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THE ART OF BUILDING SPIRITUAL SAND CASTLES
After Pesach break, it’s hard to get back into learning and onto the spiritual Sefirah-sail to Shavuot, to the upcoming Matan Torah. Especially when I have to go back to juggling being a husband, father and breadwinner, not to mention my post-holiday diet.
One of my favorite Sefarim, one that I learned from cover to cover in Mussar Seder when learning in R Tzvi Kaplan’s Yeshivas Kodshim, is R’ Chaim Volozhin’s Ruach HaChaim on Avot. He writes that the major ploy of the Yetzer Hara is to blind the eyes of man, telling him constantly, “How can you find time to learn Torah? You need to be busy with your Parnassah!! You need to support the wife and kids!”
Of course, we need to toil for our bread, and we need to be responsible for our finances. But it is only G-d who decides exactly how rich you will be, which efforts will bear fruit, and how much. All the extra effort will not help you, nor will the efforts “help” G-d give you more, if it is not what He wants to give you.
According to Judaism, people who become rich don’t become rich because they are in real estate, nursing homes, medical supplies, stocks, selling insurance, or brands. They became rich while they were in those fields of business. From before a child is even created, it is decreed if he is to be rich or poor. (Niddah 16b) This ruling determines one’s whole financial life. And, at the beginning of each year, on Rosh Hashana, it is decreed exactly how much money you will have in your bank account, for that year. (Beitzah 16a) Of course, it is important that you try to work smart, to do your Hishtadlut, for the Beracha to take place… But no matter how much harder you try, you will not make one dollar more than what has been decided! And, G-d could have given you that same money, with just a little work on your part! This is a fundamental pillar of Jewish Emunah.
In stark contrast, in spirituality, regarding fighting your Yetzer Hara, Torah study and connection through prayer, it is not at all like that. As long as you live, till your very last breath, it is undetermined, and up to you, and only you, if you will be a Tzaddik or Rasha. That is the only thing that is left undetermined, according to Judaism! In spirituality, your success is dependent on three things: 1. How much effort and time you invest in your learning Torah. Torah study melts the Yetzer Hara away. (For women, who do not have Torah study, it is their modesty that is their Yetzer Hara repellent. Vilna Gaon.) 2. What and who you associate yourself with, and what and who you disassociate from. How far you distance yourself from the things and people that are distractions to your learning, prayer, and service of G-d. Keeping your phone out of Shul and study hall, getting the best internet and phone filters, connecting yourself to a rabbi who can clarify any doubts of what G-d wants from you. 3. How much time and effort you invest in praying. Even if a person makes all the effort to fight his Yetzer Hara, he still can’t do it alone. G-d made the Yetzer Hara, an angel, much stronger than Man, who is merely flesh and blood. But when a person puts in the effort to fight, G-d helps.
This is the meaning, of the words, אם אין אני לי מי לי. If I am not for myself, if I will not start to fight my spiritual battle setting up proper times to learn and proper study partners, if I will not choose who and what to associate with, if I will not pray for my own good and my needs, who is to me? When it comes to spirituality, in contrast to things of a physical or a material nature, if I don’t put in the effort, if I do not initiate and try to make spiritual “moves”, I will lose the battle for spirituality in my life. I can’t wait for G-d to save me, spiritually, if I am not trying, myself. If I keep waiting for just the right thing to motivate me spiritually, in order to win my spiritual battle – a good class, a Rabbi or friend who is a good influence, being back in yeshiva, having all my life’s finances under control right now, etc., it will never really come! G-d is waiting for me to be the one pushing ahead, to make spirituality happen, to prepare for it, to take the initiative, to make the moves!
Now, just because you fight hard for your spirituality and you reach your spiritual goals, don’t become haughty over your achievements: וכשאני לעצמי מה אני And when I try to battle for spirituality on my own, what am I? If G-d does not help me, I can never reach my spiritual goals on my own, because the Yetzer Hara is much stronger than I am! And still, when G-d helps a person overpower his Yetzer Hara, G-d gives the person total credit, as if he has won the spiritual battle against this Evil Angel alone, without G-d’s help.
