Winning the Battles against Ourselves and the Stars
Insights into The Son Who Does Not Know to Ask of the Passover Haggadah
Chag Pesach kasher v'sameach! Have a kosher and happy Passover!
"Instead of stinging nettle, myrtle will rise" (Isaiah 55:13)
"Instead of evil, good will rise." (The Malbim's Interpretation)
If you're looking for Kli Yakar insights for Pesach, here are two posts:
Winning the Battles against Ourselves and the Stars
Insights into The Son Who Does Not Know to Ask of the Passover Haggadah
Chag Pesach kasher v'sameach! Have a kosher and happy Passover!
Purim for Everyone Else: Sunday, March 12, 2017 (starts Saturday night after Shabbat)
Purim for Jerusalem: Monday, March 13, 2017 (starts Sunday night)
A Lesson of the Kli Yakar from Megillat Esther
The Kli Yakar on Parshat Titzaveh goes into a whole thing about what we can learn regarding the angels' reaction to King Achashverosh's appalling blasphemy of eating and drinking from the vessels of the Beit Hamikdash while wearing the garments of the High Priest.
Please see How to Avoid being a Pathological Pollyanna. Then scroll down a little over halfway until you get to The Mountain of Sludge and start reading from there.
Joy and Light: A Purim Dictionary
On Purim, we especially emphasize joy and light.
One popular Purim melody (sung also in the weekly Havdalah) and taken from Megillat Esther 16:8 is:
לַיְּהוּדִים הָיְתָה אוֹרָה וְשִׂמְחָה וְשָׂשׂן וִיקָר
"Layehudim hayita ora v'simcha v'sasson viy'kar."
"For the Jews, there was light and joy, gladness and honor."
(Hebrew courtesy of Chabad's wonderful online source: The Complete Jewish Bible)
Throughout his commentary on Tanach, the Malbim provides definitions for all different types of words.
*Purim is an auspicious day for bonding with Hashem and asking for whatever you wish. So don't forget to inundate God with your requests!
Wishing everyone a Purim full of tremendous light and joy!
In this week's Parshat Beshalach:
וַיָּבֹאוּ מָרָתָה וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לִשְׁתֹּת מַיִם מִמָּרָה כִּי מָרִים הֵם עַל כֵּן קָרָא שְׁמָהּ מָרָה
"They came to Marah, and they could not drink water from Marah [bitter] because it was bitter; therefore, its name was called Marah." (Shemot/Exodus 15:23)
"So he [Moshe Rabbeinu] cried out to Hashem, and Hashem instructed him concerning a piece of wood, which he cast into the water, and the water became sweet..." (15:25)
"And He said, If you shall surely heed the voice of Hashem, your God, and that which is straight in His Eyes you do, and you listen to His commandments and observe all His laws, all the ailments that I put in Egypt I will not put upon you, for I, Hashem, am your Healer." (15:26)
From an ancient discussion of what kind of wood Hashem showed Moshe Rabbeinu (olive, willow, or oleander), the Kli Yakar goes with olive.
He quotes Devarim Rabbah, which compares Torah to an olive because an olive is initially bitter, but becomes sweet in the end.
Because those who are ill in the soul [cholei hanefesh/חולי הנפש] are like those who are ill in the body [cholei haguf/חולי הגוף].
The Kli Yakar doesn't pull any punches here.
Although based on what he writes throughout his commentary on the Chumash, the Kli Yakar clearly loves the Torah and mitzvot and personally found immense pleasure in Torah and mitzvot, beyond any possible pleasure in this world.
Yet he still acknowledges that before you start to enjoy Torah's pleasure, you can initially experience Torah and mitzvot as bitter.
So Hashem’s intention at the bitter waters was that:
...they would also believe that through Torah, the bitterness of the soul shall be sweetened.
Later, regarding Shemot/Exodus 15:26, the Kli Yakar says:
Just as your eyes see that it is within My Hands to heal a bitter thing with a bitter thing, so from now on, you shall accept upon yourselves to heed the voice of Hashem and to do that which is straight in His Eyes. And even though the Torah and mitzvot seem difficult and bitter at the beginning, nonetheless, their end is sweet because they are a medication to the bone and a healing for the navel [a paraphrase of Mishlei/Proverbs 3:8], and they save you from all the disease that I put in Egypt: whether they be diseases of physical bodies, whether they be diseases of souls, resulting from them stiffening their neck.
