Rabbi Zvi Homnick, Beis Moshiach
It was at the height of World War II, when little Izzy Greenstein was drafted into the American Army. On the first day of boot camp, the drill sergeant had the new draftees stand at attention for hours as he lectured them about following orders, no questions asked. In those days before political correctness, part of the spiel included hurling the worst invective, insults and ethnic slurs, to which the required response was to snap-to, stare straight ahead and state firmly, “Sir, yes sir.”
Walking through the lines, he called out each newly minted soldier by name and gave them the full treatment. When he got to Greenstein, Isidore, everybody knew that the little Jewish kid was in for some real abuse. After having him answer, “Sir, yes sir,” to a seemingly endless list of Jewish negative stereotypes, the sergeant barked, “If your commanding officer gives you the order to charge directly at a machine gun nest spraying the field in front of you, what do you say?”
Izzy: Sir, yes sir! Right behind you, sir!
WHAT IF NOBODY IS TRYING TO KILL YOU?
Hey, what happened with having the word “love” in the title? And to switch out “love” for death and lies? Like seriously, what’s up with that? Well, if we’re going to talk about “the short way” or the “life-and-death” approach (see previous installment) of Tanya, to serve G-d “from the depths of his heart, in absolute truth, with love and fear,” we will have to confront some really heavy stuff. Stuff like dying in order to stop lying. The (really, really) good news is when you “die” in the Chassidic sense, that is when you really start to live and, lest we forget, really start feeling the love.
In order to more fully appreciate the ChaBaD approach of the Alter Rebbe to “the short way” of the Baal Shem Tov, it is necessary to more fully explore the role intellect plays in our everyday decision making processes, namely that of assigning value to things. Every intelligent choice we make is based on considering our options and deciding according to what we consider the best outcome. Obviously, the choice between making a million dollars or spending an extra hour in bed, is for most sane people a no-brainer. However, when the choices involve more subtle distinctions or short-term versus long-term considerations, the ability to navigate those choices depends on having a more developed intellect with a more developed ability to rule over the heart.
There are, however, situations where choice is preset and the intellect is only consulted as to the best way to implement that choice. This can come from “below the intellect,” from the unruly impulse driven emotions, or from “above the intellect,” from the super-bittul and super-love that express the innermost self. There are numerous differences between these two types of “hijacking” of the intellect, one being that the impulses that come from “below” are instinctive and seem to pop up of their own accord or when triggered by one of the senses, like seeing or hearing something that arouses desire, whereas the drives from “above” are usually only triggered in extreme cases (or moments of inspiration from above). The classic example given by the Alter Rebbe is when a Jew is confronted with the choice to give up his life or engage in idol worship.
There is another way to subjugate the intellect to that which is “below” or that which is “above,” and that is when someone “wants to want.” An example from “below” is that of a “foodie,” a person who immerses his mind in the topic of food even when he has no appetite at the time, because he is looking for ways to stimulate his desire even when it’s not present. On the higher end, there is the Chassid who “wants to want” to serve Hashem, but falls into the category the Alter Rebbe describes as someone “whose mind is limited in the knowledge of Hashem, and he has no heart to comprehend the greatness of the Infinite One, blessed be He, to produce fear and love, even in his mind and understanding alone.” How can he harness his intellect to access his higher powers of super-bittul and super-love? How can he apply the tactic of “if you can’t go underneath, then go over the top?”
SOMEBODY IS TRYING TO KILL YOU…
The answer, according to the Alter Rebbe, is to understand that you really only have two choices in life, and we heard those two choices directly from Hashem Himself at Sinai; “I am Hashem, your G-d,” and “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Either I do the Will of Hashem and thereby proclaim His Oneness, or else I act upon my own will, even when not fully in accordance with His Will, causing a greater concealment of Hashem’s Oneness than even the worst kelipa of avoda zara. After all, the kelipa is only carrying out its assigned mission to act in seeming opposition, but is actually incapable of acting against G-d’s Will, or even considering the possibility of doing so.
The sinner – that includes anyone who indulges in any thought, speech or action, not in direct service of Hashem – is effectively proclaiming that “I can do what I want, even if it’s not in line with Hashem’s Will.” It is not just a bad thing to do, it is actually the biggest lie in the world, because nothing else exists except for Hashem. In fact, it requires a total system override on the part of the very Essence of G-d to allow such a person (oy vey, I think I might know someone like that) to even continue to exist! In other words, Hashem has to “want to want” to keep someone who cut himself off from what Hashem “wants” from ceasing to exist. Hashem doesn’t just “want” you alive, His super-love for you is so great and for every individual mitzva that you do that He will even rig the system to give you a chance to come back to Him, to reconnect to His Oneness.
So when the Sages describe the yetzer ha’ra of each person as “every day, trying to overpower him in order to kill him,” they were not exaggerating. He really is trying to kill you, but for him it’s just a job and he actually hopes (deep down) that you win. But how? By choosing to die for G-d, rather than commit what is in a sense even worse than idol worship. Dead men don’t lie and dead men can’t be killed. But what about the Torah commandment of “and you shall live in them – and not die in them,” regarding all of the mitzvos of the Torah? Okay, so the only part that has to die is the part that “lives” not “in them,” in the Torah and mitzvos; the part that wants to engage in thought, speech and action, related to just about everything else in this phony world.
Have to pause here, even if it may feel to some like they are left with more questions than answers, so hang in there until the next installment…
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