Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

19 Adar II 5765 - March 30, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Who Shall Ascend... And Who Shall Persevere?

by Yochonon Dovid

The idea was Shmuel's. He sent off letters and made phone calls to all of the friends who had studied with him in yeshiva in his early days, many years before, suggesting they have an alumni reunion. He even invited Rabbi Goldberg, who had been their rosh mesivta in yeshiva, asking him to address the gathering.

The idea began to take shape and one evening all of them met in Shmuel's apartment, most of them fellow students from the good old days. For some of them, it was the first encounter with friends whom they had not seen for years. The excitement ran high and the hubbub of enthusiastic conversations and the exchange of telephone numbers testified to the resurgence of the emotions of fraternity and friendship from those bygone days of youth. Even Rabbi Goldberg was among the eager talkers as he went from group to group, exchanging pleasant words with everyone and getting an update on how they were faring, physically and spiritually. Finally, when it seemed to Shmuel that the tumult was phasing out a bit, he asked those present to find seats and then invited the rabbi to speak.

"Dear Friends," began the rabbi in a hearty voice. "I find it difficult to describe the full extent of my joy, and to express the depth of my feelings when I see you here before me, hale and happy. Boruch Hashem, you are all following the path of the Torah, each one in his setting and stature. Students from many years past do not imagine that their former rebbe actually carries them in his heart, always, and prays for their spiritual success every single day. He is concerned for himself too, for this is what R' Yochonon taught us, that the master, himself, is dependent upon the success of his student and is judged accordingly. The teacher planted those seedlings and nurtured them at the beginning of their growth. He bore a tremendous responsibility for the growth of those formative years.

"When a student from past years tells me that he is today part of a Torah study environment, of Torah study, teaching or horo'oh, I am filled with nachas. When he tells me where his children are learning and what chinuch he is giving them, I feel like a farmer who plowed and sowed his field, and after months of waiting, stands and views the land in which he invested so much toil at the planting season, and now sees it filled with golden sheaves of grain, bursting with fullness, high as a man's shoulder. Praised be Hashem for meriting this!

"I once had the opportunity to hear an everyday conversation that dealt with the nighttime robbery of a gas station. Throughout the long night, the station is serviced by a single person who holds all the cash. This tempts robbers to hold up the station in the small hours of the night and seize the whole day's takings by force from the only person manning the place.

"A solution was found to this problem, they said. Easy and simple. The worker who received payment for filling up his customer's tank would have to insert the money into an opening in the pipe which led to a safe buried underground, beneath layers of concrete. There was no way an outsider could possibly get to the safe to break it open. Thus, the income was kept safe for the owners, who would come every morning to open the safe with the appropriate keys.

"When I heard the details of this story, I began thinking: Can this information, this scenario, help us in any way in our avodas Hashem? Is it coming to hint to us something which we hadn't noticed before?

"Indeed, there may be a certain message for us. At the beginning of this reunion, I talked with you, dear friends, and heard about your lives, about your daily schedules. Everything seems fine and good on the surface. My good Jews pray three times daily in a synagogue, recite the blessings before eating, keep Shabbos properly and duly sanctify it. Each of you also opens up a sefer and studies, some more, some less. All this should cause me a sense of satisfaction, for this is how a good Jew should conduct his life. May I wish such a life for each and every Jew! There is all the reason for such a person to pat himself on the shoulder and declare: How fine a man I am! I am living a life that fulfills Hashem's requirements.

"But I come here to draw a comparison between the present and the past of some of you here whom I got to know through heart- to-heart talks when you studied in yeshiva. I remember the tremendous efforts of select students to elevate themselves beyond a mediocre achievement, beyond treading water and keeping pace at an even keel but, rather, striving upward more and more. I remember aspirations that throbbed vigorously in your hearts as young men who established high goals for themselves in Torah and Mussar. You saw yourselves as maintaining the same momentum, the same pace of acceleration and ascent in the years to come, in an unceasing upward spiral, reaching the great heights which exemplified our great sages and forefathers.

