I find the English language fascinating. It is alive, and keeps coming up with new expressions. Recently I heard a phrase that I found especially distinctive: “Sir, you have lost the plot!”
Now here’s a real beauty. Like so many quips, it says a lot in few words. A plot is an idea, a plan, something that one focuses on. To lose it is to become unmindful of what you should be doing. You lose the plot when you forget why you went to the grocery or where you are supposed to meet your next appointment (not that this ever happens to me). Every creation on this earth has a plot, a reason to be where it is. If you forget what that purpose is, well, then you’ve lost the plot, old man; you just ain’t doing what you are meant to do.
This is true for individuals, but it is also true for communities and even nations as well. One great example can be taken by our own historical experience. We were given a place to live, one specifically created as the fountainhead of holiness. The Yidden were meant to live in Eretz Yisrael with kedusha and spiritual awareness. However, our nation lost the plot and became infatuated with the materialism of the land. We became enamored with the idea of gaining wealth and honor, forgetting why Hashem chose us to live in that special place. For this reason we were sent into exile, so as to reawaken our hearts.
Yes, galus was meant to wake us up to our true needs. However, we lost the plot yet again and allowed this situation to become the norm. We allowed ourselves to become visitors of others’ places, visitors that crave the wealth and perceived greatness that the others have. It’s as if we live our whole life without really acknowledging the role we are meant to play. “A light unto the nations” certainly doesn’t mean feeling that the nations are what we aspire to become.
A distinguished rav remarked recently that all too often he senses that Torah Jews are trying to find the joys of materialistic life despite their Torah lifestyle. It’s as if they think that real pleasure is found in the secular world, and if they can somehow finesse the fact that they have to do mitzvos, they will have a great old time of it. We see ads that tell us of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to enjoy a yom tov in the most beautiful spot in the world. We read a bit further and discover that this spot is somewhere in the exotic tropics, not the hills overlooking Jerusalem. Sure, it will be glatt kosher, with a shiur laid on by worthy rabbanim, but it also speaks of horseback riding and campfires under the stars.
The plot is well and truly lost when such activity is mentioned as a life-enhancing, one-time opportunity. There is a fine line between recharging one’s batteries with a rest in a picturesque setting, and seeking a lifestyle that bespeaks a secular mindset with kosher provision.
This tendency is nothing new. In every generation Jews have been torn by this dilemma. They have sought to do mitzvos but sometimes tried to find life’s joys through superficial means.
Simchas hamitzva is a plot that is unique to the Jewish soul. Everything else exists through the prism of this truth. Our souls can find joy only through being connected entirely to our Torah. Everything else is galus.
However, all too often we forget. We trudge along, allowing ourselves to fall further in the pit of despair while hoping that the next material gimmick will bring fulfilment. But of course it can’t – it doesn’t relate to our inner soul. It’s not part of the plan; it’s just an illusion.
Today we are witness to so much plenty. Yidden have never had so much material wealth, yet we see more and more heartache and pain. Things never thought of before, such as divorce, children drifting away, financial ruin, have all become part and parcel of our generation’s role call of misery. Why? Perhaps it is because we have lost the plot.
Tehillim speaks of this tragic situation. Those words from way back ring true even today, because we have yet to realize which plot we should be living. Hashem Elokei yeshu’asi., “Hashem, G-d of my deliverance; by day I cried before You, at night I stood before You in prayer.”
The supplicant is trying. He feels distraught; for him there is neither day nor night. Life that is aimless is blurred in a maze of nothingness.
Tavo lefanecha tefilasi., “Let my prayer come before You, incline Your ear to my song. For my soul is satiated with troubles, and my life approaches the grave.” There are times when this galus is so deep that we can no longer raise our voice. It’s like a weight lying on our heart. Our travails came about because we forgot why we are the nation of Hashem. Now, as we sit in the darkness of galus, we realize exactly what sort of satiation we have attained. We haven’t grown fat with the joys of the material life. Instead we have become dumfounded by its emptiness.
Nechshavti im yordei bor., “I am counted with those who go down to the pit, I have become like a man without strength.”
Losing the focus of my life, I am falling into the abyss of the pit.
These words are full of despair, yet they must be said at some point. If we don’t wake up, if we just continue our jumbled existence, then they will be the words of our own disaster. The plot, dearest Yidden, the plot is for us to be shaken awake to our true abilities.
The spiral of despair goes further:
Hirchakta meyuda’ai mimeni., “You have estranged my friends from me, You have made me an abomination to them; I am imprisoned and cannot get out.”
I thought that by living in “the real world,” the others would like me. What folly; they despise me. They hate me for what I should be and for what I’m not. I live in a prison of my own making, locked in by the self-delusion of my misplaced will.
Oni ani vegove’a mino’ar., “I am afflicted and at the point of sudden death; I have borne Your sudden terrors which have become part of me.”
In the darkness of our galus it sometimes seems that nothing can stop our fall. Hashem’s wakeup-calls seem to go unanswered. Yes, we cry out for a moment, we say we want to return, and then we get back on the road to nowhere. It’s as if we wear the cloak of our superficiality with welcomed aplomb.
Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes for our pain. Each of us must come to our own understanding of what we strive for. Our mitzvos must become wholesome, free of self-serving posing. We must each find the plot once more, before we reach that final plot, the one reserved in the earth for all mortal remains.
Notice that this kapitel was written by the sons of Korach, people who knew a thing or two about the emptiness of a misplaced life. They designate it as a song, which may seem strange. Perhaps a dirge would have been a better expression for what they said, but no, song it is. Why? Because they knew we would one day wake up and return to our rightful role, and then all the despair would dissipate.
The very pain we live through today will be the stepping-stone for our future redemption.