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

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Kesher With Hashem

A mentch has to know that the goal of this world is to be on a first name basis with Hashem because coming close to Hashem is everything and anything that is not close to Hashem is nothing.  It follows that the frenetic pace of this wonderland of godlessness which our world has become is, as per Shakespeare, much ado about nothing.

While not exactly word for word, it’s pretty much a reasonable paraphrase of what the Ramchal is telling us at the very beginning of Mesillas Yesharim.

And Rabbi Yisroel Brog informs us that coming close means nothing less than effecting a kesher (knot), and a tight one at that because the ultimate goal from all of one’s Yiddishkeit is to create a kesher with Hashem and to revel in it.

Everything you do in this life should be pointed toward this one goal.  To the degree that you are living for that kesher then you are a ben Olam Haba.

And to the degree that you are chafing at the thought of its tightness you are precariously treading in unfriendly waters because this world was created as a place suitable for creating a kesher with Hashem, and you were put here to swim, not drown.

Rabbi Brog also reminds us that this concept of kesher should be in front of our eyes at all times. 

When we’re putting on tefillin we should reflect that we’re tying a kesher with Hashem.  The visual of the binding notwithstanding, tefillin is not meant to be a metaphor because the emes is that every mitzvah should turn you on to Hashem. 

Every mitzvah should tie the knot tighter.

But it doesn’t come easy because this is a world of loose ends not knots.  You have to drive yourself to have this kesher with Hashem which, in essence actually means test drive, because Olam Haba is the place where the real kesher takes place.

We said above that this world was created as a place suitable for creating a kesher with Hashem.  And what makes it suitable is that it’s one big obstacle course that has been interposed between us and Hashem, and we have been given the job of plowing right through it.

Rabbi Brog tells us that that’s our test and that we have to look at everything we encounter along the way through the eyes of will this get me closer to Hashem or not?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The One Thing


(In June 2012 we launched GuardYourSpeak which, as its name implies, was dedicated to focusing on all aspects of Shmiras HaLoshon.  In short order it became burdensome to maintain both sites, so in recognition of the fact that the material posted on GuardYourSpeak was a natural fit for EmunahSpeak, it was decided to discontinue GuardYourSpeak and repost all of those pieces on EmunahSpeak over the course of the next few months.)

In EmunahSpeak: Nothing but Thoughts, Rabbi Shalom Arush told us in the name of Rebbe Nachman that character traits are nothing but thoughts, with the prevailing thoughts delineating the essence of one’s mindset at any given time.

A person usually speaks what’s on his mind, so if the prevailing thoughts in one’s head are grist for the loshon hora mill is there any wonder as to what’s going to spring forth from between those not so tightly closed lips?

If you don’t think it you can’t say it, and if you do think it make sure it’s squeaky clean.

In GuardYourSpeak: The Clarity of Context, we observed that Whatever you see your neighbor do you also did once upon a time or may well do tomorrow with but a slight variation on the theme, not enough to take it out of whatever aveira was the touchstone between your two neshamos at different points in time.

And on this we asked, (so) why is it that there is a Grand Canyon disconnect between the understanding with which you view your actions and the jaundiced eye that you cast upon the missteps of your friend, sufficient to ignite within you a desire to talk about it?

The answer, of course, was that we are more accepting of ourselves because we possess the clarity that comes from being cognizant of the context from which all of our mistakes flow, which in turn enhances our understanding of all of our shortcomings.

But while context goes a long way in explaining the double standard by which we judge the actions of others vis รก vis our own, it doesn’t go the total route.

It’s a montage with a wide angle focus that can present us with a myriad of facts sufficient to morph what was originally nothing but a bare bones sketch into a high resolution image bursting with detail as to the back story of what it was that caught our eye. That in turn impacts on what motivated the behavior that was weighed by us and found wanting.

But there are other times where the context of a situation is an open book that's in our face, and it may not even be a situation in which we are dwelling on yenem’s faults which, as we said above, will almost invariably lead to loshon hora, while rationalizing our own. Maybe it’s a case where your friend is, in fact, messing up while you’re being a big tzaddik.

There’s someone in your shul that shows up late every morning about two minutes before Borchu, and he doesn’t come rushing in either.  And it just so happens that you’re the first one there.  You don’t know him that well but you do know that there’s nothing doing in his house that would slow him up in the morning.  

The number of kindred scenarios is only circumscribed by the limits of your imagination, and it goes without saying that both your mind and tongue should be focused elsewhere just as it should always be except when there is a legitimate toellis afoot.

We’re talking here about our inability to see past our self imposed delineation of reality.

In the situations where we are find ourselves bereft of proper context, such as those which we spoke about in GuardYourSpeak: The Clarity of Context, our tendency, as we said, is to cast a cold eye on the other guy's doings while rationalizing our own miss-steps. 

But on other occasions, when there is a clear distinction in our favor between our avoda and that of our friend, leaving us nothing to rationalize, it never occurs to us that for all we know, maybe talking during davening is the one thing he does wrong whereas never uttering a word during davening is the one thing we do right.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Do You Know Who Woke Me Up This Morning?

Here’s a teenager that’s at the wrong end of doing everything right. 

He would rather look at girls than at the Gemara and that’s probably the good news as far as his eyes go these days.  His mitzvah observance wouldn’t intimidate a Reform Jew, and Shabbos is just another day of indulgence.

Unsurprisingly, he is of the opinion that Hashem doesn’t love him so his situation goes from bad to worse with the bottom close enough for reading glasses.

He’s our son, brother, nephew, cousin, uncle, grandson, friend, or neighbor and we love him. 

