Thursday, October 30, 2008

148 - Noach

Chazal tell us (Rashi to Bereishis 10, 9) that Nimrod "knew his Master and intentionally rebelled against Him." How could it be that Nimrod acknowledged Hashem's omnipotence and, nevertheless, rebelled against Him?

Rav Wolbe explains that the concept of "knowing one's Master and rebelling against Him" was more prevalent in the earlier generations because they had a clear perception of Hashem from their earliest years. It was precisely because of his closeness to Hashem that Nimrod had a problem. It was difficult for him to maintain such a lofty madreiga for an extended period of time. Had someone asked Nimrod if he believed in Hashem, he would have answered, "Absolutely!" and, nevertheless, his impulses refused to act in keeping with this knowledge.

Likewise, when a person ascends a rung on the spiritual ladder, there is an automatic feeling of resistance. Rav Dessler compares this concept to a spring. The harder one presses down on the spring, the harder it will bounce back toward him. The bigger the resolution one accepts upon himself, the more resistance he will feel and the harder it will be for him to maintain this new madreiga.

When one learns mussar and engages in serious self introspection,he will be surprised to find that he, too, possesses (to a certain extent) these feelings of resistance toward ruchniyos. One such example is our behavior after Yom Kippur, when many people sing and dance. Is this happiness borne out of genuine feelings of gratitude to Hashem for pardoning our sins? One who learns mussar will discover that it is more likely that this singing and dancing is an expression of joy at being relieved of saying so many tefillios andconfessions. It is simply too difficult for us to maintain the lofty level of Yom Kippur. This is a subconscious act of rebellion against Hashem!

The Alter of Kelm writes that Chazal's statements can be compared to stars and the way to properly "see" them is with a "telescope" i.e. the study of mussar. Though the above statement of Chazal might seem "distant" and difficult to understand, the study of mussar acts as a "telescope" for it allows us to discover these very traits inside ourselves and thereby understand the profundity of Chazal's words.

Thus, it is imperative to progress spiritually with small steps since there is less resistance. Someone who decides to completely refrain from speaking by accepting a ta'anis dibbur for a day, and thereby prevent himself from speaking lashon hara and other prohibited speech, may find that the resistance is too great. The next day he might end up speaking twice as much as he had until now! Additionally, one must make an effort to internalize his awareness of Hashem, for then it becomes not mere "knowledge", but part and parcel of his very being. The result will be that he will act in consonance with his knowledge instead of rebelling against Hashem.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

147 - Yom Kippur

There is a well known Gemara (Rosh Hashana 16b) that describes the judicial scene in Heaven on Rosh Hashana. "There are three books open: Those who are completely righteous are immediately signed and sealed for life. Those who are completely wicked are immediately signed and sealed for death and those in the middle (beinonim) hang in balance until Yom Kippur. If they are found to have merit they are sealed for life, and if they lack merit they are sealed for death." The simple explanation is that the righteous refer to those with more mitzvos than aveiros, the wicked are those with more aveiros than mitzvos and the beinonim are those whose portfolio contains half mitzvos and half aveiros. However, the Alter of Kelm asks that Chazal say that one who does not fulfill even one Rabbinic commandment is considered a rasha - one who is wicked. If so, how can we refer to such a person as righteous simply because his merits outweigh his transgressions? He explains that the criterion for defining one as a tzaddik in the context of Rosh Hashana is not the amount of mitzvos he has performed. Rather, one is considered a tzaddik if he is close to doing teshuva, while a rasha is one who is far from doing teshuva.

If so, asks Rav Wolbe (Ma'amerei Yemei Ratzon pg. 228), who can be considered a beinoni, since a person is either close to the performance of teshuva or far from this process? He answers by way of clarifying a stanza in the selicha said on Erev Rosh Hashana (28). "Man serves two masters throughout his life: He serves his yetzer hara and his Creator as he wills. It is good for him to cleave to his Creator at all times for then he is a servant [of Hashem] and free from his master (yetzer hara)." A person mightserve Hashem through davening, learning Torah or any other mitzvah, and nevertheless, still desire to enjoy life the way he deems fit. Outside the framework of his spiritual servitude to Hashem, he wishes to behave among his friends as he pleases, without being inhibited by thoughts of yiras shamayim. Who doesn't feel this dichotomy to a certain extent?

The person described above might feel pangs of regret at his shortcomings in the spiritual realm. He realizes that his tefillos are lacking concentration and he has fallen short in his performance of mitzvos. With regard to this aspect he can be considered, "One close to performing teshuva." In contrast, he perceives his second "identity" - the half that wishes to live as he pleases - as a completely different entity. He has no feelings of guilt despite his shortcomings and transgressions in this area, and in this regard he cannot be considered, "Close to performing teshuva." Such a person is the "beinoni" mentioned in the Gemara Rosh Hashana.

So what is the avodah of a beinoni? He must make an effort to internalize the advice of the selicha. "It is good for him to cleave to his Creator at all times - for then he is a servant [of Hashem] and free from his master (yetzer hara)." The intention is not that one must become completely righteous overnight - for that is unrealistic and cannot endure. However, he should take some time to contemplate his purpose here on Earth and adjust his mindset accordingly.

G'mar Chasima Tova!