There is a very interesting story in the Talmud (Pesachim 50a) which tells:
When Rabbi Yosef miraculously recovered from a deathly coma, his father, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, asked him to describe the glimpse he caught of the World of Souls where he had briefly sojourned.
"I saw an upside-down world," he replied, "in which those so honored here because of their wealth were placed very low, while those so low here because of their poverty were there so highly placed."
"You saw a clean world," his father assured him. "But tell me, what was the status of Torah scholars like ourselves?"
"The same honor we enjoy in this world," replied the son, "is accorded to us there."The story is basically telling us that we live in an upside down world where what is important isn’t really important, and what is unimportant is really important. This is a world of fantasy and materialism and not spirituality. We are not physical beings that just happen to have a soul; but, spiritual beings wearing physical clothing which allows us to accomplish our mission in this allusion of a physical world. It is not an easy concept to convince anyone, even very observant Jews. When we get away from this gashmius world (the physical world) and start living the true ruchnius life (spiritual life), all the nonsense and craziness disappears.
So the big question is “what is your status in this crazy, fantasy world?” Take a fast test, just 20 questions – answering yes or no to each. Be honest with yourself since the only One grading you is Hashem.
Test part 1 (yes or no)
Did you pay attention to US Major League Baseball World Series?
Are you rooting for your favorite football team to go to the Super Bowl?
Do know the latest music releases?
Do you have your favorite TV shows?
Do you know Yushka’s mother’s name?
If you are American, did you vote believing that you needed to help get the best leader in office (if not an American did you follow the campaign and have a favorite candidate; someone that you think would be best to help the world situation)?
Did Christopher Columbus discover America?
Does everyone celebrate Xmas, even non-Xtians; after all it is a national holiday?
Do you celebrate Halloween and Thanksgiving?
Do you know who Big Bird is?Test part 2 (yes or no)
Can you name the five books of Moses in Hebrew?
Do you know Yushka’s mother’s name in Hebrew?
Do you know the names of Moshe Rabbenu’s mother, father, sister and brother?
Are you familiar with Shatnez?
Did you ever study the Mishnah Berurah and Shulchan Aruch?
Do you know how many mitzvot are in the Torah?
Is your mother Jewish?
Do you know how many Challahs are used at the Shabbos meals?
Do you know the Hebrew letters?
Do you know what a Minhag is?You may have psyched out my test by now and tried to answer everything in a favorable light rather than an honest answer. If you said “Yes” to all or even most of test 1 and “No” to test 2, you are most likely living the materialistic, fantasy life of this world. If you answered the opposite: “No” to test 1 and “Yes” to test 2, consider yourself a more spiritual person with a bright future. Your trip through life has been on a positive path – seeking the truth and Hashem’s ways.
The problem is that the people who have not studied Torah seem to think they have all the answers. They definitely have the most distorted view of reality. Living in this fantasy world is completely caused by a lack of scholarship in the real world, the world of truth. As long as an individual is convinced that he or she knows what reality is, that perception blocks to ability to see the truth. I thought I would go over some areas of studying scriptures and the truth of this world to hopefully help you as an individual see where you may be going astray.
Let’s begin with a question: Do you understand the message of the Torah or do you have to refer to the Talmud and 1000’s of years of commentary in order to fully understand Hashem’s message? Even with many years of study do you still have more questions than answers? Watch it – this is a trick question. The person who makes statements such as “I know Halachah (Jewish Law)” or “I have read the Torah (in English no less) and fully understand its message,” should be avoided – that is a person with an opinion and not scholarship.
The Gedolim (the great, prominent Rabbis), that I have had the privilege of knowing and with whom I have personally studied, would never give me an answer off the top of their heads, but would always look it up before answering. I have heard many times that the more years one studies Torah, the more one realizes how little one knows and how much more one needs to study. Torah contains everything there is to know about life, as well as covering everything in the universe – there is no missing subject. Do you feel that you know everything about life and every detail of the universe? I have said it before and will say it again “Torah is the most difficult subject in the world since it includes every subject in the world!!!!!”
But, we human beings think we can logically figure it out, even though, I also have mentioned, how flawed our logic is (“For My thoughts are not your thoughts” says Hashem, Isaiah 55:8). The final result is we get into more trouble using our own solutions than just turning to Hashem for His solution to our problems.
