Thursday, July 22, 2010

Baruch "Atoh" - What A Zchus!

I was in the midst of saying my morning brachos today, and somewhere in the middle, when I reached the words "Baruch Atoh", a Torah I had learned way back hit me between the eyes, and made me pause for a minute. Baruch "Atoh", H" - wow. I remembered HaRav Shimshon Dovid Pincus, ZT"L, saying over in a shiur how during the reign of Dovid HaMelech, a terrible plague raged. One hundred people per day were dying of unnatural causes. Through Ruach HaKodesh, Dovid HaMelech understood that if Klal Yisroel would be careful to recite 100 brachos per day, the plague would be removed. Rav Pincus asked, "Mah Kesher?" How did this formula of 100 brachos break the plague? Because saying "Blessed are YOU, H"..." in 100 brachos a day will remind us at least 100 times a day that there is a Creator of the world. Yeish Borei Olam!

Rav Pincus went further. He said that when we address great people, we refer to them in the third person. If you speak to your Rav or Rebbe, when you address them, you'd say "Would the Rav like a cup of water?", or "I'd like to ask the Rebbe a question." We address those who we want to give kavod to in the third person as a sign of respect. And yet the Master of the World allows us to talk to him directly - Blessed are "YOU", H".

How privileged are we? What a zchus! H" allows us to speak to him directly, whereas a king of flesh and blood would never allow such a thing. So as I said brachos this morning, and went through the motions, I remembered this Torah, and was mechaveyn on the words Baruch "Atoh" a bit more than usual.

A good friend of mine once told me that he was listening to a shiur by Rav Pincus ZT"L, and at some point in the Shiur, Rav Pincus mentioned Hashem (as he surely had done earlier)... but in that particular mention it seemed as if something came over him...

And this is what he said:

"Hashem Yisbarach;
our Almighty Hashem;
our Wonderful, Dear Father in Heaven;
Ha'Kadosh Baruch Hu,
Who loves us so much,
and we love Him."

That's how he (suddenly) described Hashem Yisbarach.

I cut this out when I heard it and have kept it in my wallet ever since. I'm going to try bli neder, once a day, to have this in mind during one of my brachos. Imagine how referring to H" in this way can change us. Imagine the connection.

H" Yisbarach, help us connect to you in our tefillos. Help us remember you throughout the day. Help us to remember what a privilege it is for us to be able to talk to you. Help us not to take this privilege for granted.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Post Tisha B'Av Thought - To Judge a Book By It's Cover?

We all know the famous English idiom "don't judge a book by its cover". B"H, I was learning a piece by the heilige Kedushas Levi over Tisha B'Av on Megillas Eicha. As I closed the sefer, I noticed for the first time the beautiful quote by the Rebbe imprinted on the cover, which certainly disproves the old saying.

I wanted to share this with you, my friends, in the hopes that we can take this quote with us throughout the year. I'm going to keep it in my wallet and try to look at it every now and then, as a reminder.

Let's listen to his words - they are a lifesaver:

“Behold the Blessed Creator chose only Bnei Yisrael, therefore no one has the right to say anything negative about them, only to Melamed Zechus – teach the merits of Bnei Yisrael.” (Parshas Bo)

“Whosoever does not have a good attribute, that always sees only goodness and straight forwardness in the Jewish people, if he lacks this good and holy trait to constantly tell of and retell the praises of Israel, that Bnei Yisrael should always be praised and exalted in his eyes, and he lacks the trait of advocating meritoriously on the behalf of the Jewish nation, Klal Yisrael, His holy nation. Then he should know that surely he will not merit all the days of his life to enter the gate of Divine Service for Avodas HaBoreh to serve his Creator.” (Pisgamin Kadishin #18)

When I saw this quote, I sat and stared at the sefer for awhile. Wow, I thought. Halevai, if only we could live this, we probably would have been dancing around the Beis HaMikdash yesterday, instead of fasting on Tisha B'Av.

