A blast from the past. Originally posted January 24, 2006
The most empowering moment of my life was when I learned that the torah was written by G-d. Immediately, I understood that my actions affected the entire universe. If I did a mitzvah I brought the world that much closer to the coming of Moshiach, and conversely, if I did an aveira, chas v’shalom, I delayed his arrival even longer. There was so much to learn so I left my life behind to go to yeshiva and tried to make up for all of the lost time.
Today B”H I am married to a wonderful woman and I am blessed with two beautiful children. I wear a yarmulke, tzitzis, a black hat, and payos. I say modeh ani when I wake up in the morning, wash nitilas yedaim, make brochas, daven three times a day, keep kosher and the laws of taharas mishpacha. I keep Shabbos and I am kovaya itim. I’ve even been zocheh to make a number of siyumim. However, for all of my changes and accomplishments, I am not so sure I am a better person.
As much as I try to improve, I still have many of the same bad middos I possessed before becoming frum and I still allow my yetzer hara shlita over me during moments of weakness. I am neither as kind nor as patient nor as charitable or magnanimous as I’d like to be, and I could certainly improve in many other areas.
As much as I have integrated the Torah into my life, I am still far from the level I would like to be. I still view my life as lacking in many ways both spiritual and physical. I know this is not torah thinking and I know intellectually that Hashem gives me everything I need.
When I first started learning and becoming frum it seemed so clear to me that my every action made ripples and was affecting the universe. Now that I am so much more entrenched in the everyday of life (family, work, learning, health, growth, etc) and don’t have the leisure to sit and learn in yeshiva all day, my actions don’t seem as potent as they once did. I wonder if I wasn’t better off back when I felt so clearly that I held the keys to the coming of moshiach in my hands.
Steve, your comment should actually be a post on this blog! And perhaps a few others!
In a recent column in the Yated Chinuch Roundtable, R Morechai Kamenetsky commented that when R Yaakov ZTL would hear a speaker ascribe some particular contemporary problem as delaying the arrival of Moshiach, R Yaakov ZTL would state in a sarcastic tone in Yiddish “He knows-like I know!”. IOW, there are ways known to Chazal that either hasten or delay the arrival of Moshiach and that there is no Mesorah for ascribing contemporary phenomena in addition to what Chazal have stated.
When the same issues resurface again and again, some readers might nod off.
I stay for the pay.
Well, he has nowhere else to go…
You mean like David Linn?
Admins — we get your point:
Where indeed did all these talented commenters go?
I really want to thank everyone for his or her encouraging words. They mean a great deal to me and gives me much chizuk to know that there are those who sympathize and empathize with the feelings expressed in my post.
It is a true chesed to communicate to another person that you understand from where they are coming. I’m not sure I understand how that dynamic works too much, but there must be some chazal that sums this sentiment up nicely. Maybe it’s the one that says that if someone has da’aygas that they should share them with another person.
Yasher coyach to all, and may we all be zocheh to each day feel purposeful and vital!
It’s like David said, either we’ve all been there or will be making that stop somewheres along the way. It’s part of the growth process. I still remember the first time I came to the realization that something in me had changed, that my learning, davening, brachos and everything else suddenly didn’t seem to have the same excitement/enthusiasm (call it what you will).
But then I had a long chat with my Rav who sat patiently and listened, and when I had finished pouring out everything, smiled and said – but Elliott, you ARE GROWING. You’re just growing differently than you had been before.
The enthusiasm I had when I was newly BT that extended though dating and marriage appeared to me to come to a crashing halt with children (not that I am complaining about children, Chas V’Shalom. B”H I have wonderful children). What my Rav explained was that as life changes so does ones avodas Hashem. It was true that my learning was curtailed and I didn’t seem to have the same kavana when I davened. However, what the Rav pointed out and what I subsequently verified myself was that I was continuing to grow in my midos. Suddenly with children came the “need” for incredible patience and chessed. I thought I was a patient person, but Hashem was teaching me true patience. I thought I did chesed, but chesed done when it is convenient is a lot different than chesed done at 3am when you’d rather be sleeping!
I think I’m wandering a bit, but the point I’m trying to make is that growth is a very general term that changes as a person changes and as a person’s circumstances change. Sometimes it takes a Rav to point it out, sometimes it just takes a moment to step back and realistically look at where you are and what you’ve accomplished.
My Dear Aryeh Leib , The greatest power of our Yetzer Hara is to put us in a daily routine until the point where you just become a robot and don’t feel anything anymore. Our main job is to rejuvenate our Avodas Hashem everyday through a new understanding of the Mitzvos we are doing, and new ways how to see Hashem and His world.
Go out of the matrix and explore the true world.
find tools that will give you passion, love and Awe of Hashem. If you work on Happiness , love and Awe then you won’t have to bother with sadness, depression, and routine.
The main Avodah is to find those tools.
WRITE THOSE TOOLS AND USE THEM !
