Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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25 Teves 5762 - January 9, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Heart's Desires

by Yochanan David

The Rov's daily shiur in the beis haknesses was over. The participants laid their gemoras back on the designated shelf and dispersed. Some, however, lingered behind to discuss a particular aspect of the material that had been covered that day.

Avigdor approached the Rov to ask a question. The Rov asked him to sit down, closed his own gemora and turned to him with an inviting smile.

Avigdor works in the office of a certain plant. He came right to the point. About half a year before, the Rov had mentioned the Ramban's famous Letter and had noted that it was a very pithy, concise ethical guide, that is, a compact, self- contained mussar sefer. He had noted that it was a commendable habit to read it aloud at the Shabbos table for the entire family to absorb.

"I embraced this suggestion enthusiastically," said Avigdor, "and began right away the following Shabbos. My two sons, aged six and eight, already know that they must speak quietly and calmly, benachas, to everyone, at all times. This has had a positive effect on us all and carries over to the rest of the week. What I would really like to clarify is the exact meaning of the word `benachas.' "

"The Ramban himself provides an answer to your question," said the Rov, taking a siddur and leafing through it. "Here, right after his advice to speak benachas, he explains that this helps a person avoid anger. And in order to conduct oneself humbly, he suggests, `If a man calls to you, don't answer him in a loud voice, only benachas, like a man standing before his master/teacher.' So this should provide you with a precise definition. Speech that is benachas is opposed to that in a loud voice. Lowering one's tone is a method of avoiding anger and is also conducive to humility."

"Thank you very much," said Avigdor heartily. "I am surprised at myself that for over a dozen weeks I myself did not see this very clear-cut definition. Now I will know much better how to guide my children and how to conduct myself, as well.

"I have another question, a much more difficult one. At the end of the Letter, the Ramban recommends reading it once a week. He even promises that `on the day that you read it, you will be granted from Heaven whatever your heart desires.' I tried this wonderful advice. My salary is not particularly high and my mother-in-law's illness requires additional expenses. In addition, my old jalopy is about to fall apart for the last time. So you see I had some very specific wishes in mind when I undertook to read the Ramban's Letter. I am very sorry to say that I was disappointed with the results. What do you have to say about that?"

"That's a difficult one," said the Rov. "But before we try to defend the Ramban against your personal disappointing experience, let us remind ourselves that the Ramban was a very exalted person, one of the greatest figures our people have known! Every single word he wrote in each of his many works is carefully thought out and weighed, and behind it stands his Torah authority and personal mussar integrity in their full stature. We are bound to respect his words according to the level of responsibility that they represent, and when we read them, we must invest intensive reflection and look for fine distinctions of connotation and denotation to reveal, in some small measure, the profundity of thought that was vested in their writing.

"Let us now read the Ramban's guarantee/promise once more: `And on the day that you read [this letter], you will be answered from Heaven for all that will rise in your heart to ask.' Our attention is drawn to the phrase `all that will rise in your heart to ask.' We might have stated it simply as `all that you ask.' What is he trying to convey by saying, `all that will rise in your heart to ask'?

"We are immediately reminded that this particular phrasing is found several times throughout the Letter. For example, `When you are saved from anger, the attribute of humility will rise in your heart.' And again, `And because of the humility, the attribute of G-d-fear will rise in your heart.' This is in distinction to simply saying `heart,' which represents elsewhere one's desires, the hot blood of impulse that courses through the heart of one gripped by desire.

"The `heart' to which the Ramban is referring in his Letter is a marvelous window of sorts into the good traits, the noble desires that are generally latent deep in a person. In reward for the effort and aspiration for the good, a person merits that these selfsame good traits rise and surface in his heart. In this manner, he merits the attribute of humility, which is the most commendable and valuable of all. He also merits the attribute of yiras Hashem, through which he can carry out the charge of `What does Hashem your G-d ask of you, if not only to fear.'

