Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Painting Your Masterpiece

The follow are notes I took of Rabbi Yissochor Frand speaking on 08/20/06 at Kehillas Tiferes Yisroel in Chicago, as a project sponsored by the Chicago Community Kollel. I took the notes as accurately as I could using my Treo. While I didn't quite catch the flavor of how Rabbi Frand delivers a drasha, I have tried to give over the message. I take responsibility for any errors.

It's a minhag to buy aliyos for the Yomin Noraim. Maftir Yonah is a segulah for parnasah. It goes for a lot of money. While the sourse for this minhag is unknown, there is an level of wealth attached to maftir Yonah. The message of maftir Yonah is spiritual wealth.

Allow me to explain what the GRA says on Sefer Yonah based on Zohar: Yonah is a metaphor for the neshama...soul. When you hear the name Yonah think 'neshama' or soul. Sefer Yonah starts out telling us to Go to Nineveh, the great city...this mean Olam HaZeh...this world. Our neshama is called down to this world. Yonah was called by Hashem for a mission. Hashem says to each of us, "I have a mission for you".

The soul must reside in a physical body. Soul comes down to this physical world, to the great city in the beginning of Sefer Yonah. Hashem tells us not to get distracted when our souls come to the great city, this world. Then Yonah boards a ship, which represents our guf, our physical body. The ship get caught in a storm, the body and the soul get distracted. The storm represents illness and old age, when our life is coming to an end. When we don't complete our mission we get old.

Then Yonah goes overboard. This represents going to the grave...death. But wait. Hashem give Yonah a second chance. HKBH gives the soul a second chance. "Go back and do your mission". This concept of a second chance is something we need to be aware of. We will have to come back again and again to do our mission. This concept is called gilgul. We have all been here before. We are here to complete a mission or to rectify something.

The Gra brings a story in Gitin 58A. We read on Tisha b'Av about Rebbi Yishmael ben Elisha's son and daughter who were captured by two different masters, connecting it to the Pasuk in Eichah "Al Eileh Ani Bochiyah, Eini Eini Yordah Mayim" - the two masters came to an agreement that they would pair of their two beautiful slaves and share the babies. However, each of the two siblings, unaware who the other captive was, spent the night in his respective corner, weeping at the mere prospect of a child of the Kohen Gadol defiling the Kehunah by having relations with a slave. In the morning, when they recognized each other, they fell round one another's neck and wept bitterly until they expired. We say how could God let this happen?

The Ramah says the children were the gilgulim of Amnon and Tamar...children of David Hamelach. Their neshamas were stained. They had to be in the same situation and then they rectified their souls and their mission. That's why the children of Rebbi Yishmael died when it became morning.

The Gra offers a unique pshat. The Gemara says that Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel had an ongoing debate for two and a half years. Should man have been created or not? The conclusion was that man should not have been created. But now that he has been created, let him investigate his past deeds or, as others say, let him examine his future actions. The Gra says of course it was better if man was created. The debate really was about reincarnation. If our soul comes back to this world because we didn't complete our mission then how do we know what our mission is?

To find your mission you must examine your own weakness. Examine the area you are weak in and have trouble in. Find that one situation where you always fail...that's your issue. You might have problem with money (you want too much). You might have a problem with anger or a particular aveiera. We all have things that are difficult for us. We all have issues we can't deal with. I'm a good ehrlich yid, but there’s that one thing that I can't do. “Guests I can't stand them”, but money for someone else to have guests…that I’ll give.” That's your issue. If you try not to deal with your issue in this world…then your soul will come back again and you’ll still have to deal with it!

The metaphor of Yonah is not just to think about our faults. We need to think about our mission. That's Yonah. We live in an era today where the phrase “mission statement” is said hundreds, if not thousands of times a day. Everyone is talking about their “mission statement”. Fortune 500 companies and also ma and pa businesses have their “mission statement”. Yonah’s mission statement was to go to Nineveh. What's your mission statement.?

There is a woman who wrote to me that she was in hospital for a week for cardiac surgery. “I wasn't afraid of dying”, she wrote. “I was afraid of not living. I have so much more to do,” she told me. Sometimes we need a scare to find our mission.

Josh Bolton is the new chief of staff in White House. On his first day of work he a gave each member of his staff a countdown clock. It was a clock that counted down until the last day the Bush administration would be in office. He wanted them to know that they only had a certain amount of time to have an affect on the nation. Imagine if we had a countdown clock?

