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Chapter Twenty-Four

“Arguments are never about what they’re about,” said a sagely poet of ancient vintage.

Think about it. It’s a simple statement, yet so complex. Look at any argument and think about it. How often is the protagonist really arguing about what is being discussed? Usually, there are much deeper things going on underneath, problems that were never discussed, feelings that were never aired. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, there is a blowup — and you are left shocked and wondering, “Where did that come from?”

Even worse, you don’t find the space to think in rational terms when you feel under attack. Instead, righteous indignation takes over, and you find yourself fully committed to a knockout, full-fledged fight that has nothing to do with what everyone is screaming about.

I’ve been making a survey lately — nothing particularly scientific, just a Rubin straw poll of sorts. My contention is that most new shuls are born shortly after Sukkos or Pesach, with Pesach pulling a bit ahead of Sukkos in the league standings.

Whatever do you mean? I hear you ask. Well, simply put, most new minyans start off with a few disgruntled folk who are upset with where they were davening until then. My survey did not include shuls that were started by rabbanim who moved into new areas, nor those following a unique nusach that didn’t have a previous home. My survey revolved around the run-of-the- mill, bearable-turned-disaster shuls that have as their start-up someone else’s pain and sorrow.

Why after Pesach and Sukkos? Simply because people have more time on their hands during the Yom Tov season and find themselves in shul more than usual; after all, staying home a whole week can get a person into trouble if he doesn’t watch out. The kids may have been acting up (after all, they’re home a whole week too). Besides, Pesach has the added advantage of a changed diet.

Everything together contributes to edgy people, and then bang! Something happens in shul. It doesn’t really matter what — it may be a silly remark, or an innocent mistake that would be considered quite unremarkable in normal circumstances. But people are on edge, and there go the rockets. Words fly, positions are taken, and viola! A new shul is on its way.

Obviously, this scenario can be played out at any level. At home with one’s spouse, over the telephone with one’s in-laws — it makes no difference. The ingredients are all the same. The tragedy is that we don’t stop to think, “Why am I doing this? What’s really bothering me? Where can I get real help? And who am I hurting when I lash out like this?”

Whenever one faces a troublesome spot of argument, the first thing he should do is ask himself, “What’s really going on here? If this is just a slight problem, why is it fast becoming a major one in which circumstances take on their own velocity and change things forever?”

It would be interesting to discover how many sins are strewn on the path of such events. How many innocent people become involved in the worst types of lashon hara over such proceedings? How many well-meaning, sweet Yidden become embittered by the utter crassness of it all?

There also seems to be a certain inclination to drag Yiddishkeit into all this. All at once, everyone climbs aboard the l’sheim Shamayim wagon as it starts its rickety careening into others’ souls.

Let us look at the holy words of King David and see what real l’sheim Shamayim consists of.

The entire world belongs to Hashem, including the continents and their inhabitants. David begins with the fundamentals. He testifies how the whole world is Hashem’s, everything is here for Hashem’s purpose, and all the people you see about you are also here because Hashem willed it.

For He established it on seas and founded it on rivers. To the simple onlooker, the rivers and seas look lifeless. No one can discern the teaming activity that goes on beneath the surface. Yet we know that under the cover of the waves lives an entire world of life. If we understand this, why can’t we realize that beneath the surface of each problem and each individual there is a huge world of conflicting emotions swimming about?

David continues with a piercing question. Who will ascend Hashem’s mountain? And who will stand in the place of His Sanctuary? From all this world of activity, who will make it up the mountain of true G-dliness?

Notice that the holiest of places is designated as a mountain. Mountains are hard to climb. There are no quick shortcuts. Each step must be taken with great care. However, once one is on top he can look down and see that the summit can be reached through many different pathways, and that each climber was given individual help from Hashem in finding his way.

“One whose deeds and thoughts are impeccable, who has not betrayed the divine spark within him. Here is the clinching barometer of holiness: integrity. One’s hands must be clean, and his heart must be pure.

What are clean hands? Well, I can venture to answer what they are not. They are not dripping with the blood of those who get hurt through communal strife. They are hands unstained by the pain caused by sharp, thoughtless words pointed at others’ souls. And the pure of heart are those who feel the needs of others and care about what can happen in the midst of communal conflagration.

To reach the heights, a person must be someone who has not betrayed the divine spark within him. The greatest betrayal is self-deceit. When you become involved in a dispute, you give yourself a hundred different reasons why. You dare not think about the real reason, for then you would have to admit that the whole thing is about something that has no bearing on what is actually happening. You deceive yourself because it’s more comfortable than facing your own weaknesses. We have been given a soul that is derived from the highest Source of spirituality, yet because we lose sight of the true motivation for our actions, we carry this soul without proper purpose.

He will acquire blessing from Hashem and receive what he justly deserves from God, his Rescuer. What a startling insight! The one who will acquire Hashem’s blessing and the full measure of what he justly deserves is the humble fellow who sought his inner truth. There is no mention of complicating life with added chumros to the point that the original intent of the halacha is long forgotten. Nor is there a word indicating that ostentation in one’s practice is the fast track to Hashem. Instead, it’s about clean hands and a pure heart — so simple, yet so invigorating.

David sets us free; free from the torment of anger misplaced and hence never resolved. He tells us that we can climb Hashem’s mountain if we calmly strive to keep ourselves separate from those factors that aim to besmirch our thoughts and deeds.

Raise your heads, O gates, and be uplifted, O gateways to eternity, so that the King of Glory may enter. Listen to these sweet words. You — yes, you and every Yid — are a gate to eternity. If you choose to create a kiddush Hashem by living a life that is pure of heart, you will be uplifted. Your actions will bring you to an actual gateway of eternity, not only for yourself but for others as well. It will be through this entrance that Hashem, the King of Glory, will be seen in this world. As the Kotzker Rebbe used to say, “Where is G-d? Wherever you let Him in!”

It’s interesting to note that this powerful psalm is designated to be said on the first day of every week as well as every time we replace the sefer Torah during the weekday readings. There can be no week, and no resting place for our Torah ideals, without its message. Even while we kiss the Torah scroll, we are reminded to be ever vigilant about striving to become actual gateways to true eternity.


Text Copyright © 2007 by Torah.org.


 


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