And before you start be aware that the Yetzer Hara is going to do everything to prevent you doing it, so WATCH and Persist, I’m with you Holy Brother !
Like they say in U.S. : Just do it !
Now I’m with you, Matis.
I meant to say that Aryeh Leib should consider “two paragraphs” a day of Orchos Tzadikim.
IMO, most of us have been there, if we’re not there now or headed there as some point. I think that may be comforting, not because misery loves company but because it’s not just you, it’s the way the world spins.
As a general comment, I agree with the advice to learn mussar seforim (assuming you are not doing that and I disagree with the advice to read two(!) chapters(!) a day(!) to the extent that such advice was serious as opposed to only part of the doctor joke). I also think, it’s important to find ways to channel your growth into areas other than your learning and tefillah (as important as they are) to areas that are seemingly more mundane so that we become spiritually growing people even when we are at work, shlepping groceries, shoveling the walk, etc.
Tayara Aryeh Leib…
“One should always view themselves, their community, the entire world as if they are exactly half and half between z’chuyos (credit/meritorious)” and chovos (debit/guilty). If he does one mitzvah he is fortunate for in so doing he has tipped the scales for himself / the entire world toward the side of credit/merit. However if he does one aveira woe to him for in so doing he has tipped the scales for himself / the entire world toward the side of debit/guilt.
-Paraphrase of Talmud Kiddushin 40B
“The entire world is a narrow bridge (tightrope?) and the crucial thing is to have no fear.”
– alternatively attributed to Rav Nachman of Breslov and Rav Yoizel Horowitz –the Alter of Nivardhok
The upshot of both these teachings (and many similar ones) is that existential angst of realizing that our actions or lapses are of the ultimate importance in deciding the fate of seen and unseen worlds is a good thing. It is the mechanism that drives of our service of Hashem and the exercise of our humanity (AKA free will).
The Mei HaShiloach teaches that this is the meaning of the Avodah of Machatzis HaShekel, which he reworks to mean keeping the weight/scales At a constant 50% equilibrium. “The rich one shall not exceed” means that someone ahead of the game in ruchniyos shouldn’t imagine that he possesses a surplus on the kaf zchus (scale cup of credit) and can afford to rest on his laurels. “The poor one shall not give less” means that someone with an apparent dearth of merit or excess of guilt shouldn’t imagine that he possesses a surplus on the kaf chova (scale cup of debit) and despair of ever climbing out of “debt”. The common denominator of both of these one-sided attitudes is that they rob the “next move” of any transcendent importance and meaning. Both are arrows in the yetzer hora’s quiver the one killing through complacency and the other through giving-up. Neither are services to Hashem, on the contrary they are variations on the theme of prikas ol -“casting off the yoke”.
You keep fighting the good fight! Even though you “don’t have the leisure to sit and learn in yeshiva all day” don’t fall into the illusion of imagining: “my actions don’t seem as potent as they once did.” Your challenges have changed, your actions are just as potent or perhaps more potent than they were in your Yeshiva days.
Rachel- feeling empowered does not equal haughtiness or hubris. The responsibility that comes with it (to tremendously impact for good or for bad) ought to fill the bearers of that power with holy anxiety, pride, and humility (no contradiction!) before and gratitude towards He who granted them that power and responsibility. You may want to re-read Rabbi Lazer Brody’s December 26th, 2005 post-“Believing in Yourself”
perhaps you need to get involved back in the “bt” world to find your inspiration?
“And stop with the uneccessary guilt. It’s not very Jewish!”
Can someone please tell that to my mother? :-)
A person who has merited to acheive a Torah lifestyle has done a lot, but even if you are immersed in Torah knowledge and mitzvot you may have not yet accomplished the purpose for which you were created. This is known as “Avodat Shoresh” work at the root of YOUR soul. This has two aspects the “Asei Tov” – developing your particular G-d given talents, and “Sur MeRa” – removal of your one core bad Midda. For this self knowledge we need to introspect alot. Hashem has given you all the right skills and opportunities and time to accomplish this. BeHazlacha.
No need to beat yourself up for having to work on your middos. This is a life long process and part of the reason we were created in the first place. The Tanya teaches that Hashem does not judge us on whether or not we reach a certain level of perfection, but rather He judges us on the amount of effort we put into refining ourselves. And we should do this avodah with simcha. Hashem treasures our struggle, is with us every step of the way, and He does not want us to be unhappy about it
The reward comes from how hard we work at it. The effort itself is what refines us and elevates the olam. Serve Hashem with joy since He is there with us every step of the way. ANd stop with the uneccessary guilt. It’s not very Jewish!
The Maor Eynayim speaks about a “yeridah l’tzorich aliah.” Sometimes we feel that we are in a low point, at which point we must exert ourselves to get out of the “rut.” It is through exerting ourselves that we grow to an even higher spiritual level than we were at before.
Of course ideally we would never find ourselves in a rut. If you do however, fight your way out of it and with Hashem’s help, you will find yourself higher than before.
