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26 Av 5761 - August 15, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
"Your Face, Hashem, Will I Seek"

by Rav Yaakov Yisroel Beifuss

Thoughts for the beginning of Elul

"Only union with Hashem constitutes true perfection, as Dovid Hamelech said, `But as for me, the nearness of Hashem is my good', and, `I asked one thing from Hashem: that I will seek to dwell in Hashem's house all the days of my life . . . '." With these words, the Mesillas Yeshorim (chapter one) is conveying to us that the main component in the fulfillment of man's duty in the world is the striving for perfection, namely union with Hashem. He continues, "For this alone is the true good, and anything besides this which people deem good is nothing but emptiness and deceptive worthlessness."

During these days of introspection and judgment we should all be concerned with this topic of "true perfection." If union with Hashem and nearness to Him are elevated goals in our avodoh, we must have them in our minds and endeavor to attain them. We are duty-bound to do this throughout the year, how much more so during the current period.

If we look further into the matter, we will discover that the days of Elul, the yomim noraim, as well as Sukkos and Simchas Torah, present a special opportunity for closeness to Hashem and union with Him.

"Elul," as we know, is hinted at in the posuk, "Ani ledodi vedodi li." This posuk is full of mutual closeness between us and Hakodosh Boruch Hu. If we use this month to get close to Hashem, He will repay us middoh keneged middoh by coming close to us.

Elul is followed by a period about which it says, "Seek Hashem while he may be found, call upon Him while He is near." The ten days between Rosh Hashonoh and Yom Kippur present even more possibilities for attaining closeness to Hashem, for during that time He makes Himself available to us, so that we can draw ourselves closer to Him.

The yomim tovim which follow the yomim noraim make their own unique contribution to our feelings of closeness to Hakodosh Boruch Hu, especially Sukkos, when we sit in the tzilo demeheimenuso (shade or shadow of faith). If we make full use of the potential of this wonderful time of the year, we can attain further closeness to Hashem and deveikus with Him every year.

During Elul we get ready for the coronation of Hashem on Rosh Hashonoh, when we recognize Hashem's absolute sovereignty. On that day we form a closeness to Hashem and subject ourselves to His authority, either as sons or as slaves.

After having crowned Him on Rosh Hashonoh, we are ready to enter the gates of repentance on Yom Kippur. The enjoyment that accompanies the atonement and purification on this holy day is followed by seven days of sitting in the shadow of the Shechinoh. The climax of this process of increasing closeness to Hashem takes place on Simchas Torah, when we declare, "Unto you it was shown, that you might know that Hashem, He is G-d, there is none else beside Him," after which we dance for the honor of the Torah and union with Hashem.

It is not for nothing that throughout this period we say the mizmor, "Ledovid Hashem Ori Veyish'i" in our prayers, since it is all about the elevated topic of deveikus with Hashem and the yearning to draw closer to Him more and more. In this article we shall attempt to elucidate the simple meaning of this mizmor.

In the first part, Dovid Hamelech gives expression to his feelings of unity with Hashem. He then goes on to make requests for further closeness and deveikus.

For us, the recitation of this mizmor constitutes a lesson in deveikus. When we reach the second part of the chapter, we can join Dovid Hamelech and beseech Hashem, "Your face, Hashem, will I seek."

Closeness to Hashem as a Shield and Protection in the Milchemes Hayetzer

It is well-known that references to war and enemies in Tehillim have a double meaning: 1. The plain meaning of war against flesh and blood enemies; 2. The spiritual war, where the enemy is the Evil Inclination. Let us then embark on an explanation of this perek in the light of its spiritual message. We will see how the first part deals with Dovid Hamelech o"h's battles with his yetzer, and how he overcomes his yetzer by his desire for union with Hashem.

The Ramchal tells us in Mesillas Yeshorim (chapter 3) that walking in the ways of the yetzer is like walking in darkness. He explains there that someone who walks in the dark is likely to get into trouble for two different distinct reasons: 1. Because he does not see the pitfalls at all; 2. Because of distorted vision, a pillar will look like a person and vice versa.

Similarly, materialism and the yetzer hora darken a man's path in life, creating a double stumbling-block. They have the effect of preventing him from making out obstacles, and they also make him think that bad is good and good is bad.

