Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Tightrope Walkers

As we concluded the Tishaa Bav service I was struck by an interesting proclamation. In the Aleinu prayer we state "Shelo Asanu Kegoyeih Haaratzos - that He did not fashion us like the peoples of the lands".

After hours of sitting on the floor and weeping for our national tragedies - and after the crushing realization hits home again and again - this has only befallen us because we are G-d's nation and we strayed from the chosen path that He laid out for us - should we not declare ( as we do to the bee) "Lo miduvshech velo meuktzech" - I'll have none of your honey so I will not risk your stinger ?!? Wouldn't it be better to have been one of the 70 nations who, while never rising to the heights of the Jewish nation, have never been afflicted so and have never been thrown to the same bitter depths ?

Lest we be drawn to this erroneous conclusion - we culminate the tefillah with Aleinu. For all the troubles that it can bring, and for the harsh - even cruel - punishments that may afflict us - we'd still rather be Hashem's chosen people. The higher the tightrope - the more disastrous the fall, but we wouldn't give up our rightful place in a million years.

The true nobility of the Jewish Nation.

May we all be comforted in the rebuilding of Zion and Yerushalayim - may we see the view from the top of the tightrope - speedily and in our days, amen.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Moshe Rabbeinu's Mussar

When Moshe Rabbeinu gives klal Yisrael the mussar schmooze of their lives - he makes sure to say it in a gentle tone and to only mention things by hint ( see first few pesukim of Devarim ).

Why ?

I mean, the purpose of mussar is surely to better the person receiving it ( providing it is both accurate and sincere - two qualifications we can easily attribute to Moshe Rabbeinu ) - so why beat around the bush ? If you saw someone's child ingest poison - would you tell them that " it might be a good idea to get to the doctor in case something ... " or would you tell it like it is ?!?!

So why is mussar different ?

[ According to the Alter of Kelm - it isn't ! He would teach this by example and genuinely thank anyone who rebuked him. After all, he said, this person is just trying to help me be a better Jew ! ]

For the most part - we don't take criticism well. Hashem gave us an independent streak that serves us very well in our ability to function day by day. However, this same self confidence will also rise up to defend itself against any onslaught. So the frontal approach for criticism is rendered ineffectual.
However, if the mussar is only hinted at - then when we discern the true meaning of the rebuke we are actually employing our own cleverness. So it is a win-win situation as far as our ego is concerned - either we were correct in our actions - or - we were clever enough ( with the help of others ) to figure out what we did wrong and correct it. The second option is much more palatable when put this way - thus enabling us to see past our ego and accept the rebuke.

On some level, Moshe Rabbeinu's greatest mussar to us was in how to give mussar - lovingly, and with as much care and concern for the recipient's ( perhaps fragile ) ego as we have towards their spiritual state. He was truly Moshe, Our Teacher.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Spill Milk If You Have To

I've heard the saying that tears are the sweat of your soul.

mmmmm, spiritual shvitz.

What I believe lies behind that saying is when something affects us deeply enough to 'move' or 'exert' our equilibrium - the result is tears.

During this traditional time of mourning we usually find ourselves wondering - are we really mourning enough ? Is the discomfort we feel attributable to our inherent loss or the restrictions we place upon ourselves in an attempt to 'make it real' ?

I ask you - does it matter ? No.

The reason the sages enacted these laws ( such as : diminishing from joyful activities, avoiding long pleasurable baths or showers, refraining from eating meat etc...) is because we sometimes need a sharp smack to bring us back into the reality where we should have been in the first place. That's ok - it's ok to exercise our soul a little (even in a different direction than we intended) in order to enable ourselves to exercise it in the right direction.

In short, we can and should (as part of our mourning) dwell on unpleasant and painful thoughts to evoke a proper feeling of sadness and then - when the tears come - try to add a few for the churban.

If there was a time or place that we were sad - try to tune into that same feeling and then relate it to the tragedies that have occurred to us as a nation. If you were ever hurt by someone's words - realize that that hurt is also a hurt longing for the times when people wouldn't talk like that because we had the laws of tzaraas to keep us from descending to such a level.

