Tag Archives: rasha

Blessing the Nudnik

:‫גדולה שמושה של תורה יותר מלמודה – ז‬
The service of Torah is greater than its study. – 7b

After R’ Reuven Grozovsky, Rosh Yeshiva of Beis Medrash Elyon, had a stroke he was left paralyzed on the right side of his body. The bochrim in the Yeshiva had a rotation to help the Rosh Yeshiva wash negel vasser, hold his siddur and wrap the Rosh Yeshiva’s tefilin around his arm and head. To make the task an even greater challenge, the Rosh Yeshiva’s left hand would occasionally shake uncontrollably.

On one particular occasion, a new bachur was assigned the task of helping R’ Reuven, and the bochur was very nervous. He had never really spoken with the Rosh Yeshiva before. When he heard R’ Reuven wake up, the nervous young man quickly walked over to help the Rosh Yeshiva wash negel vasser. Unfortunately, R’ Reuven’s hand suddenly shook and the water missed the Rosh Yeshiva’s hand entirely. The embarrassed bochur tried a second time, but this time he was so nervous that he ended up pouring the water all over the Rosh Yeshiva’s bed and clothing. The bochur now wanted to run, but R’ Reuven was relying upon him. The third time he carefully poured the water over R Grozovsky’s hands, held the siddur while R’ Reuven said birchos hashachar and helped put tefilin on the Rosh Yeshiva. As the bochur was ready to leave, R’ Reuven called him over and chatted with him for a few moments. The bochur left a few minutes later much calmer than before after this pleasant conversation with the Rosh Yeshiva.

When the bochur retold the story to his friends in the Beis Midrash they couldn’t believe it. As far as anyone knew no one could ever remember the Rosh Yeshiva speaking while he was wearing tefilin. It became clear to everyone that R’ Reuven had made an exception to the rule in order to be able to put the mind of this young bochur at ease.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Lessons learned when attending to Gedolim”
Berachos 7

This may be a little difficult to understand, but imagine that the esteemed Rosh Yeshiva, a man who had suffered a stroke and who struggled to perform his daily prayers, who never spoke with another person while wearing tefilin, actually took the time to make an exception for this extremely anxiety-ridden young person. Usually, we think of performing acts of kindness for the sick and the infirm, but here, the infirm R’ Reuven Grozovsky extended himself to perform an act of kindness for this new bachur.

Reading this, I couldn’t help but think that this is the center of what it is to be a person of faith. We simply must put forth our efforts to help others in any way that we can when we see a need.

It certainly would have been within the Rosh Yeshiva’s rights to complain and to chastise the bochur for his numerous blunders. He didn’t have to speak to him at all and he could have told others afterwards what a blockhead this young fellow was. He could have shredded this person’s already (obviously) fragile ego and everyone in that community would have probably supported R’ Grozovsky in doing so.

But the Rosh Yeshiva was a true tzaddik and for such a man, performing a cruelty would have been unthinkable.

How do we treat people?

I know, we shouldn’t treat others with disrespect and insult them since, as people who are disciples of our Master, we have been taught to “turn the other cheek” when maligned and mistreated. But what about if the other person deserves a good (metaphorically speaking) slap in the face?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. –Matthew 5:38-48 (ESV)

Jesus isn’t directing us to be doormats or to let someone beat us to a pulp, but if we’re to err, it seems as if we should err on the side of compassion and humility, even if there’s a chance we could be cheated or misused in some other way. Loving your enemy isn’t giving a flower to the guy who’s trying to shoot you. It’s showing kindness to someone who is a nudnik (pest) or other annoying or unreliable person for their own sake and for God’s.

Hard as it is for us to imagine sometimes, God loves the person who annoys us the most just as much as He loves us.

Given that I’m a blogger and that I comment on the blogs of others, I occasionally run into such individuals and the temptation is to tell them what I really think of them and feel perfectly justified in doing so.

But as you can see, that would be wrong. Sometimes it’s important to forgive others, even if reconciliation isn’t going to work out between the two of you. No, forgiving doesn’t always mean it’s wise or practical to continue a relationship, particularly if the other person is unrepentant and unlikely to stop being abusive, verbally or otherwise. But God still loves that person a great deal. How can we return hostility for hostility knowing this?

The blessing of an ordinary man should not be considered lightly in your eyes.- 7a

Tur Shulchan Aruch rules (‫ )הל‘ נשיאת כפים‬that every Kohen has a mitzvah to participate in the blessing of the people. We do not discourage a person who is known to be a rasha from joining, for this would be causing him to add evil to his already tarnished reputation. Rather, we allow him to bless the people with the other Kohanim, and we look upon his involvement no less than “the blessings of a simpleton”, which we are not to treat lightly. Tur then adds: “The blessings are not dependent upon the Kohanim, but they are rather in the hands of God.”

