Category Archives: Bilvavi

When no one is home…

The following is from chapter 10 of the second volume of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh:

Let us imagine that a person is alone late at night.  No one is home.  He feels lonely.  What does one do?  He immediately tries to call someone.  It’s hard to be alone.  “It is not good for man to be alone.”

But the truth is that the real company for a person should be Hashem!  Whenever you feel lonely, you should recognize this truth.  Sure, it’s not always possible to act upon this awareness, but you must first attain the recognition of this truth, and when alone at home and feeling lonely, you should not rush to the phone to speak, but rather, stop and think:  “Why did Hashem create in me this feeling of loneliness?  Why did he cause me now to feel so lonely?”

After thinking, you will understand that loneliness is a tool for realizing that one cannot live here alone.  The way to solve the problem of loneliness is not the one people superficially imagine.  Hashem wants to bring one to the truth, so one will not feel lonely.  How?  By connecting to the Creator!

When one sits at home and feels lonely, he must first remember the first point, which is that this loneliness derives from the soul not feeling that Hashem is here. 

He must collect his thoughts and say to himself, “I know that the truth is that Hashem brought me to this situation of loneliness so that I will connect with Him.  I also know that I am not yet on that level, and I can’t do that yet, but Hashem wants me to get to that level.  He is not allowing me to forget the truth.  That is why He is constantly arousing in me the feeling of loneliness, so that I will be inspired and remember that the only way to fill the inner emptiness is through Hashem.

On the pasuk, “And Yaakov remained alone” (Bereishis 32:25), there is a well-known comment of Chazalthat this relates to the phrase, “And Hashem will be alone on that day” (Yeshayahu 2:11).  That is to say, the “alone” of Yaakov Avinu must be joined to the “alone” of Hashem.  The pasuk likewise states, “Behold a nation that dwells alone and is not counted among the nations” (Bemidbar 23:9).  The “alone” of a Jew must connect to the “alone” of the Creator, and then there is real companionship.

I had read this last year and then reread it this past Shabbos night.  It totally helped crystallize some thoughts I’ve been having lately.  I’ve been alone and lonely for the past week (yeah boo-hoo).  My family has been in NY and I stayed in Chicago to work.  I will be, thankfully, joining them later this week and for Shabbos.
It’s been lonely at home.  The first night was all right, but then the quiet got spooky.  I sat and read most of the time.  I wondered around a few grocery stores simply because it wasn’t fun being home.    I did find myself davening longer, spending more time in shul and thinking about Hashem.  I think the Bilvavi is right, “When one sits at home and feels lonely, he must first remember the first point, which is that this loneliness derives from the soul not feeling that Hashem is here.”

Thanks to A Simple Jew for suggesting I post this.

Opening my heart

Towards the end of the Amidah we say:
פְּתַח לִבִּי בְּתורָתֶךָ. וּבְמִצְותֶיךָ תִּרְדּף נַפְשִׁי
May my heart be open to your Torah.  May my soul pursue your Mitzvos.

I’m on round two of going through the second volume of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh.  A few nights ago I came across this:

If the Torah he has learned and the prayers he has prayed until today have not brought him to the state of feeling in his heart that Hashem is a real perceptible entity Whom it is pleasant to live with and cleave to, his Torah and mitzvos were only in the mind, but the heart was not functioning properly. (chapter three)

Yeah, this one brought me to a screeching halt.  This is the real deal.  If I’m don’t feel like davening, washing negel vasser, making a bracha, lighting neiros, learning, dressing tzenuah or doing chessed, it’s a problem.  What if I do those things and still feel nothing?  It must be that my heart isn’t open. 

Each generation has their own specific Yetzer Hara.  Not putting enough heart into Yiddishkeit just might be ours.  There’s a cure, though.  It might not be for everyone, but it’s worth a try and has helped me over the past year and a half.  
The gemara in Kiddushin 30b says: Hashem has told Yisrael, “My children, I have created the Evil Inclination, and I have created the Torah as an antidote against it.”  Again, each generation has their own specific Yetzer Hara.  With that in mind, I think it’s safe to type that each generation is given specific seforim and teachers that are vessels of Torah containing the antidote we need against the Evil Inclination of our times. 