Abbala, H" Yisbarach, please place the Rebbe's words in our hearts and our minds, and help us to be zoche to live his holy words.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Faster Than A Speeding Bullet

Its Tisha B'Av again. Another year of Kinnos. Tisha B'av feels very powerful this year. I mean, Tisha B'av has always been "powerful," of course, but this year it seems that perhaps, maybe for the first time even, I can truly "feel" the intensity of Tisha B'av. I imagine that I am not the only one with these feelings this year. I have heard in the name of R. Elchanan Wasserman הי"ד זצ"ל , who said in the name of the Chafetz Chaim that towards the end of the pre-Messianic period the pace of world affairs would become accelerated far beyond the norm of the past. I don't know about you, but I can't keep up with it. I wrote last week about the nisayon I have with my blackberry. To be honest, these days, more than ever, I want to bury my blackberry, together with it's emails, texts and various other assorted messages. Every few hours there are messages coming in about Eretz Yisroel Hakodesh, yidden in need of refuahs and yeshuahs, news from the Gulf .... As the Heilige Chofetz Chaim said, the the world is moving at a feverish, dizzying pace.

With so much going on, I think there is a tendency for the human "auto off" switch to kick in. I often feel that I'm just numb to the information coming in. It's as if I'm standing at the bottom of a waterfall of current events, being swept away by the current. I find this numb feeling very disturbing. If chas v'shalom, one is ever caught outside in the freezing cold, a person's body begins to get numb as the cold overtakes them, until eventually a person will fall asleep and then it's all over. This is how I feel lately. World events are moving so fast that it feels as if I'm becoming numb to them - "World Frostbite", so to speak, and the next logical step is to fall asleep.

As a Ben Melech, I know that my job is to feel. My job is to think. My job is to analyze. My job is to break through the heart of stone, to reveal the heart of flesh underneath. How can I do this? How can we all stay awake? B"H, HaRav Tzvi Meir Zilberberg, shlita, emphasizes over and over - we have to focus. We have to keep ourselves from getting distracted from our avodah here on this earth. There is so much out there to distract us from our goal. So much static to keep us out of "the zone" of avodas H". We need to focus.

So what should we focus on. It's back to basics. "Yeish Borei Olam - There is a Creator". B"H, we have a Father in Shamayim that loves us, and is the one running this show we call life. He's the one orchestrating all the current events. Every detail. The other day I saw a niece of mine that happens to have a blackberry that sends her "alerts" quite often. I never thought much about it, as we're all plagued by this. But at one point I happened to notice the alert that kept signaling her, and it read, "Yeish Borei Olam!".

For me, that's the key. The simple key to avoid the World Frostbite that I've been feeling. As the waterfall of events keeps gushing my way, I just keep reminding myself - "Yeish Borei Olam - the World Has a Creator!". And then it's all fine. Whatever is happening is all being orchestrated by the Master of the World, for the benefit of his children. And that makes is good. Rav Itamar Shwartz, shlita, the mechaber of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh sefarim, amongst others, goes into detail about this strategy in Bilvavi Alef. He says to write this down on a piece of paper and to look at it periodically - over and over, until the words are imprinted into our minds and hearts. I learned the sefer a few years back, and my niece's more modern application of the eitzah brought it back to life for me, B"H.

My brothers and sisters, if any of you have been feeling the way I have lately. Try this eitzah. This Tisha B'Av - get back to basics - remind yourself - "Yeish Borei Olam."


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Look Me In The Face When You Talk To Me

I was having a conversation with someone yesterday ... Well, if it can be called a conversation. It was more like talking to a wall, but this person was actually responding in some form. The problem was (at least, it was a problem for me...) that this person, let's call him "Shmuly," was checking his blackberry while I was trying to have a conversation with him. I hadn't seen Shmuly in a while, and figured I'd ask how things were etc... (and with a smile of course). He was responding to me while reading his incoming emails, texts, messages. So in effect he wasn't really responding at all, but I think in his mind he was having a conversation. Here's a verbal sound bite that is probably all too familiar to others:

AA: "So Shmuly, how are things? How's the mishpachah?"
S: "[pause while checking blackberry]Uhhh, Good. [opens message on blackberry]"
AA: "What's new and exciting my friend?"
S: "[no reply][no reply] [stare blankly at blackberry screen] Uhhh, What was that?"
AA: "Was just wondering how you're doing?"
S: " Oh, Good. [pause while checking blackberry] [stare blankly at blackberry screen]"

Need I go on. It's becoming all too common, no? I first realized the extent of this problem a while back when someone knocked on my door, I opened it and began to greet the person, the person was talking back, BUT NOT TO ME. He was talking to someone else on his bluetooth device. Now he knocked on MY door. Was looking at ME. But was talking to someone else. I made a mental note at the time that things seem to be going downhill since the advent of these bluetooth devices.

