Why The Restlessness?
Comments on the State of the Union Address Given By President Lyndon B. Johnson in January of 1968 By Maran HaGaon HaRav Mordechai Gifter, Zt”L.
The President in his last State of the Union message dealt with two salient points. In our pursuit of happiness the nation has achieved prosperity as has never been recorded in history – higher paychecks, humming factories, more and more new homes equipped with more than seventy million TV sets. Yet, the President said, there is restlessness in the land – a puzzling restlessness. It is as if material prosperity were the ultimate in human happiness and, therefore, the puzzling question: Why the restlessness?
The President also dealt with the restlessness evident by the growth of crime and lawlessness throughout the land which has reached the proportions where the nation dare not remain oblivious to the problem. The great prosperity – which it would seem should be a deterrent to crime, appears to be a major stimulus to lawlessness. We are confronted by a restlessness directed against law and order; as if law and order would stifle the innate desire for freedom of the human personality.
Restlessness, per se, is most desirable. It is indicative of the vibrancy of living, of a never-ending quest to ever greater human attainments. The Rabbis of the Talmud saw this as a great blessing and taught us that “the righteous have no rest neither here nor in the World to Come, for it is written ‘and they shall go forward from strength to strength.'”
Restlessness, then, is an indication of the inner strength of the spirit which is not content with material gains, but seeks fulfillment in the endless expanse of the spiritual realm. Shlomo in his wisdom spoke of this problem and taught us: “And the soul is not fulfilled.” Our Sages sought to make things easier for us to understand by comparing the problem at hand to the marriage of a peasant to a royal princess. In his love and devotion he showered upon her all that he, as a peasant, considered fine and wonderful. But in all that he gave her the princess saw only the crudeness of the peasant and his lack of the majesty of royalty. In the marriage of soul and body the spirit thirsts for the majesty of the Divine and this thirst cannot be quenched even by ceaseless flow of mundane attainments.
When one is conscious of the nature of the problem there lies hope in this restlessness. When it is however misunderstood, you have the restlessness of frustration and anarchy, the breakdown of human decency, the bankruptcy of morals, and the evolvement of a New Morality based upon this very bankruptcy. Indicative of the temper of the times is the fact that this New Morality has as its proponents, not merely secularist intellectuals but also theologians and clergy. Morality then, is merely a man-made system of conduct propelled by the specific cultural milieu in which we live. As times change, so also must morals change. There is then nothing which is truly base or ignoble in the nature of man. For those who live in a society governed by “turning on” and “taking a trip” by LSD, the conduct engendered by these “trips” becomes morally correct and justified. Morality then, cannot be a governing factor in the life of man, since it is man himself who determines the nature of morality in accordance with his specific needs.
Morality becomes just one more tool of Man. It is most interesting to note that the Rabbis, long ago, made us aware that even Religion can deteriorate and become merely utilitarian. They commented on the verse: “gods of gold, of silver, and of molten metal.” They explained that people make their gods of gold, but when they need gold for other purposes they make their idols of silver; and when silver is needed, they make their idols of molten metal. For some reason Man needs the satisfaction of Religion and a code of morality. And he fashions it to his desires. Does not this, in itself, indicate that the moral law inheres within Man and is part of that insatiable thirst of the soul which is at the root of our human restlessness. He fails, however, to ask himself: “Why, indeed, do I need Religion after all? What, indeed, is that inner force which impels me to create a moral code?Why must I feel that what I do is morally right?”
Torah seeks to invest Man with the feeling and sense of Mitzvah – the Divine Commandment. Only the awareness of Mitzvah, the Divine Commandment of a Creator to His Creation, can arouse Man to hear the call of the soul out of the cacophony of material diversions.
When human conduct is governed by Mitzvah, there is awakened in us a consciousness of Him who commands. The act is no longer merely physical. It becomes Avodas Hashem – service of G-d. In modern terminology the word ‘service’ is associated with prayer. Torah speaks of prayer – Tefiloh – as “avoda she’belev,” service of the heart. Every other part of Man must be put to the service of G-d. He must become a complete and total oved Hashem – servant of G-d. This is the world of Mitzvah dictated by Torah.
The dynamism in the practice and fulfillment of Mitzvah is to be found in the study of Torah. The flicker of the Mitzvah draws its strength from the light of Torah – “Ki ner mitzvah, v’Torah ohr.” A Torah-less Mitzvah becomes either icy legalism or empty ceremonialism. Therefore, the never-ending stress upon Torah U’mitzvohs as one inseparable unit.
The restlessness of which the President spoke encompasses the Jew of our age. The deterioration of a Torah-less Jewish society has already produced the Jewish hippie and the Jewish theologian who preaches the New Morality of sexual promiscuity. We are seeing the tragic deterioration and degradation of a Judaism seen merely as a religious civilization.
In such times of restlessness the Torah Jew is too restful. Restlessness against Torah must be met with restlessness for Torah. The soul calls for fulfillment.
These words written by the great Rosh Yeshiva of Telz, Moreinu HaGaon HaRav Mordechai Gifter, zt”l, in 1968 have a strong shaychus to the Jew living in America in 2016. It may look to many that we are facing a bleak election, at a time when the economy is suffering, when many are out of work and have no parnossah, when wars are raging across the planet and as always Israel lies in great peril.
“Which candidate is the best for a Yid?” “Which one will stand up for Israel?” “Who will improve the economy? These and other questions are on the mouths of Yidden across America. But that is exactly the restlessness Maran is addressing because he’s telling us today those aren’t the questions we should be asking. In our restlessness we should be asking the words of Dovid HaMelech, “From where will my help come?” And the answer is loud and clear my friends. Dovid tells us himself in Tehillim 20:7-10: “Now I know that Hashem will give victory to His anointed, [He] will answer him from His heavenly sanctuary with the mighty victories of His right arm. Some [call] on chariots, they [call] on horses, but we call on the name of the Hashem our G-d. They collapse and lie fallen, but we rally and gather strength. O Hashem, grant victory! May the King answer us when we call.”
Rashi on the word “call” in verse 8 above (in Hebrew נזכיר) says this comes from an expression of burning sacrifices and of prayer. In the article, the Rosh Yeshiva suggests the connection between mitzvah observance and tefiloh—a critical intertwining in one’s service of Hashem. Then he closes with these powerful words, “In such times of restlessness the Torah Jew is too restful. Restlessness against Torah must be met with restlessness for Torah. The soul calls for fulfillment.”
Yes, get out and vote. That is doing your hishtadlus. Vote for the candidate you think Hashem would want in place over this county. That is also your duty as a Yid. But the real salvation comes from learning Torah, davening, and putting your emunah in Hashem.
December 31, 2020
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February 12, 2018