You’ve been there, too. I know you have. It’s that place where all of us have been, that tight place that reeks of pain and worry. In every life there are times when we find ourselves in what can only be called tzaros, troubles. It may be a health problem, a financial crisis or something amiss at home. Whatever it is, it hurts, and you find your heart gripped with fear.
And then, like a flash of lightning, Hashem’s brightness shines through, and your fervent prayers are answered. The clouds lift, the air becomes breathable, and you feel ten times lighter. At that moment, you are so uplifted that your soul seems to be flying as you thank Hashem for His ongoing benevolence.
Our kapitel speaks of such moments: I will thank Hashem with all my heart. I will relate all Your wonders. We are meant to extol Hashem’s goodness with our lifeblood. Yet not only are the apparent wonders worthy of our thanks, but those everyday “wonders,” the stuff that only our hearts are aware of.
Too often we count our blessings through the events that seem to be written in capital letters, forgetting that the everyday is no less miraculous. When those dark days find their light and our spirits are rightfully lifted, at that moment we should connect ourselves with Hashem’s everyday chessed. Those heightened feelings can find resonance for a more positive existence beyond the moments of special spiritual attachments.
The Piaseczner Rebbe warns us about utilizing such moments properly. He writes: “You cannot be sure that the minute your wish is fulfilled your broken heart will open up. An iron wall will close off the temporary breach; your heart itself will feel like stone. Sealed and boarded up at every possible entrance, you remain locked outside yourself.” If Hashem in His kindness gives us cause for heightened awareness of His ongoing providence, yet we don’t build on those experiences, we will find our hearts locked out of our essence.
King David appreciated this truth, and his next sentence gives us an insight on how to acquire true value at such times: I will rejoice and exult in You. I will sing praise to Your name, the One most high. Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch points out that the Hebrew word used here for singing praise, azamra, is connected to, tzemer, growth. Moments of elation should lead to a sense of spiritual growth. When Hashem shows us a special glimpse of His ongoing mercy, we must utilize these insights for our continuous growth. David says he will thank Hashem and do so with his entire heart, his entirety, because these moments bring him to see everything as Hashem’s wondrous deeds. Thus his future will bring added growth, a growth that will bring kiddush Hashem into this world.
In parashas Vayeitzei we read that Yaakov Avinu dreamed of a ladder reaching from the earth up to the heavens with G-d’s angels ascending and descending. This can serve as a beautiful lesson. The creation of heavenly beings starts through our will to do something here on earth.
The Degel Machaneh Efraim quotes his grandfather the holy Baal Shem Tov as saying that it is impossible for a Jew to remain at the same level perpetually. One must either go up or down. Descent, too, can be for the purpose of ascent, provided that one realizes he is in a state of smallness and prays to Hashem that he rise to greatness. By linking the emotional highs with a greater sense of growth, David is expressing how such moments can serve as footsteps toward continuity.
There is a moving passage in the sefer Kedushas Levi that elucidates this.
“Our Sages taught that Hashem appeared to the Jewish people at Sinai as an old man, while at the time of the exodus from Egypt, He appeared to them as a young lad.”
This alludes to the two forms of service of the Creator. In the first, a person serves Hashem simply because He is a great Ruler. He does not consider the goodness and kindness Hashem bestows on him, because such favors and pleasures are like nothing compared to the great delight experienced in the act of serving the Creator. Such a person knows that he worships the great and powerful King Whose servants number in the millions and Whose glorious chariots are infinite in number. This type of service is called greatness of mind, wherein one serves the Creator with the greatness of his intellect.
Then there is another kind of worship, where one serves the Creator because the Creator grants him much kindness and goodness. This person worships the Creator with smallness of mind.
At the Exodus, the Jewish people saw Hashem’s miracles and wonders and then worshipped Him. This was service with a smallness of mind.
This is what our Sages meant when they said that Hashem appeared to the Jewish people as a young lad at the Red Sea, for a youth has a limited mind, and at that point they served Hashem out of smallness of mind. In contrast, at the giving of the Torah at Sinai, the impurities of the Jewish people had departed, and no earthly pleasures held any importance for them compared with service of Hashem. This was greatness of mind, and this is what our Sages meant when they said that Hashem appeared to the Jewish people as an old man at Sinai, like one who possesses a great mind.
This Kedushas Levi is enlightening. Life gives us opportunities to see Hashem’s Hand. We can allow our minds to remain small and never go further than the level of the young lad, or we can grow and obtain the level of a wise old man.
Hashem’s love for us is so great. He gives us golden opportunities, and with each bit of growth He fills us with such spiritual warmth that we “rejoice and exult.” The act of growing brings with it exultation.
The kapitel continues, And those who know Your name will place their trust in You, for You do not forsake those who seek You, Hashem. Total trust is the trust of one who sees Hashem’s goodness in everything, in every action. Those who truly trust in Hashem will never be bereft of His light because Hashem will not allow them to become lost.
We who were raised in the post-Holocaust world have witnessed this daily. Our teachers taught Torah with numbers inscribed on their forearms, yet they taught of light, of simcha. Theirs was a world of the greatness of mind. Now we are asked to pick up their holy torch. But with what will we carry on their legacy? Are our minds as great, or have we allowed them to atrophy into smallness?
I don’t pretend to know the answers. I can only suggest that each of us ask the question.
I have a vivid memory of a warm Yid learning this shtikel Kedushas Levi with me. It was at his family’s Shabbos table, where I was a guest student. I really don’t know how much that Yid knew how to learn. I certainly am no expert on such matters. What I do know are the tears of deveikus, of closeness and yearning, I saw running down his cheeks while he read these words aloud from his sefer. He was certainly not small of mind, and despite the fact that he was a humble machine operator during the week, on Shabbos he was a creator of angels. I only wish that just once I could be on that level.
So let us take those moments of bliss and use them for further growth after all, that’s what they’re here for and may our hearts truly rejoice in what is real and good.
Text Copyright © 2007 by Torah.org.