Friday, September 2, 2011

Shoftim/Elul - Staying Calm when Life isn't

The following has been adapted from the Sefer Ohr G’Deliyahu and Rav Kook in Ein Aya. Feel free to print this out and read it over Shabbos Kodesh just please not during Tefilos!

As we have been taught, there is a famous concept called ‘HaKriya Me’oreres Es HaZman’ – the concepts that flow from the weekly Parsha are always interfacing with and relating to the events on the Jewish calendar. ‘The Scripture is inspiring the Season.’ As Parshas Shoftim is the first Torah Portion read after Rosh Chodesh Elul (the first day of the month) we must keep our eyes open for the theme that connects them.

The beginning of this week’s Parsha deals with the concepts of Jewish law-enforcement. Shoftim V’Shotrim Titen L’cha B’chol She’arecha – Place for yourselves Judges and officers at all of your gates.

We know that the Torah is Divine and therefore it is exact. Each letter is filled with godliness, and because of this each one needs to be analyzed with intense scrutiny. There is no fluff, no need for repeats or padding. If this is true then what does the Torah HaKedosha specifying in its split of Shoftim and Shotrim – Judges and Officers? What differing roles do they play?

Rashi on the verse gives us the answer. Shoftim, the Judges, are there to make decisions. They discover the truth in Halachically-sticky situations. Hopefully those involved in the cases will adhere to their rulings. It’s when the constituents don’t listen that the need for Shotrim, Officers, arises. These Officers are really enforcers. When a Jew chooses not to listen to the Torah and its rules the Shotrim step in to forcibly persuade them back into doing the right thing.

That’s very nice. But the Torah was given to be relevant and applicable in every person in every culture in every generation. So what do I learn about my life when I learn about ancient law-enforcement?

The Sh’lah HaKadosh explains that the concepts in this verse could not be more relevant. Shoftim V’Shotrim Titen L’cha B’chol She’arecha – Judges and Enforcers shall you place in all of your gates. These gates are the human senses. How do I know this to be true? Well, what is a gate of a city? The city gates are the place where products, culture, information and everything else comes in and out of the city. The gate of the city is the place where the city interacts with the rest of the world. Based on this my eyes are gates. My nose, ears, mouth skin – they are all gates. Information comes in and out through there. Taste, sight, sound and the like are all tantamount to that which passes through the entry to a city.

Shoftim V’Shotrim Titen L’cha B’chol She’arecha is telling us that just as city gates need Judges and Officers, so too the ‘gates’ of the human experience, my relationship to the world around me need Judges and Officers just the same.

In my personal life, my intellectual faculties serve as my Judges. I use logic and reasoning to determine right from wrong; what to do and what to refrain from. Under ideal circumstances I can succeed in Avodas Hashem simply by making and intellectual decision to do so.

But sometimes the situations I find myself in deprive me of my normative logical properties. Sometimes I’m simply not ‘feeling it’. I’m burnt out. I’m having a bad day. My brain is already turned off. How am I supposed to accomplish in Avodas Hashem now? In these situations, how do I overcome the tests that HaKadosh Baruch Hu throws my way? The answer is Shotrim - Officers. We force ourselves. Hashem has commanded us not only to serve him with logic, but also to have a back up, a storehouse of energy that we can use to pull through when we are simply overwhelmed by exterior or internal circumstances.

But from where do the Jewish People derive this ‘auto-pilot’-like strength? If we can pinpoint the moment where Hashem gave us that inner wellspring of inspiration then when an immensely difficult situation attempts to overpower us we can draw vigor from there and emerge victorious even in the most difficult situations.

At Ma’amad Har Sinai, the Jews accepted the Torah with full hearts and open arms. They lovingly declared Na’aseh V’Nishma – We will do and we will listen! We are totally yours! We want this and we want You.

But Chazal reveal to us that the story didn’t end there. Right after the dramatic moments of Na’aseh V’Nishma, God lifted Mount Sinai off of the ground, held it over the heads – Har K’Gigis - of the Jewish people and laid down an ultimatum: ‘If you accept the Torah, great. If not, I’ll bury you right here.’ What’s going on here?

