Yitzie Milworn - Letters To a Younger Talmud - Stay on Target
I hope this letter finds you well, were coming up on the middle of Elul and I can't believe how the time flew. I noticed that this year, since coming back from the army, I've been trying to push myself into doing as much as I “think” I can do the keyword being think. But maybe that s not necessarily the right thing for me to be doing? That reminds me of the words of Rav Yehuda Halevi in the Sefer HaKuzari, there he writes of the King of the Khazars and his search for God and religion. But more on that in a moment, I want to give an example of what I mean.
In the army we spent many a day shooting away at the rifle range, it was a blast. But many times, especially when it had been a few weeks since your last day of shooting, you'd experience an interesting thing. You’d go to check your target after a round of shooting that you were sure you did well in and all your shots would be grouped nicely, really tight and close together, but all over to one side of the target, not really worth much. If you miss your target does it really matter how tight your grouping was. No, it doesn't matter in the slightest.
Now as for the Sefer HaKuzari. In the very first paragraph of the book, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi recounts the story of the Khazar king who had a recurring dream, where an angel would visit him and inform him “Your intentions are desirable to the creator but your actions are not”. The context here comes from the King of the Khazar's attempt to find the proper way to serve God. He was trying everything, literally any religion he could get his hands on. The angel would remind him night after night that his intentions were pure and true but the way he was going about finding the proper expression for his feelings was just wrong.
He was having a great day at the rang. All his bullets were in a nice tight group. But he just kept missing the target.
You, my dear young friend, are at the beginning of a similar journey as we speak. You just started yeshiva, you have a million and a half thoughts streaming through your mind about religion, spirituality, and serving god all running through your mind at a mile a minute. And let me tell you, it's going to overwhelm you. You will try to find ways of expressing it that will be just plain weird. Missing minyanim to daven by yourself late at night, screaming when you make brachot, and literally anything you “think” will bring you closer to god.
Now I get to tell you the rest of the story from the rifle range. When you go and check your target and you see you're not hitting dead center in the middle of your target you don't just walk away and say “well ok then”. You fix the problem, you calibrate your sights! I think your smart enough to see where this is going.
You need to find a way to calibrate your sights! Thankfully you're not alone, and for hundreds of years, Chazal have been giving you tools and advice to help you get yourself focused and zeroed in. Listen not to your brain, as we talked about before you don't know enough to think you know things yet, you'll get there, but for now, just listen. Sit and absorb what your Rabbeim have to tell you. They will show you the way, they will be the ones to readjust your sights. And hopefully, we'll have you back on target.
As always yours in learning and life,