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December 8, 2016 / 8 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Hashem’

Tefillah: A Meeting with Hashem – A Personal Request

Friday, November 4th, 2016

Yankel, the town gvir, was doing quite well. His business was flourishing, money was pouring in from all sides and he was quite happy. Unfortunately, though, his observance of Torah and mitzvos was quite lacking. He came late to shul, left early, and rarely opened a sefer. One day, though, his fellow congregants were quite surprised to see him praying with much fervor. “He must be going through a difficult time,” they thought to themselves. But when they got close enough to hear his prayers, they were quite shocked. “Hashem,” said Yankel, “today I am about to make a huge business deal, and I can manage all by myself — all I ask of You is not to mess it up for me!”

What a pity! I think it is safe to assume that none of us would ever say or even think such a thing, but to a small extent we may have the same problem of self-trust. Let me explain.

 

Whom Can I Trust?

The Chovos Halevavos writes (Sha’ar Habitachon, chapter 2) that we only put our trust in someone after certain conditions are met, and all of them are found with Hashem. In a previous article, we discussed the first condition, that Hashem loves us dearly and only wants what’s best for us. The second is that as a result of that love He never stops thinking about us, is constantly taking care of us and is always watching us. The clearer that becomes, the more we will trust Him. How can we build up that awareness?

The pasuk in Mishlei says (3:5), “Bitach el Hashem b’chol libecha, v’el binascha al tishaen – Trust in Hashem with all your heart, and do not rely upon your own understanding.” Rabbeinu Yonah explains that complete faith in Hashem means not attributing any success to our own actions or ideas. We must believe with all our heart that without Hashem, we cannot accomplish anything.

And before you begin to wonder how to reach such a great level, Shlomo HaMelech continues: “B’chol dirachecha da’eihu, vehu yiyasher orchosecha – In all your ways know Him and He will smooth your paths.” Rabbeinu Yonah explains that there are many people who only turn to Hashem for help when they are about to do something really big, such as embarking on a sea voyage or traversing the desert. But when doing something small, they are sure they will be successful on their own. Thus, Shlomo HaMelech tells us: In all your ways you must turn to him – even before performing small actions. By doing so, you will straighten your ways and not rely on your intellect at all.

We see from here that one who only asks Hashem for help in areas where he realizes that he needs help demonstrates that the rest of the time he thinks he is taking care of himself, like Yankel the gvir. But if we make sure to always turn to Hashem, we will avoid this pitfall.

 

Daven for Everything!

The Chazon Ish once told Rav Elazar Tzadok Torchen (co-author of the sefer Shoneh Halachos): “Sometimes we see a bachur who was very strong in his observance of Torah and mitzvos before he got married, but after his chasuna he suddenly starts getting weaker. I believe the problem began before he got married. Obviously he had not worked enough on his emunah and, therefore, when he found himself out in the big world, he was not able to withstand the temptations that faced him.”

When Rav Torchen asked how one should work on one’s emunah, the Chazon Ish answered that a person should turn to Hashem and ask for each and every thing he needs. And he gave the following example: “Let’s say you need to buy new shoes. You go to the shoe store and tell the owner that you would like comfortable ones that do not cost too much and will last a long time. Instead of only requesting that of the store owner, first turn to Hashem and say the same exact thing: ‘Hashem, I need new shoes. Please help me find ones that are not too expensive, are comfortable, long-lasting etc.’ And then, if Hashem gives you what you requested, immediately thank Him for it, as that will reinforce the reality that all is from Him.”

We have now learned an important way to make ourselves aware that Hashem is involved in every part of our lives: Daven in your own words (English is fine) and in great detail (as above) before everything you do. As a first step, let us take one action each day and ask Hashem to help us succeed with it. For example, Rav Avigdor Miller zt”l would say that many people have been hit by cars as they innocently cross the street. So, before you step off the curb, say a short prayer asking Hashem to protect you as you cross. (But don’t let anyone hear you, lest they make fun!)

 

A Great Ending

Besides for saying short prayers throughout the day, a person should, as I heard from Rav Elchonon Meir Fishman, mashgiach of Toras Moshe, add his or her own requests at the end of the weekday Shemoneh Esrei, right before we say “yihyu l’ratzon” (after which one takes three steps back). At that point, open your heart and ask Hashem for all your needs in whichever language you feel the most comfortable. If you are not married yet, or if your children are not married yet – even if they are still young – don’t wait! Now is the time to ask Hashem to find you or your children a good shidduch without any of the heartache and delays that many people unfortunately go through. Daven that each one of your children should always be healthy and have yiras Shamayim. The boys should be talmidei chachomim and the girls should be tzniyus, and so on and so forth.

