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
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
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.