Saturday, September 25, 2010

Solitude vs. Leading The Tzibbur

Reb Pinchas of Koretz, who was known by the Ba'al Shem Tov and his contemporaries as "the sage," was visited by hundreds, in not thousands, of those seeking berachos (blessings) and advice. So many were his visitors on a daily basis that at some point he became frustrated that he did not have much time left for himself. He worried about his learning and his personal relationship with G-d. He became depressed, and prayed that people should just leave him alone! And so it was. Within a short period of time they stopped coming to the door. Reb Pinchas now had ample time for his personal avodah and for his learning. He lived an austere life. The only time he came into contact with people was when he went to shul to pray. And even then he stood in the back, by the oven, the least desirable spot in the shul.

When Sukkos came around Reb Pinchas relied on the same men that had helped him year in, year out, to build his sukkah. But none of them showed up this year. His wife was sent out to seek their assistance, but they all turned her down. They found a local non-Jew, but he didn't have the proper tools to build the sukkah. They asked the neighbors, but the only answer they got from all of these people was a resounding "no!" Reb Pinchas became depressed, once again.

With sullen faces on the first night of Sukkos, Reb Pinchas and his wife sat in their not-fully completed sukkah. They recalled years gone by: Decorations and bright colors to adorn the sukkah; enough guests to last through Pesach. But this year they were alone with their heads hanging low. But just then they sensed a presence at the door. They looked up, and it was the first of the Ushpizin (holy guests), Avraham Avinu. He stood by the entrance gazing down at Reb Pinchas and his wife. Reb Pinchas asked, "but why don't you come in? What sin have I committed that you don't come into my sukkah?" Avraham answered, "because it is not my custom to enter a sukkah that has no guests." The message was clear. And so Reb Pinchas prayed from that day on that he, once again, be given the opportunity to dispense advice, answer questions, and give berachos to those who were in need.

There is a saying: A day spent making mistakes is better than a day spent doing nothing. The gemara says that there were four people who died without sin. They were Binyamin HaTzaddik, Amram, father of Moshe, Yishai, father of King David, and one of the sons of King David. The only reason for their eventual deaths was because of Adam Harishon's (Adam - first man) eating from the eitz hada'as (tree of knowledge). Beforehand, man was not meant to die. By eating the fruit, Adam and Chava changed the nature of man, and he now became subject to death. But back to our four tzaddikim. Asks the Chasam Sofer, if these four died without sin to their name, then aren't they on a higher madrega (level) than the avos (patriarchs)? And furthermore, if they are on a higher madrega, why don't we put them up in our sukkas as the ushpizin (holy guests) instead than Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Yosef, Moshe, Aharon and David? The Chasam Sofer answers that there were those on an elevated level throughout Jewish history that had the opportunity to go through life free of sin. Like our four tzaddikim, they could have spent time in solitude, contemplating their own spirituality, and accessing higher and higher levels G-dliness. But let's take Moshe, in contrast. He was the greatest of the prophets. He spoke to G-d panim el panim (face to face). He was chosen to be the leader over Bnei Yisroel, but because of his speech impediment, and because he wanted to remain in a state of receiving G-dliness in solitude, he was an unwilling leader. But ultimately, he surpassed his nature, and went out to become the greatest leader Klal Yisroel has ever known. And when a person mixes with other people, says the Chasam Sofer, he is bound to make mistakes. A leader, especially, is going to come into conflict and disagreement, and may later regret some of his actions. But this is what happens in life. If one remains in one's daled amos (four cubits), and prays, and learns, and worries only about his personal relationship with G-d, then he is not concerned with the other half of the Torah: Bein adam L'chaveiro (mitzvahs between man and his fellow man). One who is concerned with his fellow Jew will leave his quarters, leave the beis midrash, and go out and do good for the Klal, knowing well that he will have to compromise his own spirituality along the way.

I heard an interview with Rav Shlomo Amar, chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, the other day, part of which touched on this same subject. He said that years ago when he served as av beis din (head of the rabbinical court) in the city of Petach Tikvah, he would give shiurim (classes) and inspirational sermons in the local shuls and yeshivos. He spent great amounts of time on that, and soon realized that he was left with little time for learning. One shabbos he was in Jerusalem, and picked up a new sefer written by Rav Yonasan Eibshitz. He opened it up, and the following practically jumped off the page: "With all my learning and with all the piskei din (religious rulings) I write, there is no time as valuable as the time spent offering words of inspiration to strengthen others. This is equal in importance to all of my learning." Rav Shlomo was astounded by both the fact that he opened to that exact page and line, and by the message itself. His depression began to lift. He met soon after with Rav Ovadia Yosef, and told over the story. Rav Yosef said that this exact matter pained him, as well. "There is so much time that I am not learning Torah because I am busy inspiring the public," he said. In fact, in his sefer, Rav Yosef recounted that once when he was suffering greatly from this same dilemma, the Ben Ish Chai came to him in a dream. His message was that educating the public makes a great impression up above in the heavens, and it is very dear to Hashem. He commanded Rav Yosef to continue his work in inspiring others.

On the pasuk (verse), "tzaddik katamar yifrach, k'erez bal'vanon yisgeh," "the righteous will flower like a date-palm tree; he will grow like a cedar in Lebanon," the Maggid of Mezritch says that this represents two different types of tzaddikim (righteous people). The one is concerned with his brothers. Lilmud al menas lelamed (learning for the sake of teaching others) is his motto. He goes out and influences the simple Jew, the unlearned Jew and the disheartened Jew. The other is concerned only with the learning itself. He doesn't lift his head from his book. The first bears nourishing fruit like the date-palm. And the second is like the cedar: Lofty and unfruitful.

The inside of a Chinese fortune cookie said, "knowledge and not doing is equal to knowing nothing at all."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is an amazing message in these words. One should not isolate ones self from the very people one is really trying to connect with through learning. One can have vast knowledge and valuable information but if not shared with others than whats the point.
Wonderful story and well told.