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

Sunday, October 27, 2013

It's All About the Question

Interactive experiences are all the rage these days, be they educational, gaming, virtual touring, virtual anything else for that matter.

And this brings us to the Ramchal who makes fourteen key points in the first perek of the Mesillas Yeshurim. In one of them he describes the nature of  D'veykus as getting a feeling of closeness to Hashem.

Rabbi Yisroel Brog, in the name of the Ramchal, wrenches the expression interactive out of it's current digital moorings and breathes life into it as he points out that the feeling of closeness to Hashem means getting a feeling of interactivity with Hashem.

One who is close to Hashem is not in a static relationship.  There is rather a subtle give and take which in truth is more like a give and sense/feel to real D'veykus.

Initially it is the mitzvohs that have to bring you to the awareness of being close to Hashem.  But as a person's D'veykus to Hashem intensifies, so does his sense of what Hashem requires of him in any given circumstance over and above baseline halachik considerations.

Rabbi Brog tells that Hashem wants every Jew to function from a position of closeness to Hashem which gives us a feel for what Hashem would like from us as opposed to what the Torah demands from us.

At the core it'a all about asking the right questions.

Rabbi Brog let's us hear that one who is seeking closeness to Hashem does not always ask if a certain thing is or is not an aveira, i.e. T.V., sports and the like (they're not).

One who strives to interact with Hashem asks a different question.

He asks whether T.V., sports, or any other proposed activity will bring him closer to Hashem because as the Ramchal teaches us, D'veykus to Hashem is the bottom line of our tachlis in this world.  And the answer to that question is relative to the circumstantial context of the person asking because it might well be that sports or any other activity could bring a given individual closer to Hashem albeit indirectly.

It's all about the question and a Baal D'veykus knows how to ask it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

True Humility

Chazal tell us that Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses our teacher) was the humblest person who ever lived.

But how can this be?

Our conception of a humble person is one who doesn't push to the front, but who rather takes a seat both in the back of the shul and in life in general because he doesn't hold himself to be important.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller z"l was wont to point out that this mode of behavior is the humility of a dog.

Moshe, on the other hand, was the equivalent of a king with an absolute authority that was only circumscribed by Hashem Himself.  Moreover, Hashem spoke directly to him whereas He communicated with all of the other prophets by way of dreams and the like.

So where is there an opening for humility here?  By all rights  Moshe should have been the biggest baal gaiva of all time.

Rav Miller stressed that He was the humblest person who ever lived because he knew who he was, not in spite of that fact.

Rabbi Yitzchak Berkowits fine tunes Rav Miller's teaching and extends it to all of us by telling us the exact opposite of what we would suppose.

Humility is all about not denying your greatness.

The truly humble person doesn't go ostrich on the reality of his abilities and capabilities.  Like Moshe, his self-assessment is spot on and he knows exactly who he is.

And by not denying his greatness, Rabbi Berkowits lets us hear that the humble person appreciates his strengths to the degree that he doesn't need others to recognize them.

True humility, which is within the reach of everyone, and gaiva may at times appear to be a mirror image of each other.  Both a humble person and a baal gaiva may be found either in the back or front of the shul and each may speak softly to any person regardless of his station in life.  Each one may even have a reputation of doing things quietly.  But the difference between them is not in their actual conduct per se.

We're talking kavana here.

Humility is recognizing the truth of oneself and quietly secreting that knowledge in the recesses of the heart, whereas gaiva takes it all public be it fact or fancy.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Obstacle

In EmunahSpeak: Who Do You Put in the Center of Your Picture?, we spoke, in the name of Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb, of the three ways in which we can frame the canvas of our life (in relation to Tefillah).

The three choices were: making our Tefillah about us, as in ME, pushing ourselves to the side somewhat to give Hashem some face time while we ask for the means to serve Him better, and putting Hashem in center stage while we say gimme so that we may benefit Him straight away.

And then in EmunahSpeak: Making Room for Yenem, we moved past our egocentricities as expressed by our Tefillos and highlighted the fact that they in great part define the lives of those so afflicted.  We pointed out that 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.

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

Rabbi Shimon Kessin points out that the Mesillas Yesharim, in the chapter on Chassidus (saintliness), fleshes out the above solution to the IWorld that we have created for ourselves and takes it to its logical conclusion in the context of finding Hashem and in relating to others.

He lets us hear that you don’t go somewhere to find Hashem because He’s not to be searched for.

You remove yourself.

And as you remove yourself you will find automatically that the Neshama begins to open up to feel Hashem.   But that’s not all because as you minimize yourself, you begin to see other people for the first time.

While we struggle with this, the Chossid (as defined by the Mesillas Yesharim) does the walk and shows us how to really live.  And it’s not that the Chossid relates better to others.  He relates, period.  Stam menchen (a.k.a. the rest of us) tend not to relate at all because we’re too busy seeing ourselves as if we were encompassed 24/7 by a virtual mirror.

That’s why a Chossid is truly free.  He has freed himself from the greatest obstacle known to man. 


For the first time he sees reality for what it is, and not himself.   And everyone else?

You are the obstacle between you and Hashem and you and another person because you can love neither Hashem nor another person unless you remove your own self love.

The first time you begin to feel Hashem outside yourself you also begin to feel other people outside yourself because they both rely on the removal of the same obstacle:


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Dealer

One might think that the Yetzer Hora is some sort of other worldly Rambo armed to the teeth with whatever it needs to push us in the direction of the aveira de jure.  

It’s not.

The truth is that it can’t throw much of a punch at all.  But it does know how to deal.

The biggest weapon in the Yetzer Hora’s arsenal is its ability to distract us with every conceivable form of sleight of hand in addition to innumerable inconceivable ploys that take us away from the work at hand. 

It’s the Celestial Three Card Monte master.

The power of the Yetzer Hora lies in making sure that we never think about anything of spiritual consequence.  It’s about instilling a lack of awareness within us of what we are about to do at any given point in our lives. 

Rabbi Lazer Brody reminds us that when we are running on auto-pilot we are grist for the Yetzer Horas’s mill because we don’t think.  And if we don’t think when the Yetzer is shuffling the cards the results are toxic.  We are terminally mistake prone, which is manifested by all of the stupid things we say or do that we belatedly regret.

You have an urge to say or do something?

Shake hands with your Yetzer Hora, which is the source of any urge that’s not pointing you in the direction of Torah and Mitzvos.

So when your inner voice tells you to say this, eat that, look at this, listen to that or march in lock step shoulder to shoulder with any of the unlimited tricks up the Yetzer Hora’s sleeve, don’t go passively like some yutz over your ruchniyas cliff.

Generally speaking, mitzvohs are (ideally) done with pre-meditation and aveiros (sins) without. So if you find yourself suddenly being pushed in a previously un-contemplated direction, don’t even think about making a move without ascertaining who’s giving the marching orders. 

Open a mouth and ask yourself: 

Who’s playing this song? Let me see some ID here.

And also don’t forget to ask:


Why am I about to say this? Why should I close my gemara?  Why do I need to look at this? And so on for the myriad whys one needs to ask in order to spike the like number of curveballs coming his way courtesy of his Yetzer Hora. 

If the answer to your question is Why not or anything else that would tend to indicate that Hashem is not humming this tune then flip the page on the subliminal suggestion that tried to take you down, pick up the cards and move on.