Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Human Nature

Rav Aharon Leib Steinman, shlit"a, once discussed the terrible scourge of sinas chinam in a moving manner. Speaking in a pained tone of voice, he said, “It is sad that when a Jew wants to expand his apartment, his neighbor—even if the construction doesn’t affect his apartment in the slightest—will often find an ‘underground’ way to stop construction. Such a person often won’t even allow his neighbor to put up a sukkah for seven days a year. But why should he care? In many situations the protestor's apartment is in the north and the construction is in the south. Although there is no earthly reason why such construction should annoy them, they still protest. This is especially despicable when they oppose the building of a shul, claiming that this will cause the price of their apartments to drop. "Firstly, this is definitely false. Quite the contrary, in a religious neighborhood, building a shul can increase the value of apartments in the vicinity. But the most important reason why such conflict is wrong is more basic: why should they care? Why not rejoice in your neighbor’s good fortune instead of complaining? But what can we do; human nature is such that we tend to resent the success of others and it is hard to be giving. “This is explains why we find in Avos that one of the ten miracles in the Beis Hamikdash was that the kohanim didn’t think thoughts that would render sacrifices pigul. Why is this required? Clearly the kohein did not profit by invalidating the sacrifice of another Jew! This is one of the miracles because the nature of people is to be mean-spirited and act out of spite. Even in the holiest place on Earth, it required a miracle to protect people’s sacrifices from being ruined because of innate bad middos!”

Monday, April 16, 2012

No Atheists in Foxholes

There is a famous saying: “There are no atheists in foxholes.” This indicates that, despite a person's protests, the moment he is under pressure he instinctively turns to Hashem for aid. This is not an intellectual exercise, like some kind of a gamble; it is a nearly universal reaction that is very revealing. The Alter of Kelm, zt”l, explains this in depth. “If one observes, he will find that emunah definitely never leaves a Jewish heart. Those who claim not to believe—or for some reason act like one who lacks belief—simply cannot focus on faith in an honest way due to the ulterior motives of their physical drives. The moment they are confronted with hardship, they naturally turn to Hashem because the trial brings the emunah to the fore. Our job is to work to reveal the emunah from deep within, to recognize it and value it.” Although teshuvah is open to everyone, it is not always easy to return as the Mahartiz, zt”l, points out: “Our sages tell us that 'כל שפסולו בקדש אם עלו לא ירדו'. This means literally that anything which was placed on the altar but became defiled is not removed. We can learn an important lesson in avodas Hashem from this statement. Even if a person acts in a פסול or defiled manner, but he is still בקדש, still knows the truth of Torah and mitzvos despite his weakness;אם עלה –if he is hit with a thought to do teshuvah, לא ירדו he will succeed and not fall again. But the opposite is also true. If the pesul is not בקדש, that is one acts sinfully because he sees himself as a kind of חוקר פוקר or philosopher-skeptic, even if he has a thought to do teshuvah it will be very difficult for him!”