Monday, March 14, 2011

Two types of foolishness

In the ma’amor Bosi LeGani, we learn that we can create the Dwelling for G-d in this world by turning shtus d’l’yuma, the foolishness of the world, into shtus d’kedusho, the foolishness of holiness.

What is meant by the former? Being too absorbed in the wordly things for their own sake. Clothes, food, jewelry, gadgets, computer games, politics, your job. What is meant by “the foolishness of holiness”? Serving Hashem with utmost devotion, breaking even boundaries in holiness — the limitations and excuses one has set up for oneself not to grow in Torah matters. Regarding this the Rebbe says:

The way to break out of the bounds and restrictions imposed by the animal soul is to conduct oneself according to the Shulchan Aruch and to study ethical writings. This enables a person to realize that materiality is utterly worthless. As a result he will free himself of the restrictions of the animal soul, and of course from the restrictions of the body. However, when it comes to freeing oneself from restricting bounds in holy matters, that's quite a different story.

Exactly what are the latter restraints?

Concerning the study of Torah a man might argue: It’s enough for me that I am one of the “supporters of the Torah”; it's enough that I study “one chapter in the morning and one chapter in the evening”; the shiur after davenen will suffice; studying without exerting the soul or the  flesh will be quite enough; it's enough that I study nigleh, the revealed plane of the Torah: do I have to study Chassidus as well?!

Concerning avodah, i.e., davenen, the same individual argues that it's quite enough that he arrives at shul in the middle of davenen; according to the Shulchan Aruch he can then skip most of Pesukei DeZimrah, the psalms of praise — i.e., three-quarters of the davenen — so long as he prays together with the congregation. Surely it's enough that he hastily churns and chops his way through the words, without taking time off to think what they mean. If he does think about what the words mean, without meditating for a moment on Whom he is addressing, then surely that's more than enough. As to the earnest frame of mind that is supposed to precede prayer, he discharges this obligation by clasping his hands like a servant before his master; now, having done that, he can allow his thoughts to fly hither and thither...

Concerning tzedakah, this individual argues that the Shulchan Aruch itself lays down limits. There is a certain quota required by the Torah, deoraysa, and there is a certain quota required by the Sages,deRabbanan — and surely he is not obliged to give away more than the prescribed minimum. As to giving away more than a fifth of his income, then this is not only not obligatory, but (he argues) forbidden! For did not the Sages say that “he who gives freely should not give away more than a fifth”?

Besides, this individual argues, in no area of his life should a man make more stringent demands on himself than the Torah requires him to. For this stance he quotes the Talmud Yerushalmi: “Let the Torah's prohibitions suffice for you!” “Tell me,” he protests, “am I expected to be more pious than the Yerushalmi?!” In similar vein such a man contends that it is not proper to expect him to do things that go beyond the letter of the law: if only he would conduct himself according to the law, he says, according to the Shulchan Aruch…

These arguments derive from the limitations of one’s mindset — including the limitations of one’s mindset in holy matters.
 But what does it mean to convert the foolishness of the world[ly matters] into the “foolishness” of holiness?

The Rebbe explains in Bosi LeGani (Tes-Vov) that this means, on one level, taking the energy that you invest into the worldly things and re-investing it into holy things. You are not going to skip a meal, are you? If you’re hungry, you’re hungry — you will drop everything and go eat lunch. You are not going to go to sleep a little late, are you? “Sorry, I am tired; good night.” If you’re reading a book or watching a movie, you can become so absorbed in them that you will becoming completely unaware of the world around you.

Well, use the same attitude towards the holy matters. Don’t delay (or, G-d forbid, skip) learning or davening just like you wouldn’t delay or skip a meal or going to sleep. Become as absorbed in davening and learning Torah as you’re absorbed in, lehavdil, watching a fascinating movie or reading a captivating book. Run to do a mitzva as fast as you run to move your car if you know you may get a ticket. When you’re wondering whether you should “take it easy” in some concept of kedusha, replace mentally this concept with some aspect of your everyday material life, and ask yourself whether you’d take it easy there.

Then take that energy of mental investment into the worldly things (and for every one of us, this is individual: for instance, I don’t care about following sports, but I like reading fantasy; I don’t care about clothes, but I care about gadgets or computer programs; I am bored in a jewelry shop, but bring me to a bookstore, and I will get lost there¹ — for someone else, however, the list can be quite different) and apply that energy to kedusha.

¹ I know, “nerd alert”...

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