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art-newhouseSix days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have sanctity, a day of complete rest to the Lord; whoever performs work thereon [on this day] shall be put to death. — Exodus 35:2

We see with our own eyes how often a person neglects his duty in spite of his awareness of it and in spite of his having come to recognize as a truth what is required for the salvation of his soul and what is incumbent upon him in respect to his Creator. This neglect is due not to an inadequate recognition of his duty nor to any other cause but the increasing weight of his laziness upon him; so that he says, "I will eat a little," or "I will sleep a little," or "It is hard for me to leave the house," or "I have taken off my shirt, how can I put it on again?" (Canticles 5:3). "It is very hot outside," "It is very cold," or "It is raining too hard" and all the other excuses and pretenses that the mouth of fools is full of. Either way, the Torah is neglected, Divine service dispensed with, and the Creator abandoned. — Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, The Path of the Just, Chapter 6, pages 38-40

In parashat Vayakhel, Hashem gives instructions to Moshe regarding the Shabbat.  Immediately following that, the instructions regarding the building of the Mishkan and its details are given. With the list of materials and jobs to be done, it must have been a glorious production, complete with enthusiasm and diligence. But even in the midst of it all, we are given a period of time in which we may labor, and labor intensively.  But the Shabbat, an island of time, is not to be for participating in creating and destroying.  Rather, it is a time of avodah and personal soul growth and rest.  But as I see it, with the following quote from The Path of the Just, we don't have any excuses for why we aren't diligent on days one through six.  In fact, we are considered to be indolent when we are not doing what we should be — grand or not.

personal Mishkan construction

While we are not in the throes of building a Mishkan in the wilderness, we are very much in the midst of patching our own proverbial roofs or weeding our souls.  There is always spiritual work, as well as physical work on our own homes, that needs to be kept up on.  As B'nei Yisrael are commanded to bring materials that they have in order to complete the work and the assignments are given, we too live in the calling to be a people busy with the service of the Divine.  The jobs may be different, and sometimes the orders in our time might seem vague.  But we are called to keep up with the task and not rest, even if there is no hope of finishing it.

“The work is not yours to complete, and [yet] you are not free to abstain from it.” — Avot 2:16

There was much to do in the making of the Mishkan, and we can infer the only time they rested was when they slept or on the Shabbat.  But if we imagine that there was joy in the service they performed, then it was a labor of love and not one that was despised.  No doubt there was great joy in the building of the Mishkan.  But something was about to happen in the not too distant future:  they would finish.  And then what?  Would that same zeal and diligence that helped to build the Mishkan be present in their daily lives as they worshipped?  Ahh, now we are on to something: Diligence in the absence of excitement.

home ownership

While it is a thrill to buy your first home, get your first apartment, or whatever it is that you live in, ultimately that initial joy will fade and what will be left is maintenance.  Whether it is home maintenance or just the day to day grind of keeping things in order and clean, you are left with caring for what is yours.  This also goes for the soul.  Those who newly come into the throes of spirituality and finding Hashem and Yeshua are in a honeymoon phase of sorts.  Everything is wonderful and sparkles.  But how do we keep that feeling of wonder and remain diligent in our walk, when it might not seem as glitzy anymore?

In summation: A person needs great reinforcement to strengthen himself and persevere with alacrity in the fulfillment of the mitzvot.  This will be accomplished when he throws off the lethargic indolence that restrains him.  — Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, The Path of the Just, Chapter 6, pages 41

The antidote is in living.  It is in day to day experiences of living life to the fullest, in all manners, that we find true joy.  The honeymoon feeling is just the beginning.  The continuation of this joy is in commitment to doing whatever it takes on a daily basis to maintain that commitment.  And yes, even in the work there can be magic moments. Lethargic indolence comes simply out of wanting life's joys and not the hard work in between.

don't procrastinate, don't forget

As human beings, we have interesting ways of responding to repetition.  If an activity pleases us, we repeat it.  If we don't like it, we begin loathing and procrastination.  But as servants of the Divine, we are not called to cast it off if we don't want it.  We need to be honorable and attend to the task at hand. It might not have that honeymoon effect attached to it anymore, but we limit the possibilities of what it can bring to our lives in the way of endurance, faithfulness and consistency. We might not be weaving gold and silver thread in fantastic robes, we might not be in the job of a lifetime, but we are given life and the lot that comes with it.