Rav Shimshon Pincus zt”l would say that we have treasure houses of presents waiting for us in Heaven – but they won’t come down until we open our mouths and ask! Ask Hashem for your heart’s desire – ask for anything – even the smallest, simplest things, and don’t be embarrassed. Nothing is small in Hashem’s Eyes! On the contrary, when we ask for small things, we make it clear that we are totally and completely dependent on Him. And then, even when we are going about our jobs and daily lives, it will be clear that we are not able to do anything without Hashem’s help.

However, Rav Fishman would add that since there is a rule that if we repeatedly ask Hashem for something He will sometimes give it to us even if it is not really in our best interests, we should conclude “v’hatzlicheini b’hatzlocha amitis – and give me true success.” Meaning, I only want this if it is truly good for me.

We are now in the month of Cheshvan, a perfect time to work on this concept. This is because the full name of the month is “Marcheshvan” and there are those who explain these words to mean “the lips are moving.” (See Ta’anis 22b “sifvassei d’ka mirachashon.”) That is, in this month our lips continue moving in prayer after all the tefillos of the month of Tishrei. If we keep our lips moving in prayer this month through all our personal tefillos to Hashem, hopefully they will continue moving all year long!

Rabbi Eliezer M. Niehaus

Hashem Hates Thievery

Friday, November 4th, 2016

And Hashem said to Noach, “The end of all flesh has come before me since the land is filled with robbery through them, and I will now destroy the land.” – Bereishis 6:13

In this pasuk, Hashem appears to Noach, telling him the world has turned to evil and He will now destroy all of life. Noach, his family, and the animals that remained pure will be the core of a new world. The reason for this destruction is stealing – “since the land is filled with robbery.”

Rashi is troubled that thievery is being treated as the pivotal point of the world’s existence. There are many sins that are worse. Rashi seems to answer this by saying that stealing was the crime that sealed their fate. Granted they were involved in other iniquities, but this was the one that actually demanded justice.

This Rashi is difficult to understand, as we know stealing is not one of the most severe sins. There are three cardinal sins a Jew is obligated to give up his life not to commit: idol worship, adultery, and murder. While stealing is certainly a serious crime, it isn’t among these – in fact, it isn’t even in their league.

Even more to the point, in a previous pasuk Rashi told us the main crimes then were idol worship and illicit relations. The Torah tells us “all flesh was corrupted.” It is clear that these more serious sins were rampant. How then can we understand Rashi’s statement that stealing was the crime that caused their destruction?

This question can best be answered with a mashal.

Different Scales of Measure

Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries on the planet; the average working man there earns about 180 dollars a year. Imagine that I walk into a savings and loan company in the United States and say, “I am looking to take out a mortgage on a new home.”

he loan officer will ask me, “What is your income? What assets do you have?”

I respond, “My friend, no need to worry. Why, I earn as much as ten men in Bangladesh. In fact, I don’t like to brag, but I earn as much as a hundred men there!”

Needless to say, I wouldn’t secure a loan. Because earning 1,800 dollars a year or even 18,000 dollars a year in our economy is below poverty level.

This is an example of different scales of measure. In a third world country where much of the population is starving, earning your daily bread and water might qualify you as well off, whereas in a more affluent world, it would be quite poor. More than objective wealth being the determinant of your status, it is the standard against which you are being measured. When the bar is raised, it becomes much more difficult to be considered acceptable.

So too in the system of Hashem’s judgment, there are different standards of measure. There is din – strict judgment – and there is rachamim – the mercy system. Strict din demands perfection. There is no room for shortcomings and no place for excuses; you are responsible. You did an act that act that brought about a result, so you are accountable – utterly, completely and totally. No mitigating factors, no extenuating circumstances. You are guilty as charged.

Rachamim is very different. This concept introduces understanding: “There were compelling factors.” “It was a difficult situation.” “There are few people in this generation who would have done much better.”

In the Heavenly system of judgment, there is a balance between rachamim and din. At one point, the balance may be 60 percent rachamim, 40 percent din. At another point it might be 80/20. If strict din would be in place, no mortal could stand. Even the Avos, the greatest humans who ever lived, would not have passed.

Certain times and actions change the balance between rachamim and din. Much of our davening focuses on asking Hashem to judge us more favorably, to introduce mercy into the deliberation. On the flip side, there are certain actions that strengthen the middah of din, moving the balance over to more strict judgment.

This seems to be the answer to Rashi. It isn’t that stealing is a more severe crime than immorality – it is less severe. However, there is an element to stealing that awakens din. Stealing from a person demonstrates a total disregard of his rights – it’s as if he isn’t a person. I can take away his property, even his very sustenance.

Chazal tell us, “As a person acts toward others, Hashem acts toward him.” Because robbery is an abrogation of a person’s rights, it causes a change in the way Hashem judges. It is as if Hashem says, “If you act that way toward others, then I will act accordingly to you.” Therefore, stealing changes the way Hashem judges because it causes the middah of din to react more strongly.

The other sins the generation was involved in had much more serious consequences, but they didn’t include a lack of respect for others, and therefore didn’t carry this element of changing the system of judgment. It was stealing alone that sealed their fate because it changed the system of judgment.

