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2 Tammuz 5766 - June 28, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Longing and Yearning

by HaRav Moshe Samsonowitz

Part II

In the first part, HaRav Samsonowitz noted that it was the yearning of the Jewish people to resemble heavenly creations that brought them their arrangement in the Camp in the desert under flags (degolim). On Mount Sinai the Ministering Angels held flaming "flags" of fire when accompanying Hashem as He descended upon the mountain. The Israelites saw these flags and were overcome with the desire to emulate them. To acquire a virtue or a new spiritual level, one must first long for it. After a person demonstrates that he desires it, Heaven will relate favorably to his request and help him attain it. We see that longing is made an explicit requirement for fully fulfilling many mitzvos. We must long for our deeds to reach those of our Ovos. The heavenly fragrance of the ketoress aroused a deep longing to serve G-d. The Rambam says that as part of our preparation for Shabbos we must long for it to come, as if awaiting a distinguished guest. Sefiras HaOmer is an exercise in longing for Matan Torah. The Ramchal says that an essential component of prayer is to be "bestirred to want to be close to Him and to seek His favor." This feeling is not an extra virtue, but a condition upon which a prayer's success is contingent. If we do not bestir ourselves, shefa will not be channeled down upon us.

And He Ran After Eliahu

Our traditions indicate three kinds of relationship to those who teach us Torah. The Shulchan Oruch has clear-cut halachic parameters concerning who is considered one's main teacher (rav muvhak), and who is considered one who has taught him only part of what he knows. However, there is a third category that we will call "rebbe" for lack of a better term. This is the individual who a person feels is his main mentor. He turns to him for resolution of his doubts. He accepts his decisions, he deeply admires him, and he longs to be in his presence.

How can a person be certain who is his rebbe? This question concerns every one of us. I asked this question of the gaon Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt"l, and he answered me that this matter is explained in Melochim I 19:19- 21: "Eliyahu passed by where Elisha the son of Shophot was plowing, and he cast his mantle upon him. And [Elisha] left the oxen and ran after Eliyahu, and said: `Please let me kiss my father and my mother good-by, and then I will follow you.' And he said to him, `Go with them; what do you want from me?' ... But he arose, and went after Eliyahu, and served him. "

Elisha had never met Eliyahu before the moment his mantle touched him. But the effect of those few moments on him was electrifying. Elisha immediately left the plowshare and gave up all his worldly assets and livelihood to serve his new rebbe, Eliyahu.

Elisha's longing for Eliyahu is expressed in the verse, "Draw me after you and we shall run" (Shir Hashirim 1:4). A true disciple feels a longing for his rebbe, whether he is his rebbe's presence or not. The proof, explained Rav Hutner, is how a person feels when he is without his rebbe for a period of time. If he has a strong longing to see him, then it is clear that he is his rebbe.

What Children a Person Should Long For

In explaining the parameters of the mitzva, "Know Him in all your ways" (Mishlei 3;6), the Rambam explains (Hilchos Dei'os 3:3): "It is not proper to wish for sons who will engage in a livelihood and provide their own needs. Rather, he should wish for . . . a son who will be a wise man and great Torah scholar."

What's wrong with wanting to have children in fulfillment of the mitzva to be fruitful, and hoping that one's children be Torah-observant Jews who keep the laws of the Shulchan Oruch and set aside time for Torah study? Can every child be a wise man and a great Torah scholar?

The Rambam teaches us, however, that if we are already asking G-d for His blessing, we should ask Him to give us not less than the best (as we explained in the discourse, "Living Lechatchiloh", Kriya beKirya, Vol. II, p. 178). We should request our true preferences and our ultimate desire. The Rambam tells us that we should long for the very best, for a son who will be a great Torah scholar.

Odom — "I Made Him Similar to the Divine"

Rav Chaim Volozhiner mentions (Nefesh HaChaim, Shaar Beis, Chapter 5, "Delo Keshitat") that all the names of the organs in a human body are borrowed from upper forces and worlds, for all creations on earth are just illustrations of reality as it exists in the heavens. For instance, the physical hand which a person has in This World corresponds to his soul's "hand" in heaven. Our goal while on earth is to make our body and soul as spiritual as our corresponding divine soul in heaven.

