Wednesday nights - Rav Benzion's Tanya shiur..........Please continue to daven for the good health of the Rebbe (Yechiel Michel ben Devorah Leah) and Rebbetzin (Feiga bas Sarah).

Monday, January 17, 2011

Praising Hashem

The following is an edited transcription of the morning shiur given on Oct. 25, 2010 (י"ז מרחשון תשע"א).


Here’s the mashal: A couple becomes married and each one loves and respects their spouse. Shortly after their wedding, the husband finds out that his wife is an extremely gifted interior decorator. Whenever he enters the house he begins to notice all the various accoutrements and modifications that his wife has been working on. He becomes aware of the tasteful colors of the walls, their variance, the way they match, the trimming, the curtains that have been chosen, the choice of carpets, etc. He then learns even further that his wife is a very talented artist. He begins to notice that their home is becoming increasingly adorned with all sorts of very striking and beautiful paintings and other artwork. Over time he may come to notice smaller and smaller details about the attention that his wife has given to finer and less noticeable things in the house.

This husband’s awareness of the extent of his wife’s capacity to create beauty grows further and as it grows he notices more things than he ever noticed before about the beauty of the home. First it was just the colors of the wall, then he may begin to notice the designs on the silverware, less and less prominent things, tiny little touches on everything, how everything is done with such care and such taste. After a period of time he will come aware of the fact that his wife’s attention to beauty is so extensive that everything, literally everything that he comes in contact with had been meticulously crafted, carefully chosen to bring beauty into the house.

To the extant that his appreciation grows, his feelings will be deepened, mostly because he realizing that his wife is doing all of these things for him; she is creating all this beauty so he will be surrounded by beauty. This issue of awareness is what deepens and intensifies feelings. It deepens respect and love, appreciation, gratitude. All of those things increase with the awareness of how much his wife’s craftsmanship is devoted to providing a context of beauty for him.


One may notice something beautiful and inwardly there will be some recognition about the fact that it is so, and he will think “that’s beautiful.” But that acknowledgment will remain in his head and only be manifest as a thought; he won’t say it. The nature of thought is that it impacts in a very modest way and that it is quickly replaced by another thought. When we bring something into words, we’ve taken a thought and given it an independent existence. We’ve taken it from an inner place to a…we’ve externalized it. In a certain sense we’ve given birth to something. There is now something out there that’s physical – its sound waves – but we’ve invested it with our thoughts. Hopefully we’ve also invested it with feeling. Feelings of gratitude, appreciation, wonder, awe. 

Ever since the Ribono shel Olam created the world with words, words have a very powerful presence, they create things. Words create worlds. Words create reality. We know how words can create reality when we say nasty things about people or when we say angry things to people that we love. We know how words can create reality when we urge people to do things that they never thought of ever doing before. And words create realities for us. There’s a big difference between a person who thinks and even feels appreciation and someone who actually speaks that appreciation, or that respect or awe. It’s much more real. Our speech is different than anybody else’s speech in the world. You can’t say they are all sound waves. They’re not, because our speech has our signature in it, it belongs to us.

So you have two things: An awareness which sharpens and deepens feelings and emotions, appreciation and gratitude and respect. And you have the fact that articulating those feelings by speaking them, makes those more real for you.

The Third Aspect: Self-Respect 

If you compliment somebody on having said something particularly insightful, that means that you have in you the quality of insightfulness. You cannot compliment somebody for something that you have no relationship with. If a person is stupid then they cannot compliment anybody on something which is smart because there’s no common denominator. Acknowledging something in somebody else which is to affirm that you appreciate somebody’s wisdom, kindness, creativeness, strength, it means that in some way those qualities are in you, they belong to you, and to be aware of them and to describe them and to express them is to affirm for yourself that you have something of that in you. 

When we daven and we begin to praise Hashem for these many qualities, we are trying to a) deepen our awareness, because the more we do so the more we are going to become aware. When we speak about Hashem’s creativity or about Hashem’s kindness or strength, etc the more we talk about it the more we are going be aware of it, the more we are aware of it the deeper will be our feelings of awe, appreciation, love and those things will become more real to us because we can hear ourselves speak of them. The fact that we speak them deepens our sense of reality about them. And b) it also tells us, in a certain sense, about ourselves which throws off a certain self-respect for ourselves. When we speak about the fact that we appreciate G-d’s wisdom or His kindness, just saying that resonates something with ourselves that we respect kindness. And then it makes a demand on us that when we are given opportunities that we be generous and kind. We must do things that promote our being able to act wisely. 

The bottom line purpose of prayer, (notwithstanding the kabbalistic aspects) is to have a closer relationship with Hakadosh Baruch Hu, that it be a constant in our lives. The more we notice, the greater will be the constancy of our relationship because we’ll notice Hashem everywhere. We’ll notice Him in the colors, in the fragrances, in the intricacies of tiny little things in our lives, and that’s the extent to which we will be connected, grateful and enthusiastic. 

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Tzvi Werther said...

It never ceases to amaze me. There is no other gadol, of whom I am aware, who is capable of delving into the deepest levels of our service to Hakadosh Baruch Hu, are relationship to him and our shared human design, while remaining completely consistent with and embracing the strictest Jewish traditions, all without quoting a single text, chazal, sefer or maaseh.

Yesh, May'ayin.

Damesek said...

After the shiur, I asked the Rabbi: if praising Hashem means we have in us something of what we are praising Him for, then how do we understand that we praise Him for being אין סוף? For example, in אשרי we say ולגדולתו אין חקר.
You ready? Get this.
So, what's the problem? We obviously have within us INFINITE abilities and kochos. The neshoma is a chelek eloka mimaal mamash, it has those qualities, so to speak. Ponder THAT for a while.

Tzvi Werther said...

Ah yes, reminds of a quote from Reb Yisroel Salanter and oft quoted by my Rosh Yeshiva Reb Chaim Leib Epstein zol zain gezunt:

"Adam Chofshi B'Dimyono".

Man is free within his own mind.

The context it was used, usually centered around how a person can convince himself of anything if he wants. I can even convince myself that what is bad is really good - and believe it.

But I think it works the other way as well. If we our free to create our personal reality through dimyon, this can be positive as well. Not just positive, but infinitely endless in possibilities. So infinite, it would be difficult to ponder all of them - for my reality can be anything I decide!

Ayn cheker.

One more thing.

This concept is wholly distinct from the approach of, "I can change my behavior".

No no. It seems the root here is not the maaseh. Rather it is completely a cognitive exercise. If I can convince myself that I'm on the moon - thus will be my experience, even without buying a single space ship.

Of course, one cannot convince himself of such things without first coming down with a mental disorder - but there are many many schemata we already hold true about everything in life which place solid boundaries to our experience.

Every challenge to those preconceived notions opens or closes new doors. But those beliefs can be changed and endless options which never existed before suddenly appear.

Maybe this is our ayn cheker.