Living in the 21st Century

This concept is especially applicable in our times. Never before in the history of humanity has so much wealth been accessible to so many. Kings of yesteryear could not envision or imagine the luxuries that the common man today takes for granted. Yet it seems to be more difficult than ever to earn a living. The great test of life is not earning a living but how you earn your living. Are you honest? Are you scrupulous? Do you have standards and immutable rules?

While the primary motivation for honesty in business is that it is the right way to act, this Chazal demonstrates to us another reason: it changes the way Hashem acts toward us. It would be difficult to imagine the man who can say to Hashem, “I am entitled to earn a living! Based on my calculations of what You have given me and what I have done for You, You owe me.” Therefore, it is ill advised for a person to enter into calculations with Hashem, demanding his needs. Far wiser is the man who recognizes that we exist because of mercy. Before Hashem creates us, we do nothing to deserve being created, and after Hashem creates us we aren’t any different. We depend on Hashem’s mercy.

If we wish to gain favor in Hashem’s eyes, we need to utilize the systems He has created. By respecting other people and being scrupulously honest in our business dealings, we make it far more likely for Him to judge us with mercy and take care of us.

Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier

Tefillah: A Meeting With Hashem -Teshuva Through Prayer

Friday, October 7th, 2016

“The Shabbos Shuva drasha will be given at 5:00 in the main sanctuary.” The age-old custom of listening to a Shabbos Shuva drasha will take place all over the world this Shabbos and definitely should not be missed. When the community gathers together to hear words of inspiration from the rabbi, it is a wonderful opportunity to prepare ourselves for Yom Kippur. The fact that we have come together as one unit to raise our level of spirituality causes much joy to Hashem, and that in itself is a reason to take part in this special event.

But we must know that besides the rabbi’s speech, there is another important one, given by none other than the navi Hoshea during the Shabbos morning services. For some people, hearing the chazzan begin reading the weekly haftarah is a signal to doze off. What a pity! These words contain such holy inspiration that just hearing them will help us peel away some of the layers of sin that cover our hearts. And certainly anyone who listens to Hoshea’s message will learn what to do in order to achieve true repentance.

So let us take a look at the opening words of the haftarah of Shabbos Shuva. There we will discover what we should be doing during these special days.

 

Take Words

The haftarah begins: “Shuva Yisroel ad Hashem Elokecha, ki chushalta ba’avonecha! Return, Yisroel, unto Hashem your G-d, for you stumbled in your iniquity. Kechu e’machem d’vorim v’shuvu el Hashem – Take words with you and return to Hashem…” (Hoshea 14:2-3).

The midrash (Shemos Rabba, Tezaveh) explains what these “words” are: “Klal Yisroel says to Hashem: ‘We do not have sacrifices to grant us atonement!’ And Hashem answers, ‘I only request words from you, and words means Torah.’ So Klal Yisroel says ‘But we don’t know how!’ And Hashem answers, ‘So cry and pray to Me. Did I not redeem your forefathers in Egypt because they prayed to me… and in the days of Yehoshua, was it not through prayer that I performed for them miracles? So too, I do not want from you offerings or korbonos – just words…’”

This amazing midrash addresses our generation, as we also do not have sacrifices. Hashem compares us to being in Egypt – where we needed salvation from the torture and slavery that entrapped us. And today we need miracles just like our nation needed in the times of Yehoshua. Why is this so?

The painful answer is that even though we try hard to fulfill the commandments of the Torah, many times we, unfortunately, fall short. And when a temptation to sin arises, we usually overcome it – but many times we don’t. All this needs atonement, as it is not possible to enter the World to Come with stains on our souls. We may have to endure various punishments or suffering, chas v’sholom. But Hashem, in His great kindness, gives us the opportunity each year, during these ten days of repentance, to achieve that soul cleansing and avoid the need to undergo pain.

So we say to Hashem: “What should we do? Once, we had a Bais HaMikdosh where we could offer korbonos and receive atonement. But we don’t have that anymore! We try to learn Torah, but we don’t know how! Our learning is not on the level sufficient to save us from our dire situation.” Hashem answers: “Cry and pray to me! That is what you should bring me – words of prayer!”

We see from here that there is a deep connection between prayer and repentance.

We find the same connection from the fact that viduy, confession, is part of the Yom Kippur davening – it appears five times during the silent Shemoneh Esrei and five times during the chazzan’s repetition. Similarly, we say in the moving prayer of U’nesaneh Tokef: “But repentance, prayer, and charity remove the evil of the decree!” So an integral part of achieving atonement is through prayer. Why is this so?

 

In Your Presence

As part of the viduy of Yom Kippur we say over and over “al cheit shechatanu lifanecha.” We ask forgiveness for the sin that we sinned “in Your presence.” I heard from the mashgiach of Yeshivas Toras Moshe in Yerushalayim, Rav Elchonon Meir Fishman, that the main reason we sin is that we forget we are in the presence of Hashem.

