Torah and Mitzvahs as satisfying, in some small degree, your obligations to Hashem, the Mesillas Yesharim’s take on the matter is that those madreigas that you climbed actually increased those obligations.

You’re learning half a day and your beard and clothes are commensurate with your newly minted madreiga so that your appearance is that of a serious Ben Torah?  Then you have to increase your Tikun HaMiddos accordingly, says Rabbi Brog.

Torah is supposed to improve a person. 

So if someone is immersed in Torah while his middos are merely floating on the surface, this disconnect between what he appears to be and how he conducts himself is a denigration of the Torah and therefore a chillul Hashem.

We summed up the approach of the Chovos Halavovos in EmunahSpeak: If You Feel Blessed as follows:

Therefore, if Hashem gives us more, we understand from the structure of the mitzvahs that we are supposed to do more than we have heretofore done.

Or put another way, if you feel blessed you should be putting a little more on the table.

And we could add, as per the Mesillas Yesharim, that when you put that little extra on the table make sure you use your finest china and silverware so that it will ‘look’ as good as it ‘tastes.’

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Do Not Fear

It’s getting rough out there.  

Even a cursory glance at the news gives one the feeling that the busy season for the panic stricken is upon us.

In EmunahSpeak: Someone’s Knockin’ we quoted Rav Shimshon Pincus as follows:

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.

We also said over there that 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.

To my thinking, Hashem seems to be showing His Hand even if it’s ever so subtly and it’s beginning to look like a redux of the Purim story, and it’s even being shot on location (Iran).

What to do?

We said in EmunahSpeak: The Call of the Hour that a number of….very serious seforim on emunah… 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.

Being that the events of the day could well play out like a Purim meisa what could be better than to mechazik ourselves by drawing from the same well that Mordechai HaTzaddik drew from?

Citing Esther Rabba, Rabbi Yisroel Bernath informs us that when Mordechai learned of the wicked decree that Haman obtained to murder all of the Jewish people, he went out into the street and met three young cheder kinderlach. He asked each one to say over what he had learned that day in cheder.

The first boy answered, Do not fear sudden terror, nor the destruction of the wicked when it comes..

The second cited the verse, Contrive a scheme, but it will be foiled; conspire a plot, but it will not materialize, for G-d is with us.

And the third replied with To your old age I am [with you]; to your hoary years I will sustain you; I have made you, and I will carry you; I will sustain you and deliver you.

Rabbi Bernath tells us that from these three posukim Mordechai knew that the Jewish people should fear no enemy; he took it as a divine omen that Haman's plans to annihilate the Jewish people will come to naught and that G-d would deliver them from all danger. 

Those who instinctively look at their watches when they finish the Aleinu prayer may not have noticed that there are three posukim printed under it that we are supposed to say.  And not just any posukim mind you, but the very ones that the cheder kinderlach said over to Mordechai:  

Do not fear sudden terror, nor the destruction of the wicked when it comes.

One should not be afraid of fear, for fear is paralyzing and harmful in itself. Even when the wicked are there and planning to destroy the world, we should not be afraid.

Contrive a scheme, but it will be foiled; conspire a plot, but it will not materialize, for G-d is with us.

We should not be afraid. We say to our enemies "You may make your wicked plans, and utter your wicked threats, but nothing will come from them, for G-d is with us."

To your old age I am [with you]; to your hoary years I will sustain you; I have made you, and I will carry you; I will sustain you and deliver you.

No matter how long the exile will be Hashem will always "carry" us. We are Hashem’s responsibility. Our exile and dispersion among the nations of the world is also Hashem’s doing. He will, therefore, surely deliver us from our enemies and from this exile. 

And we also hear from Rabbi Bernath that reciting these verses expresses confidence in G-d's protection, and all are regarded as auguries of deliverance.  And if that weren’t enough, the Mekubalim tell us that many powerful things are hidden in these verses.

It may indeed be getting rough out there, but if we read these three posukim with kavanah after every Aleinu that we recite it need not concern us because just like Mordechai we will fear no enemy, the plans of the wicked will come to naught, and Hashem will deliver us from danger.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

It’s All About Us

In EmunahSpeak: Now We Know  we said that As is well known, the Gemara 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.

