Beis Moshiach
  • Love Is Great, But What Do You Want?

    The common consensus is that “it is impossible to make someone else happy,” so how can the Torah command such a thing? The answer to the question is that it is only a question if I see the other as “someone else” and not as an equal part of something larger than self • By Rabbi Zvi Homnick, Beis Moshiach MagazineFull Article

    Rabbi Zvi Homnick, Beis Moshiach

    Jack built his business empire from scratch but was now facing a major problem as far as employee retention.  He called in consultants who told him that if he continued his practice of micromanaging every department in the company, it would fall apart. The reason; any time he saw an employee doing something less than perfectly, he would scream and lecture him on the right way to do the job.  However, nothing they said worked because he felt this was his baby, his whole life. In desperation, they suggested hiring an assistant to accompany him on his rounds and be the designated victim. Instead of screaming at and lecturing the employees, he would direct all his ire at this assistant.

    After months of looking there was only one person interested in the job, Shmerel. When he showed up for the job interview, Jack had only one question: Why? Shmerel answered that after failing at everything he tried, he consulted a renowned Kabbalist who informed him that he had no mazal with money and his only hope was to devote himself to the success of an already successful person.

    For an entire year, Shmerel faithfully carried out his duties, hearing lectures about every detail of the business. Morale in the company was at an all time high and business was booming. And then to Jack’s shock and dismay, he quit. Having signed a non-compete clause for the entire east coast, Shmerel moved out west where he opened a similar company and became a huge success, even as Jack’s business began to falter. A few years later, they met at a trade show.

    Jack: I thought you said that you have no mazal and you were going to devote yourself to my success?

    Shmerel: Exactly. Since I know that I’m a shlemazal when it comes to making money, I only focus on how to make you more of a success as a teacher.

    * * *

    [Brief Recap: The Baal Shem Tov revealed the super-love that Hashem has for every Jew and that every Jew has for Hashem. The purpose being to resolve the conflict between the faith that Hashem is everything and everything is Hashem, and the natural sense of self that makes it feel that I exist separately from Hashem, since the experience of super-love allows one to actually feel “self” as part of something bigger than self to the point of even obliteration of self. The Mezritcher Maggid set out to develop these teachings into a movement that would provide a spiritual and communal infrastructure for its existing members and to confront the new social and spiritual challenges it faced. (See at length in the previous essays.)]

    The Mezritcher Maggid revealed and taught that the revelation and teachings of the Baal Shem Tov were only the beginning of a process. This is because the very nature of super-love, which even though, as we explained previously, goes way beyond the everyday emotion that we call love, is like ordinary love in that it recedes from the consciousness when the person is distracted by other more mundane matters. And like every other form of love, the only way to nurture it is to build a full relationship around that love in which the person is invested with his mind and heart and all of his behaviors.

    The simplest illustration of this would be the most life-changing relationship that exists between adults, namely marriage. Two halves of one soul are separated before birth and sent into different bodies with different genders and personalities, different families and homes, and grow into adulthood. Upon marrying “according to the law of Moshe and Yisrael,” after he puts a ring on her finger and they spend a few minutes together in private in front of two kosher witnesses, they are now two parts of one entity. Unless they are overwhelmingly self-absorbed and emotionally detached, their entire inner worlds, including their very sense of personal identity and even self, become completely transformed. Super-love strikes again.

    So what now? The Torah dictates that they celebrate their union with seven days of joyous feasting, and that the man is obligated to devote himself to making his wife happy for the first year. Rashi tells us that whoever translates “v’simach es ishto” as “and he should be happy with his wife” rather than “and he should make his wife happy” is mistaken. Additionally, during those first seven days we recite the “seven blessings” at each celebratory feast. There are three main themes of these blessings. One is that Hashem is the one who forms them into one unit, the next is that Hashem should enable them to find joy and happiness in their love together (as a step towards the ultimate joy of the ultimate Redemption), and the third is that they should build an everlasting edifice together. In the final blessing, we mention that Hashem created what the Zohar refers to as the “ten types of joy,” which include “love, brotherhood, peace and friendship.”

    Chassidus explains that the seven days of feasting are the time when the seven emotional faculties are empowered to transcend self-love and embrace super-love, through the medium of joy. However, this will begin to fade with time as they both become involved in their everyday lives, unless it is fully integrated into all of their ten faculties (“ten types of joy”), namely the seven emotions as they are governed by the three intellectual faculties. The way to achieve that is by him taking responsibility to “make” his wife “happy” for the first year.

    The common consensus is that “it is impossible to make someone else happy,” so how can the Torah command such a thing? The answer to the question is that it is only a question if I see the other as “someone else” and not as an equal part of something larger than self. Even when I am committed to my own happiness, I can’t force my emotions to shift into happiness mode. I have to use my mind and heart and engage my thoughts, speech and actions towards that end. When I focus all of that on “making” my wife happy, and she senses that I am fully invested in her happiness like it is my own, she can’t help but respond. That is the process of channeling the initial emotional experience of super-love (seven days of feasting), which always remains present but latent, into a fully developed relationship (ten types of joy, including love, brotherhood, peace and friendship).

    This entails using my mind: to understand her better so that I can find ways and means to fan the love/happiness through my words and actions; to know how to avoid those things that might undermine it; to see the positive in her differences from me and how they should be greater reasons for love/happiness, to go about doing the same things that I always did for myself (eating, drinking, sleeping, working, learning etc) with the awareness that I no longer exist just “for myself.” As Rashi tells us, it is a mistake for me to focus on how happy I am with my new wife, but what am I doing to make her happy. However, I still need to be able to go back and tap into those intense early (seven) days of super-love when I was happy with my wife.

    All that is just laying the groundwork for the rest of our lives together, so that we can build an everlasting edifice extending into future generations, based on Torah and mitzvos, and especially the “light-source” of Torah which is Toras HaChassidus. Building such an edifice means that we will have to work hard together and weather many challenges together. But we can do so with love and happiness knowing that we are in it together and it’s not really about our individual selves, and even use those challenges to strengthen our love/happiness.

    This is all impossible without divine assistance, since only G-d Himself can “pair up couples,” splitting “one” into “two” and making “two” back into “one.”  The “seven blessings” are all about invoking divine assistance in this project (on the micro level of the individual couple and on the macro level of the relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people).  The seven days of feasting and the seven blessings made with a minyan of ten men, along with the fulfillment of the mitzva of  “v’simach es ishto” in a manner of “do His will like your own will” are what bring down that divine assistance to successfully achieve the “ten types of joy” and build an everlasting edifice.

    The Mezritcher Maggid led the Chassidic movement from the “honeymoon” (seven days of feasting) period of the relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people as revealed by the Baal Shem Tov, into the “first years” of building the relationship. That is why in the early days of the Chassidic movement the approach of the Baal Shem Tov was known as “the short way,” and the approach of the Mezritcher Maggid was known as “the long way,” to achieving love and happiness in a Jew’s relationship with and service of Hashem. It was the Alter Rebbe who revealed (as the Rebbe explains) how they are really one “long-short way” toward building the everlasting edifice of a “dwelling place in the lowly realms,” through a relationship with Hashem built on love and happiness.

    [Note: It should be obvious from the above that Jewish marriage according to Chassidus, although it bears much superficial resemblance to other “Torah-hashkafa” models of marriage (and less so to secular models), is actually worlds apart. The destructiveness caused by the infiltration of such foreign ideas into our worldviews and homes is beyond calculation, but that is (perhaps) for another series.]

    (to be continued, G-d willing)

    *

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