He illustrated his point in this way: Let us imagine that right now we hear the shofar of Moshiach. When that great shofar will finally be blown, there will be no doubts – this is it! Moshiach is here! As it gets louder and louder, someone walks into the room and starts telling you a juicy piece of loshon hora. Normally, you would have trouble resisting, but this time you scream: “Get out of here! The King is coming; how can I sin in His presence!”

When we express our remorse, we admit that “the sin was in Your presence.” The first step in repentance is to say to Hashem that until now we lived as if we were not in front of You, but now we have come back.

Now we can understand why we repent specifically during Shemoneh Esrei. As we explained many times in this series, tefillah is a meeting with Hashem. We put aside all other matters, business and personal, and turn to Hashem in prayer. At that moment, when we feel the strong connection to Hashem, we are able to truly feel how far we have strayed. We can honestly say that we sinned because we did not feel that we were in Your presence. So please accept our regret and forgive us!

This is what Hoshea is telling us: The way to repentance is through prayer! Praying is the quickest and most direct way of placing ourselves back in front of Hashem. That is why he stressed taking “words with you and return to Hashem” – because through these words of prayer we return directly to Hashem. And once we are there, we will be able to see everything in the correct perspective and truly turn over a new leaf in our lives.

Rabbi Eliezer M. Niehaus

Tefillah: A Meeting With Hashem – Are We Atheists In Foxholes?

Friday, September 2nd, 2016

“There are no atheists in foxholes,” goes the saying. When in dire straits, even the greatest non-believer will often admit that until now his life was a farce. He had denied G-d’s existence only because he wanted to live without any constraints – like an animal, without the burden of his conscience. Now, when he feels helpless, as shells explode around him and the angel of death ruthlessly snatches away his comrades, he raises his eyes in prayer to G-d, whom he just rediscovered.

We Torah-observant Jews are definitely light years ahead of that poor fellow. But in a certain way we are similar. Let us think about how we daven Shemoneh Esrei. We all try to concentrate, but it is difficult. Our mind wanders, and we daydream about countless topics. And before we know it, we find ourselves taking three steps back.

But if, chas v’sholom, a person is told by his doctors that he has a severe disease and needs to undergo intense medical treatment, his prayers take on new dimensions. Each word is said with emotion and feeling, because he knows that his life is on the line. And if his business is floundering, he pours his heart out during the blessing of Bareich Aleinu, and begs Hashem for help.

Sure, we are much better than the atheist who only sees the truth when it may be too late to start living a life of faith. But to a certain degree we also forget about Hashem when the sailing is smooth. How can we rectify the problem?

 

Foolish Complacency

This Shabbos is Rosh Chodesh Elul. In just thirty days it will be Rosh Hashanah, when Hashem will decide what will happen to us in the upcoming year – and sometimes the ruling can have an effect that will last for many years to come. Since we are judged based on our past performance, we should be quite terrified. But for some strange reason we are calm and complacent. Indeed, much ink has been spilled regarding this phenomenon: Just several generations ago, even the simple water carrier was terrified when Rosh Chodesh Elul arrived, but in our times, it is very difficult for us to truly be worried about our impending judgment.

One of the explanations given is that in those generations most people did not really know where their income would come from, nor whether there would be food available. And, at any moment, the gentiles could rise against the Jews with terrible pogroms and persecutions. Before the discovery of antibiotics, a simple cold could lead to deadly illnesses. The people living in those times truly understood that they were totally dependent on Hashem’s ongoing protection and kindness. Hence, the Yomim Noraim were truly scary days. But in our modern age, our livelihoods are relatively secure, we have doctors who can cure most ailments, and except for sporadic terrorist attacks, we feel more or less safe. Of course, in our hearts we know that everything we have is truly from Hashem, but those feelings are not enough of a reality in our daily lives. Thus, Rosh Hashanah does not have enough significance to us. What can we do to change our mindset?

 

The Poor “Rich” Man

The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 16b) states: “Reb Yitzchok says that any year that is poor in the beginning will be rich in the end.” Rashi explains that “poor in the beginning” means that “Klal Yisroel makes themselves poor on Rosh Hashanah to utter supplications and pray, as it says in Mishlei (18:23) ‘A pauper utters supplications.’” On Rosh Hashanah we must turn to Hashem in prayer the same way a poor man asks people for help. Rav Matisyahu Salomon, the famed Mashgiach of Beis Medrash Gavoha in Lakewood, explains this with the following parable:

Everyone thought that Bob was fabulously wealthy. The estate that sprawled over several acres, the fabulous mansion, the numerous luxury cars, the private yacht and airplane – they all bespoke riches. Not to mention his downtown skyscrapers and countrywide chain of stores. But the truth was far from what the eye beheld. For the last three years Bob had suffered tremendous losses on all financial fronts. He desperately tried to bail himself out of the rut he had fallen into, but to no avail. The bank began warning him of seizures and foreclosures, until, one day, it came. “If you do not pay us the money you owe, in exactly three days we will seize all your assets and properties,” the letter from the bank stated. Without waiting a moment, Bob ran to the bank manager and literally went down on his knees. “Please, please, have mercy!” he pleaded. “If you take everything away I am finished! I have new plans which will definitely succeed! Give me a few more months to save myself!”