Then the Kli Yakar explains what else God said:
Why do I warn you? So that you will not come to disease. For I am God your Healer and it is the way of every doctor to warn those who love him that they should guard their souls from things that cause illnesses so that he won’t need to deal later with healing them.
Mental illness is nothing new. Even in today's modern Hebrew, a mentally ill person is still referred to as choleh nefesh: soul-sick.
The Kli Yakar was obviously familiar with “diseases of the soul” and clearly acknowledged there were such ailments back in ancient times, too.
Interestingly, the Kli Yakar, taking a lesson from how we treat physical illness, insists that bitter remedies are vital for healing the soul, too.
This is so different from today’s “just take a pill!” approach to mental illness.
It seems that we just want the mentally ill person to feel better, rather than to truly heal the illness at its core.
This superficial approach to mental illness isn’t done on purpose, of course, but is simply the result of a poor understanding of mental illness and its roots.
Yet the Kli Yakar clearly grasps and describes the roots of mental illness (or soul-sickness):
Similarly, in his chapter on Drinking/Shtiyah/שתיה, the Pele Yoetz writes of the initial bitterness when breaking alcohol addiction. First, he advises the addict to refrain from even the most minimal ingestion of alcohol - except for Kiddush, Havdalah, and the 4 cups of wine during the Passover Seder.
(With the lack of refrigeration, I’m not sure whether switching the above with grape juice was a realistic solution.)
Here's what Rabbi Eliezer Papo writes in his book, Pele Yoetz:
And just as it is the way of a man to hate his enemy and to seek that which is bad for [his enemy], all the more so should one hate drinking. He knows the bitterness of the soul and the greatness of evil that the drinking has caused him. And how can he appease his Master [God] and what can be his sacrificial atonement?
(To read this extremely short chapter of Pele Yoetz in either English or Hebrew, or to hear Rabbi Mansour discuss it in audio, please click here.)
Applying These Lessons to Mental Illness and Addiction Today
Personally, I don’t differentiate between mental illness and addictions.
Addicts definitely talk like those suffering from personality disorders (which is also known as “addictive thinking” or “stinkin’ thinkin’”) and I just see mental illness as an addiction of sorts to certain behaviors, rather than to an actual substance.
I could be wrong, of course, but that is what my research has shown me.
So expanding on the Pele Yoetz’s attitude toward treatment and recovery from alcoholism, one should accept the initial pain and discomfort of self-denial as a kaparah, as an atonement, for all that he did while under the influence of his addiction or mental illness or soul-sickness.
Adapting positive behaviors and beliefs while resisting negative behaviors and beliefs is definitely distressing and bitter at the beginning.
But the sufferer can take comfort in the fact that the initial suffering is not meaningless.
On the contrary, the initial suffering is very meaningful and profoundly cleansing, spiritually speaking.
And then later, comes the sweetness of good spiritual and mental health.
May we all merit the complete healing of our bodies, minds, and souls.
Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Luntschitz (1550-1619) lived in Bohemia (which is today Poland and Czechoslovakia). He was served as rabbi and dayan and wrote several books, the most well-known being his commentary on the Chumash known as the Kli Yakar.
Rabbi Eliezer Papo (1785-1826) was born in Bosnia before later moving to Bulgaria where he served as chief rabbi and wrote his seminal work, Pele Yoetz, in 1824. After realizing that a Heavenly decree of deadly plague hung over the entire city, Rabbi Papo made a deal with Heaven that he would take that entire plague upon himself. After some terrible suffering, Rabbi Papo passed away during Sukkot on 20 Tishrei in 1827. Before he passed on, Rabbi Papo promised that anyone who would immerse in a mikveh and then pray to God with a broken heart at Rabbi Papo's grave would have their prayers answered. Today, his grave is located near the Danube River.
These are my own translations and any errors are also mine.
This morning, I clearly saw the half-Moon in the sky at around 10:00 AM.
Over the past several months, I've gone for many, many walks at this hour and never saw the Moon at this time.
