PERFECT PRESENT: PARSHAT KI TEITZEI
Shira Smiles shiur - ELUL 5782
Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein
One of the mitzvoth in Parshat Ki Teitzei is the safety minded mitzvah that, "If you build a new house, you shall make a fence for your roof." The Netivot Shalom asks two very obvious questions. Since this is a safety issue, why limit it to just a roof and, even more specifically to a new house? To further complicate matters, we just read two parshiot earlier, "See. I present before you today a blessing and a curse..." As the Tosher Rebbe asks, How does one see a blessing or a curse, and why the emphasis on "today?"
The Netivot Shalom explains that the "house" the Torah is discussing is not necessarily a physical structure, but the place where a person resides intellectually, spiritually and religiously. In this context, one cannot expect to do teshuvah on one or two specific transgressions; one must change his mindset and move it to a new place, create a new "house" for his psyche. He must begin in the "roof" of his being, in his head. He must protect that new house with a מעקה /a fence of יראה, fear and awe of Heaven. The Slonimer Rebbe notes that the numerical equivalent of both of these words is 216, if we add 1 for the unit of the complete word of "fence."
The work must begin with what the "roof" of our bodies, our heads, controls. It must begin with what we let our eyes see, what our ears hear, and what our mouth says. We must protect these potential dangerous openings and pitfalls by erecting a barrier of yirah/awe and fear of Heaven.
Since no two people are alike, continues the Slonimer Rebbe, no one person can fix another person. Each of us has our unique mission. The greatest blessing is that we overcome the unique challenges we face and fulfill our personal mission. In the month of Elul, one must ask oneself what his purpose in life is. We tend to think in grandiose terms of major goals. While you may pick a lofty goal for your life, do not in the interim forget your daily mission and the small opportunities to create a kiddush Hashem/a sanctification of God's name. It is the opportunity which presents itself to us in the moment that we must do. The energy of this moment, of hayom/today, is not the same as it will be tomorrow, even if your action is the same but delayed.
The Torah tells us that when Avraham Avinu was old, he came "with [all] his days." Each day Avraham accomplished what that daily mission was, what had presented itself to him. It was the totality of those fulfilling days that created a fulfilled life.
We too have daily opportunities that are unique to us. Even with what appears to be the same opportunity to several people, each of us perceives the circumstances, challenges and opportunity differently. This is the basis of human life. "Anochi/I [Hashem] present before you this day, the blessings and the curses." Hashem Himself is giving each of us not only the opportunity, but also the tools we need for our unique mission in life. [A carpenter does not need a thesaurus, nor does a writer need a hammer. CKS] Everything is in place, and we must do our role. The greatest way to honor Hashem is to accomplish what presents itself at the particular moment.
We tend to think in terms of action, of asei tov/do good. But sur meira/leave evil is also a manifestation of glorifying Heaven. Every moment we restrain our inclinations and avoid the negative brings Godliness into the world. While this is true all year, its effect is most intense in the month of Elul. Wake up, live in Hashem's house all the days of your life, but build a fence around your head to protect yourself from evil.
The overriding mission of the entire world Hashem created, and of each individual, is to create greater honor and glory of Hashem in the world. When one has this destination in mind as the major focal point of his life, he will always know where he is heading. Even when life seems to lead him in different directions, on different detours, he will find his way toward the end goal, writes Rabbi Kluger in My Sole Desire. [We can compare life to a maze puzzle. The puzzle Master has shown us where we begin, and has indicated the end goal. There are many obstacles along the way, but if we keep focusing on the end goal, even as we make mistakes along the way, we will eventually get to the finish line. CKS] Every line is important in creating the complete arc of connection between me and Hakodosh Boruch Hu. That includes not only doing the positive, but also refraining from crossing the lines to the negative. Although each mitzvah may appear to be an isolated action or inaction, each is important to create the full picture. [It takes all the pixels on a computer screen to create a total image. CKS] When I wash my hands upon awakening, I do so with an intent similar to the kohain's as he was about to begin his service in the Beit Hamikdosh -- I too am starting my day in service to the Ribbono shel olam.
