Keep the Flame Burning

They called him the Sorof of Trisk, because like a fiery angel, his heart was aflame in his avodas Hashem. Chassidim testified that while he davened Shemoneh Esrei, they could see a flame burning above him. His tefillah was something to behold, full of dveikus and emotion. During his davening, he would cry and scream, and bang on the wall, as he beseeched Hashem to fulfill the many needs of Klal Yisroel.

One day, a guest who would be staying for a few days arrived at the tzaddik’s home. The guest was a Yid from Germany not accustomed to seeing this kind of tefillah, and it seemed rather strange to him. After a few days of staying at his home, the rebbetzin asked him, “How are you enjoying your accommodations here?”

“All is fine,” he answered, “except that there is one thing I don’t understand.”

“And what is that?” asked the rebbetzin curiously.

“Why does the rebbi make such a commotion when he davens? He screams and he bangs. Why doesn’t he just daven quietly and peacefully?”

“Because his heart is aflame,” answered the rebbetzin. “It is on fire, so he cries out to Hashem.”

“But my heart is also aflame. My soul is also boiling, but I do not yell. I daven quietly and serenely.”

“No,” said the rebbetzin. “If your heart would really be on fire, you, too, would be screaming.”

The man insisted that his heart was aflame during his tefillah. Seeing that the argument would have no end, the rebbetzin promptly and politely ended the discussion.

It was Erev Shabbos and this guest, who had a lot of money with him for business purposes, approached the rebbetzin and asked if she could put it away over Shabbos for safekeeping. She did so happily. After Shabbos, the man asked her if he can have his money back. Being a wise woman, she asked, “What money are you talking about?”

My money. The money I gave you for safekeeping before Shabbos.”

“Are you sure you gave me money? Perhaps you are mistaken.”

Rebbetzin, please! Do not play tricks on me!” he said nervously.

“You must be confused,” she said.

Rebbetzin, rebbetzin! You are making me nervous. You know what was in my purse? I had all of my money, and money that I borrowed to buy merchandise at the fare. I need my money back!”

“Perhaps you gave your money to someone else,” she said.

Rebbetzin!,” he screamed, “what are you doing me?!”

“Please, Reb Yid,” she said, “why must you scream? Could you speak more politely and in a calmer manner?”

“Why am I screaming? Because my heart is burning. Because my money is gone, and without it, I am in deep trouble.”

“Aha,” said the rebbetzin. “Your heart is burning and you are screaming. Here is your money. But learn from this that when someone’s heart is burning, they scream. It depends what the heart is burning about. If it’s about money, then you scream about your money. If it’s about dveikus in Hashem, then it is during davening.”

Truth be told, there are different derochim in tefillah, and many tsaddikim, while their hearts were aflame in their avodah, contained their emotions and davened quietly. Eilu va’eilu. Both of these ways are the words of the living G-d. The common goal is to keep our hearts heated up in our devotion to Hashem. How do we manage to do this with so many distractions? How do we keep that flame burning?

The Gemara relates that when Yaakov Avinu was niftar and his sons went to the Me’oras Hamachpeilah to bury him, Eisav arrived and claimed that the remaining burial spot belonged to him. When the sons told him that Yaakov had bought it from him, Eisav said, “Show me the document of sale.” Having left it in Mitzrayim, they sent the fleet-footed Naftoli to run there and bring the document.

As they were waiting for him to return, Chushim ben Don, who was hard of hearing and was not privy to the entire conversation with Eisav, asked why his grandfather’s burial was being delayed. When told that Eisav was the cause of it and they were waiting for Naftoli to return with the document, Chushim exclaimed, “What? And until then my grandfather should be dishonored?” He immediately grabbed a stick and struck Eisav on the head. Eisav’s eyes popped out of their sockets and rolled to the feet of Yaakov. To this, Yaakov opened his eyes and smiled. At that moment, the prophecy of Rivka was fulfilled. As it says, “Why should I lose both of you in one day” (Bereishis 27:4)? And even though they didn’t die on the same day, they were buried on the same day (Sotah 13a).

Surely, the sons of Yaakov, all of them physically strong, were perfectly capable of killing Eisav. Why, then, was Chushim the only one to stand up for the honor of Yaakov Avinu?

Rav Chaim Shmulevitz explains that the key lies with the fact that Chushim ben Don was hard of hearing. A human being has many frailties. One of them is that after being aroused to action, his inspiration could die down rather quickly. The passing of time and a tendency to come to terms with a situation can help squelch even the strongest motivation within a person.

