Serving Hashem with Passion
The Gemara (Yoma 53-54) debates what happened to the Ark of the first Temple. The Ark of the second Temple was taken by the Romans to Rome, but what happened to the Ark of the first Temple? One opinion says that it too was also taken to exile by Nevuchadnezzer’s soldiers and brought to Bavel. According to a second opinion, the Ark of the first Temple is hidden beneath the Temple. King Solomon knew the Temple would one day be destroyed, so he prepared a hiding place for the Ark beneath the Temple. As the Prophet (Divrei Hayamim 35:3) states, “[Yoshiyahu HaMelech] said to the Levi’im… ‘Put the Holy Ark in the house that King Solomon built…’” The Redak explains, “Chazal say, Yoshiyahu commanded they conceal the Ark so it won’t be taken into exile…” The Redak elaborates, “[In the Temple] the Holy Ark lay on a stone, on the west side of the Holy of Holies. In front of it was the jug of manna and Aharon’s staff. When King Solomon built the Temple…he built a place to conceal the Ark…
Together with the Ark, they concealed Aharon’s staff, the jug of manna, and the anointing oil.” Where was this hiding place? There was a room in the northeast corner of the women's section of the Temple called the “wood storage.” This room stored the wood that would be placed on the altar. Cohanim checked each log, to ascertain it was fitting for the altar. If it had a worm, they would either throw it out (if it was in a fresh plank), or they would remove the worm (if it was in dry wood). King Solomon built a twisted tunnel beneath this room, which reached under the Holy Holies, and that is where the Ark was concealed. How do we know about this hiding spot? The Gemara (Shekalim 6:1, and Yoma 54.) tells the story: “A cohen with a blemish was checking and preparing the wood of the altar and noticed that one of the stones (on the floor) was [higher] than the others. He called to his friend, ‘Come look! There’s a tile here that’s different than the rest!’ He didn’t finish checking the matter and he died. That’s how they knew for certain the Ark was buried there. Reb Hoshei’a says the cohen hit the stone with a hammer and a fire came forth which burned him…. Reb Yishmael says two cohanim with blemishes were working on a log of wood. The hammer of one of them fell on the stone. A fire come forth and devoured him.” From this episode the Sages understood the Ark was buried there. The Mishnah (Shekalim 6:1) tells, the cohanim would bow down fourteen times in the Temple. Thirteen bows were for each time they passed one of the thirteen gates of the Temple. A fourteenth time was when they passed the wood storage. The Mishnah explains that they would bow over there “because they had the tradition from their forefathers that the Ark was buried there.” Why did King Solomon choose to build the tunnel specifically from under the wood storage? To answer this question, let us think about the thoughts of a young cohen who lived in the times of the Temple. His aspirations were to one day do the Service in the Temple. How he looked forward for when he would be old enough to bring sacrifices before Hashem! (Perhaps he had hopes of becoming the cohen gadol, too.) Suddenly, there’s an accident, and he gets a blemish. All his dreams are ruined. All he can do is check the logs for worms. (Cohanim who had a blemish worked in that room, because this was from the only service they could do.) As the cohen checked the wood, he put all his passion into this deed, because he can’t do anything else in the Temple. He carefully checked the wood, celebrating every moment, as he knew he was preparing them for Hashem. His heart was overflowing with emotion. (Maybe his emotions and passion were greater than other cohanim who could do many services, and became accustomed to serving in the Temple.) King Solomon said, the Holy Ark should be buried by the wood storage, because it is a place where there was so much emotion and devotion for Hashem. That is a fitting place for the Holy Ark.
It states in this week's parashah (11:13) “to serve Him with all your hearts” and our Sages say, “What is the service of the heart? It’s prayer.” The Chinuch (433) writes, "The Creator, who created them, wants they should have goodness… Therefore, He opened a window for them to get all their needs. That is to ask all their needs from Hashem, because He has the ability to fill all their needs, and He will answer those who call to Him truthfully."
The chassidim of Rebbe Pinchas of Koritz zt’l once heard their great Rebbe pray that the maid should return. The kabbalists among them sought to understand what this prayer means according to the secrets of kabbalah, but they couldn’t find an explanation. So they asked the Rebbe to explain what he meant by that prayer. The Rebbe explained, “My wife needs help, and the maid left. I prayed she should return.” The lesson is, one must pray for everything, because there is nothing we can attain on our own, without Hashem.
