Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Yom Kippur 5771- Understand where things come from

There is an interesting drosha in the book “Darchei Mussar” by R’ Nieman- he makes the point that one should not have pride because they are wealthy, because they are wise, because they are mighty etc. After all- these are all subjective measures- the rich of one town may be poor in another; the judges and scholars of one era less knowledgeable than those of other eras; the mighty warriors defeated by others whose might is greater than theirs. More than this, does not the knowledge of Hashem make the knowledge of mankind seem non-existent? Is G-d not the ruler of the whole world and thus possessed of incalculable wealth? Is not G-d called a man of war in the Torah, mightier than entire armies? In the end, the achievements of man seem to be meaningless- and thus the famous dictum of King Solomon : Everything is merely vanity and ultimately worthless.

However, this is a nihilistic approach if not understood properly. Judaism does not see our actions as meaningless, but as being exceptionally valuable and have enduring and lasting value. This is where we see the difference- it is not in what we achieve that there is value, but in the action and the intent behind doing it! R’ Nieman uses the example of two people- both of whom study a daf of Gemmorah, of day, both have the same knowledge at the end of studying the daf, both the same understanding- the difference is that for one it requires but an hour, the other requires the entire day. R’ Nieman points out that since it is the intention and the action that is important, not what is ultimately achieved, the one who takes his entire day out to study the daf, who has to work harder to understand it, would ultimately receive a greater reward for his greater effort! Does this mean that the other person can never achieve that level reward? Of course not- but perhaps for him it would entail having to study two or three dafs- maybe for him he needs to study more mussar or halacha. Perhaps he can enhance his study fo the daf by studying more meforshim or following the development of the hallachah to the hallachah l’ma’aseh. Each of us has those things that are easy for us to achieve, and there is nothing wrong in working to our strengths- but then we must not use that as an excuse to step back and devote our energies elsewhere!

More than the above, there is another important factor as to why we should not have too much pride in what we achieve. On Rosh Hashanah we all stood and recited u’netaneh tokef, as we will again on Yom Kippur. There we state that G-d will decide on our fates, who will become wealthy, who poor, who will increase, who will decrease, who will be healthy, who will be sick and so on. In unetaneh tokef we have a direct statement that what we achieve in this world is dictated by G-d. If G-d decrees wealth for us, we will receive wealth- if not, we will not. What is important, what we are judged on then, is not what we achieve- but what we do. Not what the ultimate realisation of our efforts is- but what are efforts are! The ultimate realisation of the Yamim Noraim is that G-d is the king of kings, the ultimate ruler and that events in the world transpire according to his design. What we will achieve is dependent on what he has decided- it is in his hands what we will receive- what is in our hands is our actions, what effort we put into things, what our intentions are and where our hearts lead us.

In a few days time we will stand in shul on Yom Kippur- we will pray to Hashem to seal us for a year of goodness, to inscribe us for life, not just in this world, but in the world to come. While we do this, let us keep in mind that Hashem is the king of kings, the ultimate ruler who will dictate this- but that for us to merit his greatest blessings, we have to show our willingness to submit to his rule through our actions and our intentions. Then, just as an ordinary king will reward those courtiers who are loyal and work in his best interests, so too will we merit to be sealed for a good year, to be sealed intot he book of life in this world and the world to com.

GMAR CHATIMAH TOVAH to all of you, your families, your communities and to all klal Yisrael

September 16, 2010 Posted by | Other Torah, Torah | , , , , | 4 Comments