Some people have mentioned to me that, of late, my articles are rather “heavy.” My response to that is, “Baruch Hashem!” Were it otherwise, I would be guilty of violating a famous dictum in Gemara Rosh Hashanah, paraphrased here: “The books of life and death are open in front of Me, and you are writing articles?!” And so bear with me a bit longer, as Yom Hakippurim still looms quite large ahead of us, and we must prepare for the entire coming year.
One of the main things that Chazal obviously felt would aid us in our preparations for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Hakippurim is the recitation throughout Elul of Chapter 27 in Tehillim, “L’dovid, Hashem ori veyishi…” You might be familiar with Chazal interpreting ori as Rosh Hashanah, and yishi as Yom Hakippurim, but have you ever stopped and wondered why it is such a mainstay of our Elul davenings? How does this prepare us for the Yomim Nora’im? Is it just the very fact that we are saying it for a month before the awesome days referred to there? Is that all there is to it?
The Michtav Mi’eliyahu has a very sharp insight into life, which he shares with us in a piece entitled “The Mashal and the Nimshal” — The Parable (or Allegory) and the Lesson (or the Moral). He writes:
A parable is actually something wholly false; it is fantasy and illusion. It is a story which never happened, and has no reality to it. The kernel of truth in a mashal is only the degree to which it helps the listener understand and relate to the nimshal, the lesson it represents. Yet, sadly, living in the mashal, and ignoring the nimshal is much more common than we would like to believe… A child builds castles or railroads or ships, and lives in that fantasy world as if it were real; when he gets older, he hopefully abandons those figments of imagination, yet he adopts others. Let us take for example a person who wants recognition from others [and who can say they do not?]; is there any greater fantasy than that? How is your actual worth dependent on what others think of you? If you are comfortable with yourself, why do you need others’ opinions? And if you are not, what good does it do you if others mistakingly think highly of you? That’s living in unreality, living in the mashal.
A person seeks wealth, pleasures, comfort… S/he is only imagining that that will bring them happiness and serenity… but reality and experience shows that that is not so… yet we continue to live in the mashal, to consort with illusions.
The adult lives like a child with toys — but more dangerously, as it is immeasurably harder to clarify to the adult that it is indeed merely fantasy…
Let us go deeper. Our physical lives, our sojourn in this corporeal world, the world itself that we see and experience, is all one big mashal — for this is not the true reality. Every believing Jew believes that this world is merely a preparation for the true reality that will exist in the future as our souls — the souls we are supposed to be working on to refine and elevate will be bonding and somehow becoming part of the reality of Hashem; the degree to which this is so is the degree to which we will truly exist and be forever… in this world, what we busy ourselves with is nothing but a mashal, a life with no real lasting metzi’us, just a way of acquiring, through the mashal of this life, the nimshal of our true substance and existence.
Yes, we are playing Monopoly down here, yet we think it is real houses, real hotels, and a real Park Place, while it is as illusory and unreal as the board game.
If you ask people who have undergone travails in their life, and have grown in ruchnius through the experience, you will inevitably find that their perception of what is real, what is valuable, what matters, has taken on a whole new value system — their neshamos have been touched, they have broken free of the mashal, and have been zoche to experience the nimshal.
And, to a man, it is real, tangible, and the most pleasurable experience they have ever had. Despite (or due to?) the accompanying yissurim.
Don’t live in the mashal! Live with authenticity, truth, genuiness, reality!
Ramban writes (Devarim 6:13):
And you shall serve Him… that you should act towards Hashem like a servant who serves his master always, who makes his master’s work primary and his own needs secondary; this leads to what Chazal termed, “And let all your activities be for the sake of heaven” — meaning that even one’s physical needs should be done for the sake of serving Hashem: eating, sleeping, taking care of all physical needs as much as is required to serve Him. As Chazal state, “And behold, it was very good [the culmination of the bri’ah], this is referring to sleep. Is sleep a good thing? Why, a person is seemingly not accomplishing anything productive then! Yet, because a person sleeps, he awakes refreshed, and occupies himself with Torah [and Mitzvos]… and whenever he is engaged in attending to anything physical, he should keep in mind the possuk [note — we say this every day in our davening] (Tehillim 146:2) I shall praise Hashem while I live. [Ramban is apparently interpreting this to mean with my (physical) life]… I shall sing to my G-d while I exist [with my very (corporeal) existence]. And this is the correct interpretation of the meaning of the Divine Service the possuk speaks of.
And so, morai v’rabosai, and ladies, here we have the secret of how to seemingly live in the mashal — yet to actually be, consciously, thoughtfully and deliberately, in the nimshal.
“Achas sho’alti me’eis Hashem… shivti b’vais Hashem…” This possuk, recited twice a day throughout Elul, prepares us as perhaps no other possuk does or can for real life, true life, life in the nimshal as we walk in the mashal. Malbim explains that possuk as teaching that not only is the request my sheilah — a request, the motive of which might be life, wealth, nachas, comfort — but it is my bakashah, my ultimate goal, what I am lma’aseh searching for, my destination, my mission, and my objective: dwelling in the House of the Lor-d, as I am alive (kol y’mei chayai), as we have seen the understanding of the Ramban how that can be accomplished. Living the ratzon Hashem, the will of G-d, as we go through the day living our lives, with our ultimate goals being the only reality, the only nimshal.
And if you read this article, and someone askes you what it was about, and your answer is — oh, Rav Malinowitz wrote about a kid playing Monopoly and building boats — well, you are esconsed in mashal, have missed the nimshal, and must go back and re-read it!
A g’mar chasimah tova to all, gut yom tov, and a year of growth in avodas Hashem without the need for accompanying nisyonos.