All that we see, hear or sense is an agent of Hakodosh Boruch Hu to teach us something, writes Rav Dessler. On this path, the righteous will walk upright, while the wicked will fall. Our challenge is to see clearly that nothing happens by accident, that Hashem coordinated everything to help me achieve my personal greatness. It is our responsibility to really see what part we are to play in every situation. If we live with that mindset, we will sleep more easily at night, no longer trying to fill an emptiness that keeps us awake. We will fill our days with contentment, be happy in our lot, and live our days, years and lives in fulfillment, writes Rabbi Eisenberger in Mesillot Bilvovom.
Rabbi Brazile, citing Rabbi Wolbe, notes that bishvili nivra haolam, usually translated as, "For me was the world created," could also be translated as, "Bishvili/with my unique shvil/path was the world created. As the verse in Tehillim says, "Sing for Hashem a new song," Sing for Hashem your own, special song created, a song related from the strengths and challenges of your life, unique, new and unduplicatable. I am unique, and my son is unique. Our challenges, writes the Chernobyl Rebbe, may simply be the method needed to open our eyes and teach us what needs to be done. When we have lose our job, for example, we learn how to be more sensitive to the poor.
One may ask that if Hashem had decreed that a person fall from a rooftop, why should I build a fence around my roof? Hashem may have decreed that the man will fall, but He did not necessarily decree that it be from my rooftop. There are many messengers who are able to fulfill this decree. It needn't be me, teaches us Rabbi Bachye. Before we were born, Hashem has already shown our souls everything that would happen to us in life, and our neshamot agreed, for it knew what we needed.
During Elul, we pray that we be the conduit for good, for coronating Hashem as King over the entire world, writes Rabbi Zvi Meir Zilberberg in Sichot Hitchazkut. We ask Hashem to open our eyes so that we will recognize that He has orchestrated everything in our lives and in the entire world, [וידע כל פעול כי אתה פעלתו] And therefore, "Ten pachdecha al kol ma'asecha/Put fear of You on all Your works," Let me fear falling away from You so that I will put a "fence" around my "roof," so that I will always examine my actions to see if they bring me closer to awe of Heaven, or distance me from You.
Rabbi Kofman makes an interesting observation. The Torah tells us to put a fence around גגך, around your roof. The gematria/numerical equivalent of גגך is 26, the same as the four lettered name of Hashem. In other words, if you put a fence around your "roof," you will not come to transgress the word of Hashem and fall.
You have access to seeing the particular moment today, to live in this day and this moment, to notice patterns and themes in your behavior, and make the changes you need to make. We seem to approach Hashem each year with the same intentions and resolutions. But they are not the same. There have been changes and there has been progress, writes Rabbi Kluger. Focus on hayom/today, not on the past. We cannot move forward if we are constantly looking in the rear view mirror.
Rabbi Sternbach gives us some practical suggestions. Make your resolutions reasonable. Set a manageable time frame. If you realize you are prone to speaking loshon horo, for example, resolve to refrain from speaking loshon horo for one particular hour each day. If you find you are not focusing on your tefillah, resolve to focus on one blessing for one week. As you succeed, you add more time. If you make a blanket resolution, "From now on I will always/never...," you are setting yourself up for failure rather than for limited success that you can continue to build upon. Begin with hayom/today, and build on this day.
Focus on the situation around us today, see what opportunity I have at this moment. The present is perfect, and it is a gift. Remain alert so that I can accomplish something today, for this particular opportunity presents itself only today.
Often we don't recognize an opportunity as important. Yet, saying the right thing at the right time [or refraining from saying the wrong thing] can have an impact beyond anything we imagine or anticipate. A simple, kind word, a validation of someone's human existence, can even save a life, and we would never know it. Look for opportunities Hashem puts in our unique path every day. Look for those moments when we can give or receive graciously. Really see the present. It is perfect.