Inspiration in Everyday Life

When I was a Yeshivah student, one of the rabbis brought us to a meeting with Rav Shlomo Wolbe. A question was raised in that meeting by a married student, which I didn’t really grasp. “How can someone deal with the spiritual letdown of being involved in mundane affairs? After a day learning in Kollel, I come home and have to deal with diapers, shopping, bills, dirty dishes, etc. How does one remain spiritual in face of this? What can I tell my wife, who has to deal with this all day?”

At the time, being unmarried, I couldn’t relate much to the question, except in a theoretical way. Years later, I was returning from the Beis Midrash on Yom Kippur, during the break between Mussaf and Minchah. Wearing my white kittel, feeling spiritually elevated, the nigunim of the Yom Kippur service reverberating in my mind, I entered my apartment and soon found myself in an encounter with a six month year old baby and a heavily soiled diaper. That’s when the question finally sunk in and I recalled Rav Wolbe’s answer:

“Once, I went with one of the students of Beer Yaakov to buy a piece of jewelry for his kallah. We took the bus to Tel Aviv, and while we were walking down a thoroughfare, he asked me: ‘Rebbe, what are we doing here? Why should we leave the spiritual environs of the Beis Midrash to walk in this commercial district, a completely materialistic environment, for the sake of a piece of jewelry?’

“I answered: ‘Here, we are walking in the world of chesed. The Beis Midrash is the world of Torah and Tefillah. This is the world of chesed.’”

The world of chesed (loving-kindness). The Mishnah says: “The world stands on three pillars: Torah, Divine Service, and acts of kindness.”

For many years, I used to condition myself for 30 seconds before I entered the home: Now, you are entering the world of chesed. Put aside the intricacies of the Gemara, leave the yearning to be close to Hashem in prayer, and focus on chesed!

Different parts of our day have a different focus, and different stages of our lives have a different focus. Focusing on the great opportunities that await us in the world of chesed brings a spiritual uplift to the mundane affairs of everyday life.

Originally posted in February, 2008

23 comments on “Inspiration in Everyday Life

  1. Rav Wolbe ZT”L did not live in a world totally lacking in skilled translators, and did not prohibit translation of all his writings, so something else must be behind his expressed wish. I don’t see how the lack of one translation would make someone learn Hebrew.

  2. “I’m not sure who owns the rights to Alei Shur and any translating options, but I don’t understand why they wouldn’t want a guy like you doing the translating.”

    JT – maybe he wanted the people to learn hebrew?
    (which IS indeed important in my opinion).

    Git Shabbes,

  3. Menachem Lipkin, thanks.

    Steve Brizel, thanks.

    David Schalheim, thanks for the translating offer and info finding.I don’t understand why he doesn’t want it translated.
    Is it possible that at that time, he didn’t want dim individuals with a poor command of the English language(most jewish religious authors, not all ) translating stuff using words with the wrong undertones and connotations?

    A walk through a judaica bookstore sometimes would give anyone a headache.

    I’m not sure who owns the rights to Alei Shur and any translating options, but I don’t understand why they wouldn’t want a guy like you doing the translating.

    I don’t think your asking the right individuals. Talmid muvhak or not.

  4. No, it’s not incidental. Perhaps that really is the point.


    That gets me thinking that maybe we can include competitiveness under the umbrella of chesed (or should I say the “tent o’ Torah”?).

    I have to do the necessary hishtadlus for parnassah (according to my degree of bitachon). Insomuch as I need to sell myself and be competitive as an element of that necessary hishtadlus, it’s a part of the chesed I’m doing for my family and for myself (in terms of a sense of self esteem in being gainfully employed).

    Sort of like running in a marathon (the rat race?) and competing for first place on behalf of charity.

  5. JT–

    I asked a talmid muvhak of Rav Wolbe in shul this morning if anyone has ever translated Alei Shur (I’d love to do it myself) and he told me that Rav Wolbe did not want it to be translated (although his book on parenting was translated). His family continues to respect his wishes in this.

