Thursday, December 31, 2009

VeYechi 5631 First Ma'amar - Practical Application

Thank you all for your comments.  I appreciate them.  I've decided to move forward with my idea of bringing the teachings of the Sfas Emes to practical application.  As LBC pointed out in a comment, this was the point of Polish Chassidus in the first place, to apply esoteric concepts to our daily lives.

For those of you who like the blog as is, I point out again that the archive contains nearly 300 ma'amarim, enough to fill a medium size book of 600+ pages.  So, there is certainly a lot of material.

Before each post I will put a link to the ma'amar that the post discusses.

I want to stress that the new format will be successful with your input.  The purpose is to really try to live the teachings.  The Sfas Emes did not write his Toros for there "nice vort" qualities although they certainly do have that.  He wrote them, and primarily spoke them on Shabbos and Yomim Tovim to convey teachings that he wanted his Chassidim to follow.

The postings will therefore include suggestions for action and techniques for inculcating the teachings into our lives.  Here, you and I will have an opportunity to share our results with others. My suggestions are simply that.  They're not halacha l'moshe misinai and if something else works better, then please let us all know!

Click here for the Ma'amar:VaYechi 5631 First Ma'amar (opens in new window)

A common theme throughout the Sfas Emes’s writings is that the world as we see it hides God.  To experience God, it is crucial to strengthen our faith in the truth of this idea.  God is here with us.  The world conceals Him.  The world itself as we live our daily lives is a test of faith.

The Sfas Emes explains the meaning of “ויחי יעקב בארץ מצרים/Ya’akov lived in Egypt” (In every other instance in the Torah the word ויחי is used to signify the length of someone’s life, not where he dwelled.) as Ya’akov Avinu was on such a high spiritual level that he knew this, not believed it strongly, but knew it, the way that we know that the sun is shining.  He lived in the sense of being connected with God, the ultimate “living”.

Being in decadent Egypt did not phase him because he “saw” God clearly even there.  For his children, though, Egypt presented a powerful test of faith.  Although Ya’akov Avinu was prevented from teaching his children to reach his level, he did teach them about strengthening their belief that God is with them always.

Although we cannot reach Ya’akov’s level of knowing that God is here with us the way that we know the sun is shining, we can still experience God by strengthening our belief that he is here with us. 

What has this to do with our daily lives?  Just this.  The Sfas Emes teaches that exile means God’s concealment.  For example, in Maseches Yoma 38b we find that Chazal understood that when God said, "אשכח בניך גם אני .../... I will forget your children as well" (Hoshe'a 4:6), it refers to the Jewish people being exiled.  By extension, the Sfas Emes teaches elsewhere, any challenging situation we find ourselves in, also means God has concealed Himself from us.  Redemption and by extension the resolution of problems that we face means a Godly revelation.

The situations that we face, whether they be issues with raising children, financial, health or any other issue that causes unpleasantness in our lives, do not have a life of their own.  They are no more and no less than a screen that hides God.  Because if God is revealed, there is no unpleasantness.  It is a contradiction in terms. 

So, by revealing God, we can find the solution to the problems we face.   How can we reveal God?  The Sfas Emes teaches that we can reveal God by strengthening our belief that there is absolutely no power in the world besides Him.  This is easier said that done, of course.  Our surroundings blind us at every step.  We must believe something that we cannot see and that our surroundings belie.

But since the results of strong faith in God are solutions to our problems and bliss in this life, I am strongly motivated to find a way.  How?

This is where the Sfas Emes ends and I tell you what I think.  The Sfas Emes, does not tell us here how to strengthen our faith.  No techniques are given.

I submit that we can strengthen our faith that there is no power in the world beside God and in fact the world is only a screen that blocks us from experiencing Him by viewing the world for what it is.  The world is a test of faith.  Everything that happens to us, from stubbing a toe to going bankrupt, is a test of faith.

It is not terribly difficult to internalize the belief that that the world is a test of faith when you are not being tested directly.  However, what do you do when you’ve been looking for a parking spot for 15 minutes, and are late for an important business meeting.  You finally find a spot, set yourself up to parallel park and just then someone enters the spot nose first!