If a person foolishly feels that he is all set and does not need Hashem for anything, he will not view his life as being on the line. Entering Rosh Hashanah in such a manner is not very smart. We must consider the possibility that we are in exactly the same situation as our friend Bob. Yes, Baruch Hashem, we have health and parnasah, but perhaps it is all on credit! Maybe Hashem in His infinite kindness is giving us a chance to mend our ways – but at any moment He can decide that the time is up. And in truth, that is what happens every Rosh Hashanah. Just as the bank reevaluates its client’s credit ratings from time to time, so too, each year on this day, Hashem evaluates how we have acted until now. And then He decides to extend us credit, or, chas v’sholom, not to.

We must approach Hashem the same way that Bob beseeched the bank manager, and beg Him like a poor man. If we do so, says the Gemara, we will merit a good year. The more we show that we realize that we do not deserve anything, the more we will deserve mercy.

 

The Daily Foxhole

Let us return to our daily Shemoneh Esrei. One of the reasons we have so much trouble concentrating during a regular Shemoneh Esrei is the same reason we do not feel scared about Rosh Hashanah: We simply do not feel that we are in danger. But if we would think about all the people who suddenly lost their parnasah or health, we would change our mindset. All those cases teach us that nothing can be taken for granted. Then, every time we ask Hashem for health, we will do so as one who really needs a medical salvation, because we never really know if our good health is really just on credit.

We are better off than the atheist in the foxhole – his faith in Hashem is buried so deep that it requires a life-threatening situation to bring it to life. We, on the other hand, know the truth – we are just fast asleep. With a little thought, we can awaken ourselves, and show our true colors.

If we use these days of Elul to instill in ourselves the reality that one good year does not tell us anything about the coming year, by the time we reach Rosh Hashanah we will truly be able to pray to Hashem like a poor man does. And then, we will merit, b’ezras Hashem, having a happy sweet New Year.

Rabbi Eliezer M. Niehaus

Tefillah: A Meeting With Hashem – Love Our Nation

Friday, August 5th, 2016

A friend of mine related that his brother was on a business trip to Istanbul and went to pray in a local shul. He was quite surprised when one of the congregants waved to him. “I don’t know this man,” he thought. “He must be a really friendly person!” But then he noticed the man was waving to everyone in shul. And he was not the only one – every single person in shul was doing the same thing! After davening, they told him that this custom was based on the words of the Arizal, cited by the Magen Avraham (O.C., beginning of siman 46). He writes: “Before the morning tefillah one should accept upon himself the mitzvah of v’ahavtah le’reiacha kamocha – you shall love your fellow as yourself.” In order to fulfill this mitzvah properly, the custom of this congregation is to wave to each and every fellow Jew in shul.

But what is the Arizal’s reason – why is it so important to fulfill this mitzvah specifically before we start praying?

 

Plural Power

One who examines Shemoneh Esrei will notice something interesting: we speak in the plural form. For example, we ask Hashem to give us rain, to heal us, to forgive us, etc. That is, I come before Hashem as a representative of our nation – not for myself. Once a person has asked for everyone, he may add personal supplications, as long as he fulfills certain conditions (see Shulchan Aruch, O.C. siman 119). One example being at the end of Shemoneh Esrei when we say “Elokai, netzor leshoni mei’ra – My G-d, guard my tongue from evil… etc.” In general, though we use the plural form. In fact, the Gra in Sh’nos Eliyahu (Brachos 5:1) says that not only must we verbally ask in the plural form, we are not even allowed to think only about ourselves when we pray! But why not?

The Gemara (Brachos 30a) states that when a person prays he should always include himself as part of the community. Rashi explains that this will cause his prayer to be accepted. On a simple level, we can explain that one who includes himself with the tzibur will be answered in their merit, because the community usually has more merit than the individual.

However, I believe there is an even deeper reason why including ourselves with the tzibur helps our tefillos be accepted by Hashem. The whole concept of approaching Hashem in prayer is absolutely mind-boggling. How do we have the audacity to approach the Master of the Universe, who is holier and greater than anything we can possibly imagine, and expect that He is interested in hearing us? Only because Hashem tells us so in the Torah. “For who is a great nation that has G-d close to them like Hashem our G-d, whenever we call out to Him?” (Devorim 4:7). Hashem gave our nation the special privilege of turning to Him in prayer, and He has promised to listen to our prayers. And why did we merit this special closeness? Simply because He loves us, as stated throughout Tanach. The prophet Yirmiyahu (31:3) says in the name of Hashem: “I have loved you with an eternal love.” And Yeshaya (54:10) says even more: “For the mountains will depart and the hills will move, but My loving-kindness shall not depart from you, nor will My covenant of peace move away.”