This follows along the lines of the Moon's fascinating appearances observed by so many people around the world throughout this past year as described in the post Thoughts on Nibiru-Part I: The Scientific Pros and Cons.
Furthermore, our Sages stated that sometime after Mashiach comes, the Moon will gain her original status equal to the Sun, a status that was originally diminished (although compensated for by granting her Rosh Chodesh and Birkat Levana via the Jewish people and an array of accompanying stars).
The Jewish People
As written in Thoughts on the Unusually Visible Erev Yom Kippur Moon, the Moon symbolizes Am Yisrael and also women (the Sages often referred to the moon as "the Levana," the feminine form of the word "white"). And its increasing illumination and edging into the Sun's realm is a very good sign that our light and authority is increasing, too. Although it doesn't appear that way in This World, the Kli Yakar says in Parshat Bo (scroll down to the section on "Heavenly Assassinations") that before events happen down here, those events must occur in Shamayim.
The Kli Yakar gives the example of the Sar (angelic representative) of Mitzrayim being slain in Shamayim before the Egyptians even started in pursuit of Bnei Yisrael as Bnei Yisrael stood looking out at the not-yet-parted sea. They Egyptians were doomed before they even began their pursuit, but never realized it until the waters were actually crashing down upon them.
Regarding women, the Kli Yakar explains in both Parshat Beshalach (scroll down to "The Jewish Women at the Crossing of the Sea") and V'Zoht Habracha that in the Mashiach-ruled future, women will achieve a certain equality with men. No, not the feminist view of equality, but a genuine spirituality-based equality, which includes experiencing joy equally. Women will no longer suffer from their reproductive system, for example. He doesn't say that women will become men (that's not the goal), but that "males and females will be equal." He explains that women won't have the tzaar (the suffering) inherent in pregancy and birth (and presumably niddah).
He also says that both men and women will shed their physical bodies, which implies a spiritual existence unencumbered by the limitations of gender for either men or women.
Though we Jews may very much feel like we're under the thumb of Yishmael and Esav, the truth is that our light and realm are actually increasing, as shown by the behavior of the Moon in recent months.
May Hashem illuminate pure emuna for all of us.
An Important Lesson about Hypocrites
וַיֵּצֵא הָרִאשׁוֹן אַדְמוֹנִי כֻּלּוֹ כְּאַדֶּרֶת שֵׂעָר וַיִּקְרְאוּ שְׁמוֹ עֵשָׂו
"And the first came out ruddy; he was completely like a mantle of hair and they called his name Esav" (25:25)
The Kli Yakar states:
This was a sign that he would be a deceptive hunter, deceiving his father just as is the way of the hypocrites [tzavuim] who display themselves as people of humble and modest dignity [tzanuim] as is stated regarding the future [Zecharia 13:4]:
Even people with yichus who seem born for spiritual greatness and look holy may actually be something very different on the inside.
The Hebrew term translated as “hypocrite” is tzavua—painted.
Like Esav, hypocrites “paint” themselves as special people who risk their lives and well-being to fulfill important mitzvot, like bringing fresh game to their father and asking pious-sounding questions like “Do I need to tithe the salt?”
But look at what else they’re doing.
(And I don't mean the mistakes or misjudgements we all make at times. You don't accidentally and repeatedly kill people, engage in occult worship, or violate young women as Esav did.)
As the Kli Yakar points out Toldot I, Esav didn’t need to hunt down his father’s meat—they had huge flocks of meat right there! (Sheep, goats, and cows…)
His father, Yitzchak Avinu, sent Esav out to capture wild game for the reasons explained in Toldot I, but those weren't the lessons Esav chose to learn.
I've noticed that dysfunctional people often do engage in deeds that demand hard work and dedication - and even courage.
The question is: For whom are they being so mosser nefesh...for God? Or their own ego?
And what ELSE are they doing when they think no one will catch on?
May we always merit the influence of the tzanuim and not the tzavuim.
Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Luntschitz (1550-1619) lived in Bohemia (which today are Poland and Czechoslovakia). He served as rabbi and dayan and wrote several books, the most well-known being his commentary on the Chumash known as the Kli Yakar.
The above translation is mine and any errors are also mine.
