Levi Liberow, Beis Moshiach
“Have you ever made any mistakes in your life”? This was a question directed at a farbrengen in Lubavitch in the late 1800s by a chassid – probably a younger one – to the old and seasoned Chassid Rashbatz, a Chassid who was chosen to teach and mentor two of our Rebbeim.
“Yes,” he answered.
The probably younger Chassid didn’t let go: “What was it?”
“In [underestimating] myself and my ma’alos.”
The Frierdiker Rebbe who was present at the farbrengen reported this conversation to his father, the Rebbe Rashab (both “mentees” of the legendary Chassid), and the Rebbe Rashab accepted it well, saying:
“This is the way it’s supposed to be; you should begin from the healthier side. The Mitteler Rebbe innovated that avoda must begin from the healthier side [of a person]. There is a way of avoda [beginning from] the other [unhealthy] side, [from exposing] the person’s lowliness, but this comes from the nefesh ha’behamis and the yetzer hara who want to bring a person to despair.”
[Rather than the first step of avoda being highlighting one’s “ill” side – his inborn or acquired negative character traits, the Rebbe innovated that one should begin with his “healthy side” – his ma’alos.]
“In general, the yetzer hara wants to find a person heiterim for his wrongdoing … so he makes him a calculation: “Who are you to have a shaychus to avoda?! You are such-and-such of a person!” [He says this] until he brings a person to despair, he brings him to a point that he imagines that he has s’feikos in Emuna.”
“It’s true that one needs to know the specifics of [his] evil, but the avoda must come from the healthy side.” (Sefer HaSichos 5697 p. 214-215)
Like the Rashbatz, I’ve also made a mistake or two… I’d like to tell you about one of them that happened while I was a shliach in a yeshiva spending some time with younger bachurim.
I’m talking about this specifically because this mistaken approach has become “institutionalized” in mainstream yeshivos over many decades, and is taken as a legitimate method of chinuch.
One Friday night, I saw a young “shiur aleph” bachur who was “davening b’avoda.” I felt he wasn’t up to it and that it was coming from a more “chitzoniyusdike” place, so I told him some foolish sentence — I don’t even remember what it was — and his face fell. Sadly, I don’t remember him ever davening b’avoda again in the next two years I spent with him.
I don’t think my analysis of his desire to daven b’avoda was wrong (what other reason can there be for a 14-year old boy to do that?), but there is a saying I heard from a special Chassid I’ve spent some time with at the Chabad yeshiva in Haifa, Reb Naftali sheyichye Dagan (a mekurav of the unforgettable Reb Reuven Dunin): “A fake smile is better than true sadness.”
I’m not saying that there is no need for proper training and hadracha in avoda for young bachurim. There certainly is, but it has to be more than just belittling chitzoniyus and discouraging them from being “fake” Chassidim.
I’ve written in the past about how we have unfortunately imported some less-than-ideal aspects from our “outreach” into our “in-reach;” there is however one aspect that we should surely incorporate: the smile and encouragement we give a yid on mivtzaim when he makes a small step in the right direction, the talk of him possessing a neshama which shines brightly always, and so on.
For some reason, with our “eigeneh” (our “own”) we fall into the “all-or-nothing” trap and demand “emes l’amitah of a Tzadik Gamur of the Tanya” from ourselves, the moment we begin thinking of building-up our spiritual life.
Honesty Held Hostage
Speaking of emes and honesty, it’s important to point this out this time of year of Sefiras HaOmer, when we’re a bit more aware of avodas ha’middos:
While Chassidus teaches us that every middah, even negative ones, can be used for Avodas Hashem, there’s must still remain a clear distinction between good and the opposite-thereof oriented character traits. As I once heard from a friend, a Chassidishe yungerman, that while it may be possible that a Chahsidishe yungerman might need, for the sake of shalom bayis, to go out to a restaurant once in a while, it doesn’t turn it into a Chassidishe behavior.
There are positively-inclined middos, like emes and chessed, and there are negatively-inclined middos like anger and arrogance. The yetzer tov can make use of anger and gaa’ava, and the opposite can unfortunately happen – when the yetzer hara can make use of good middos like honesty, to make us despair of ourselves and of others in matters of Avodas Hashem.
“Zeh leumas zeh asah Elokim” – just like you have “Shtus d’Kedusha,” (holy folly) there can also be “emes d’klipah” (unholy honesty).
There is the famous story of the person who pulled out his savings from the bank when he observed the town banker begging for Moshiach; when the yetzer hara becomes overly involved in honesty and emes, we had better pull out any savings we still have with him for whatever odd reason…
The “Unpractical” Side of Tanya
We’re now learning the daily Tanya in the “Chitas” cycle, the “long-short way” – meditations and directions to develop Ahavas and Yiras Hashem. To many of us, these sections in Tanya are what we consider the “impractical” parts of Tanya. We can easily relate to the struggles of the yetzer tov and yetzer hara in matters of action: anger, machashavos zaros, jealousy, etc. and while we might sometimes be more successful than at other times, we usually find those strategies more practical.
But when we reach terms like hisbonenus, Ahavas Hashem, and so on, we “lose interest.” A mazal we have perek mem–aleph right at the beginning of this section, so we at least have the kabbolas ol to learn it out of hiskashrus…
I think the reason we think this way at times is because we chose the yetzer hara as our mashpia, and are tricked by his “obsession” with “honesty.” But it’s a shame to get too emotionally attached to a mashpia who is about to be fired by the hanhala any moment now…
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