Getting More Out of Our Brochos

A friend recently asked “Why do we often say Brochos quickly?”. The Mesillas Yesharim helps to explain why, and provides a practical path to the remedy.

In the introduction, the Ramchal points out that serving Hashem is not a natural and automatic process, like eating and sleeping. Therefore, we have to first learn what it means to serve Hashem. Then we need to make a serious concerted effort to improve and reach adequate levels of service, since this is the reason why we were created.

The basis of our service of Hashem, is Deutoronomy 10:12 in Parshas Eikev: “And now, Israel, what does Hashem, your God, ask of you? Only…
– to fear (be in awe of) Hashem, your God,
– to go in His ways,
– to love Him,
– to serve Hashem, your God, with all your heart and all your soul,
– to observe the commandments of Hashem and His decrees, which I command you today, for your benefit. “

The Ramchal writes about each of these components, beginning with the loftiest, summarized as follows:
1) fear (awe) of Hashem – like we would fear (be in awe of) a great and awesome king;
2) walking in His ways – refining character traits and reducing self-centeredness, leading to improved relationships;
3) love – in our heart, and being inspired to please Him, like we would want to please our parents;
4) wholeheartedness – doing mitzvos with a focus on serving and connecting to Hashem, with devotion, not by rote; and
5) observance of all the mitzvos – with all their fine points and conditions.

The reason why we say Brochos quickly is that we are focused on the what of the mitzvah, which is just saying it. However, to serve Hashem properly, we need to also focus on the why – consciously connecting to Hashem through the mitzvos, and the how — doing the mitzvos wholeheartedly, with love, without self-centeredness, and with fear.

Improving our service is a process.
A good place to begin this process is by saying one Brocha each day with more focus.
This is what we can focus on when we say a Brocha:
“Baruch” makes us aware that Hashem is the source of all blessing.
“Atah” focuses us on the fact that we’re talking directly to Hashem.
“Hashem” in it’s Yud Kei Vav Kei form, signifies that Hashem always existed and is the source of our existence.
“Elokeinu” says that He is the ultimate authority over all physical and spiritual creations.
“Melech” brings that authority to a more concrete Kingship.
“HaOlam” recognizes that His Kingship extends to the entire universe.

We should share many simchos and continue to travel together on the path of improving our Service of Hashem.

In honor of the upcoming wedding of my daughter.

If you Really Want Unity, Stop Sleeping!

Yisro 5774-An installment in the series of adaptations
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK
By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

… and Israel camped there opposite the mountain

-Shemos 19:2

 וַיִחַן[the singular form, the pasuk does not say that the Israelites camped there. This indicates that they camped there] “as one man with one heart”, but all the other encampments were [on bad terms] with complaints and strife. — [from Mechilta]

-Rashi ibid

I am HaShem your Elokim who brought you out of Mitzrayim, from the place of slavery.

-Shemos 20:2

Sleep is one 60th of death.

-B’rachos 57B

Many meforshim commentaries address this question: why is HaShem’s calling card in the 10 commandments so provincial?  Why does He introduce Himself as “the One who brought you out of Egypt” rather than as “the One Who created the cosmos”?

Conventional wisdom views sleep as, at worst, a benign activity.  When sleeping we recharge our batteries, no more and no less. But the Izhbitzer school takes a much less sanguine approach to slumber than we do.

The Bais Yaakov, the second Izhbitzer, explains that that when one is asleep there is a kind of disintegration and dissolution at work.  It is only the wakeful, conscious mind that integrates a human being into an organic whole.  Under the sovereign direction of the mind and soul all of the body’s organs, limbs and digits work towards the attainment of the common goals that are mutually beneficial to the person as a whole.

Asleep and in a horizontal position the human head is on the same plane and level as all the other limbs and organs of his body.  This is true both literally and metaphorically.  The position of the recumbent sleeper is that of the proverbial level playing field.  It is an egalitarian posture in which no one member of the body has any pre-eminence or dominance over any other.

Then, the soul begins to stir the body into wakefulness and the human being transitions from a horizontal position to a vertical one.  The life-giving soul stands the person up and, by doing so, establishes a hierarchy (a shiur komah) in which the feet scrape the floor and the head, containing the mind and soul, is at the very top of the pecking order.

Our sages teach us that we don’t wake up merely because, when our batteries are fully recharged, so to speak, we are “done” sleeping. Instead it is because our souls, mostly absent during slumber, have been restored to our bodies.  This concept underpins the first words we utter upon waking “I admit to You, O living and eternal King that You have compassionately returned my soul within me, Your trustworthiness is abundant” and the morning blessing that is part of our daily liturgy that begins with the phrase “my L-rd, the soul that You put into me is pure etc.” It is only when we are awake and vertical that our diverse limbs, organs and faculties become truly incorporated into a united whole.

In stark contrast; death does not merely render the body inert and motionless. Death initiates the dissolution of the human being.  In death, anatomical connections begin loosening and the body breaks apart. The teaching of our sages can now be understood to mean that the disintegration of sleep is 1/60 of the decomposition, and utter disintegration, of death.

The unity that K’lal Yisrael   the Jewish People, achieved prior to the Revelation at Sinai was more than preparatory, it was anticipatory. As HaShem’s Shechinah Divine Indwelling, began shining forth from Sinai, it was the macro-soul beginning to enter the slumbering body of K’lal Yisrael that blended the various tribes and the conflicting interest groups of Israel into an integrated organism “as one man with one heart.” A plural, multiplicity of “Israelites” fused together to become “Israel” in the singular.