The Hidden Sin of the Flood Generation: What We Can Learn From It Today (AKA: The Kli Yakar on Parshat Noach)
"And the land was corrupt before God and the land filled with chamas" (6:11)
ותשחת הארץ לפני האלוקים ותמלא הארץ חמס
The Kli Yakar addresses one of the big sins of the Flood Generation:
chamas: stealing less than a prutah.
(Rav Moshe Feinstein defined this in the 80s as less than an American nickel.)
Why was this such a problem?
Let's say someone sells peanuts from a cart. If throughout the day, 200 people take a few peanuts in amounts worth less than a prutah, they effectively steal a large portion - if not all - of the seller's merchandise. Yet you cannot take sue someone in court for less than a prutah, halachically speaking. So this was non-prosecutable behavior.
And it was completely widespread.
Theoretically, you could spend your days taking a prutah from here and a prutah from there and quite enjoy yourself.
The problem is, this miniscule amount adds up over time.
And if everyone is doing it, well, there is no way to make an honest living for the seller.
Furthermore, the Kli Yakar explains that people did this in front of the judges, which is a smirky and brazen thing to do. You can imagine the impotent rage of the seller as he is continuously robbed as a judge stands there, yet no one can do a darn thing about it because each person takes less than a prutah.
The Kli Yakar explains:
"And with this reason, even a sinner stood in the congregation of the tzaddikim and said, 'I am a tzaddik like you'."
That's not surprising, is it? We see this all the time nowadays.
But the Kli Yakar's continuation IS surprising because he says that the righteous people agreed with them!: "Both dared to say, 'I am like you'."
In Hebrew: כמוני כמוך
Literally: "We are exactly the same."
But they weren't.
And despite the moral equalizing on both sides, Hashem wasn't fooled (of course!).
As the Kli Yakar states: "...it was obvious before Hashem Yitbarach who was the tzaddik and who was the rasha."
And isn't it interesting to learn that there were people who could be classified as tzaddikim in that generation?
I didn't know that.
I thought Noach was the lone tzaddik.
Chanifah is telling a sinner that his or her sin is okay. Or not a sin.
And that is forbidden outright in the Torah.
Sure, you can give people chizuk; you can tell a sinner that he or she isn't innately bad, but has merely done a bad thing. You can speak about the sublimeness of the human soul and how it's possible to reach deep down and scrub it all clean. You can also say, "It's not that bad" - IF it's really not that bad and the other person is being too hard on herself.
But you can't say it's not bad at all.
You can't say it's okay when it's halachically not.
And you can't say that the permitted is forbidden.
You can't look at a rasha and say, "Hey, we're the same, bro!"
That's not humility - that's a lie. That's chanifah.
Yet isn't that what many well-intended and good-hearted people do today?
We Aren't Perfect, But We Also Aren't the Same
As a formal Liberal and someone whose friends from the past and family are all Liberals, I've struggled with this a lot.
It's both easy and more comfortable to float into that mentality that says, "They just don't know any better. They mean well. They're basically good people."
Yet Liberals/Leftists go around supporting abortion, pseudoscience, anti-Israel policies, harmful immigration policies, socialist economic policies - policies that kill people, or at the very least, kill their livelihood and economic standing.
And they attack or mock or reject or ignore anyone who doesn't think like them.
And they refuse to listen to or discuss anything that opposes their ideas.
And they think it's okay because they're brainwashed into thinking that these are the compassionate ideas to follow and that this is the best way to act.
And like the prutah-snatchers of the Flood Generation, they do it all right in front of both the "judge" and the victim.
And how many times have you had to sit through a family get-together or a co-worker discussion or a university class and bite your lip while people openly yapped about the "virtues" of harmful Leftist values - biting your lip because you know that if you say anything, no matter how sensitively and tactfully, you'll "ruin" everything and cause "unnecessary" unpleasantness? (And that no one is interested or will listen anyway?)
And how many times have you been shut up by a smirk, a hostile stare, or a derisive comment or a dismissive response (accompanied by the person turning their back and leaving the room) when you "forgot" yourself and innocently mentioned God or a pro-life organization or a pro-Israel position or a Torah value in a positive light?
Yet how many times do we try to find common ground with them - just because? How many times do we consider them as good as us - and perhaps even tell them so - but it's just not true?
