The following story was once shared by Reb Mendel Aronow, from his personal experiences in his youth, and I bring it to you (to the best of my memory) in his words:
‘As a child in Russia, I had a friend, a very chassidisher boy, by the name of Leizer Mishulovin. One day, as I was returning to school after the afternoon break, I saw Leizer in a state of great excitement. ‘Mendel’, he called to me as soon as he saw me, ‘I just experienced a great miracle!’ And he proceeded to share with me the following:
In Russia, at that time, there were no refrigerators. They used an icebox, in which perishable foods could be kept fresh for a time. Not everyone was able to afford even those; – it was only the wealthier families that were able to have their own icebox. The Mishulovin family was one of these families.
On this particular day, young Leizer came home in the afternoon famished. He immediately went to the icebox, to see what he could find to sooth his hunger pangs. To his delight, he saw some fresh cutlett’en (chicken patties), with a mouth-watering aroma. Leizer took one in his hand, and prepared to make a brocho . . .
. . . when suddenly he recalled being taught that a chosid needs to subjugate his desires, and when he realizes that wants something very badly, then he shouldn’t do it. Leizer was in a quandary. On the one hand, the delicious-looking cutlets beckoned to him temptingly, but on the other hand his education and his desire to work on being a chosid drew him in the opposite direction.
Leizer fought a brief – but fierce – inner battle, and in the end his Chassidic upbringing prevailed, and he returned the cutlets to the icebox.
Just then his mother returned home. When she saw her son near the ice box, she became alarmed. “Leizer”, she called to him, “I hope you didn’t eat the cuttlett’en”
“Why not?” he asked his mother. So, she explained that their gentile neighbor, not being in possession of his own icebox, had asked her permission to store some food in hers, which she granted. The cutlets belonged to him, and they were, as you can understand, pure treif!!’
In today’s gratification-centered climate, it’s a novel idea. It’s not enough to verify the kashrus of a product, to be satisfied with the caliber of the hechsher and the mashgiach. Because even if it can be considered glatt kosher at the highest standard, if you are indulging in it merely to cater to your physical desires, then that in itself is not so kosher (and can even lead to “treif” in the most literal sense, as in the story).
We’re not here to satisfy ourselves and enjoy ourselves. Rather, we’re here to serve a higher purpose, to serve Hashem, and to increase His presence in the world. And sometimes it is necessary to detach ourselves from our animalistic instincts; – to abstain from pandering to every whim of our built-in beast, in order to be more conscious of our true and ultimate purpose.
In this week’s Parsha we learn about the mitzvah of Shmitah. Once in 7 years we are instructed to detach ourselves from our usual material pursuits and preoccupations with worldly affairs, and dedicate ourselves to avodas Hashem. The idea here is not to stay away from what’s forbidden, to abstain from what is un-kosher; – that has been addressed at length in other sedros.
Here the idea is to stay away even from that that is sanctioned by every respectable bedatz, that is certified pas yisroel and cholov yisroel and yoshon and chassidishe shechita and bug-free and internet-free. So what? That doesn’t mean that indulging in it isn’t stemming from your animalistic instinct. And on Shemita we’re supposed to dedicate the year to focus on our relationship with G-d; – on being a mentch.
Because even if it’s kosher, that doesn’t mean it’s what you should be doing, it’s not necessarily Kosher for you. If it isn’t part of what brings you closer to Hashem, if it is merely the desires of your nefesh habehamis, then for you it is, in a sense, treif.
This is especially relevant as we approach the summer months. Unfortunately, in the perception of many, the summer was created by the Alm-ghty in order to make up for all of our restrictions and requirements during the year. The summer is a time to chill, to enjoy ourselves, to loosen up a bit. Whether in camp, on vacation, in the bungalow or in Cancun, the summer is when we get to enjoy and appreciate the Eibishter’s wonderful world. [As the Rebbe once said at a farbrengen: people go to the country, and wake up in the morning, and – filled with awe – make a heartfelt brocho “shekocho lo b’olomo” about the fact that the Eibishter created such a beautiful Catskills, where Jews are even welcome].
And if someone is frum or chassidish, then he’ll ensure that all of his fun will be al pi Torah and al pi chassidus. But we tend to forget, that even if there’s no transgression involved, the mere pursuing our material desires is in and of itself treif! Sometimes, the mere fact that this is something that my nefesh habehamis wants so badly is a reason to stay away from it.