How do we get rid of darkness at night? We increase the supply of light. That is also how we dispel the fog cast by the yetzer hora over our lives. Therefore Dovid Hamelech o"h opens the mizmor with the words, "Hashem is my light" -- Hashem and His Torah illuminate the paths of my life, and that is how Hashem brings my "salvation." Therefore, "whom shall I fear?" For with His help I will find a refuge from the machinations of the yetzer, who threatens to catch me in his net. He reiterates, "Hashem is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?"

"When evildoers (mereim) came upon me" -- "mereim" could also mean friends, as in "va'achuzas meirei'eihu" (Bereishis ch. 26). According to this, the reference is to the yetzer hora who pretends to be our friend with man's good at heart, whereas his real intention is "to eat up my flesh" -- to harm the person and put obstacles in his path, as the Chovos Halevovos (in the "Treatise on Wholehearted Devotion," beginning of chapter 5) describes it: "He enrobes himself in the garb of friendship for you, adorns himself with the adornment of love for you; joins the circle of your confidants, counselors and choicest friends . . . but in fact he is shooting deadly arrows at you, to pluck you from the land of the living."

About this Dovid Hamelech says, I know very well who are "my adversaries and my foes": this is referring to man's real enemies, as the Chovos Halevovos says (ibid.), "The greatest enemy you have in the world is your [evil] inclination." However, since I walk in Hashem's light, says Dovid, "they stumbled and fell" -- and could not defeat me. (The explanation of this posuk and the one after is based on the Sefer Hatefilloh of Rav A. Weissblum, who bases himself on Rabbi Avrohom, the son of the Vilna Gaon.)

Even "though a host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear." In other words, not only do "my adversaries and my foes" -- private nisyonos stemming from a person's nature and character traits -- fight against me, but also the "host": the world at large with its pull towards the depraved street life. All these stand in the path of a person and try to nullify his spirituality. Of all these "I shall not fear," even "though a war should rise up against me, in this I will trust."

What is the source of this confidence? The next posuk tells us: "One thing have I asked of Hashem . . . "

Here Dovid Hamelech reveals to us his "secret" and what an enlightening one it is: he ascribes his confidence in victory to his burning desire for closeness to Hashem and union with Him! "One thing have I asked of Hashem,that I will seek after; that I may dwell in the house of Hashem all the days of my life, to behold the graciousness of Hashem and to visit His house!" The phrase "that I will seek after," which seems to be repetitious, following on "One thing have I asked," comes, according to the Malbim, to make it explicitly clear to us that this request was not made for external considerations, not even for such a pure motive as the previously mentioned victory over his enemies.

"That will I seek after," this is my only internal desire, my sole motive: "that I may dwell in the house of Hashem all the days of my life." Despite being preoccupied with royal affairs, Dovid prays for union with Hashem, the anchor of his salvation and the strength of his life. Well he knew that "anything besides this is nothing but emptiness and deceptive worthlessness."

The Chofetz Chaim explains that the repetition expresses the idea that Dovid's request remained valid throughout all periods of his life, unlike other peoples' requests, whose contents tend to change in accordance with their age, job, environment and so on. Dovid's entreaty remained constant: "One thing I asked," in the past, as a shepherd, and "that I will seek" -- even in the present and future, as king. This request was the principal motif of his life in all situations, and serves as an indication of the extent to which it was a deeply integral part of his personality.

These two explanations regarding the repeated phrases express the deep connection Dovid Hamelech o"h had with what the Mesillas Yeshorim calls "true perfection." Dovid knew that if he would merit "to behold the graciousness of Hashem . . . and visit His house," he could be confident of victory over his spiritual enemies, of a situation where Hashem "conceals me in His pavilion on the day of evil," protecting him from enemies. "He hides me in the covert of His tent; He lifts me up upon a rock." This forms the conclusion to the elaboration on the words, "In this I will trust." Since he ascribes his trust to his request for closeness to Hashem, he sees himself achieving victory over his enemies: "And now shall my head be lifted up above my enemies round about me; and I will offer in His tabernacle sacrifices with trumpet-sound; I will sing and praise Hashem."

