Life’s Best Kept Secret
The shul Daniella and I davened at recently came out with a journal of different Torah ideas spanning Pesach to Shavuos. I wrote my piece in December but it took on a completely different meaning after everything that happened. The piece was in need of an epilogue. Friends have asked me to share the Torah I wrote as well as the epilogue here. The epilogue comes from a tremendously deep place inside of me. I can’t tell you how many tears were shed writing it, as well as rereading it. I hope it can be helpful.
Much Love, Noam
Life’s Best Kept Secret
Based on the shir given by Rav Moshe Weinberger at the hilula of Rashbi, 5769
It is brought down at the end of the Zohar Hakadosh, in the Idra Zuta, when Rebbi Shimon’s holy soul left our world, that Rebbi Shimon was teaching a very deep inyan in which he began a pasuk but he didn’t finish it, and ever since he left our world, we are finishing that pasuk. He left the world with the words “כי שם צוה ה’ את הברכה חיים עד העולם”, “For there Hashem has commanded the blessing. May there be life forever”. But he did not finish the pasuk. Before he was able to say the word “חיים”, he was silenced.
Bar Yochai, Fortunate is the woman who gave birth to you
And fortunate are the people who learn what you taught
And fortunate are those who truly understand your secrets
Who are enclosed in the urim v’tumim of your teachings
Rebbi Shimon left the world without being able to say the words חיים עד העולם, and the question is, one, how do we finish that pasuk? And two, and more importantly, ואשרי העומדים על סודך, “fortunate are the ones who understand your secrets”, what are those secrets of Rebbi Shimon?
In truth, there are two types of secrets. One kind of a secret is when a person has some exciting news. So you have some news that you want to tell the whole world, but it’s not right place and it’s not the right time, but you know that when it is the right time to tell that secret, you’ll have no problem telling it. “Did you here so-and-so is getting married? Did you here so-and-so is expecting”. This is one kind of secret, but this is not a secret in its essence. A secret that you can tell, even if you don’t tell anybody, is not truly סוד, a secret, נסתר. It is something you haven’t told yet, but it can be told. What then is a real secret?
So li’mashal, when you love another person, the love that you have for that person is a secret b’etzem, in its essence, because as much as you might tell that person how much you love him, or how much you love her, as many times as you repeat those words, and you try to find words, and if you don’t have words you buy a card or you look up an old poem someplace and you borrow someone else’s words, it doesn’t make a difference, because even after you let the secret out, the סודhas not been violated, it is still a secret.
That means it is possible to have a person who can be learning a pasuk in Chumash, with a translation in English, nigleh (the revealed Torah) mamish, or he’s reading a Mishnah; complete revealed Torah – no Zohar, no Kisvei Ha’Ari, but at that moment he’s reading, he’s completely invested and immersed in that pasuk, in that midrash, in that halacha, and he feels it in his neshama. That person is connected to what is called סוד, the secret of Torah.
And you can have another person who can be learning, and understanding, the most complicated piece of the Zohar, or the Ari, but he is learning it in a way of muskalos (intellectualism). He has not even touched סוד, the level of secret, even though he’s learning Zohar, and his friend at the end of the table is learning Chumash with Rashi. The person reading the pasuk with his heart is connected to what he is learning. That person is in the world of סוד. And the person who could be giving a drasha in Zohar ha’kadosh, even though he’s talking about סוד, his entire learning is niglah. It’s all revealed.
Let’s take this a little further. You have a single guy and this person has decided to write an encyclopedia on the subject of love. And he’s been working on this for many years: the halachos of ahava, whatever those are, and the hashkafos of ahava; the mussar of ahava; chasidus of ahava; stories of ahava, and he has a multi volume encyclopedia all footnoted with thousands of sources that he has put together on the subject of ahava. And then an interesting thing happens on the day he is going to publish the encyclopedia. He met a young lady. And then, all of a sudden, for the first time in his life, he feels love. He feels love for somebody else, and he feels loved by somebody else. Until now he has written twenty volumes on the subject of ahava and it is only now for the first time in his life that he has been transformed into someone who loves. That means, that after going out a few times and being head over heels in love with this girl, that when he comes back and he looks over at all the loose-leaf he has on his table, his ears turn red and he feels humiliated and embarrassed because he understands for the first time in his life that the twenty volumes he just wrote are all superficial and shallow. All the years that he was working on the encyclopedia, he was writing about the idea and the concept of love, but he and love were two totally separate things. And then, for the first time in his life there is dveikus (attachment; cleaving). He and this concept, he and ahava, are one. He is no longer a person writing about ahava – he himself is a cheftza (a part of the reality) of ahava that he never felt in his life.
