Rav Avigdor Miller's dvar Torah for Parshas Vaeira 5 – Always Enthusiastic revolves around getting back to basics.
It's all about really enjoying your prayers and also just the basic text of the Torah.
It's about looking at a verse with fresh eyes and saying, "Wow, isn't that just so totally awesome!"
Get emotionally involved in the text.
Probably all of us have some favorite stories from Tanach, a favorite verse or chapter of Tehillim/Psalms, a favorite prayer (or even a favorite verse from within a prayer).
Depending on our background, we connected to them as children or, if we only encountered them later, we connected to them as teenagers or adults.
Part of what held our fancy lay in the newness, the freshness of the experience.
(That happened to me as a teenager with Tehillim, which I wrote about here: part-i-books-that-changed-my-life-tehillim.html.)
As usual, Rav Miller combines his wittily related real-life observations (both the religious foibles & the religious successes) with practical tips for how to start heading in the right direction.
This post is shorter than usual. As I read through the dvar Torah, I just felt so good. From the initial sweet story of the Chafetz Chaim, I started smiling.
So I don't have stuff to pour out in writing this time.
It just feels so nice to get back in touch with that initial appeal & fresh "ooh, shiny!" appeal—like a religious "Eureka!" moment.
Now, 25 Tevet (December 28-29, 2021) is the first yahrtzeit of Yisroel Jacobs, an incredible Jew and the cherished husband of frum poetess Nechumelle Jacobs.
For the elevation of his soul, please recite at least once a day the "asher yatzar" bracha by reading it from the text (as opposed to saying it by heart).
This is especially meaningful because of their disabilities.
Anything done in his merit should be l'ilui nishmat Yisroel ben Binyomin.
His existence added great merit to the world, and his passing remains a tremendous loss.
Here is a moving poem by Nechumelle Jacobs in honor of her husband's yahrtzeit:
For more about Nechumelle Jacobs, please go here:
You are one in a "melon"!
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In Rav Avigdor Miller's dvar Torah for Parshas Shemos 5 - Career of Encouragement, we discover one of the greatest traits of Moshe Rabbeinu to emulate: noticing & encouraging others.
Encouragement (chizuk) is one of the aspects Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender stated as the obligation of a friend (Words of Faith):
This is the authentic Torah approach for dealing with people.
(For more, please see here: www.myrtlerising.com/blog/how-to-really-love-another-person.)
And Moshe Rabbeinu was outstanding in this area.
And we should definitely follow our leader by doing this too.
As Rav Miller states on page 8-9:
Now I want people to listen to that – married couples, families, boys and girls — everybody should listen to this prayerfully because in many homes people are spending their lives doing the opposite.
And Rav Miller provides us with engaging, practical examples for a variety of situations.
Encouraging a Wife
Every man who marries must keep in mind that it's not enough that he doesn't transgress this in the negative.
Encouraging a Husband
And a woman too, no less, must make it her business always to look for opportunities to drop a word of encouragement to her husband.
Encouragement for Children
It’s a tremendous mitzvah, a tremendous step to greatness, if you’ll encourage your children.
Encouragement for Students
There are a lot of boys in the yeshivah that would benefit from kind words. So many bochurim could use it.
Encouragement for All Kinds of People
Encourage your chaveirim in the yeshiva.
The Power of a Friendly Smile
It could be somebody was passing by dejected.
Why Smile at Office People & Grouchy People?
Don't you know how many times – if you lived a long time, you look back how many times in your career a smile was the turning point.
Now, don’t tell me people are too grouchy.
When You're Smiling, The Borei Olam Smiles at You
Page 15 (boldface mine):
And so, if you'll cause your face to shine upon other people, Hashem will smile on you too.
Credit for all material, quotes, and any resulting smiles goes to Toras Avigdor.
On the heels of the previous post (what-if-you-lean-more-toward-esav-than-yaakov-avinu-the-perfect-mitzvah-for-imperfect-people.html), where we discussed how a truly refined person doesn't feel the urge to indulge in unrefined behavior (because he elevated himself to the level beyond base desires), we also looked at the other kind of person who always feels tormented by the desires for This World.
We don't hear from those people.
Probably part of the reason is because that type of person fails a lot. They never manage to consistently overcome themselves.
But another reason lies in the shame such a person naturally feels.
Even if such a person consistently overcomes his or her baser inclinations, who really wants to admit how they REALLY feel inside?