  6. R’ Bar-Chaim wrote:
    “Who ever said changing diapers or having the sweetest baby in the world throw up on you isn’t spiritually rivetting?? Perhaps THAT’s what Torah is about.”

    Adaraba. But even if one doesn’t see the spiritual beauty in it, he still has to take care of his kids without expecting a yashar koiach.

  7. Ron,

    *Why* do you perform those tasks for remuneration?

    Is supporting your family “incidental”?

    Sure, work is our hishtadlus for parnassah, but what’s the point of having the parnassah? Isn’t it purely to do chesed, especially for our family?

    If someone dropped a sufficient amount of cash on my lap, believe you me, I’d cease all those “tasks in exchange for compensation” I have to do and learn and teach Torah!

    To be sure, Rav Wolbe was speaking about the worth of taking off time from learning to do a chesed. He was explaining that all our involvement in mundane affairs should be in a larger spiritual context.

  8. Rabbi Schallheim, I do not believe that most of my employment or career, or most people’s, is about chesed. Sometimes it may be, but this is mostly coincidental. Notwithstanding the substance of my work, the main thing I do, as is the case for most people, is perform tasks in exchange for compensation. Sometimes I am fortunate and these tasks implicate chesed, besides in the incidental sense of the extent to which my efforts may amount to chesed bestowed upon members of my family. Similarly, sometimes they are about din, and especially so in my case as a husband meeting his obligations under his kesuva.

    Mostly, however, it is about hishtadlus. I don’t even think Rabbi Wolpe was trying to address this question.

  9. I happen to think this is an important idea for baalei t’shuvah in particular.

    Your point is an interesting one. I know of a woman whose husband purposely violates Shabbos and threatens to “convert to Christianity” in front of their children because he is mad that he never had a “born again” moment when he started taking on more mitzvot. So I guess some people need to be told that much of Judaism is practiced by doing the ordinary day-to-day stuff, but my heart kind of went out to that woman’s husband because he so desperately wanted to have a bit of “head in the clouds” spirituality, but for whatever reason has never felt that way. Of course, I don’t condone his little temper tantrums for not experiencing deep spirituality, but it seems to me that the guy is in a lot of spiritual pain.

  10. Alei Shure is still in hebrew only.

    JT, hmm, you’ve given me a great idea. Let’s see if we can do something about that.

    But you left out a somewhat more challenging formulation: … We have to compete in the harsh marketplace and even, such as in my line of work, actually do some things that don’t look so kind on the other end


    That is a really tough challenge. Perhaps it would be comparable to a dayan, who is going to have to make one litigant obligated to pay and the other exempt. That’s din, judgment, and not chesed, but it’s a part of Torah. So too, in parnassah, classroom chinuch, or child-rearing, which is all in the “world of chesed,” we’re going to have to temper the chesed with din or gevurah (which you actually elude to in your next comment #5).

    So we could say that when you’re walking in the world of chesed it has to be tempered with din.

    Competition, though, is tougher to understand within the framework of chesed. צ”×¢

    He should be told “who told you that life is supposed to feel so spiritual all the time?” Keeping Torah is about acharayus, meeting one’s responsibilites. And then, consequentially, there is a spiritual sensation. But the spiritual high is not the goal.


    I agree, and you made the point very well. I was writing about the “inspiration” in daily affairs. Going beyond the basic function as a dutiful human being.

    Rav Dessler, in Kuntras HaChesed writes about how a person that has kavanah he’s doing his parnassah as a chesed, be he a taxi driver or plumber, elevates his life and increases his enjoyment of what he’s doing. He can take the job he has to do and make it a spiritual endeavor of the highest order.

    Fact is, on the other hand, most talmidim don’t feel a spiritual high when they learn Gemara. Rav Chaim of Volozhin writes (Nefesh HaChaim, perek 4) that learning Torah lishmah is not about deveikus (cleaving to Hashem) but rather about understanding the content in the clearest way possible. Learning to understand the content of Hashem’s message to man is the greatest way to get close to Him, but it’s not the same feeling as Neilah on Yom Kippur.

