Thursday, February 18, 2010

Terumah 5361 First and Second Ma'amarim - Practical Application

This essay is based on Terumah 5631 First Ma’amar.  Clicking on the previous words will bring you to the ma’amar on the blog. (Opens in a new window.)

When it comes to serving God, many times we find ourselves overwhelmed by the sheer immensity of the task that lies before us.  The truth is that fulfilling God’s will is an even greater task that we can imagine.  It is actually beyond our capabilities.  God, after all, is infinite and we are finite.  How can we possibly satisfy the infinite?  How can we even begin to understand it?

In this ma’amar the Sfas Emes teaches us that to the extent that we desire to accomplish God’s will and trust in Him, He will help us.  Our desire is the key to success.  The Midrash says that after a sale, the seller no longer has any connection with the object that was sold.  However, God “sold” us the Torah and Himself with it.  The idea, the Sfas Emes explains is that since God is “in” the Torah, the more we desire to understand it, the more God reveals Himself to us through the Torah.

This applies to everything that we do to serve God.  However, often we do not even know what to do.  What path should be take?  Even if we do not know what path to take, what decision to make, we can always be absolutely clear and eager in our desire to achieve God’s will.  Our will is the only thing over which we have complete control.  It is this that God requires of us.  If we have a true desire to succeed in serving God, not only will He help us, He will guide us.

The second ma’amar delivers (click here to read the ma’amar, opens in a new window) a very similar message.  Chazal tell us that it was difficult for Moshe Rabbeinu to make the Menorah so first God showed it to him.  It was still difficult for Moshe, so God told him to simply throw the gold into the fire and God Himself would fashion it.

The Sfas Emes asks that since God certainly knew beforehand that making the Menorah was beyond Moshe Rabbeinu’s capabilities why did He ask Him to make it?  Why did He not simply tell Moshe from the outset to throw the gold in the fire?  The Sfas Emes explains that it was crucial for Moshe Rabbeinu to desire to make the Menorah, even if he could not. God showed Moshe Rabbeinu a virtual Menorah so that he would know what he must desire.  Moshe Rabbeinu then did whatever he could to the best of his ability.  Because of Moshe Rabbeinu’s desire to see the completed Menorah, God helped and finished the job.   

We can learn an invaluable lesson from this Sfas Emes that will help us succeed in serving God.  The clearer our vision of what we want and the stronger our desire to get it, the more apt God is to help us get it.  Even if the goal is beyond our capabilities, if we have a clear vision of it and a strong desire to attain it, God will help us to reach it.

But this assumes that you have a goal that you want to reach.  Many people have no specific goals at all!  A person who only has general goals will find it very difficult to reach them.  Let’s say, for example that you have a goal of becoming a better person.  This is way, way, too general.  The goal has to be specific enough so that action items present themselves to attain the goal.  Becoming a better person is so general that the action items that may present themselves are overwhelming.  Where do you start?

I’m not saying, by the way, that general goals should be avoided.  Far from it.  General goals are important.  But, you also need specific goals otherwise you’ll never reach the general ones.

Here’s a simple example that comes to mind.  Since “I want to become a better person” is much too general to easily translate into actionable items, I set a secondary goal, “I want to not speak Lashon Hara.”  This is a little better.  I can convert this into some actionable items: 1)  Learn the laws of lashon hara for 10 minutes each day during my lunch break, 2) Commit to being aware not to speak lashon hara for 3 hours each day from 6 PM – 9 PM, 3)  Don’t speak in shul during davening (lots of opportunity for speaking lashon hara!).

So to summarize, set specific goals, visualize them, cultivate a strong desire to attain them.  Hatzlacha Rabba!

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