Our Yamim Tovim have passed. The spiritual bubble that enveloped us has dissipated, and we must reenter the day-to-day dramas and distractions of our everyday lives. There’s no doubt that the material world threatens to challenge our spirituality — but are we meant to eschew it entirely?
In his Lekach V’halibuv, Rav Avraham Schorr shlita shares with us how we can take the lessons of the Yamim Noraim to gird ourselves for this challenge.
To Eat and Enjoy
Rav Yishmael ben Elisha said, “From the day the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, we legislate periodic prohibitions upon ourselves from eating meat or drinking wine. But we only impost a prohibition that the majority of the congregation can uphold [and this is not a permanent prohibition]” (Bava Basra 60).
With this, the Talmud validates the natural human craving for the pleasures of This World; this tendency is not one that can be easily or cavalierly disregarded when making decisions in halachah. Meshech Chochmah bolsters this point by noting that there is but one Torah-mandated fast day when we must deprive ourselves of food — Yom Kippur (parshas Noach 8:17).
Rav Schorr quotes the Ramban (Vayikra 17) citing Pirkei d’Rabi Eliezer: “The avodah of Yom Kippur is to liken ourselves to the malachei hashareis.” On Shabbos, we refrain from work and call the day “oneg” —a day of pleasure, delight, and joy with Hashem. It is a day when we refrain from our material pursuits and focus on the G-dliness within.
So too on Yom Kippur, the Shabbos Shabbason, we refrain from the physical pleasures that lure us on the remaining days of the year; our mindset is focused on becoming like Hashem’s ministering angels. It might be tempting to think of the seudah hamafsekes as the last meal of our lives — surely, after the day passes and we have become angels, we will no longer need to concern ourselves with eating.
Yet comes the end of this sanctified day and we are once again instructed to be mavdil, to separate from this experience and once again eat and enjoy.
The true Torah life is celebratory in our corporeality and mortality. As the Kotzker Rebbe remarks on the pasuk “V’anshei kodesh tihiyun li — and be men of sanctity to Me” (Shemos 22:30), Hashem wants us to be men of kedushah. He does not lack for angels or seraphim, he wants human holiness — he wants us to use This World, but with measure and restriction.
Our post-Yom Kippur avodah — and our task for the entire winter before us — is to be anshei kedushah. As the winter approaches, we must strive to be neshei kodesh, living, breathing, human, holy women!
The purpose of all of Creation is to elevate This World. But the wily yetzer hara has all kinds of schemes to distract us from our hallowed way of life. The Baal Shem Tov would say there is so much to learn from the passion and creativity that the yetzer hara uses to entice us to pursue the material world. The yetzer hara has tremendous cheishek, tremendous desire — and he uses that to ensnare us. If only we could channel that cheishek into a passion for holiness, into a passion for kedushah as the Kotzker defined it: using this world with measure and restriction.
Our frum lifestyles have become very influenced by the plenty that is available to us today. The struggles of our grandparents and great-grandparents are but ancient lore to many of us. Ever-changing trends and constant wardrobe updates mean that we have lost the feeling of excitement and thrill of saying a “shehechiyanu” on a new dress.
We must take an earnest look at our interests — at what we like to do, at what we like to buy. These often point to our true cheishek. The yetzer hara’s greatest accomplishment is to get hold of that cheishek and direct it toward anything but holiness (Rav Pincus, parshas Ki Seitzei). We engage in a tug of war with our yetzer hara, trying to maintain our grip on our cheishek. Our task is not simple, but we must know it is one we can win.
This sort of introspection is what Rav Dessler terms the “mabat ha’emes,” a truthful perspective (Michtav MeEliyahu 3:290). This is a frightening exercise of the mind. We must scrutinize our desires to see if our chief source of joy and pleasure comes from closeness with G-d — or from keeping close watch on our peers and trying to keep up with them.
If we look at the first competitive encounter, we see that it was met with utter destruction. Rav Schorr takes us back us back to Bereishis where we meet a crestfallen Kayin who has just seen his brother Hevel’s offering accepted and his own rejected — and in his dismay and anger, he killed Hevel.
From the beginning of time, the yearning to be “one up” has had the power to drive people to insanity. Families will go into debt, maxing out their credit cards and bickering incessantly, all to appear as the equal to others. The need to keep up ultimately brings us down.
Hashem has challenged us to master self-control, to focus on what we have and to uplift it in Divine service. This is what will being us happiness; it is the true oneg in life. We must measure our cheishek and pursue it with clarity; we must contemplate our needs versus our wants. We are not meant to pursue abstinence — we’re meant to use this world, to enjoy it. But achieving control over our desires is one of life’s greatest accomplishments, and it brings with it an incredible feeling of peace.
We tend to enjoy beautiful clothing, jewelry, and all kinds of “things.” That’s how Hashem created us, and we should celebrate being the bnos Melech who revel in “mishbetzos zahav, golden raiments” (Tehillim 45:14).
But at the same time, we must exercise restraint and evaluate need versus want; our purchases and pursuits should be controlled, reflecting our financial, societal, and emotional standing. Our innate tzniyus impels us to honestly evaluate our choices to ensure that they are appropriate and that nothing that we do, wear, or decorate stands out.
Recently I found a number of dresses on sale. They were all tzanua, current, and very well-priced. I ordered them, and when they came, with the mazel that busy people are sometimes zocheh to, they all looked great.
When my husband noticed me packing one up to return, he asked me why I’d decided to do so.
“I have enough dresses, I can’t justify keeping this one,” I answered. If I’m being honest, this wasn’t easy for me. And it takes so much effort to package a return, it would be so much simpler to just stick it in my closet. But when I handed the UPS lady my box, I felt a sense of triumph.
The world around us is shouting, “Buy It, Use It, Have It, Show It!” The smorgasbord of plenty is seen on lots of frum blocks, at weddings, bar mitzvahs, advertisements, and even Torah conventions. Surrounded as we are by plenty, it may seem impossible to withstand temptation.
In response, Rav Schorr shares the words of the Sfas Emes, “The one who loves Hashem awaits and pines to do His will… and the more that the yetzer hara tries to push us from doing so, the greater the chesed from Above.” We have been given another opportunity to bring nachas ruach to our Creator.
The world we live in offers so many opportunities to give the Eibeshter nachas. We face challenges greater than our ancestors could have dreamed of, immense battles against the yetzer hara. But let’s keep fighting the good fight — it’s so very glorious to win!
Rebbetzin Aviva Feiner is the rebbetzin of Far Rockaway’s Congregation Kneseth Israel (The White Shul) as well as a mechaneches in TAG and a visiting lecturer at Stern College.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 664)