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Sunday, 7 February 2016

Stop resisting

Daf Yomi Gittin 54

Back in my younger years, I was once serving as a camp counsellor.  We had taken the kids to an amusement park, and at one point, we took a break from the rides to watch a hypnosis show.  The hypnotist asked for volunteers and my co-counsellor raised his hand.  As he got up to approach the stage, he whispered to me, ‘Watch this, he’ll never get me!’
Sure enough, the hypnotist failed to hypnotize him and he returned to the audience.

If a scribe was writing a Sefer Torah and had to write the four letter name of Hashem, but intended instead to write Yehudah, and then forgot to insert the letter dalet, he may pass a quill over the name and sanctify it.  These are the words of Rabbi Yehuda.
Rashi explains: Although the scribe wrote the correct name of Hashem, he initially lacked the requisite intent.  Therefore he must retrace it with the correct intent.

Look at the power of the scribe’s magic wand!  Until now, this piece of parchment was nothing but physical cowhide with ink on it.  And then with the wave of his quill, the cowhide is magically transformed into a Sefer Torah.  Nothing visibly changed.  And yet a transformation from the mundane to the spiritual took place!

Every Jew is likened to a living Sefer Torah.  The difference is that human beings are even holier than a Torah scroll.  Consider the honour you give to the Torah – you rise when it passes, you would fast if it fell.  How much greater must the honour be that you accord your fellow Jew!

If we are Torah scrolls, who is the scribe?  Our Scribe is none other than the Holy One, blessed be He!  Rabbi Yehuda’s message is that with one simple wave of the Almighty’s quill, we can become completely transformed.  How does that work?

Let’s say you’ve had a terrible day at work.  A big deal failed to go through.  Or your stock portfolio tanked.  And you are a complete wreck.  Judging by your current state of mind, you almost feel like you could never be happy again.  But here’s the secret: with one wave of the Almighty’s wand, your entire mindset could be transformed.

Or let’s say you’ve had a fight with your spouse.  You are so angry and upset.  It might not have been anything major, but you still don’t see how to climb out of your feeling of hurt.  Yet again, the secret is that with one wave of the Almighty’s wand, you could be transformed.

How does it work?  We communicate with Heaven when we pray.  Some people mistakenly believe that we pray to change G-d’s mind.  Don’t be silly!  We can’t change Hashem’s mind.  The purpose of prayer is to change ourselves.  Prayer is our opportunity to become completely transformed.

In other words, when you pray, you have the chance to develop an entirely new mindset.  With each word of the prayer service, you learn more and more to appreciate the providential hand of the Almighty throughout your life.  And once you have that understanding, it is impossible to retain your anger and upset.  Once you recognize that G-d is in control, how could you be upset? 

For example, it is impossible to recite the blessing Barech Aleinu . . . Mevarech Hashanim, where we beseech Heaven for our livelihood, and still be angry that things didn’t go your way.  If you truly believe that the Almighty is the ultimate Provider, how could you be upset?  With the proper kavanah (focus), you are bound to acknowledge that He knows exactly what He is doing!

It is impossible to recite Sim shalom and retain your anger towards your spouse.  On the one hand, you are asking for G-d to grant you peace in your life; but on the other hand, you’re working to stave off His blessing?!  That makes absolutely no sense!  So, if you really think about your prayers, you are bound to walk away utterly transformed for the better.

So why do some people conclude their prayers unaffected?  It is just like hypnosis.  If you walk into the game determined that you are not going to allow yourself to come under the magician’s spell, then indeed you will not come under his spell.  If you walk into prayer determined not to be transformed by the quill of the Scribe, then guess what?  Nothing will happen!  You will remain the same mundane, physical piece of cowhide you were before you began your prayers.


Many people recite their prayers but are so resolved not to get out of their bad mood, that there is nothing that could be done to change their minds.  Only when you stop resisting will you be transformed.  May you approach prayer with an open heart, ready to be transformed by the quill of the Scribe!