Nourishment for the neshoma
Rabbi Y. R. Rubin Shlita
Writing about Rosh Hashonoh is extremely daunting. There are so many things one wants to share, yet there is no one formula that can express the entirety of this day’s majesty. Allow me to visit just one aspect with you.
In common with other Rabbonim I have recently had to field a large number of sha’alos regarding internet activity. Although our communities have taken upon themselves takonos that are meant to encompass much of what is needed to stay safe, like so much else in the realm of halochoh, there are always unique circumstances that need clarification.
One aspect that may have become lost in all the diversity of discussions we are having concerning the threat of the internet, needs highlighting, especially now before the Yomim Tovim.
I recently heard from an extremely reliable source that a well- respected yeshiva rebbe, who teaches fourteen year old boys in a heimishe mesivta in Brooklyn, was explaining the halochoh of what happens if a child was converted to Judaism as a small child. The Gemoro explains that in such a case the boy must be asked upon reaching bar mitzvah age if he wants to remain a Yied. One student raised his hand with a question, “I don’t understand Rebbe, why would any kid choose to stay a Yied if he had a choice?” One can just imagine how the rebbe felt, especially as the questioner was a fine boy from a frum home. The rebbe decided to see if this boy was just having some sort of aberration. So he handed out blank papers and asked the entire class to check one of three options. If you had a choice would you:
- Stay a yied?
- Opt out?
- Remain undecided?
After tallying up all the responses, he found in this heimishe boys school in Brooklyn, where all the boys wore expensive tefillin and proper hats, that close to ninety per cent would opt out!
I must reiterate this is not some story whispered during leining in shul, or some yiddisher urban myth. This actually happened, and it is symptomatic of what may be a deeper malaise.
The Rambam in the third perek of his Shmone Perokim compares the body of a person to the soul.
Just as there is such a thing as a healthy body, so it is that there are souls that are healthy. However, there are bodies that are not well; there are symptoms of illness and one must seek to find a cure. So neshomas may be sick and we must try with whatever means possible to find what it is that is making them ill and seek a cure.
Rambam states further….. There are times when, for example, one will find a blemish on his skin, something that really indicates a deeper problem, but he won’t go deeper. Instead, he will just smear some ointment on it, or put on a plaster. This will only allow the deeper illness to fester until it gets much worse.
So, too, with the neshoma. We may have something we feel or do, and we figure it’s nothing, just what they call a “bad hair day” perhaps. So we slap a plaster over it, we say a kedushala, or perhaps open a sefer for a few moments. Then we figure, well that’s done now, let’s get on with life. Sadly though, the under-the-surface decay remains intact; all we have done is to apply a smidgeon of spiritual ointment without addressing the deeper need.
Our young have been raised in a world where being a frum Yied is taken for granted. Everything is glatt, everyone is kosher. There is no place that one can’t find a hechsher.
Spiritual borders are seen as an encumbrance, made for tearing down, not for creating safety.
In all this packaged, instantly accessible yiddishkiet we somehow forget to tell our young what it is we are really about. What we aspire to, how we find focus. In simple terms, what a Yied lives for.
The Peasetzna Rebbe ztl wrote in Tzav Veziros a passage that, no matter how often read, still challenges. Upon reaching his fortieth birthday, he states, he is frightened that he has not achieved the levels of kedusha that he hoped for. He then seeks a way to better himself and asks: “But to what shall I commit myself ? To learn more? I think that as far as possible, I don’t waste any time. To abstain from physical pleasures? If my desires are not fooling me, Boruch Hashem I am not attached to them. So what am I missing? Simply to be a Yied! I see myself as a self-portrait that shows all colours, and features which mirror real life. Just one thing is missing: The Neshoma.”
We have given ourselves over to a creation of beautiful colour and amazing life-like features, but in some ways we have left out the vital ingredient: the neshoma!
Our young won’t grow up organically loving Hashem or cleaving to Him. They have to breathe this in the air at home, and rebbes need to investigate such matters just as they are asked to cover a given number of dapim in Gemoro.
Nothing can be left to chance; we dare not take anything for granted. The challenge of the internet brings these fault lines to the fore. Self-control comes with one’s love for Hashem, otherwise it is shallow and prone to shatter with the click of a mouse.
Rosh Hashonoh represents the reification of Hashem’s Majesty over us. We are the children of this great King, yet for too many this is just a notion and not reality.
As we think of a future that must somehow contend with dangers such as the internet and a host of other threats, we must all develop a deeper connection with our spiritual source. True clarity in one’s soul will facilitate growth despite the dangers that lurk in the atmosphere. Without this, we are just dealing with the superficial manifestations of what is in truth a serious illness.
May Hashem grant us the ability to heal ourselves and may we all be granted a kesivah vechasimah tova.