Much as been written about the gadlus of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh seforim and their author, Rav Itamar Schwartz.  I am, by no means, a talmud of his or his seforim.  I’m simply more of an armchair or between-aliyos reader.  I’m constantly amazed, even in the English, how clearly he gives over important concepts that I have seemed to have forgotten over the years and brings to light new mind-blowing ideas with such tangible everyday life examples.  Even more importantly that opening my mind, my heart has begun be be opened again, as well.  It’s been a slow process, but when I put in the effort, I’m a better Jew.

Building A Sancuary in the Heart isn’t overly intellectual, hippy-trippy, or feel-good-and-feel-frummer writing.  Its’ success is due to the fact that the seforim speak to each person differently.  In fact, the whole approach to Rav Schwartz’s teaching is very different that that of other Rabbeim.  His Torah has been made available to everyone via the web.  The seforim, mp3s and videos are all there, just waiting for you.  If you don’t feel like the Jew you were several years ago, when Mitzvos and the idea of being close to Hashem seemed to be something you yearned for, then this might be the antidote you need

Connections and reality

First, this quote from the translation of Da Es Atzmecha by R Schwartz:

We identify with the material, and think we do Hashem a favor: “Thursday night I have a class I attend, and with that, I fulfill my responsibility to study Torah for the week.” This is the opposite of the reality. I have not met anyone who eats a piece of cake Thursday night and says, “I fulfilled my responsibility to eat for the week.” Why? Because he’s hungry! You don’t think about fulfilling your obligation. If the stomach is empty, you need to eat! If we would feel spiritual hunger the way we feel bodily hunger, we would solve the whole problem of life. The problem of life is the identification with the material. People think they have specific problems. One has this problem, another has a different problem. This is all true, but underlying it all is a root problem; namely, that we have the wrong sense of reality.

We’ve been dealing with DSL issues all week. I’ve been on the phone and off the phone for several hours all week. Tonight I was dealing with tech support for about an hour, just to get an internet connection so I could check email and, now, post. All this time and effort just to go online. As I reflect, it’s sort of silly. I did, however, recall the above quote that I read over Shavuos and realized that I am lacking in the efforts to maintain strong ‘connections’ in other areas of my life. For example, understanding Tefillah (prayer). While on hold, I decided that I can easily put as much effort into understanding Tefillah and having a stronger connection to Hashem, as I can to getting my DSL connection. We have several great seforim (books) on Tefillah.

I am not one to wave a flag and shout, “Hey! Look at me and what I’m doing!”, but I write this now only to make a concrete commitment to start spending at least an hour a week looking into what I’m actually saying when I daven (pray). In this way I hope to fullfill part of my obligation.

Rosh Hashanah in review

This year I am trying to remember the chessed and Tov that Hashem is constantly showing me. Here are a few highlights of my Rosh Hashanah…

  • Erev R”H my family got a call from the Chicago Center for Torah and Chessed, as part of calling post, to remind us to make an erev tavshulin.
  • Our neighbor brought us some amazing fried chicken from this place.
  • A good family friend gave us a new challah knife as a “segulah” for parnasah in the upcoming year
  • We shared the majority of our meals with very close friends
  • My son joined me under my tallis for duchenning both days
  • Our baalei tefillah used excellent niggunim on both days
  • My shul’s Rav used a Reb Nachman story (the king’s wheat supply makes everyone insane, so he and his advisor mark their heads so they know they remember they are insane) on his first day drasha and based his second day drasha totally on an idea from Rav Soloveitchik.
  • The following items made by Mrs. Uberdox: Challah, soup, stuffed chicken, Caesar salad w/ steak (better than Dougie’s), and the Chocolate Trifle
  • Number of Kohanim in my minyan-6; number of Kohanim sporting velvet kippot-2; number of Kohanim sporting knitted kippot-3; number of Kohanim sporting a seude kippah-1; Number of Kohaim rocking a kittel-1; Being blessed by representatives from Klal Yisrael-PRICELESS
  • Shabbos Mussaf also was way beyond what I expected with a great kiddusah. And I got to make a l’chaim with this.
  • Motzei Shabbos my wife found that we had a flat tire in the Ubervan. I took it, along with my copy of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, to Sam’s Club to get a new tire on Sunday. So, I admit, I had a Bilvavi moment when I started telling myself, “Ribbono shel olam, I know clearly that when I buy this new tire, I do not have control at all as to which tire I will end up buying, but it is all by Your decree.” In then end I ended up with a “Goodyear“. Hopefully this will be a “siman” as well.