Hashem’s love for our nation is so great that even though we sinned and were sent into exile, He still loves us. Hashem did not choose us because of our good deeds; rather, He has an unconditional love for us (Maharal, Netzach Yisroel, chapter 11). Therefore, even if we sin, He will not forsake us. On the contrary, He will make sure that we repent and perfect our ways, so that we will be worthy of Him dwelling amongst us.

Rabbi Eliezer M. Niehaus

‘Seek Hashem When He Can Be Found’

Wednesday, July 20th, 2016

Seek Hashem when He can be found. Call upon Him when He is near.”Yeshiah 55:6

So begins the haftarah we read at Minchah on fast days.

Let’s try to understand what happens on fast days. During Shacharis we say special tefillos recalling terrible events that took place on that date. By Minchah, the shock of contemplating these events has begun to be digested by our intellect. It dawns on us that we have gone through all these events and miraculously survived.

At that point we begin to understand that fast days provide us with a great gift: the chance to become close to the King of the Universe.

I find it amazing that the Holy Ark contains the broken luchos, the Tablets Moshe Rabbeinu smashed after the incident with the golden calf. Why should the holiest spot on earth contain a vivid reminder of Am Yisrael’s rebellion against Hashem, a reminder of our degradation, our embarrassment, our ingratitude?

That may be exactly the point. Only when we remember our utter degradation can we rise to the heights. Only when we are broken can we cry out to Hashem. When we are filled with arrogance, we have no room for Him. Only when we are crushed are we ready to beg Him to save us. It’s not that we desire to be crushed, God forbid, but this is a fact of life.

Let him put his mouth to the dust – there may yet be hope.”Eichah 29

A few weeks ago, I was driving near a Jewish neighborhood. I saw a car mount the sidewalk and park in front of a store. In America this is unusual, so I watched as the door opened. A “religious-looking” Jew got out and entered the store. This is dangerous. The perception exists among non-Jews that we believe ourselves to be above the law and above other people.

Dina d’malchusa dina – the law of the land is the law(Gittin 10b; Nedarim 28a). But more than that: it is just plain stupid to antagonize the surrounding culture, especially at such a violent time in history, when nations are looking for excuses to attack us.

A fast day comes to remind us that our only hope for greatness and redemption is to humble ourselves and cry out to our Father in Heaven. Every day we begin our tefillos with the words:

 

Master of all worlds, not in the merit of our righteousness do we cast our supplications before You, but in the merit of Your abundant mercy. What are we? What is our life? What is our kindness? What is our righteousness? What is our salvation? What is our strength? What is our might? What can we say before You, Hashem, our God and the God of our forefathers? Are not all the heroes like nothing before You?

 

We really must try to incorporate this into our being.

The Three Weeks are not only the most tragic days of the year, they are perhaps our greatest opportunity to come close to Hashem. This is how we can turn tragedy into simcha. Tisha B’Av is called a moed (Eichah 1:15), which implies that its intrinsic identity is positive. It should have been the day on which our eternal entry into the Land of Israel was assured, but it became twisted into a day of tragedy.

The nature of the Jewish people is that we do not give up, even under conditions of deepest grief and catastrophe. We use these events – even if they arose through our own errors – to elevate ourselves to a level that would not have been possible without them. The lowest day becomes the highest day; that is exactly the nature of Redemption.

At the very beginning of history, Adam and Chava had every reason to give up. As I put it in my book Worldstorm: Finding Meaning and Direction in Today’s World Crisis:

 

How could Adam and Chava live with the burden they had introduced into the world? How, I ask, did they live? For quickly they knew. Quickly they sought clothing because suddenly their innocence was not good enough for them. Before their rebellion they had nothing to hide because they had no guilt. But now no amount of clothing could cover their guilt. Where could they run to escape from God? Nowhere! It is God’s world.

So the banishment was self-inflicted; they had sealed their own doom. Can you imagine their burden on that day, the hot tears flowing as their feet walked out of that perfect world and passed the sword of the angel guarding the entrance through which no man has ever returned? Can you imagine what rested upon their shoulders? Already then they must have felt the guilt of thousands of future generations of their own children, the accumulated pain which was to befall every individual who would ever exist in the future world. It would all come about as a result of their one “tiny” error in Gan Eden.

How could they bear it? How could anyone bear the responsibility for such untold suffering? The truly amazing thing is that they did bear it. Their greatness is shown perhaps more by the way they bore their exile than by their actions inside the Garden.

Adam and Chava did not commit suicide. That same Adam and Chava – whose introduction to life outside the Garden included the murder of one son by another – walked onward through life. They did not give up! They lived to become the parents of yet another son, Seth, who carried the knowledge of God onward to the next generation and through whom the hope of the world was to survive.

