Friday, December 2, 2011

VaYeitzei: Dance Like Nobody's Watching

The following ideas have been adapted from the Chasam Sofer in Toras Moshe. Feel free to print this out and read it over Shabbos Kodesh, just please not during Tefilos.

In the beginning of the Parsha the Torah HaKedoshah sets before us a vision that is so majestic, a prophecy that reaches to such mythic proportions that without proper clarification it leaves us on the one hand awed by its beauty but on the other hand confused as to its meaning.

On his journey to leave Eretz Yisrael, Yaakov Avinu takes a detour and spends the night on the Makom HaMikdash – the future site of the Temple. As he rests, God shows him a ladder; rungs that are Mutzav Artza, they are rooted in the ground and they are also Magi’a HaShamaimah, they reach the heavens. The ladder is connecting heaven and earth. He sees spiritual beings ascending and descending the ladder. And the most spectacular of all – the Presence of God Himself is poised at the top.

Yaakov Avinu awakes from his slumber in a state of sheer awe from the experience and he says, “Achein Yeish Hashem BaMakom HaZeh Va’Anochi Lo Yadati” – Yes, there is God in this place. And I? I did not know.

There is a peculiar Midrash in the Tanchumah Yashan that stems from this divine encounter. Let’s read it together carefully and examine some of its depth. Yilamdeinu Rabeinu! Master, teach us! Mah Bein Chalomoseihem Shel Tzadikim L’Chalomoseihem Shel Resha’im? What is the difference between a righteous person’s dreams and those of the wicked? V’Ana Lahem: Tzadikim Chalomoseihem BaShamayim U’Ba’Aretz. He answered that the dreams of the Tzadikim are in the heavens and earth. V’Chalomoseihem Shel Resha’im Ainan BaShamayim U’Ba’Aretz. But the dreams of Resha’im are not in the heavens and the earth. Shene’emar: Va’Yachalom V’Hinei Sulam Mutzav Artza V’Rosho Magi’a HaShamaimah. As we see by Yaakov Avinu’s dream where the ladder was in the heavens and the earth.

Somehow, someway, this Midrash is telling me how to be a Tzadik.

You know, all things in the world have a causality that makes them exist and the results that come about as a result of their existence. The first part is called a Sibah –a cause. A Sibah brings something about. The second part is called a Siman. The way to notice the presence and effects of that ‘something’ is through the Siman that it gives off. The need for mass-production is the Sibah for a factory, and the pollution is the Siman of the factory being there.

Our Midrash has given us a Siman – a way of discerning if a person is good evil by examining the quality of his dreams. Just like you can tell there is a factory by noticing the pollution you can also determine the spiritual nature of a person by the quality of his dreams.

But this Midrash doesn’t give us a Sibah. It doesn’t provide us with a reason. Fine, a Tzadik has one kind of dream and the Rasha has a different kind of dream. The Tzadik’s dreams are in heaven and earth and the dreams of the Rasha are not. But why is this so? What about being a Tzadik makes one’s dreams span heaven and earth? What about being a Rahsa disallows such a possibility? The Midrash gave us a Siman and left us to unravel the Sibah.

For this we need to take a detour and analyze how one could serve Hashem like a Tzadik and one could serve Him like a Rasha.

In the Beis HaMikdash during the holiday of Sucos there was a nightly festivity called the Simchas Beis HaShoeiva. In other essays we’ve discussed why it was so joyous. There was fire juggling and all night dancing. The Tana named Hilel used to say about the party, “Im Ani Kan HaKol Kan! V’Im Ein Ani Kan, Mi Kan?” ‘If I’m here, everyone is here! And if I’m not here – whose here?’ The simple meaning of this statement is that Hilel is calling himself the life of the party. When I show up the party really starts. But when I decide to leave? Shut the music. Turn out the lights. The party ends.

The Haflah turns this statement of Hilel on its head. You see, sometimes there are those who, Chas V’Shalom like to get into Avodas Hashem because it makes them feel secure. In certain circles it’s the ‘in thing’ to be as Frum as you can. The more dramatic they sway and the longer their prayers, the more accessories or books that they amass, the more advanced their studies are, the flashier their Chesed (acts of charity) is the cooler they become. When one falls into such a situation, he is not serving God. Anything but. He’s serving his circle of friends and himself.

