Monday, September 1, 2008

When Should One Rush To Take On New Things? & When Deliberate?


The "other" son of the Izbitzer, Rav Mordechai Yosef Leiner, is Rav Shmuel Dov Asher. He brought a great teaching in Parsas Re'eh in the sefer Neos Deshe, on the pasuk "לֹא-תְבַשֵּׁל גְּדִי, בַּחֲלֵב אִמּוֹ," "Do not cook a kid in its mother's milk." (Devarim 14:21) And big thanks to my friend, Rabbi Reuven Boshnack, for showing this to me.

He said that the yetzer hara (evil inclination) comes to different people in different ways. If someone doesn't actually have the desire to be good, the yetzer hara will just flat-out try to get him to sin. But if a person does want and try to be good, the yetzer hara will act very religious and frum. If a person wants to learn Torah, the yetzer hara will cause a person to think "Who am I to involve myself in such holy things? I haven't even purified myself in even basic matters. Let me first make myself worthy, and then I will learn." Or, if a person is busy with his work, the yetzer hara will say, "How can I learn Torah with so many distractions with all of the work I have to do? Let me first earn enough money and progress to so-and-so point in my career, and then I will be able to learn without all of the distractions of the work-a-day life." Using these tricks, the yetzer hara can cause a person to go a whole lifetime without learning.

He says that instead, when the thought of doing a mitzvah comes into one's head, he should quickly do it right away and not over-analyze about whether or not it's a good idea. The youth of a kid, a baby goat (גְּדִי), he says, refers to alacrity, doing things quickly and with excitement. However he says that the mother goat's milk refers to the trait of doing things slowly and patiently. "לֹא-תְבַשֵּׁל גְּדִי, בַּחֲלֵב אִמּוֹ," then, refers to the idea that one should not cook or destroy the youthful alacrity that one is inclined to exhibit when he thinks of doing a new mitzvah, with the misplaced patience and thoughtfulness of "its mother's milk."

I asked Rabbi Boshnack what he thought the limits of this principal are. It seems to me that the Neos Deshe would agree that some thoughts to do mitzvos that are truly beyond one's self and should not be taken on in haste. For instance, if a regular guy felt inspired to keep a ta'anis dibur ("vow of silence") every Monday and Thursday, though he hadn't even taken the TV out of his house yet, this miiight not be advisable. Reb Reuven suggested that one principal might be that when one is thinking of taking on a new hanhaga, practice, like putting on Rebbeinu Tam Tefillin, he should ask his Rebbe or Moreh Derech.

I was also thinking that perhaps when one is talking about something that universally applies to almost every Jew, he should go ahead and start doing it as soon as his spirit moves him, without prior deliberation. Since it is something that is either halacha or is very widely kept, any thought not to do it is likely to be his yetzer hara trying to cool off his holy fire. Whereas if it's something that applies only to some people, yechidei segulah, this may be the place for deliberation, balance and a phone call to one's Rebbe or Moreh Derech.

What do you think?

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of danny.oz.au)

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5 comments:

yitz.. said...

perhaps he meant it is always applicable..

Think about it, when your child does something, even though it might be dangerously harmful to themselves or others, with the intent of doing something good, you are deeply moved by their desire to do good. Even when the task is clearly beyond them.

You are proud of them even while you teach them that what they were doing is dangerous. You are proud of them for taking on a responsibility that is clearly beyond them but reveals the earnestness of their desire.

Perhaps in the same way, when a Jew does any mitzwah with the simple purity of wanting to do a mitzwah or take on any act of holiness, HaShem appreciates the beauty of it, even when the attempt is bound to fail.

Think about it, if a Jew does a mitzwah out of great desire, even if he fails, the light of that deed that was l'shmah still illuminates him to do more, schar mitzwah mitzwah.

His Rebbe/Mashpia/Rav/Teacher/Parent will have to play the role of parent and clean up the mess -- but the Jew just made his Father truly happy.

I guess the real question is: when does כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה apply? When do we need to stop someone from going w/ their simple desire to serve HaShem?

DixieYid said...

I'm not sure if I hear that. I think the down-side of what you're saying is that when someone takes on things that are above his level, there are two main problems. One is a lack of balanced and healthful Yiddishkeit. The other is the liklihood of failure. The problem with both is that the effort will likely end in failure which often has the bad result not only of the failure its self, but the discouragement and depression the person is likely to feel due to the failure will lead to the person giving up and not re-ascending in a step-by-step way because of that yeiush.

-Dixie Yid

yitz.. said...

@DY,

I definitely think your assessment was a more balanced one than mine. I was just playing out the Rebbe's literal meaning to see if it could stand on its own.. without too much reading between the lines.

Anonymous said...

