Finding our own path within Judaism

I know many people who struggle because they feel they have to study and partake of areas in learning that they are not getting satisfaction from.  I myself go through this at times as well.  As such, it is good to find vignettes among the great Rabbis indicating the need for finding one’s own path.  Recently, on the dixieyid blog,  the author shared a piece from Rav Kook on the subject of why people go “off the derech.”  The main idea behind Rav Kook’s words is that streamlining all people is dangerous because we are individuals who have different intellectual desires.  I think it is important to focus on his thoughts as means to understand that each of us can find our place in study and thought. 

Some have gone off the derech of Yiddishkeit because in their learning and in their path to spiritual perfection, they betrayed their own personal, unique nature. Some are more fit for Agada, and halacha (modern pilpul/lomdus) is not in their nature as a *primary* way of learning. Because such people [have not been taught to] value and recognize their unique talents in Agada, they immerse themselves in Halacha as is customary [in yeshivos today].

But such a person feels an inner opposition to what he is learning because that which he is investing himself in is not in accordance with his essential nature. If, however, he would find the area where his talent and interests lie, and he would fulfill that by making that area of Torah which fits with the nature of his soul his primary area of learning, he would immediately recognize that the inner opposition he used to feel was not due to any deficiency in the holy and essential Halacha area of Torah learning.

Rather, he would know that his soul simply required a different area of learning as his primary study. Such a person would remain faithful in a beautiful way to the holiness of Torah. He would become great and strong in the area of Torah which speaks to him. In addition, he will assist those whose primary learning is in Halacha to also taste the sweetness of Agada.

But when a person does not [or is not given the option to] recognize the true reason for his inner opposition to what he is learning, and he attempts to overpower his own nature [because he is taught that there is only *one* correct way to learn Torah], then the moment some options for a non-Torah way to live are opened up for him, he will break out and then hate and become any enemy of Torah and emunah. He will go from one sin to another, and we know what such people have wrought. They attempt to create that which they envision as the ideal way of the world and they attempt to blind “the eye of the world.”

There is a great variety of areas of Torah learning which are fitting to the great variety of individual souls’ natures. Some people are even drawn to specific areas of secular wisdom. Even such people should go according to their inner nature and they must set aside specific times for learning Torah. If they do this, they will succeed at both because “Torah together with the way of the world is beautiful.” And the gemara at the end of Yuma discusses how to establish the right balance of primary and secondary for such people. In general, this whole subject is dependent on the character and nature of each individual person’s soul. (Emphasis and explanatory parentheticals added.)

Advertisements

Musings for Elul

I came across R. David Goldwasser’s book Elul  at shul and decided to read it during Shabbat.  I came across two stories in his work which I want to share.  These are good thoughts for pondering as we get ready for Rosh Hashanah.

1.  “In our bais medrash, I noticed that there was one young married man who never missed a minyan, no matter how difficult it was for him.  He would always be among the עשרה ראשונים – the first ten.  One day there was a tremendous snowstorm.  Only three people had made it to the early minyan on time.  He was one of the three. 

Finally, I asked him, ‘How is it that you never miss one day and are so medakdek – careful – in coming to minyan, especially on a day like this?’

He answered me that as a teenager he was a little bit weak in shemiras hamitzvos.  His father was a very pious man.  The father used to come in every morning to wake him up to go to minyan, knowing full well that it was a tremendous nisoyon – challenge – for his son to get up and daven with the tzibbur.  Instead of rebuking the son, the father in gently waking him would always say: My son, it is time to get up for minyan.  But if you are going to remain in bed, sleep well.  And then he would proceed to make sure that I was covered properly with the blanket. 

The young man continued to tell me that on the day his father was niftar, he promised the Ribbono Shel Olam that he would always be medakdek in tefillah b’tzibbur.

דברים בנחת תהא נשמעים (p. 67 – 68)”  

 2.  “The Simchas Higayon explains that the way of the world is that when a person rents a house to his friend, he writes a lease in which he stipulates that one month before the lease expires the renter must inform him whether he wishes to renew the lease for another year.  In some places it is customary to pay up any outstanding rent of the previous year, as well as advance payment for the first month of the new lease.

However, there are people who, since they are so busy, forget this stipulation in the lease and they don’t notify the landlord until the last week of the year.  That last Shabbos, when the person is sitting at his Shabbos table relaxing in comfort, he remembers that it is almost the end of this year’s lease, and he still hasn’t told the landlord that he wants to stay.  He is afraid that maybe the landlord may have already rented his place to someone else.  He is troubled and distressed. ‘Where will I go?’

