Sometimes I fear that we forget what a danger really is, and we don’t realize that what we are experiencing is only a symptom of greater troubles. We often pray to Hashem to bring us respite from our woes, without truly understanding that these troubles are manifestations of a greater affliction. Our times have seen so much change, we no longer feel secure in anything. Forty, fifty years ago our greatest problem was trying to rebuild yeshivos after the destruction of the Holocaust. Those who attended these centers of Torah were more or less safe; they would go on the Torah path, and become the bedrock of the next generation.
That generation of builders are now the great grandparents of today’s young, and for many, their dreams seem to be dashed. Some children from heimishe homes are drifting away, rebelling, leaving searing pain where once there was so much hope. A new name has been born – “children at risk.”
What happened to all the excitement of those early years? What has gone wrong? Obviously there are no set answers, however, we can all try to understand as much as possible. As a Rav, and as someone who finds himself meeting heimishe people from all walks of life, I have had to think long and hard about this dilemma. I feel that in truth this is part and parcel of another and even greater problem. Our entire manner of handling things has become skewered by the culture we find ourselves in. The secular world believes that life is measured by an individual’s personal wants and desires. If someone attains whatever whim he aspires to, then his life is considered good, he has succeeded in his “pursuit of happiness.” If someone feels let down, well then, he is in pain, and everything else is tinged by this disappointment.
This hurt is not caused by what one perceives as his immediate problem, rather, it may well be because we have lost touch with our higher sensibilities. There was a time when Yidden strove to bring Hashem into their every waking hour, and Hashem’s Glory was what one aspired to. A Polish Rav once told me that as a bachur in Warsaw he had the merit of seeing the actual siddur used by the Baal Shem Tov. This holy artefact was in the possession of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zy”a, who was then living in Warsaw. At certain times, young talmidim were permitted to look at its pages and study its contents.
The Rav told me how all the young students first went to the mikve and prepared themselves spiritually for the event. They were ushered into a small study and there, lying open on the table, was the Baal Shem Tov’s own prayer book. What he found most intriguing was that in the margins of each page, the holy talmidim of the founder of the Chassidic Movement had written their names and their requests for special prayers. Here was a diary of the hopes and aspirations of those unique souls. The Rav then told me that what was most astounding was that not one of those requests were about physical or material needs, rather their requests were about coming closer to Hashem and bringing Hashem’s light into the world as we live it.
These were the priorities of days gone by, and it is this that may be lacking in our world today. When the Rebbe of Peshischa became the leader of the Polish chassidim there were many who didn’t agree with his style of leadership. He was apt to say, “There are those who want to climb up the mountain of holiness on the shoulders of their Rebbes. I don’t have such wide shoulders. However, I can do one thing; I can teach every chassid how to climb that mountain on his own!”
How often do we find ourselves turning to our spiritual leaders with only requests for our material well being, forgetting that the mountain of Hashem needs climbing as our first priority. It is not about our wants, rather, it is about using Hashem’s gifts for G-dly purposes.
When in the mid fifties, the world lay in the wasteland of devastation wrought by man’s inhumanity; our leaders awoke the embers of the Yiddishe neshamos. They did this by re-igniting the will to live a life for Hashem, despite the horrors that had been witnessed. It was never about personal wants, rather, it was about the creation of a G-dly ambience. Anyone who shared a moment with the Beis Yisrael, zy”a, will understand what I mean. The Yid was one “shtick fire” that glowed in the darkness of post holocaust Judaism. The sparks he threw off were caught by thousands, and in turn these sparks created the roaring illuminations that we bask in today.
We have become stale and calcified; we no longer remember Hashem’s pain in His galus. We want only some more trinkets so that we can get by a bit more easily. In this barren homogenized place it is no surprise when some of our young seek to be connected elsewhere.
I make no claims here of personal superiority. Like everyone, I too find it hard to focus; I too need chizuk and help. We each have a role to play in this world, and if these words can help anyone, especially myself, then perhaps my efforts will not be found to be in vain.
This kapital speaks to the weary soul, and shows us how we can find true peace. We are advised that we should turn to it in times of trouble and distress.
Tefilla Le’ani … “A prayer of the afflicted man when he swoons, and before Hashem he pours out his prayers. Hashem hear my prayer, and let my cry come to You.”
The Rebbe Reb Schmelke taught: “When one prays to G-d for his personal wants, the Satan interposes by displaying the petitioner’s iniquities. But when one prays for the redemption of the Shechina from exile, his prayer ascends higher than the Satan’s domain, and he may also pray for his own needs, since the Satan is not present to accuse him.
“It is thus that we can interpret this passage. A prayer is first offered for the afflicted one, namely the Moshiach, who is described as the afflicted one who rides on an ass;’ this prayer is offered because his delay indicates the exile of the Shechina. After these words we add, Hashem Shim’a Sefilasi, Hashem hear my prayer,’ for my own needs.”
This is a powerful message, one that holds everything together. We must strive to live a life that yearns for the redemption of the Shechina from its exile; this will bring sweet recovery to us all.
Ki Chalu Ve’ashan … “For my days are consumed as smoke, and my bones are dried up as a hearth.”
Our days are only a whisper of what is the true reality. We sink our hearts into the mirage of materialistic need, and the very bones of our service to Hashem become cold and brittle.
Shakadeti Va’eheye … “I mediated and realized that I am like a bird that is alone on the roof.”
There are times when all the stuff that clutters up our lives gets into the way. We cannot see beyond it all, we become enslaved by the coldness that they emanate. However, our souls are like a bird, able to fly above all this, even if only alone. Once we can see from the vantage point that is the “roof” of our experiences, then we can begin to find hope.
This is the key to a Torah existence, a constant realization that it is Hashem who is in galus with us, and that His redemption will bring ours. With such warmth we can reenergize our lives, and make our Yiddishkeit meaningful. Such focus will not be lost on our young; they will know instinctively that Jewishness is not about superficiality, but about the yearning for Hashem’s light.