Friday, December 17, 2010

The Good Point - Part I

Chapter 9 from "In All Your Ways"
Translated and Adapted by Rabbi Eliezer Shore
From “Leket Amarim,” a collection of talks by contemporary Breslov teacher, Rabbi Yaakov Meir Schechter, shlita, of Jerusalem

"I rule over the entire world," says God, "yet who rules over Me? The tzaddik!" For a tzaddik decrees, and God fulfills.'[1] As the verse says: "Israel, His dominion" (Psalms 114:2).[2] Likutey Moharan 1:34

"Every single Jew has within him an aspect of this tzaddik," taught Rabbi Nachman, "as the verse says, 'Your people are all tzaddikim' (Isaiah 60:21). Everyone has some good point that his friend does not share, and it is precisely with that attribute that he can inspire his friend's heart."[3]

The Talmud tells the story of Abba Umanah. Every day a heavenly voice would greet Abba Umanah, a doctor, with "Shalom aleichem." However, his contemporary, the great Amora, Abaye, only received such a greeting once a week, on the eve of Shabbos. "This is because you don't do what Abba Umanah does," Abaye was told. Abba Umanah had several noteworthy traits. He would separate the men and the women before treating them, and give the women a special robe that allowed them to remain modest during the procedure. If a person couldn't afford the treatment, he wouldn't charge them, and he never took money from a Torah scholar.[4] These were virtues unique to Abba Umanah that even Abaye did not share.

In Sefer HaMidos it states that every tzaddik has a particular form of worship that another tzaddik, even greater than him, cannot achieve on his own.[5] So, even though Abaye's greatness was incomparable, as was the greatness of all the Tannaim and Amoraim, when the special point of Abba Umanah shone with all its might, there was none like him in the whole world. For this reason, he merited a heavenly greeting each day. When a person's good point is revealed, he can reach levels of greatness unattainable to anyone else.

This same truth applies to each of us. If a person could realize his special potential, no other being in the entire universe could equal him in that area; it is here that he is considered a tzaddik in relation to his friend.[6] Furthermore, embedded in this point is his pure love of God.

The Arizal writes that from the beginning of creation to its end, no two days, or even two hours, ever will be alike. One minute is different from the next! A person, born one minute will be completely different from someone born a moment later, and each one enters the world for his own special purpose. This idea in hinted at in the incense offering of the Beis HaMikdash. The chelb'na (galbanum), which gave off a repugnant smell, brought about supernal rectifications that even the levonah (frankincense), with its sweet smell, could not. Each one served its one unique function.

How can a person discover his own special point? If one's heart is drawn to a certain mitzvah more than to another. If a certain style of Torah study is more appealing. If one recognizes within oneself some special ability or sensitivity that others do not share. These signs are not accidental; they are clear indications as to where that special point might lie, and to the area in which one can best serve the Almighty.

However, one cannot simply depend upon Heaven to make this point shine; one must also work on it from below. Through prayer and Torah study a person comes to recognize his own unique potential. Then one must work hard on it, giving it time and attention, developing and guarding it.

A Lamb From the Flock

The Torah relates King David's words when, as a young man, he rose to challenge Goliath, the Philistine: "And David said to Saul, 'Your servant was a shepherd to his father, and a lion and a bear came and carried away a lamb from the flock. And I went out after them, and beat them, and delivered it from their mouths, and they rose against me, and I grabbed them by the beard and struck them until they died. Your servant struck both the lion and the bear, and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he cursed the hosts of the Living God'" (I Samuel 17:34-36).[7]

The Vilna Gaon points out that in this verse, the word "lamb" is written differently than it is read. We read it as seh - a lamb, but tradition tells us to write it as zeh - this. The Gaon cites a Midrash to explain this difference. After David delivered the lamb from the lion and the bear, he slaughtered it and made a garment from its fleece, so that he should always remember the occasion when God saved him from the beasts. When he said to Saul, "And they took a lamb from the flock," he showed him the garment that he was then wearing. "The lion and bear took this from the flock" (I Samuel 17:34). There is no such a thing as coincidence. King David's greatness lay in his total faith in God, and in his conviction that God directed his every move.[8] When David saw the attack on the flock, which Chazal tell us actually consisted of four lions and three bears, and how he miraculously managed to kill them all, he reflected on this wondrous achievement[9] God was obviously showing him something. "Am I so important that I could kill all these wild animals?" David asked himself. "Perhaps one day something will happen to Israel, and I will deliver them, as well."[10]

David meditated upon this incident and realized that it had not occurred simply by chance. God was revealing to him his great strength and the extent of his courage. He also realized that this potential must be used for the sake of God and for the benefit of His holy nation, Israel. So he made a sheepskin garment from that very lamb, and wore it constantly in order to remember God's message. Instead of allowing the incident to remain a mere testimony to his skill as a shepherd, he waited for the moment when he could use his strength for the sake of God's honor. God brought him Goliath, the Philistine, who cursed the troops of Israel. And David, with his pure faith, avenged God's desecrated honor with a courage and holy glory such as never had been seen before.

[1] Moed Katan l6b.
[2] The words “Yisroel mamshilosav” can either be read, "Israel, His dominion," or "Israel, who rules over Him."
[3] Likutey Moharan 1:34A.
[4] Ta'aanis 21b.
[5] Sefer HaMidos: “Tzaddik” 127.
[6] See Eitz Chaim, Sha'ar 1, chapter 5, and Sha'ar 4, chapter 2.
[7] Toldos Adam, Chapter 9.
[8] Chazal say, "Israel was not exiled until they denied the kingship of the House of David," Zohar II, 175b; III, 69b. See Sefer Baal Shem Tov, Lech Lecha, 31.
[9] Midrash Shmuel, Chapter 20.
[10] Mechilta, B'shalach, 5:2.

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