Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Modern Re-Creation of This Ice-Skating Rink Baal Shem Tov Story

I just read this story about hateful symbols being carved in an ice-skating rink in upstate New York. It's an amazing re-creation of this story from the Baal Shem Tov, that my rebbe often tells over.

The Baal Shem Tov would periodically bring his students along with him in his wagon on various spiritual missions. They would all climb into the wagon and the "driver" Alexi would face backward, toward the Chassidim, and hashgocha protis would take the horses wherever they were supposed to go.

On one occasion, the horses took them near a frozen lake, that was a known recreation place for the non-Jewish children in the area. The Chassidim knew that whenever the children played there they always carved "tzlamim," crosses in the ice. Not wanting their rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov, to be subjected to such a sight, they asked Alexi to lead the horses further around the lake. But the Baal Shem Tov insisted that he wanted to go to see the lake. Reluctantly, the Chassidim relented.

As they got closer, the Baal Shem Tov saw the impure symbols that the children were carving in the ice and he expressed great exhilaration and happiness at the sight. As usual in such stories, the Chassidim couldn't understand the Besht's reaction. After they left, he explained:

There is a tremendous lesson in what we just saw. The Torah is compared to water. We learn from what happened at this lake that when one's Torah becomes
frozen and cold that it does not merely remain in a plain, frozen state.
Rather, it is immediately replaced by Tuma, impurity.

Just as nature abhors a vacuum, ruchnius, spirituality also abhors a vacuum. As soon as there is a vacuum of kedusha, holiness, the emptiness will be filled with Tuma, impurity. Reb Klonymous Kalman Shapiro, the holy Aish Kodesh, wrote in Chovas Hatalmidim that the soul of a Jew craves excitement. If we raise our children and ourselves to find that excitement in Torah, davening, niggunim, Chassidus, Hisbodedus, chesed, kiriv, or other aspects of avodas Hashem, then the soul's need for excitement will be fulfilled through holiness.

However, if we are bored by mitzvos, davening, learning, etc., then our neshoma is empty and without excitement. Such a situation cannot last. The soul will achieve its excitement somehow. If it is not through kedusha, Torah and mitzvos, then it will be through the pleasures, desires and distractions of olam hazeh, this world.

May Hashem grant us the wisdom to fill our need for excitement with Torah, tefillah, and kedusha, and not with the illicit distractions of this world.

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of Chabad of Southern Ohio)

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Anonymous said...

It very interesting that I was michavan to the words of the Aish Kodesh in my last post on how we can all become the Matisyahu in our generation.

Akiva said...

Excellent post!

Anonymous said...

Great point and I agree with you, but how do we teach excitement in davening, Torah, etc. to a child (or to ourselves)? How does that seem more exciting to a kid than cartoons, rock music or movies?

Neil Harris said...

Very nice. :)

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...


Great question. The answer is primarily by example. If your kids see that you get a geshmak out of learning, that you're excited to get to davening on time and that learning, avodas Hashem and Torah discussions permeate your conversations, then you're kids see that this is something exciting. However, if they see you falling asleep every time you pick up a sefer, or if they never see you learning, or if Dad gets more excited about the Nick game than going to a shiur, or if Mom is more thrilled about her new sofa, than about relishing the opportunity to be ma'avir sedra, then that sends the message that Torah/Yiddishkeit is boring, and that the rock music/movies/etc. are much more exciting.

That's the "aseh tov" side. But there's also a "sur me'rah" side. If you keep TV, movies, Wii/PSP and loud secular music out of your home, then you will also avoid the difficulty of the loud blaring secular world's competition with the still small, true voice of Torah.

-Dixie Yid

Menashe said...

Dixie Yid,

I would agree with you, it is primarily by leading by example. But as a follow up question, how can mom and dad get a geshmak out of avodas Hashem?

There is undoubtedly more than one answer. But in my experience, the most powerful one of all is making a regular seder in toras hachasidus. Teach them how good and possible is is to have dveikus with Hashem Yisboreich!