"They're doing the best they can with the tools they have." - That's true in one sense. But many of them just aren't trying. They don't even want to try.
I have a Jewish friend since 8th grade who is intermarried and wholly secular and Liberal. She always aced honors classes and graduated with top grades from an Ivy League university. She's now a professor and an assistant dean. A huge part of her work involves the study of philosophy.
Once, I mentioned to her how she was always smart one in our relationship.
She raised an eyebrow and said, "Actually, I always considered YOU the smart one."
I stared at her. "Me?" I said. "But you're the one who got straight A's in honors calculus in 12th grade while I went to summer school after flunking algebra. You have an Ivy League doctorate and I dropped out of college...."
"Well, yeah," she said. "But you think about things."
"So do you," I said.
"No," she said. "Not like you."
"But you and I have had conversations about the meaning of life. And your whole major and career --"
She shook her head. "But I don't really care about those things. I can discuss them intellectually. But you actually care about whether there's a God and the meaning of life and stuff like that."
Completely flabbergasted, I said, "But I thought that you cared, too!"
"No," she said. "If I cared, I probably would've taken the same path you did. I'd probably be an Orthodox Jew, too."
Then I "slipped" and said without thinking, "But how can you not care about these things? How can you not want to think?"
I got a glare in return (oops! just went too far! "exiting the comfort zone" alert!) and that put a halt to the conversation.
If you think about it, the above exchange is actually very disturbing.
It's hard because you like your friends, relatives, and co-workers.
They're nice in other ways.
And unity and camaraderie feel so good.
And they may certainly have the potential to be good people - wonderful people, even.
But if they support harmful (or even deadly) policies, if they believe and act according to ideas that are wrong, then they aren't "basically good people."
"Misguided" and "pitiable" and "brainwashed" are better terms.
And of course, the best thing to do is daven for them.
As our Sages said, Noach's big mistake was not davening for his generation.
(Note: This idea is NOT referring to people who are just starting on or in the middle of their spiritual journey. Spiritual progress takes a lifetime and there are many stumbling blocks and pitfalls along the way.)
And I'm not encouraging rejection or hate. Neither is the Kli Yakar.
And of course we must find virtues in others, even really horrible people.
(See the Kli Yakar's advice in How to Avoid being a Pathological Pollyanna.)
But we must never justify anyone's bad behavior (including our own) or label someone what they're not. (Again, see the above Kli Yakar.)
The Torah says this, not me.
Remember, the tzaddikim of the Flood Generation accepted the reshaim as spiritual equals.
And look what happened.
Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Luntschitz (1550-1619) lived in Bohemia (which is today Poland and Czechoslovakia). He served as rabbi and dayan and wrote several books, the most well-known being his commentary on the Chumash known as the Kli Yakar.
I’ve been going through Rabbi Elihu Levine’s English rendering of the Kli Yakar on the first few parshas of Sefer Beresheit. As written in the post How to Avoid Getting Lost in Translation, I don’t usually go for English translations because of all the inherent problems involved.
But this is probably the first English translation of any classic work that is nearly flawless in capturing the true intent and meaning of the original Hebrew without sacrificing English eloquence and readability.
Oftentimes, translators must sacrifice either clarity and accuracy for smoother and less “clunky” reading experience, or sacrifice smoother reading for clarity and accuracy—but Rabbi Levine maintains both without sacrificing either. And I have no idea how he managed to pull that off. But the result is that you can just sit down and read through it, although Rabbi Levine himself humbly insists that the English rendering is only meant to be an aid to the Hebrew (which I suppose is why he refers to his work as “rendered” into English” and not “translated”).
Furthermore, the layout of the book is just wonderful. Both the English and Hebrew typefaces and fonts are perfect for easy and pleasant reading. Even the paper used is of higher-quality and strength.
The book is footnoted well, but not annoyingly so. Rabbi Levine provides the necessary sources for all the Kli Yakar’s references, magically intuiting when a simple citation of chapter and verse will suffice—or when the reader needs more explanation. I really needed this because my Aramaic is so poor and I didn’t always understand the connection between the Kli Yakar’s ideas and the source he referenced.