Rav Meir Chodosh, the mashgiach of the Chevron Yeshiva, related that when he was learning in Slabodka during the time of the civil war that was taking place in Russia, he was arrested while walking in the street and taken to be shot. Miraculously, he was saved, and as he went back to the yeshiva, he was so filled with gratitude to Hashem that he thought of ten new kabbalos that he could accept upon himself to serve Hashem better. By the time he was halfway back to yeshiva, he said, the number of kabbalos had shrunk to five, and when he finally arrived in yeshiva, they were down to two, which he kept for about a year.

This is what happened with the brothers. Of course, initially, when Eisav came with his claim that the burial spot belonged to him, they were infuriated. But as they argued with him and the moments passed, they gradually adapted to the situation and were able to tolerate the delay of their father’s burial. Not so Chushim, who was hard of hearing. He was totally oblivious to what was going on around him. The moment he found out that Eisav was causing a delay, which was a dishonor to his grandfather, he acted immediately and killed Eisav. For him, there was no possibility of his initial impulse to cool down, so he was credited with causing Yaakov Avinu’s kevurah to proceed.

Unfortunately, this tendency to lose one’s initial passion brought terrible consequences to the Chashmonaim after the miracle of Chanukkah. Originally, they fought with valor to save Klal Yisroel from the decrees of the Yevonim. After many battles, they were able to bring peace to the land. But then they lost their focus. Shimon, the last of the illustrious sons of Matisyahu, instead of waging a war against the Tzedokim began to tolerate them. Eventually, his descendants became Tzedokim themselves, fighting against the chachomim, which eventually led to the destruction of their entire family at the hands of King Herod.

Such is the nature of man. He may be inspired to do great things and the motivation may last for a while, but if he doesn’t actively feed the flames of his passion to serve Hashem, then time and the forces of nature may take their course in making him lose his focus, cooling him off and bringing him down. The key to success is to have a strong awareness of this tendency and to constantly be on guard to keep the fire burning.

The only way to guarantee that a person maintains that spiritual warmth within him is to be occupied with Torah. When Yaakov Avinu was first told that Yosef was still alive and that he is ruler over all of Mitzrayim, his heart rejected it, for he could not believe them. To Yaakov, his son Yosef being alive meant that was still alive spiritually – that he still had a pure neshamah and that he emulated the teachings of his father. But how could that possibly be? How could it be that in the land of Mitzrayim, full of idolatry, witchcraft and immorality, he maintained that flame of holiness that he had in his youth?

It was only when they repeated to him Yosef’s divrei Torah – the last subject that they had learned together before their separation, the parsha of eglah arufah – that Yaakov’s spirit was revived, for if he remembered the Torah from so long ago, then that was what his mind was preoccupied with. If so, it was indeed possible for him to maintain his kedusha even amidst the darkness of Mitzrayim.

Before he was niftar, Yaakov Avinu blessed the sons of Yosef, saying, “By you shall Yisroel bless, saying, ‘May Elokim make you like Efraim and Menashe…’” (Bereishis 48:20). What was so special about Efraim and Menashe that we bless our children through them?

One of the many explanations given is that usually we find that “niskatnu hadoros.” With the passing of the generations, the level of Klal Yisroel’s avodah is lowered. “If the earlier generations are like angels, then we are like humans” (Shabbos 112b). We cannot compare ourselves to the previous generation, let alone earlier generations.

The exception to this rule are Efraim and Menashe, for although they were a generation after the sons of Yaakov, they were part of the Shivtei Koh. As Yaakov said to Yosef, “Efraim and Menashe will be to me like Reuven and Shimon” (Bereishis 48:5). This despite the fact that they weren’t raised in Eretz Yisroel like the shevotim were, but rather grew up in Mitzrayim. What was the key to their success?

Both of them were connected to Torah. Efraim spent his entire day learning Torah, while Menashe, who assisted Yosef in the royal court, supported his brother. Each one of them understood his role and was focused on it, both of them working as a team and in unity. This is the greatest blessing for Klal Yisroel – that everyone be connected to Torah and be focused on their role, whether as learners of Torah or as supporters of Torah. If this is done with conviction, then there is minimal dissent of the level of Torah in the coming generations. To the contrary, the Torah blossoms and spreads, and the flame of Torah of earlier generations continues to burn strongly.

We bless our children to utilize their talents and be focused on Torah. In this way, they can maintain standards of earlier generations as best as possible. Of course, in addition to our efforts, we must constantly daven to Hashem that He watch over us and help us not to be distracted by the environment around us or the various responsibilities we face. May we be able to constantly revitalize ourselves so that every day we feel a hischadshus in our avodah.