Rabbi Zvi Homnick, Beis Moshiach
A bochur in shidduchim approached his mashpia to complain that he feels very pressured by his family and society to make decisions that will affect the rest of his life without being able to spend a lot of time on working through his feelings and thinking things through.
Mashpia: You are assuming that the more important the decision, the more time and thought you should invest to be absolutely sure of your decision. Actually, when it comes to the most important life-and-death decisions the opposite is true.
Bochur: How is that?
Mashpia: If you are in middle of the street and you suddenly see a speeding truck heading right at you, the less time you spend getting in touch with your feelings and considering all of your options, and the faster you jump out of the way, the better off you are.
Marriage is also a matter of life or death. Koheles says in one passuk, “See life with the woman you love…,” and in another he says, “I have found more bitter than death is the woman…”
The only difference is that in the case of the truck, the Torah commands you to jump out [of the way], whereas in the case of marriage, the Torah commands you to jump in!
In the previous installment, we presented an abbreviated version of what was traditionally known as the “the long way” of Tanya, which the Alter Rebbe develops in the first 17 chapters of Tanya. The conclusion of those chapters is that achieving the love and fear necessary to motivate one’s performance of Torah and mitzvos is “exceedingly near to you” since “the mind rules over the heart,” something that is a natural component of the relationship between intellect and emotions.
In chapters 18 through 25, the Alter Rebbe goes on to lay out what was traditionally known as “the short way,” namely how to tap directly into the super-bittul of the G-dly soul, which in turn reveals the super-love of the neshama, at least as it relates to the fulfillment of Torah and mitzvos. However, before we can appreciate some of what the Alter Rebbe innovated over the original “short way” approach of the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid that we explored in earlier articles, we need to understand that it is based on another natural phenomenon. This is sometimes formulated as “if you can’t go underneath, then go over the top.”
As mentioned earlier on in the series, the Baal Shem Tov introduced what was seen as a revolutionary approach to understanding the process of exile and redemption, that the purpose of progressively weaker generations facing progressively greater degrees of darkness is in order to reveal deeper soul powers that cannot be accessed under normal conditions. The entire idea of Chassidus, of a greater revelation of the secrets of the Torah, of a greater revelation of the essence of the Jewish soul, of a greater revelation of Hashem’s love for His children, is all predicated on this understanding. Although the opponents of Chassidus dismissed this is as some sort of “mystical” feel-good pablum, it is actually predicated on a basic fact of nature, or as the Rebbe Maharash expressed it, something that “the world says.”
In the natural order of things, all areas of human development are part of a cumulative progression. From earliest childhood and on, as a person develops his inner faculties and new physical, emotional, intellectual and behavioral skills, his forward progress operates on a gradual basis. When he gains some degree of proficiency and mastery at his current level, he can then proceed to the next level of challenges to generate further growth. However, life was never meant to be a smooth ride up a gentle sloping hill, and everybody understands that there are times when life presents extreme challenges which can be opportunities for massive disproportionate growth or devastating failure.
These challenges come in many forms, in almost every area of life and human endeavor, including relationships, health, finances, sports, military combat, the list is pretty much endless. This is so much a part of life that there are many expressions for these types of situations and how to face them in every language. In English, there is “life-and-death,” “do-or-die,” “make-it-or-break-it,” “reach-deep-inside,” “dig-deeper,” “go-above-and-beyond,” and so on. In fact, almost every form of medical rehabilitation therapy (may Hashem protect us so that nobody should ever need them) involves tapping into deeper powers that bypass natural limitations.
Additionally, there are situations when although the person is not facing any extraordinary challenge, he reaches a point when he “hits-a-wall” in his growth. In some cases, he can “push-through,” “grind-it-out,” “keep-plugging,” but then there are times when even that does not work. The only option to avoid “spinning-your-wheels,” “stalling-out,” “crash-and-burn,” is to “lock-in,” “get-into-the-zone,” “shoot-for-the stars.”
Chapter 18 of Tanya addresses “even the person 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.” The Alter Rebbe tells that person who has made and continues to make a good faith effort to learn Chassidus and to contemplate the implications of what he learns, exercising the rule of the mind over the heart and has yet to see success, that he “needs to know with certainty” that “this thing is exceedingly near to him,” to serve G-d “from the depths of his heart, in absolute truth, with love and fear.”
That is because just as “the world says,” “if you can’t go underneath, then go over the top.” In Chassidus, setting your sights lower is never an option. As much as you need to know where you are holding in, and what you are capable of achieving through, the gradual step-by-step process, without any self delusion, if it leads you to believe that “this thing” is anything less than “exceedingly near to you,” it is in direct contradiction to “in absolute truth.” If you have not yet succeeded in generating conscious love, then you have to “turbo-charge your jets” and access the super-bittul and super-love of the neshama.
With Hashem’s help, this should enable us gain a deeper appreciation of the “life-and-death” approach to Torah and mitzvos that the Alter Rebbe presents in explaining “the short way” in which it is “exceedingly near to you” and me, and each and every Jew, wherever he or she may be holding in his or her work on the more gradual “long way.” [And from there, to appreciating the unique times we are living in now, when the default approach is “l’chatchila ariber.”]
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