Rabbi Zvi Homnick, Beis Moshiach
It should have been the perfect crime. Vinny spent years working maintenance at the airport, and finally worked his way to being in charge of the high-security VIP lounge. Carefully, he tracked the regular couriers of large amounts of currency and valuables and waited for the opportunity to catch one alone. He knew every security camera angle and way in and out, had smuggled in a gun in bits and pieces, and was ready for the right person at the right time.
Vinny finally made his move when he saw the little bald guy with the titanium case chained to his wrist enter the bathroom, just as he finished cleaning it. As Vinny headed to the exit, he reached into his gurney and pulled out the gun, spun around and saw the metal case heading right for his face. Within seconds, Vinny found himself on his knees, arm twisted behind his back and his head in the toilet. As they waited for security to arrive, the man patiently explained the power of positive thinking and how Vinny was in this predicament because of his negative thinking. As he put it, every situation has a positive and negative and the secret is to always find and focus on the positive.
Vinny: What positive should I focus on with my face in the toilet, waiting to go to prison?
Man: Of all the people in the history of the world who had their faces shoved into a toilet, how many were lucky enough that it was a toilet they themselves just cleaned and disinfected?
KEEP YOUR HEAD UP
[Continued from previous]: After the Alter Rebbe explains in detail how someone who commits even a minor transgression of Hashem’s will is lower than the lowest creatures, and more cut off from Hashem’s Oneness than the kelipa of avoda zara, he reassures us that when no longer involved in the sin, if it’s a sin without a death penalty attached to it, the G-dly soul rises up from the exile it was banished to in the lowest depths of kelipa during the commission of the sin. Just so we don’t feel too good about the fact that it is only temporary and to illustrate just how awful that “exile,” albeit temporary, is for the neshama and for G-d Himself as the soul is a part of His wisdom which is One with Him, he offers an analogy. “And it is like the analogy of one who grasps the head of the king and pulls it down, and buries his face in a toilet filled with excrement, of which you can find no greater humiliation than this, even if he only does it for a brief while.”
As explained previously, the Alter Rebbe revealed that the super-love of the neshama revealed by the Baal Shem Tov is actually a manifestation of the even higher super-bittul of the neshama. So obviously, when teaching us how to employ “the short way” to serve G-d “from the depths of his heart, in absolute truth, with fear and love, which is the hidden love that is in the heart of the generality of the Jewish people which is an inheritance to us from our forefathers,” it is necessary to explain the fear (bittul) part and not only the love part. However, why did he see the need to get into such graphic detail about the negative? Why tell us all about all the critters (impure animals, impure beasts and birds, insects and creepy crawlies, including the yatush which only ingests and does not excrete, dangerous beasts of prey) and kelipos? And why the need for the less than savory (or sanitary) analogy of the royal visage in excretory purgatory? Also, how did humiliation enter into the picture?
KEEP YOUR HEAD ON
When the US Army entered Afghanistan and later Iraq, in the aftermath of 9/11, the enemy began to deploy IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices] or more simply, roadside bombs. These proved terribly effective, killing and maiming large numbers of soldiers and support personnel, and even local civilians. It quickly became apparent that there was a need to train many more bomb technicians to defuse or safely detonate these bombs. What shocked the leadership was that there were many more volunteers who wanted to sign up for this most deadly of jobs than slots available. Why would so many ordinary soldiers, already facing tremendous danger, want to take on an even more dangerous job that did not even involve direct combat with the enemy?
Although the army was aware since forever that soldiers relate more to fighting to protect the lives of their “buddies” than to the overall objective of winning wars, they felt that maybe these idealistic kids did not realize the extent of the risks. So despite the fact that it’s usually not a good idea to highlight the negatives and the dangers of a given job in the army before training begins, it was decided to expose the candidates to some of the more gruesome outcomes in order to weed out those who were not suitable. However, counter-intuitively, it only seemed to strengthen the resolve of the recruits all the more. Even more surprising was that those bomb techs who experienced failure and survived, were even more motivated to do better next time. In those cases that involved loss of limbs and other extreme injuries, they did better in recovery and maintaining a positive attitude going forward in their lives after the army than regular combat troops who endured similar injuries.
The reason is that when a person is operating on a level of life-and-death, accessing his deepest soul powers beyond his normal abilities, he is all the more effective if, besides knowing the stakes and the risks, he is focused on a specific task; has a clear understanding of what he is trying to accomplish with a clear definition of success and what he needs to avoid at all costs; feels a personal sense of responsibility to do for and protect others and is more concerned about letting down those others than about his own personal welfare and achievements.
When such a person fails (and survives his failure) after putting in his best efforts, because he feels more deeply the responsibility for letting down those that depended on him he is more committed than ever to his mission. Or, if circumstances force him to adjust his mission in life, he is more readily able to pick himself up and get back on his feet (or prosthetic legs in many cases involving bomb techs) and move forward with his life, with his highly developed focus on serving others.
KEEP YOUR HEAD IN THE GAME
That is what the Alter Rebbe is laying out with the ChaBaD approach to the “short way” of the Baal Shem Tov. As the darkness of exile deepens and the super-bittul and super-love of the neshama become more accessible, even as the conscious awareness of them grows ever more distant, it is necessary to focus the conscious mind by laying out for the intellect what is at stake (the Oneness of Hashem – the ultimate life-and-death issue for a Jew).
Additionally, there needs to be a specific focus (the will of Hashem in any given situation); detailed knowledge of what he is trying to accomplish and what he needs to avoid (revealing and connecting to or, ch”v, concealing and rejecting the Oneness of Hashem); a sense of personal responsibility to do for and protect (the Oneness of Hashem) with a greater concern for not letting Hashem down than for his own personal welfare and achievements. Even more importantly, he needs to know that if he fails despite his best (or less than best) efforts, he can pick himself up again and get right back to work.
However, in order to do better next time, he must realize the extent to which he let Hashem down and even worse, pulled Him down (by pulling down his own neshama), and that is where the analogy of the head and face in the toilet comes in. Too often, when people see someone else experiencing humiliation their instinctive reaction is to laugh, but the more it’s someone they care about the more they empathize with his suffering. However, when it’s someone with whom they have a super-love connection, they identify so deeply and are overcome to the point that they forget about themselves completely (super-bittul). Ask any Chassid who ever heard or saw somebody disrespecting the Rebbe (or any spouse, parent, child, sibling, and in many cases a fellow Jew or a fellow Chassid).
We can and must pick ourselves up, resolve to do better next time, but not forget the humiliation that we caused, because when we feel that humiliation and the responsibility for that humiliation, that is an expression of our deep and personal infinite bond, and that bond is what drives us to get it right the next time.
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