Keep forging ahead, and the time will come when you’ll recover your appetite for Torah
igh fever, sore throat, muscle weakness. I found myself experiencing all these symptoms and more during a recent bout with strep.
In addition to the aches and pains, I had no appetite whatsoever. Foods that I had previously enjoyed lost their appeal. I needed to force myself to eat and drink in order to avoid becoming totally weakened and dehydrated. Eventually, baruch Hashem, as I recovered, my appetite was restored as well.
As we know, everything in the physical world has a parallel in the spiritual world.
The Ribbono shel Olam gave us the Torah, which is intrinsically sweet and pleasurable. As the Ohr HaChaim famously expressed, commenting on the words, “V’samachta b’chol hatov — You should be happy with all the good that Hashem has given you” (Devarim 26:11), “the good” is referring to Torah, as Chazal teach us, “the only good is Torah.” If people tasted the goodness and sweetness of the Torah, they would excitedly chase after it.
Shlomo Hamelech describes the Eishes Chayil: “Ta’amah ki tov sachrah, lo yichbeh balaylah neirah — she tasted that her merchandise is good; her candle will not be extinguished at night” (Mishlei 31:18). The Eishes Chayil is able to taste the goodness of her “merchandise” — Torah and mitzvos. As a result, the light that she radiates is not extinguished, even during dark and difficult times.
Days of Hatred
The challenge we face, however, is that we’re not always able to taste the sweetness of the Torah. People may go through stages in their lives when they feel disconnected from their spiritual core. Perhaps they’re facing health challenges, relationship issues, or financial difficulties. Perhaps they’re overwhelmed or just bored. Perhaps they’re going through hormonal ups and downs. Whatever the reason, the result is the same: Torah is not pleasurable to them. What should they do?
Rav Shlomo Wolbe, in his sefer Alei Shur, quotes the Sefer Hayashar (said to have been written by Rabbeinu Tam), which speaks about the phenomenon of “yemei ha’ahavah” and “yemei hasinah.”
In the progression of a person’s life, he’ll go through ups and downs. He’ll experience yemei ahavah — times of excitement and joy, when he loves learning, doing mitzvos, giving to others. This feeling is often strongest in the beginning of a new venture or a new relationship. Inevitably, though, that excitement will wear off, and feelings of boredom, lethargy, and distance will set in. These are the yemei hasinah — when we seem to have lost interest.
The key point to remember during yemei hasinah, the Sefer Hayashar says, is not to give up, to keep on going even if we’re doing much less than what we’d done during the yemei ha’ahavah.
We need to accept the yemei hasinah as an inescapable reality. Just as a person will inevitably become ill occasionally, a person will inevitably experience yemei hasinah. A person recognizes that he needs to push himself to eat and drink, even if his appetite is gone; so too, we need to push ourselves to keep on davening, keep on doing mitzvos, even without the excitement we had previously.
During an illness, a person will do all he can to strengthen himself and recover — he’ll take extra vitamins, medications, etc. In the same way, we need to do all we can to strengthen ourselves and recover from a spiritual weakness. For some women, that may mean learning or listening to shiurim. For others, it can mean connecting with people they look up to. Whatever it is that builds us, it’s vital that we make the time to do it.
Facing the Source
When a person is sick, he recognizes that it’s because of his illness that he doesn’t have an interest in food; so, too, when we have less interest in an aspect of Torah or davening or a specific mitzvah, it’s crucial that we recognize that the problem lies with us, not chas v’shalom, with the Torah.
The Torah tells us, “Ki lo davar reik hu mikem, the Torah is not an empty thing for you” (Devarim 32:47). Interestingly, the pasuk uses the word “mikem,” from you, rather than the word “lachem,” for you. The Yerushalmi notes that this teaches us: Im reik hu, mikem hu. If you find the Torah to be reik, empty, you should know that it is “mikem,” because of you, a sign of a spiritual malady within that needs to be corrected.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that there’s a problem with the Torah. As hard as it is, keep forging ahead, and the time will come when you’ll recover your appetite for Torah, and once again appreciate its fullness and its flavor.
The Heel of History
In the beginning of our history as a nation, immediately after the giving of the Torah in the Midbar, the first nation to attack Klal Yisrael was Amalek. The Torah describes Amalek’s attack as “asher karcha baderech” (Devarim 25:18). One of the explanations Rashi offers for the word karcha is that it’s related to the word “kar,” cold. Amalek’s goal was to cool us off, to diminish the excitement and enthusiasm for the Torah we’d just received.
Now, as we near the end of our history as we know it and get closer to the Geulah, the yetzer hara is using the same tactic. We’re living in in the period the Gemara refers to as Ikvesa d’Meshicha, the footsteps of Mashiach. The literal meaning of the word “ikvesa” is heel. The heel is the body part least sensitive to touch. Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman explains that one of the characteristics of the era of Ikvesa d’Meshicha is that people will be like the heel — they won’t be as sensitive to ruchniyus. It will be harder to feel inspired.
What are we to do to inspire ourselves and our families during this challenging time of Ikvesa d’Meshicha?
First and foremost, we need to beg Hashem to remove the coldness and lack of sensitivity and help us taste the sweetness of Torah and mitzvos. Just as we daven to Hashem to heal us when we have a physical illness, so too we need to daven to Him to heal us and our children, from the spiritual illness of not feeling the true pleasure of Torah and mitzvos.
I recall reading about someone who had tremendous hatzlachah with all of her children. She was asked: What’s the secret of your success in chinuch? She answered that she believed much of her hatzlachah was a result of her tefillah during hadlakas neiros every week, in which she’d beseech the Ribbono shel Olam: V’haarev na…. Please make Torah sweet for me and for my children and grandchildren.
What if we incorporated V’haarev na into our personal tefillos at lichtbentshen? What if we started saying V’haarev na with an extra dose of kavanah during Shacharis?
Perhaps Hashem will then see our inner desire to dispel our feelings of coldness and distance and to replace them with feelings of a deep connection to Him. Perhaps He’ll answer our tefillos and restore our appetite for Torah and mitzvos, enabling us to live up to Shlomo Hamelech’s description of the Eishes Chayil, who tastes the sweetness of her merchandise and is therefore able to radiate light even in the dark of night.
Rebbetzin Suri Gibber has been involved in chinuch habanos for decades, first as general studies principal in Bais Yaakov High School of Miami, and, for the past 15 years, as principal of Bais Yaakov High School of the Twin Cities. She also gives adult education classes.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 805)
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