Jun 29, 2012

Loving Shabbos

This same R' Bensoussan (see previous post) said  that on his way to or from shul on Shabbos, his father would say to him and his brothers, time and again, each time as though he never said it before, “This is very important.  No matter where you end up and what you do, there is nothing as amazing, as beautiful as Shabbat.”

During the meal his father would almost break into tears and say there is nothing like Shabbat.  R' Bensoussan's friends would break Shabbat in front of him but he never could. As he put it, why would he want to break Shabbat? There is no beauty that compares!  He doesn't use the phone, text etc. on Shabbat because why would he?! He has Shabbat.

So this seems to be the new approach to convey the imperative of living a religiously observant life.  It's not because G-d said so.  It's not because of reward and punishment.  It's because it's beautiful and enjoyable.

Sounds nice, but ... where does G-d fit into the picture? It sounds like it's all about me and what makes me feel good.  Nothing about a relationship with G-d.  Dovid Ha'Melech's pining for G-d seems irrelevant.  Purpose, responsibility, obligation seem to play no role.  It's all about my pleasure.  Something is wrong with this picture, though apparently many feel this is what speaks to today's youth.  Do they ever move on to the next level or is that not a goal? 

Jun 28, 2012

Loving This World

In a lecture given by R' Yossi Bensoussan, he quotes a speech that a rosh yeshiva of a yeshiva in Israel says to the boys:

"Do you know why I'm religious? I'm an olam ha'zeh'nik. I love this world; I love the pleasures of this world. Because I'm so into physical pleasure, I am a religious Jew. Because if you do this, i.e. Torah and mitzvos, and do it right, you will never feel so high or elated in your entire life. Anyone who tells you they are religious because of the next world is fooling themselves and fooling you.

“I am religious because of the pleasure I get out of it in this world. Of all the materialistic pleasures of this world (and I wasn't always religious), religious life is most pleasurable. As it says “ashrecha v'tov lach” - ashrecha in this world and tov lach in Olam Haba. We don't know anything about the next world, but we know this world."

Interesting, isn't it? I'm old school.  Olam Haba does mean a lot to me.  I have heard numerous lectures by Rabbi Avigdor Miller z'l who spoke so much about preparing for the next world, though he too urged people to be happy in this world by seeing what a wonderful world G-d created.  So I don't accept that rabbi's statement that Olam Haba is not a real reason that motivates us to be religious.  It is not the only reason, but it's a reason!

to be continued

Jun 27, 2012

Are Children as Astute as We Make Them out to Be?

I have read more than once, in articles on chinuch, that children sense the truth and that parents and teachers must be truthful with them because if they aren't, children will see through them. 

But is this true?

Aren't kids innocent, naive, gullible? Don't they believe in the Tooth Fairy? Haven't kids believed all sorts of things only to discover, when they got older, that they were misled? Why do some people think children have Truth Antenna?

Rather than tell parents and teachers to tell the truth because otherwise, children will sense they are lying, how about telling the truth because we need to be truthful! Midvar sheker tirchak!

Jun 26, 2012

Just Because

This week, we read about the Para Aduma.  The laws of the Red Heifer are so mysterious that even the wisest of men, King Shlomo, said he did not understand it.

There is a halacha in the mishna about not reading by candlelight on Shabbos.  The mishna does not give a reason for this (as opposed to the rabbis of the beraisa who gave a reason, i.e. lest a person adjust the light which is prohibited on Shabbos).  The Vilna Gaon learns from this that we should not tell people not to do something because of any reason.  Once you give a reason, you open yourself up to people thinking the reason does not apply to them or to their circumstance.  Reasons provide people with excuses. 

And this is what the Para Aduma teaches us.  "Zos chukas ha'Torah" - this is the law of the Torah.  It is not just a law concerning impurity and purity.  It is a law that applies to all of Torah.  We observe the mitzvos whether we understand them or not.

I read this dvar Torah and thought about those who espouse teaching everything with explanations and reasons as they do in baal teshuva schools.  There is certainly an honored place for reasons.  They are called "taamei ha'mitzvos" and books like the Sefer Ha'Chinuch, which provides explanations for the mitzvos, are classics in our Torah literature.  However, a foundational message needs to be conveyed loud and clear - we keep Torah and mitzvos because Hashem said so, whether we like the reasons offered or not. 

We do a disservice by seeking to ingratiate ourselves by constantly providing "relevance" and reasons for what we do.  When we present a reason, it should be understood that we do the mitzva regardless, and the reason is merely to give us an appreciation for mitzvos and insights as to their benefit and purpose.  Mitzvos are not negotiable and at the same time that we offer rationales for them, we should be conveying the beauty of the anashim peshutim (simple people) who serve Hashem with love and joy in simple faith.

Jun 25, 2012

How Long Does the Pleasure Last?

It has been said that pleasure from material things doesn't last long, ex. delicious food, while pleasure from spiritual things last.

I don't find this to be true.  Do you?

If you felt inspired when you attended a class or read an article, if you helped someone and felt very good about it, if you were spiritually uplifted on Yom Tov, did those feelings last? Are those who felt uplifted by the Internet Asifa still feeling that way now, or do they merely remember that they felt uplifted?

When we say "last," how long are we talking about? Can it be proven that pleasure from spiritual things lasts longer than pleasure from material things? Only if there is a group of people who are willing to keep track of how long they feel good after material and spiritual experiences.  They would be asked to rate how they feel several hours later, a day later, a few days later, a week later, a month later and that would give us an idea of how long the feelings last.  Until that happens,  I am not convinced.

Jun 8, 2012

Loving Chesed

Have you ever met someone who is absolutely delighted to do a favor? What a wonderful experience!

I was waiting at a city bus stop for a bus that is notorious for its erratic and infrequent appearances when someone pulled up in their car and offered me, and another person waiting there, a ride.  The driver explained that ever since earning a license, it is their greatest pleasure to offer people rides.  They even deliberately drive by bus stops in order to seek out "customers." I'm not sure who was more thankful for the ride, me or the driver!