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

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Love Your Fellow Jew as Yourself (2)

By definition, the mitzvah of love your fellow Jew as yourself is a command, not a concept, and Rav Shimshon Pincus z”l, quoting the Ramban, asks how such a thing is possible, since as yourself is an extremely difficult level to achieve.

And to illustrate the point he lets us hear as follows:

I know many righteous people who do a lot of chesed.   But I have not yet seen a ba’al chesed who is willing to buy the same hat or tie for a needy person that he would buy for himself.  A person’s affection for himself is something truly exceptional because a person’s own life is exceedingly precious to him.

It is indeed.

In EmunahSpeak: Love Your Fellow as Yourself, we quoted the Lubavitcher Rebbe zy”a on this very point. The Rebbe said:

“the mitzvah of love your fellow Jew applies (even) to a Jew across the world whom you have never seen.”  And he didn’t mean that we should feel obligated to send him a check if we should find out that he needed help because the Rebbe’s understanding of love your fellow as yourself wasn’t mortgaged to the touchy feely chesed interpretation that we spoke about above (in EmunahSpeak: Love Your Fellow as Yourself).

However much the Rebbe, was wont to darshen in many other areas of Torah, vis á vis the mitzvah of love your fellow as yourself, his approach was literally straight down Main Street.

“What kind of love,” He asked?  “Torah contains no idle words.  When it says ‘love your fellow as yourself,’ love means love.  Your fellow means not you, but him.  As yourself?  Just as much as you love yourself.”  

And that has to also include what you love because it emotionally becomes part of you.

Rav Pincus z”l tells us that there is no joy like Torah learning.  There is no pleasure like the pleasure of Torah wisdom.  There is no delight like deveikus with Hashem.

And if there is no love like the love of your fellow Jew, which is nothing less than the love you have for yourself, then what better way could there be to manifest that love than by upgrading your fellow Jew’s taste buds with the aforementioned joy, pleasure, and delight so that he can reach the level of your sweet tooth for the same?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Who is Wise?

In the fourth perek in Pirkei Avos, Ben Zoma asks in the first Mishna the following:

Who is wise?  

Good question this.  We might think that he is perhaps referring to a person who knows kol HaTorah kula (all of the Torah, Talmud, Midrash, and Zohar) or at the very least someone widely recognized to be a Torah scholar. 

But as everyone knows, Ben Zoma answers that one who is wise is he who learns from every person.  Note that he doesn’t say, one who learns from every brilliant person, every scholarly person, or every politically correct person.  He says, every person without distinction (with the only caveat being that the person should have something to say worth learning).

On this Rabbeinu Yona says of the one who learns from every person, that his love for wisdom and eagerness to attain it are so great that he will ask anyone to teach him.  


Yes, answers Rabbeinu Yona.  He who is wise enough to learn from every person will even seek out someone who has only a single thing to teach him.  And through these efforts he will succeed and grow wise.

But all of his efforts notwithstanding, he will not succeed in becoming wise if his passionate desire to learn from anyone and everyone is not matched by an acquiescence on the part of his teachers to allow him to do so. For how will his thirst for knowledge be slaked if what he is being taught is filtered as per the prejudicial whims of his mentors?

It won’t, unless he’s oblivious to the fact that he has been shortchanged. 

And if one who is wise is the one who learns from every person, then what would Ben Zoma have to say about one who only learns from certain persons and refuses to learn from others no matter how knowledgeable they may be in the area of his immediate inquiry?  Or worse yet, one who is only taught the views of certain persons, thereby being deprived of the Torah of others with the same or even superior standing of Torah knowledge.

As we mentioned above, Rabbeinu Yona praised those who would go to anyone who had but one thing to teach him, and yet there are certain circles in which the Satmar Rav zy”a will never be quoted on any matter regardless of how insightful his teachings may be in reference to the point being discussed.

And then there are other circles that likewise make a mockery of Ben Zoma’s view in the Mishna by totally ignoring the existence of Rav Soloveitchik z”l, the rebbeim at Yeshivas RabbeinuYitzchak Elchanan, Rav Kook z”l, and anyone else that doesn’t pass their rarified hashkafic smell test.

If the one who is wise is he that will learn from every person then the opposite must be true about one who will learn from no one but a hashkafic clone of himself.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Worth of a Human Being

The worth of a human being does not concern itself with dollars and cents.  It is rather a study in labor, as opposed to capital and it is balanced on the scales of good and evil.

As Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits reminds us, whether a person is good or bad is not derivative of Creation.

Much like the computer, we come to this world with loads of stuff pre-installed.  Shomayim tends to be very systems oriented, and as such we’ve been hard wired with a circulatory system, digestive system, nerve system, skeletal system, lymph system et al. along with sundry organs, sinews, and a mass of brain cells that defy description.

And yet, the sum total of a human being is not dependent on what Hashem crammed in under the hood.

 Each of us is born with a unique mission in life to which no one else has been assigned, and Hashem gives us the necessary ability to bring our unique mission to fruition.  No one but you can bring your strengths, your challenges, and your perspective on life to the table for the task at hand. 

In the same way that no two sets of fingerprints are the same or that no two people have the same DNA coding, Hashem doesn’t delegate the same task to more than one person, which by definition means that if you don’t dig down deep enough within, deep enough to hear the niggun of your tachliss in this world, it simply won’t get done because that certain task that was given over to you was given over to the contextual you. It’s about you and you only, so if it can’t be done by you it can’t be done at all.

That’s our unique mission and, in essence, it’s external.  But that’s only half the story because Hashem also created a mentch in the state the He thought was perfect for him to fulfill an internal mission in life which is common to all, and that is to overcome his character flaws in addition to developing the capabilities that we spoke about in EmunahSpeak: A Unique Mission.

And whether or not we fulfill that is all that matters.

Just as a basketball player who misses a shot is even more determined to score the next time he gets the ball, the Beinoni who is cognizant of his place in this world brushes himself off after every knockdown and gets back into the ring to continue the fight with Ra (evil) because he understands that his personal struggle, in and of itself, is a great nachas ruach for Hashem.  

When the dust settles after our one hundred twenty year boxing match in this world, what’s important in relation to evaluating the worth of a human being is how much heavy lifting you have done vis á vis your character traits, the punches you took, and whether or not you were still standing when the final bell sounded.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Partnership

In EmunahSpeak: The Great Tikkun, we opined as follows:

Just prior to the forcible eviction of the Jews from Gush Katif and its sister communities, in those last few hours allotted to the Tekufa of Zionism, it was reported that some of the Gush leadership met with Rav Elyashiv to ask him for a brocho that they would be matzliach in their endeavors to remain in Gaza.

At least they had the right address.

Had they asked the right question they could have set off a revolution instead of almost igniting a civil war.

What they said in effect was this: We have assessed the situation, and there is no possibility that the correct plan of action should be anything other than the course we have set upon.  We would like your blessing that all of our plans should come to fruition just as we have worked them out…
…instead of this:  The government has given us until August 15th to vacate our communities.  What does the Rav advise that we should do?

If this is not the way one approaches the Gadol Hador z”l then it’s most certainly not the way to dialogue with Hashem.  And dialogue we must for as was put forth recently in EmunahSpeak: Talk To Hashem First (2), what one should be doing is talking to Hashem on a constant basis.

And that means, as we further stated, that we must attain the habit of uttering words of tefillah (a.k.a talking) directly to Hashem throughout the day, in the second person because when you speak to Hashem you are speaking to Him as one friend speaks to another.

Now if one approaches Hashem as one friend speaks to another and on a constant basis as was suggested above, the thrust of such a relationship will be a mutuality in which things are worked out together, as presumptuous as that might appear to be on the surface. 

We are talking about a partnership here.

And as Rabbi Itamar Schwartz puts it, it goes something like this:

You enter into a conversation with Hashem, and tell Him about everything you’re going through.  You express your feelings:  “I’m having a hard time right now.  I’m trying to keep my spirits up but I keep falling.”  After relating everything, you present this as a tefillah.  In other words, you must involve Hashem in all that has happened up to this point of contact.

Most of us, however, to the extent that we are flying at all, are flying solo, and so our relationship (or more accurately, our non-relationship) with Hashem bears a striking resemblance to the relationship that General Motors has with Washington.  When we are in need we cry out for a bailout.

But if a person comes before Hashem, says Rabbi Schwartz, with only his conclusions, and presents them before Him without laying out all of the prior doubts and difficulties, there is no real partnership.

The only way to truly include Hashem in your life on a partnership level is to share and discuss with Him even the subtle feelings of the heart, the thoughts that never come to fruition, the failures and the tests.