The entire work is incredible and I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Finally, I very much agree with Rabbi Beryl Wein’s opinion as expressed in the Foreword: “…if the translator does not become a piece of the author himself, so to speak, the translation ultimately fails. This is what makes Elihu Levine’s work so important and significant. He has truly captured the spirit and essence of the goals and ideas of [the Kli Yakar].”
There is a very interesting Kli Yakar in Parshat Emor which describes the process of how teshuvah is accepted from Rosh Hashanah through Sukkot.
It's very inspiring and shows how vital the pre-Sukkot prep and the first day of Sukkot are for the final step of the teshuvah process in which the Jewish People have been involved until now.
If you haven't done teshuvah yet or if you would like to give your teshuvah one final shlug, the first day of Sukkot is vital for doing so.
As the Kli Yakar says:
"....the first day of the [Sukkot] holiday is the first for the accounting of transgressions. Therefore, the establishment of mass teshuvah needs to be done on that very day."
For the link, please click here.
(It's accompanied by lots of photos for easier reading.)
In the Kli Yakar on this week's parsha:
God's Great Generosity regarding Teshuvah
כִּי הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם לֹא נִפְלֵאת הִוא מִמְּךָ וְלֹא רְחֹקָה הִוא
(30:11) "For this commandment which I command you this day, is not concealed from you, nor is it far away."
Here, the Kli Yakar states that every mitzvah contains two aspects within it:
....it is not concealed from you, so you have no excuse to say that you didn't know that the Holy One Blessed Be He accepts the teshuvah of the sinners, for you knew the matter of teshuvah more than all the nations because "Yisrael and teshuvah preceded the world" [Pesachim 54a].
The Kli Yakar goes on to say that no one need ascend to Heaven to find out whether Hashem will accept our teshuvah; the answer to that secret is already known to us.
But, the Kli Yakar asks theoretically, what if you claim that your transgressions were of the type that chased away the Shechinah from the Lower World, causing it to go far up into the Heavenly Heights? The Kli Yakar poses the logic of despair:
...in that case, I will return to Him, but He won't return to me because I caused that distancing...
In other words, it's all my fault, so I deserve to be punished.
And I don't deserve a second chance.
But no, the Kli Yakar reassures us. Even from you - you, the one at fault - the matter of teshuvah is not concealed.
You don't need to ascend to Heaven, to Him the Blessed One because if you only readied your heart to return to Him the Blessed One, then He the Blessed One will come back and return to you to lower His Blessed Shechinah to you.
In other words, if you're ready, then Hashem is more than willing to meet you more - much more - than halfway.
It all has to do with your heart.
What's in there?
And what do you really want?
Falling in Love with Hashem
רְאֵה נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ הַיּוֹם אֶת הַחַיִּים וְאֶת הַטּוֹב וְאֶת הַמָּוֶת וְאֶת הָרָע ...אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם לְאַהֲבָה אֶת ה אלוקיך
(30:15-16) "Behold, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil...inasmuch as I command you this day to love the Lord, your God...."
Why does life proceed love of Hashem here?
In truth, they're interdependent because love of Hashem brings life and anyway, you don't request life for your own need, but to love Hashem.
This is quite beautiful. He's basically saying that the only purpose of your life is to love Hashem. What else do you need your life for?
Being in love with another person is highly romanticized in the world at large. It's often accompanied by a feeling of being high, of joy, of feeling like nothing in the world can go wrong or bring you down. It's hard not to start humming or to hold back the silly little smile that keeps trying to spread across your face.
But this is how we should feel about Hashem.
And it seems like the Kli Yakar, based on his own words, did achieve this.
It sounds pretty nice, doesn't it?
The Biggest Stumbling Block of Them All
וְאִם יִפְנֶה לְבָבְךָ וְלֹא תִשְׁמָע וְנִדַּחְתָּ וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתָ לֵאלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים וַעֲבַדְתָּם הִגַּדְתִּי לָכֶם הַיּוֹם כִּי אָבֹד תֹּאבֵדוּן לֹא תַאֲרִיכֻן יָמִים עַל הָאֲדָמָה
(30:17-18) "But if your heart deviates and you do not listen, and you will be drawn astray, and you will prostrate yourself to other deities and serve them....I declare to you this day, that you will surely perish, and that you will not live long days on the Land...."