 

Generations later, Avraham and Sarah did not give up. Even though Avraham was one man against the entire world, he did not waver in his belief in the existence of Hashem and from his quest to learn Hashem’s Torah. When they were already “too old” to conceive children, they gave birth to a child who changed the world.

Am Yisrael was released from slavery in Egypt at precisely the moment we reached the lowest level, “mem tes sha’are tumah.”

At the Yam Suf we had every reason to give up, surrounded as we were by the sea on one side and the Egyptian army on the other. But Nachshon ben Aminadav trusted Hashem, entered the water and Am Yisrael was saved.

When we as a nation wandered through Midbar Sinai, we perpetrated rebellion after rebellion against Hashem. We were our own worst enemies and – because of our own stubbornness – had every reason to give up, but we did not. Because we did not give up, we were saved.

The list goes on and on. “Ani ma’amin b’emunah sheleimah.” When you are desperate, you cast all your hope on Hashem, and only then are you going to find Redemption. If you know there is nothing else besides Hashem Echad, your life is going to change.

Min ha meitzar…from the straits I called upon God; God answered me with expansiveness. Hashem is with me; I have no fear; how can man affect me?”(Tehillim 118).

Hashem was with Dovid because he called “from the straits,” when there was nothing on earth that could help him. Hashem took Dovid out of the straits, but he had to hit rock bottom first.

* * * * *

I will recall for you my personal story. On January 10, 1966, my life was falling apart. I did not believe in God and I did not want to believe I was Jewish. My marriage seemed to be disintegrating. I was in graduate school and couldn’t concentrate. I woke up at 2 a.m. crying. It was all over. I had tried “everything” and nothing worked. It looked to me as if I would spend the rest of my life in a mental institution, God forbid.

But wait! Maybe there was something else other than the pit. Only then, under the terrible pressure of a decree of death, did I come to realize that if I was going to survive, I had to believe God is real. And that’s where it all began. That moment of absolute despair was the moment that changed my life. It was God or Gehennom.

I was so stubborn that it took that terrible moment to force me to humble myself enough so that I could believe I was not God.

The Three Weeks is that period of excruciating pain through which we are reminded that Hashem Echad is the One Source of Life. If we want to live, we have to surrender ourselves to His guidance and mercy. The secret and the seeds of Redemption lie in the pain we feel as we plummet to the utter depths during these terrible days of tears and tragedy.

In our own time, the suffering is prodigious. In Eretz Yisrael, Jewish blood is flowing. Outside Israel, tzouris upon tzouris. Each day, you think you have heard the ultimate – until the next day, when you hear something worse. How far can we be from mem-tes sha’are tumah, the straits from which we are going to cry out to God (Tehillim 118) “Ana Hashem hoshia na – please Hashem, save [us] now!”

Our son told us a beautiful thought from the Chofetz Chaim. Why did the miraglim become despondent? They knew Hashem was able to bring them into Eretz Canaan, but they felt they and their generation were not worthy of His help because of their sins. Their sense of shame caused them to doubt they had the merit to enter the Land.

This is the way of the yetzer hara: to try to cause us to forget our innate nobility and focus instead on what we did wrong. Hashem is waiting to help us, but we feel unworthy. (Based on Sefer Shmiras Haloshon, chelek beis, Parshas Shelach.)

* * * * *

Just this morning, as I was writing this article, I did something so stupid. I began to berate myself and feel as if I were hopelessly dumb with no hope whatsoever. Why do I keep making the same mistakes over and over again? This is the same thought many people have before Rosh Hashanah, when they tell themselves it is hopeless to do teshuvah because “each year I regress after all my promises to improve.”

In general, the present generation is extremely depressed. We are so steeped in the ways of the surrounding culture that the innate meaninglessness of its lifestyle has affected us deeply. But we really do not want to give up.

This morning, after my stupidity, I spoke to a trusted rabbi who gave me a way out. I started to feel that – perhaps – there is hope for me, and that is what we need to know: even though the yetzer hara will tempt us endlessly to become depressed and hopeless, there is hope and help from Above that will never desert us. Hashem loves us and will certainly bring Mashiach. No matter the problems that weigh down on us, Hashem will surely fulfill all His promises.

We begin every day by saying, “My God, the soul You placed within me is pure. You created it, You fashioned it, You breathed it into me, You safeguard it within me….” Contrary to the belief systems of other cultures, we know that Hashem created us with intrinsic kedushah.

The fast day haftarah continues: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts and My ways are not your ways…. As high as the heavens over the earth, so are My thoughts [higher] than your thoughts.”

We are being guided by a Power infinitely higher than we can comprehend.

During the Three Weeks, the rejuvenation of Am Yisrael begins, because we are not going lower than this. This is the end … and the beginning. On Tisha B’Av, Mashiach is born. We read in Midrash Eichah Rabbassi 1:59: “On the day the Temple was destroyed the Messianic Savior was born. What is his name? Menachem [Comforter].”