So too with the Boreh Olam: A person can write many seforim about Hashem, but he and Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu can be two separate realities. He never tasted God; he never felt Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu. Even though he may have written a doctoral thesis on the secrets of Torah, he doesn’t have the slightest bit of connection to סוד. Only through dveikus with Hashem can a person finally stop talking about Hashem and feel him.
By Pesach Sheini, the Torah says that if someone is impure, or is בדרך רחקה (far away), instead of making a Korban Pesach on the 14th of Nissan, they should make it on the 14th of Iyar. And Rashi there says that דרך רחקהmeans,”לא שרחוקה ודאי, אלא שהיה חוץ לאסקופת העזרה”. Not that he is necessarily far from the beis hamikdash, rather he can even be right outside the Azara (the courtyard) of the beis hamikdash, and he is still considered to be בדרך רחקה! So the Kushnitzer Maggid asks what does “בדרך רחקה” mean? And he says that being inside the Azara means, when you say the words “ברוך אתה” at the beginning of a bracha, you feel it with all the warmth and all the affection and all the certainty like you would say it to a friend, and בדרך רחקהmeans the opposite.
If a person doesn’t feel when he says those words, “ברוך אתה” then the Kushnitzer Maggid is saying then he is בדרך רחקה. As much kabbalah as he learns and as many Chassidus seforim and other sifrei kodesh that he goes through, he is still בדרך רחקה. He is still outside. It is all still called nigleh, revealed, which is a lashon of galus, exile. This person is far away.
ואשרי העומדים על סודך. So it turns out there is a ונהפוך הוא. The guy who was saying all sorts of fancy things from the Zohar is outside, he does not feel God. When he davens, he is thinking of some pshat that he saw in some pasuk somewhere. He can’t say “ברוך אתה”. Kulo nigleh – completely revealed! And the simple Jew who is in love with the Ribbono Shel Olam and just says “You”, so that person is in the place of אשרי העומדים על סודך.
So what did Rebbi Shimon bring us? A person can spend his whole life learning the sugya of Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu, but all of a sudden, and you don’t know why, the most beautiful thing in life happens, and all of a sudden it becomes one billion percent clear to you, and you feel it in your kishkas, that Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu is melech chi v’kiyam! He’s a living God! And there is no one else in the world you can tell that secret to, this secret that you uncovered within yourself. And at that moment, Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu has stopped being an entry in the encyclopedia, and at that moment Hashem became a real living reality!
This is all based upon a Torah of the Yosher Divrei Emes, one of the early talmidim of the Baal Shem Tov:
ענין אהבת הבורה ויראתו ית”ש אי אפשר לפרש לחבירו איך היא האהבה בלב. וזה נקרא נסתר, אבל מה שהם קורים נסתר חכמות הקבלה האיך הוא נסתר הלא כל מי שרוצה ללמוד הספר לפניו ואם אינו מבין הוא ע”ה ולפני איש כזה גמרא ותוספות ג”כ נקרא נסתר אלא ענין הנסתרות שבכל הזהר וכתבי האריז”ל הכל בנוים ע”פ דביקות הבורא
What is the inyan of loving Hashem and fearing Hashem? You can’t explain to someone what it means to feel that love for Hashem in your heart. That is called the secret. And that which people call “נסתר” the wisdom of kabbalah, how is that a secret? Anyone who wants to learn can go to the store and buy a sefer Zohar or Kisvei Ha’Ari, and if you don’t understand it, then you are an am ha’aretz. It’s not a secret. So he says for a person who doesn’t understand, Gemara and Tosfos can also be a secret. Rather the נסתרthat is referred to in the Zohar and the Kisvei Ha’Ari, are matters which are all built on dveikus, attachment, to Hashem.
Rebbi Shimon brought the message to the world to stop being בדרך רחקה, to stop talking about God. To stop living a life when you can’t honestly say “ברוך אתה”. To stop living a life where you are only speaking about Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu, without once in your life feeling his presence and touching your life. The whole tachlis of learning, Rebbi Shimon revealed, is dveikus ba’Hashem. And סודdoesn’t mean that you need to be a person who understands kabbalah. סוד means that each and every Jew can feel every cell in his body come alive with God from just saying a kaptle Tehillim, a Mishnah, a “ברוך אתה”!
