Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Wherever We Let Him In- Bringing God back to Orthodoxy

מכריז רבי ינאי חבל על דלית ליה דרתא ותרעא לדרתא עביד

RRav Yanai proclaimed “Woah to the one who lacks a courtyard, but builds a gate for the courtyard”. (This refers to one who learns Torah but lacks Yir’at Shamayim)

Orthodox Judaism is drowning. We are drowning in Torah, mitzvohs, and halacha. Drowning in mutar and assur and chayav and patur. Drowning in gemara, Shulchan Aruch, and the Ketzos. Orthodox Judaism is drowning in shtreimlech, black hats, kippot srugot, and sheitels. In 30 minute shachris, daf yomi, and dress codes. We have so many mitzvot, so many ways to be an Orthodox Jew, and more Torah learning than at any time in our history, but we don’t have God. We do mitzvos without thinking of the M’tzaveh, and learn Torah with nary a thought of the Nosein HaTorah.

My community, to give just one example, is a model of talmud Torah, and tefillah. There are multiple daf yomi and shavua yomi shiurim. So many men and women learn Torah on a daily basis, and multiple batei midrash are full each night. We have numerous shuls with shachris, mincha, and maariv available during every permitted time to say those tefillos. Still, I have never heard of a local shiur in how to daven, or in how to relate to HaShem. In this we are far from unique. How many communities have shiurim in Derech HaShem, chaburahs in Bnei Machashava Tovah, or Shabbos derashos which talk about our relation with HaShem?

Have we, and at least equally important, our children, dwelled on the Rambam’s description of Ahavas HaShem, deeply studied Chovos HaLevavos, or given thought to the fact that all of the sheish mitzvos temidiyos, the six mitzvos in which we are obligated at all times, deal with how we relate to God?

We speed through pesukei d’zimrah, without allowing the words of the Psalmist to help prepare us to stand before our creator. When we sing Lecha Dodi, do we mean it, or feel sadness at the end of Shabbos when we lose our Neshama yeseirah?
I saw a poster last night about a new shiur in Hilchos Tefillah. Quoting the Chafetz Chaim, and Rav Chaim Kanievsky, it asked “How can we daven, if we don’t know how to daven?”. However, the question, in relating it to halacha, is mistaken. Halacha teaches what to do during davening, not how to daven. Indeed, how can we daven if we don’t know how to daven? When we encourage our children or students to daven with kavanah, what do they think we mean? Even if they understand, have they ever truly learned how to daven?

While it is true, at least according to Rav Chaim Volozhin, that, when we are learning Torah, we should concentrate on the content of what we are learning, and not think about HaShem, do we do so beforehand or after we are finished? Do we learn Torah facts, or, as the gemara says in Maseches Shabbos, learn about, as it were, the soul of God?

It is said that the Kotzker Rebbe once asked his chassidim where God can be found. “Everywhere” they answered excitedly. “No” he replied. “He can be found wherever we let him in.

Are we truly letting him in?

To read my suggestions for how to work on Avodas HaShem click here

"Orthodox Judaism is drowning. We are drowning in Torah, mitzvos, and halacha. Drowning in mutar and assur and chayav...
Posted by Pesach Sommer on Tuesday, February 23, 2016

1 comment:

  1. The problem, as I repeatedly say, is two-fold:

    1- Frumkeit. To quote R' Wolbe:

    "וְאָמַר “סֹלּוּ! סֹלּוּ! פַּנּוּ-דָרֶךְ! הָרִימוּ מִכְשׁוֹל מִדֶּרֶךְ עַמִּי.
    And He will say, “Build it up! Build it up! Clear the way! Lift the stumbling-block out of the way of My people.
    – Yeshaiah 57:14

    On the narrow path to Truth in serving G‑d there is a major impediment which is called “frumkeit” (religiosity) – a term which has no clear and exact translation. “Frumkeit” is the natural urge and instinct to become attached to the Creator. This instinct is also found amongst animals. Dovid said, “The lion cubs roar for their prey and ask G‑d for their food” (Tehilim 104:21). “He gives to the beast his food and to the young ravens who call to Him” (Tehilim 247:9). There is no necessity why these verses should be understood as metaphors [and therefore they will be read according to their literal meaning]. Animals have an instinctive feeling that there is someone who is concerned that they have food and this is the same instinct that works in man – but obviously at a higher level....

    However this frumkeit, as in all instinctive urges that occur in man, is inherently egoistic and self-centered. Therefore frumkeit pushes man to do only that which is good for himself. Activities between people and actions which are done without ulterior motivations are not derived from frumkeit. One who bases his service of G-d entirely on frumkeit remains self-centered. Even if a person places many pious restrictions on himself – he will never become a kind person and he will never reach the level of being pure motivated. This is why it is necessary that we base our service of G-d on commonsense (da’as).

    Or from a very different angle, the closing words of R/Dr Haym Soloveitchik's "Rupture and Reconstruction":
    It is this rupture in the traditional religious sensibilities that underlies much of the transformation of contemporary Orthodoxy. Zealous to continue traditional Judaism unimpaired, religious Jews seek to ground their new emerging spirituality less on a now unattainable intimacy with Him, than on an intimacy with His Will, avidly eliciting Its intricate demands and saturating their daily lives with Its exactions. Having lost the touch of His presence, they seek now solace in the pressure of His yoke.

    The way Dr Soloveitchik describes it, it is not that we miss G-d because we're drowning in meeting the ritual requirements, we keep on looking for more ritual requirements because we forgot how to look for G-d. And hope that just the next halakhah, the next chumerah, will be the one in which that moment of connection "clicks".


    2- We can stand around and bemoan the state of Orthodoxy, but nothing will change. Not for Orthodoxy as a whole, but more importantly and closer to being within reach, not for the world you and I as individuals will be raising our children (or grandchildren) in.