Friday, July 2, 2010

Differentiating Between Chizuk & Flattery - Reb Itchie Mayer on Pinchas

Here is Reb Itchie Mayer Morgenstern's Torah on Parshas Pinchas, with English excerpt and full text in Hebrew in pdf form from Reb Itchie Mayer's Torah. You can send an e-mail to this address to subscribe to receive Rav Morgenstern's Torah in your e-mail box every week.

Distinguishing between Avraham Avinu and Bilaam HaRasha

We find in the Mishnah in Avos: “What is the difference between the disciples of Avraham and the disciples of Bilaam…”[1] The Baal Shem Tov asked: why doesn’t the Mishnah discuss the difference between Avraham and Bilaam? Why focus only on their disciples? He explained that the difference between Avraham and Bilaam is not readily discernible in themselves, only in their disciples.

This seems very difficult to understand. How could we say that Bilaam could somehow be comparable to Avraham? The answer is that at times a true tzaddik will teach Torah that seems to be appropriate for the likes of Bilaam too, G-d forbid. The tzaddik may explain that even if a person has sinned and fallen to the worst levels of darkness and distance, even if he has sinned with every limb of his body, there is still hope for him. If he will connect to the tzaddik who truly recognizes Hashem and honestly believe in the unique oneness of Hashem, learning the holy works of the tzaddikim and internalizing their words, they will pull him out of the netherworld and purify him from all defilement. They can do this since they have the power to transform all sin to merit and every bad to good. At first glance, this sounds very much like what a Bilaam might say: “Don't worry about your sins, since everything is Elokus and can be transformed to good. You need not fast or do any kind of self-mortification or difficult exertions to serve Hashem. If you will just associate with a wise man and believe with your entire heart that everything is from Hashem, your sins will be forgiven and transformed to merits.”

When the tzaddik gives encouragement he can sound somewhat similar to the wicked person who claims that it doesn’t matter what you do. For this reason, a righteous person can easily be confused for a wicked one, and vice versa. How can one tell the difference?

The answer is to study their students. What is the practical end of the Torah of encouragement provided by the teacher? Do his students grow by truly focusing on Hashem and truly repent, or do they start off strong but eventually stagnate and fade to a place where their lifestyle is not in accordance with their purported goals? If the students use the encouragement as a way to fight Hashem by continuing to sin, this is a clear sign that their master is not as he should be. But if his encouragement inspires his students to live with Hashem, he will be purified of all his sins like a newborn. They will come to greater dveikus and change their ways for the better as a result of his encouragement.

[1] Avos 5:17

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