This final comment of the Tur needs to be understood. He already justified including the Kohen rasha in the mitzvah, for even the blessing of a simpleton is important. What additional factor is provided by concluding that everything is in the hands of God? Tur apparently understood the Gemara as did the Rashba. A ‫ הדיוט‬is not referring to an evil person. Rather, it refers to someone who is at a lesser level or stature than the one being blessed. Even Dovid HaMelech was a ‫ הדיוט‬vis-à-vis the service which the Kohanim performed in the Beis HaMikdash, and all Kohanim were ‫ הדיוטות‬vis-à-vis the Kohen Gadol.

Gemara Gem
“The blessing of a ‫הדיוט‬”
Berachos 7

A rasha is considered someone who is wicked and even criminal. Nevertheless, there are provisions for a “rasha” Kohen to say the blessings so that they do not make their evil deeds even worse.

I’m not going to try to suggest that we make ourselves or our communities completely open to people who are prone to physical, sexual, or psychological violence, but within the confines of practicality and common sense, we can at least avoid verbally bashing and slandering people we don’t like, even if they’ve mistreated us and seem unable to realize their own faults and misbehaviors in how they treat others.

It’s called “taking the moral high road.”

Yes, it was an encounter with such a person (hardly a rasha but certainly a nudnik) that has inspired this “extra meditation” today, but it was also a “backchannel” discussion about how God loves even nudniks that sealed my decision to write it. Once the sting of having my “tail stepped on” dulled, I realized it’s the right thing to do because it’s what God does for us. Even though in God’s eyes, I’m sure we are often “nudniks,” too.

Yes, I think it’s possible to love someone you don’t always like. It’s even possible to love someone you know you may never be able to speak to again. God doesn’t need to be protected from our bad moods, attitudes, and unkind words and so, if we are willing, He not only forgives us but provides for reconciliation between us. On the human level, it isn’t so easy because we are vulnerable to harmful people and even to people who have not a clue that they are a toxic element in every conversation in which they participate.

But we must remember this:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. –Romans 12:14-21 (ESV)

If God can allow a rasha Kohen to participate in the blessings, then we can try to remember to bless the occasional nudnik who crosses our path. May we be blessed even as we bless others.

Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.

-Maya Angelou

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The Elusive, Invisible, Tzaddik

The tzadik is one with G-d.

We recognize him because within each of us is also a tzadik who is one with G-d.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Tzaddik”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

This is amazingly difficult for me to get my brain around, mostly because I can’t imagine it applying to me, not even a little. But there are only a few sentences here to try and understand Rabbi Freeman’s point. What about how others reacted to this blog post?

*Posted June 24, 2012 by Yaakov Branfman, Jerusalem, Israel
So, in other words, when he goes against the Tzaddik, he’s really going against that part in himself who is a Tzaddik. And, not even talking about going against, but when he simply doesn’t value the Tzaddik, he’s not valuing that part of himself.
When he values a “regular” person, he’s valuing that part in himself, and when not valuing that person, he’s not seeing the good parts in himself.

*Posted Aug 22, 2009 by Anonymous, New York, NY
Yosef is the only one in the Torah was called HaTzaddik. Yet we find that Yosef made mistakes, and struggled, yet overcame his inclination, but is not that he had _NO_ such impulses.

By the way this is a phenomenal pearl of wisdom by written by Tzvi Freeman… If we look at people, and look for the Tzaddik within them… we can _PULL_ the Tzaddik to the surface.

*Posted Aug 9, 2009 by mark alcock, Durban, SA
“Tzaddik, The: A wholly righteous person. In the context of Chabad literature, one who has conquered his animal impulses and is filled entirely with love and reverence for G-d.” One is either righteous or not, not sometimes without sin.

*Posted Aug 9, 2009 by Michal
When I look at it this way,
then even I am a Tzaddik.
Most of the time.
Unfortunately not always !!!

I think what Rabbi Freeman (or the Rebbe) is trying to say is that we should look for the best in other people and the best in ourselves. There is supposed to be some spark of wonder, divinity, and even perfection within each human being and, if we can try to relate to that part of another person rather than the other parts that are imperfect, then maybe they will aspire to be what we see in them, rather than what the rest of the world sees.

That has profound implications. If you know someone who is perpetually sad or angry or cynical or sarcastic, you tend to relate to them by their primary presentation. We all tend to believe that a person is the way we see them and the way they act. But what if we choose to look at and to treat each person as if they were a tzaddik, even if that is the farthest thing from who they actually appear to be?

No, it wouldn’t suddenly change them. Chances are, they’d think you were faking it when you treated them with respect, honor, and deference (how else should you treat someone who is one with God?). Chances are they’d think you were lying. But what if you always treated the other person with respect, honor, and deference, even though their behavior didn’t warrant such treatment and even though everything inside of you tells you that they don’t deserve it?