If we succeed in really shvitzing our souls into tears - may we merit to see the fulfilment of the teaching of chazal - "All who (truly) participate in the mourning for Jerusalem will merit to see it rebuilt" and may this year represent the first Tisha'a B'Av that we laughed instead of cried - with the coming of Moshiach, Amen.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Where did'ya come from & Where will you go ?

Prefacing Moshe Rabbeinu's recounting to the people of the camps in the desert is an interesting passuk.
It states : "And Moshe wrote their points of origin to their travels by the word of Hashem, and these are their travels to their points of origin." [Bamidbar 33:2]
Noting the reversal of the phrases 'travels' and 'points of origin', the Kli Yakar views this passuk as saying two different things. The phrase in it's proper order ( points of origin to the travels ) is accompanied by the word of Hashem - referring to the travels that were directed by Hashem for good purpose - simultaneously teaching us that when we follow the word of Hashem we are properly moving forward in life. While the latter part of the passuk reverses the order ( travels to their points of origin ) implying that the Israelites journeyed backwards ! ( which they did on, at least, two occasions when they fled from a calamity in panic. ) This type of journeying was not directed by the word of G-d.
An alternative lesson that the Kli Yakar learns from this is that the 'erev rav', the insincere Egyptian converts that joined the Jews on their way out of Egypt, are being referred to by the latter half of the passuk and the entire journey their eyes were 'backwards' - meaning they regretted coming and wished they could slip back into their immoral, Egyptian ways.
Our lesson in all this is to see how far our intentions count. No matter how 'frum' we pretend to be ( The erev rav were practicing members of the Nation ) it's what we really feel underneath that has an indelible impact on our actions. So the question to ask ourselves is thus - which way do we wanna go - forwards by the word of Hashem or ....

Hatzlacha !

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Happiness Through Suffering

While perhaps the classic understanding of this difficult concept is based around the idea that all Hashem does is for the best, no matter how much it seems to the contrary - I would like to share a slightly different angle.

Why do we suffer ? Because our ideas of how things should be and Hashem's ideas ( i.e. the facts ) are at opposite angles. I'm not speaking of pain - that is a physical reaction - I'm referring to suffering - the misery which descends upon us during times of great trial, the cloud of never ending doom and gloom that seems to envelop our life in our most troubled times. Yet, if we saw all this as an opportunity to grow, an opportunity to develop beyond our limited selves and become greater people - wouldn't that change our perspective just the smallest bit ?

Imagine : a person who is currently enduring great suffering ( insert horrible personal tragedy here ) still taking the time out for acts of chessed. How much more are those acts worth ?! How great the degree of selflessness and dedication that the performer possesses ?

With this in mind we can come to find a ray of sunshine in the dark cloud of suffering - while we may not have chosen to have this unique opportunity the better ourselves - we are certainly presented with it. Our choice is whether we will succeed in our self transcendence and rise to the occasion or not. And for this chance at self betterment we can certainly see a glimmer of joy through the sadness.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Once In The Morning & Once In The Evening

So what's the most important passuk in the Torah ?

One opinion has it as "Shema Yisrael..." but a different opinion actually places the passuk in our parasha. " את הכבש אחד תעשה בבקר ואת הכבש השני תעשה בין הערביים " "One sheep shall be offered in the morning and the second sheep shall be offered in the twilight".

Why is this passuk the most important ?

Because a cornerstone of our beliefs is that whatever it is we believe and hold dear to - it must be practised. It's not enough to belong to a group with the right ideas, or to celebrate the proper holidays and sabbaths. Real Jewish Practice demands daily service. It should be evident by our daily schedule that we are serving G-d.

Especially in summer months when regular structure is not at it's finest ( for those in education related fields ) we need to redouble our self discipline to make sure our days are filled with service of Hashem - at the very least - Once in the Morning and once in the Evening.

Hatzlacha !