If we meditate upon the things we are required to do in life, whether we like them or not, we can start to find new moments of joy in the fact that we have been given an opportunity.  We can train ourselves to not put off the undesirable jobs but to view them as stepping stones to the next moment in life. Accept all your moments as possibilities and embrace them as if you were building the Mishkan. Because whether you believe it or not, you are building a place for those who come after you who will need a space to do their divine service.  Make it beautiful through your daily diligence, bring back the sparkle, and know that your reward will be the Shabbat — a joyous moment in time celebrating your labors and perseverance.

torah Fri, 25 Feb 2011 18:21:00 +0000
avoiding flat tires http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/silence/item/402-avoiding-flat-tires http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/silence/item/402-avoiding-flat-tires

art-flattire Now we will discuss humility in relation to one's deeds.  This [subject] has four parts to it:  conducting oneself in a lowly manner; bearing disparagement; being averse to [positions of] authority and fleeing from honor; and respecting others.  --Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, The Path of the Just, page 156

It was Friday and as any Jewish woman can tell you, don't mess with Friday.  For myself, preparing for Shabbat in the Northwest is sometimes a marathon as we have very early candlelighting in December and January. As I walked out to my car, ready to leap forth in my Friday frenzy, the horror of horrors awaited me:  the back right side of my car was lowered to the ground with a flat tire.  Normally when this has happened, my husband wouldn't have left home for work yet, we would play car tag and get the tire would get fixed.  But there was no such luck today.  And worse yet, because he was under a hefty load at work with encroaching deadlines, I wasn't going to have my knight in shining armor pull up in the driveway and come to my rescue today. 

fix it yourself, maybe?

Now, I know what most of you are thinking....change the tire yourself, already.  Well, I thought of that except I have never changed my own tire.  So, endeavoring to fix my own situation rather than sit in the driveway, I tore apart the boot of my car and hauled out the tire changing kit.  The kit was so precious because it even included cloth gloves to put on so I wouldn't get my hands soiled.  This was handy considering I was in my nice wool coat and a skirt. It seemed only proper to have the gloves on while changing the tire. This was going to give the neighbors some entertainment.

But as I got everything out and tried to figure out where to put the jack, I was stuck.  I could really damage the car as well as get crushed if I did something foolish.  Worse than that, I couldn't even get the jack to open let alone know where to put it.  All the knowledge I had about many things in life wasn't going to get me anywhere with this.  I was doomed.  I was going to have to ask for help.

get by with a little help from my friends

As a principle, it is not that I don't want to ask people for help.  What it is more than anything is I hate troubling peopleI don't want to inconvenience people when I know their time is valuable.  And yes, at the core of this was some level of damage to my pride — the fact that in my whole life I had not even changed one tire.  I felt pathetic and humbled.  So I waltzed over to my neighbor's house, hoping they could help and that finally today I would indeed learn a valuable skill.

As I walked over to my neighbor's house, I knocked and waited hopefully for someone to answer.  When she did, I asked if there was anyone who could help me change my tire.  Thankfully, her son was home.  And like a small miracle, he could help and was accustomed to this kind of work.  He works on semis for a living.

As I walked to my car with him, I told him I just needed help and that he didn't have to do it all.  Besides, in my attire and with the rain coming down, I didn't want to stand there like some princess while he became soaked and dirty.

As we both figured out what was to be a unique car jack, he finally got the car up, the wheel off, and the spare put on.  Though it wasn't harder than I imagined, I know one thing for sure: whoever had put those lug nuts on the original tire put them on so well that only the persistence of this young man was able to get them off.  It would have challenged me and brought me to tears to even have gotten them off.  I needed the help, like it or not, and this young man walked away afterward thankful to have helped, and I thankful to have been helped.

flat tires for a reason

I truly believe that life has a way of throwing us flat tires for a very good reason.  We all become rather self-sufficient and self-confident in many areas of our lives.  True, we know our limitations.  But there is nothing like a monkey wrench in our lives to show us that there are other people in the world, and that there are other souls and moments we need to encounter to make us grow.  Our own self-worth and dependency on ourselves has the awful side effect of making us worship ourselves.  When we encounter our weaknesses and a situation that requires us to look outside of ourselves for solutions, then we are encountering God.  These situations of helplessness cause us to come in contact with the other divine sparks that He has placed in the world and to lower us to our rightful place.

