Monday, March 24, 2014

Breaking Bread

"Apparently," Ma says, "I am supposed to do a 'challah party,' whatever that means." 

Ma has to occasionally to fend off unasked-for segulos to undo the "tragedy" that is my single state. 

You know my opinion of segulos. But I'll take it one step further. 

If something can be gained by shortcuts, is it worth having?

Consider the words of the venerable Yoda: "If you choose the quick and easy path . . . you will become an agent of evil."
Humans like new and shiny things; that is an evolutionary inclination. But we seem to forget that for God, Who is outside of space and time, there is no "new." He has seen it all, since He has created it all. 

When illness strikes, one could think, "Ah! I'll visit the kever of a rabbi and daven!" But in the meantime, her elderly mother is left alone for the afternoon. Sure, catering to one's parents may not be glamorous, but she is alive and needs to be cared for—and that is a mitzvah, as well as a priceless zechus

There is no textual backup for davening at the kever of someone who has no connection to you (there is only in the case of visiting one's own "bones," one's own ancestors). It may be different, it may be interesting, but that is not what God has asked of you. He told us what He wants, very clearly. It is not up to our small human minds to "improve" upon His requirements; we were told quite explicitly not to add or to subtract from the laws of our faith.

If someone becomes sick, our first, natural reaction is to pray. We apportion Tehillim, we apply extra fervor to our Shmoneh Esreis. Of course we should daven. But we have lost the true true intent of praying for another. 
The Chovos Halevavos writes that the purpose of tefilah is not to change the Ribono Shel Olam's mind but rather to change ourselves. It is to bring us to the realization that our fate is completely dependent on His will and that we can only survive through His mercy. The very act of tefilah elevates, exalts and transforms us, so that we're no longer the same people as we were before . . .
But the question remains. If tefilah works only because it transforms the one who davens and thereby changes his destiny, how does tefilah for other people work? . . . 
I asked this question to Rav Elya Lopian, and he gave me a very succinct answer. "When people daven for another person, they become like his talmidim in that he is the catalyst for them to gain merit." 
In other words, whenever a person causes a good thing, whether consciously or unconsciously, he gains merit. Rabbi Matisyahu Solomon, With Hearts Full of Love, Page 267
It's not about "storming the gates of heaven." This is God we're talking about, not a cackling Mr. Burns. We're thinking of Hashem in the wrong way, as though He is a vindictive pagan deity who has to be convinced. 

Prayer for its own sake does nothing. If we mumble and rattle off the words, does it change us or the world? We have to focus, and that is hard.

And after that, what is the next thing? 

"Teshuva, u'tefilah, u'tzedakah maavirin es roah ha'gezeirah." We attempt the first, definitely attack the second, but we forget about the third. Tzedakah is usually translated as "charity," but it literally means "justice." 

"Justice" is how we treat others. Justice is helping another human being, who breathes, who hurts. Our first deference is to the living, to their souls as well as bodies. 

"What if," Ma said, "instead of organizing 'challah parties,' we each made a point not to say one hurtful thing to someone a day? Then, after a while, we can move that up to two hurtful things, left unsaid?"

Anyone with a sense of history will realize that when it comes to the mundane of the day-to-day, our generation has had it easier than any other ever before. (I don't have to launch into a rendition of "Food, Glorious Food," do I?)

But we expect that same level of comfort for even the tough stuff. We want the dazzling entertainment of newly discovered segulos, instead of hurdling ourselves into major internal renovation, which calls for strength of will and consistent concentration. 

If we don't establish our existential foundations with vital values, there will be cracks and faulty wiring. We must go back, go back to what was codified by the ancients as the true path, before haring down unofficial roads.    


sporadicintelligence said...

Ye...the way we teach children about tefilah when they're younger in order to excite them (It's like a fairy godmother!) does them a disservice when they are older because they're still waiting for the miracle, when they themselves are supposed to be that.
Rabbi Akiva Tatz has wonderful explanation of tefilah that takes "Davening changes you" a step further.

He explains that you daven not just to change you, but to change your ratzon, who your neshama is, because we can change everything about ourselves through small steps and work, but who you are in essence no one but Hashem can change, and that's what you're davening for, to change who you are fundamentally in order that things that you want and seek will now good for you.

On a superficial level - don't pray "Hashem make me Rich", more like " Hashem make me a person that being rich will be a good thing"

FrumGeek said...

@sporadicintelligence: I love that way of looking at it!

Sporadic Intelligence said...

FG: Me Too :) It works

Grace said...

I think this may be one of your most profound posts yet. I literally got chills! Thank you so much.

When I'm in Israel and I buy a "red string", I don't do it because I think the string has any properties to it. I do it for the parnossa of the person who is providing it, and by taking something in exchange I am also giving them their dignity.

Princess Lea said...

SI: Very much so. So when we sob and plead and what we asked for doesn't come to pass, we say things like "Hashem wasn't listening." Hashem is NOT a fairy godmother! (I love it.)

If we consider davening as a form of meditation, that we use this time to take stock of who we are and what our priorities are, then that is most definitely an opportunity for change.

I have a little cousin who's sick. My 7-year-old niece asked me the other night, "Are you saying Tehillim for Avrohom ben Leah?" I was able to tell her this Rabbi Solomon, that if you do any mitzvah or are nice to someone because he inspired you, that is just as important.

FG: It's fabulous!

Grace: THAT is tzedakah! Giving another person parnossah and dignity!

My grandmother has a shtickel chassidish blood so she kept a bundle of red string in the closet and would tie a string around a new baby's wrist. But she did it altz sentimentality for her childhood, not because she thought it had any power at all.

FrumGeek said...

My Hungarian grandmother (who isn't chassidish) believes in almost all 'segulos', sometimes at the expense of normal, rational common sense :/

Princess Lea said...

See, a fellow Hungarian understands that not all Hungarians are chassidish, only a small percentage, in fact. If she's Oberlender, then her father's ghost shall haunt her.