Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Charata (regret) and gaivah (haughtiness)

Let's look at a beautiful Kehillas Yitzchak from last week's parsha, parshas Chayei Sarah, and then a story of Reb Zusya and Reb Pinchas Koretzer that is loosely related, and then one involving Reb Dovid of Lelov.

"Vayavo Avraham lispod l'Sarah v'livkosah - And Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and to cry over her." The word "v'livkosah," he cried over her, is written with a small letter "caf," leading one to ask what the meaning of this is. And the Kehillas Yitzchak offers a wonderful interpretation. Avraham has just come back from the akeidah (the binding of Yitzchak). In the most difficult of his ten trials, Avraham is told by G-d to bring his son, Yitzchak, to Har Hamoriah, raise a knife to his neck, and offer him as a sacrifice to G-d. As difficult as it, Avraham is at that point, wielding the knife in his right hand, when an angel calls down to him, and tells him, essentially, that it was only a test. He lifts his eyes, and sees a ram caught in the thicket, and offers it up to G-d in Yitzchak's place.

Back home in Be'er Sheva, the Satan informs Avraham's wife, Sarah, of what has gone on. But, he leads her to believe that her son was actually sacrificed in the process. She lets out three cries and three wails, and then dies out of grief. And here is where the small letter "caf" comes into play. When Avraham and Yitzchak return home, find Sarah dead, and then find out why she has died, Avraham begins to experience a mix of emotions. He feels that he may have directly been the cause of Sarah's death. If he didn't bring Yitzchak to the mizbeach (altar), then she would still be alive. And so, says the Kehillas Yitzchak, he may have experienced at this point charata (regret). But charata and the performance of a mitzvah don't go together. The charata can actually take back the mitzvah retroactively. It is easy enough to understand how the Satan works against us before the performance of a mitzvah. In this case, the Satan created a stream of water on the way to Har Hamoriah, where Avraham was to take Yitzchak. But as they crossed the stream it became deeper until it was a small river. The water was up to their necks, but Avraham outsmarted the Satan, and they crossed successfully. This is how the Satan places an obstacle before us when we are on our way to do a mitzvah. And by making us feel regret is how he attempts to get us to lose the mitzvah after the fact. In order not to show that he did not have charata for bringing Yitzchak to the mizbeach, the word "v'livkosah - and he cried" is written with a small letter, in order to draw us to the fact that his crying was not excessive, not to lead people to believe that he had any regret for bringing Yitzchak to the mizbeach.

And this is the pshat in the davening when we say "v'hoser satan milifneinu umeiachareinu - and remove the Satan from before us and from after us." After us, meaning giving us a sense of regret, which if we do feel, will take back the mitzvah that we just carried out."

Another "after the fact" or "after the mitzvah" danger is contained in the following story. Reb Zusya needed to raise money for his daughter's chasunah (wedding). Now, he wasn't exactly the type to look for handouts, even though he was a poor man himself, so this didn't make for an ideal situation. He went to houses, to businesses, and to people on the streets, but he could barely raise a penny. He ran into Reb Pinchas Koretzer, who was passing through town, and told him the story. Reb Pinchas asked how much he needed: $500. He assured Reb Zusya that he would raise the money for him in a week's time.

And so it was. He delivered the money to Reb Zusya, who thanked him profusely. On the way home, Reb Zusya spotted a small crowd. Upon closer inspection the people surrounded a woman sitting in the street, wailing that her husband would kill her and that they would be ruined financially. Upon inquiry, it turned out that the woman helped her husband in business, and after a huge business deal she was walking home when she realized that the money was gone: all $500. Reb Zusya walked away from the crowd, and contemplated what he was about to do. Now, since Reb Zusay walked around as a pauper, he was not known in these parts. By name, of course, he was known as the great tzaddik Reb Zusya, but not in appearance. Without much deliberation he cut through the crowd, and said, "I found $500 in the street! It must be yours." The woman got up from her place, and the look of life began to show in her face, once again. Reb Zusya handed over the money. She began to count it, but as she got to the last few bills...there was only $490! "Didn't you say that you found $500??" asked the woman. Reb Zusya replied that since he found the money, he wanted schar (reward). He felt as if he should be entitled to $10. The crowd began to bustle, and soon they were yelling at Reb Zusya. "Just give her back the $10. What kind of guy are you? Who do you think you are?" He said, no way, no how, he's keeping the $10 as reward for finding the lost money. They dragged him to the Rav of the town, who looked at him incredulously. "How could you do this?" he asked. "What kind of person are you?" And again, not knowing the big tzaddik that he really was, they threw him out of the town on his head.

A few weeks later, when talk of the incident died down, Reb Pinchas was passing through town, and an acquaintance began telling him of this absurd story of this guy who would not give back the $10. Reb Pinchas asked, "could you please describe him?" It was him, he realized. It was Reb Zusya. He quickly set out to Hanipoli to find Reb Zusya. "Even though I raised that money for your daughter's chasunah," said Reb Pinchas, "what you did is still a great mitzvah. But why did you give her only $490? If you were going that far then why not the other $10?" Answered Reb Zusya, "you see, I know well, that if I did the COMPLETE mitzvah of giving this woman $500 which is really my own money, then I would become the epitome of gaivah (haughtiness). How many people would give away $500? For the rest of my life I'd be patting myself on the back saying 'Reb Zusya, do you know what a great tzaddik you are? You give away $500 intended for your daughter's chasunah to a broken woman on the street? What a tzaddik you are!' And so I kept $10 to tell myself that I'm not 100% good. If not, I would be taken over by pride."

Reb Dovid of Lelov was on a fast. We hear stories of tzaddikim of yesteryear who went on incredibly long fasts, sometimes shabbos to shabbos. For Reb Dovid, this happened to be a three day fast. On the third day, as he was taking a walk on the road in the heat of the day, beads of sweat began to trickle down his face. Dressed in his complete chassidishe levush (chassidic clothing) he felt his face burning up. Soon his forehead and face became soaked. But then he noticed something up ahead on the road. It was a spring. He began walking toward it excitingly when he remembered that he made this forbidden to himself three days back. And so he realized what was going on. The Satan had placed this spring before him so that he would drink and thereby break his fast. He resolved to strengthen up as he passed the spring, and he did just that. But after he passed the spring he stopped in his tracks. "The Satan didn't place that spring in my path so that I would drink," he said to himself. "There is something all together different going on here. The Satan WANTED me to walk past the spring, because then I would become so proud that gaivah (haughtiness) and pride would overtake me, and the humility I have tried to cultivate all of these years would be buried." And so he walked back to the spring, and took a good few gulps.

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