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Wednesday
Apr032019

THE 10,000-POUND ELEPHANT

Our vision is so distorted that the proverbial elephant we are so accustomed to and so adept at ignoring has camouflaged itself completely. * Everything hinges on us conquering ourselves.

By Rabbi Boruch Merkur

There’s a 10,000-pound elephant in the room. Look all around if you want, you won’t see it – unless someone brings out a mirror.

There is a galus p’nimi, an inner exile, that distorts our vision so completely that the proverbial elephant we are so accustomed to and so adept at ignoring has camouflaged itself completely. We have become one with the elephant and cannot possibly detect it.

Since Chassidim shy away from mirrors, here is one perspective.

Sitting next to the mashgiach in zal provides a closeup, personal view of real-time issues of those on the frontlines to bring Moshiach. (I don’t mean that I eavesdrop on conversations. I do, but that’s not what I mean.) From the mizrach, just before Shacharis, I follow a trail of crumbs to the breakfast table nearby. I rub my eyes and it comes into focus: the 10,000-pound elephant! Actually, it just got a bit bigger…

The breakfast of champions for our frontline troops is a sizable danish, a meal offering replete with a plethora of carbs and oil. It weighs in at 575 calories – equal to 9 pieces of brown toast! No wonder when I eavesdrop on the mashgiach after davening I hear complaints like “I need to go back to the dorm for a nap.”

Eating before davening has indeed become the litmus test for hiskashrus to the Rebbe. Out of enormous sensitivity and care, the Rebbe relaxes our insistence on not eating before davening, encouraging those who need to eat, to eat – even mezonos – to be able to focus on davening and not “davening to eat.” If we’re tired before davening, have a coffee; if we’re starving, es gezunter heit. But if what we eat does the opposite, if it makes us slothful and lethargic, obviously that misses the point.

***

In Chapter 2 of Kuntres HaAvoda, the Rebbe nishmaso Eden, writes that “it is impossible to begin avoda … if one is not a vessel for it, if the powers of his G-dly Soul are concealed and his Animal Soul prevails.” The Rebbe elaborates on how to prepare for avodas Hashem by gaining control of our eyes, ears, and even our thoughts. They are the gateways to the soul, which, if not guarded, coarsen our middos and deter the possibility of avoda.

Then the Rebbe drops a bomb on our elephant:

Now, the coarseness of the middos and their desires is complex and multifaceted. Each person knows inside what particular aspects are his portion to refine and purify. However, in general, everything hinges on [conquering] the lust for food … It is the cause of all negative personality traits (middos) … The refinement of this negative midda assists and accommodates the refinement of all middos. By weakening this midda – i.e., by not succumbing to satisfying the desires of his Nefesh – all the [negative] middos are weakened.

(Ibid pg. 14)

***

Seeing me koch in Kuntres HaAvoda, a number of mashpiim chime in. One points out that Kuntres HaAvoda was written just to “sneak in” this musar’dike section. The natural attraction of Chassidim to a kuntres that teaches how to daven and serve G-d serves as the perfect camouflage to get this message across to those who shy away from mussar.

Another mashpia draws my attention to the Rebbe Rayatz’s outline of his father’s kuntres. There in the table of contents, he writes for Chapter 2: “The sense of sight and the requisite caution; disciplining the senses, etc.” Sight is singled out as the most fundamental and problematic of all.

A third person tells me that when it speaks of “the lust for food … the cause of all negativity,” it is code for taavas nashim.   

***

The “Meshichist” inside us pipes up: Who cares about avoda? All avoda has been done! All that remains is to greet Moshiach!

True, all the avoda has been done. But as we have seen, once the avoda is done (i.e., after Shacharis), that’s precisely when the elephant wants to go home for a nap. We must take command of these final precious moments of Ikvisa D’Meshicha by standing ready in a uniform with polished buttons, but we’re napping in bed drunk on danishes, and the buttons don’t even do up anymore!

If personal avoda is not something we fully embrace, how in the world are we to relate to what the Rebbe screamed about on Ko’ach Nissan 5751?

What more can I possibly do for all Jews to raise a sincere hue and cry to bring about the actual coming of Moshiach?! All I have done until now is for naught – and the proof is that we are still in exile, and the main thing is that we remain in a galus p’nimi (an inner exile) regarding avodas Hashem (serving G-d). 

And the Rebbe connects this effort – our personal avodas Hashem – with the ability to appeal to G-d to finally bring our redemption:

May it be G-d’s will that ultimately ten Jews will be found who obstinately pursue this task, taking on the responsibility of evoking G-d – and certainly they will have an impact on G-d – … to immediately bring about in the literal sense the true and complete redemption … u’mitoch simcha v’tuv leivav!

We should celebrate our personal avoda of not succumbing to our desires. It is the fuel that assist us and lightens our load. We should be proud of our tiny sacrifices to make ourselves worthy to stand before G-d and demand immediate redemption, as the Rebbe demands of us. ■

 

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