THE RABBI OF 42ND STREET
OR HOW TO LISTEN TO A SICHA

By RABBI SHLOMO PRICE

1) Many years ago I was privileged to hear the 'Magid of Yerushalayim,' Rav Shalom Shwadron Shlit"a. When he began to speak, he said over a Moshol of the Chofetz Chaim, which he had heard from Rav Teitelbaum zt"l, who heard it from the Chofetz Chaim.
The Chofetz Chaim was speaking at the K’naisia Gedolah - The Great Assembly (of Agudas Yisroel, where the Torah leaders of the generation gathered together to discuss the spiritual status of Klal Yisroel). The Chofetz Chaim spoke once in the morning, and then strangely enough, he requested to speak again later. Naturally, they let him speak. He pointed out that he spoke in the morning requiring everyone to spread Torah in different places, but that he was not happy with the reaction. The people were saying that of course the Chofetz Chaim is right, but who am I to go and spread Torah among others? I'm far from perfect; The Chofetz Chayim’s address was referring to those who have already have perfected themselves; they have a right and obligation to work on others. As chazal say (Baba Basra 60b) "First adorn (work on) yourself, then adorn others."
The Chofetz Chaim continued, "I want to tell you a moshol - a parable about the feudal system. During that period the lords of the manor had the power of life and death in their hands. One of these lords came for a visit, and naturally they made a big reception for him. At the end they gave him a glass of tea, but since the water system wasn't so clean, the tea was very muddy. When the lord tasted it he spat it out. They explained to him the problem of the water system, so he made a new law. From now on no water may be used unless it was sterilized and cooked first. Some time later the lord heard that this town burned down. When he came to see why they couldn't put out the fire, they told him that they tried, but as the new law required, they had to cook the water first, and by that time the fire had burned down the town. The lord was furious, and he told them, 'You fools, when you want to serve tea then you need to sterilize the water first, but when there is a fire burning, you are not choosy as to what kind of water to use; you use any kind of water.'
"So too, when are you choosy about who should spread Torah? When there is no fire of ignorance burning, but currently there is a fire raging out there, this is not a time to be picky. Anybody who knows something, even if he is not perfect, should try to give it over to others."
Rav Shalom said that even though he is not worthy to speak, he uses this moshol of the Chofetz Chaim as a license to speak. I too certainly have to rely on it to be able to speak.

2) The Gemorah (Avodah Zorah 17a). tells a story of Rav Elazar ben Dordayah, who knew every harlot intimately, and when he heard about one across the ocean who charged a lot of money, it didn't deter him, and he made an appointment. When he went there and was about to do the act, a strange thing happened. She (must have eaten a lot, and) let off gas, and she commented that just as this gas will go into the wind and not come back, so too you won't be able to come back and repent. The Gemoro says that when he heard it, he did a tremendous teshuvah until his soul went straight to Olam Haboh.
Now he lived at a time when there were many great Sages who rebuked him, and yet they were not successful, so why was she? The answer is that by the Rabbis he put up a MENTAL BLOCK, but by her he didn't expect a sicha, so he didn't put up a mental block. This is the first foundation in listening to a sicha, BE HONEST, AND DON'T PUT UP A MENTAL BLOCK. YOU CAN ASK QUESTIONS LATER.

3) Boys have three main reasons why they don't want to come to a sicha.

a) I DON'T WANT TO CHANGE. I CAN'T BE HAPPY BEING THAT WAY. I had a friend like that who changed. I don't want to be like him. He was a cool dude, but he flipped out, spaced out, frummed out.
b) PEER PRESSURE, I don't want my friends to call me WIMP (SICKIE FRUMMIE) and make fun of me.
c) So if I don't change I will just have a GUILTY CONSCIENCE, so why should I come?

4) But these are MISTAKES.

a) We look at FUTURE EVENTS, and PROJECT PRESENT FEELINGS to it, and make conclusions based on them. We don't realize that OUR FEELINGS COULD CHANGE, and CONSEQUENTLY so could OUR CONCLUSIONS AND DECISIONS.
They tell a story about circular reasoning which illustrates this point. There was once a fellow who hated apples, and he never ate them. He said that it is a good thing that he hates them, because if he would like apples then he would eat them, and that wouldn't be good because he doesn't like them. We can truly see the fallacy of circular reasoning here; that he is basing a future situation of eating apples on his present feeling of dislike for the apples, without realizing that the future situation would not come about unless his feeling changed to liking apples, and then there would be no problem with eating the apples.

b) CHANGING ISN'T A WEAKNESS OR A SIGN OF BEING A WIMP. If you are a MAN OF YOUR PRINCIPLES and you conquer your yetzer horo, that is TRUE STRENGTH. As chazal say, "Who is the true strong person? One who conquers his yetzer horo - evil inclination." On the contrary, if you know what is right, but you are too weak to break away from the crowd, and you have to "GO WITH THE FLOW," THEN you are a WIMP who has to follow the crowd. Of course you can TRY to explain it to your friends, but your LIFE is MORE IMPORTANT.

c) MAYBE YOU WILL CHANGE, you never know what will inspire you or wake you up, like remembering your religious grandfather or hearing a shofar. Even if you are NOT READY TO ACCEPT, at least LISTEN and let it go ON YOUR HEART even if it won't go IN YOUR HEART yet. As the KOTZKER REBBE asks that it says in k’rias shema, 'al l’vov’cho". In other words- the Torah says "Put these words on your heart". Wouldn't it be better to say "bilvovcho - in your heart?" He answers that the Torah is talking to somebody who is not ready to accept; still let it go on your heart, so when it is on your heart at least one day the heart may open up and let the message go in.