In the prayers of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we say, 'You are holy and awesome is your Name and there is no god besides You.' Rebbe Dovid of Tolna zt'l translated these words as follows: Hashem, You are very holy and awesome. It doesn’t seem proper that we should ask from You material things. How can we turn to the holy and great King of the world and request trivial matters?! But, behold, there is no other G-d than You. So where should we go when we need matters, if not to You?”
The Mahar'i Abuhav (quoted in Beis Yosef 95) teaches that we pray with our feet together to show that we can't go anywhere (like someone who has only one foot) and we can't do anything without Hashem. The Mahar'i Abuhav writes, "[The feet together] hints that he doesn’t have the ability to run and to get anything without Hashem." The Gemara says people disgrace prayer. My father zt’l explained that although everyone prays, and if you will ask them to express their feelings on prayer, they will tell you how important it is, nevertheless, they disgrace it, because they don’t appreciate just how much one can gain with prayer. People are prepared to do many spiritual remedies to get their requests, but one doesn’t need to look far. All one’s heart’s desires are available for him with prayer. We can compare it to someone who is prepared to travel all around the world to find a precious diamond. He has already bought plane tickets and is packing up to go. Someone tells him, "Look down and you will see the diamond is right in front of you." Similarly, we have the power of prayer, and anything we want can be attained through prayer. There is no need to seek elsewhere.
We say in Shemonah Esrei, “For You listen to the prayers of every mouth.” Some read פ with a pei, while others say it as a fei. The Beis Aharon zt'l would say "prayers of every mouth" with a pei, and he explained that the dot, the pintella, hints to the pintella in hartz, the sincere emotions of the heart. Thus, “You hear all prayers when they are said with the pintella hartz, emotionally, sincerely.” Because Hashem is close to everyone who calls Him, but the condition is to call out to Hashem truthfully and sincerely.
Rebbe Boruch'l of Mezhibuz would read "prayers of every mouth" with a fei, and he translated it as referring to the expression "feh," which people say when they see something disgusting. Thus, “For You listen to the prayers of every mouth.” means Hashem listens even to the prayers said without concentration, on which one would want to say "feh". Nevertheless, Hashem listens to "prayers of every mouth". Both translations are true. Therefore, before the prayer, remember the Beis Aharon's translation that one must pray with the pintella hartz, with full concentration. After the prayer, encourage yourself with Rebbe Boruch'ls lesson, that Hashem listens to prayers kol feh as well.
The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 18.) states, "Two people were equally ill…one became well the other one died. [Or, another story], two people went to court with the same court case: one was acquitted, the other wasn't. Why did one become well while the other one didn’t? Why was one cleared in court, while the other punished? The answer is… the one who prayed with concentration was answered. The one who prayed without concentration wasn't answered." How could it be they didn’t pray with concentration? Their life was at stake! The answer is, concentration has several levels. The perfect level of prayer is when one knows that only Hashem can help, and no one else. The person who knew that prayed with all his heart, and therefore his prayers were answered. The other thought that perhaps doctors could cure him, or a good lawyer would acquit him, and therefore he didn’t pray with complete concentration.
