Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Ashes of Humility

Our sages teach that ashes formed on Erev Yom Tov are considered “prepared” ahead of time. They may therefore be used for the mitzvah of kisui hadam, covering a slaughtered animal’s blood, on Yom Tov itself. The Biala Rebbe, zt”l, would explain this metaphorically: “Why are the ashes considered already ‘prepared’—because the most important preparation for prayer is to be completely humble, to see oneself like dust of the earth and ashes.” As Avraham Avinu said as he beseeched Hashem, “…and I am merely dust and ashes.” (Bereishis 18:27)
Rav Raphael of Barshad, zt”l, a disciple of Rav Pinchas of Koretz, zt”l, would always spend many hours preparing for Kol Nidrei on Erev Yom Kippur. Only after an extended period of intense learning and soul searching would the Rav go to the mikveh. After immersing, he would prepare himself to daven Minchah and eat the seudas hamafsekes. After the meal, he would sit again to learn and prepare himself for the tefillah zakah. During the course of his long day of preparing for Yom Kippur, the Rav was careful not to waste a single moment of precious time.
One year, just as Rav Rafael left the mikveh, he was approached by a man who clearly wanted to speak. Unfortunately, this person had all sorts of nonsense on his mind and occupied a great deal of the Rav’s time with what was essentially an extended monologue without any real substance. It was literally impossible for the Rav to tear himself away without insulting this other person, and since he had no choice he remained standing outside the mikveh while the priceless minutes ticked by.
After the gentleman left, the Rav said to himself: “The Ramban writes in his famous letter that we can attain humility by accustoming ourselves to speak all of our words gently to everyone, all the time. Clearly, this even means someone who is wasting our time talking about nonsense while we are leaving the mikveh on Erev Yom Kippur!”

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