Ruach Chaim (1:1) on Ovos (also authored by Rav Chaim Volozhiner) explains why Avrohom's name was called twice in one verse, "Avrohom, Avrohom" (Bereishis 22:11 — and similar verses on Yaakov and Moshe Rabbeinu). He says that this was because he had achieved such holiness that the lower part of his soul which existed on earth was identical to its sublime upper soul in heaven. In fact, every person's mission on earth is to have his earthly soul converge as closely as possible with his heavenly soul. That is why we are placed in This World.

There is a difference in how the verses write Moshe's, Yaakov's, and Avrohom's names twice. Whereas Yaakov and Avrohom have a makaf appearing before the repetition of their names, Moshe's two names are written without any dividing cantillation mark. This was because Moshe Rabbeinu uniquely achieved the level where his lower and upper soul were virtually the same, as opposed to Avrohom and Yaakov who still had a slight difference between the two.

"The Soul Will Not Be Satisfied"

Mesillas Yeshorim (Chapter 1) proves that a person's purpose of existence cannot be for This World but for the World to Come. One of the proofs that he gives: "Furthermore, if man had been created solely for the sake of this world, he would have had no need of such a precious and exalted soul which elevates him above the angels themselves, and which derives no satisfaction whatsoever from all earthly pleasures. Our Sages of blessed memory teach us in the Midrash (Koheles Rabboh), ` "And also the soul will not be filled" (Koheles 6:7). What is this analogous to? To a city dweller who married a princess. If he brought her all the possessions in the world, it would mean nothing to her because she is the daughter of a king. So is it with the soul. If it were to be given all the delights of This World they are worth nothing to it, because it is from the upper world.' "

All worldly pleasures do not satisfy the yearning soul because it longs to reach its home where pleasures are spiritual and not corporal.

What a person longs for shows whether his body or soul rules over him. If his body is in control, then his soul is confined in a materialistic prison, pining for genuine spiritual pleasure and suffering continual frustration!

A Person's Longings Give Him Away

Bilaam merited to perceive the great spiritual level of a Jew. He praised the Jewish people's ultimate end in these immortal words (Bamidbar 23:10) "Let my soul die the death of the righteous and let my end be like theirs!" Even though Bilaam keenly perceived the Jews' great spiritual level and their magnificent spiritual future, he preferred to defer the long-awaited utopia when the world will come to its rectification (Ibid. 24:17): "I see it but not now; I anticipate it, but not soon." This wicked man was totally immersed in earthly vanities and didn't want to give up his depraved pleasures. Although he acknowledged the majesty of the end of days, Bilaam disdained it due to his immersion in coarse physicality.

In contrast, Moshe Rabbeinu said (Devorim 30:11-14): "For this mitzvah which I command you today (the Ramban says he was referring to the mitzvah of repentance) is not too awesome. It is not far away . . . for the matter is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart; it is doable."

Moshe Rabbeinu felt as if the wave of repentance that would occur in the period before the Redemption was transpiring right before his eyes. While yet during his lifetime, long before it took place, he longed for it and felt it occurring in front of him.

Everyone who sincerely longs for a certain thing, feels it is attainable and not far off. (Hebrew semanticists say that the word "kesef" — money, is derived from the same root as longing (kissufim). Money enables a person to acquire the object that he desires. Kissufim, longing, is likewise the force that enables a person to attain things that would ordinarily remain out of reach. (Heard from my rebbe, HaRav Yonoson David)


We explained at length what is longing, why it is important and what benefit it accrues. Longing lifts a person up to spiritual worlds that would otherwise remain unattainable. That's why we should anticipate Shabbos and should long to have children who are Torah scholars and gedolim. We should run enthusiastically to the beis midrash to learn Torah, just as we enthusiastically received the Torah on Mt. Sinai. We should feel longing for a rebbe, and seek to spend time with him and serve him with all our heart.

A person longs for the source he was hewn from. A person is called "Odom," from the term "adameh le'Elyon" — "I want to be similar to the One Above," because his soul, which is from heaven, finds no satisfaction in earthly pleasures.

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