Rav Gershon Henoch, the Radzyner Rebbe spells out his father’s Torah more explicitly:

The aseres hadibros are most commonly translated as the 10 commandments.  However this translation is both literally and factually inaccurate.  The translation is erroneous on a literal level, because dibros, a plural form of dibur, translates as “sayings” or “pronouncements.”  Factually imprecise, because only the last nine dibros are expressed as  mitzvos-commands, the first one is not.  The opening of the Decalogue is a statement of fact, a presentation of credentials, as it were.

On the macrocosmic level the head and soul of the cosmos is HaShem Himself.  The Radzyner explains that it was K’lal Yisrael ‘s clear, expanded consciousness of HaShem’s Oneness and Omnipresence, that nothing and no one but He truly exists – ein od m’Lvado, that exerted an irresistible tug on them to follow the Head, the Mind and the Soul and, as such, to coalesce and form an organic whole.  With this clarity of G-d consciousness a command to believe in G-d was not only unnecessary, it was inconceivable.  It would have been as if a person’s two legs began walking in opposite directions or if his respiratory system began hyperventilating without any physical exertion and the mind would suddenly need to verbalize a command saying “hey YOU pay attention, I’m in charge here!

This explains why the first of the aseres hadibros ends with the limited “the One who took you out of Egypt” rather than with the universal “the One Who created the cosmos.” For if HaShem is the Omnipresent Soul that animates everything and all, what is it that is unique about K’lal Yisrael in particular?  The answer to this question is contained in the exodus experience.  The letters that spell the word Egypt, Mitzrayim, also spell the word constraints, metzarim.

When HaShem brought K’lal Yisrael out of Egypt He was also unshackling them of all the narrow-minded constraints that conceal and camouflage His control and management of the cosmos.  The balance of humanity was never liberated from these.  HaShem’s control and management of the cosmos is beyond their comprehension.  When “introducing” Himself to, and into, K’lal Yisrael HaShem informs them that it is only because I brought you, in particular, out of Mitzrayim /metzarim that you were uniquely capable of integrating and uniting to sense my Divinity, the Mind and Soul that directs and animates all.

There is a minhag Yisrael kedoshim   Jewish custom, of staying awake throughout the first night of Shavuos.  The Magen Avraham494 bases this minhag on the midrash that says that the Jews “overslept” the Revelation at Sinai and that kivyachol  so to speak, HaShem had to awaken them. We stay awake in order to be metaken  put right, the negativity generated by those who overslept.

I would add that the Izhbitzer insight adds richness and complexity to this custom. Oversleeping the Revelation was much worse than a breach of etiquette or an extremely poorly timed  slothful self-indulgence. It was antithetical to the entire experience and to the first of the dibros in particular. At the foot of Mount Sinai, organic unity for K’lal Yisrael was both the prerequisite for, and the direct response to, HaShems Revelation. The souls (re HaShems) return to the body (re K’lal Yisrael ) requires one that is awake, alert and able to coalesce and integrate, not one that is disintegrated through death-like slumber.

~adapted from Bais Yaakov Yisro 40 (pp113B, 114A)
Sefer Hazmanim , First Day Shavuos 5643 D”H Vayeechan page 61

Leveraging the Spiritual Drip Method

In a recent shiur, Rabbi Akiva Grunblatt, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim discussed how continued spiritual growth is the purpose of a Jew’s life. (You can listen or download the shiur here.) Rabbi Grunblatt brought down the story about Rabbi Akiva, the water and the stone. Here is the relevant passage from the Avot D’Rebbi Natan, 6:

What were R. Akiva’s beginnings? It is said, up to the age of forty, he had not studied a thing. One time, while standing by the mouth of a well in Lydda, he inquired, “Who hollowed out this stone?” and was told, “It was water falling upon it constantly, day after day.” They said, “Akiva, haven’t you read that ‘water wears away stone’ (Job 14:19)?” At that, R. Akiva asked himself all the more so, “Is my mind harder than this stone?” He immediately returned to study Torah, and he and his son sat with a children’s teacher…. The teacher wrote down alef and bet for him… he went on learning until he had learned all five Books of Moses.

Rabbi Grunblatt pointed out that if you saw one drop of water fall on a stone, you would certainly think it had no effect. It is only after many, many years of dropping does the water have an effect. So to with spiritual growth, our connection to Hashem through our learning Torah and performance of mitzvos occurs drop by drop over many years.

I want to bring out a related lesson from this story. If the water came out in more volume, or with more force, then it would have a much greater effect on the stone. So to, if we learn more or do our mitzvos with more intensity, they will have a greater effect in creating the connection between us and Hashem.

One practical application of this is Berachos. Through our three daily Shomoneh Esrais and other Berachos, we are told (Mishna Brurah 46:14) to make 100 Berachos a day.

Recognizing Hashem 100 times a day in Berachos is like 100 drops of water. However, if we say the Berachos with more attention, intention and mindfulness, they will have a much stronger effect on our spiritual connection. Since we are saying them anyway, it seems like a no-brainer to try and increase their intended effect.

Start small. Pick one or two Berachos where you can make the time to think about Hashem and the contents of the Beracha. Do it for one day. And then the next. One day at a time. Increase the spiritual drip. You won’t be sorry.