Despite present-day warnings to avoid temptations, the Kli Yakar emphasizes that the biggest gateway to sin and eventually destruction is...idleness.
With all the panic about guarding eyes, and avoiding bad influences, and so on, the root of it all seems to be something seemingly mundane.
When your heart turns to idleness and doesn't occupy itself all the days with the avodah of the Blessed God, then your end will be to be rejected, to be chased out in every which way from Hashem, and you'll bow down to other gods because idleness brings about boredom, which will turn your heart from Hashem. "I'm telling to you this day that you will surely perish, and that you will not live long days on the Land...." And it will be as Chazal said [Avot 3:5]: "He who turns his heart to idleness has forfeited his life."
This is very interesting in light of our generation.
Technology has freed us up in ways unimaginable a century ago.
Just as one of many examples: Getting breakfast ready no longer entails a walk to the well for water, heating up coals or chopping wood, grinding coffee by hand, or going out to the chicken coop to hunt down some eggs.
But what do we do with all this extra time? And despite this lightening of burdens, many people feel terribly stressed and busy.
People often feel they have less time, not more.
We've filled that technologically created vacuum with other things -- and not necessarily spiritual ones.
Technological advances have also placed increased expectations on us. You're expected to be available, to stay on top of things, to make it to remote locations if necessary, and to just plain know an incredible amount of information.
If there's any possible way to do something, and you can theoretically do it, then you are expected to do so.
But it's not necessarily meaningful or even truly essential. And it also leaves many gaps of idle time, like sitting in traffic, and waiting. Waiting for that call, waiting for that message, waiting for that email, waiting for that tweet, waiting for a reply, waiting for a person, waiting for the bus, waiting for the light to change....
Rabbi Avraham Twerski once mentioned that before microwaves, a baked potato took an hour in the oven. So you found something meaningful to immerse yourself in for an hour (in his case, he learned Torah). But now it takes minutes. So you find yourself waiting idly because it's hard to think of something meaningful to do in just, say, six minutes.
In some ways, we have time, but it's broken up into such short increments (not to mention all the distractions inherent in modern-day life) or else it's mixed with something that takes your attention just enough to kind of hold it, but doesn't allow you to do anything else useful, that the time becomes less useful and takes much greater discipline to deal with.
While the frum community's severest issue with the Internet is its easy and even unintentional access to unwholesome content, it has also been long observed that the Internet is like one long unending magazine that you can never stop reading.
For example, you can spend so much time looking for a good chicken-walnut recipe that you end up with no time to make it and order take-out instead. You can also spend forever checking your emails repeatedly, checking the news (in non-crisis situations), updating your Facebook page, texting and tweeting, and so on.
This includes seemingly educational videos, too: science, TED Talks, DIY, presidential debates, etc. Not ALWAYS, but it's wise to take a step back each time and ask if you really need it.
Maybe you do need a little of it.
Maybe you really do need one specific lesson given over in that video.
But maybe not?
And despite the businesslike usage of smartphones and other gadgets, they became yet another way to remain connected. It all feels very important at the time. But taking a step back, how much if it is really necessary? How much of it is just away to pass time? Some of it may be essential, but exactly how much? How much of it is to get that electromagnetic "hit" to which many people have become habituated?
I can't tell others what to do. I have my own issues to work on. And different people are on different levels with different needs. What works well for one is a disaster for another, and so on.
But it's good general advice to at least consider one's possibilities for those mindless empty minutes and to consider one's purpose for a moment before surfing or tapping on autopilot.
Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Luntschitz (1550-1619) lived in Bohemia (which is today Poland and Czechoslovakia).
He served as rabbi and dayan and wrote several books, the most well-known being his commentary on the Chumash known as the Kli Yakar.
This is my own translation and any errors are also mine.
Most of the Hebrew verses and their translation are taken from this wonderful site:
This is from the Haftarah for Parshat Pinchas, but I only read it this past Shabbat, so I couldn’t get it posted before.
But because it contained such striking points, here it is anyway.
And because I am a bit of a linguistics geek, I've included the Malbim's definitions for certain Hebrew words.
This is entirely from the Malbim’s commentary on Melachim/Kings I 19:3-13.
