PARSHAT SHEMOT: “DON’T STOP TO THINK”

For the eternal merit to the soul of my grandfather Yitzchak Aziz Ben Mashallah Hacohen A”H

When Moshe approached Paroh to grant permission for Bnai Yisrael to go to serve Hashem in the wilderness, he refused. He then declared, “Let the work become heavier upon the men and let them be occupied with it, so that they will not pay attention to [the] false words [of Moshe].” Pharaoh intended to leave them no time to think about freedom or serving Hashem. Rabbi Shlomo Caplan explains how the Mesillat Yesharim (Chapter 2) asserts that this is a technique of the yetzer hara. (Indeed the Rambam suggests, in his letter to his son, that Paroh is the yetzer hara.) Yirmiyahu (8:6) laments, “No man has remorse for his evil, saying, ‘What have I done?’ They all follow their course like a horse running headlong into battle.” The yetzer hara causes people to run through life constantly being too preoccupied to think. This leaves them no time to consider their state of spiritual affairs. They cannot stop to think.

Somehow so many of us really feel that we have no time. We are preoccupied with our jobs and our financial solvency: keeping up with mortgage bills, food bills, and tuition. Then there are familial responsibilities. Some have a few children “in shidduchim”, some have teenagers with issues and some even have toddlers “with issues”. Some are involved with the noble activities of tzorchei tzibbur. We are running here and there, going online, standing on line, texting, calling – there is no end in sight. Of course, don’t forget about vacation and leisure time which are so crucial to chill out from all of the above.

But stop for a minute.

Whom do we really work for? Who is our real Boss? Who is the One who can help us with all of the above? It is true that we pray and learn and do our best to keep His Mitzvot. But are we sure that we are doing them properly? What are we overlooking? Why do some Mitzvot present us with what appears to be too overwhelming a challenge? And most important of all: are we really spending our time and living our lives the way that Hashem expects of us or are we just going through the motions?

We all need to stop and think.

We need to put our lives in perspective and find time to think about our highest priority. For starters, we should set aside between five and fifteen minutes a day. Now, what does one do in this time slot? Here are a few suggestions. (1) Cheshbon Hanefesh: Take an account of your daily activities: Did you do any sins? What Mitzvot did you do?

Were they done according to Halacha and with a positive attitude?

(2) Hisbodedut: Spend some time alone with just you and Hashem. Talk to yourself and talk to Him. He understands every language. Even though He knows what you are thinking, consciously and subconsciously, you will understand your thoughts more clearly when you speak them aloud. Find a quiet place and try it for the amount of time that you have allotted. After a week or two, you will probably want to extend the time. Your conversations with Hashem can take the form of a prayer composed by famous Tzaddikim, such as the one of the Noam Elimelech found in many siddurim. There are a number of books that contain a large selection of supplications composed by noted Rabbis. Or you can choose to compose your own prayers.

(3) Mussar: Pick a sefer that speaks to you in your language and talks to your heart as well as your mind. The list of Mussar seforim in Hebrew and English is almost endless. To name a few: Chovot Halevavot (Duties of the Heart), Mesillat Yesharim (Path of the Just), Michtav Me’Eliyahu (translated under the title of Strive for Truth), Battle Plans. These can be studied with a chavruta or by yourself. It is the yetzer hara that keeps us preoccupied and distracts us from this type of contemplation by making us think that we are too busy with the stuff and fluff of life that we consider to be so important.

Is there anything more important than the mission Hashem assigned to us when he brought us into this world? The yetzer hara knows that if we would pay attention to this even briefly, it could really change our lives!

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