Towards the end of the list of fearful punishments in Parashas Bechukosai is this passuk: “You will become lost among the nations, the land of your enemies will consume you.”
Chazal (Makkos 24a) relate an exchange between two great Amora’im. Rav said that he feared this passuk, to which Rav Papa responded, “Perhaps [the word ‘lost’ is] like a lost item that is being sought, as in (Tehillim 119:176) ‘I have strayed as a lost lamb — seek Your servant.’”
The Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, once repeated an explanation of this exchange.
There are different types of lost items. One can lose a wallet full of money, for instance. The owner searches for his lost wallet, but the wallet does not search for its owner. A lost sheep, on the other hand, in addition to being sought also seeks on his part to be reunited with his owner.
Rav knew that when Am Yisrael would be lost among the nations, Hashem would certainly “seek” us, so to speak. But he feared that we would not seek Hashem. Therefore Rav Papa reassured him: We will be like a lost sheep who anxiously searches for the way back and pleads to be brought back home.
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We are constantly being called home. Each and every day a bas kol calls out, “Shuvu banim shovavim — Return, wayward children!” Each of us hears this bas kol a different way. For some it is a sudden, unexpected stroke of emotional inspiration. For others it is clarity of mind, recognition of what is right and what is wrong. For still others it may be a feeling of regret about one’s spiritual deficiencies, a feeling — when properly used — that can serve as an impetus for reflection and spiritual growth.
These feelings and thoughts can come at different times. Optimally, inspiration should come during davening, learning or while doing a mitzvah. When one senses a feeling of inspiration while walking on the street or involved in some other mundane activity, taking advantage of this Heavenly call can be challenging. Often, by the time it can be put into practice, the feeling has worn off and the emotion is just a memory.
It is thus that the Apta Rav, zy”a, explains the first passuk in Bechukosai, “If you will go in My laws and observe My commandments and perform them, then I will provide your rains in their due time…”
The “rains,” he says, refer to the feelings of inspiration. Hakadosh Baruch Hu rewards those who keep Torah and mitzvos by granting their inspiration in “their due time.”
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The Ben Ish Chai has a slightly different approach to this passuk.
While often a major barrier to avodas Hashem, our inner urges for physical pleasures can at times be used in serving Hashem. For instance, on Shabbos and Yom Tov, the enjoyment of food can be part of oneg Shabbos. The vast majority of feelings and urges — even when materialistic in nature — can be used for greater, loftier purposes.
It is all a matter of when and how.
The solution to this challenge is for someone to be at all times involved in the learning of Torah and the performance of mitzvos. That way he will gradually merit to elevate himself to a degree that he will be using all things materialistic for avodas Hashem.
Chazal teach us that Hashem considers a machshavah tovah — a good thought — as if it actually occurred. For a person who truly wishes to do a mitzvah but, for whatever reason, can’t perform it at that moment, it is considered as if he did it.
Therefore, if a person dedicates his mind wholly to performing mitzvos and learning Torah, and even when he is walking on the street his thoughts and hopes are in this direction, it is as if he is constantly performing mitzvos.
“If you will go in My laws” — even when walking on the street you will be thinking of Torah — “and observe My commandments” — at all times you will hope and pine to perform them — then it will be considered as if you are constantly learning and doing mitvzos. “Then I will provide your rains” — which can also be understood as feelings and urges for naturalistic matters — “in their due time,” in a spiritual context.
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The depth and scope of our relationship with Hashem is in our hands. The more we seek to search for Him, the more we will hear His call during moments of inspiration and spiritual awakenings. The harder we try to concentrate during davening, the more we will merit to recognize that Hashem speaks to us as we learn Torah. The more we will recognize that avodas Hashem is a twenty-four-hour-a-day endeavor that applies at all times and in every location, the closer we will be to a truly elevated life.