Friday, August 28, 2009

You Are What You Praise - Rav Shmuel Brazil, New Rosh Yeshiva of Ziv Hatorah

Parshas Ki Seitze
Rav Shmuel Brazil, Yerushalayim
At the end of the parsha we find the Torah describing Amalek as אשר קרך בדרך the nation that cooled you off on the way. What is the exact nature of “cooling one off on the way”?

In order for an individual to have personal growth in avodas Hashem, he must have constant yearnings to reach such a lofty goal. Our chazal say חייב אדם לומר מתי יגיעו מעשי למעשה אבותי אברהם יצחק ויעקב when will my deeds reach the deeds of our avos. This is not just a privilege to say but rather an obligation since our Chazal used the word חייב. Rav Gifter ztl as a young bachur had pictures of gedolim in his room posted on the wall. One frame however was missing the picture. When he was questioned what happened to the picture he would respond that it was his own picture in thirty years from now that was waiting to be placed there. He would claim that this aspiration for gadlus helped him to become the ben Torah that he was.

Some mechanchim came before the Chazon Ish ztl and asked that there was a gan mizrachi in the vicinity and they wanted to know if they could join with them for if not it would be almost financially impossible to do it separately. The Chazon Ish responded that it would be permissible only if they have pictures of gedolim exclusively on the walls. The gan refused and they did not join.

To blossom in Torah and Yiddishkeit one must have these yearnings and aspirations of gadlus. It is interesting to note that the word for yearnings is געגועים whose source word is גע which means to touch. To fulfill the obligation of מי יגיעו מעשה למעשה אבותי one must have the yearnings and inspirations to reach that goal and dream.

I once taught for a short period of time in a junior high school where as soon as you entered the building you were greeted with basketball and hockey trophies that this school’s team have won over the years. This was my Shalom Aleichem to the Magna Carta of what is esteemed in this school of torah education. It was obvious that to aspire to achieve this goal was the ultimate unchallenged success story that the educational staff thrived to convey and implant into the delicate minds and hearts of their students who every day would be reinforced with this ideal by passing by this “treifa,” I mean “trophy”. Then parents wonder why doesn’t my child have no interest at all in learning gemarrah or even chumash. “A trophy” awarded for all the energies invested for exceptional physical feats of man causes a sapping of spiritual energy and interest in our young children and an “atrophy” sets in, a diminution and wasting of ruchniyus growth. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not about sports and healthy exercise but rather only when we make an avodah zarah of it – the “my hero” syndrome.

The passuk says איש לפי מהללו that the measure of man is according to those that praise him. The Rabbeinu Yonah renders a different interpretation to this. That the measure of a man is according to what he constantly praises. One’s true essence can be determined to what he esteems and deems important and worthwhile. If in his conversations we always find the topic of rich people, then we know what he aspires for. If he constantly talks about gedolim then we also know where his heart lies. This Rabbeinu Yona in an incredible chiddush. For this means that is does not make a difference if one works the entire day or learns the entire day. It is what he praises that defines and is the barometer of who he really is and where he is truly holding. A little scary wouldn’t you say?

Amalek cools a person off from these aspirations of gadlus. He places these obstacles on the way of this journey and says after one falls and fails “see I told you so that this is not for you and that you can really never make an everlasting change. Forget about trying it will never ever work. Use your energies for something more constructive like becoming part of the Fortune 500. The malach of Esav attacks Yaakov and the passuk says ויאבק איש עמו and the chazal say שהעלו אבק that during the battle they brought up dust. What was this battle all about? The answer is in the word אבק which stands for the acronym אשר קרך בדרך . The grandson of Eisav inherited his role as cooling agent from his zaida and malach.

Our Chazal say that a man’s profession in this world should be to make himself an אלם which means a mute. We can interpret this to mean that one must speak about the aspirations of Torah and avodah that he yearns to achieve and be silent about other issues that would take him and others away from their true mission in this world. Note that the acronym of אלם is איש לפי מהללו. There is no mitzvah just to talk but rather to talk about issues that will bring awareness to the tzelem elokim that man possesses and not materialism and earthliness. Remember that איש לפי מהללו and that will help one to be silent from saying the wrong and inappropriate things. Even if one is silent he can still listen and learn. Note that the letters of silent spell listen!

In the month of Elul one must re inspire himself to Torah and avodas Hashem. Let us reevaluate what are the contents of our praise. Let us remove from our midst’s the trophies of the secular world that has become morally bankrupt and decayed right in front of our eyes. Let us recharge our dreams and aspirations for gadlus which everyone can reach in his and her own level. Let us once again feel the excitement and freshness of yearning for personal growth and coming closer to Hashem. Then our Elul will make our Rosh Hashana even more meaningful and meritorious.

Gut Shabbos
Beis Medresh Zeev haTorah
Audio shiurim of the week of Ki Seitze
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