Rav Dessler taught us that free will doesn’t always extend to every option that I am offered. I only have free will when the options are reasonably close to one another. For example: ‘Chocolate or Vanilla’ is a choice. ‘Chocolate or Cyanide’ is not. If a father were to tell his son ‘Go to school or I’ll break your nose!’ it wouldn’t be much of a choice. In fact, by giving him these two options the son’s free will has actually been taken away! He’s being forced to go to school. Based on this, when HaKadosh Baruch Hu said ‘If you accept the Torah, great. If not, I’ll bury you right here’ He wasn’t giving us a choice, He was really removing our ability to choose. But why?

The answer begins with an important spiritual understanding of the human psyche. The fact that I am alive expresses itself in the universe on two levels: There is the exterior stage of my personality that is revealed by the choices that I make. My reactions, the clothing that I wear, my mannerisms are all reflections of my choices. This is me as I manifest in Choice. But then there is a level that is yet deeper: The very fact that I am alive. The fact that I exist takes on an expression of its own. I take up a space in the universe. My soul is unique. This is me as I manifest as a living being.

The fact that we accepted the Torah on the level of Na’aseh V’Nishma is very good. We made a choice. We decided that we wanted to be on the side of Avodas Hashem. While that’s nice, it’s still only the exterior level of my being. When God threatens my life over the Torah’s acceptance I receive the Torah not on the level of choice but rather on the level of being. The very fact that I exist was put on the line in the name of Kabalas HaTorah. And the fact that I accepted it under such circumstances means that it is no longer just tied to how I choose to live, rather it is a part of my life intrinsically.

This is Shoftim and Shotrim. The Shofeit – the Judge – he makes decisions and if all goes well he is listened to. This is the level of Na’aseh V’Nishma. It’s the beautiful feeling of lovingly serving God because I want to. But there is the even deeper level of the Shoteir – the Enforcer. This is the level of Har K’Gigis. The Torah is not just something that I choose to incorporate into my life – it is my life itself. It as intrinsic to my being as the fact that I am alive. And just like I can’t force myself to stop breathing, so too with the proper awareness I’ll always manage to pull myself back to the Torah.

We know that through the sin of the Golden Calf we lost that which we accomplished when we stood at Sinai the first time. But Chazal explain that it is on Rosh Chodesh Elul that Moshe Rabeinu ascended Mount Sinai for the second time to receive the second set of Tablets. The depth of this is that Rosh Chodesh Elul marks the beginning of our journey back to that original level.

As we begin the month of Elul, we say the chapter of Tehilim entitled L’David Hashem Ori V’YishiDavid HaMelech declares that God is his Light and Salvation. In this chapter is the famous verse: Shivti B’Veis Hashem Kol Yimei Chayai, LaChazos B’Noam Hashem U’L’Vaker B’Heichalo! – Let me sit in the House of Hashem all the days of my life, to perceive the Sweetness of Hashem and visit in His Chambers!

What is David HaMelech saying here? Let me sit in Hashem’s house all the days of my life. He wants to be there all the time. But then he says, ‘To perceive the Sweetness of Hashem and visit in His Chambers.’ Wait – does he want the equilibrium and continuity of being there all the time or does he want the exhilarating charm of the occasional visit? He seems to be implying both!

The answer is both. Of course David HaMelech wants to feel the rush that comes with embracing God. He years to have that feeling all the time. But he knows that he won’t. And even so he wants to cleave to God with all of his might even when it’s not so easy. Shivti B’Veis Hashem Kol Yimei Chayai – Let me be there no matter what. Let me realize that the my relationship to you is as constant as my heartbeat. Bless me with the level of Shoteir. LaChazos B’Noam Hashem U’L’Vaker B’eihalo – but on that platform indulge me in loving every second of it. Let it sweet. Let is be like Na’aseh V’Nishma. I don’t just want it to be right, I want it to feel right as well.

There are times when Avodas Hashem feels amazing. There are times where I truly love it. But there are times where I need to remember that I need to push through and carry on because this is who I am. My relationship with Hashem is more ‘Me’ then my choices of clothing or friends. It’s more true to who I am then the music I listen to or the books that I read. In the same way that blood pumps through my veins and air flows from my lungs I am connected to Hashem. The more we remember that the easier it becomes to live by.

As Parshas Shoftim and Chodesh Elul meet, may HaKadosh Baruch Hu bless us with both levels needed to fully relate to Him. He should infuse us with the inner strength to always pull through and he should bless us with the delight of enjoying every moment of Avodas Hashem. If we can bring ourselves to live with this consciousness there is no doubt that we live live lives full of Simcha and Shleimus moving closer to the Creator and ultimately the Geulah Sheleimah!

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