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

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Making Room for Yenem

Rabbi Akiva Eiger was famous for his humility.

It is said that once at the Pesach Seder a poor man sitting at his table accidently knocked over his wine glass which considerably altered the color scheme of the beautiful white lace tablecloth which covered the table.

Rabbi Akiva Eiger was so reflexively sensitive to the poor man’s embarrassment that within a heartbeat he also knocked over his own wine glass, further soaking what had already become a red tablecloth in the vicinity of his seat.

No, he wasn’t hard wired to act this way from birth.  Sensitivity is an Avodah, and he devoted years to the avodah of being sensitive to another’s feelings.

So where are we holding?

We don’t hear the voice of Hashem because we’re too busy hearing the voice of our body.  And that goes for the voice of yenem also because we are too busy trying to hear ourselves, submerged as we are in our own needs/wants.  And because we can’t hear anything but ourselves we are oblivious to what affects others.

Rabbi Shimon Kessin tells us that the purpose of avodah is not to become more religious.  It’s to develop character traits which allow one to elevate himself in his relationship with Hashem.

And the single most important factor which will distance you from Hashem is if you are unable to relate to another person.  You can’t be a Tzaddik or righteous person in respect to Hashem if you’re not that way with stam people. To the degree that you are unable to relate to your peers, to that extent you will be unable to relate to Hashem.  And given the fact that we are too busy being full of ourselves to relate to others, things aren’t looking good for the Jews as far as relating to Hashem is concerned.

Humility is the essence of Yiras Shomayim and the essence of relating to another person so is it any wonder that the same quality that separates you from your fellow man (arrogance) will also separate you from Hashem. You just can’t pick and choose when and when not to be arrogant because it’s impossible to be arrogant to man and not be arrogant to Hashem.

The bottom line of the Mesillas Yesharim is the concept of Avodah which is a step by step process and the first step is to become sensitive to others.  We start by elevating awareness of another person, and we don’t get there by stam thinking about another person for as Rabbi Kessin further points out, if you sit down and say:  “I have to start thinking about another person,” it will never happen.

The trick is to stop thinking about yourself long enough for another person to find his way into your thoughts.