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25 Sivan 5766 - June 21, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Longing and Yearning

by HaRav Moshe Samsonowitz

Part I

The Chazon Ish's Rule

The Chazon Ish was once asked this question: May religious Jews in Givat Olga (near Chadera) jointly open a kindergarten with less religious residents, since they didn't have enough children to open their own kindergarten? The other residents refused to appoint a Bais Yaakov kindergarten teacher and insisted on getting a teacher certified by the State.

The Chazon Ish ruled that they could join the others on condition that the kindergarten walls be decorated with pictures of the Chofetz Chaim and other leading Torah sages, and that no other pictures be allowed.

He explained his decision by saying that viewing the sages' faces daily would leave a powerful impression on the children's pure souls and guarantee a firm spiritual foundation. To the disappointment of the religious Jews, the less religious residents were deterred by even this minimal condition and rejected all cooperation. That put an end to the initiative. (Pe'er Hador, Vol. 4, pg. 149)

This story about the Chazon Ish teaches us that providing children with role models to emulate and yearn to be like is an important fundamental in education.

What is the point of hanging pictures on the wall? So we can point to them and say that these are the people that we take pride in. These are the people that we hope our children will be like.

The aim of this discourse is to explain how yearning and longing is a precursor of any achievement.

"There Is No Artist Like Our G-d"

Towards the end of our prayers, we recite Pitum Haketoress which discusses the ingredients used in the incense burned in the Sanctuary. This prayer is preceded by the pesukim, "Kaveh el Hashem" which includes the verse (Shmuel I 2:2) "There is no Rock like our G-d." Let us dwell a moment on the connection between this verse and Pitum Haketoress.

Our sages in Brochos 10a explain on the phrase, "There is no Rock [tzur] like our G-d": This should be understood as meaning that there is no artist [tzayar] like our G-d. Notice how different G-d is from man. A person cannot infuse his drawing with a soul or life or inner organs. But the Holy One, blessed be He, is different. He can make one drawing inside another and infuse it with a soul and life and inner organs. As Channah said in her prayer (Ibid.) "There is none as holy as G-d, there is none but Him. There is no Rock like our G-d."

Our Creator is called the Supreme Artist, an artist without peer. He "drew" a world full of creations and then imbued them with life and a soul. All earthly creations are physical parallels of spiritual creations above, as it says, "He created them in the image of G-d." (Bereishis 1:27)

The Israelites' longing to resemble heavenly creations is expanded upon in the Torah section (at the beginning of Bamidbar) where the Israelites asked for flags to identify and mark the tribes' individual camps.

The Torah tells us (Bamidbar 2:2): "Each man was next to his flag's emblems," and Rashi explains: "Each flag had an emblem with its own specific color . . . and each one's color corresponded to its jewel in the Choshen HaMishpot so that each one knew which flag was his."

Rashi explains that the word osos (emblems) derives from the word os (sign or mark). However, Rabbeinu Bechaye writes that it is possible that the word osos derives from the word avas, as in the verse "all that your soul desires (avas nafshecho)" (Devorim 12:20), meaning that each Israelite longed for his tribe to have a flag.

Our sages explain (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 2:13 on the posuk Shir Hashirim 2:4) that at the Revelation on Mount Sinai, the Ministering Angels held aloft flaming "flags" of fire in a variety of colors and hues while accompanying Hashem as He descended upon the mountain. The Israelites saw these flags and were overcome with the desire to emulate them.

The flags which distinguished the Israelites' camp in the desert were therefore due to their fervent longing to appear similar to the camp of ministering angels at the Revelation on Mount Sinai. "Were it not that you longed to emulate them, you wouldn't have received these flags." (Ibid.)

We learn from this a great principle in life. To acquire a virtue or new spiritual level, one must first long for it. After a person demonstrates that he desires it, Heaven will relate favorably to his request and help him attain it.

Why Longing Is a Prerequisite to Achievement

What does longing for something accomplish? Semanticists explain that the Hebrew word ga'aguim (longings) come from the word noga (to touch, reach). A person connects himself to an object or a spiritual level when he longs for it. Conversely, if he doesn't long for it this shows that he is detached, unconnected — and therefore will not attain it.

Tana Devei Eliahu Rabboh 25:2 advises us: Each person must ask himself, "When will my deeds reach those of my Ovos, Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov?"

