Thoughts on the challenges of being a chossid (or trying) in a modern world.
Fellow Lubs are most welcome to read and share and comment. Chabad-haters and agitators, please find another place to troll.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Shavuos - returning to Echod

Some people pine for the simple life – a ‘sea-change’ from the hustle and bustle of modern living. On one hand, you might say that we are living in a ‘golden age’ for Judaism: there are many countries in the world where Jews can enjoy religious freedom of expression, there is a wealth of scholarship available in both nigleh and chassidus, and in general humankind has more leisure time than ever before. And yet, with all this opportunity before us, modern life is just so ‘full’ and busy it’s often a challenge to find the time to feed our souls.

Does it make sense to pine for an earlier time, when live was simple and Chassidim would spend hours learning or meditating before an even longer time davening? But would anyone want to live in those times, when Jews were persecuted and poverty was rife?

It seems you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Each generation has their ‘pekkel’: the full context of life with all its pros and cons. In our generation the opportunities are great, and therefore so are the challenges. I’m sure both in previous times as in now, people thought the grass might be greener elsewhere.

While Shavuos celebrates “matan Torah”, the traditional greeting of the Rebbe was “kabolas haTorah b’simcha u’b’pnimiyus”. These two terms represent two perspectives: “matan Torah” is Hashem’s perspective – that He gave us the Torah, but “kabolas haTorah ...” is our perspective: how we received (and continue each year to receive) it. What does it mean to receive the Torah with joy and ‘inwardly’ (usually understood to mean not superficially)? Is there a connection between these two things? And is it particularly relevant in contemporary times?

What was the mood of the Jewish people at Har Sinai? Were they filled with joy when, as the midrash explains, Hashem held the mountain above them like a barrel and threatened their destruction if they didn’t accept the Torah? How about when their souls literally flew from their bodies upon ‘hearing’ the Word of Hashem? And how about when angels crowned them as they declared “naaseh v’nishma”?
We know that matan Torah is described metaphorically as the ‘marriage’ between Hashem and “knesses Yisroel” - the Jewish nation. There are many aspects of joy associated with marriage. One of those is yichud zu’n, which takes place both between a husband and wife individually, and between us and Hashem collectively.
Another is as stated “ain simcha k’hasoras hasfeikos” – “there is no joy like the removal of doubt”. When we are burdened with doubt and insecurity, there is a huge sense of happiness and relief when that is lifted from us, and replaced with the clarity of certainty. This is easy to understand when navigating through the shidduch system and ultimately discovering one’s bashert and the wonderful feeling of knowing deep down that this is ‘the one’.

However with time, both marriages and our relationship with Hashem can grow stale by rote, and/or overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

So every now and then we must dig deep to rediscover why we are doing what we do. Toyota developed the famous ‘Five Whys’ technique as part of the evolution of their manufacturing process. Using this system, they would repeatedly ask ‘why’ until they finally found the root cause of a problem.

Doing this in the context of our relationships – whether marriage or with Hashem – can bring us back to the ‘root cause’ that is the foundation of the relationship: our deep-seated commitment to be connected to our life-partner, and to Hashem. This is the real ‘why’ behind everything we do.

The shiur Tanya from a few days ago quoted from Sefer Yetzira: “v’im rotz libcho, shuv l’echod” – “if your heart hastens, return to One”. This was explained to me in a slightly different way: no matter what our current avodah is – ratzo or shuv, or indeed whatever aspect of avodah is occupying us, or if we are faced with uncertainty as to what we should or shouldn’t be focussing on at any given time – we must always remember that it’s all about the Echod – doing what Hashem wants.

With this we can understand the term “b’simcha u’b’pnimiyus”: every now and then we need to set aside the rush of daily life and dig deep b’pnimiyus to the root of what our avodah is really all about. When we do this, we see that it’s all about the deep connection of our souls to Hashem Echod. Everything we do is just an expression of what Hashem wants. This removal of ambiguity relieves us of stress and gives us the clarity of purpose and resultant simcha in our connection to ‘the One’.

(This regular reflection can be equally effective in bringing back focus in our spousal relationships).

Special thanks to YYG for the ‘micro-farbrengen’ that inspired this and more.

1 comment:

  1. As usual interesting thoughts to pursue and follow up.
    Medrash, as it's name suggests is not to be taken literally but, IMHO,suggests an approach or attitude that the Jews had or should have had.
    The idea that upon hearing the first pronouncement of the Aseres Hadibros their souls expired suggests a tremendous show of trust and mesiras nefesh that the Yidden had, which was consequently rewarded by their 'resurrection' with the 'tal of Torah'.
    Similarly, the holding of the mountain over our heads demonstrates our commitment to a new and exciting initiative, which we all have to some extent or other experienced. We cannot have perfect knowledge of what we are getting into, but the 'weight of expectation' forces us on as we believe and trust it is to our own benefit.
    It is this excitement that meforeshim have tried to convey with their various descriptions of events leading upto and including Matan Torah. It is also what the Rayatz was trying to convey in his traditional Shavuos greeting of kabolas haTorah b’simcha u’b’pnimiyus - may we all be zocheh.
    A Gut Yom Tov.