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

Saturday, September 27, 2014


In EmunahSpeak: The Real Test, we said that the real test of humility is how one handles the good fortune of others, which is an aspect of gaiva that borders on kina (jealousy).  And we concluded that if the joy of one’s fellow fails to resonate within him to such an extent that he cannot relate to it in any form, then we’re talking five star gaiva here.

And then there’s the more classic form of gaiva that challenges the very core of our menchlekeit.

Rabbi Avraham Brussel tells us that the reason that it is hard not to look down on someone who hasn’t done what you have done is because we tend to invest value into what we have accomplished.  But once we fall into that trap, we circumscribe any possibility of spiritual growth on our part by taking the mistake to its logical conclusion:  value is something and the lack thereof is nothing.  So if accomplishing something makes one feel high enough to get a nose bleed, it’s no wonder that it’s difficult not to look down upon those who have made a lesser splash in this world.

The truth is that the whole concept of gaiva is built on a fallacy because there is no such thing as a person without value. 
We’re all worth something.

And we are even allowed to take simcha in what we are and what we have done.  But in order not to get snared in the aforementioned gaiva trap, you have to be careful when you take pride in your accomplishments that you don’t take too much pride in them.  

For when the I, in look what I have done, Boruch Hashem, becomes bigger than the Boruch Hashem, then you’re heading for trouble.

Gaiva is much more than just a bad midda.  It’s tantamount to suicide because to look down on another Jew, as if he is of less value, is a severe crime that destroys the soul of a human being. 

And Rabbi Brussel points out that this applies to everyone because it’s even assur for a Jewish king to even think that he is more valuable than an ordinary Jew.  He is obligated to say that they are equal.  And if a king is forbidden to entertain such a mindset where do we come to such an attitude?

So how does one get a handle on gaiva anyway?

It’s not by taking ourselves down a couple of notches in an egalitarian attempt to level the playing field so to speak.

The only way to counter the inflated value that we have ascribed to ourselves is to work to see the value of others.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Are We Generals?

Everyone has been assigned to a post, and if each of us executes his charge (and we all intuitively know what we should be doing in regards to Torah, Mitzvohs, and stam menchlicheit), our side will carry the day.

But rather than focus on our avodas Hashem, many of us waste our time worrying about the big picture.

And for this we also have to do Teshuva. 

It’s Teshuva for our lack of bitochon and emunah in Hashem’s Hashgacha.  And it’s not that we are a bit light in terms of the requisite faith because there is no such thing as requisite faith.

Emunah is about what your eyes can’t see and yet you know it with a certainty.  The Teshuva is not for what you should have believed.  It’s for what you should have known.  And what you should have known is that Hashem doesn’t do weekends. 

As the Chazon Ish tells us, although Hashem doesn’t promise us a rose garden, everything is under His control.  There are absolutely no accidents, mistakes, or coincidences. 

He’s on the job, and being above time He doesn’t suffer from any 24/7 limitations. 

So what exactly do we have to do with Hashem’s battle plan? 

Are we generals?

All that’s being asked of us is that we give a good account of ourselves as privates.  And that requires nothing more than to treat Hashem as we would our iPhone or any other norishkeit, to which we give our complete, focused, and respectful attention.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

It’s Time to Grow Up

Bye Bye Rote

How many times have we been exhorted to stop performing our mitzvahs or any other manifestation of our Yiddishkeit by rote?  Whatever the answer, we’re talking calculators here because fingers and toes simply won’t do.

This isn’t about quantitatively charting new territory in avodas Hashem by learning the Daf or being careful to daven within the z’man tefillah and the like.  By rote is qualitatively oriented and it’s a major speed bump for those who have already taken on these things and much more.

And the word performing wasn’t an idle insertion either, because if we’re in by rote mode that’s exactly what we are doing.  We are acting out (performing) a certain facet of our lives in accordance with a script that we have memorized many years ago.

Rav Shimshon Pincus z”l reminds us that this is what we must work on in Elul:  To do away with the rote, to stop doing things by habit.

The operative word here is newness and he admonishes us to internalize such a feeling by approaching every aspect of our avodas Hashem as if it were the first time.  

You picked up a siddur to daven?  You should marvel at it in wonder as if you had never seen one before.

You ate bread and then benched?  You should be so overwhelmed by the text of the Birchas Hamazon that you become cognizant of the real blessing, the one that Hashem has just put before you.  And so it goes for everything you touch; every brocha, every word of Torah, and every shmeck of ruchniyas that pulsates within you. 

This is the avodah of Elul and it means being a completely new person, for as we quoted Rav Yitzchok Berkowits, in EmunahSpeak: A Real Deal Teshuva, The growth process of (Elul culminating in) Yom Kippur is about changing you.

