Thursday, June 30, 2011

The last of the last...R' Chaim Stein Ztl


The art students were sitting on their little collapsable chairs with their easels before them. Their eyes intently studying the great masterpiece on the wall as their hands attempted to recreate it on the canvases before them.
Suddenly the great masterpiece was yanked off the wall before them leaving the students stunned and bewildered.
They had to finish their paintings but suddenly had nothing to copy. They struggled to remember details and turned to one another for guidance.

One cannot underestimate the enormous tragedy of the passing of my Rebbe and Rosh Yeshiva R' Chaim Stein Ztl.
He was a masterpiece from an earlier time.
He was witness to worlds that are quickly fading from our memory.

He was the last of the last..
It's as if someone from 1000 years ago just passed away for all practical purposes.

I close my eyes and see the twinkle in his eyes.
That big big heart that felt everyones pain and joy.
The fire that made his whole body flicker and simmer when he would daven.

He had an eternal quality..perpetual youth..and stamina.

But for all of Klal Yisrael he was a living window into our past. And now..all we have are words...


Sunday, June 05, 2011

Give and Take

We have been conditioned to thinking that the act of giving is an act of love and taking is to be avoided.
To give is noble, to take is selfish.
I think this is overly simplistic to a dangerous degree.
When children are born they need to be takers in order to survive and live.
They are showered and swathed in love. This is the healthiest kind of taking that there is. Children have no ways nor expectations of returning or showing appreciation, so they can take with pure love and without baggage. In a healthy environment, where the parents love their children the children absorb and take in a healthy manner.

Taking needs to be in proportion to what's deserved for there to be a peaceful sense of equilibrium. If a child is raised and continues to be spoiled and given to unconditionally even at a later age then it starts bordering on unhealthy taking. Unhealthy taking leads to resentment and the feeling that there is an unhealthy ulterior motive involved in the giving.

I believe that only after someone is the recipient of healthy taking and being loved can they turn around and give to others.
A heart full of love can overflow and love others.

One has never received in a healthy manner would have a very hard time giving in a healthy manner.

This is true in relationships as well. Sexual relations are called "chessed" in the Torah. It can be a tremendous act of giving, but if the giver and taker are not completely connected, if they are not giving and taking in heart, mind and soul then it's molestation or worse.

The act of giving can be an incredibly selfish and even evil act.
People give for all kinds of selfish reasons. People give to control others,
they give because it makes them feel better, even when it's not in the best interest of the recipient.

The first act of human giving in the Torah almost destroyed the world.
When Chava gave Adam to eat from the Eitz Hadass it was the ultimate act of selfishness.
She had never been at the receiving end of an act of giving.
The Neshama of Adam is that of David and ultimately Moshiach.
The selfish act of Chavas giving and Adams taking was the polar opposite of Ruth's behavior. She learned to live off of others when she needed to. She was the recipient of her mother in law's grace and then caught the attention of Boaz with the way in which she went out to collect wheat from the field with utmost modesty. Her act of taking led to a sudden abundance in Boaz's crops wherever she went.
Only then was she able to give back and become the mother of redemption.

On a universal level this is also true.
The world is not yet ready to receive the bounty of redemption. When one receives what one is not ready to take, it is called the bread of shame. It's an uncomfortable taking which leads to resentment. This is precisely what happened after the giving of the Torah. The Jewish people were not ready for that kind of revelation as evidenced by the fact that they passed out after hearing one word from the mouth of Hashem. This eventually led to their rebelling against the one that gave them this sudden bounty while they were completely inadequate in their means of appreciating and taking.
Moshiach will come when there will be a perfect equilibrium. When the collective human experience will earn the ability to accept and receive Hashems reward and bounty in a healthy, deserving way.
On Shavuos we celebrate the revelation on Sinai as well as the life of King David.
The theme of these pivotal moments in the relationship between humankind and the divine is the same that drives interpersonal relationships successfully or otherwise.

I think that this could be one reason why we eat dairy products on Shavuos.
An animal has two ways of giving of its food. One way is through meat. The only way for this to work is if the animal dies. This represents the toxic way of giving, which results in the death of the giver, much like it did by Chava.

Then there's milk. The animal gives of itself and continues living. This represents a healthy giving, which doesn't result in ill effects to the giver.

May we all be worthy of taking graciously with eyes wide open.