Friday, December 29, 2006

What's the Big Deal with Kedusha?

According to the Bais Yaakov of Izbitz on Parshas Vayikra, Kedusha is "hahefech midevarim shel mabakach."

If I want my life to have kedusha, I can't treat even the most "mundane" part of it as a "davar shel mabakach." "Mabakach" means something inconsequential, trivial, or meaningless. I tend to think that certain things I'm doing like eating, working, chopping tomatoes and cucumbers are inconsequential and therefore I don't put any thought or effort, spiritually speaking, into how or why I do them.

But kedusha means treating everything I do like a big deal. Rav Kook says that small people do even big things with "smallness." But big people (Gedolim) do even small things with bigness (gadlus).

So make every moment big!

-Dixie Yid

Why the Need to Escape? (The Sequel)

In part one, I wondered how people can really "live," when they're not given opportunities to be heros, in the popular conotation of that word?

The truth is that we are given chances every day to live by fighting and toiling against evil and being victorious. Each of us has an enemy inside who wants to destroy us (like it says in Kiddushin 30b), and our earthly, comfort-seeking side would love to just go with the flow and not do battle. But by fighting every day to do the right things, not to do the wrong thing, to push out bad thoughts, and think good thoughts is a constant battle against a foe who's more persistent and cunning than any bad guy in a novel or movie. This bad guy never gives up on beating us throughout our lives. By winning that daily battle, we can fulfil that inner need for living.

But this type of "living," is a lot of work. It's much easier to distract ourselves with work by day, and lounge around with a good book or TV show/movie at night in order to feel vicariously like we're living. Fighting our inner enemy is a lot harder than watching other people fight outer enemies! So that easier, more comfortable option is the one we usually choose.

But for those of us who don't want to exempt oursevles from true life by only giving ourselves the feeling of living, we need to turn off the escapist pastimes, the movies, the TV, the novels, and truly live. Do some hisbonenus, learn Torah, clean the garage! Those other distractions just help mute the inner pain we have at not truly living by overcoming obstacles through toil and winning.

-Dixie Yid

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Mei Hashiloach on Parshas Vayigash

I've heard various answers to the following question: Why does Yehuda seem to be offering up all of the brothers including Binyomin at the end of parshas Mikeitz as slaves to Mitzrayim, never to return to their father, Yaakov, and yet at the beginning of this week's parsha, he argues vociferously that Binyomin must go back to their father Yaakov, lest his life be in danger? Which is it? Is it okay if Binyomin stays in Mitzrayim as a slave with his brothers, like Yehuda argues at the end of last week's parsha? Or is it intolerable that Binyomin not return to his father, like at the beginning of Vayigash?

Rav Mordechai Yosef from Izbitz writes, in the Mei Hashiloach, that the reason for the difference between these two stances by Yehuda is that he had basically given up on himself and his brothers at the end of last week's parsha. He offered them all up as slaves to Mitzrayim, and he'd given up on all of them. But Rav Mordechai Yosef says that we must know, just like Yehuda realized moments after he'd given up hope, that no matter how undeserving we feel of Hashem's salvation from our problems, He will save us even from that place. So Yehuda strengthened himself by saying, "Even though I did something not right [by offering myself and my brothers as slaves], it's still in Hashem's power to save me." That's what he was doing in his "Vayigash eilav Yehuda."

It doesn't matter that you or I have already made many mistakes. We may feel that we are no longer deserving of Hashem's intervention in our problems at this point. Rav Mordechai Yosef is teaching us that this isn't true. Hashem wants to hear from us, and wants us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, as Yehuda did, and turn to and daven to Hashem for a yeshua.

-Dixie Yid

Why the Need to Escape?

Why is it that there is such a huge industry for movies, TV shows, and novels? People spend hours and hours each day and week watching these things, instead of living their own life to the fullest. Is it only the desire to escape daily life? I think that's part of it, but I think there's something that comes before that.

It is in the nature of every Yid, and every human being to want to "live" life, and feel like they're really living. I think that the essential element of truly living life is facing obstacles and challenges and then overcoming them through work and perseverance. I think that it is the essential need of the human being. Though this runs counter to our desire for comfort and rest.("Noach lo l'adam shelo nevroh meshenivroh.") It is partly because effort, stress, and toil are difficult for us and run against our nature for comfort and laziness that it gives us a sense of really living when we do it anyway.

In movies, TV shows, and novels we can watch other people facing loss, failure, challenges, bad guys, etc. and through their skill, hard work, perseverence, they win out in the end. I learned in college that what makes a really good book is when the reader really identifies with the author. People like to live life vicariously through the characters they read about or watch in various media. If for just two hours, I can feel good while watching someone on the big screen (or the little screen) fight off evil enemies against all odds, then I can get that feeling of really living without actually having to do it. Really living means facing defeat, and beating it with hard work. So by watching others do it, I can vicariously have that feeling without having to do it in real life.

That's where escapism comes into it. When I am tired of facing life's challenges and I don't want to have to "live" anymore, I can still get that feeling watching someone else do it. It's great to watch someone who trained for 20 years to learn martial arts, use his skills to outsmart and outfight all the bad guys. But I would never do that myself!

I think it's the same thing with thrill seeking like bungee jumping, crazy roller coasters, climbing dangerously high mountains, etc. By going through an experience where I feel like I'm going to die, and then living through that, it helps me feel more alive without having to actually live life.

But normal people don't face bands of dangerous ninjas, airplane hijackers, or wicked super-vilians in the course of their life. So if I can't fight evil and win to feel like I'm living, then how can any of us truly live and fulfill that deep-seated need to live life? More on that in my next post.


Munkatcher Rebbe, the Minchas Eluzar

He had only a few seconds that he was given by the cameraman to deliver a message to the assimilated Jews in America in 1933. I don't understand Yiddish, but I can hear how his voice cracks when he cries out that we must keep Shabbos!

-Dixie Yid