  11. Michoel wrote: “Keeping Torah is about acharayus, meeting one’s responsibilites. And then, consequentially, there is a spiritual sensation. But the spiritual high is not the goal.”

    I think there’s a slight confusion here. One point is about seeking constant spiritual highs. The other is what Torah is about.

    Who ever said changing diapers or having the sweetest baby in the world throw up on you isn’t spiritually rivetting?? Perhaps THAT’s what Torah is about.

  12. Inquiring minds want to know (Re: Parents’ contracting to regulate their childrens’ married life)

    Does some penalty clause say what happens if (OH, NO!!) the married couple decides on its own to do something else, like staying with the “wrong” set of parents, or neither set, on a given holiday? Social shunning? Give back all the gifts? Meet the Beis Din?

  13. Rav Wolbe’s thought is beautiful but I think there is an additional, perhpas more basic way of looking at this issue.

    A freind of mine was once at the home of a grandson of Rav Shimon Schwab in Monsey. Rav Shimon and his brohter, the tzaddik Rav Mordechai Schwab were meeting there. This grandson picked up his baby son and immediately recieved a large amount of vomit all over his clothes. The young father sighed “Tzar gidel banin” (“oy, the difficulty of child raising”) Rav Mordechai immediately corrected him in Yiddish. “Dos is nisht ‘tzar’ gidel banin. Dos heist gidel banim!” (Having a child throw up on you is not “the pain” of child raising”. That is just plain old child raising!) In other words, ‘don’t be such a martyr’. This is what life is about and H’ should only save you from ACTUAL tzar gidel banim. So too, the guy who comes home from Kolel and doesn’t know how to deal with the spiritual let-down of changing diapers. He should be told “who told you that life is supposed to feel so spiritual all the time?” Keeping Torah is about acharayus, meeting one’s responsibilites. And then, consequentially, there is a spiritual sensation. But the spiritual high is not the goal.

    I happen to think this is an important idea for baalei t’shuvah in particular.

  14. It sounds new to me, too, Jaded. I never learned about it law school. But I did learn this: We never exactly put a “loopholes” section in one appropriately-titled place in a contract. That would spoil all the fun.

    In relatively more seriousness, I don’t think you’re at all alone in feeling some serious reservations, to put it mildly, about the businesslike fashion in which this shidduch was “negotiated.” I do have a partner who does prenuptial agreements all the time, but these are usually solely financial arrangements between two adults — not their parents!

    My soft gooshy heart is a matter of record, but perhaps we are after all a bunch of romantics after all here at BBT. On the other hand, I recently read correspondence in the letters section of a Jewish newspaper fervidly endorsing this approach to matchmaking as one based on ancient tradition and having plenty of support in Tanach.

    What I am sure you are getting at, Jaded, in combining these threads is the fact that aarriages and the families that with God’s help spring from them are in fact nothing but matrices for chesed-doing and -generating, if we include what seems to be the very broad definition here of chesed that arises from responsibility — i.e., not merely gratuitous “good deeds,” which can be quite profound in their own right.

    Yet we are also taught that an “excess of chesed,” i.e., chesed unrestrained or unbalanced by the quality of din is associated with misdirected passion, even vice. The magic of an ideal marriage (or one close to it!) is that it provides a framework to bind these two qualities.

    It is still up to the individuals to balance them themselves; but it is easier to balance two on a seesaw than one!

    Having said all that I would rather not be involved in the seesaw of these particular kinds of negotiations.

  15. Ron,
    Today is your lucky day.
    I would suggest you refer to “Reuvens” recent post entitled “Ultra” , specifically to the part of that mehadrin minded piece, where the author suggests that it is actually considered standard policy and procedure to use “legal agreements” when arranging arranged marriages.

    This unique,( I’ve never even heard of this concept ) out of the ordinary spiritually oriented contract negotiating could be a whole new out of the diaper box ,religious experience and or special opportunity for those in the legal profession that are looking to incorporate some Ultra haredi style arranged marriage negotiating and facilitating (loving-kindness oriented) into their monthly spiritual opportunities schedule.