In the book, Around the Maggid's Table page 105, Rabbi Paysach Krohn relates a story which he heard from Rav Shmuel Dishon, the Mashgiach of the Stoliner Yeshiva in Brooklyn.

During the six day war when they captured the Kosel, many Israeli soldiers wept and prayed there realizing the sanctity of the place. There were two soldiers who came from an irreligious kibbutz, and they were standing on the side not realizing its sanctity. All of a sudden one of them burst out crying. His friend asked him, "Why are you crying?" His friend answered, "I'm crying because I don't know what there is to cry about." (Story reprinted with permission from Mesorah Publications.) We see here that sometimes there is a moment of inspiration when the heart opens, but there is nothing on the heart to go in.

Even if you are SURE you won't change and all you will get is a GUILTY CONSCIENCE, this is also GOOD. As the Lev Eliyahu (vol 1, pg 120-121) who quotes the BROTHER of the Maharal who explains the reason why a betrothed but not yet married women who commits adultery gets the WORSE punishment of stoning while a woman who is COMPLETELY married gets the LESSER punishment of strangulation. Didn’t the married woman commit a greater sin? He explains that the LESS PLEASURE in the sin, the LESS the PUNISHMENT. The married woman who already LIVES in the HUSBAND'S house has LESS PLEASURE; she is always AFRAID that her HUSBAND will SHOW UP and catch her in the act, therefore she doesn’t enjoy the crime that much. The engaged woman on the other hand lives far away from her husband, and commits the crime with no fear, therefore enjoying it more, thus warranting a greater punishment.
Rav Itzal (Peterburger) Blazer, a talmid of Rav Yisroel Salanter, says that there are TWO BOOKS in HEAVEN, ONE of SINS where you GAVE A SIGH when you sinned and ONE when YOU DIDN'T, and the DIFFERENCE IN PUNISHMENT between them is GREATER THAN THE DISTANCE BETWEEN HEAVEN AND EARTH.

5) We are NOT SANCTIONING sins as long as you feel bad, of course you SHOULDN'T DO IT AT ALL, but if you feel that you must do it, at least MINIMIZE the SIN. Like the parable of a fellow who wants to jump off the roof and commit suicide. He's too strong to be stopped, but he tells the policemen that he will follow their instructions on how to jump. So they get this stunt man from Hollywood to tell him exact instructions on how to jump so maybe he'll just break a couple of bones and not kill himself. As they start, he yells at them, "You guys are a bunch of hypocrites, first you tell me not to jump, then you tell me how!" They answered, "Of course we don't want you to jump, but if we can't stop you, at least let's minimize the damage.

6) A sicha is just AMMUNITION that you have to TAKE WITH YOU and SHOOT. You must WRITE it down and GO OVER IT, and APPLY IT THROUGHOUT YOUR LIFE. NO ONE can MAKE you RELIGIOUS; ONLY YOU CAN MAKE YOURSELF RELIGIOUS. As Rabbainu Yona says in Sha’arei T’shuvah (2:86), "If I will not act for myself who will - If a person will not awaken himself, what will the mussar teachers help"?

7) PROBLEM - SICHA DOESN'T LAST. The guy hears the sicha but it maybe lasts for five minutes then it wears off, so what did he gain from it? This is comparable to a person who is lost in the pitch black forest, and doesn't know how to get out. All of a sudden he sees LIGHTNING IN THE DARK FOREST, the sky lights up for a second and he sees the way out, but then it's pitch black again and again he's stumbling, so what did he gain? The answer is that you are STILL STUMBLING and it will take a long time, but at least YOU KNOW WHICH DIRECTION TO HEAD IN.
The same way with a sicha it will take long to get there, but at least you know where to turn. T’shuvah means RETURN, it will take a LONG TIME, NOT OVERNIGHT. As soon as you make the FIRST STEP in the RIGHT DIRECTION that is ALREADY t’shuvah, just like when a guy travels far away, HIS RETURN begins with the first step in the opposite direction, even though he is still far away. The Gro'h says it is like climbing a LADDER, you CAN'T GO MORE THAN ONE STEP AT A TIME or you may FALL OFF COMPLETELY. YOU CAN'T CHANGE overnight, but your hashkofo (outlook) can.

8) PROBLEM - SO FAR LOST - GIVE UP YOU'LL NEVER MAKE IT. There is a parable that I heard from my Rebbe in the name of Rabbi Zeidel Epstein shlit"a. There was a fellow who had to make a 2,000 mile trip, but it was pitch black outside without street lamps. Now the fellow had a car so his friend told him to drive and put on his headlights; that way he'll be able to see. The fellow started, then he stopped and said that it won't work because the headlights only beam about six feet and the trip is 2000 miles. The friend responded that if he let it shine just six feet and travel those six feet, then he will find that it will shine another six feet.
The same is true with Torah. You can't see yourself coming to minyan every day or learning so many hours, don't give up. You can see 6 feet - coming to minyan a few times a week then do it and eventually you'll do more and with learning also a little at a time (of course you don't have so much time so you should try to go a little faster) until you will travel 2000 miles.

List of Rabbi Price's sichot
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