Open a Kedushas Levi, Noam Elimelech, Rav Tzadok, Nefesh Ha’Chaim, a Gra, but don’t open it up to understand it like an encyclopedia. Don’t open it up to see what chiddush, what can I say over, maybe I can use this by a bar mitzvah or a sheva brachos or something. Or maybe I can say this over and close my eyes and move my head and everyone will say “woo woo, this guy’s really deep.”
Rebbi Shimon took simple Jews like us and he said “תא חזי”, I want you to see the Boreh Olam, כי שם צוה ה’ את הברכה חיים עד העולם, but Rebbi Shimon was not able to finish the pasuk and it is on us to finish that pasuk to finish חיים עד העולםand to feel that the Boreh Olam is a leibadika God! He’s not an idea. He’s not a concept. He’s חיים!
Ahava and yirah means dveikus. It means to be in love! Not to talk about love. To be in love. And that is geula. Galus means gilui, it means revealed it means shallow it means empty it means encyclopedias and books, it means not feeling, it means not being there. Geula means being there!
Let’s finish with a short story. In England at the end of the 19th century they used to have these competitions of reciting poetry. And there were five finalists who had gathered together for this recitation of poetry, and the final poem to be read was the 23rd Psalm – מזמור לדוד ה’ רואי לא אחסר. God is my shepherd I shall not want. So the finalists were reciting this poem with their great diction, and there was a young man who was really terrific and the entire audience was cheering and everyone stood up and gave him a standing ovation. It was clear he was going to be the winner. Suddenly from the back of a room, an old Jew with an long white beard and peyos stood up and said with a heavy Eastern European accent “gentlemen, would you mind if I try that?” So they said certainly, and the old Jew got up and he started to say in broken broken English “מזמור לדוד ה’ רואי לא אחסר“. For the first five seconds people were smiling – it was entertaining. After thirty seconds people were dumbstruck, and by the time he finished everybody was crying. And he sat down and of course they awarded the first prize to the young man. As they were leaving the auditorium the young man came running after the old Jew and said “Rabbi rabbi, the truth is, the prize belongs to you.” So the rabbi said “I’m not interested in awards.” And the young man said, “Rabbi, I must ask you, why is it that when I recited the 23rd Psalm, that everybody was clapping and I received a standing ovation and this award, but when you recited the 23rd Psalm, everybody was crying?” So the rabbi put his arm around the young man and said “The difference between you and me is that I know the shepherd. I have a relationship with the shepherd.”
Hashem Yisborach should help each and every one of us that in these times, when we feel so far away, that we should be zoche to know that we can be krovim to the Boreh Olam, and that we should be krovim to the Boreh Olam and to speak to him in such a way of k’dabeir ish el reyeyhu.
The Rav Weinberger portion of the d’var Torah is over. Now it is just a simple man’s words about his personal ahava and sod, with his very special wife.
It was somewhere around the two and a half years of marriage point where it became very clear that I had become a cheftza of ahava with Daniella. That the relationship we had, had moved, at least for me (she was more advanced – I think she felt it earlier) to a new level. I can’t tell you what it felt like. It is impossible. It is sod. I can say that it was the greatest, yet very subtle, feeling. It was not something that came easy – it is not something that comes easy. It is something that was worked at.
The ahava we feel is not dependent on the other person, it is dependent on ourselves. It requires that we personally take the time and energy to think about it. “Am I thinking about a closer relationship with my wife? Am I building a kesher nafshi?” These feelings are no less true for our relationship with Hashem (and all other relationships). “How am I making more room for Hashem in my life? Do I even want a kesher nafshi with the almighty?”
Daniella and I in many ways were Davuk to each other. The huge chasm of longing that became my heart can testify to that. What I have been feeling over the past few weeks is that I miss Daniella so much. Almost no other feeling or thought has been able to push this longing out. Ki cholas ahava ani. The feelings of dveikus now are significantly stronger than they were before her passing. It’s a new level of sod, in a place where sod already existed. I wish we had the time to develop the sod more. “To make you more a part of me, and me more a part of you.” There is nothing in the world, nothing, that I want more, than to be with Daniella.
Maybe there are people reading this that have the opportunity to build this dveikus, this attachment, with their spouses – the dveikus that I am longing for. I recommend not taking this opportunity for granted. Build this relationship with them and build it with Hashem.