His acquaintances would certainly feel discomfited by a friend who reveals ongoing desires to steal, covet, hit others, scream at others, gaze at inappropriate images, eat treif food, and so on.
Having said that, we have stories of very big Sages whom others accidentally overheard rebuking themselves about the trait of anger.
The self-rebuke surprised the listeners because the Sages castigating themselves for their anger were known to be very patient & composed people.
But apparently, their patience & forbearance resulted from a lot of inner work, not from a naturally calm nature.
Some Examples of the Struggles of Great People
There's a famous mention of a tzaddik (usually not named) who was known to always be in battle against his yetzer hara.
Apparently, he felt a pull toward thoughts & behaviors he knew were wrong, but he managed to overcome them every time because of his solid Torah knowledge & fear of God.
In other words, he realized what Hashem created him for: to be a benoni whose resistance fought the root of the yetzer hara in all worlds.
Not sure if this is the same person, but on page 406 of Words of Faith I, Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender says:
The Rebbe told of a certain Tsadik who served Hashem his entire life.
(In the footnotes, it explains the above-mentioned tzaddik was the author of Yesod v'Shoresh HaAvodah, "an extraordinarily inspiring ethical compilation that brings many passages of the Zohar to arouse proper repentance and prayer and devotion.")
It sounds like he always struggled against the yetzer hara.
Probably, it was his struggles that enabled him to write such a book. He knew all about it from personal experience.
Other glimpses into the personal inner work of great people can be seen here:
It's both enlightening & inspiring to see how it took Rav Scheinberg decades to uproot the connection he felt to the favorite sports team of his childhood.
Rav Avigdor Miller gave examples of his younger self as mouthy & confrontational—a far cry from the man he later became, a man who both exemplified & encouraged good words of love & blessing between people (even when you don't like them) & the avoidance confrontation except in the most unavoidable circumstances.
Rav Itamar Schwartz has briefly mentioned his own struggles, like a phase in his youth when he felt terribly empty, unfulfilled, and unhappy, or the long-ago pain of humiliation & criticism he initially encountered because of his books & shiurim, and now keeping his inner self balanced.
(You can read more about that here: www.myrtlerising.com/blog/the-story-of-the-journey-of-a-sensitive-young-man-a-glimpse-into-the-inner-struggles-of-a-talmid-chacham.)
So those are aspects & examples to keep in mind regarding the whole area of working on yourself and dealing with inner battles.
Don't feel bad, regardless of how you feel inside.
Feel good that you're willing to struggle at all.
Your struggle provides so much nachat to Hashem & also subdues the root of evil in all worlds.
All quotes from/about the Tanya within the post can be found here:
All boldface & underline below are my own additions.
What was Really Wrong with Esav?
In response to a question about Esav, Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobson explained how Esav was born into the category of those who forever struggle against their lesser desires.
Esav's big defect lay not in the fact that he felt such desires.
His defect lay in his unwillingness to STRUGGLE against these desires.
For all his abilities toward fighting (hunting, battle, and so forth), Esav remained immersed in his desires rather than fighting them.
Rabbi Jacobson pointed to the Lubavitcher Tanya's Likutei Amarim-Chapter 27 for a deeper explanation of this:
The Yaakov Avinu Category
Basically, 2 categories of people exist:
The Yaakov Avinu type makes sense.
After all, the more you refine yourself & clean out your brain, the less attractive prohibitions become.
Probably, we've all experienced it on some level; we felt a strong pull toward a certain behavior or desire, but as we matured emotionally & spiritually, we wondered why we ever felt attracted to such a thing.
It's like drinking from a dirty toilet.
That act is so obviously repulsive, no one feels tempted to do it.
No one passes by a grungy outhouse catering to a much-frequented campsite and says, "Oh gosh, Hashem please help me fight my overpowering yetzer hara—how else can I resist taking a slurp?!"
Furthermore, if a person ever confided in you about feeling that way, you'd probably feel so creeped out, you'd avoid that person from then on.
This is because just the idea is so obviously repellent.
So it makes sense that a truly elevated person, a person who truly worked on himself & made enormous progress, a person with genuine self-awareness who underwent a raw cheshbon hanefesh followed by the appropriate repentance...it makes sense that such a person does not even feel attracted to certain acts.
He does not even experience certain desires.
And it's true.
But for some people, it's not true. They never reach that happy state of freedom.
The Esav Category
Why would Hashem make such a category?
Why create such people?
