Monday, April 19, 2010

A few thoughts

I would like to share some thoughts with you that have been running through my mind recently. My purpose here is not to give mussar, nor to boast in any way. It is only to give you some food for thought, and perhaps some inspiration. I know that if you are reading this, you probably care about your relationship with Hashem, and you look forward to the times of Moshiach, when the barriers between ourselves and Hashem will fall down, and we will be able to have the most wonderful relationship with Him. But we don't satisfy ourselves with only looking toward the future, rather, we try our best to strengthen our relationship with Hashem even now, despite the great difficulties and spiritual darkness that encompasses us. In each thing that we do, we need to ask ourselves how it is helping us in our Avodas Hashem, our service of Hashem.

At the beginning of this year, starting from Rosh Hashana of 5770, I decided that I would not look at any news sources on the internet. I felt that I was endlessly (and needlessly) looking at every news source, searching for some bit of information that would be exciting and had to do with Moshiach. Really, the motivation behind this could almost have been described as pure. I was so driven to know and see how the events leading up to Moshiach are unfolding that I needed to constantly have input on what is going on in the world. I am proud to say that I have not looked at any news source on the internet since the beginning of this year. This is not to say that I am not aware of what is going on in the world. I will look at a newspaper if it comes my way (I don't buy papers). I have seen much from following the Moshiach blogs. But I have felt so freed of the burden of having to constantly be stimulated by every news site (whether frum or not), constantly searching for something that would pique my interest.

Nevertheless, I have still found it difficult to free myself from looking at all the blogs. There is still a buzz around them, and it is harder to convince myself to hold myself back there, especially considering that these sites share my enthusiasm for Moshiach and my desire to see his advent in current events. But on further contemplation, I wonder, What is this really adding to my life? How does this help me in my service of Hashem? If I am always looking for what new way Obama is trying to subdue the Jewish people, or how Britain is getting its due for making a disparaging comment about the Kotel being part of Israel, how does this make me a better person? If I am in the middle of learning and I find myself drifting into these types of thoughts that have such a powerful pull, is this really where I should be focusing my energy?

I can't say that I have a definitive answer to these questions, and I am sure many will say, "Isn't it better to be thinking about Moshiach than thinking about some other meshugas?" But I would still like to share something with you that I came across today, in the Sefer Sifsei Chaim (Moadim Alef). At the beginning of the book, which contains the teachings of R' Chaim Friedlander, there is a section called "Derech shel Aliyah" - path of spiritual growth. This section speaks about the general approach of R' Chaim Friedlander himself in his service of Hashem, and quotes from his personal diaries from the numerous 'kabalos' - things that he accepted upon himself in order to advance in his connection to Hashem. I think it is extremely important to hear this, even if it is beyond our level, so that we can see the ideal of someone who was totally involved in service of Hashem.

He wrote the following in 1948, just three weeks after Ben Gurion announced the beginning of the state of Israel.

Sunday, Parshas Bamidbar, I accept upon myself (without a vow) until Thursday:
1. To minimize, as much as possible, any wasteful matters.
2. To hold back, as much as possible, from stating my opinion and predictions on current events.

It is my duty to remember that the main issue that I need to think about is not how it is possible to see the signs of salvation, because Hashem's salvation will come as quick as the blink of an eye if it is the time and we are worthy. Rather, the main issue for me is only how I can fulfill the purpose of this great time, how I can do teshuva (repentance) and steer away from the [negative] paths I have taken until now, and become, literally, a new being.

I think that R' Friedlander here encapsulates the proper Torah hashkafa on how we are to determine our approach to the issues I have raised. And, I want to make clear, I am not writing this to give anyone else mussar, rather to clarify the ideas for myself, and to put them out for others to hear and perhaps find inspiration in, as well. The approach is straightforward - my job is to make sure that I am becoming the best person that I can become. What I need to do is to make sure that the things that I do are aiding me in my service of Hashem. If they are detracting from that service, they should be avoided. The events that surround us certainly are momentous and cause for us to pause and take notice, but only to the extent that they aid us in becoming better people, and only to the extent that we realize we are in a time that demands a greater standard of excellence from ourselves.

In my mind, this means that if we take a look around us at the state of the Jewish people, it is easy to lay blame and say that Moshiach is not coming because of this group and that group. But I believe that Hashem does not want us to say this. I believe that Hashem wants us - those who are aware of what is really going on beneath the surface - to recognize what is going on, recognize that which is problematic with our people, and He wants us to overcompensate for the lacks elsewhere. If we are in a shul where people speak during davening, He does not want us to think negatively of everyone there, but rather, to compensate by being extra careful ourselves about not speaking during davening, perhaps even during the times that would be permitted - to overcompensate. If we know that many people are using the internet for purposes which are completely profane, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard in this regard - to be extremely careful to only use it for absolute holiness, or perhaps even to completely remove it from our homes. If we are aware that others are profaning the Shabbos, we must redouble our efforts to learn the halachos of Shabbos, to overcompensate for that which is lacking in our people.

This is what he says, "The main issue for me is only how I can fulfill the purpose of this great time." This means that I need to recognize the greatness of the time I am living in, and thereby draw myself up to a higher ideal in my service of Hashem. I need to become "literally, a new being," by raising myself to a higher standard of excellence. If my standards have become lowered as a result of my interest in that which is going on around me, I need to back off and view it in the proper perspective.

It also bears mentioning that when R' Friedlander accepted these things upon himself, he did it for a very limited amount of time, for only five days. He would then reevaluate if the idea was indeed productive, and in which way he could improve on it. This is instructive for us, because if we see that we are going in a way that is not productive for ourselves, we should not try to take upon ourselves something that is unrealistic. At the same time, we do want to effect some real change within ourselves, and this requires great self-awareness and honest reflection in order to truly be effective.

May Hashem help us to use all the tools He has given us in the right way, to only grow in our connection to Him, and truly merit to see Moshiach in our time. Amen.


NonymousG said...

Wow. Thanks. If you want to scare yourself, look at Tehillim 120, and it says explicitly what the cause of the volcano issue is, and it's mamash the past two Sedras. Lmk what you think :)

AmericanKnitter said...

As I read this post, I was fretting about the on the ground details of 'unplugging' from the flow of news.. then you reminded me that this was for a certain prescribed period of time. Then all my agitation dissipated. ;-)
Always, it is good to practice something. See if you gain strength from it. If so, you can continue, if not, then you tried!
All effort is GOOD!

Thank you for sharing this.

Ari Goldwag said...

I am gratified with your response! Chazak Chazak!

yaak said...

I applaud your effort in this. People need to do what's good for them. You're working on yourself, and that's wonderful.

On the other hand, many people are inspired from the news. And sometimes, I'm inspired from it myself. I blog to inspire - either myself or others.

So, while sometimes I think I should join newsaholics anonymous, I try to stay focused on the goal - which is to inspire people (including myself) to do Teshuva.

That said, I could always use more mussar (which I know you said was not your purpose) - and I cannot really argue on the points you made - so thanks.