We can dust him off and put him on his feet, but how do we motivate him to walk in the right direction?  Fair question this, and Jonathan Rietti answers in the name of Rebbe Nachman that we start with the smallest good. 

Smallest good?

In the most messed up life there is something positive.  It may be a next to nothing that barely registers in Shomayim, but as long as it is above the line as opposed to below, we zero in on that minimum and build up from there.

You were out all night on the beach in Coney Island with your friends and ended up at an 11:30 minyan the next day at Landau’s, four hours after your minyan at the yeshiva?

Not great form to be sure, and at the appropriate time (hopefully soon) you’ll change your nocturnal activities for the better but right now look for the good and you don’t have to look far. 

You davened with a minyan at which you presumably put on tefillin, and we can extrapolate from there that you more likely than not ate a kosher breakfast which maybe in your case was lunch.

Is this not enough of a reason for Hashem to love you?

He would even settle for less.

When we say Modeh Ani in the morning we are supposed to be grateful for another lap around the track. And of course we’re grateful because when we went to sleep last night there was no guarantee that we would wake up, and Jonathan Rietti lets us hear that the fact that we did wake up shows that Hashem hasn’t given up on us.  And if Hashem hasn’t given up on us there’s still hope that there is something we can do to justify our existence.

And he then asks:

Is this not the greatest kal v’chomer in history?

If Hashem hasn’t given up hope on you how much more so should you not give up hope on yourself?

Life, however, is not one big self-esteem junket.  It’s a minefield.

So if someone (most probably yourself) tells you that you’re not good for anything, Jonathan Rietti tells us that you can say (or remind yourself):

Hey!  Wait a second!  Do you know who woke me up this morning?

I count in His eyes.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Middah Keneged Middah

On Sunday last, at 4:50 A.M., I woke up with excruciating stomach pains.  This turned out to be fortuitous in the sense that had I risen at my usual time I would have been in shul putting on my tefillin, with the problem then being that their removal would have been necessitated a nano second after completion of the mitzvah.  And more likely than not, I would have been in on again off again mode for the duration of the davening.

But as we all know, Hashem sends the refuah before the makkah, so because I had gone to bed very late on Motzoi Shabbos He put it in my head to daven at a later minyan Sunday morning.

That piece of good fortune aside, from a pain perspective, the rest of the day was down hill.

But it wasn’t a total loss because before it occurred to me that I might have a stomach virus, I had spent and hour and a half agonizing over the prospects of having to deal with a serious condition of some sort because the pain was bad enough for me to actually have a passing thought of calling Hatzalah, my irrational fear of doctors and hospitals notwithstanding.

But given the aforementioned fears, that thought passed by in warp speed, and in any case I had already decided to take the very good advice that I had dished out to ya’ll in EmunahSpeak: Talk To Hashem First, and go into conference with Hashem before making my next move.

You can well imagine the first part of the conversation, but then I remembered that we said in EmunahSpeak: If You Feel Blessed …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.

If that’s the way to go when one is feeling blessed then it has to be that AND THEN SOME when one perceives his circumstances moving decidedly south on an express track.

And so I made up to significantly increase my Sefer Chofetz Chaim seder every day plus an extra session Erev Shabbos and Motzoi Shabbos.  And then it finally dawned on me that I only had a stomach virus.

My next thought was that I got caught in a Heavenly sting operation, but that one passed quicker than my fleeting mental dalliance with calling Hatzalah.

The truth is that while I did not figure out from the get-go what was wrong with me, I realized immediately from whence this makkah came.

As is well known, Hashem rewards and punishes midda keneged midda (measure for measure), and it seems that sometime before lights out I had become somewhat irritable for no good reason concerning something that my wife had said to me.  It was nothing from nothing, with the only thing big about it being the size of the mouth that I ever so briefly opened.

Whatever was said must have been hurtful because the next morning at 4:50 A.M……

Saturday, May 4, 2013

No Need for Geula

Chazal say that Eliyahu HaNavi won’t be coming to town on Shabbos or on Erev Shabbos.

Nu?  He doesn’t do weekends?

It’s not about what he doesn’t do, but rather about what we do, and on Erev Shabbos we’re busy putting up the cholent and the like and the last thing we need at that time is to lose ourselves in the tumult that will ensue with Eliyahu’s arrival, thereby possibly forgetting to make the necessary preparations.

But there’s more to Shabbos than cholent, so what about the emotional preparation?

Rabbi Chaim Eisenstein tells us in the name of Rav Soliveitchik that many people are Shomer Shabbos but they are not Shomer Erev Shabbos.  The Rav said that what was missing in America was that all too many of the Shomer Shabbos Yidden do not have the appreciation that they are lacking the special Yichud with Hashem that can be found both in Shabbos and in Erev Shabbos.

If one is shomer the Erev Shabbos and, for good measure, Motzoi Shabbos, all of the worries and the tog taiglach of the mundane world are swept away.

And if one doesn’t run away from the Kedusha of Shabbos, he can keep at least a shmeck of it with him the entire week.  But that’s only going to be on his screen if on Erev Shabbos and Shabbos he’s able to emotionally transport himself to a different place where the only thing that exists is Shabbos Kodesh and his Yichud with Hashem.

Rabbi Chaim Eisenstein relates that at the moment when we are preparing for Shabbos with its excitement and anticipation of Kedushas Shabbos and the Yichud with Hashem, Eliyahu is not necessary for there’s no need for Geula at this time.

And what would be the point anyway?  

He wouldn’t find us here in any case because, if we have done it right, we will have already transported ourselves to different place where the only thing that exists is Shabbos Kodesh and our Yichud with Hashem.