I am a nostalgic sort of a fellow. I just love to look back and remember times that were lived with what seemed to be different priorities, and at a slower pace. I know that looking back can be deceptive, and that we all tend to do so wearing rose tinted glasses, but this gentle forgetfulness may not be all that bad. Yesterday’s pain was for then, and need not be relived today in all its fury. One thing I do know, in the days of my yesteryear, there were different ways of looking at things.
In the late fifties there lived a sweet Yiddel in Williamsburg Brooklyn named Shloime the Shneider, and he was one of the main providers of Chassidishe clothing at the time. In those early days, dressing in true Chassidic fashion was still a rarity, and there were only a few trained hands that could provide for the market. Reb Shloime would quip, “They come into me looking like heathen’s and walk out looking like angels.” What he was saying held more than a kernel of truth. Yes, you could walk into his dingy shop under the train on Broadway and within moments be transformed from a simple workman into a vision of saintliness. He could dress you in all the needed attire, but the real question was, who are you inside that long coat?
In those times the wearing of Chassidic attire was a difficult decision that one made regarding one’s whole future lifestyle. Today we buy the entire package wholesale without a thought. We go into the shop and don’t think twice about what we are undertaking. This may well be because often as not, we aren’t consciously taking on anything challenging. It is just the way we are brought up, the way everyone acts. This does not have to be seen as a negative thing, for no matter how shallow we may seem, at least our distinctiveness builds safety borders in most aspects of our social life. The predicament becomes more pronounced when we allow all this to hide a lack of true Yiddish drive in our inner sense of what we are. We become complacent, flabby, and too sure of ourselves. We look into the mirror and think, well not all that bad Reb Yid, you look pretty frum in that hat. But the Torah Yid is one that lives with a certain tension all the time; h e seethes with disquiet, never complacent, never satisfied.
In those long forgotten early days, we still had time for individualists, Yidden who sought Hashem on a path that may not have been socially the same as others. One thing was clear, they challenged, they sought, and they were on fire. They were unique, vibrant, characters, in the best meaning of the word. It was these individuals who were our greatest teachers, and if you were listening you heard their message. They taught us to understand that the outer trappings were meant to inspire us to inner growth. The Piaseczner Rebbe zy”a writes, “Envision yourself as already the ideal spiritual person your really are. Just imagine the greatness of your soul … see how your soul shines in Hashem’s garden in Eden, as He comes to enjoy your company with His holy entourage … Meditate deeply on these pictures … hold these images in your mind’s eye … Inevitably you will be roused to a higher awareness … You do not want to sully your soul … Savour t he bliss of embrace by the great Creator as you yearn to actualize this from the depths of your soul … ”
The tzaddik is telling us, in his unique poetic way, that we each have a huge soul, and that we should take time to meditate on this and feel the embrace of Hashem’s actual warmth. In this way we can grow from a vision of spirituality, to an actual living example of what a Torah Jew is. Instead, today we are enamoured with the trappings, and have forgotten the need to aspire to what these outer forms should indicate. We are now seeing the third and fourth generation of Jews who are the fruits of Holocaust survivors. TheTorah community has seen astounding growth despite the hostility of all who live around it. Therefore there is nothing sadder than to see in some of today’s youth a distinct feeling of disenchantment. These unfortunate, yet meaningful numbers of our young have been given a lifestyle that has much in the way of externals and very little of the light and significance that should go with it all. These youngsters carry a lot of baggage without any real understanding of why they should do so. They become cynical, and feel that all about them only hypocrisy reigns supreme.
This kapitel can be seen as speaking to some of these problems:
Odecha Ba’amim Hashem … “I will thank You among the peoples, Hashem, and I will sing to You among the nations.”
The Torah Yid sings out to Hashem in the midst of the nations. How? By being true to who he is! Once we are focussed on what we are meant to be doing as Jews, then we will prostrate ourselves with thanks toHashem for creating us with such a purpose. Even though we must act and think differently than the masses around us, we are joyous. Because we actively live Hashem’s truth everyday. Our greatest poison is that of familiarity, where we go on auto pilot and forget that in reality we should be crying out our appreciation for being able to extol Hashem’s greatness.
Ki Gadol Me’al Shamayim … “For great above the very heavens is Your kindness, and until the upper heights is Your truth.”
Ruma Al Shamayim … “Be exalted above heaven, O G-d, and above all earth, Your glory.”
We must always be mindful of the fact that every one of us should be G-d centered. In other words, connected to the understanding that all that we do as Yidden, is so that we can create kiddush Hashem here on earth. The dress, the food, everything, yes even the Daf Yomi shiur is about Hashem and His will for us. This is above all considerations, be they in heaven or on earth.
Lema’an Yeichaltzun Yedidecha … “So that Your beloved ones may be given rest, let Your right hand save and respond to me.”
Hashem’s right hand can be the Torah mitzvos that we perform with real intent. Our actions create the spiritual ambience that makes this mortal place holy.
Hava Lanu Ezras Mitzar … “Grant us help against the oppressor; futile is the aid of man.”
We are in galus, and nothing will change that except our connection with Hashem. However, we must feel this in our very core, if not we are just like actors given meaningless lines to read, being players on an enormous stage. Our oppressors have power over us when we lose this actual connection.
Be’Elokim Na’ase Chayil … “Through G-d we shall form an army, and He will trample our oppressors.”
I told you so, it is all about Hashem!! If we are true to our calling than we form an army of kiddush Hashem creators, and with this, Hashem will trample all haters, every single one.