Monday, April 30, 2012

Wielding the sword of prayer

הנה יביעון בפיהם חרבות בשפתותיהם כי מי שמע
Behold, they spew with their mouths, swords are in the lips; for they say “Who listens?” (Tehillim 59:8)

Depth of communication is a characteristic of a strong relationship. Conversely, superficial communication is often a characteristic of less genuine relationship. With this in mind, how would you characterize your communication with Hashem?

In the midst of a deep conversation with a best friend or spouse, your complete attention is on the person you are speaking to. When you fail to communicate with Hashem in this same close and open manner, it is as if you are simply spewing forth words from your mouth. Hashem is forced to conclude that you don’t think He listens to every word you say to Him. He sees that is possible for you to place your whole being into your words when communicating with another person, yet He is hurt that this depth of communication is primarily reserved for other humans while your superficial communication is reserved for Him.   

Monday, April 23, 2012

Back down on earth

לדעת בארץ דרכך
To know Your way on earth (Tehillim 67:3)

There is a powerful story in Sichos HaRan #292 that sheds light on these words,

"A somewhat notable Chassid, came to see the Rebbe. He was an older man and was knowledgeable in the writings of the holy Ari. Wanting to enter the Rebbe's circle, he spoke in the manner of the important Chassidim, saying, 'I would like the Rebbe to teach me the way to serve G-d.'

The Rebbe looked at him with wonder and quoted the verse (Tehillim 67:3), "To know Your way in the earth.'

The Rebbe meant that he was still 'in the earth' - immersed completely in earthiness - and still he wants to "know Your way" - he wants to know the way to come close to G-d.

We see from this anecdote that the Rebbe was provoked because the man spoke haughtily, saying that he was seeking the way to G-d. He spoke as if he had already perfected himself to the extent that he lack nothing else but to choose the appropriate way and walk up to G-d.

The Rebbe saw through this and wanted him to speak sincerely."

After reading and re-reading this story a few times, I was finally forced to admit that I was no different than the Chassid that Rebbe Nachman chided. Too often I have taken upon myself new things that are up and above the standard practices of the community in which I reside; whether it is wearing a gartel for davening, putting on Rabbeinu Tam teffilin, keeping Cholov Yisroel, using the mikvah on a weekly basis, or wearing a black hat on Shabbos.  

Perhaps I was initially drawn to do these things because they were things I ultimately chose to do, and not things that I felt were halachically required of me. They were things that gave expression to my individualist and non-conformist temperament. It is always easier to do something when you want to do it rather than when you feel you are obligated to do it.

These words in Tehillim, along with the story from Sichos HaRan, reminded me of the conversation I had with the Sudilkover Rebbe three years ago (5769) about the need to progress one small step at a time in my avodas Hashem without overzealously attempting to skip levels. They remind me that whenever I have the inclination to take upon another avodah that may be above my reach, I may need to return my focus to “bread and butter Yiddishkeit” and invest my burst of enthusiasm into something that will place both my feet back down on earth - along with the rest of my community. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Singing another person's song

אזכרה נגינתי בלילה
I recall my melodies at night (Tehillim 77:7)

During the times when darkness descends upon me and I am troubled that I have not lived up to the high standards I set for myself, I must remember not to sing someone else's song.  I need to start singing "my melodies"- composed of all my good points; strung together as musical notes.

Monday, April 09, 2012

The afikomen

When Hashem views the world, He sees the entire globe in its totality. We, on the other hand, only see the small piece that is immediately in front of us. We are lacking the larger piece – the context – that puts everything into perspective and provides us with complete understanding. This larger piece is hidden away, and we with only our small piece in hand must have emunah that the larger piece exists; we must be willing to give something precious in order to finally taste it. 

The realization of intellectual knowledge

תשב אנוש עד דכא 
You reduce man to pulp (Tehillim 90:3)

There are times when knowledge, which has long lingered in the recesses of our mind, penetrates our being and impacts us in a very deep and profound way. Following a week in which my mother had to go to the emergency room after experiencing an irregular heart beat while exercising, these four Hebrew words sent a current through me. Intellectually, I have always understood that one day my parents will die, however, it wasn’t until reading these words on the morning of Shabbos HaGadol did I truly “know” it.

These four words brought to mind the gradual deterioration of my parent’s physical health. During the course of the past decade, my mother has been diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and now this issue with her heart. My father once prided himself for never missing a day of running. At one time, he routinely got up early and ran before work and played tennis once he got home. Slowly over the past several years, the arthritis in his back has forced him to reduce the frequency of his runs. Now, he only runs on weekends and rides his exercise bike during the week due to the pain he experiences.

The four words from this kapitel brought the knowledge that has always lingered in the recess of my mind to the forefront. These words reminded me that I can no longer go on just assuming that there will always be a future visit with my parents. 

Now that I know, I cannot not know. 

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Hiding in plain sight

Sefer Tehillim is not just another volume in Tanach. The entire Torah is encapsulated in coded form within Tehillim.

Ideas that would take pages to fully explain are hiding behind one word or phrase, just waiting to be discovered. These ideas are hiding in plain sight on every page, yet we overlook them imagining that they only recount the travails King David was experiencing thousands of years ago.

With the knowledge that the words of Tehillim are essentially passwords that unlock hidden doorways, perhaps it would be more appropriate for us to read and contemplate a single kapitel 150 times a week rather than quickly reading through 150 kapitlach to complete the entire book in a week’s time.

I am not sure. Maybe both methods have their merit…

Monday, April 02, 2012

With Each Advance

'מבקשי ה
Those who seek Hashem (Tehillim 105:3)

It may appear that this kapitel is simply describing the story of the Exodus of Egypt. However, you also may notice upon a more careful reading of it that it describes the progression of events you will experience advancing from level in your avodas Hashem. Each advance you make will eventually be met with an overwhelming period of opposition. [1]

Furthermore, you may notice that like Tehillim 78, this kapitel does not record the plagues in the sequence they are recorded in the Chumash. The order of plagues in this kapitel begins with the ninth plague – the plague of darkness. Perhaps this is hinting to the fact that when you first make an effort to come closer to Hashem the first obstacles and opposition you must overcome will be the feeling that the lights have been turned out. Neverthless, you must keep walking - even without the sense of vision - until you eventually see a tiny glimmer of light ahead.

[1] The verses in Tehillim 105 can be divided as follows:

1) Beginning: 105:1-15

2) First opposition: 105:16-19

3) Overcoming first opposition: 105:20-24

4) Second opposition: 105:25

5) Overcoming second opposition (exponentially more intense and lasting longer than the first wave of opposition): 105:26-36

6) Hashem’s assurance if you remain steadfast: 105:37-45