Thursday, July 15, 2010

232 - Devarim (Chazon)

In this week's haftorah we read how Yeshayahu Hanavi lamented, "Ami lo hisbonan" - My nation did not contemplate. The fact that he began his prophecy with this allegation shows just how essential hisbonanus is. What exactly is hisbonanus, and why is it so important?

Rav Wolbe (Alei Shur vol. I pg. 89) cites the Ramchal who reveals the secret behind hisbonanus. We find that The Torah is likened to a fire. This is because every word is like a coal and if it is untended it will glimmer slightly at best. However, it one fans the coal by toiling to understand the Torah, each coal will burst into a fiery flame. Additionally, a person is endowed with the capabilities needed to reach awesome levels of spiritual comprehension, but this too can only be accomplished if he "ignites the fire" through hisbonanus.

The Ramchal continues that the world was specifically created in this fashion to allow for free will. If at first glance everything would be crystal clear, and we would comprehend the absolute truth of the Creator of the world and the Torah, we would never sin. We would recognize how every mitzvah is a treasure and how every sin is literally a disaster. The yetzer hara would have no dominion whatsoever. In order to balance the scales, Hashem created a world where true knowledge is like a smoldering coal that has the potential to turn into a blaze. Man must choose whether to allow it to remain a dim coal or to ignite it.

With this in mind, writes Rav Wolbe, we can understand how the need for hisbonanus plays a fundamental role in the purpose of creation. Hisbonanus is the motor that triggers a person's seichel to comprehend things properly which aids him in his war against the yetzer hara. The more clarity he has in his role in this world, the less interest he has in sin.

Hisbonanus is the ability to focus on an idea and objectively contemplate the topic with the intention of integrating the knowledge into one's own life. It means taking Torah and mussar ideas that we might already know - but only as a smoldering coal - and turning them into a roaring fire that will burn its way into our minds and hearts. Hisbonanus is also the tool one must use to truly get to know oneself. If one focuses, with composure, on his emotional state, his way of doing things and his life goals, he can come to realizations that will literally change his path in life for the better.

As we approach Tisha B'Av, many feel that they simply cannot relate to the Bais Hamikdosh for which we are mourning. The truth is that it is almost impossible to feel connected without hisbonanus. However, if we take some time to ascertain and contemplate just what we are missing and how it affects us in countless different ways each and every day, we will b'ezras Hashem, be able to mourn, to some extent, the Bais Hamikdosh and thereby ultimately merit rejoicing with it. As Chazal tell us, "All who mourn Yerushalayim will merit rejoicing with it."

Sunday, July 11, 2010

231 - Mattos-Masei

When the soldiers returned from the war with Midyan, the Torah tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu, Elazar HaKohein, and the princes of the shevatim all went out to greet them. Rashi explains that some youngsters had run to grab some of the abundant spoils. Therefore, Moshe Rabbeinu and the other leaders personally went to prevent this from happening. When it came to a suspicion that someone was stealing, Moshe did not rely on sending a messenger to investigate. Rather, he felt it necessary to personally stop such behavior.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) notes that throughout the Chumash we find the great vigilance that our forefathers displayed when it came to matters that involved other people's property. Avrahom's animals traveled with a muzzle lest they graze in someone else's field. Yaakov lived in Lavan's house for more than twenty years and he didn't take a single item from the house. Additionally, we find that when Moshe went to collect the money for the building of the Mishkan, he wore a specially tailored garment that had no pockets or seams, lest anyone suspect that he might take some of the money for himself.

Rav Wolbe related that one Yom Kippur before Ne'ilah the Chofetz Chaim stood in front of the Aron Kodesh and gave a shmuess. He said that twice in Ne'ilah we state, "So that we may refrain from the oshek of our hands (money taken unlawfully)." We see the seriousness of stealing. Since Ne'ilah is a time to make a kabbalah (resolution), we should resolve that if we should have any money that belongs to someone else we will return it immediately after Yom Kippur.

Stealing is a terrible aveirah and yet we don't even have any idea what is included in this prohibition. For this reason, Rav Yisroel Salanter urged people to study the third section of Choshen Mishpat which deals with interpersonal monetary matters. Rav Wolbe heeded this call and instituted that the Kollel that learned in his Bais Hamussar should study those specific halachos. If we want to be sure that we don't unknowingly transgress the laws of gezel, we should take at least a few minutes a week, to study these halachos and gain a more comprehensive understanding of them. (Recently a number of excellent books have been published in English on these topics.)