Many of us struggle with the difference between our internal and external lives. Perhaps for baalei teshuva this struggle is harder; the “old us” is always running, somewhere, under the surface. But this is not a challenge unique to BT’s, our tradition assures us. The seder hatefilos (order of prayer) provides an example we may overlook every day.
After morning brochos (blessings) and the Akeidah (the recitation of the Torah section about the “sacrifice” of Isaac) and before korbonos (the recitation of the sacrifices) in the morning prayers, there’s a little tefilla or amira (something you say that is itself not a petition to Hashem) called Le’olam yehei odom — “A Person Should Always Be.” In the Artscroll Siddur, it is translated as follows:
Always let a person be God-fearing privately and publicly, acknowledge the truth, speak the truth within his heart, and arise early and proclaim: Master of all worlds and Lord of all lords! Not in the merit of our righteousness do we cast our supplications before You, but in the merit of Your abundant mercy…
This prayer continues until the recitation of the first verse of kerias shema (recitation of the Shema), and then the brocha (authorities differ as to whether or not to say it as a complete brocha, i.e., with Hashem’s name in it) and, as the siddur points out, someone davening in a situation where he might not get to kerias shema on time should say the whole thing at this juncture.
Now, most siddurim say Le’olam yehei odom yireh shomayim b’seiser u’vagaluy: A person should always fear Hashem in public or in private. But scholars such as my rebbe R’ Aharon Lopiansky (now Rosh Yeshiva in Silver Spring, Maryland, and formerly on the staff at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem), the author of the Aliyas Eliyahu siddur, point out that the old siddurim have the proper nusach (version) — they say only Le’olam yehei odom yireh shomayim b’seiser – a person should fear Hashem in private. In other words, he should fear Hashem in his heart of hearts, no matter what things seem to the outside world. The u’vagaluy obviously snuck in there (thanks to a local rav? a well-meaning printer?) because someone thought the ancient nusach sounded like “in secret” or something. But that misses the point: it is b’seiser that is really what this section of the siddur is about. This amirah is not about Kiddush Hashem b’farhesia (public sanctification of Hashem) or looking frum or looking not frum. It is about having yirah in your heart as you embark on the morning prayers in preparation go on to your day of living life with all its challenges.
This little thought satisfied me, and I conveyed it recently to a friend who enjoyed it, too, but this morning I saw another angle on this topic that seemed to complement it perfectly. It was in a tribute R’ Chanoch Henech HaCohen Leibowitz, zt’l, on his shloshim (the end of 30 days following his passing) written by Rabbi Yoel Adelman and Daniel Keren, printed in last Shabbos’s English HaModia, and it was an attempt to capture how R’ Henech embodied the ability of his rebbe, the great Alter of Slabodka zt’l, to be at once a grand spirit, a molder of men and the essence of humility:
The Navi Micha summarized the entire Torah in three basic principles: “Asos mishpat, ahavas chessed, v’hatze’a leches im Elokecha” — to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk modestly before Hashem. The Alter of Slabodka commented that to do justice requires one to be outspoken and resolute in the pursuit of justice.
Similarly, the chessed of Avraham was one where the entire world knew of him. His house was wide open in all four directions to all wayfarers. He was recognized [even] by the Hittites as “nesi Elokim — Prince of G-d.” How is it possible to be tzanua — to conceal oneself? Where is there even room for concealment?
The Alter explains that even when one performs the most visible of acts, the purity with which one does them is not visible. Two people can perform the very same chessed, but their intentions may be very different from each other. One might be doing the chessed purely for the sake of chessed, while his friend might be partially influenced by personal pleasure or personal gain. Therefore, one can conceal one’s greatness and purity even when performing great deeds.
The Rosh Yeshiva was always looking for ways to conceal his accomplishments and the purity which he brought to bear on all that he did.
The great man, the yorei shomayim b’seiser, is like the iceberg — called a berg or “mountain” of ice, so large does it tower on the frigid oceanic horizon; yet revealing only a fraction of its scale. He is seldom truly hidden, because a pure soul is typically perceived as such by those around him. But in fact he hides more than he shows. This takes Le’olam yehei odom yireh shomayim b’seiser beyond the mundane conception of “really, truly” holding Hashem in awe within yourself, regardless of what it looks like to others, and elevates it to the level of not only negating the need to include u’vagaluy, but to render it in fact redundant. And it reminds us of how reluctant we must be to believe we are capable of sounding the depths of another person — not only one who seems shallow, but one who seems to loom large as well.
Note: There will be a Community Wide Hesped to mark the Shloshim of HaGaon HaRav Alter Chanoch Henoch Leibowitz zt”l – Rosh HaYeshiva – Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim at the Yeshiva of Central Queens – 147-37 70th Road on Wednesday May 21, 2008 from 8:00pm – 9:30pm – Maariv to follow.