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Fire It Up!

Written by Rabbi Yehoshua Alt, 25/8/2019

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Fire It Up!

The Pasuk says וכל חכם לב בכם יבאו;[1] all those of wise heart shall come… It is said from the Be’er Mayim Chaim that any smart person will bring his heart- to act with passion and enthusiasm. This is unlike לבו רחק ממני; distanced its heart from me.[2] We can’t do things by rote as in מצות אנשים מלמדה- davening another Tefila and the like.[3] As someone once put it, “When it comes to that which is spiritual, it is all about putting spirit into your ritual!” In this way, the Kotzker Rebbe interprets לא תעשון כן לה' אלה-יכם-[4] don’t perform acts כן; by doing it out of habit or to just fulfill your obligation. There is a quote that reads, “The really dangerous thing about existence is that it is not a question of sink or swim but that it is possible to float.”    


R’ Shlomke Zvhiller was extremely happy each morning when he put on Tefillin. He once remarked that the joy of a great Rasha when he commits a sin can't compare to the joy he receives when he puts on Tefillin.[5]


The Gemara tells us of the praiseworthy deed of R’ Adda Bar Ahava who never slept in the house of study- לא ישנתי בבית המדרש.[6] This can also be understood as his Torah (בית המדרש) was learned with enthusiasm, not in a sleepy way (לא ישנתי).[7]


After relating the disagreement where R’ Yishmael says that one should work and learn whereas R’ Shimon Bar Yochai says to only learn, the Gemara states הרבה עשו כר' שמעון בן יוחי ולא עלתה בידן; many did like R’ Shimon Bar Yochai and were not successful.[8] It is said from the Baal Shem Tov that it didn’t work because הרבה עשו כר' שמעון- they merely copied R’ Shimon Bar Yochai[9] and didn’t do it from their own passion.[10] A wise man remarked, “Man must guard himself and his uniqueness, and not imitate his fellow... for initially man was created in his own image, and only afterwards in the image of God.”[11] “Your time on this world is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”


When the Beis Midrash of the Sefas Emes burned down, he inquired what the source of the fire was. When he was told it was ignited by a cigarette in the attic, he commented that if such a small fire can lead to much damage, imagine what a small fire of Torah and Mitzvos can cause.


                With doing Avodas Hashem with passion and fire we can rebuild the Beis Hamikdash. This is alluded to in the Gemara[12] that says the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed with fire and will be rebuilt with fire. This can mean that it will be rebuilt with the fire, passion, and fervor we put into our Avodas Hashem.[13]

R’ Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander Ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. R’ Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

[1] Shemos 35:10

[2] Yeshaya 29:13. After Noach got drunk, Shem and Yefes took a garment and covered their father’s nakedness. Rashi (Breishis 9:23) tells us that Shem נתאמץ; exerted effort in honoring his father more than Yefes. Therefore, his children merited the Mitzva of Tzitzis and Yefes earned burial for his children. What is the meaning of נתאמץ; exerted effort, as all Shem did was cover his father with a garment? נתאמץ can be interpreted as התלהבות as this is how Shem performed his act. As a result, his children merited Tzitzis- the first Mitzva one educates his child with. Yefes, on the other hand, who performed the act in a dead type of way merited burial which is for the dead. Additionally, it is the last Mitzva (symbolizing the opposite of התלהבות, which is done immediately and with alacrity).

[3] Rashi (Breishis 25:21) tells us that the Tefila of a Tzadik the child of a Rasha isn’t comparable to a Tefila of a Tzadik the child of a Tzadik. One explanation why the Tefila of a Tzadik the child of a Tzadik is greater is because he can more easily do it by rote since he grew up that way.

[4] Devarim 12:4. Mayana Shel Torah there.

[5] This is what we ask for in אל תשליכני לעת זקנה; do not cast me off in the time of old age (Tehillim 71:9). That is to say, not to do the Mitzvos with enthusiasm (לעת זקנה).

[6] Taanis 20b

[7] Shemos 35:5 

[8] Berachos 35b

[9] The story is told of R’ Zusha that he wasn’t worried that he will be asked in heaven that they will ask him why he wasn’t like Moshe. Rather his concern was that they will ask why weren’t you Zusha. Likewise, we shouldn’t look at others and say why am I not like him in learning, Chessed and the like. Rather be all you can be. There is a saying, “Be yourself. Everybody else is taken.”

[10] In a similar vein, when the Egyptians journeyed after us, we cried out to Hashem (Shemos 14:10). Rashi commentsתפשו אומנות אבותם; they adopted the craft of the Avos- Tefila. In the name of the Bartenura it is said that the meaning here is, is that they did it because the Avos did. They were just copying them.

[11] On אדם כי יקריב מכם; when a person brings an offering… (Vayikra 1:2), Rashi wonders about the choice of wording- Adam and not איש? It is referring to Adam to teach us that just as Adam didn’t offer Korbanos from that which was stolen as everything was his, neither should we. On a deeper level, Adam had no one to copy as he was the only one around. Each of us has our own uniqueness and individuality just as Adam had and we need to use it when it comes to serving Hashem.

[12] Baba Kamma 60b

[13] This is consistent with קול ה' חצב להבות אש; the voice of Hashem cleaves to those who have התלהבות; passion and fire in their Avodas Hashem (Tehillim 29:7).

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