To Fly With Avos

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To Fly With Avos

Harav Y. Reuven Rubin Shlita

Have you ever seen a soul flying?  You have – I know you have.  Everyone has, although sometimes we don’t recognise it as such.

I used to live in a small community on the southern side of Manchester, England. Most of my flock was what can be described as average middle of the road ‘Orthodox.’  Added to this was a large mixture of university students from all parts of the world.  You wouldn’t necessarily expect to find yeshiva bochurim in their midst. Yet even in such a diverse amalgamation of Yidden, one could witness moments when souls would ignite with the flame of hislahavus (spiritual fire).

Take, for example, George, a self-made millionaire who is the proud father of a young family.  Every day would see him running up and down the country, busy making deals, catching planes, being driven to and fro in his chauffeured limousine.  The man was a workaholic, the envy of all his colleagues.

All this would come to an abrupt stop on Shabbos.  Each Shabbos morning, George would walk into shul with his little daughter.  He would sit down in front of me, wrap himself up with his tallis, open his siddur and commune with Hashem.

Let me explain. George doesn’t really read Hebrew.  He would open his siddur, close his eyes and start to talk to his Creator.  For the entire davening he would stand there, totally focused, talking very gently to Hashem.  Every time I would look up he was there, mumbling, conveying his deepest needs, as only a simple sincere Jew can do.  With all his millions, his designer clothing, his mansion and his latest model cars – when Shabbos morning arrived, he would soar with the angels in humility and tenderness.

Such souls afire can be seen regularly.  Think for a moment: the young child caught up for the first time in saying Shema: the bochur davening vasikin,  burning with the fire of an entire night’s Torah learning; the young lady weeping at the Kosel, Tehillim in hand – these are souls flying, moments when Jews grasp the wings of angels.

To me, such events are nothing short of miraculous.  To think that in the thick of this most material of generations, where the entirety of society screams out against any spirituality – in just such a world, Yiddisher souls take flight.  It’s a true act of audacity on the part of any Yid to be an oveid Hashem in today’s atmosphere.  In the words of the Kotzker, it shows “holy chutzpa.”

The truth is, it has always been this way.  Look at the first Mishna in the third chapter of Avos:

“Consider three things and you will not come to the grip of sin.  Know whence you came, whither you go and before Whom you will give justification and reckoning.  Whence you come?  From a putrid drop.  Whither you go?  To a place of dust, worms and maggots.  And before Whom will you give justification and reckoning?  Before the King Who reigns over kings, blessed is He.”

The Mishna tells each person to take a serious look at the reality of his situation.  You started from less than nothing, it tells us, and you will end in the same way.  Why tell us such depressing news?  Because the King Who reigns over sovereigns, the Holy One, blessed is He, made it so – and it is to Him that we will have to give justification and reckoning.

Yes, He created the reality, but He also gave us the ability to rise above it.  If not, imparting this information would serve no purpose.  We can wriggle out of the grip of sin and make our existence more than its origins warrant.  If this were not the case, we would not be asked to do so.

The Kotzker Rebbe described this with a beautiful parable.  Picture a ladder that descends from Heaven to earth.  Along this ladder, souls descend from the upper world to this mundane world.  The moment the soul reaches earth, the ladder is withdrawn, and a Heavenly voice summons the soul to climb back up to Heaven.

Some souls give up immediately.  Since there is no ladder, how on earth can they ever succeed in getting back to Heaven?  Other souls decide to try even without a ladder, but when they do not succeed after a number of leaps, they too fall into despair.

But then there are the cleverer souls.  They say to themselves. We are certainly obligated to do as He commanded us – to ascend. Since there is no ladder, He Himself will assist us to succeed. They leap and leap until at last Hashem has mercy on them and stretches up His Hand and lifts them up to Him.

This Mishna gives us so much hope. Yes, we start from dismal beginnings, but that very fact gives us promise.  It tells us how earthbound we may seem, but the reckoning is to Hashem and He wills us to leap up from this earthly prison.  The justification we will have to offer will be how much we tried.  Every Yiddisher neshoma can fly.

The tragedy is that all too often we get dispirited and quit.  People carry a lot of pain within themselves – hopes are dashed; loved ones let us down.  It seems so difficult.

The world may seem to lack an easy ladder to fulfilment, but that’s not how to find Heaven.  We must and we can jump again and again.  Hashem, the King of kings, knows it seems impossible, yet He gives us hope of renewal if we keep trying.

There is yet another facet to all this, and that is the responsibility we have to let other souls rise according to their needs.  One sometimes senses an atmosphere where soul-flying seems to be discouraged.  So much public pressure weighs us down; we no longer think in terms of souls being set aflame.  Forcing prerequisites upon others can often make for earthbound neshamos, too encrusted with a fear of flying.

Before closing, let us visit Kotzk for yet another moment.  The Kotzker was once closeted with his close colleague and disciple, the Chiddushei Harim.  Hours passed, but the Rebbe sat with closed eyes, his forehead filled with the intense wrinkles of Heavenly thought.  Suddenly the Chiddushei Harim heard the Kotzker speak in a whisper.  “Man is created with ten levels of understanding.  Ten levels, levels within levels, but he can only reach the ninth level and no further.”

There was a pause.  The kedusha could be felt in the silence.  The Kotzker then turned to his friend.

“Aren’t we obligated to at least once touch the tenth level?  If not, why was it created?  If it is impossible, it is impossible.  But I say to you, nevertheless, a man’s willpower must be greater than his power to achieve!  In Tehillim, we say to Hashem, ‘You rule the raging of the sea; when the waves rise up, You praise them’ (Tehillim 89:10).  It was Hashem, the Ruler of the world, Who placed a boundary of sand before the sea to serve as a dividing line between ocean and land.  This boundary stands forever.  Why, then, do the waves storm so, roaring and thundering?  Why do they impatiently rise up, shaking the world?  Are they not rebelling against the Will of their Creator?  See their thirst, how madly they thunder against the edge of the land.  Look at the energy they expend in their storming, trying to smash through the boundary in order to swamp the earth. The waves know well that Hashem will not return the world to empty chaos.  They can never succeed in breaking down the barriers and overtaking the land.  Yet despite all this, the Creator, Who rules the height of the waves and Who sets all boundaries and limits, praises those waves for their fierce desire to break down that very same boundary.  Why?  Because their will is greater than their ability.  They know they will never achieve their desire.  Hashem praises their momentous efforts.”

Yes, we start as nothing and our physical end will be even less, but in between we can fly – and it is to this that we will have to give our final reckoning.