One proof of that is personal interpretation. The Torah was given to Moshe in a string of letters (304,805 to be exact) without breaks, without sentences, without punctuation and, the best one of all, without vowels. In other words, there are so many interpretations to every word, even every letter, that to say the English translation we use gives up the deep meaning to Torah is total nonsense.
We sometimes even have the problem in English that if something is written with improper punctuation or even said with improper emphasis, it can mean something completely different. As an example (another test question), place punctuation in the following statement:
Woman without her man is nothingI like this example since most men punctuate it as: Woman: without her man, is nothing. (The pause being between “man” and “is”)
The woman usually punctuates this as: Woman: without her, man is nothing. (The pause being between “her” and “man”)
What a profound difference in meaning by just moving a comma.
What if we put emphasis on certain words in a sentence to cause change in meaning. Examples:
What do you have on your mind? Could become: What do you have on? Your mind? I added a question mark but I changed the emphasis on my pronunciation that changed the entire thought.
What is up the road ahead? Could become: What is up the road? A head?These may be silly examples, but they make one question one’s interpretation – how far is our thinking from the truth? If we are reading Hebrew without punctuation, and even without vowels, how can we be so sure that we understand the meaning – because we have an English translation? The English is always the simple surface meaning with almost no depth to its content (pshat). We are told to rely on thousands of years of Torah scholars (the great Rabbis) who we were told by Hashem that they would give us the insight and the depth. We definitely have deeper meaning available because of Rashi or the Rambam or the Ramban or the Arizal or the Vilna Gaon, etc, etc, etc. These and many other great Torah scholars throughout the years have guided us and taught us ways to see scriptures that we never could have known. Any Yeshivah student will tell you that studying the Talmud without Rashi or Tosefos is not understanding what you are studying. If you are not familiar with Rashi or Tosefos, than you are exactly who I am talking about.
RAV YITZCHAK HUTNER zt'l (in PACHAD YITZCHAK, Yom Kippur 5, Pesach 60 (and notes to Pesach 5:2), Shavuos 25:9) offers a penetrating insight based on the Talmud.
Rav Hutner explains that the three differences between this world and the next as described by the Talmud and by Rashi in Devarim, Deuteronomy, are inherently related to each other. In this world, we do not perceive things the way they really are; reality is blurred, and Hashem's presence is not clearly recognized by all. If we would be able to see Hashem's good and perfection clearly, His true essence as One would be obvious. In the World to Come, reality will no longer be blurred, and it will be apparent to all that everything is good. At that time, the nations of the world will proclaim Hashem's Oneness together with us.
Accordingly, all manifestations of Hashem's attribute as "One" are based on the clarity of Hashem's presence that will be evident in the World to Come.
The truth is that even in this world it is possible, to a certain degree, to disperse the clouds that blur man's perception and understanding of reality and to feel the omnipresence of the Divine will. This is because even in this world, no true "bad" or "injustice" is ever wrought. Everything that transpires is the Divine design and is intended to be for our ultimate good (see Berachos 60b). Although the ultimate purpose behind what occurs in this world is often hidden from our perception, the reality is that it is the Divine plan. When we strive to recognize the Divine plan and to accept it, we gain a "glimpse" of the Creator.
The moment at which it is most imperative that we experience the clarity of the presence of Hashem is when we declare, "Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad," and proclaim the Oneness of Hashem. As Rashi explains, this exclamation expresses our longing for the world in which Hashem's presence will be fully revealed and He will be recognized as One. When we recite this verse, we attempt to gain clarity of Hashem's Oneness in this world of confusion by finding the hidden, inherent good that exists in everything that happens and that exists in this world.Several additional points need to be made about the way we evaluate Torah in this upside-down world. Many times I have received rebuttals to subjects with the statement “this Rabbi says this or that,” or “my Rabbi allows us to do this or that.” Be aware that you can probably find almost any answer that you want from a Rabbi – just keep looking. Does that mean that they could be wrong? No it usually means that we are getting very superficial answers on very complicated questions – sometimes questions that have been debated for thousands of years. We very rarely get to talk to the Rabbi in depth to hear the real answer or, even more important, what is Hashem’s opinion on that question. A Rabbi that answers off the top off his head without an in depth search into scriptures, may be giving you nothing more than his personal opinion.
