Monday, March 30, 2020

Notes from the Underground - Day 4

Baruch Hashem, at least on weekends I don't have to sit in front of the PC and try to work remotely.  Notes from the Underground therefore resumes today.
1) I thought this was a parody, but apparently it is real.  I simply have no words:

2) I took a walk out of the bunker on Friday and saw a price list for takeout food posted in a store window.  $18 for a quart of chicken soup.  Matzah balls -- extra, of course.  $9 for 8, if I remember correctly.  Again, I have no words.
3) On to a more serious matter.  The korbanos in last week's parsha are described as "reiach nichoach" - a pleasing fragrance.  Imagine walking into your house Friday afternoon as the Shabbos preparations are going on.  Before you even get to the kitchen and see what's cooking, you can already smell the challah and the chicken or cholent and you anticipate the arrival of Shabbos.  HaKsav v'haKabbalah explains (and we've touched on this before) that just offering a korban is not enough -- it has to come with a commitment to do better in the future.  When you offer the korban with that commitment, Hashem "smells" what's coming, he anticipates your better behavior, and gives you credit before you've even gotten there.
The many "chizuk" shiurim with the usual platitudes of "have emunah" and "let's improve our beis adam l'chaveiro" or "let's all try to learn more" etc. are all nice, but I've lost interest already.  Making people feel good and giving hope is nice, but what we need even more is real commitment to change, both in our personal live and in our communal lives, so that we can offer to Hashem a "reiach nichoach" of a better future.
Two differences between the usual generalities and platitudes and true change:
1) Chizuk makes you feel good, but real change is hard.  Saying "I will try to talk less in shul" makes you feel good.  You can always convince yourself you are doing a good job or at least trying and give yourself a pat on the back.  Forcing yourself to give $10 to tzedaka every time you open your mouth between baruch she'amar and aleinu will not make you feel so good if the cost adds up.
2) For change to be meaningful and effective it needs to be 1) Specific and  2) Measurable.  Like in the example above, the goal has to be precisely defined -- not talking during a certain period of tefilah, and 2) success/failure has to be measurable -- how much $ is going out of your wallet will tell you if you are making progress.  If you give $100 to tzedaka in week 1 but only $80 in week 2, the knas is having an effect.
On a communal level, the same two factors are in play.  There is a far cry between saying "let's work on our appreciation of kedushas beis ha'knesses" and we all applaud and feel good and saying that in our shul we have a no talking policy and if the gabai needs to warn you about it more than once you will be asked to leave the minyan for that day.  Period, no exceptions.  Can't you already hear the reaction?  "Who are you to throw me our?  Do you know who I am?"  Sticking to our communal guns and making hard decisions, taking actions that may rub people the wrong way at times, is what real change is all about.
Is there a "rei'ach nicho'ach" that we want to aim for in this crisis, or are we just mouthing psychobabble feel-good words until we can get back to the same routine as before?


  1. -- "3) ...1) ...Forcing yourself..."

    baruch omer v'oseh

    -- "3) ...2) ...talking during...tefilah"

    talking during tefilah: self-service of the heart.

    Talking during tefilah.
    It is solely the King's prerogative to breach decorum, to chat in a reverential setting: while all the people prostrated themselves, Shemos 33:10, Hashem would talk to Moshe ka'asher y'dabeir ish el-rei'ei'hu.

  2. Your "anti-chizuk ramp" as you call it in a later post, is a reinvention of Mussar.

    But I would add: specific, measurable, and incemental. Don't expect to become a mal'akh overnight.

    Real chizuk has to end with something along the lines of: So tonight, spend 15 minutes doing/avoiding X. (Maybe, given that we don't get away from family all day, not yelling at the kids. I am told one can scold without yelling. Not speaking from personal experience, though.) Then tomorrow, or the day after, try for 20....

    And in the Mussar Movement, the student would be in a va'ad that supports each other into keeping at these resolutions.

  3. When you said communal, I thought you were going to talk about chessed. Our community stepped up BIG TIME to help each other during this crisis. By continuing to do so (more than we used to) - that is a goal to aspire to, as well.