Elul 5759 – The Benefits of Aloneness

1 Ellul 5759

From the Desk of: Rabbi Noach Orlowek

It’s a cold July evening here in Hartbeesportdam, South Africa, a 90-minute drive from Johannesburg. It’s the dead of winter in the Southern Hemisphere. There are plenty of ducks and geese here, and my wife and myself are spending a day of quiet and relaxation, and sublime solitude. My wife has brought with her a copy of Rabbi Nissel’s Women and Tefilla pamphlet, and it reminded me that I am due to have the honor of appearing on JemSem. I guess the topic that would be most suitable is how we need, from time to time, quiet and solitude.

We need quiet to think, and to remind ourselves of the truths of life that often become forgotten during the everyday rush of life (in the West, at least). We need quiet to appreciate anew the gifts that we take for granted, whether it be the people closest to us, our physical and intellectual gifts, and, most of all, our connection to Hashem.

People are composed of intellect and emotion, and it is the intellect, because it can project, that bears responsibility for decision making, considering, of course, our emotional realities. The problem is that the emotion works much more quickly than the intellect and, especially when taken unawares, we act on our emotions before the intellect has a chance to give its input and decision. The rule of thumb is that that which is slower must start earlier. So we must use our quiet times to utilize our intellect to try to project and not be taken by surprise.

This, by the way, is why I think girls should come to Israel for a year (or two), in order to have that quiet time, before embarking on the path of life. It gives the intellect a chance to work out what is important in life, before the journey begins in earnest. It is a reflection of the “real world,” the world that reflects timeless truths, and the key to a meaningful, and therefore happy, life. For happiness is not a goal, it’s an asset, whereby we have the energy to do worthwhile things, and a byproduct of a life lived correctly. This is how my Rebbe, zt”l, Rav Simcha Wasserman, put it: We would not be commanded to hope for the days of Moshiach if those days meant “happy life.” It’s because in Moshiach’s time we will live a “correct life” (“happy” and “correct” were his words) and therefore a happy life that we hope for Moshiach’s days to draw near.

We therefore need to take, even after our return from Israel, time each day, or at least each week (I recommend right before Shabbos has ended, for then we have “detoxified” the most from the previous week’s crazinesses.) to reflect on the happy truths of life and realign ourselves with those truths. But we must be careful that we leave these periods of quiet refreshed and looking toward a better spent week, for if we become depressed from our times for reflection, we must stop immediately and figure out why we get that way, for being in touch with the truth is always invigorating, for it is synonymous with being in touch with Hashem, remembering that the soul that He gave me is immutably pure, and can therefore regenerate into its pristine closenes to Hashem, no matter what.

I want to thank Leibish A. and his wife for allowing us the use of their cottage here, and for giving me the quiet time I needed to write this for you.