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Weekly Chizuk

Parshas Ki Seitzei

Elul A Flash of Lightning!

(Adapted from a recorded lecture by Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus, zt"l.)

The Prophet Yechezkel wrote (1:14), "And the Chayos (living creatures) would run and return, like the appearance of lightning."

The Sefer Yetzira (??? ?????), "Book of Formation," or "Book of Creation," is the title of the earliest extant book on kabbalah. It is attributed to Avraham Avinu. In the beginning it makes a very enigmatic statement (as all the statements there are): ??? ?????? ??? ?? ?????? ????? ????. Roughly translated it means, There are 10 sefiros consisting of nonentity, their visage is like the appearance of lightning.

Of course, such a deep work of Kabbalah cannot be understood in such a superficial manner. There are many very profound commentaries written to explain every word in this sefer. However, perhaps we can glean a slight hint of a message to us from these very lofty words.

Perhaps we can dwell on the use of the word ??????. Taken at face value, we could translate it as expectations. A tzifia is one's outlook, how one looks at himself, and what he expects from himself.

Every one of us has expectations. We have very grand dreams and hopes. One of the basic fundamentals of a person is that he has expectations about himself. What's the problem? Our expectations are too big. Because of this, we don't live up to them. Here lies the message: when you have big expectations, what's the eitza? If you can't grab all of it, grab a little of it. Grab a flash of lightning of it.

I'll give you an example. Rav Zelig Reuven Bengis was a tremendous talmid chochom. He wrote a seven-volume commentary on the Talmud, called "Leflagos Reuven". In 1937, Rabbi Bengis was invited to be the Av Beis Din over the Eida Hachareidis in Yerushalayim. He moved from Lithuania to Israel - the Holy Land - shortly before World War II broke out.

Rav Bengis was a phenomenal Talmid Chachom. Every several months he made a Siyum Hashas. I'm sure you understand the impact of that statement: a Siyum Hashas. How many of you have made a siyum masechta, much less a Siyum Hashas? There is so much involved in making a Siyum Hashas that there are many great talmidei chachomim that have never made one. And here was Rav Bengis finishing Shas every few months.

Once he made Siyum Hashas, and then 2 weeks later made another Siyum Hashas. Everyone asked him, did you really manage to finish Shas in just 2 weeks? We never thought such a thing possible.

"No," he answered. "My Siyum Hashas normally is because I have a set schedule each day to learn such and such amount of pages of gemara, and so I finish Shas every several months. This siyum now is a different seder that I have. I am often invited to a Bris Milah to be a Sandak. These events invariable do not start on time. I sit down and learn gemara. I'm invited to a wedding. Everyone is waiting for the chupah to start. Or we're sitting at the wedding banquet waiting for the choson and kallah to come out. I take out a gemara and learn. I learn a blatt here, a few blatt there. This is a separate seder from my daily schedule. I learn 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there. Thus I managed now to finish Shas."

Nu, Rabbosai, a nice story? Let me ask you something. When I go to a chasunah, and I have to sit for 15 minutes. Or I'm at a Bris and I'm waiting 5 minutes. What do I do? Well, if I thought of myself as a masmid, and I knew that I could do this steadily and finish Shas, certainly I would do it. But I know myself. I'll start, but I won't continue it. I'll never finish. Why bother starting? Eh! That's expecting too much from myself. It's too big for puny little me. So what do I do? I sit down next to someone and start to chat with him.

What's the eitza? If you have any expectations of yourself, then every time you come to a chasunah or a simcha or any event where you have time on your hands, grab a flash of lightning of your expectations. You're right. What's so great about 5 or 10 minutes. It's nothing big. That's right! But even just one time is a flash of lightning; a flash of something great. What's lightning? When the sun is shining, we see a beautiful vista. Everything is clear to us; we can see all the fine details. We can see far into the distance all the way to the horizon. It's an entire beautiful panorama. But when it's dark in the middle of the night, we can't see anything. Everything is black. Suddenly there's a flash of lightning. For a split second we can see everything before the darkness returns. Once a person experiences that flash of lightning he can remember what he saw and find his way. A flash of lightning is a glimpse at the greater picture. That is what we have to grab on to. We have to grab on to a flash of our expectations. ?????? their appearance is for a second, a flash of lightning. If you have expectations even like a flash of lightning, you can find your way. You're right, it's nothing big. But it's a flash of greatness. And a flash of greatness is also greatness.

Let's look at this from a different angle. There are many of us who don't want to speak loshon hora. Imagine a housewife chatting on the phone. On the other end is her friend who suddenly announces, "Did you hear what happened to so-and-so yesterday?" Our housewife becomes extremely aware that she is about to made privy to some loshon hora. Her mind starts racing, hunting for a way out. She could say, "Just a minute the cake is burning," or "Please excuse me there's someone at the door. We'll continue tomorrow." With that she could elegantly end the conversation and not have to participate in loshon hora.

However, what does she think now? "If I knew that from now on I'm never going to speak loshon hora again, I'm going to become a great tzaddekes, that's wonderful. It's really terrific to be a tzaddekes." But instead she thinks to herself, "today I'll stop speaking loshon hora, but I know that tomorrow I'm going to speak it again. I know I'm not a tzaddekes. What's the point in making believe I'm a tzaddekes today when I know what I'm going to do tomorrow!"

So we answer her. True, to be a tzaddekes all the time is a very great thing. However, a flash of being a tzaddekes is also something. You have to grab every flash of expectation that you can.