But sometimes we don’t care who is watching. We care about one thing and one thing only. What is Ratzon Hashem? We just want to do the right thing. We want to appreciate the world and connect to God with our learning. We want to refine our character and to as much Chesed as we can so that we can save the world. My consciousness spreads far and wide looking for my next opportunity to do something amazing. And it doesn’t matter what people say. If people try to get me down – it doesn’t matter. If it seems that someone else is doing better than me – it also doesn’t matter. I don’t need to compare myself to others. I’m not serving Hashem for anyone else other than Hashem. The whole world, with their chuckling and their raised eyebrows and their snide comments can go bother someone else. This is not about me. I don’t exist. No one exists. This is about HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

The first guy is constantly comparing himself. There is no sense of real security because he always has to second-guess himself. He constantly is looking over his shoulder to check if he needs to Daven a bit more intensely. He is always worried about what his friends will say.  But the second? What does he care about? He’s trying to be close to Hashem. He’s trying to be a Tzadik and he doesn’t notice who’s watching.

This is what Hilel was saying. I came here to dance. Not to show off. Im Ani Kan – If I’m here - if I look at myself as something substantial. If I convince myself that I’m something that I’m not. Then HaKol Kan – Everyone is here. All the pressure is on. Everyone is looking at me. My Avodas Hashem is an outcome of peer pressure. But Im Ein Ani Kan – If I’m not here – If my Avodas Hashem is not about myself, when my Avodas Hashem ceases to be a result of my insecurities then Mi Kan? Who is here to stop me? Who can hold me back? No one. Im Ein Ani Kan, Mi Kan?

Why was Hilel the life of the party? Because he danced like no one was watching.

What’s a dream? Chazal tell us that a dream is your mind revealing to you the common thread between all of your thoughts that day. So Yaakov Avinu’s dream is telling us about the inner workings of his mind. The mind of a Tzadik.

What did Yaakov Avinu say when he awoke from his dream? “Achein Yeish Hashem BaMakom Hazeh - Yes, there is God in this place. Va’Anochi Lo Yadati – And I? I didn’t know.” Yaakov Avinu would have gotten his point across just fine had he simply said V’Lo Yadati – And I didn’t know? What is V’Anochi Lo Yadati? What is the need for the extra word? Va’Anochi Lo Yadati means, ‘And I didn’t know myself.’ V’Anochi Lo Yadati is synonymous with Im Ein Ani Kan. I’m not aware of personal biases in Avodas Hashem. I don’t sense the need to prove myself to anyone. Im Ein Ani Kan – If I’m not here – Mi Kan? Who is here? Once I step outside of my self I can begin to feel God in my life. Because Anochi Lo Yadati – he was able to sense Achein Yeish Hashem BaMakom HaZeh.

Now let’s go back to the Midrash.

Master, teach us! What is the difference between a righteous person’s dreams and those of the wicked? He answered that the dreams of the Tzadikim are in the heavens and earth. But the dreams of Resha’im are not in the heavens and the earth. As we see by Yaakov Avinu’s dream where the ladder was in the heavens and the earth.

Yaakov Avinu succeeded in becoming selfless in his Avodas Hashem. Through V’Anochi Lo Yadati he attained the level Im Ein Ani Kan Mi Kan. His consciousness, his inner desire to seek out spirituality and to attain it surpassed his body and social structure and instead became universal. His mind had God at the forefront as he connected heaven and earth.

But here’s a pretty simple question: If not in heaven, and if not on earth – where is the Rasha’s dreams? He thinks about himself. Im Ani Kan HaKol Kan.

But this is not us. We live in a world where we can be like Yaakov Avinu. No one is watching. Life is a one-on-one with God. Every moment is a private date with the Master of the Universe. I don’t fall prey to the pressures of my surrounding. I do the best I can because that’s the only true representation of my self. I’m not in this for anyone but God.

When my Avodas Hashem stops being about the gratification of my ego or my friends then I can really soar. Once I stop caring about what people will say, when I don’t judge myself based on how the other guy is doing, when I don’t look back, when I dance like no one is watching, when I just try to achieve as much as I can for no other reason other than it’s Ratzon Hashem – then no one can hold me back. Im Ein Ani Kan, Mi Kan?

We should be Zocheh.

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