"Then they took it for granted never to remain stagnant or stationery in the spiritual sense, year after year, without progressing, ascending, and, G-d forbid, to end their lives on the same spiritual level which they had reached at the age of fifteen. I remember students who told me in personal talks that they had resolved to work on a particular area, or achieve some prodigious accomplishment, some great effort beyond the norm, in order to ascend the Mountain of Hashem, to become exalted, both in qualitative and quantitative Torah study, be it in a special Mussar area of character improvement, in reining in negative natural tendencies and developing positive traits to their fullest or in many other things involving self improvement that lend a true Jewish flavor of constant striving and achievement.

"Alas, to my regret, I meet that selfsame person with the once-noble aspirations as an adult, and I ask him incidentally: `What about that marvelous program of yours that you once devised for yourself?' And he blushes a bit, smiles somewhat apologetically, and explains that it is much easier said than done. There are many obstacles and hardships, he says, beginning with supporting his family and caring for it. And so, all of the dreams and striving were shifted aside for the meanwhile, perhaps until the children are married off, or until he retires, or enters an old age home . . .

"I see some of you smiling. Apparently, the scenario is a familiar one. If we search our memories, we will all probably dredge up some grandiose plan for spiritual growth and greatness, which may likely have, in its time, been well formulated and broken down to technical details of practical implementation. You may even have begun carrying out its beginning stages. But... the Soton does not twiddle his thumbs. He devises all kinds of stumbling blocks and sidetracks to possibly stall and thwart you, to stop you, postpone your progress and to bring you to the conclusion that, for the meanwhile, this program is not feasible. Perhaps next week... or after yom tov... Or, `We'll just get over with moving to the new flat' and so on.

"Later, when a person remembers those plans, they seem to him like a distant dream — not at all realistic. And that's how the thieves in the night come upon us, be they through the inertia of routine, laziness, bad habits and even plain old forgetfulness. These empty out our cash boxes, undermine the foundations which we've built and nip in the bud all those admirable attempts to rise above mediocrity and shake ourselves off from a lackluster lethargy of routine that just runs itself on and on without renewal and rejuvenation.

"In Tehillim we say: `Who shall ascend the mountain of Hashem?' It is no easy feat to climb that mountain. One must lift oneself above the plateau of creature comforts and generate momentum to combat inertia, to pick oneself up by one's bootstraps, to surmount one's materialism and progress upward, up the mountain, ever closer to the sanctuary of Hashem on the mountain peak.

"And if one has already begun the ascent and risen up somewhat, there is still the challenge of, `Who shall maintain the position' on that upward slope, whose gain was earned with so much effort? It is only too natural to slide back down to your starting point. For you have not yet discovered that burglar-proof safe that will automatically guarantee to preserve your gains. Just maintaining what you have achieved with such hard work requires an additional input of effort, else the loss is inevitable.

"And so we get to the main theme. A person comes to build one tier upon another that was already built in the past. But the previous one has disintegrated, dissolved, and no longer exists. There is nothing upon which to build! `Who shall persevere?' What will guarantee that I will be able tomorrow to build upon what I achieved today, and that the day after I will be able to add another row upon the two below? Thieves of the night make it their business to see that we will always be busy building and rebuilding the first row. Who thinks at all about the second or third floor when the first tiers of the first floor simply disappear after one dark night?

"And so, at the age of forty or sixty, a lackluster, grayish, mediocre person reminds himself how once there beat in his youthful heart the most sublime aspirations of building a tower reaching the heavens.

"My dear friends! Fortunate are you that a long path of life still stretches before you and that you can navigate it with forethought, planning, with a firm hand upon the steering wheel, anticipating the future and clearly visualizing every portion of the road ahead as leading to the final goal.

"Ascend! And be uplifted!"

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