I recommend that you increase your learning, especially to include more musar seforim. One of the best medicines is Orchos Tzadikim. Take two chapters a night before you retire for the evening, and call me in the morning. Perush HaTefillah will also help.
You should consider a vacation to Eretz Yisroel.
You should consider spending a Shabbos in Ohr Somayach Monsey. Rav Yisroel Simcha Schorr said that when a BT goes back to his BT roots, it can wake up the same feelings.
You should consider signing up for Partners in Torah.
One solution that comes to mind is to find your way to Rebbe Nachman of Breslev. Many other tzadikim praised him greatly. Rav Dessler encouraged his children to learn from the books of the Rebbe so that they would merit Yirat Shamayim.
The Satmar rebbbe, Yoel Teitelbaum, said that Rebbe Nachman has foreseen through his ruach kodesh the tests of our generation and only through these books (by Rebbe Nachman) can a person strengthen himself… because in them the true emunah is found. He further said that it is impossible to be a kosher Jew without learning the works of the Breslever Rebbe. He also said that Rebbe Nachman had more Ruach ha-Kodesh than the rest of the tzadikim. “Who can strengthen us?! Only Rebbe Nachman can strengthen is in a situation like this.”
Baba Sali said that it had been revealed to him through a dream that in Shamayim all the tzadikim go to learn Torah from Rebbe Nachman.
The Chafetz Chaim said to one of his students that if he wanted to approach Chassidut he should go to the Breslev Chassidim because they keep the Shulchan Aruch..
The famed Rebbe Levi Yitzchak from Berditchev told his students: Believe me, if I knew that the entire world would listen to me, I would cry out with a loud voice from one end of the world to the other that everyone that wants to be a kosher man and a tzadik and a true servant of Hashem, he should be careful and “zealous” to get close to the holy Rav, Rebbe Nachman of Breslev.
Rebbe Nachman himself said: `I will take you on a new way, which is really the old way our ancestors followed.’
I hope this helps. The teachings of the Rebbe are truly unique. As for me I wasn’t happy or content with religious life, but when I started to read the books of the Rebbe I knew that this was exactly what I was looking for the entire time.
There’s an essay by Rav Dessler where he writes that the initial thrill of mitzvos is given to baalei teshuva as a gift. This gets the baal teshuva on his way. At a certain point that artificial high is removed. Then comes the time to earn that feeling. No pain no gain. That’s what this world is all about. But it doesn’t have to be painful pain. It could just be slow and steady climbing up the mountain. It all depends on how we choose to look at our situation.
Maybe it might be “better” to feel as if we have the keys to moshiach in our hands, but it might be a bit of an unrealistic philosophy. [Or maybe I’ve just grown cynical.] I’ve personally been struggling with the same sort of feeling. I actually do believe that every kind act is filling the world a bit more with kindness [after all, if someone compliments you at the beginning of the day, aren’t you more likely to then compliment others?] However, with mitzvot I’ve lost that feeling.
My only idea is that G-d wants us to struggle. He wants to know how true our frumness is- will we still keep the mitzvot when they stop giving us that good feeling? Also, maybe a strong belief in the power of our actions can lead to arrogance or other bad middot.
I’ve got a few reactions to this post.
—“As much as I have integrated the Torah into my life, I am still far from the level I would like to be. I still view my life as lacking in many ways both spiritual and physical. I know this is not torah thinking…”
Disagree! It IS Torah thinking! It’s when you think the inner work is over, THAT’S when you should be worrying!
—“I understood that my actions affected the entire universe. If I did a mitzvah I brought the world that much closer to the coming of Moshiach, and conversely, if I did an aveira, chas v’shalom, I delayed his arrival even longer.”
So why don’t you understand that now? What changed? I suppose because the thrill is gone (to quote BB King). Listen, the first year or two or three, or perhaps decade of becoming a baal teshuva, you can tangibly see the growth. But much of that growth is in externalities. We learn halacha, how to read, daven, learn, etc.
Then comes the hard stuff. The internal stuff. In our world of instant everything, you won’t tangibly see that growth. As Rav Yisroel Salanter said, it’s easier to learn all of shas than to fix one bad middah. – But not to worry, the growth is there. Just keep trucking… The ripple affects we make are a result of our effort, not the end result. As the Mishna says “It’s not for you to complete…”
As for hastening the arrival of the Mashiach or not, put that concern aside when evaluating if you’re making a dent in the world. Rather ask yourself a more basic question – “Am I doing what I need to do to move ahead one baby step at a time?” – If the answer is yes, then you are growing, you ARE cereating ripple affects.
The tricky thing is, we are all very complex people. We are growing in one area and failing in others. The goal is to find a few “pressure points” where we can work on. We can’t do it all at once.
From what you’re saying, I actually think that it’s quite possible that what you thought was growth until now really wasn’t. Only now is the real work beginning.