The Results of a Kind Gesture
Reb M. Y. Horowitz Shlita, chief court justice of Linsk, Boro Park, took out his cell phone, chose the "contacts feature” and pressed on one of the names. Immediately he realized he made a mistake. He accidentally called someone else with the same last name as the person he was trying to call. He decided he should let the call go through, just so he could hear how this man was doing. The person whom he accidentally called prays in his study hall. He was divorced, and at the time of this phone call, he was in Europe for the summer vacation. Reb Horowitz greeted him warmly and asked how he was. The man was startled. “It can’t be that you called just to ask me how I am.” Reb Horowitz insisted that he just wanted to hear how he was. The next time they met in Boro Park, the man said to Reb Horowitz, “You can’t imagine how much you helped me with your phone call. You know that I'm alone in the world, and you know I'm at a low level, spiritual-wise. When you called, I was in a hotel in Italy, at the gateway to Hell, ready to commit the worst. And then you called, just to ask how I am. I felt you blew life into me. I felt someone cares about me. This protected me from sinning…” This story happened three years ago. Today, this man has remarried and is building a faithful house in Israel. Let us learn from this story the following points: (1) Those who are involved in kiruv shouldn’t feel they aren’t succeeding. Sometimes, even a simple phone call can save a person’s life. Remember: One can be accomplishing a lot even when he isn’t aware of it. (2) Learn from this story how much Hashem strives to save those who have fallen to low levels. Even at the gateway of Hell, Hashem seeks to save him. (3) A timely phone call was just what this man needed. This is a reminder that Hashem leads the world with Divine Providence. Everything is perfectly arranged. (4) And this story is a reminder of the power of a kind word. How far it goes. How much it does for a person.
People can reach very high levels, but they need support. They need to hear that they are on the right path and that they can succeed. They need to hear an encouraging word, and then they will reach their potential. It states (Yechezkel 37) that in prophecy, Yechezkel HaNavi saw many dried up bones. “Hashem said to me, ‘Man, is it possible that these bones will one day come alive?’” Yechezkel replied, “Hashem, You know.” Hashem said to Yechezkel, “Tell a prophecy to the bones. Tell them, ‘Dry bones… So says Hashem, the Lord, I will bring a spirit into you and you will live. I will put sinews and flesh onto you, and cover you with skin. I will place a spirit (ruach) into you and you will live and know that I am Hashem.” After Yechezkel said this prophecy, the bones of each person came together and corpses were formed. “I saw sinews and flesh growing on the bones, skin covered from above… The spirit came, and they lived and they stood up on their feet, a very large army.” The Chasam Sofer zt’l explains that the bones in this prophecy represents people who are alive, but are living with sins. Hashem asked the prophet whether he thinks they can do teshuvah one day. The navi replied, “Hashem, You know.” He wasn’t certain. It seemed impossible. Hashem told the prophet that with encouragement, they can come back to life again. The sinews are hard (as Chazal call them hard like sinews). These represent the difficulties people go through to keep the Torah. Flesh and skin protect the human being, and represent the decrees, precautions, set by the Sages to protect the Torah. Hashem told him that they will keep the entire Torah, including the laws of the rabbis. All this will happen when they are encouraged and they believe that they can succeed in their teshuvah.
The Chasam Sofer writes, “Hashem told the prophet a great rule: Even the greatest wicked person, if you will guarantee him that he will become close to Hashem, he will willingly endure the bitterness of upholding the yoke of Torah with all its details. What holds him back is that he doesn’t think he can keep the Torah… Hashem encourages those bones, and you will live in the end. With that awareness, they will inevitably return [do teshuvah]… They will accept the Torah that is hard like sinews. They will accept the precautions of the Torah, which are represented by the flesh and the skin, which surround the Torah to protect it. They will get the 'spirit of Hashem' and they will live the true life.” Because everyone wants to do teshuvah. If they could know for certain that they will succeed, they will tread on this path. Only they are convinced that they won’t succeed, so they give up. If we can tell them that if they tread on the path of Torah they will merit a true life, a life with faith, a life feeling close to Hashem, then everyone — even sinners — will go on this path. Even Bilaam said (Bamidbar 23:10), “My end should be like the Jews.”
The Or HaChaim explains, “I met wicked people who told me straight out: if they could do teshuvah and die immediately, they would. Only they know that they can’t stay on the path of teshuvah for long. They feel they must obey the decrees of the the foolish old king, [the yetzer hara].” But they can succeed in teshuvah. They just need encouragement. Hashem told the bones, “You will live. You will succeed.” That message is all people need to hear in order to succeed in teshuvah.
