Top Hat and Shoes

Top Hat and ShoesAbsolute truth is hard to come by. Many gedolim made it their life goal to speak and act only in accordance with their true level. Rav Yerucham Levovitz, zt”l, gave an interesting explanation of why one should not act above his level.

He said, “This can be compared to a person who wears a luxurious top hat but is absolutely barefoot. Surely all who see him will remark at the inappropriateness of such an imbalance in this man’s apparel! The same is true in spiritual matters. One must first put on his shoes, which are the foundation middos. Then he can aim for higher.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories off the Daf
“Perhaps He is Not His Father…”
Chullin 11

I’m immediately reminded of two other stories; the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Anderson, and Kabbalah and the Art of Tying Your Shoelaces by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh. The former tells a tale of self-delusion which others are willing to buy into, and the latter assures us that the Torah was given so that even the most mundane acts in our lives can be seen as holy.

Besides the clothing motif, what do they have in common? Let me explain.

Rav Levovitz shows us that, as people of faith, we strive to achieve higher spiritual goals. If we are at all connected with God and we’re on speaking terms, we “know” that we can be closer to Him and we can be better people. We can be the people God designed us to be. However, it’s not that easy.

Have you ever set a goal for yourself that, in retrospect, you realized was unrealistically high. Have you ever aimed at achieving something lofty before doing the ground work and laying a foundation for what comes next? I know I have. I believe it’s a fairly common human behavior. We fail, not because we are lazy or don’t have high aspirations, but because we don’t look at the entire sequence of events between where we are and where we want to go. We try to jump from “A” to “Z”, without going through the intervening letters of the alphabet. We fool ourselves into thinking that we don’t have to.

Rabbi Ginsburgh puts what we need to do very simply and elegantly:

First put on your right shoe, then your left shoe, then bind your left shoe, and finally bind your right shoe. That’s the way Jews do it.

Hans Christian Andersen shows us what happens when we cut corners and don’t pay attention to the difference between fantasy and reality.

If you feel like you’re in a rut in your church life, in your synagogue life, in your prayer life, in your spirituality…it’s probably because you are.

A relationship with God is like being married. When you first get married, it’s all exciting and romantic and thrilling. Then five years go by. Ten. Fifteen. Suddenly, you realize you’ve been married for almost thirty years and sometimes, life at home seems pretty boring. Not much romance is going on. No thrills have happened for months, maybe years. Is this the goal you were shooting for?

Let’s go through that story again with a slight twist. You’ve been married for fifteen, twenty, twenty-five years. Some days are better than others. The “magic” in the marriage comes and goes, waxes and wanes. It’s sometimes pretty good and sometimes not so good, but in the end, you find that nothing really gets better or more intimate. Stuck in a rut again.

Let’s apply that back to your relationship with God.

You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. –James 4:2-3

In marriages, sometimes a breakdown in communication makes it difficult to understand your spouse. Since God always understands us, the breakdown in our relationship with Him can only come from us. We don’t know what to ask or we ask with bad motives. Who am I? Who is God? What do we have in common? How can we communicate? How can I get closer to Him? I put on my best top hat, but I forget to put on socks and shoes. What can I do? Maybe Rav Yerucham has the answer:

In Kotz, a certain chassid who served God with his entire heart once exclaimed while praying, “Oy, Tatte! Oh, Father!”

A fellow Kotzker heard this and quoted a statement on today”s daf, “And maybe he is not his father…”

This shook the chassid up quite a bit and pushed him to consult with the Kotzker Rebbe. Although the rebbe gave many short shrift, he gave this man encouragement. The rebbe said, “You need to cry out, ‘Oy, Tatte,’ so much that He becomes truly like a father to you!”

That sounds almost like:

I will proclaim the LORD’s decree: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father. –Psalm 2:7

Going to GodA few days ago, I wrote about how a spiritual leader can profoundly affect our lives, not just by what he teaches or by his example, but by inspiring us to be better people. It is said that the Rebbe who is head of a Yeshiva is like a father to his students. Indeed, the Rebbe is considered even more of a father than the student’s actual father. A father brings physical life to a child but a Rabbi and teacher brings the student to the Torah and to God, which gives life beyond measure.

Both in Judaism and in Christianity, we call God “Father”, but we don’t recognize Him as our Father until we desperately cry out to Him with all our strength. At that moment, He becomes our Father and we become sons and daughters. All people were created in God’s own image, so regardless of your religious tradition or even if you have no faith at all, you are still God’s child. You only need to recognize that fact and call out to Him.

For those of you who know you are sons and daughters, but who seem to be spinning your wheels in your relationship with Him, cry out to Him. Tell Him you need Him (He knows this, but you might have to remind yourself). Whether you call out “God” or “Father” or “Abba”, you are calling Him. As Christians we are told that what we pray to God in the name of Christ, will be heard in Heaven and answered.

It’s time to move out of apathy and into action. It’s time to reach new heights in your relationship with Him, or perhaps develop a relationship with Him for the first time. Go to God. Put on your finest clothes for the occasion. Just remember to put on your shoes so you can keep your balance.


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