This, in turn, enables us to keep focused on our true purpose and ultimate goal; – to live our lives as Shabbos la’Hashem, to transform the world into a haven for Him. Then and only then is our experience truly 100% Kosher!
This Sunday there will be a great asifa about the internet, for all those who the organizers consider Klal Yisroel. Without doubt the cause is vital, and – as has been discussed on numerous occasions in the past – the internet poses an unprecedented physical and spiritual danger that cannot be overstated.
Without question it is the pressing need of everyone to do anything in his power to combat this invasive evil by any means at his disposal. Undoubtedly, if this asifa has any impact on the permissive and lackadaisical attitude that some have towards this threat (and how could such a large gathering of Yidden not have an impact on the participants, regardless of what takes place there), then it will have justified the cost and effort.
[I would only point out that everything that could be a help, can also – when not used properly – be a source of harm, and care must always be taken. Take the matter of filters (which, according to all the previews, is what most of the upcoming asifa will be focusing on). In cases – which are all the more common with every passing year – where the internet itself is indispensible, and is a tool that can’t be managed without, at the very least there MUST be a proper filter in place to offer as much protection as possible from the dangers lurking therein.
(In fact, I heard that at this asifa, in an effort to help deal with the economics of the problem as well and התורה חסה על ממונם של ישראל, they will be introducing an amazing new money-saving filter, where the same exact filter could be used to filter both the inappropriate internet sites as well as the buggy New York water, thus avoiding the need to buy 2 separate ones).
However, the organizers, apparently, didn’t read the instructions carefully enough, so that the devices that were intended to filter out unwanted sites, began filtering out different segments of people, and creating classifications of “our Klal Yisroel”, “unzere”, and “them” – everyone else.
But, then again, nothing is perfect, and I guess with time they’ll learn how to filter out the viruses in the filters].
But there needs to be, simultaneously, the effort of working on ourselves, of inserting an internal filter. Because, while undoubtedly the internet itself has to be dealt with, as already stated, we also have to do what we can to deal with the root of the problem within ourselves. We have to correct and remove the notion that we’re here to enjoy ourselves, a notion that is not based on Torah or Yiddishkeit, a notion that is, in fact, itself an invasive virus.
And we have to remind ourselves that indulging in our physical pleasures is itself not up to our standards of Kosher, and is, therefore, something from which we have to abstain. When we strengthen and rectify our own mindset and outlook, then – automatically – the negative influences that we inadvertently encounter in the world around us will pose less of a threat to us.
[As the mishna says in Avos: “Az ponim legehenom”, – someone who has a strong and solid pnimiyus, he can safely enter the worst spiritual gehenom and emerge unscathed].
Last night, while watching the weekly “Living Torah” of JEM, I saw something that I found very inspiring: It was a Yud Beis Tamuz farbrengen, and, between the sichos, the Rebbe was telling people to say l’chayim. Presently, the Rebbe turned to the cameraman, who was filming the farbrengen, and motioned to him to say l’chayim.
Then the Rebbe placed his hand on the microphone, and said to the cameraman:
“Forget for a moment about your profession, and say l’chayim like everyone around you!”
This, then, is the idea of Shemittah: Take a step back, forget about our usual preoccupations, and our standard mundane pursuits. Detach yourself, temporarily, from your worldly involvement, and allow yourself to be re-focused on what you’re really here for, on l’chayim, – on what your life is really all about.
This will ensure that even when you return to the world, it won’t cause you to lose your perspective, and it won’t pose such an insidious threat.
This, then, is the best assurance for Kosher internet, a Kosher summer, and a Kosher life!
L’chaim! May we all do our part to filter out all the negative particles that we encounter and keep them from infecting our souls ch”v, and may the Eibishter in turn do His part and filter out all of the negativity and evil from the world altogether, ואת רוח הטומאה אעביר מן הארץ, with the immediate hisgalus of Moshiach Tzidkeinu TUMYM!!!
Rabbi Akiva Wagner
לזכות ר’ שלום מרדכי הלוי בן רבקה, לגאולה וישועה קרובה ושלימה, תומ”י ממש בטוהנוהנ”ג
ולכות ר’ מיכאל בן איטא, לרפו”ש תומ”י, ולאויוש”ט