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Devar Torah - VoEschanan

Thursday, 30 July, 2015 - 10:00 am

The Driving Force of Our Choice
By Rabbi Shimon Raichik

This week on Friday was the 15th of Av. Among the reasons that make this day one of the greatest Yomim Tovim is that we celebrate because “the daughters of Jerusalem would go dancing in the vineyards”. Whoever didn’t have a wife would go there to find himself a bride. The daughters would say; “Young man, lift up your eyes and see which you choose” (Taanis 26b).

The Gemara describes different categories of "daughters" and how each would call out to her perspective bridegroom:

What would the beautiful ones among them say? "Look for beauty, for a woman is for beauty."

What would those of prestigious lineage say? "Look for family, for a woman is for children." etc. (Taanis 31a).

The Rebbe explains that the marriage of Hashem and His people also includes these different categories of "brides": the souls of Israel, which include "beautiful" souls, souls "of prestigious lineage," etc.

We can also learn a lesson today from the 15th of Av and the custom of making shidduchim. Each man and each woman has something special to offer. We just need to assure that it’s a proper fit, one to the other. A marriage choice needs to be based solely on the needs of that couple not the expectations or desires of the parents. The daughter said; Young man, lift up your eyes, she did not address the parents! Parents can help but they cannot choose for their children.

The narrative in the Gemara teaches another important lesson about making good choices. It shows us to choose life goals based on an overall outlook not on feelings alone. A person who gets married based on both the intellect as well as feelings stands a much greater chance of having an enduring marriage compared to those who choose based feelings alone. In the rapidly changing culture of today we see the opposite; a rapid disintegration of higher purpose and aspiration based on outlook.  What we are seeing are choices based on feelings, and feelings alone. Whether it’s the legal equality granted to any form of marriage or as in the case of the Iran deal endangering an entire nation (perhaps the world) in order not to feel warlike or seem unfair; unfortunately feelings seem to be in the drivers seat of choice today, and quickly running us off the road! People feel that the Ayatollah would never actually use the bomb if he had it. Chamberlin felt that Hitler would never attack. Kerry feels that his deal is the only solution. If we look around we can see the long-term disastrous results both to the individual and the world when choices are based on feelings alone.

If I were asked to place my finger on the starting point, the first step that allows us, or that we give ourselves permission to go after our feelings it would be the sentiment: “I don’t have to”. Any issue or any topic from the most personal to the most public that begins with these words or the feeling, “I don’t have to…” is where the gumption to go forward based on feelings alone comes from. Whether it’s the sentiment that I can be or do whatever I feel like or ignore whomever or whatever I like, it forms the basis of compromise, lack of aspiration as well as weakens personal and communal commitment and responsibility.

This is what the 15th of Av teaches us and is more relevant today than ever before. “Young man, lift up your eyes and see which you choose!” The daughters of Jerusalem, (the neshamos that have fear of Hashem) remind us to lift up our eyes to look beyond ourselves, and only then make a choice. “Lift up your eyes- Sao Marom Aynechem” is an acronym in Hebrew for the word Shema in the pasuk: “Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echod” Accept upon yourself the existence of Hashem in this world and upon your personal life, and than choose.

A famous Jewish personality often tells a story of his youth in Yeshiva. One day he approached his teacher, a Rabbi and said that although it’s time to daven Mincha, he doesn’t want to because he doesn’t feel in the mood of davening. The Rabbi listened patiently. When he finished the Rabbi said while slowly stroking his long white beard; “Dovid doesn’t want to daven Mincha, and the reason is because Dovid doesn’t feel like davening”. He then paused and finally said; So? This personality said that this interaction had a formative effect on his life and he repeats the story often because our choices need to be based on what’s best and not on how we feel. If we think about it it’s so obvious.

There is a story about the Rebbe’s youth when once in cheder on a Tisha B’Av they weren’t learning.  Instead they were having a theoretical discussion about the origins of man, whether man comes from humans or from apes. Is it our belief that we come from Adam or do we know based on factual evidence that we could not have evolved from apes. The Rebbe was explaining to the other children about how it’s factually impossible that we evolved from apes. His teacher stopped him and said; “if he feels that he come from apes then let him keep his yichus, we know that we come from Adam HaRishon”.

For those that think that their legacy is from apes, not men will say: “I don’t have to”.

We can now appreciate the deeper significance of the Gemara’s description of "those of prestigious lineage". 

The commandment in the Shema of "You shall love Hashem" is a crucial component of our relationship with Hashem. Aside from the fact that loving Hashem is itself a mitzvah, it is also a prerequisite for the proper observance of all the mitzvos. As the Alter Rebbe explains in the Tanya, mitzvos which are not motivated by a love of Hashem are performed mechanically and erratically; only one who loves Hashem serves Him in a manner that is both integral and enduring.

Our love for Hashem comes in different forms. By studying what Hashem has revealed about Himself to us in His Torah, and contemplating and meditating upon these truths, one develops a feeling of love toward Him; a desire to approach His great and magnificent being, to unite and become one with it. This is one of the primary purposes of davening; to generate a feeling of love for Hashem by meditating on His greatness and majesty.

The person who does not succeed in creating a "self-generated" love by these means (as does the beautiful souls described in the Gemara) can attain a love of Hashem by resorting to the inborn love for Him that each of us possess as "an inheritance from our forefathers." (These are the souls of prestigious heritage.) Abraham, the first Jew, was the very embodiment of love of Hashem as described in Sefer Yeshaya; "Abraham, who loves Me". Hashem rewarded him with the gift of "fatherhood", the ability to bequeath this love to his descendants. So each and every Jew has Abraham's love of Hashem encoded in his spiritual genes. As with all inborn characteristics, this love may be buried in the subconscious, stifled by the coarseness of material life and the culture with all of it’s subtle messaging; but it can always be wakened and called upon to stimulate and vitalize our observance of mitzvos. This innate love enables us to lift up our eyes and see beyond ourselves and not be drawn after the temporary styles and attitudes of todays culture and the feelings of the moment to make the right choices that bring the revelation of Moshiach Now.

A Good Shabbos

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