Change your desires.  Change your ideals.

Very sound advice to be sure, but how did we all come to be living our spiritual lives as if we were on auto pilot to begin with?

Rav Pincus lets us hear that our perception of Hashem, of the siddur, and the Chumash, is that of a five year old child.  And in the name of the Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv, Alter of Kelm, he tells us why we generally are not moved and excited by things that we learned in childhood, i.e. that G-d created the world and runs it, the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim (the Exodus) and Keri'as Yam Suf (the splitting of the Red Sea) etc., even though these are exceedingly wondrous matters.

The Alter says that it is because we first heard these things in our childhood when our intellect was weak and undeveloped.   Therefore the knowledge and understanding that we attained of them was that of a feeble mind.  This feeble understanding then became part of us.  As a result, we go through our whole life with this infantile perception.

We first learned Chumash when we were five years old.  That is the paradigm upon which all of our subsequent experience rests.  Whether we are ten, twenty or forty, we tend to relate the more advanced knowledge that we are now gaining to what we knew when we were five years old.

And it's the same story with the rest of our avodas Hashem.   We have been doing the same old same old by rote for a very long time and we do it with all the enthusiasm of five year old.  

Enough already.

It’s time to grow up.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Real Test

What does Hashem, our rabbis, our peers, and those on a lower rung than our peers (i.e. children etc.) have in common?

Each represents a separate rung on the ladder of humility and a separate challenge.  

It’s a well known law of spiritual physics that Hashem and the arrogant person are mutually exclusive.  There’s no room for both of them in this world.  And while this is traditionally learned as a decision on Hashem’s part to refuse to have anything to do with the arrogant among us, the truth is that the Baal Gaiva (arrogant person) has already beat Hashem to the draw, so to speak.  By the very arrogance of his nature he has already pushed Hashem out of the picture in the process of his taking center stage in his own personal drama.  For as we said in EmunahSpeak: Who Do You Put in the Center of Your Picture?, We can choose to put ourselves front and center, and title the picture, ME, as in only ME

But while we are tested by our interaction (or lack thereof) with Hashem and all the rest, Rabbi Lazer Brody tells us that the real test of humility is on the peer level.  More specifically, it’s in how one handles the good fortune of his friend.

How happy are we when things are going good for yenem?

Do we go with the flow of the blessings that have come his way or do we hit the inner voice speed bump that articulates the three words that set one apart from another’s success: 

Why not me? 

Why didn’t I have a baby, a promotion, a raise, a shidduch, a cure, and anything/everything else to which one presumes a superior claim?

When a person gives a kiddush for a new baby girl or celebrates a shidduch with a L’chaim or any other manifestation of simcha, it is a sign of true humility to subsume oneself in the joy of the Baal Simcha.  In doing so, one bows before HaKodesh Boruch Hu’s Hashgacha, and the more we identify with our friend’s good fortune the closer we come to Hashem. 

And anything that brings one closer to Hashem is good.

And if, chas v’shalom, the joy of his fellow fails to resonate within him to such an extent that he cannot relate to it in any form, then we’re talking five star gaiva here, a gaiva that pulls him even further away from Hashem.

And anything that takes one away from Hashem is bad.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Intense and Poignant

Rav Shimshon Pincus z”l tells us that there are ten terms for tefillah that appear in the Midrashim in various forms, but bakashah (requesting), is not one of them.  He says that only shav’ah (hysterical outcry), tze’akah (wordless scream), and bitzur (calling out in distress) are mentioned, whereas simple bakashah is missing in action. 

Why so?

We learn from Rav Pincus that this is because when a person truly stands before HaKadosh Baruch Hu, in that he clearly understands both where he is and what he’s doing there, and thereby sees things in a true light, he realizes that there is no place for mere requesting.

Every utterance must be intense and poignant.  

And let’s say that a person hit such a high note in the context of tefillah and he fully realizes the import of the bottom line of his request of Hashem and follows through on that understanding by shifting his tefillah into overdrive for a few moments to pray like crazy for his life and death request.  Or, as Rav Shimon suggests, if a very distressful situation envelopes him, and he pushes past all boundaries to plead with Hashem for help. 

And, and this is the key, if all of this intensity and poignancy is not accompanied by external manifestations, such as hand gesticulations and the like, of what’s cooking inside, we have it on the authority of Rav Pincus that this is a precious and wonderful moment and that in a short time this person can attain a very great closeness to Hashem, as well as many perceptions of ahavah, deveikus, and siyata di’Shemaya.

And he adds, that when a person merits a moment like this, he should set it firmly in his heart and push the envelope on his koach (strength) to reach it again and again, until it becomes habitual and second nature to him.

And when it does, he will ascend higher and higher as if on a spiritual escalator.