With Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur already in our rear-view mirrors, it’s time to dig in our heels and make the coming year a really special one. With that in mind, I’d like to talk to you, my dear readers, about the state of our spiritual ambitions. We all have material ambitions. Whether they are to get a better car, redo our kitchen, put in a jacuzzi, or a nice mid-winter vacation, we all have these American dreams. But where are we when it comes to spiritual desires?
When Akavia Ben Mahalal’el says in Pirkei Avos that a person should look at three things and he won’t come to sin, one of the three is, “U’l-an attah holeich?” Literally this asks, “Where a person is heading?” Namely, to the grave. This thought will be an incentive to straighten one’s priorities. But the Chofetz Chaim explains the question differently. As a person grows older, he should be constantly asking himself, “Where am I heading (in this world)?” and “What am I accomplishing?”
Another one of the questions Akavia says is, “V’lifnei mi attah asid litein din v’cheshbon? – Remember before Whom you are destined to be judged and to Whom you will give an accounting.” The Gaon of Vilna asks what the distinction is between ‘a judgment’ and ‘an accounting.’ He answers that judgment is when Hashem judges us for our sins. An accounting is when Hashem computes all of the mitzvos that we could have done while we were sinning.
In the beautiful ArtScroll Pirkei Avos, there is a wonderful parable to drive this thought home. A farmer bought bags of seeds to plant in his farmlands. Unfortunately, the seeds were duds and he ended up with no crops. When he returned to the seed merchant to complain, the vendor took out his invoice and said, “Okay, you spent one-hundred fifty-eight dollars on seed. Here’s your money back!” The farmer looked back in outrage and said, “I don’t want back just the money for the seeds. Because of you, vast acreages of lands were left barren. You need to compensate me for all that you caused me to lose!” So too, if someone talks during davening, the judgment is for the sin of talking during Kaddish and the like. The accounting is for all of the “Amens” and saying of Hashem’s name and prayers that he could have been doing at that time.
Let’s take a look at our spiritual ambitions. Some people go to the library and take out a bag full of books. They’re all set up with their Grishams, Browns, Kings, etc., and ready for some real serious reading! Then, when they get to the Hereafter and Hashem asks them why they never studied the Navi, why they didn’t have even a rudimentary knowledge of halacha, and why they never looked at a Chumash and Rashi, they say they had no time.
This just doesn’t compute! We need to guarantee that we are not complacent with our prayers. Therefore, we must constantly work on better kavanah and focus, learning the meanings of the words and working on a sincere belief that our prayers will really make a difference in our daily lives. We must stoke the fires of our ambition when it comes to bettering our relationship with our spouse. Husbands and wives should always be learning new ways to make each other happy – whether through a new recipe or a surprise gift. Always remember that Hashem always wants us to climb. If we don’t self-motivate, then Hashem is ‘forced’ to give us tests to get us going. Wouldn’t we rather write the script ourselves than have Hashem place us in uncharted territories and give us unwanted challenges?
May Hashem bless us with the smarts and the zest to push ourselves to greater levels of spirituality and in that merit may we all be blessed with a very healthy and happy year to come.