Principle not principal

Plus, from the book, Shabbos In My Soul (pgs.173-176):

Rav Shlomo Wolbe, ztl, is famous for being the preeminent Rebbe of authentic mussar, in our generation. Anyone who has ever heard him speak, be it his public lectures or private conversations, or who has even seen the refined manner in which he walks, will quickly realize this. He has written the Alei Shur, an extensive, authoritative and encyclopedic two-volume guide for the study and practice of mussar.

In the Alei Shur (Volume 2, pgs. 382-387), Rav Wolbe presents many fascinating insights and practical advice concerning the goal of this column: how we can bring ourselves to experience a meaningful Shabbos. But before we present some of this remarkable wisdom (this week and next), an introduction (which will actually take up most of this week’s column) to a vital aspect of Rav Wolbe’s world of mussar is required.

One of the most significant teachings of Rav Wolbe’s Alei Shur is that whenever we try to improve ourselves spiritually, we run the risk of becoming full of ga’avah and arrogance. We can easily begin to consider ourselves as very holy individuals. “After all,” we think to ourselves, “I seem to be the only Jew who really cares about this mitzvah. No one else bothers to work on what I’m working on.”

Rav Wolbe (see Alei Shur, Volume 2, pgs. 152-155) is very against ‘frumkeit’ without ‘daas’, accepting stringencies without a true awareness of who we are and what we are really trying to accomplish. Of course, he loves ‘frum’ people, but the notion of accepting stringencies upon oneself for the ‘stringency’s sake’, while lacking a sense of why one should ever accept any stringency can lead to a corrupt avodas Hashem. When one takes on chumros, his pattern of thinking can quickly become an egotistical, self-centered one (anochiyus). He begins to think of how he is growing, how he is serving Hashem, how his avodah is special and unique.

Especially when it comes to the study and practice of mussar itself, we must be very careful not to pursue mussar for the sake of ‘frumkeit’. Based on Rabbainu Yona in Avos, Rav Wolbe explains that the only way to truly serve Hashem and the sole authentic path of growth is simply to perform deeds; not to focus on where we are holding. We are not to judge and evaluate whether we are tzaddikim or a reshaim. We are not to think about which spiritual level we are on and how high or low we are. What we must do is produce righteous actions- maasei mitzvos- in the best possible way that we can. The way to grow is to focus on maasim, to ask ourselves what Hashem wants me to accomplish at this very moment and to set out to accomplish it.

Rav Wolbe mentions a point from Rav Yisrael Salanter that many aveiros have been committed as a result of a corrupted ideal of ‘frumkeit’. A ‘fruma negiah’ can bias our thinking to such an extent that because we have a need to feel religious within a given area, we ignore more vital concerns. This is shown from the famous story of Rav Yisrael’s shocking failure to come to shul on Kol Nidrei night (which had the whole community worried) because on his way to shul, he heard a baby crying furiously. When he realized the mother wasn’t home because she probably wanted to go to shul, Rav Yisrael stayed to calm the child. In doing so, Rav Yisrael was teaching that if you feel the need to go to shul on Kol Nidrei night at the expense of leaving your child alone, you have been corrupted by a ‘fruma negiah’. You have allowed your frumkeit to become self-serving and egotistical. You have done an aveira, not a mitzva.

So having explained the ever-present dangers of working to improve oneself, what is the solution? We still must always try to increase our ‘frumkeit’, we must always attempt to become better servants of Hashem. How can we do this while maintaining our sense of who we really are? How can we make our actions more holy while avoiding the ‘holier than thou’ syndrome?

Rav Wolbe (Alei Shur, Volume 2, pgs. 192-194) introduces the solution. It is a technique called ‘hislamdus’.

What is hislamdus? A proper translation would probably be the term, training or observing. If I do something great and holy, if I am working on a particular area of avodas Hashem, then I can begin to feel feelings of conceit and arrogance. But if I admit to myself that I am not really so holy, I’m not really greater than my friends who are not doing what I’m doing, I’m not truly doing anything, I’m simply in training to do something, then I can avoid ga’avah. When I look at myself as if I am in training, I realize that I’m not much different than I was yesterday. I’m observing, learning what it feels like to do something that a holy person might do. For example, if I say tikun chatzos, I must tell myself that I’m not really such a great and holy person that feels so much for the churban and therefore I say tikun chatzos. Rather, I’m observing what it is like to say tikun chatzos. I’m engaging in an activity that one does if he were to truly feel the pain of the loss of the Bais Hamikdash.

With hislamdus, the focus becomes not how far I have come, but how I can continue my training program in order to do better. Because I am only an observer and still being trained, I can more easily see my faults and weaknesses. I can realize my imperfections even within the particular area that I have begun to improve, and I dwell on my ability to do more and better, not on my ‘amazing accomplishments.’

Anonymous said...

I think that story from R Yisroel Salanter is really from the Berdichever