Sometimes the Rabbi is trying to make it easier for you to accomplish a Halachah and will give you a very lenient response that is convenient but not the best answer. This, I know, even comes from the Gedolim. As an example: Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, one of the greatest authorities of our modern times has given lenient answers but would not necessarily follow his own advice. An example would be about a Shabbos timer used to turn on and off various electrical appliances, lights or even heating and air conditioning systems. Rav Moshe gave permission to use such timers saying they were halachically acceptable, but he, himself, would never use one. It comes down to a decision made by an authority of the highest level that says “I have found no violation in doing something a particular way, but to be as stringent as possible in the eyes of Hashem, I still would not do a particular act in case there is a slight doubt. We are not on the level of a Rav Moshe and in no way is he not giving us a totally correct answer, but because we do not go into the depth of life’s questions as a Gadol such as Rav Moshe, our complete understanding of each answer is only surface information and should be studied a lot deeper before we claim to have the right answer or, even worse, pass it on to others as the truth from Hashem.
I studied for years with a talmid (a scholarly student) and former neighbor of Rav Moshe and saw the tremendous depth and scholarship of which such a brilliant Rabbi is capable. Yet, as my mentor told me, information becomes very distorted when past down from one Jew to another or even how information can be completely misunderstood by an observant Jew. I have talked about bad habits and how people can truly believe they are doing the right thing but are, in essence, hurting themselves and others by pontificating opinions rather than scholarship.
I have been accused of not telling the Absolute Truth on this blog, but I have yet to receive any argument of any information, with the refutation being backed by scriptural proof. This has been disturbing since I know that I have extensively researched and presented facts with complete confidence and that the individual who is making the comment is hurting him or herself with false interpretation. Saying that I am wrong on a subject without giving me a scriptural reference to counter the argument is useless to me or my readers. I am very, very open minded to the fact that I am human and make mistakes but I try to compensate with years of research on the one question that I always ask on any subject: “What is Hashem’s opinion on that?” Giving me an answer from a Rabbi should also be supported with his deep insight from scriptures and not off the top of his head.
One more word about what Rabbis have said which is very important to this discussion is that very often Rabbis change their rulings on questions as times changes or as circumstances dictate. An example: In the 1990’s there were Rabbis that cautioned about listening to the Facilitated Communications individuals as marking them as true messengers from Shamayim. Why? The FC individuals were, at that time, without a track record of making statements that came true. The Rabbis were totally correct in cautioning us -- then. Here we are 20 years later and the same Rabbis have emphatically stated that these individuals have satisfied the prophecy of Bava Basra 12b, that prophecy has been given to the Shotim and the children (this is a long discussion that has been discussed already – several times) and also that they have satisfied the test of a prophet given to us in the Torah.
Another topic that I have discussed (and has been questioned recently by readers) is that we have the choice to be lenient or stringent on everything we do. Refer to my post “Habits” 29 May 2012 and "Habits (continued)"for details. The basic concept here is that we are watched and judged by Hashem with everything we say and everything we do. We then receive in return measure for measure what Hashem thinks we are worthy of. In other words, if we serve Hashem with the absolute best intentions and with complete love, He judges us favorably in the same way and life is good. If we do as little as possible, with the idea that we are just getting by doing the mitzvot, then we should never complain when our life is just getting by with what Hashem gives us.
Pirkei Avos tells us that Hashem doesn't want us to study Torah; He wants us to live Torah. Of course we cannot live Torah to the fullest unless we study our instructions in great depth. Bottom line, especially in the end of days is: we must be as stringent in doing Hashem’s will as we possibly can, and do it with great joy. It may sound strange but when we are doing Hashem’s will to the fullest with the best of intentions, life becomes so wonderful that you are greatly encouraged to do even more. It’s habit forming.
I wanted to mention that at the time I talked about being very stringent (machmir) in performing Hashem’s will, sure enough, I receive comments telling me of Rabbis who say that you don’t have to be so stringent. I suspect that those Rabbis were either very misunderstood or are leading lives that are somewhat less than joyous. It is one thing to cut yourself short of a happy life, but to pass that on to others is not Hashem’s way. I have had it happen to me that with the best of intentions a Rabbi gave me a watered down response to make it easier. The final result is I developed an incorrect habit that needed changing. Sometimes being more lenient is not helping anyone. I have taught people easier ways to do things but have included the path to become more stringent. Building up to a process with baby steps is a good way to learn but don't stay at the lower level, continue to build – that is true Teshuvah. As we used to say in the Army "be all that you can be." Never stop growing nor be satisfied with something less than perfection.