Younger people can relate to a mission. As we get older and pay mortgages we forget our mission. We become complacent. We want to be left alone. The youthful goals of making a difference are forgotten. Torah abhors complacency. Rabbi Yisrael Salanter says by the mitzvah of eved ivry that if you want to stay a slave then the master has to pierce the ear. Why does the master have to be the one to pierce the ear? Rabbi Salanter says that the master has fostered an attitude of complacency. The slave is comfortable being a slave. For that mindset of complacency, the master is punished as the one to pierce the ear.

As we become older we become mystified by concept of early retirement. Retire to do what? Read paper and play golf to become next Tiger Woods? To drive your wife crazy? That's not a Toraheik concept. We have a mission in life.

Rabbi Shimon Raphael Hirsch says the kohan had to empty ashes from the karbonos of the previous day. Why start day like that? Rav Hirsch answers that yesterdays sacrifices were yesterday. Today is today. We start fresh each day.

If you want to know what you did wrong...look at weakness. But, also, make a list of that you do right. What are your strengths? You have talent to paint your masterpiece.

There is a fictional story about a girl who was deathly ill. She was confined to her bedroom in an apartment building. The girl stayed in bed day in and day out looking out the window at a tree. She would watch the leaves on the tree blow off every so often. She told her mother that when all the leaves all fell, then it would be time for her to die. The mother told the janitor about this. This janitor had dream in his youth of being an artist. This man became inspired.

That night there was a tremendous storm. The girl fell asleep thinking that in the morning all the leaves would be off of her tree and her life would be over. She woke up in the morning and the leaves were still there..she lived for many years. That night the janitor the artist he wanted to be. He painted a picture of the tree and put it outside the girls’ window and her life was saved. That man painted masterpiece. We have to do the samething. We have to paint something we can be proud of.

I call it, matzeva material, or something we can write on a tombstone. In Eretz Yisrael I saw a great tombstone. It said, "Here is buried Rav Yosef Karo. Author of Shulchan Aruch". No one in the whole would will write another Shulchan Aruch. What did Rabbi Akiva Eiger consider his masterpiece? He wrote that from the age of 16 he was sick, and he always accepted his suffering. That was his masterpiece. Rav Chaim Ozer use to say his masterpeice was all of the widows and ophans that he helped support.

We all will suffer pain and tzaras in this world. How we deal with is what we can paint. That is what we can think about. Well stand in Musaf and say the Zichronos. We’ll think about purpose and mission. Thoughts like this inspire normal people to do extraordinary things.

Rabbi Yosef Eckstein had four children and the all died from Tay-Sachs. He decided to do something about it. He founded Dor Yeshorim, a Tay-Sachs screening program. He said, “I will do everything I can for parents not to grieve.” That was his masterpiece.

When my father died I had to write his tombstone. I was directed to write something lengthy, because my children would never know my father. One of the things I wrote was that my father was machmir on kibud av'eim. He brought his mother over from Europe in 1920 and visited her every day except for Shabbos.

We have parents to help, that can be our masterpiece. Raising our children can be a work of art. Once there was a carnival and some children had gotten balloons and notice that a boy in a wheelchair didn’t have a balloon. The children asked the boy’s mother if they could give him a balloon. The mother replied, “I’m sorry but no. My son has to learn that just because Hashem has put him in a wheelchair, that doesn’t mean that he gets everything handed to him.” That mother is creating her masterpiece!

The Rambam says If you do one mitzvah lishmah you can achieve olam habah. I was in NY and took a car service. The driver told me that n 17 years he’s never missed a minyan. That's a masterpiece.

I got a letter recently. A man wrote that his friend was sick and as a zechus for his friend the man got friends to stop talking in soul. He asked me what would be a way to get people to stop talking on a larger scale? That’s a masterpiece.

I know a woman in Baltimore who makes a point to set table for Shabbos on Thursday. It creates less stress and shows family that we can't wait for Shabbos. That’s a masterpiece.

What's terrifying is that we can go though life and not paint our masterpiece. At Neligh the last thing we ask mechila for not stealing? Have you ever shoplifted at 7-11? Have you ever taken anything without asking? Did you fell bad about it?
That’s the bottom line. The Ger Rebbe says Hashem gave us assets and talents and if we don't use them properly, then we're stealing. Hashem’s words to Yonah were "come down to this world and complete your mission". We have the opportunity to do our job in this world, in this lifetime and return our neshama win our days are over and not let it come back down again. How far have we gotten in painting our masterpiece?

Note: The story about the girl who was ill is from the short story THE LAST LEAF by O. Henry