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

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

It’s Either Up or Down

So states Rabbi Lawrence Keleman in relation to what one will take out of his Chanukah experience.

While he doesn’t give us a color scheme with which to picture the essence of what Chanukah is all about, you can be sure it’s not gray because it’s his view that no one who walks into Chanukah walks out the same.

You either go up or down.

So who were the Greeks anyway?

Rabbi Keleman tells us that the Greeks more than any other nation worshiped nature.  In fact, they invented it in terms of its being an entity onto itself that makes sure the trains run on time in the natural world.

They were pantheists who whose creed was the survival of the fittest and the athletes were their priests.

And what of Klal Yisroel?

Klal Yisroel is a supernatural nation and the battle of the Jews versus the Greeks, which at its core is a battle of world views, was that of a supernatural nation going to war against nature itself.

When the Greeks outlawed Shabbos, Bris Milah, and Kiddush HaKodesh, and punctuated their gezeira with the death penalty, this hashkafic rumble was morphed into the military conflict, which ended in the victory that Chanukah celebrates.

So what was their problem with Shabbos?

As Rabbi Keleman lets us hear, the short and sweet of it was that on the Seventh Day our G-d finished creating their god.  As philosophical slap downs go, this fight was over at one nanosecond into round one so it’s understandable why the Greeks wanted to take Shabbos off the table.

Bris Milah, for its part, desecrated the most important part of the body as the Greeks viewed it.  It was not for nothing that Greeks were notorious homosexuals.

And Kiddush HaKodesh?

It seems that the Greeks believed that there was a direct link between the phases of the moon and certain natural phenomena.  If the Beis Din HaGadol would be delayed because the witnesses had not yet arrived, these phenomena would also be delayed because the phases of the moon were subservient to the decision of the Beis Din HaGadol.

So at the end of the day it comes out that Shabbos marks the creation of their god by Numero Uno, Bris Milah defaces their god, and Kiddush HaKodesh trumpets our absolute control over their god.

That’s a heck of a in your face trifecta.

As Rabbi Keleman puts it, there was never before (Chanukah) or since then a conflict that more clearly/truly represented the Jewish struggle in this world of the supernatural against the natural.  

One who takes out of Chanukah the import of what this struggle is all about sees a piece of the big picture concerning Klal Yisroel’s place in this world, whereas anyone who goes through Chanukah untouched by the clarity that it brings to the table of life sees nothing but darkness, his Chanukah licht notwithstanding.

You either go up or down.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Taking the Mesillas Yesharim Seriously

Rabbi Shimon Kessin tells us that the only way to reach Hashem is by way of the Taryag Mitzvohs, but in and of itself it’s not enough.  In addition to performance (of the mitzvohs) we must also have awareness, which is the true indication of yiras Shomayim.  The awareness is the ultimate goal and the performance is the means to get there.
At its core, the avodah of being a good Jew is all about this state of awareness and the d’veykus which emerges from it.  Anyone who wants to be knowledgeable about this avodah should learn Mesillas Yesharim.   And anyone who wants to immerse himself in this avodah should live Mesillas Yesharim.

The aforementioned d’veykus is the central concept here and, as such, it’s the most important word in the vocabulary of avodah as per the Mesillas Yesharim and is the key variable that changes awareness. 

Rabbi Kessin points out that d’veykus is not a thought.  It’s essentially a love state, and therefore a person who is immersed in avodah day and night is in love with Hashem.   And such a person can’t help himself because his love for Hashem comes naturally.

So contrary to popular belief, a tzaddik like the Baba Sali z”l didn’t hold himself back from enjoying this world.  The truth is that he actually lived in fun city.  He knew where it was and we don’t. 

Our quest for ruchniyas is a quest to be in love, and in the Mesillas Yesharim, the Ramchal teaches those few of us whose quest is in earnest how to be in love with Hashem.  

Rabbi Kessin asks:  So what’s love anyway?

Simply put, is not the simcha of the one you love your simcha and the pain of the one you love your pain?

That’s also how it works with Hashem, and so the Baba Sali’s entire avodah can be summed up as a desire to put a smile on Hashem’s countenance. 

Rabbi Kessin informs us that the difference between the Baba Sali and everyone else on the planet is neither to be found is his aestheticism nor in his tzidkis (righteousness).  As singular and seemingly out of reach as these and numerous other attributes and practices were to his rarified persona, they are but manifestations of a decision on his part that we could also make if we had a burning desire to do the walk of d’veykus rather than being satisfied with the talk.

The only difference is that the Baba Sali decided to take the Mesillas Yesharim seriously.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Square Inch

To be powerful is to be able to exert control over a certain measure of reality.

Rabbi Shimon Kessin tells us that gaiva is the antithesis of d’veykus and is directly related to the way a person sees G-d.  The essence of G-d is that He is existence and that’s why he controls it
The baal gaiva is of a different mind.

The root of arrogance is a distorted view of your own power.  In the case of an arrogant person this power is derivative of an illusion that he has achieved some kind of control over a small piece of said reality (a square inch).  Maybe he’s rich.  Maybe he’s smart.

Whenever G-d is not part of the equation then there has to be arrogance because you can’t have humility without G-d and it’s impossible to touch base with Numero Uno without giving up the square inch.

And given this attitude, the arrogant man and G-d becomes an either/or proposition, for as Rabbi Kessin lets us hear, that square inch is omnipotence and the battle for the square inch is the battle of who is G-d.  If you think that you can control the square inch then in your eyes you are G-d because to take the square inch out of the domain of G-d dethrones Him as G-d.

To claim the square inch is the essence of arrogance and therefore the bottom line of the whole relationship that a person has with G-d is about who dominates that square inch clearly and without reservation.

Given this context, is it not manifest that to be humble is nothing more than to understand the true reality of things in contradistinction to our de rigueur false perceptions?

Rabbi Kessin lets us know that the battle for the square inch is nothing less than the battle for life and if one learns Torah he will be constantly reminded as to Who controls that turf because the Torah seeks to remove the sense of self importance that a person has about himself.

And with the removal of this sense of self importance comes the realization that the most important thing that we have to understand in our lives is that we do not control the square inch and that the tachliss of a person is to come to the recognition that G-d is none other than the G-d of the square inch.  And when we acknowledge that G-d rules even the square inch, that’s the greatest concession.

The greatness of Moshe Rabbeinu was that he conceded the square inch to G-d.  As for the rest of us, the battle is not over until we die because then it’s obvious Who controls that square inch. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Writing the Script

So how do you relate to what happens in your world anyway?

If you’re the type that likes to micromanage things, as in writing the script to which you expect others to conform thereby performing to your expectations, you can reasonably expect a lifetime of inclement weather.

The why of this is simplicity itself because if you crunch the numbers it becomes obvious that there is only one of you and a whole world full of everyone else.  

Your powers of persuasion notwithstanding, the odds that the reality of any given situation, as manifested at street level, will be faithful to your conceptualization of how things should be done can be charitably described as zilch, nada, and zero.

The truth is that the only script you expect to be read and performed to your expectations is the one you write for yourself that delineates your reaction to those who are not with the program as you see it.  

There’s a great irony here in relation to those who relate to the actions of others with equanimity regardless of the provocation rather than simply gritting their teeth and bearing the situation.

In contradistinction to one who attempts to dictate reality and who seldom, if ever, gets his way, there is another who reacts to the reality of any given situation with a smile that is tethered to the heart.  He interfaces with the world b’nachas (softly) as a gut reaction default position and because he is samayach with whatever script someone else chose to write for himself it is as if he made that script his own.

And it will always turn out his way, not because he dictates it, but because he accepts it.