Rav Simcha Bunim of Pershischa asked (Siach Sarfei Kodesh, p. 8): Which fool believes that his deeds will ever come close to those of our holy Ovos? He explains that the word yagi'a (usually translated "reach") must instead be explained as "longing." If we would only long that our deeds be like the lofty deeds of our Ovos, then our deeds truly would become more like theirs.

The Power of Smell

Longing may be aroused in different ways.

Longing can be aroused through smell. Have you ever passed by a bakery and smelled the delectable fragrance of fresh bread? Did you feel a longing to taste fresh bread?

One case where the sense of smell was used to arouse longing for G-d was the ketoress (incense) which was burnt in the Beis Hamikdosh. The Israelites could not see it because they were not allowed inside the Heichal. Nevertheless, they were able to smell the heavenly fragrance and that aroused a deep longing to serve G-d. Smell is one way to create closeness when physical access is unavailable.

Longing can also be aroused through seeing, as was the case with the flags we mentioned above. The truth is that it was extremely audacious on the Israelites' part to desire flags like those held by G-d's awesome ministering angels. Who is man that he should be deserving of anything, as King David declares: "What is man, that You remember him; the son of man, that You should be mindful of him?" (Tehillim 8:5)

But since His puny creatures longed intensely to have flags similar to the ones they saw at the Revelation on Mount Sinai, G-d responded to their longing, fulfilled their request and gave them flags. Although what they were granted was only a pale comparison of what exists in heaven, it was still a genuine replication!

Longing for Shabbos Kodesh

Longing is an essential component of any effort to achieve kedushoh.

We honor Shabbos by washing and putting on special garments. The Rambam tells us that if we have not done one other thing, we have not properly honored Shabbos. What is it? Let us hear the Rambam's own words (Hilchos Shabbos 30:2):

"What is honoring Shabbos? Our sages tells us that a person is commanded to wash his face, hands and feet in warm water before Shabbos in order to honor Shabbos. He wraps himself in his tallis and sits solemnly, waiting to welcome the Shabbos as if he is about to welcome a king."

The external preparations are easy, but "awaiting Shabbos" is not so simple. What is required is not an action but an entirely different mindset. (It was said about the Brisker Rov that he would actually go out and sit on the porch of his house, serenely waiting for Shabbos to come, as if awaiting a distinguished guest.)

Longing for the Torah

Sefiras HaOmer does not appear to be a difficult mitzvah. Every night we count how many days have passed since Pesach. However, this mitzvah has an aspect which is not easy to fulfill. The Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah #306) explains the reason for this mitzvah: "And since the main thing for Israel is that they were redeemed from the hard labor and achieved greatness, we are commanded to count from the day following the first day of Pesach until the day the Torah was given to demonstrate our great longing for this glorious day, which is our hearts' desire. It is like a servant who longs for his freedom and keeps counting to when this longed- for day will arrive and he will go free. Counting the days shows how much a person longs for that time (as Moreh Nevuchim 3:43 states).

How important the Revelation of the Torah is to a person can be measured by how much he awaits it. Every Jew is expected to count the days until the Revelation on Mt. Sinai as a sign that he impatiently longs for it.

Bestirring Oneself to Seek G-d

Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (the Ramchal) in Derech Hashem (4, 5, 1) explains the essence of prayer and its conditions:

"Prayer is an imperative to one who possesses knowledge of G- d's existence. Since all creatures receive their bounty from the blessed G-d, they should be bestirred to want to be close to Him and to seek His favor."

Ramchal mentions three things which are an inseparable part of prayer: bestirring oneself, drawing close to G-d, and petitioning Him.

Ramchal's words contain an astonishingly novel idea. He includes bestirring oneself towards petitioning G-d as an essential component of prayer.

If a man woke in the morning, prepared himself to pray, felt close to G-d, stood before Him and even requested his needs - - if he did all this without first bestirring himself to feel G-d's presence — then he has only prayed perfunctorily and his prayer is missing an essential component — even if he has fulfilled his obligation to pray according to the letter of law.

Why is it so important to bestir oneself? Bestirring oneself means that one feels truly fortunate and excited to stand before one's Creator and that one longs for this moment.

This feeling is not an extra virtue, but a condition upon which a prayer's success is contingent. As Ramchal continues: "According to how much they bestir themselves, to that degree will they be granted abundance. And if they don't bestir themselves, abundance will not be channeled down to them."

End of Part I

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