Post Archive for July 2018

Shabbos Parashas Mattos-Masei

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaDaas (Gate of the Intellect), Chapter 5
Now, my dear soul, walk about and survey your path, listen to what you say, ponder your deeds, and see how your actions contradict your words. You speak constantly of fear and love of Hashem, you serve your Master and pray to Him, but virtually all of this is falsehood. For your do not examine your service to Hashem, to judge whether it is true service or not; instead you act just like a horse or a mule with no understanding [cf. Tehillim 32:9]. For if you truly accepted upon yourself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, offered your prayers to Hashem earnestly, and poured out your supplications before Him, why do you show no signs of submission to Hashem, like a servant before his master? Consider how much fear and trembling come upon you when you stand before some government official, how carefully you obey his orders. Go take your service to Me and the honor you show Me and offer them to one of these officials! [cf. Malachi 1:8] How is it that your limbs remain firm when you come to pray before the King of Kings, to whom sovereignty truly belongs? How is it that you say “Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the Universe,” and you speak these words just like you speak to your children or your friends? You walk about secure and calm, like a person who owes no debts and has no demands on him. Where is your wisdom, your declaration that you fear God?
If someone would ask you about this world, you would say it is vanity of vanities, a deception. But you pursue worldly matters with all your strength and rejoice in your worldly attainments. And if you lose some money, you get upset and agitated. You put yourself in great risk for money, you travel across the seas. And all that for temporary pleasures. When Rosh Hashanah comes you recite aloud the words of the Unesaneh Tokef prayer: “Behold, the Day of Judgment! … On Rosh Hashanah it is written and on the fast day of Yom Kippur it is sealed. How many will pass on and how many will be born. Who will live and who will die ….” Yet your heart is secure, your inner strength is firm. Consider how you would act if you were in the forest and you heard the sound of a fierce wild animal. Think about how you would be struck with fear and trembling, how your limbs would virtually come out of joint, how you would be seized with panic – even though the danger you face threatens only the body. If you really took to heart what you are saying when you recite the Unesaneh Tokef prayer, that today is the Day of Judgment on all mankind, body and soul, and your life is hanging in the balance, your heart would sway like trees swaying in the wind.
In truth, your heart is devoid of any real awareness of these matters. The words you utter with your mouth are just words you accustomed yourself to say over the years. If you scrutinize yourself, you will recognize your foolishness, and you will see that you have not reached even the beginning of true intellect – you are virtually bereft of true human understanding.
So make a fresh start. Imagine you were created just today. Marvel over your existence, and over the existence of all that your eyes see. How did all this come into being? Marvel over it all, the way you marvel when you come upon something new. If you ponder the world in this way, you will guide yourself wisely to the true path and achieve true success. Learn to know in your heart that there is a great and awesome God who created and watches over the world. Then you will fear Him and be abashed before Him, and you will serve Him truly and wholeheartedly, with fear, love, and submissiveness. You will act the way a person acts in the presence of a king – heart melting like wax in the presence of fire. As David HaMelech puts it (Tehillim 2:11), as you rejoice in serving Hashem you will tremble.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Pinchas

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaDaas (Gate of the Intellect), Chapter 4 (end)
There are two major differences between the system of natural drives and the intellect. First, the drives develop before the intellect. The drives begin developing and operating right after a person is born, whereas the intellect, although it is the key element that Hashem had in mind when He created man, develops only later. As the saying goes, סוף מעשה במחשבה תחילה – it is the end product that was first in mind. We can draw an analogy to growing grain. Growing grain requires plowing, planting, and working the ground. It is on account of the grain that the farmer undertakes this long process. But the grain emerges only in the end, when the stalk is fully developed. Similarly, the intellect emerges only in the end, when a person’s soul-system is fully developed.
Second, the drives operate on a person by coercion. For example, a person might not want to eat at a particular moment, and might not be thinking about eating, but the drive of hunger prods him to eat. By contrast, an exercise of the intellect is an action that is possible for a person to carry out, but he is not compelled to do so. A person can choose to focus on a certain matter to understand it. But he can also choose to turn his mind aside from it, and then he will have no better grasp of it than an animal. This principle applies to everything a person sees, hears, or encounters. A person can see something a hundred times, but if he does not pay attention and endeavor to undertand it, he will not grasp it. The same is true of what a person hears.
The principle can even apply to a person’s own speech. A person can utter certain sentences solely out of habit, with the lips moving on their own while his mind is elsewhere. For example, most people mention with some frequency that they have been brought into existence by the Creator for a set period, and they do not know whether they will be alive at the same time tomorrow, but their hearts are oblivious to this fact. For if their words came from the depths of their hearts, and they had a true awareness of their mortality, they would immediately be filled with worry over their fate and they would give up their attachment to the myriads of trivial worldly pleasures. It is clear that when most people speak of death they do not really register what they are saying. Regarding this unattentiveness, it is written (Tehillim 49:14): “With their mouths [alone] they accept their destiny.” In a lament before Hashem, Yirmiyahu speaks in a similar vein, saying (verse 12:2): “You are close in their mouths, but distant from their thoughts.”
The Gemara in Shabbos 31b states: “Not only do the wicked not tremble and worry over the day of death, their hearts are as firm as an edifice.” We can bring out the idea with an analogy. There are three approaches a merchant can take in deciding how much money to take on a business trip. The first type of merchant takes more than he expects to need, bearing in mind than unexpected expenses may arise. The second type takes exactly the amount he expects to need. And the third type does not even take with him enough for normal hotel bills. Similarly, there are three approaches a person can take in relating to his mortality. The first type of person takes a cautious approach, choosing the secure path and following Shlomo HaMelech’s advice (Koheles 9:8): “Always make sure your clothes are white.” Even in his early years he bears in mind that death can come unexpectedly at any moment. The second type assumes that the length of his life will be as expected; it is only in his old age that he prepares himself for the next world and mends his behavior. And the third type takes a super-confident approach and acts as if he will never die. The Gemara is saying that the wicked not only reject the cautious approach, but they go to the other extreme and adopt the super-confident approach.
The reason people talk without paying attention to what they are saying is that the ability to speak does not depend on the ability to understand. A baby starts making speaking sounds before he understands what he is saying. He simply mimics what he hears, like a parrot that has been trained to say words. The parrot’s ability to say the words does not imply that it has the ability to understand what it is saying; after all, it is only a parrot, and it has no intellect.
The evil inclincation casts a cloak over a person’s mind, leading him into a state of being unaware of the import of his actions. It heaps a thick layer of mud even over very commonplace considerations, thereby keeping the person from properly recognizing them. Thus, a person fails to pay attention to his existence, how he came into being, his essence and his qualities, and his purpose. He does what he does only because this way of life was passed down to him by his parents. He saw what they did, and he does the same. But he acts without discernment and understanding, and he does not take care to carry out these actions in the correct manner with adherence to all the details.