Rabbi Label Lam
Striving for Simplicity
Moses summoned all of Israel and said to them, "You have seen everything
that HASHEM did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to
and to all his servants and to all his land- the great trials that your
eyes beheld, those great signs and wonders. But HASHEM did not give you a
heart to know, or eyes to see, or ears to hear until this very day. I led
you forty years in the Wilderness." (Devarim 29:1-4)
From here we learn that a person does not fully grasp the lessons of his
teacher until forty years. (Talmud Avoda Zarah 5B)
Does it really take forty years to understand what the Rebbe is
saying? Here's a statement from a great teacher that I've been grappling
with for the past ten years. In thirty more years I'll hope to understand
what I am about to say.
These words attributed to one of the great ethicists, R. Simcha Zissel, the
Alter from Kelm, are certainly not meant to be cute but one cannot fail to
be tickled by their inherently paradoxical nature: "The Torah is divided
into three portions 1) Simplicity 2) Depth and 3) Simplicity." Two are
exactly the same. Why say there are three? What does he mean to say?
Perhaps the key lies in something we recite in anticipation of the new moon
in synagogue each month. We express our fervent wishes for, "A life.",
amongst many other things, ".filled with Fear of Heaven and fear of sin, a
life without embarrassment, a life of wealth and honor, and that we should
have love of Torah and Fear of Heaven."
A closer examination of this partial list reveals that two requests are
exactly the same, "Yiras Shemaim-Fear of Heaven". The explanation has been
offered that there is one brand of "Yiras Shemaim" before "wealth and
honor" or prior to "embarrassment" and there is another quality of "Yiras
Shemaim" after a taste of either or both.
Similarly perhaps R. Simcha Zissel means to tell us that Torah and life, as
a reflection of Torah is perceived in three ways. It's with a pristine
naivety that we step into the ocean of most experiences. The child tastes
honey when meeting the ALEPH and with the same happy innocence brides and
grooms dance through the early years. There's a natural beauty and charm
baked into most every beginning. It's in that gaze parents have when they
behold the purity of their little ones, and it is reflected in the absolute
trust the child grants his mother and father. More than once in history the
world has been viewed with eyes fit only for the Garden of Eden. That's
the sweet idealism implied in the first "simplicity".
As we wade deeper into the ocean of those experiences the apparent danger
of each wave of difficulty becomes the dominant reality. What attracted us
initially is at constant risk of being eclipsed by compounding
complexities. Real- founded fears often yield to resentment, as ideal
after ideal is shattered on the rocks. "Is this just some cruel joke?" we
wonder, as the poison of cynicism begins to sour our memories. That's
For a set of Shofar blasts to be completed there is a minimal requirement
to makes a set of three basic sounds: 1) Straight 2) Broken and 3)
Straight. Perhaps the message is, simply, and not so simply, to complete
the set - Don't stop in the broken zone and never dream of retreating to
"never-never world". Rather, reach for that simplicity that comes after
complexity. Know that it exists, and appreciate that it is mandatory to
make life whole again.
I once went to ask an old Tzadik about a certain recurring interpersonal
problem I was having. He rubbed his heart like he was polishing a diamond
and repeated, "Purify our hearts to serve YOU in truth." He then told me,
"I have the same problem. I've been working on it for forty years and it's
just starting to go away!" At first I felt defeated by his response. What
hope is there for me?
Later, though, I experienced a surge of encouragement from his words. I
realized that both hard work and patience are required. Yes, it may take
forty years or more to grasp what just happened today. The simple fact that
we don't understand- right now, and the hope that we might, some day, may
be that maturing notion that helps keep us moving forward in life. So it's
that last blast that urges us always to keep striving for simplicity.
Have a good Shabbos
Text Copyright © 2003 Rabbi Label Lam and
Project Genesis, Inc.