"The Ramban speaks to the reader of his Letter whom he is guiding and who, through the initial effort of speaking calmly, benachas, has succeeded in removing anger from his heart. Subsequently, the attribute of humility has surfaced from deep inside him and in its merit, he was also privy to the attribute of piety, yiras Hashem, of which it is said, `Lo, the fear of Hashem is wisdom.'

"The person who reads this Letter, this man with an improved, more sensitized heart, will constantly think in his heart -- not only `From where do you come and where are you going?' -- but will always remember `before Whom are you destined to stand in judgment and accounting.' And thus does he become a man who is wary and fearful of sin.

"The Ramban informs him that `then will the spirit of the Shechina rest upon you!' In a heart such as this, there is not an iota of pride regarding a fellow man, for pride constitutes rebellion against the Kingdom of Heaven. Only Hashem `clothes Himself in majesty,' so how can puny, mortal man presume to the raiment of the Kingdom of Heaven?

"We already comprehend that the heart of the reader of the Ramban's Letter practices what he reads. His heart is no mere pump to shoot the blood through his arteries and veins. Rather, the heart is a repository of the most commendable of character traits which every person must strive to acquire, even as he continues to stride his mortal way through life.

"Throughout, his heart is directed upward. He considers every fellow man his superior, for he thinks in his heart that the latter is worthy and pure. And even if the latter may have sinned, he presumes that it was in error, whereas he, himself -- with regard to his level and knowledge -- must be considered an intentional, conscious sinner in every false act of deed, speech and thought.

"The reader of the Letter who has come this far through the Ramban's guidance is now expected at all times to imagine that he is standing in the very presence of Hashem, with the Divine Presence reposing upon him. As such, his words will be with devoutness and awe, like a servant before his master, even in mundane exchanges with his fellow man.

"But when he relates to Hashem, that is, when he stands before Him in prayer, he must remove every extraneous thing from his heart. He must prepare his heart [to stand] before his Creator and to carefully contemplate every utterance he is about to emit from his mouth even before it emerges. This is what he is required to do so that his prayer be pure, clear, uncontaminated, directed and accepted before Hashem.

"Note the word `accepted.' This is the very axis of our present discussion. `Accepted,' meaning, that the prayer be answered from Heaven. The Ramban informs us immediately that this is not his guarantee, but an explicit verse in Tehillim: `You will strengthen their heart -- You will cause Your ear to hear.' In other words, one whose heart is prepared, receptive and attuned thus in his prayer, merits that the ear Above shall hear, and then will his request be fulfilled.

"At the end of the Letter, the Ramban says: `Read this Letter to execute it and to proceed according to it after Hashem. And on the day that you read it, you will be answered from Heaven.'

"And now, Avigdor," asked the Rov, "let us consider the person who has run this entire course, that is: has removed anger and pride from his heart, whose heart is subsequently filled with humility and G-d-fear, who is totally respectful of his fellow man, whose thoughts as he stands before Hashem in prayer, and at all times as well, are directed to remember before Whom he is destined to stand in judgment and accounting. Now what would you imagine such a person dreams of asking from Hashem? A fine car? A raise in salary? A vacation abroad? What wish could such a person possibly come up with, or rather, his heart conjure up to request? Something which the Ramban guarantees, with the backing of an explicit verse that `You will be answered from Heaven'?

"A heart such as this, which has run the course of the Letter, step by step, asks of Hashem only wishes such as good traits, heavenly assistance in spiritual matters, success in educating his children to follow the path of Hashem, the redemption of Jewry and the increase of Hashem's glory in the world. These are the requests befitting such a heart."

"Then that marvelous guarantee is not really meant for me," sighed Avigdor despondently.

"G-d forbid!" said the Rov. "Anyone who has the good sense to make a request in any area whatsoever, with the intent that the gratification of his request will enable and help him to walk after Hashem, to perform His commandments and fulfill the will of Hashem -- this is also included in the promise of `You will cause Your ear to hear.' He must simply find the connecting thread between his personal request and the will of Hashem. And then, he must attune his heart to it."

Editor's Note: Some people say that benachas means "slowly."

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