After thinking about this conversation yesterday, it was clear to me that there was a problem, both in that particular conversation, and obviously in the relationship, if you can call it that.

AND THEN.... I walked into shul this morning. In the middle of brachos, my blackberry buzzed with an email. I wouldn't be so brazen as to look at the blackberry while in shul, but for a second I thought about who I might have been expecting a message from. I put on my mental block against "buzzing" and went on. Before Ashrei, another "buzz". Maybe for a nanosecond, or two, I thought again - Hmmmmm, could be about that deal yesterday. Chazaras HaShatz - it went off again. Buzz. Focus... Focus ... Block it out. But, who's there crosses my mind - even for a mega fraction of a second.

So are a few buzzes on my blackberry so bad? Not in the scheme of things I would think, but when I think about my conversation with Shmuly, I am really doing the same thing, no? I've made a deal with myself for some time not to look at my phone in shul, but I don't shut it off - "just in case" (what did people do before there were cell phones - I need to lug this thing around "just in case"??). By not shutting it off, I lose focus during those buzz events, even if only for a few seconds. So however minimal the disturbance is, it's a gap in my conversation with H", and by default, my relationship with H".

As a parent, I can't begin to describe how frustrating it is when I talk to one of my children about something important, and they are focusing - however briefly - on another conversation or event in the house. How must H" feel when I'm in the middle of talking to him, asking him for my very life, and turn my attention - however briefly - to a gadget that's buzzing on my waist, and to an email or message or incoming call that is probably so temporary and irrelevant as to be almost absurd. I can picture the event in my mind - standing before the King of Kings, pleading for each detail, speaking holy words that are supposed to be made placed as diamonds on the King's crown, and focusing instead on a fat microchip hanging on my belt buckle. Is that not absurd? Is that not pathetic?

H" is pleading with me to look him in the face when I talk to him. So here's an idea. A simple eitzah that I'm going to start during Bein HaMetzarim. Bli Neder, the phone comes off, and goes out of reach during my time in shul. I'm not going to touch it or look at it during my time in shul - only after I leave. No more buzzing. No more losing focus. No more annoyance.

H" Ya'azor, H" Yishmor - please help me, and help us all Abbala, to focus on my relationship with You! Help me, and help us all, to talk to you in the right way. Help me, and help us all, look you in the face when we talk to you.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Baseless Love - the Holy Words of Rav Kook, ZT"L

I wanted to share this quote by Rav Kook, ZT"L with you all, my friends:

"If we were destroyed, and the world with us, due to baseless hatred, then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with baseless love" (Orot HaKodesh vol. 3, p. 324)

I was thinking about these amazing words. How can I implement this in my life? I thought of 2 eitzos that I'm going to try, bli neder, over the next two weeks, IY"H, during the bein hametzarim. First, I'm going to try to make it a point to smile at those I come in contact with - even if it's forced. How difficult can it be. And next, before I speak about another Jew, I'm going to pause for 3 seconds to make sure that what I'm about to say about this person is appropriate. Just 3 seconds.

It's not a groundbreaking program of ahavas chinam, but certainly something I can try to do to make my hishtadlus towards it. Perhaps you, my friends, can think of some more methods?

The time is now to build, before it's necessary to "re" build.


Monday, July 5, 2010

Pray for Achdus - Listen to the Words of the Tzadik - HaRav Shalom Arush, Shlita

B'Ezrat H", if we can all be mechazek each other to live our lives in the way the Tzadik is telling us in this video. Take a look at the clip below.