A Moment of Life
Those who don’t do teshuvah (repentance) are wrong on two counts: One is, they can succeed in teshuvah. If they follow its path, they will live a truly holy life. It is in their hands. Their second mistake is, even if they can’t do a long lasting teshuvah, nevertheless, it is worthwhile for them to do teshuvah, even if just for a short while. One moment of teshuvah is invaluable. A proof to that is the following halachah: If there is an ill person who has to go to the hospital, you drive him there even on Shabbos. Even if you only save his life for a short while one is obligated to desecrate the Shabbos to do so. The Imrei Noam zt’l says: If a moment of life for a Jew is so precious that one desecrates Shabbos to save it, certainly a moment of a life with teshuvah and good deeds is extremely precious. One will never regret doing teshuvah. The reward for that moment will remain with him for eternity. On Yom Kippur we say, "We are permitted to pray with the sinners." This is because on Yom Kippur, everyone is doing teshuvah, and that makes everyone precious to Hashem. Even if after Yom Kippur the person returns to his old ways, that moment of teshuvah is special before Hashem.
Thursday, the 21st of Av, is the yahrtzeit of Rebbe Aharon of Belz zt'l. Rebbe Uri of Strelisk zt'l said that when one has something to say, but he refrains from saying it, it is equivalent to fasting 84 days. Rebbe Aharon of Belz zt'l added, "And I say (that it is worth far more than 84 fast days)." Once, when Rebbe Aharon of Belz zt'l was bending down to enter a taxi, he said, "If you want to get someplace in this world, you have to bend your head."
As a groom, the Rachmestrivka Rebbe shlita (of America) went to the Belzer Rav for a blessing and for hadrachah (marital advice). The Belzer Rav told him, "In this generation, people are emotionally weak, and therefore one must be cautious never to disregard another person's opinion. Even if you disagree, say, ‘I understand what you're saying, but I think things should be done this way.’ Don’t totally disregard what they say.” The Belzer Rav also told him that at the wedding he should be kind to the broken-hearted guests and to serve them cake, etc. The Belzer Rav would say that one shouldn’t tell others about the goodness of his children, because someone listening may not have such good children, and it will hurt him.
The Belzer Rav would never wake up another Jew except for kriyas Shema, because the Zohar states that if one misses saying the Shema, he is in niduy (ban) by heaven for the entire day. (The gaba'im tell that if one of the gaba'im accidentally missed saying Shema, he would be afraid to come in to the Rebbe that day.) Rebbe Aharon of Belz zt’l religiously adhered to all the customs and traditions he received from his father. The Belzer Rebbe had a motto by which he lived. He would say, (loosely translated), “A Jew mustn’t insist that things go his way.” Others have their own opinions about how things should be done, and one must take their view into account. Not everything has to be the way you see it. These two ideals were sometimes conflicting, and the Rebbe had to choose one over the other. This happened one motzei Yom Kippur. One of his chassidim, who was by him for Yom Kippur, received a telegram after Yom Kippur stating that his wife was in labor. This chassid didn’t want to come home without receiving a blessing from the Rebbe. Especially, now that his wife was in labor, he wanted a blessing that it should be an easy childbirth. But he knew the Rebbe doesn’t give blessings until after the motzei Yom Kippur Hamavdil tish.That was the Rebbe's tradition he received from his father, and a tradition the Rebbe didn’t want to change. What should he do? Should he wait until after the Hamavdil tish? Could he ask the Rebbe for a blessing before the tish? The chassid told his dilemma to Rebbe Moshe hy’d, the Rebbe’s son. Rebbe Moshe said, “The Rebbe will be coming down in a couple of minutes. Stand by the stairway, and when the Rebbe comes, ask him.” The chassid did that. He told the Rebbe about the telegram, and that he desires to receive the Rebbe's blessing before heading home. The Rebbe replied, half to himself and half to the chassid, "My father never wished people a good year before the Hamavdil tish, but a Jew mustn't insist to always have his way. He repeated these two sides of his dilemma several times, and then he said, "but a Jew mustn't insist to always have his way," and he gave his hand, and wished him a good year, and an easy childbirth. The Belzer Rebbe zt'l would often quote that phrase: but a Jew mustn't insist to always have his way. If we adopted that attitude, we will be saved from many disputes. Not everything must be exactly your way. May we go in his ways, and may his merit protect us and all of Klal Yisrael, Amen. - Rabbi Elimelech Biderman, shlit"a
The Zohar states,"There is nothing closer to Hashem than man’s heart. Hashem prefers the heart more than the sacrifices."