Therefore, on Motzoei Yom Menucha he runs with all of his strength to the landlord.  Maybe – just maybe – he can still obtain a lease for the coming year. 

We can well apply this story to ourselves.  Every year the Ribbono Shel Olam gives us a lease.  But one month before the year is up, Chodesh Elul, we need to come and ask that Hashem should ‘renew our lease.’  In fact, there are those that begin Selichos from the start of Elul.   However, because we are busy, we forget the stipulation.  We have forgotten to appear before the landlord to state our request.  On the holy Shabbos, when we relax in comfort we remember: we still didn’t tell the ba’al habayis (landlord) our request for another year of brocho – blessing.  What do we do?  On Motzoei Shabbos (Saturday night) we run to plead with and supplicate the Master of the World to ‘renew our lease’ for the coming year.”

Judith Johnson: Honoring Your Personal Pace

Sometimes, when you are looking for inspiration, it finds you.  In my email this morning was a link to the post linked below, about finding the right balance in life.  Feeling at a crossroads, it was good timing. 

Life appears easier when we are in the groove of our own pace and so very stressful when we are out of it. Being out of sync may not be the biggest problem in our life, but the discomfort it generates can often be avoided by checking in and taking corrective action when we get out of our groove.

Finally, when you notice that you are in your groove, going with the flow of life and enjoying your journey, pay attention to how you created that and do more and more of that. Turn on your cruise control and enjoy the ride.

via Judith Johnson: Honoring Your Personal Pace.

Did you have a calling?

When I was doing my CPE training, one of the most fascinating questions posed was, when did you get called.  In many religious traditions, clergy often are those who claim to have a had a calling from G-d.  This tends to be some form of event or conversation that triggers one to change one’s life and devote it to spreading the religion of which they are a part of.  When I would try to explain that in the Orthodox Jewish world, the idea of calling is not something prevelant, the non-Jewish clergy would struggle to fully grasp that concept.  Yet, I also go on to explain how I sense that my career in hospice chaplaincy was like a calling in the sense that all other avenues I thought of trying were turned off from me. 

I recently found a quote which to me sums up my response to the question:

When Christian ministers aske me at what age or on what occasion I received my calling as a rabbi, I often find myself hesitating over how to respond.  If I answer that it began when I entered yeshivah at age five to study Bible and Talmud, they might believe that I am likening myself to Jeremiah, who received his prophetic calling as a child.  If I tell them that I have never received a calling but was ordained after my teachers concluded that I was intellectually capable of rendering competent decisions regarding what is prohibited and permitted by Jewish law, they might be shocked at meeting a modern version of a Pharisee.  They could perhaps find confirmation for the allegation that legalism had replaced the living guidance of God.  How could I, they might wonder preach the word of the Torah without first experiencing God’s direct active guidance in my life?  How dare I assume responsiblity to mediate the living word of the God of Israel without being assured that I was called upon by God to undertake this sacred mission?  Yet, as a traditional halakhic Jew, I know that a rabbi is a teacher whose spiritual role is premised on possession of an intelligent understanding of the Jewish tradition and a commitment to the Jewish people.  A direct call from God is not required to legitmize activity as a rabbi in Israel.  (David Hartman, A Living Covenant p. 5)

 

Its ok for you but not for me

The following is a quote from last week’s Mishpacha magazine in an interview with the principal of the Boro Park Beis Yaakov:

In pedagogy, Rabbi Ehrenreich was profoundly influenced by his rosh yeshivah, Rav Reuven Grozovsky, one of the first mechanchim in America to guide his talmidim in the reality of daas Torah, showing them how the timeless wisdom of Torah addresses contemporary issues.

‘In 1948, when each day’s headlines brought a fresh round of questions, the rosh yeshivah would sit with a group of talmidim and explain the significance of each development, each historic breakthrough.  He would ask a bochur to read for him, since he didn’t want to read from a newspaper, but he would comment on everything.  It was a marvel to observe his acuity, his perception of mili d’alma.  That’s chinuch.

Isn’t it amazing that a Rosh Yeshivah who supposedly didn’t want to read the newspaper would have a student read from it.  If it is bad for the teacher, how much more so should it have been bad for the student.  To me, this is a clear cut example of לפני עור לא תתן מכשול, putting a stumbling block before the blind.  I often find the stories told about great rabbis are full of behaviors which are inspiring but rather head scratching.