First off, the Malbim mentions how Eliyahu Hanavi was mitboded. L’hitboded literally means “to seclude oneself”—and specifically, to seclude oneself in conversation with Hashem. Many people think that’s just the Breslov take on the word, but the Malbim clearly defines it that way, too:
Eliyahu was mitboded most of his days and concerned himself with the perfection of himself, to perfect his soul. Only in a time of need was he a Prophet sent out to the Nation. And after he saw that all the wonders he did didn’t work, he realized that he had no business in perfecting the Nation. Therefore, he rose up and returned to go for the perfection of his soul.
Then he left his young servant there in Be’ersheva and journeyed off to the midbar.
Note: The Malbim defines midbar as a place that is generally desolate, but is also sometimes sown, i.e. produces plants and foliage.
Eliyahu Hanavi's motivation was:
...to separate from people, to go out to the desert l’hitboded because that was the object of his desire now…and then he came to the place of his desire because after he distanced himself a day’s walk from the settled area [yishuv], he was in the place of his purpose. For there, he would yitboded with Hashem.
Note: The Malbim defines yishuv/yashav as an unchanging & permanent settlement, and not as a populated area. To me, this hints at a spiritual journey, i.e. it's important to avoid spiritual stagnancy, so one must leave a place (spiritually speaking) that is unchanging and permanent.
The second rotem tree under which he slept was actually an angel in disguise.
The angel woke up Eliyahu Hanavi and then we have the famous passage about the raging wind, the earthquake, and the fire—all of which did not “contain” Hashem—and the “small still voice” in which Hashem was finally found.
Rashi explains these 3 events as occurring via a camp of angels.
The Malbim notes that these 3 effects are layers of klippot [shell] around the nut.
He explains that they are “partitions and veils” separating us from that which is holy.
The Malbim says:
Hashem is not in the camp of wind, earthquake, and fire—only in the small still voice. And from this, His messengers and Prophets will learn not to be raging, not to be tumultuous, and not to blaze a fire like Eliyahu did in his zealousness for Hashem (in that he stopped the Heavens and slayed the prophets of Baal) because He will send his Prophets, that they’ll approach them with a quiet voice and will pull the Nation with cords of love and soft words.
Interestingly, Eliyahu Hanavi refuses to adjust his methods, stating that he cannot change as he feels too zealous regarding Hashem’s Kavod.
Note: The Malbim defines kavod as the inherent splendor of an object's essence.
I think this passage spoke to me so strongly for several reasons:
For example, ever since I read Rav Arush’s Garden of Education, I became increasingly focused on what my children’s behavior says about me, which reaped more success than all the chinuch books I ever read (which I no longer own) or all the chinuch classes I ever attended (which I no longer attend).
And I spend far less time in social interactions, a natural progression having resulted from several events.
But back to the Malbim....
(At which point, he appointed Elisha Hanavi in his stead.)
I’m not on that level, obviously, but it’s good guidance to reflect on one’s sincerity and motive.
And even if you’re not on that level, I think a reason why people sometimes get so fired up—even if it’s to their own detriment or loses effectiveness on others—is because if you are under attack, you need to hold on with all your might. For your own spiritual well-being, it may be necessary to respond by hunkering down and shooting off porcupine quills at invaders and usurpers.
Furthermore, softness and compassion can turn into passivity and complacency.
At the end of the day, it’s a judgement call. The Malbim and the Kli Yakar obviously promote gentle methods as the first and best option, as does the Pele Yoetz, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, and many more.
But there is also a time to fight.
I know that for me, the message has been to turn inward and work on myself.
Davening for other people and situations have proved far more effective than me mucking around in it all.
At the same time, there are people who use pseudo-introspection and shallow davening as an excuse not to act when action is vitally necessary.
This is why it's so important to ask Hashem individually what we should be doing.
P.S. I couldn't help but notice that the Malbim's commentary sounds exactly like a scene from a Rebbe Nachman story.
The Malbim (1809-1879) is an acronym for Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel, who was born in Russia and served as rav all over Eastern Europe. He was bitterly fought by the Reform Movement for most of his adult life, even suffering a brief imprisonment in Rumania due to a false accusation made by wealthy German Reformers. Fortunately, he left us an amazing commentary on the entire Tanach, along with other valuable works he composed.
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