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On the Spiritual Hunting Grounds

Hunger moves man to action. Spiritual hunger must become the sort of necessity that pushes man to embark upon the spiritual hunt of his life. A person must ask himself if his need for closeness to God is as pressing as his desire for lunch.


Rabbi Aryeh Hendler

Adar 2 5768
R' Menachem Mendel of Kotzk was fond of relating the following tale:

Once upon a time, Elijah the Prophet revealed himself to a hunter in the deep of the woods and asked him, "Why is it that you live a life lacking Torah and virtuous deeds?" In an attempt to justify himself the hunter replied, "I have been unable to find the opening that leads to God."

"You were not born a hunter," said Elijah. "Where did you acquire the understanding needed to become one?"

"Why, it was necessity that drove me to learn my trade," answered the hunter.

"And if you felt such a necessity to reach God, would it not show you the path to Him?" said Elijah.

Our main character's trade is no coincidence. A hunter spends many relentless hours attempting to track down and hit his target. In order to succeed, he must be proficient in the most effective method for achieving this goal. Hunting is no easy vocation; only if one invests hours learning to aim and fire properly does he finally manage to acquire this skill.

A person whose entire existence revolves around honing in on a target and striking it, cannot claim that he is unable to find the path to God. The Almighty is the goal. He is the object of our aspiration, and a person must spend his nights and days attempting, with all of his might, to reach this goal.

What makes the arrow such a fantastic tool is that it is capable of bringing a person's aspirations to fulfillment. So long as the arrow remains in the hands of the hunter, the goal exists in potential alone; it is visible in the hunter's sights, yet it remains unattainable.

The arrow shot from the bow of the hunter is what transforms the goal into reality. The hunter knows how to fashion instruments for himself capable of breaching the gap between potential and actuality, between the necessity and its attainment.

A hunter, then, cannot claim that he is unable to find the path to God. If he has not found Him, he apparently has not set his sights upon Him and has not toiled persistently enough.

What is more, one of the traits that characterizes the hunter is patience. A hunter will sit and wait hours for a fitting target, a conducive position, a situation that will make it easier for him to strike his target. He does not give in easy.

One who seeks God must gird himself with patience, for such a person will no doubt experience ups and downs. Sometimes it appears to him as if he is about to reach his goal, to become close to God. At other times, "my beloved is like a gazelle or a young hart" slipping through the hands of the hunter.

One must have patience, must be ready to wait for better days, a better position, a situation conducive to attaining the goal completely. One who seeks God cannot claim he is unable to find the path to Him.

Our hunter was not born a hunter. He learned to become one over the years. Necessity taught him. One of the factors that underlie hunting is the struggle for survival. The hunter goes searching for prey as shortage approaches. Hunger grips him and he sets out to satisfy his need. "Behold, days are approaching, says the Lord, when I shall send famine upon the land. Not famine for bread and not thirst for water, but to hear the word of God."

Hunger moves man to action. Spiritual hunger must become the sort of necessity that pushes man to set out on the spiritual hunt of his life. A person must ask himself if his need for a closeness to God is as significant and pressing as his desire for lunch.

When a person is fighting for his life, he manages to nurture inner traits that help him survive. This is what the self-taught hunter did. Were man's sense of spiritual necessity as intense as his need to survive, he would make the effort to teach himself various paths to perfecting his spiritual world.

It is interesting that the hunter, unable to find the opening that leads to God, discovers Elijah the Prophet in the forest of all places. Elijah is often mentioned by our sages as one who "waits at the entrance." For example: "Rabbi Yose said, 'Once, I was walking down the road, and I entered the remains of a structure left from the destruction of Jerusalem in order to pray. Elijah the Prophet came along and waited for me at the entrance until I finished my prayers' " (Berakhot 2a).

Elijah waits at the entrance, and it is he who shows our hunter the way. This is not an entrance to a particular path to serving God. Particular, defined paths to serving God involve a certain risk, for one path does not fit all. The appropriate path can only be found after the awakening of a desire on the part of the "hunter."

The "entrance" is the recognition that the need to be close to God is a vital one for man, no different than eating and drinking. When a person internalizes just how great his sense of necessity for God must be, he will not rest until he has taught himself the path that will allow him to draw near to God. Only then will he find his own unique path in the service of God.
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