If your like me, your first reaction is to jump out of the car and wring the guy’s neck!  But, really, this situation was set up by God.  The other guy has his own issues.  He exercised his free choice and decided that the spot was for him, or maybe he did not notice you were about to back in to it, or maybe his wife is about to give birth in the back seat.  But you had no choice here.  So, God brought this situation about specially for you and if you really believe it, then you would not be angry at the other driver.  So, you see, it’s a set up to test your faith. 

How do we cultivate this belief so that it becomes second nature.  Here’s my proposal.  Let’s do an exercise.  During the next three days from the time you read this, commit that no matter what happens to you, good or bad, you will immediately, say out loud, “I choose to recognize that God set this situation up to test my faith in Him.  There is no power in the world that can benefit me or harm me outside of God.”[1]  I say, “good or bad” because it is easy to have a success and give yourself all the credit.
Let’s do this for the next three days and then report back here to share our experiences.  Hatzlacha to us all!

Remember that this is simply my suggestion.  If you try it and find that something else works better, or that the suggestion can be refined, please let us all know.  Thanks!

[1] This is based partially on the Nefesh HaChayim in Sha’ar 3 Perek 12.  It’s very encouraging.  Read it if you can.  In short, he writes that it’s a segulah to remove yourself from challenging situations to say and establish clearly in your heart that there is no power in the world besides God and therefore nothing besides God can have any effect on you.


D.A. said...

I took great interest in your new approach and hope to partake in these practical applications. Focusing on revealing Hashem in daily activities is definitely in the spirit of derech HaBesht, and even more so when joining with others in this effort. Maybe this is the beginnings of a true Conscious Community.

Moshe David Tokayer said...

The power of like minded people striving together towards the same goals cannot be overestimated.

Rav Elazar Askari zt"l, author of the Sefer Chareidim, who lived in Tzfat at the time of the Arizal and the Gadol Hador of the generation, Rav Yosef Karo, created what can only be described as a Conscious Community. He called it Sukat Shalom.

His group and, lehavdil, the C.C. groups of today are localized so that people actually meet.

The challenge is to achieve a virtual community that has the power of a local physical community. How do we do this?

Moshe David Tokayer said...

Well, I'd like to share my experience regarding this exercise. Here's what I noticed. The difficult part for me was to remember. It seems that unless something big happens, chas vesholom, I tend to react from the gut and then move on. Like the example I gave in the blog about someone taking my "my" parking spot.

If something big happens, I say it was from Hashem and I turn to Him. But for the small annoying things, it's difficult to get out the gut reaction mode.

The avodah then becomes remembering at the time of the event to react differently.

Well, knowing what the avodah is, is important, too!

Long Beach Chasid said...

I love this new way of delivering the light of the Sfas Emes to the world. I think that it is very beneficial to apply the Chassidus to ones life and not just leave with lofty ideas and great stories. One must have all of the above. Its very interesting that your example is something that happened to me last week.

I work in a high-rise next to a mall and we park in the mall structure because its free (go figured :D). Well because of Nittle Nact sales and After Nittle Nact Sales and After After Nittle Nact Sales the place was packed. Not only did it take me 15 minutes to find parking but when I had to go re-park my car after 3 hrs it took almost 20. I started to get really frustrated that all these cars we getting parking spots I was trying to go for.

Then I realized...

Finding parking is on a very small scale like life. Hashem has a specific parking spot for me and it might take a little longer to get to but that is the perfect one. Who knows if I was able to steal a spot form someone else that could have been a spot destined to have their car broken into or a spot where someone was supposed to leave a light on and have the car batter die.

After that I was so happy and waited a little longer and found a spot right next to the elevator.

Baruch Hashem. If we just let go a little and brush off the ego and say "Hashem you are running the show so just let me know what I need to do." We are the actor/actress in life and Hashem is the producer/director. Imagine if the actor ran the show. It would be a disaster because an actor doesnt have a single clue how to run a show properly. We need to leave it to Hashem the Director.

I will probably write a blog about this. Thanks for the inspiration. Kol Tuv.

Moshe David Tokayer said...


Great story!! The first half of your comment had me laughing out loud. It's so so common, and you hit the nail on the head. If we realize when the event is happening to leave a bit for Hashem, He'll send us what we need. The problems start when we don't let Him into the picture.

Beautiful. Thanks.