Midrash Eichah explains: An Arab passed a Jewish farmer plowing his field. The Arab heard the farmer’s ox mooing. The Arab, who understood the language of animals, told the Jew that meant the Holy Temple had been destroyed. While they were conversing, the ox mooed a second time. The Arab told the Jew this meant the Redeemer had been born.

Amazingly, the news of Mashiach’s birth came through the mouth of an Arab. Today the Arabs are also telling us something. Their activity shows they are, on some level, aware of how little time they have before their power is nullified by the arrival of Mashiach.

The ArtScroll commentary to this Midrash is illuminating:

 

Before the Temple’s destruction, it was not possible to have Mashiach, as that which is already perfect cannot perfect itself. It is only from the imperfect state of a destroyed Temple that this nation may ascend and eventually merit the Mashiach…. All seeds in the ground first disintegrate and decay and only afterward begin to grow into new plants…. A similar principle exists in the spiritual realm: sprouting must emanate from decay. The sages teach that us that only one who mourns over the…destruction of Jerusalem will merit to see its consolation. This, explains Maharal, is because the eventual rebuilding of Jerusalem and the rebirth of the Jewish nation can only come about after there existed a state of destruction…. But how will we be consoled? We will realize that all those years of pain and travail were not for naught and were not purposeless. They were part of the process of decay that caused the brilliant light of the Mashiach to shine.

 

May we see it soon in our days.

Roy S. Neuberger

Tefillah: A Meeting With Hashem Our Real Best Friend

Friday, July 8th, 2016

“Man’s best friend” is one of those phrases we have gotten so used to that we overlook its absurdity. This phrase, of course, refers to a furry, four-legged creature – namely, the dog. Have we ever contemplated how ridiculous this statement is? How can one say that a human being, the bearer of a soul from the upper spheres, is best friends with a canine mammal of the Order Carnivora? And, if we are discussing a Jew, who has a holy neshama from under Hashem’s Throne of Glory, which gives him the ability to connect to Hashem, it is even more ludicrous.

So who is really “man’s best friend”? The answer is G-O-D … not D-O-G! Yes, they have the same letters, but we have gotten the word totally backwards!

In many places, we refer to Hashem as our friend. For example, “Rei’acha v’rei’ah avicha al ta’azov – Do not forsake your Friend and the Friend of your father” (Mishlei 27:10). Rashi explains that the friend of our father is Hashem, who was a close friend of our forefathers. But He is not just a family friend, He is our own personal friend – “your Friend,” the verse states. We ourselves see that He is our best friend, so Shlomo HaMelech tells us not to forsake Him!

 

So Many Presents!

Last month (6-10) we mentioned that one of the prerequisites to turning to Hashem in prayer is knowing that He loves us and has our best interest in mind. We explained how we can see this love from the fact that Hashem gave our nation His precious Torah, the source of true life. But from the aforementioned verse in Mishlei, we also see that we must be aware that Hashem is our personal friend. One of the best ways to build that awareness is by contemplating all the wonderful gifts that our Friend is constantly bestowing upon us. Let us mention just a few.

If you ask, “How much is that person worth?” most people will answer based on his assets. But the correct answer is that if he has a healthy heart, liver, and kidneys, he is worth several million dollars! Why? Well, the average cost of a heart transplant is $ 1,250,000; for a liver, $750,000; and for a kidney, another $350,000. That brings us to the grand total of $2,350,000 to receive “used” organs. Studies show that approximately half of heart transplant recipients are still alive at 10 years post-transplant. A living donor kidney functions, on average, 12 to 20 years, and a deceased donor kidney from 8 to 12 years. That being the case, how much would a person pay for a brand new heart or kidney, straight from the “Manufacturer”? At least double the price! That means that we, who have “original” organs, are worth millions of dollars! And we take these wonderful presents from Hashem for granted.

But it doesn’t stop there. Do we think about that fact that He is constantly making sure that they function properly? We do not have to attach ourselves to a dialysis machine three times a week for several hours to clean our blood. Our heart pumps smoothly and effortlessly – no pacemaker necessary. Our lungs draw in wonderful oxygen – no need to drag around an oxygen tank. We do not wheeze as we breathe and coughing does not tear our innards apart. We hear just fine without hearing aids. No need to tap with a white cane or be led by a seeing-eye dog. We are able to use the facilities, our food gets digested properly, and we can enjoy the different types of food Hashem gives us. Perambulating with our wonderful legs is a pleasurable experience! Arthritis and muscle pain? Those are things we hope never to meet. Our heads are free of horrible migraines, our skin is generally not dry or chapped and, for the most part, when it is time to go to bed, we place our heads on the pillow and drift off into a peaceful slumber without too much delay.

Rabbi Eliezer M. Niehaus

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/uncategorized/tefillah-a-meeting-with-hashem-our-real-best-friend/2016/07/08/

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