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"Because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, amid gladness and goodness of heart, when everything was abundant:" (Devarim 28:47).
One of the foundations of Judaism is that one must serve Hashem amid gladness and goodness of heart; even ecstatically. However, often people go overboard. This is especially true of those who recently became religious. They express their observance in extremes; relying on Hashem, while ignoring the practicalities of life.
This is not a healthy attitude and often the repercussions are very damaging. Hashem created the world and established certain rules which He wants us to be cognizant of and not to ignore. One must eat properly, rest and exercise and observe the rules of nature.
The true Torah leaders teach this to their students and observe their ways of serving Hashem preventing them from going too far too soon.
It is well known that the Chofetz Chaim would personally visit the Beis Hamidrash late at night and send those who were still learning to bed. When they protested that they still had a lot to learn, he would smile warmly and say, with a father's concern, "Tomorrow is another day. Sleep and get strength tonight and you will be able to learn diligently then.
In last week's pamphlet, Ish Le'reeihu, the authors repeated a story from the classic book Meir Einei Yisroel which I found especially moving.
The Chofetz Chaim was old and the yeshiva was celebrating Sukkos vacation. Nevertheless, a nice sized group of boys remained in Yeshiva for Simchas Torah. After all, where can one rejoice with the Torah more than the place where he studied it daily?
The young boys danced with gusto and got more and more excited as their love for the Torah increased from moment to moment. Suddenly, the Chofetz Chaim appeared at the entrance and the dancing ceased immediately. Everyone there, and everyone reading the story, expected to hear the Sage explain that it was late at night and that tomorrow morning they had to get up early for morning prayers. But they were very surprised to hear that something else was bothering the fatherly image.
"Kinderlach, kinderlach," (children) he addressed them warmly with a great heart full of love. "It is really fantastic to dance ecstatically for holy things; especially the Torah itself. And it is truly hard to stop. But if you tear your shoes, where will you get money to buy new ones?"
In those difficult times in Europe, a boy whose shoes were torn went barefoot. In the terribly rough winters, the cold was unbearable. The Chofetz Chaim would not let his students forget the reality amidst their holy ecstasy.
This Sunday, the 21st of Elul, 5768, is the first yahrtzeit of my Rebby, Rabbi Zeidel Epstein ztvkllh"h. He too was very careful that we never lose track of reality. He taught us to be very religious but, at the same time, to be very normal.
May his memory be a blessing for all of us, always, amen.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network