by Rabbi Boruch Leff (Reprinted from Yated Ne’eman 06.20.2008)
This column has always been devoted to how we can maintain growth in our avodas Hashem, even as adults. We mentioned in our very first column that the Ribbono Shel Olam wants us to be people who are constantly growing, always raising the bar of our spirituality. Most of us went to Jewish day schools, Bais Yaakovs or chadorim, and continued our Torah education by attending yeshivos or seminaries. We all grew tremendously with each passing year, with each passing shiur. We grew in learning, in davening, and we also refined many of our middos and derech eretz from hearing the tens and hundreds of shmuesen in yeshiva and internalizing them.
At a certain point though, tragically, most of us gave up on dramatic changes in our spiritual lives. But this is not how we are supposed to live. As long as we are still breathing, we have much to accomplish. Every day of our lives, nay, every moment, we are to be growing, developing, improving. Whether we are 8 years old or 88, we must always be growing up
Allow me to suggest an improvement of a vital area of transformational growth that we can start to implement today.
B’ezras Hashem, I am nearing the end of what is probably the most important sefer I have ever learned. Now, I don’t mean to say that this sefer is more important than the Chumash, or Shas. But I do say that if you are looking to truly and sincerely grow close to Hashem, if you are looking for real, practical guidance in how to live with Hashem on a constant basis, if you are looking to live with the Ribbono Shel Olam as your Friend, your Father , and your King, you must go to your neighborhood seforim store today and buy BILVAVI MISHKAN AVNEH-Volume 1.
Why do I feel so strongly? Never before has a sefer been written that is simple, clear, and practical in its instruction as to how we should live our daily lives-and it’s only 135 pages. I do not mean chas v’shalom to denigrate any of the classic seforim of mussar and chasidus. Of course, the sefer is built on all the wonderful and amazing seforim that our gedolim have given to Klal Yisrael throughout the ages. However, anyone who starts to learn Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh will see clearly what a transformational work it is. The sefer was printed maybe five years ago by a tremendous talmid chacham, tzadik, and true oved Hashem, Rav Itamar Schwartz, from Eretz Yisrael. It has been translated into an English sefer, as well. To order online »»
We have mentioned the sefer in this column many times before but I felt compelled to mention it again now in the strongest of terms since I have grown tremendously from learning it in recent months. Hence, I share this realization with you.
What makes Bilvavi so special? We would all like to have the Shechinah live with us. What does that mean? It’s not as lofty and beyond us as it seems. Rav Shimshon Pincus explains that whenever we think about Hashem we bring Hashem’s Presence, His Shechinah, to us. Yes, there are vast ways and holier levels of experiencing the Shechinah, but just thinking about Hashem does truly bring the Shechinah down to us.
We all want Hashem to be with us closely at all times. How can we accomplish this? Imagine a relatonship with one of your friends. Why are you friends? The answer is that you make him feel comfortable to be around you and he makes you feel welcomed to be with him. You share things in common with your friend-you enjoy his company. It works exactly the same way with Hashem. If we want His Presence, we have to live our lives in such a way that He will feel comfortable to be with us. We have share things that in common with Hashem. Like a friendship, when we do things that make Him feel uncomfortable, He leaves.
Bilvavi teaches us how to live with Hashem and how to make Him feel comfortable with us. The more we talk to Him and think about Him in all that we do, the more we relate to Him as if He is truly there with us, the more we treat Him as a friend, the more He feels comfortable spending time with us.
Rav Shlomo Wolbe (as recorded by his students) quoted a Zohar, “My children, [I swear] by your lives that there is nothing closer to Hashem than a person’s heart, and He is happier with it more than all sacrifices in the world.” One’s heart is the “holy of holies” of his spiritual makeup (Alei Shur vol. II pg. 65). If we would direct our desires and thoughts toward Hashem, He would be closer to us than anything else in the world. As the Zohar says, the heart is the location of His closeness, within the heart lies a natural attraction towards the Creator.
This is what is meant by the Targum on “And if you behave with me “keri” and you do not listen to me, I will continue to smite you seven ways like your sins” (Vayikra 26, 21). Onkelos says that keri means with hardness because “they harden their hearts to refrain from coming close to Hashem.” Rav Wolbe notes that it is within the very nature of the heart to strive for closeness to Hashem. Only if one deliberately chooses to harden his heart will he succeed in silencing this inherent drive!
Most people are of the opinion that longing for Hashem is solely the lot of spiritually lofty people. However, this is not the case. The basic nature of the heart is to crave Hashem’s closeness. The most fundamental sin is to suppress this innate yearning of the heart, and it is around this failing that the entire tochacha revolves.
When can we feel this closeness to Hashem that the heart desires? Rav Wolbe suggests that we can feel it during tefilla. Our tefillos are “dry” at times because we do not have a true desire to come close to Hashem. We have in effect hardened our hearts and refrained from coming closer to Hashem. Our first step is to truly want a relationship with our Creator, and then, through our tefillos we will strengthen our natural inclination for kirvah and bring ourselves closer to Hashem.
And how can we generate this type of kirva and relationship? By learning Bilvavi Miskan Evneh
If you want to grow. . . , go out and buy (and/or read) Bilvavi today!
May this article be a zechus for a refuah shlaimah b’karov to Yehudis Sarah bas Esther.
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Boruch Leff is a weekly columnist for Yated Ne’eman and the author of three books: Forever His Students (Targum/Feldheim 2004), Shabbos In My Soul (Targum/Feldheim 2007), and More Shabbos In My Soul (Feldheim 2008). For copies click here »»»
You can read Bilvavi online here.