    I definitely see a book opportunity for this too. The hareidi hunk or hunkette’s guide to Ultra Religious arranged marriage contract negotiating and nailing. A section for loophole locating should definitely be included, as well as some how-to talks n tea along with the book signing.

  16. I love this idea. But you left out a somewhat more challenging formulation: In order for most us to do chesed in the mundane environment outside the bais medrash, we have to do more than change diapers and buy jewelry. We have to compete in the harsh marketplace and even, such as in my line of work, actually do some things that don’t look so kind on the other end, even if it is “chesed” to our clients.

  17. Beautiful explanation. It’s very important to remember that learning Torah is meant to prepare us for dealing with everyday living situations in a positive manner.

  18. Rabbi Schallheim , (spelled correctly this time)

    Interesting piece.
    3 of my favorite concepts from the past, all in one succinct post actually, R Wolbe/Gemara ,and jewelry (design not just plain purchasing ;)

    R Wolbe is actually brilliant.I should learn more of his teachings, but I just checked and Alei Shure is still in hebrew only. The mussar newsletter sent out by I think his family, is good stuff but just snippets from Alei Shure and other teachings of his that connect to the parsha.
    You actually met with R Wolbe in person , that’s so awesome actually.
    I dont think we have leaders like him around nowadays.
    It’s so hard finding leaders to respect nowadays.
    Maybe I didn’t research the “Are You My Leader” concept with the correct non childish perspectives and objective objectives.
    Subjective conjecturing is just so much more comforting, especially in the winter.

    So reading this post, it becomes crystal clear that you should consider doing Alei Shur lectures for the general public as a spiritual in the home hobby.This would combine all of the pillars the world stands on, and then some.
    And then I might even run into deeper tinok shenishba explanations for that argument with you that I didn’t forget about, and did not end up winning on a thread of a different topic.(winning arguments is my new spiritual hobby)
    But just for starters , translated literally one can probally draw distinct connections between immature minds , specific learning deficits and or the innate inability to learn at certain points in life (a simple example that would obviously not always be applicable would be no ritalin for a hyper ADHD student) and thus held emotionally captive due to a hyperactive and or immature sense óf reasoning in the figuretive sense…… So this concept and the baby being held captive in that àge old phrase might have a future together in the loophole industry for no fault living and running.

    But back to your main points ,You are really lucky you have a bais medrash you can learn in. I’ve been trying to find a bais medrash (note to all astute Ladies N gemara in New York know it alls , please dont suggest i get myself my own tutor , I’m not looking for a personal chavrusah/tutor to learn with ,
    that kind of thing would be like me playing the defendant in Jaded Topaz Versus Do You Understand This Concept Inc./How About Now LLC. in an informal deposition setting.

    Nor am I looking for expensive classes for specific talmud studies classes only available in sections that are óf no interest to me. & Generally used as credits towards almost rabbinical degrees for rabbinical clerkships.
    And I’m definitely not looking for daf a day ride the LIRR n learn n lunch for ladies.
    The Staten Island ferry doesn’t float my boat either.

    I’m just looking for a regular bais medrash with an open door policy , where women can sit in and listen and learn and chime when the mood strikes them, is that so foreign a concept ?
    I learn better with men, and in group.
    No reservations, form filling out/contracts/agreements/student status verifications needed/ long-term commitments, and or time sensitive scheduling. Just a come when you want kind óf thing.
    Does anyone know óf any bais medrashes in the New York area that resemble the above description ? Does Yeshiva University have an open door policy on their bais medrash gemara learnings any ongoing groups for non yeshiva university students.

    Anyway , Rabbi Schallheim so if your considering doing Alei Shur lectures , I think current neuroscience discoveries, findings, conclusions, assumptions, questions and concepts would be the kind óf stuff that would resonate well with the alei shur books.
    And would make for the most fascinating óf juxtapositions too. Just saying, its what I do best.

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