Rav Pincus continued, I want to tell you a story that happened to me. I was a child of 13 sitting and learning in the Biyaner Shul in Brooklyn. There was a young man, a neighbor, who after learning some time in yeshiva went out to work. Baruch Hashem he had just married and was now a Choson. I remember that I hadn't gone to the chasuna (we weren't that close). But the day after his sheva brachos I was sitting in shul and he came in. He looked like a million dollars still dressed in his new chasuna suit. He took out a gemara Brachos, the first masechta in shas, and he sat down and started learning daf beis amud aleph the very beginning. What's the meaning of this? This was the day after his sheva brachos, he felt inspired, so he sat down to learn shas!

I started beaming. Ah, what a Kiddush Hashem. A fresh choson, right after the wedding, sits down to learn; and not just learn. He starts shas from the beginning. And with such a sweet nigun, and what fire, what excitement. It was a mechaya! I sat there and enjoyed it.

He finished learning and went out. The next evening he returned and took out maseches Brachos again and turned the page. However, I noticed that tonight it was different. The nigun just wasn't. He was trying to force himself to sing the gemara nigun, but it just didn't go.

The third night he came, in but this time he took off the shelf a Tur Orach Chaim. He opened it up and started from siman aleph, the first halacha. He had already given up on shas. It was too much for him so he gave up. Instead he would start learning the Tur. That's halacha! That's something he can tackle. And again the nigun returned; such a fire, such a sweetness. Ah! Geshmak! My heart again soared.

The fourth night he came in, still holding in the first halacha siman aleph, but with less of a nigun. He learned. The next night he didn't return. I'm sorry to say, he had given up.

Nu! A nice story? Familiar? This young man is now a grandfather. I know him. Let's study what happened. Where was his mistake? He sat down to learn a daf gemara. The next day he learned a daf gemara with less enthusiasm. He was looking at the future. Is there a chance I can finish shas? Then I'll learn. The first day he learned with a fire, because he was going to finish shas. But by the second day however, he realized there was no chance. He'll never finish shas. His whole cheishek just vanished.

What was going through his mind? "What's it worth learning just one daf gemara? It's not worth it! Come, let's try learning halacha, maybe some light limud will help me." He started learning Tur Oruch Chaim. Ah! What cheishek! I'm going to finish Shulchan Oruch!" But by the second (fourth) day he realizes, no chance. He'll never finish. So his reaction was, "My expectations yesterday aren't worth anything. One blatt isn't worth very much."

If only he would have realized, yesterday you sat down and learned a blatt gemara. How rich are you! That's true wealth. So you can't finish shas. True, to learn shas is a stupendous accomplishment. But each blatt is also worth diamonds! This is our mistake. If you have great expectations from yourself, but you come to the realization that you can't realize them. When you see that you can't live up to your dreams, grab a flash of lightning of them! Whatever you look at as greatness, keep that dream in front of you. Never let it go. And if you can't deal with all of it, deal with a little of it. Whatever it is. Whether it's Torah, or good middos. Grab onto a flash of it.

Imagine a person who decided that it's a wonderful trait to always be happy. A smile lights up the room, and helps put everyone in a good mood. But he doesn't do it. Why? Because he says to himself, "If I do it today, I'll have to do it tomorrow, and the day after. Today I'm in a good mood, but tomorrow it will be a show. I can't be a hypocrite." That's a mistake.

Rav Pincus mentioned, I give a shiur in daf yomi in Ofakim. The shiur starts at 9:30 and goes until 11:00. I try to gain a connection to the participants. I want to relate to you the manner in which I conduct the shiur. If someone comes 5 minutes late, I keep quiet. If he comes at 9:45, I make some mention of this to him. I try not to embarrass him, but I do try to mention it in some way that he shouldn't come late tomorrow. Someone who comes at 10 already knows that he can expect from me.

The shiur finishes at 11:00. When someone comes in at 10:45 I shower him with compliments and brachos to him and his children and his grandchildren. I announce, "Wow! This is a Yid!" Why? Someone who comes 15 minutes before the end of the shiur didn't come late. Coming late means coming 15 or 30 minutes late. That shows a flippancy regarding the importance of the shiur. Someone who came at 10:45 is not late. It means he wasn't planning on coming. Something must have come up and he was very busy and couldn't make it to the shiur. His time finally freed up when there was only 15 minutes left. What does a person normally do under such circumstances? He gives up. He says to himself, "Ach! I lost the shiur. To come for only 15 minutes? It's not worth it." So instead of coming to the shiur, he goes home.

If he can come to the shiur for the last 15 minutes, if he can come for 5 minutes of learning, that's gadlus!

It is now Elul. Everyone is thinking about making a new start. We are making plans for our "New Year's resolutions." How many of us made resolutions last year? And now, a year later, what happened to them? And, unfortunately, that goes for the year before, and the year before that. So what do we do? We give up! The message of the Sefer Yetzirah is no, don't give up. Instead take that flash of lightning that is called Elul, take that inspiration that we receive from Heaven and use it. Every inspiration for growth is gadlus. Learn how to appreciate even a flash of it. Even just a flash of lightning. Whatever you see as gadlus, is gadlus. If you can't grab all of it, grab a flash of it.

Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos!

Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
4 Panim Meirot, Jerusalem 94423 Israel
Tel: 732-858-1257
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop Lakewood).
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