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

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Ohr Panecha

What wouldn’t any of us do to be zoche to an encounter with Hashem?

While I’m not qualified to opine on what any of us might do to attain such an exalted audience I most certainly can speak to the point of what most of us actually do when accorded such an opportunity.

We space out, we talk, we text, we check our cell to see who called or who is presently calling, we actually answer our cells, and there are even a few who make calls.

About the only thing left out of this litany of misdirected attention is Hashem.

In EmunahSpeak: Tefillah Chronicles we said, Okay, so most of us are somewhere else when we’re davening Shemoneh Esrei, and we’re not that picky about it either.  Apparently, anyplace will do, the only criteria being that we wind up “there” as opposed to “here.”

And it has nothing to do with getting sucked into the routine of davening.

Had we been on Har Sinai instead of Moshe Rabbeinu we probably would have spaced out on the view instead of focusing on what Hashem was saying.

And it’s not just davening.

Given our status as an Am Segula, we are blessed with numerous encounters of all kinds.

You ate something?

The brocha you made on the food before you put it in your mouth brought you into close contact with Hashem as did the brocha you made when you finished eating.  And so it goes for every brocha one makes irrespective of what it’s made on.  If you utter Hashem’s name in the form of a blessing you are instantly given an audience, and a private one at that.

But what good is an audience if you don’t have what to say and you don’t even know what you’re doing there in any case?  

Without proper focus as to what we really want from Hashem we tend to tread water in our davening, bentching, asher yatzar or any other brocho that will bind us, however temporarily with Hashem.

In Sim Shalom, which is the last brocha in Shemoneh Esrei, we ask Hashem to bless us…with the light of Your countenance (Ohr Panecha).  

Smile at us.

This is what it’s all about, not what we ask for (and receive) in the earlier brochos.  Whether we realize it or not, all of the bakoshos are only a moshol. What we are really seeking is the Ohr Panecha.

The ultimate encounter that we seek with Hashem is to be touched by His smile.

This is tefillah in a nutshell.  Everything else is simply punctuation.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

An Opportunity Lost

We are told by the American fearing (as opposed to G-d fearing) clique that presently holds the reins of power in the State of Israel that it’s time to share the burden of living in a modern state.  In EmunahSpeak: Sharing the Burden we endeavored to explain where the real burden (aka responsibility) lies, but simply stating the truth of the matter doesn’t by itself change the facts on the ground.  And those facts have teeth and they are about to bite.

We’ll leave it to others to lament the wickedness of it all.

Suffice it to say that however practical, useful, and benign some of the proposals emanating from the ruling clique appear to be by way of a cursory look, (a clique whose ignorance of what’s truly critical for the security of theYishuv in Eretz Yisroel is only exceeded by its collective and insufferable gaiva), a long hard stare will show that the impetus behind it all is not some Pollyannaish notion of how to set things right for the greater good of all.  Nor is it something that speaks to our time as if it were the call of the hour.

The truth is that the Passion Play that was written, produced, and now directed by the aforementioned group is, most likely unbeknownst to them, but one more installment in the 250 year running scandal which has seen a majority of the Jews in every generation, beginning first in Western Europe and then moving east, spit in Hashem’s Face and say it’s been nice, but it’s time to move on. 

And this latest installment tracks very nicely with chapter one which saw the assimilationist Jews in late 18th Century Austria petition the Emperor Joseph II to draft the Jews in to the army and force them to create schools that would teach the State curriculum in exchange for equal rights.  The Emperor was only too happy to accommodate two out of the three demands.  The equal rights didn’t put in an appearance until close to eighty years later.

Déjà vu, no?

In each and every generation they rise up against us to destroy us. And destroying doesn’t necessarily mean by violence.  As we have seen these past two and half centuries it can done civically just as effectively and more often than not it’s an inside job.

The good news, of course, is that the Holy One, blessed be He, rescues us from their hands.

Reduced to its lowest common denominator the story is as follows:

We are told that citizenship in the Jewish State requires a level playing field as far as army participation and education are concerned so that we can all be on same page.  That’s essentially the sales pitch. 

But something is missing here commensurate with a political version of 3 Card Monte.

In the seemingly innocuous claim of equality, level playing fields, and the like something has been left out of the equation.

What happened to the Jewish half of the Jewish State?

Where exactly are the balance, equality, and that proverbial level playing field anyway?

And we’re not talking here about some proposed cosmetic kefira additions to the general secular curriculum that are worse than worthless.

Had we been secure enough in our learning and hashkafa, wouldn’t it have been nice if instead of hunkering down in the bunker we could have flipped the challenge back in their face by pointing out the incongruity of their conception of equality, and shared responsibilities by saying, yes, we’ll let your people come in an teach our kids math and science if you let our people (not yours) teach your kids a core curriculum of basic Judaism created by us (not you)?

It wouldn’t happen to be sure, but had we been internally strong enough to make that rebuttal it would have been a Kiddush Hashem, and their hypocritical reaction thereto would have exposed the proposed social revolution for the fraud that it is.

It was an opportunity lost.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Ultimate Segula


 Now what might that be?

Davening forty days straight at the Kossel or for those of us in the States who are not in walking distance, giving a healthy donation to some (tax deductible) group that is?  