As we return to Rabbi Luzzatto's expansion on what humility is, having humility helps us to handle these flat tires.  No doubt there will be moments of "flat tires" in our lives. In all honesty, we need them.  But if we master the manner in which we conduct oneself, handle obstacles and disparagement with grace, recognize our right place in society as well as our limitations,  control our desire to see ourselves in places of honor and authority, and respect others, then we will find that we will come to a place of peace within ourselves.  And with this peace, we will generate peace in others and in a greater way, within the world.  

Rejoice in your flat tires — don't avoid them.  View them as opportunities to encounter the Eternal in a beautiful way and to find out where those moments will lead you in humility.  No doubt you will experience more of a fullness of His creation and less of your own.


daily living Thu, 10 Feb 2011 20:13:00 +0000
do not kindle flame http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/silence/item/283-do-not-kindle-flame http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/silence/item/283-do-not-kindle-flame

art-candlesAs I write this my beloved wife is on the other side of the country for a weekend women’s retreat.   It is a Friday afternoon and my awareness of the coming Shabbat seems to be elevated in her absence.  The many things that I take for granted come to the forefront of my mind as those responsibilities shift to me this weekend.  The Shabbat is a wonderful thing for a family in this modern age of busyness and distractions.   The Shabbat comes whether we are prepared or not and can often be a great challenge to glide into smoothly. 

Ideally, we come home early from work or school and all help with the preparations for the final day of the week.  The reality is that if our week is off balance, we end up crash landing into Shabbat in the last hour or minutes before it starts.  The food is cooked, the table is set, Shabbat Candles are lit, and yet we are frazzled.  After a busy week, the last push for preparing for Shabbat can be a big stress and go against the very nature Shabbat should represent in our lives.  Shabbat Menucha (Sabbath Rest) seems like a utopian ideal on Friday nights.  Equanimity is definitely out the window.  The Torah warned us of this long ago.

לֹא תְבַעֲרוּ אֵשׁ בְּכֹל מֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם בְּיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת

You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwelling places on the Sabbath day. (Exodus 35:3)


Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twersky points out one of the sages’ key interpretations of this verse.

Of all the activities that are forbidden on Shabbos that are derived by Talmudic exegesis, the Torah singles out one: "You shall not kindle a flame in all your dwellings" (Exodus 35:3). Rabbi Chaim of Czernovitz (Siduro shel Shabbos) explains that in addition to being a forbidden type of work, making a fire also refers to the flame of rage. Inasmuch as rage is forbidden at any time, the special precaution means that we must make extra effort to avoid anger on Shabbos.

In the hustle of getting things ready for the “Shabbat Crash Landing” we find our expectations way out ahead of our preparations.  We all expect Shabbat to be the refuge we need and hope for all week.  We put our lofty expectations on this one day because it forces us to stop from the busyness and distractions.   Shabbat and pre-Shabbat are the times when we are most susceptible to anger and disappointment.  Often we or someone else misses the mark in getting ourselves ready for the big day.

In our pursuit of menuchat hanefesh (calmness of the soul / equanimity), we must make sure to keep the big picture of time and preparation for Shabbat through our week.  Ideally, each day in the week should be a day of counting toward the next Shabbat.  Our anticipation of the special day should be accompanied by small acts of preparation through the week so we are not stressed at the end.  These small acts take very little time, but stave off the calamity of doing everything at the last minute which can anger the soul.  These are not only practical acts, but spiritual acts of connection to the best day of the week.  Keeping the “big picture” of our week in perspective will help us balance our time, resources, and spiritual diligence in all things.

The preparation for Shabbat serves as a model for all that we accomplish in life.  Preparation relieves heartache, anxiety and anger.  The middah of order (סֵדֶר) here intersects with our pursuit of equanimity.  As you end the Shabbat, and light the havdalah candle to say goodbye to the week, I encourage you to start looking forward to the next Shabbat.  Plan out your week.  When the unexpected happens you’ve already covered for the expected.

As we snuff out the havdalah candle and sing “Eliyahu Hanavi,” our anticipation is drawn to the next Shabbat and Yeshua, who is the Lord of the Shabbat.  Our anticipation is drawn to him as we live our week and prepare for the messianic era of Shabbat Menucha, a time of rest for our souls.

Shabbat Shalom!

torah Fri, 08 Oct 2010 20:51:28 +0000