(Note: The truth is...ALL people start off in the category of struggling against lesser desires. With strenuous effort & time, some people graduate to the Yaakov Avinu category where they simply do not feel the desires. But some people never enter that category...or they do not enter it completely.)
Here's Likutei Amarim 27 on the topic:
By averting his mind from sinful thoughts, he fulfills the injunction,
As the commentary there explains:
Only when sinful thoughts enter one’s mind can he fulfill this command.
In other words, the Torah command is a very big & happy mitzvah.
But if you've nothing to lead your heart or eyes astray, then you cannot fulfill this mitzvah.
Only people with wayward desires can fulfill this mitzvah.
Think about that for a moment...
Born to be Bad
This same Tanya goes on to explain the idea of some born for righteousness & some born for wickedness, which is mentioned in Bava Batra 16a, quoting a conversation between Iyov/Job & God:
"...You created righteous people, You created wicked people..."
Having made that point, this never justifies a Popeye the Sailorman attitude of "I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam" based on the faulty assumption that "Heck, I was created wicked! That's just who I am! I can't help myself! I'm genetically programmed this way!"
But rather, some people become tzaddikim released from these desires while others spend a lifetime as benonim ("middlemen"), never freed from their desires & trapped in a constant state of battle.
Whether Hashem created a person to be a tzaddik or a rasha, both MUST work on themselves to overcome their forbidden stuff.
But the person destined to remain a benoni his whole life certainly suffers more.
He always feels the pull of his desires.
The commentary there sums it up:
A tzaddik subjugates his animal soul to such a degree that it is unable to arouse temptation in his heart.
It sounds aggravating & depressing.
Yet the Tanya (based on the Zohar) finds wonderful things to say about this.
The Wonderful Reason for being Born to be Bad
The person afflicted with wayward desires should feel happy about the opportunity to deflect them.
Yay! Whee! Woo-hoo! ♫"If you're flawed and you know it, clap your hands! If you're sinful and you know it clap your hands!..."♪
Yes. Like that.
Here's Tanya Chapter 27 to explain:
Our Sages have said: “When one passively refrains from sin, he is rewarded as though he had actively performed a mitzvah." [Kiddushin 39b]
The commentary there clarifies:
The Alter Rebbe explained there that the evil in the soul of the beinoni remains vigorous; his task is to prevent it from expressing itself in thought, speech, and action.
As Rebbi Akiva Rabinovitz says (Rav Ofer Erez in Ahavat Kedumim, page 170):
Hakadosh Baruch Hu holds absolutely no hakpadah [strict judgement, condemnation] against a Jewish person who possess evil traits and lusts.
Therefore, the ONLY problem lies in one's RESPONSE to these thoughts & desires.
Not IF he feels the pull of the yetzer hara, but HOW he responds.
Based on the Zohar, the Tanya there goes on to describe how the mere act of pushing away a thought, of refraining from sin, subdues the Sitra Achra (the Dark Side) in both This World and the Upper Worlds!
That explains why Hashem created people to struggle like this.
Whether you want to call them benonim, reshaim (as defined by their urges, not necessarily their actual behavior), or the Esav type, the all-important purpose they serve in the world comes from their ability to beat down the Sitra Achra by virtue of their silent & unseen mental abilities.
Without their sinful desires, there is no repelling or refraining, and without that repelling or refraining, there is no suppression of the Sitra Achra at its very root.
When Lifelong "Failure" is Actually Massive Success on All Levels
Here's the big whammy:
Therefore, one should not feel depressed or very troubled at heart, even if he be engaged all his days in this conflict with the thoughts which will always enter his mind.
This remains a recurrent theme in Judaism, which as far as I know, does not exist in any other belief system.
Your EFFORT decides everything.
Not the result. Not your innate nature.
But the mere effort determines your status.
Because your lesser aspects come from Hashem.
Whether you developed these unwanted traits & tendencies from your background, upbringing, culture OR you were born with them...they come from HASHEM.
The question is why?
Why did He implant these unwanted traits & tendencies within you?
Again, as we see above, the very act of repelling these tendencies & desires reaps powerful results.
Someone needs to weaken the Sitra Achra in both This World and the Upper Worlds.
Someone needs to fight the Sitra Achra at its root.
Someone needs to cut off the head of the snake.
And if you suffer from any kind of sinful thoughts or desires...then that heroic someone must be YOU.
Here are posts to get you in a seasonal mood:
BE LIKE A PINEAPPLE!
Stand tall, wear a crown, and be sweet on the inside.
It's great to be comfortable in your own skin!
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