My friends, this is the way we are going to triumph in the end of days. All the great ones, from all spectrums, tell us this. We are all children of H" Yisbarach - Talk to your Father! Share your life with Avinu She'Bashamayim. He knows all, but wants us to share the details with him, just like flesh and blood parents want their children to share the details of their lives with them.

The more Torah I learn, B"H, from all sides, I am led to the same target - As HaRav HaGadol Shimshon Dovid Pincus, Z"L said,
"If I have merited anything, it is only because I have taught myself to speak with H" Yisbarach about everything, just like a person would converse with a friend standing next to him."

I've tried it. It's changed my life. I could never have imagined the power contained in personal prayer - never. Try it for yourself.

Change the world.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Living Life With Eyes Of Achdus - Part I

I have a family member who I haven't seen in quite some time. Unfortunately, this is a boy who is traveling some rocky roads in recent years. Formerly in Yeshivah, he has fallen into some pretty dark alleyways.. I haven't seen him in over 2 years, given that we live on opposite sides of the globe. I've heard about the paths that he's been taking and have davened for him many times, but it wasn't until this past week that I saw him again. This was a boy who was the sweetest of the sweet, dressed in black and white a few years back, with tremendous potential, who now looks like he's been living on the street since birth. Tattoos, chains, pants down to his knees. As much as I wanted to show this boy my love, seeing him like this was so shocking that I couldn't cover it up. I couldn't give him the hug that he truly deserved. It broke my heart, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about my own inability to get past his appearance. Oy, H" Yisbarach, how appearances are so hard to get past.

As I thought more and more about it, I thought back to how this boy looked only a few short years ago. The before picture looked like any other Yeshiva boy. And now the after picture, well, is a whole different story. But I keep asking myself - what has really changed? If this boy would have dressed himself in a "Yeshivishe" levush the other day in advance of our meeting, my hug would have been on a whole different level. My feelings would have been entirely different. This realization hurts. I should have been able to give this boy my entire attention and love without his appearance creating a barrier between us. But I couldn’t. Before I saw him, I tried to mechazek myself with eitzos that I could give him, Torah’s that I can give over to him. But instead, I was blown over by his appearance.

After our meeting, I thought about the chelek Elokah that is within him, despite his appearance, and despite his actions. I thought about the potential within him. I thought about who he was, and who he could become. And then I reminded myself about Rebbe Nachman’s Lesson “Azamra” in Likutey Moharan I : 282.
In that Torah, the Rebbe teaches about the pasuk in Tehillim Psalm 146:2 - Azamra l'Elokai be-odee!
"I will sing to my God as long as I live!". I reviewed the Torah, and realized it is the medicine that I needed to reach out to those like this boy. Listen to what Rebbe Nachman says:

“Find the good in others...

KNOW that you must judge all people favorably. This applies even to the worst of people. You must search until you find some little bit of good in them. In that good place inside them, they are not bad! If you can just find this little bit of good and judge them favorably, you really can elevate them and swing the scales of judgment in their favor. This way you can bring them back to God.

This teaching is contained in the words of King David in the Psalms: "And in just a little bit (ve-OD me-at) there's no sinner; when you think about his place, he won't be there" (Psalm 37:10). King David is teaching us to judge everyone favorably. Even if you consider someone to be totally bad, you must still search until you find some little bit of good in him. There in the place of this tiny bit of good, that person is not bad! This is the meaning of the words, "And in just a little bit there's no sinner..." In other words you must seek out the little bit of good that is still in him. For in that place he is not a sinner. Maybe he's a bad person. Even so, is it really possible that he is totally devoid of even the slightest modicum of good? How could it be that all his life he never once did anything good? By finding one tiny good point in which he is not bad and thereby judging him favorably, you really do raise him from being guilty to having merit. This will bring him back to God. "In just a little bit there's no sinner!"

By finding this little bit of good in the bad person, this place inside him where he is not wicked, through this "...when you think about his place, he won't be there." When you examine his "place" and level, "he won't be there" in his original place. For by finding some little bit of good in him and judging him favorably, you genuinely raise him from guilt to merit. And "when you think about his place, he won't be there". Understand this well.”

To be continued…