The problem is that most of us know we are not tzaddikim, we know what we have to improve, but we think we have a “time bank”. I’ll get to fighting my spiritual battle later in life! The day before I die, I will do Teshuva! I am still midlife, I am still young, I still look young! When it comes to material concerns, if you did not make the money today, no worries! You will make it tomorrow, for it is all predestined. If you missed out on the investment, during Covid, you will get another investment opportunity tomorrow, because no one can take from you the amount of money you are supposed to have! But if you missed a day of learning, if you missed a day of good prayer, a day with tzitzit, a day of teshuva, that day is dead! You can never get that day back! This is what it means when it says ואם לא עכשיו אימתי. And if not now, when?
There are two seemingly similar words. מושיע savior. עוזר helper. What is the difference between the two? מושיע, Savior, means, that He saves you when you can’t help yourself. עוזר Helper, means, that he helps you when you help yourself. When G-d saved the Jews at Yam Suf, it says ויושע. The Jews did not need to do anything on their own, for G-d fought the final battle against the Egyptians; He saved them, on His own. But when it comes to fighting the Yetzer Hara, G-d won’t save you, He will only help you if you get up again and try to help yourself. ואלמלא הקדוש ברוך הוא שעוזר לו – אינו יכול לו (Succah 52b) G-d won’t save you spiritually, He will only help you save yourself.
The Talmud tells us that a person’s shidduch and his Parnassah are as difficult as Kriyat Yam Suf.(Sotah 2b) Of course, nothing is hard for G-d, not even Kriyat Yam Suf! If He created the Sea, He can definitely split it! But your shidduch, your parnassah, is compared to Kriyat Yam Suf: whatever Hishtadlut you do, and you should do all the Hishtadlut you can – but that Hishtadlut is not what is going to bring you your parnassah and your soulmate. Just as it was hard for the Jews to see how G-d would bring them a salvation at Yam Suf, it is hard for us to understand how we will be able to find our soulmate and figure out our finances, for the rest of our lives. But G-d will show you. Just like in regard to the splitting of the Sea, G-d was ויושע, in regard to your Parnassah and soulmate, as well, He is ויושע . He did not need your Hishtadlut at all to help you, He did not need your help to help you. He saved you, and did it all by Himself.
Another explanation about the common difficulty in Kriyat Yam Suf, shidduch, and parnassah. It was hard for G-d to split the Sea, because the Jews had sin and lacked merit; but still, G-d found a way to give them what they did not deserve. The only thing that makes it hard for G-d to give you your soul mate, to give you your parnassah, is the sins that we have and our lack of merit. And still, G-d finds a way to give us what we do not deserve. (See Alshich Shemot 13;11)
Why is it so hard for us to loosen up in our physical efforts, and to take more action on our spiritual goals? We invest in what we believe has significance, and we are impressed by financial wins, wealth and strength, and not impressed by a spiritual win, by someone with a connection to G-d. Why?
Because we think of spirituality as not being real, of something that is just an ideal… and we think of fancy cars and homes, physical, material success as real! How foolish! It is the exact opposite! In Olam Haba, all the luxury of this world will be washed away, just as one wave takes down the biggest sand castles! You can’t take Upstairs even your socks with you! Everything you toiled to acquire will be left to others.וְעָזְב֖וּ לַאֲחֵרִ֣ים חֵילָֽם: (Tehillim 49;11) The only sand castles that will last forever, the only ones that no wave can take down, are the spiritual sand castles that we build while we are here in this world: our Torah learning, and our victories over the Yetzer Hara! עשה תורתך קבע. It is called YOUR Torah.
Selfie Steps for building Spiritual Sand Castles:
- It’s me, or no one. No one can light up my spiritual spark for me.
- It’s now, or never. Today will never come again.
- All I have to do is start. I can never do it all on my own. G-d will help me.
- Get rid of distractions. Anything that prevents you from becoming a Tzaddik is a distraction.
- Know where your efforts make a difference. When it comes to finding your shidduch, when it comes to your parnassah, you don’t need to try hard; you just need to keep trying. When it comes to your spiritual fight, you need to try much harder.