Thursday, May 21, 2015

474 - Pirkei Avos

"Rebbi Chanina ben Chakinai says, 'One who is awake at night or one who travels alone and turns his thought to idleness, bears guilt for his soul'" (Avos 3:5). Rabbeinu Yonah explains this Mishna as follows: "Since these hours are desirable he should use them only for thoughts which are desirable before Hashem i.e. Torah thoughts. These hours are valuable and worthy of thoughts of Torah since he has no work to perform nor does he hear people's voices. Thus, one who turns his thoughts to idleness bears guilt for his soul, for he has wasted time which is opportune for clarity of thought and squandered it on something other than Torah."

Rav Wolbe (Daas Shlomo) comments that these hours are the litmus test of how one relates to the virtue of solitude (bedidus). A person who is awake at night or an individual traveling the roads, inevitably finds himself alone and he is forced into a period of solitude. If he lets his mind wander aimlessly, he has proven that he has no connection to this worthy trait. Naturally, a person is drawn after friends. Yet, the same way someone who has nothing to do with others is looked at derogatorily as a hermit, so too, one who connects solely with friends and detests the time he must spend alone, is also lacking a basic element of a healthy personality.

What exactly is bedidus and why is it so significant? Bedidus is the ability to be completely alone with oneself and to nevertheless feel a sense of great wealth with the realization that he is a veritable world in and of himself. The value of acquiring a connection to thismiddah is mentioned by Chazal. They stated that just as one of the middos of Hashem is that He is "livado" - He stands completely independent of anything in the universe, so too, Yaakov Avinu was stood "livado" - in solitude and independent of all others.

One who always ensures that he is in the company of other people, will certainly many glean positive practices from them. Such a person begins copying the deeds of others: he decides to start fasting "BeHaB" like Reuven, laying Rabbeinu Tam tefillin like Shimon, and he begins eating only hand-baked matzos like Levi. At face value it sounds terrific, but in reality he has not discovered, developed, or improved himself.

The Gra (Mishlei 14:2) writes that different people have different middos and each person must follow the path that will enable them to rectify their specific errantmiddah. Consequently, the path that one takes might look harmful to his friend. If he nevertheless perseveres and takes the path that he knows to be appropriate for his situation, then he is a truly G-d fearing. In contrast, one who chooses to conform to the norms of others to find favor in their eyes, and as a result fails to rectify his shortcomings, has in effect scorned Hashem.

The only way for you to discover who you really are i.e. your virtues, shortcomings and the path that you should be taking in life, is if you designate some time to spend solely with yourself. Unfortunately, such a possibility is becoming increasing difficult. While Chazal understood that a person awake at night or traveling by himself will be alone, that is only because they didn't yet have i-phones. Nowadays, a person is never alone. If it's not a friend, it's the radio, the Mp3 or the i-phone; there is always something to keep a person occupied. A long Shabbos afternoon is an oasis from the constant barrage of outside distractions. Take a walk for a few minutes and introduce yourself to yourself. You might discover that you haven't the slightest idea who you really are! Bedidus is not a burden, it is an opportunity. It is an opportunity to find out why it would have been worth it to create the entire world just for you yourself, as Chazal assert that one should sayb'shveli nivra ha'olam!

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