There is another very big misunderstanding. Issues like women hair covering (recently discussed), kashrus, purity and all the 613 mitzvot are matters of spiritual guidance. We absolutely do not know how a violation of a mitzvah or even performing a mitzvah in a lenient versus stringent way affects our soul. I received a comment from a well-intentioned woman who told me that her husband is not affected by seeing a woman's head covered in a wig instead of a snood or tichel. This means he knows exactly what his Neshamah is experiencing, and that is ludicrous. I know she is referring to his physical reaction but the physical reaction means nothing – it is the spiritual reaction or damage to which I am referring.
Refer to my post “The Human Aura” 7 June 2012 to see that what we experience spiritually and physically are two different things. To say we know how we feel about something is a physical reaction. To say that we know how it is affecting us spiritually is beyond human comprehension. To tell me that a Rav said it is all right does not pass the common sense test of what makes it all right.
I live by a very convenient motto: “when in doubt, leave it out.” If there is the slightest possibility that what I am doing is not the most advantageous way according to Hashem, then I look deeper into reality and figure out the best way. It is my choice and when I don’t have the slightest comprehension as to how something could be hurting me or my family spiritually, I don’t question it any further but take the safe route. This is especially true in the end of days when we need all the help we can get. Listening to very lenient advice from a Rav is shooting ourselves in the foot. Even though his effort, his advice is with the best of intentions, the result may be you getting a much lesser Olam Habah.
People are weak and have very little discipline; I know, being a retired US Army Officer, about the infinite number of excuses to do things the easy way. In the military a lack of discipline can cost you your life on the battlefield; in life in general a lack of spiritual discipline can lessen one’s level of eternity and even hurt us in this life. We work hard to get closer to Hashem, not to look for every shortcut to make life easier which in turn distances us from our goal.
The spiritual level that we want and don't have is exactly what our life's work is. There is no all or nothing. Seven point three billion people on Earth are at seven point three billion different levels, and each person has the obligation to him or herself, and to every family member for which we hold responsibility, to work hard to raise that level. Turning to Hashem with complete trust and faith is the nicest thing one can do for oneself and family. It is not Hashem or us -- we are one -- on the same team with the same goal -- Tikun Olam.
I have heard for years people tell me "I have not been too lucky in life." I have also heard and personally experienced that the more we turn to Hashem and follow His ways, the luckier we get. There is no such thing as luck -- there is only experiencing everything going better and better when we work harder within the system that the Creator of this life provided.
His instructions are foolproof and guaranteed to work. The problem is our misconception of His instructions, since I have heard also "I follow Hashem, but I still have problems." I have evaluated many cases of people who think they are following His ways (including many of my blog readers), but have made up their own set of rules.
The study of Torah resulting in living the Absolute Truth is a rare commodity; but, the very undisciplined human being comes to the conclusion "what I am doing is good enough” and then follows with “but it doesn't seem to be working.” Duh! Maybe you haven't reached a spiritual level that is good enough. Maybe you need to spend the rest of your days increasing that level. I am pointing out the obvious but it doesn't make any difference since we all, yes including me, have a long way to go and are greatly clouded and deceived by this fantasy of an upside-down world.
Those of us who are cognizant of what we lack and do Teshuvah every day to work on it, are the ones in good shape and heading in the right direction. People, who are satisfied with their level of spirituality, don't have a clue as to how much they are hurting themselves in this life and all eternity. Get with the program and experience true happiness. Hashem guarantees it. Try to see this world right-side-up as described in the Torah and see what a difference your life will be.
I posted back in March of 2012 my introduction to this blog and stated:
The space between my fingers is how long life is on earth.
The space outside of my fingers is eternity and the length of our eternal life.
We work so hard to make life on earth as pleasurable and successful as can be and we ignore the real life which goes on after we change addresses. We do live forever but the time in this upside-down world is very limited and is the only opportunity to get is right for all eternity. Be as skeptical as you want about the truth; but, be aware that a day is coming soon, I believe very soon, that you will know without a doubt what the Absolute Truth really is. We will all see what have accomplished and know how much better it could have been if we only worked harder to truly follow Hashem’s ways.