Or maybe it’s the Chai Rotel (54 liters) of wine that many people kick in to the festivities in Meron on Lag B’Omer.  And don’t forget about an amulet from your favorite (possibly tax deductible) neighborhood mystic otherwise known as a mekubal.

And who doesn’t hasten for a brocha from the Gedolim of the generation real or imagined?

The Chofetz Chaim z”l was puzzled by all of this running to and fro after segulas.  He states straight away that he sees this behavior as being unbelievable.

He goes on to nail the case closed for at least one segment of the population as far segulas are concerned and in the process hands us the ultimate segula, a segula you can take to the bank.  And we’re not talking here about a bank that’s FDIC insured by dollars borrowed from China.  This one’s backed by Hashem with currency good in both worlds.

In Shemiras HaLoshon he tells us that people are constantly looking for mystical charms and blessings from our great sages for success and livelihood (in addition to anything else that’s a member in good standing in the breadth and width of human desire).  But what possible value is there in these amulets and blessings if, G-d forbid, this person routinely violates the sin of Loshon Hora and the sin of Rechilus?

Fair question this.

The answer, in all of its simplicity hits the high note of irony because the Chofetz Chaim says that the Torah specifically promises this person (the baal loshon hora) that he will be cursed.  In Ki Savo it says “cursed (arur) is the person who secretly hits his fellow Jew,” and as Rashi explains, this is pertaining to loshon hora.

And we learn from Chazal that while a minority of people stumble in areas related to immorality and a majority stumble in certain forms of theft; everyone stumbles in Avak Loshon Hora (the dust of Loshon Hora).

 Hey that’s us!

Okay, so we’re not all baale Loshon Hora but Chazal is letting know up front that the solid ground we presume to be under our feet is, Loshon Hora wise, more akin to thin ice.

So what’s the ultimate segula already?

The Chofetz Chaim ends his rif on segulas with numero uno:

Everyone knows that the curses in the Torah are always preceded by Hashem’s blessings:  “blessed is whoever does not hit his fellow Jew-and all of Israel answered Amain to this.”  And then he promises that this blessing will come true and will endure.

No big deal and nothing fancy.  You don’t have to write out any checks, shlep to the Kossel or go to a mekubal.

The ultimate segula for whatever your heart desires is simply to keep your tongue in its holster to be drawn only on appropriate occasions, with the emphasis on appropriate occasion as opposed to drawn.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Different You

We’ve been this way before.

We talked about real change already last year and the year before for all the good that it did.  In better times maybe we could squeeze out yet another few years with talkin’ mode set to cruise control.

But these aren’t better times.

In numerous pieces over the course of the last two years we have stressed the point that real change is not about tinkering at the edges.  As we said in EmunahSpeak: Red Alert!, The days where we could throw Hashem a bone so to speak and go about our business are over.

We suggested there that we all have to look within ourselves with laser like penetration at everything, not just something, and then take on as much as we can handle, each and everyone according to his strength of character.

And in EmunahSpeak: A Real Deal Teshuva we pointed out that Teshuva is not a once a year spiritual form of Pesach cleaning or something to be pulled out of the bull pen on the ruchniyas equivalent of rainy days, to level out the speed bumps that we invariably hit as we navigate our way through the minefield of life’s challenges.

And, according to the Rambam, it’s not enough to do Teshuva for the sins we have done. We also have to do Teshuva for who we are if we’re not who we should be, because a lot of life’s challenges reside within, in the form of bad character traits, which also require Teshuva. 

The bottom line here is that we don’t just change our actions and call it a day. 

It’s not simply that yesterday I did, while now I no longer do, but rather that yesterday I was, while today I no longer am.  The growth process is about changing you.

Change your desires.  Change your ideals.

And finally in EmunahSpeak: A Gut Rehab, which was written in response to Sandy one day after the lights came back on, we cranked it up yet another notch:

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.

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. 

Intellectually speaking, what’s left to say?  We have the talk down pretty good but, motivationally speaking, how do we morph the talk into the walk?

Someone’s life may depend on it.

Last Elul, Rabbi Yigal Haimoff was diagnosed with the dreaded makla, r”l and the prognosis wasn’t all that good.  At a gathering of 400 people at Rabbi Haimoff’s shul, Rabbi Mordechai Aderet said the following:

The Rebbe needs a very big refuah sheleima so what are you going to do about it?  And then for close to an hour he pounded them as he proceeded to very forcefully drive home the point that their Rabbis life was in their hands.

Rabbi Haimoff’s chemo protocol called for six heavy duty treatments.  After number three his doctor told him that he could not find any trace of the makla anywhere.

So what happened?

We said above that you have to become a different you, period.  And that’s pretty much the long and short of it.  Some women began to cover their hair while others threw away their slacks.  Couples with serious marital problems made up.  And there were those who used to tip toe around the periphery of Shabbos observance that finally jumped in with both feet.  And so it went.

No small changes these.  You start by looking into the mirror long enough to see past your present image to a different you.

We said in EmunahSpeak: If You Feel Blessed that 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.


We see from Rabbi Haimoff’s congregants that when the scales of life and death are being balanced in your face you put yourself on the table, not a little more.

What wouldn’t someone do for a sick relative or friend or to marry off a daughter?

If you have been paying attention you're about to find out.