Prayer and Outcry

This concludes the first section, in which we listened to the words of Dovid Hamelech, the sweet singer of the Jewish people, and acquired valuable advice for our avodas Hashem. We gained an insight into the personality of someone who strives to attain perfection and how he uses this request for closeness and perfection in the war against his spiritual enemies.

The second section opens with the call, "Hear, Hashem, when I call with my voice, and be gracious unto me, and answer me." This call we can relate to fully, and join in with the supplications.

After experiencing Dovid's request for perfection and how it benefited him, let us also arouse ourselves to attain closeness to Hashem and union with Him. Let us all cry out, especially during this auspicious period, "Your face, Hashem, will I seek."

After the opening of "Hear Hashem, when I call . . . ," Dovid Hamelech o"h reveals the motive for his turning to Hashem: "In Your behalf my heart has said, `Seek My face.' " The Metzudos explains, "My heart, serving as Your messenger, tells me, `Seek My face.'." The heart reaches our innermost selves acting as Hashem's agent and tells us to seek Him! We answer this call; the very act of saying these things with full intention is a step towards further closeness to Hashem and union with Him.

We continue to beseech Hashem, "Hide not your face from me." We ask for he'oras ponim and not hester ponim. "Do not turn your servant away in anger, for You have been my help." Since His mercies have come to our assistance until now, we ask Hashem also not to forsake us in the present and future: "Cast me not off, neither forsake me, O G-d of my salvation. For though my father and my mother have forsaken me" -- even parents, who are closest to a person, are limited in their abilities to help; at a certain stage, their assistance diminishes or stops. Then "Hashem will take me up" -- He is the real Provider of a person's needs throughout his life.

Therefore, "Teach me Your way, Hashem, and lead me in an even path -- illuminate for us the path of truth, and guide us in it, "because of those that lie in wait for me" -- in order that the desire of those who wish to witness our downfall shall not be fulfilled.

We again request, "Deliver me not unto the will of my adversaries" -- the Evil Inclination which plots to corrupt us using "false witnesses and such as breathe out violence" -- futile and deceptive figments of the imagination. "If I had not the faith that I would look upon the goodness of Hashem in the land of the living" -- if we did not have a belief in the good awaiting the righteous and a belief in the existence of an afterlife, we would not be able to resist the false witnesses tempting us to sin.

Therefore, "Yearn for Hashem!" Dovid Hamelech o"h is telling us to always have faith in Hashem, and to strive to achieve closeness with Him. "Be strong, and let your heart take courage" -- do this with your full abilities and strength, then, "yearn for Hashem" -- the very act of yearning and striving for Hashem, of requesting His closeness, brings us closer to deveikus with Him.

How do we merit union and closeness with Hashem?

After having received chizuk from this mizmor, it is incumbent upon us to translate our good will into actions.

For practical guidance on this, let us return to the Mesillas Yeshorim (chapter 1): "For a man to attain this good [deveikus with Hashem], it is fitting that he first labor and persevere in his exertions to acquire it. That is, he should persevere so as to unite himself with Hashem by means of actions which result in this end. These actions are the mitzvos."

Observance of the Mitzvos With a View to Achieving Closeness to Hashem

The Ramchal writes more on this in Derech Hashem (section one, chapter 4): "The essence of divine service consists of man constantly turning to his Creator, and of his knowing and understanding that he was only created in order to cleave to his Creator, and that he was only put into this world in order to conquer his inclination and to subjugate himself to his Creator using his mind, in direct contrast to his material desires and inclinations. He must direct all his activities towards achieving this end, and not turn aside from it."

Every mitzva and every act of overcoming the yetzer constitute links in the long chain of man's service of his Creator. With every good act and with every avoidance of a bad act, man comes a step closer to his Creator. If we add to this the power of tefilloh, which by its very nature brings us closer to Hashem, we end up with a recipe for spending all our days climbing the ladder of avodas Hashem in the spirit of "Your face, Hashem, will I seek."

May Hashem help us and illuminate our path, so that we may merit the fulfillment of "my light" on Rosh Hashonoh, "my salvation" on Yom Kippur, "He hides me in his sukko" on Sukkos as well as other relevant blessings on the remaining yomim tovim of the year, omen.

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