Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Who Knows the Secrets of the World? - Part II

Painting of Job by William Blake

By Rabbi Yaakov Meir Schechter of Jerusalem

Translated and edited by Rabbi Eliezer Shore

To read Part 1 of this two-part posting, click here.

That’s His Story, This is My Story

Rabbi Nachman alludes to this truth in his tale, “The Wise One and the Simple One.” In this story, the simple man is an unskilled shoemaker. “Why can’t you be as successful as all the other cobblers?” his wife nags him. He replies, “That’s their story, this is my story.” Meaning to say, “What do I have to do with them. Those are their deeds and these are mine, and we have nothing in common.” Rabbi Nachman’s words, here, are very precise. “This is my story,” said the cobbler. That is, since every person has a completely unique story, a personal history that spans generations and lifetimes, what possible reason could there be for anyone to be jealous?

Where Were You When I Laid the Foundations of the Earth?

At the end of the Book of Job, God answers Job out of the whirlwind. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” He demands (Job 38:4). According to the Midrash, while Adam still lay unconscious, God showed him all the tzaddikim that would be born from him. Some were derived from his head, some from his hair, some from his forehead, from his eyes, his nostrils, his mouth, his ears, and so on.

The Arizal explains that Adam had within him all the souls that would ever be born. When he ate from the Tree of the Knowledge, the good within him became mixed with the evil of Samael, the male aspect of the evil husks, and the good in Chava became mixed with the evil of Lilit and the poison of the Serpent. This is the source of the evil inclination in man.[1]

Each person is affected by the poison of the Serpent differently, depending on the root of his soul in Adam. This determines his desires and inclinations. All that happens to him in life, whether physically or spiritually, is in accordance with this root. Additional lifetimes, with their good and bad deeds, only complicate the matter further.

This was God’s argument with Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Do you have any comprehension of the mysteries of creation and the unfolding of the universe? How can you make any assumptions, complain or make demands of other people, when you know nothing of the root and nature of their souls?”[2]

This is the inner meaning of the Mishna in Pirkei Avos: “Do not judge your friend until you reach his place,”[3] that is, until you understand the place and root of his soul; but that is something known only to God, and to a few special tzaddikim throughout the generations to whom the Holy One reveals some of the secrets and mysteries of creation.

Do Not Judge Your Friend

On the matter of judging one’s friend, I saw an explanation by Rabbi Meir of Premishlan of the following Talmudic tale: “It happened that Rabbi Elazar ben Rabbi Shimon was returning from Migdal Gedur, the home of his Rebbe. He was riding a donkey and was feeling rather proud that he had learned so much Torah. Along the way, he encountered a particularly ugly man. ‘How ugly is this individual,’ he remarked. The man replied, ‘If you don’t like my looks, go and tell the Artisan who made me: How ugly is this vessel You made!’ Rabbi Elazar realized his mistake, descended from his donkey and prostrated himself before the man, begging his forgiveness.” In the end, the man only forgave Rabbi Elazar after publicly admonishing him.”[4]

Now, isn’t it a little strange that the great Tanna, Rabbi Elazar ben Shimon, should concern himself with mere physical appearances? And isn’t it even stranger that he should insult a person for it? Rather, explains Rabbi Meir, this man was really a devout servant of God. Yet all his actions, his prayers, his Torah study, his performance of mitzvos, were done with bizarre movements of his head and his body. When Rabbi Elazar saw this, he was very displeased. Avodas HaShem should be done in a refined way, he thought, with beauty and grace as if standing before a King. How ugly is this man, he remarked. He even asked him, “Are all the people of your city so ugly?” That is, have they all learned this mode of worship, which is so inappropriate? The man replied, “Go and tell the Artisan who made me,” meaning to say: “Have you considered where I come from and the root of my soul? Your source may be high and exalted, for you are the son of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. You are holy, your family is holy, and your entire life has been lived in holiness. But I am the son of a simple, earthy man. With every effort I make towards holiness, be it Torah study, prayer or mitzvos, the most devious thoughts ensnare me. Sinful desires, depression, despair, even questions of faith attack me like hornets. If you had thought for a moment how difficult every act towards holiness is for me, you would have judged me favorably.” (In fact, this man was Elijah the Prophet, who appeared in this guise to teach Rabbi Elazar a lesson.[5])

Eventually, he forgave Rabbi Elazar, but only in public, that it should be a lesson for future generations—to view each person favorably, and never to judge another person until you reach his place.[6]

You’re Here for Only One Shabbos

I heard another story that illustrates this point. A certain non‑observant Jew was spending several days at the home of an Orthodox friend. On Shabbos morning, he joined his host in the local synagogue. On their way home, the host asked him what he thought of the service. “Everything was beautiful,” he replied, “but I have one complaint. The gabbai was very unthoughtful when it came to calling people up to the Torah. Instead of calling upon them according to their seating order, he chose them completely at random.”

“Can you actually understand the order he uses by coming here only once?” his host replied. “This gabbai has an excellent memory and weighs his every move. He knows how to work with each member of the congregation without offending anyone. Last Shabbos, certain members were called up to the Torah. Next Shabbos there will be a bridegroom in the synagogue, and all his relatives will also need to be called up. So on this Shabbos, the gabbai had to make sure that those who received last week, and those who will receive next week, did not receive today. You need a bit of insight to follow this process. Only the regular members see it clearly.”

From all that we have said so far, we can understand why there is never any reason to become jealous. “God is just in all His ways, and generous in all His deeds” (Psalms 145:17). Everything is accounted for. “The Rock, His deeds are pure, He is a faithful God, in Whom there is no injustice. He is righteous and just” (Deuteronomy 32:4). Happy is the man who toils at Torah and fulfills God’s holy mitzvos; who prays and praises Him. Through this, he will repair whatever happened to him and turn everything to the good, to blessing, joy and gladness. “He who goes simply, goes with certainty” (Proverbs 10:9).

[1] See Sefer HaGilgulim chapter 1.
[2] Shemos Rabbah 40:3.
[3] Pirkei Avos 2:5.
[4] Ta’anis 20b.
[5] Tosefos, Mesechta Derech Eretz.
[6] Retold from the book Divrei Meir.

No comments:

Post a Comment