But the truth is that when we learn from Chazal that even a ship carrying goods from one country to another does so only for the needs of Klal Yisroel even if there are no Jews living in either of those countries, they are telling us the paramount centricity of Klal Yisroel in this world is such that it transcends disasters to touch every aspect of life.

From these well established core teachings of Chazal as to Klal Yisroel’s importance and responsibility vis á vis the rest of the world, we can extrapolate the importance and responsibility of those Jews who are loyal to the Torah to the vast majority of our brothers and sisters who presently are not.

And while we’re at it, how did this vast majority of Jews, who are presently having difficulty distinguishing Shabbos from Tuesday, get this way?  Rabbi Yigal Haimoff cautions us not to let assimilation, Communism, Socialism, Zionism, Czarist despotism or Eastern European poverty et al. divert our attention from the real source of this disaster.  He tells us in the name of his rebbe that the reason that there are so many Jews who think that Shabbos is the best day to wash the car or play golf is because the Jews who do observe Shabbos don’t keep it the way they should.

The vicissitudes of life invariably bring upon us circumstances that we perceive as giving us cause to cry.  But for the real reasons that we have to cry we are not, says Rabbi Haimoff, because if we see a Jew driving on Shabbos we don’t cry.

So Hashem gives us other outlets for our tears.

But Shabbos is but one responsibility gone awry.  Given the fact that all about us in the context of Klal Yisroel’s constituent parts means that everything  Torah Jewry does impacts for better or worse on those Jews who are less affiliated, we should not have difficulty making a connection between our failings in the realm of proper tznius and the disregard that all too many of the not yet affiliated Jews have for the concept of clothing one’s body.

But Rabbi Haimoff takes us one step further by informing us that if those whose level of tznius is already conforming to the Halacha in every respect would do a little more, the others would get dressed.

So how far does this go anyway?

Rabbi Aharon Lieb Shteinman says that if a Jew who is loyal to the Torah takes upon himself something new in Torah and Mitzvahs that previously wasn’t his custom to do, fifty people will walk out of the hospital and the doctors won’t even understand the reason.


Because it’s all about us. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


The world is a test.  Everything is a test.  Even for a frum young man or woman.  And our sole business in this life is to withstand them.

That the tests of life are without end was one the main themes to which Rav Avigdor Miller z”l consistently returned over the course of the many decades in which he set the standard for the spreading of Torah in the United States of America.

He taught us never to think about a vacation from the Yetzer Hora because the Yetzer doesn’t do weekends.  It also doesn’t do breakfast, lunch, supper, or coffee breaks.  Or put a different way, a Jew should never sit with his back to the door of life unless he enjoys getting blindsided.

He was also wont to remind us that the temptation of Apikorsis was forever in the air.  And although he articulated this warning many years before the Internet, our wireless connections testify to how prescient his warning was.

But the tests of life to which Rav Miller z”l referred were neither limited to dangerous philosophical abstractions nor to more grounded dangers such as Marxism, which he considered to be the biggest enemy that Klal Yisroel ever faced.  He saw them in every facet of life with no circumstance being so benign as to pass unchallenged under his penetrating gaze.

You had a piece of toast for breakfast this morning?

If you are a cookie cutter example of what usually passes for a frum Jew these days, you first washed your hands according to the Halacha before diving in and you concluded your repast with a recital of Birkas HaMazon.

But did you see the nes (miracle)?!

Yes, even the piece of bread on your table is a test to see if you can eat it while being oblivious to the nes that is inherent within.

And by the nes of bread, Rav Miller z”l meant the literal nes that should be widening your eyes, and nothing less.  Suffice it to say that while the many steps in the bread making process from the planting up until the grinding of the grain into flour and from the flour onward are plausible in that over time mankind could have either figured them out or could have simply stumbled across them, the actual grinding of the grain into flour is a divine gift beyond the collective imagination of all humanity.  But that’s a story for another day.

So how far does this testing go anyway?  Rav Miller z”l took it even a step past the bread to the table.

How does one approach a Jewish table?

Do you gruffly plant yourself down to stuff yourself as you would at an outdoor picnic table or do you approach it with great Derech Eretz as befitting something that is Kodesh.

Do you sit on it or are you zoche to understand that the Jewish table is a mizbeach (an alter)?