At the very least, you’d confuse the other person. At the very most, they might, just might be able to see something of a tzaddik in themselves and start behaving differently.

OK, it’s a long shot and most of the time, it wouldn’t work, but how could it hurt? And what if their life is somehow a message to us?

So even if one is your enemy, and justifiably so; even if his moral and spiritual downfall is one of his own making – it could have happened without your having been made aware of it. That you have witnessed it has nothing to do with him: it is a message to you, enjoining you to deal with a similar negative element – be it in subtlest of forms – within yourself.

-Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement

What if someone where to treat you like a tzaddik? How would you react?

Depends.

If you go around thinking you’re pretty cool stuff, you might think that it’s only what you deserve and you’d let it go to your head. That would be too bad, because if you go around all the time thinking you’re pretty cool stuff, chances are, you really aren’t. Chances are, things like humility, honoring God, and loving your neighbor as yourself might have escaped you. Yet none of these things would escape a tzaddik. If even one other person started treating you like a tzaddik and kept treating you that way, do you think those things that had escaped you before would begin to become noticeable?

And what if you look and look but you don’t see the tzaddik in yourself? What if you see a total screw up who, no matter how hard he tries, just can’t stop making mistakes, losing track of important details, and whose past is a ghost attached around his neck with heavy, iron chains, haunting not only his every waking moment but every minute of his dreams? And what if no one ever treated you like a tzaddik, not that you’d ever expect such a thing?

Can you look for and find the tzaddik in yourself or is there only your past, your mistakes, and how everyone else sees you in exactly the same way you see yourself?

Don’t be “this”. Don’t let them define you. If you catch yourself fitting into a definition, contradict it. Never travel a single road.

Be forever walking through the splitting of the sea.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Being Paradox”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

If there is even a tiny spark of the tzaddik in you, then not only can God see it but He placed it there. When a person can see only his mistakes, he also believes that’s only what God sees. It’s not that God can’t see past our flaws, but when we are drowning in our own despair, it’s impossible for us to believe God can see in us what we can’t see. It’s impossible for us to believe that there is something more in us than our own self-definition or the way others see our behavior and choose to define us. It’s impossible for us to think that we can escape the definition and become the paradox. Rabbi Freeman’s commentary on the above statement tells us that only God is truly the paradox:

If we wish to touch G-d Himself, we cannot find Him in any defined, bounded form. He is entirely unbounded, free of any definition. and that can only be discovered in utter paradox.

That is why everything a Jew does according to Torah, is bound up with paradox–because it is divine.

A Jew enters that identity when He is bound up in the Torah. A Christian would have to be bound up in Christ, the living Torah, to transcend the definition as Rabbi Freeman suggests, and to find the tzaddik within.

It would be wonderful to suspend the definition and to find the tzaddik who is completely concealed inside of me. But most days, there’s just who I see when I look in the mirror, and who the world sees when it looks at me, and who knows what God sees? Some days are better, and some days are worse, and some days all there is to see in me is a rasha. Have you even seen the tzaddik in you, let alone met him or her? If so, what is it like?

One of the Alter Rebbe’s great and very close chassidim had yechidus, in the course of which the Rebbe inquired after his situation. The chassid complained bitterly that his financial situation had utterly deteriorated. The Rebbe responded: You are needed to illuminate your environment with Torah and avoda of the heart – (davening). Livelihood and what you need – that, G-d must provide for you. You do what you must, and G-d will do what He must.

“Today’s Day”
Thursday, Tamuz 5, 5703
Compiled and arranged by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, in 5703 (1943)
from the talks and letters of the sixth Chabad Rebbe
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

Repairing Life

R’Simlai notes that the posuk (Yeshayahu 45:23) teaches that everyone in the world takes an oath before God. What is this oath, and when is it administered? The oath is the one referred to in Tehillim (24:3-4), “Who shall ascend into the mountain of God, and who shall be able to stand in His holy place? He who is of clean hands and pure of heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully.” The oath itself is that at the time of birth the soul is commanded, “Be righteous, and do not be evil!” It is given when the soul is sent to the world. We recite Tehillin 24 – the paragraph of “L’David Mizmor” – at Maariv immediately after the silent Amidah on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.

Rabbi Chaim Hager, the Rebbe from Viznitz, was also known as the Imrei Chaim. When he would read this posuk on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur he would cry. A visitor to his community was taken aback to hear the Rebbe whimpering at the particular point where false oaths are mentioned. The visitor could not fathom how the Rebbe could be so moved about the possibility of having taken a false oath.

As the chassidim passed by the Rebbe after davening, this visitor followed along in the line. When he asked the Rebbe for an explanation, the Rebbe answered: The Gemara (Niddah 30b) tells us that before a soul is sent into this world it is administered an oath which states “You are to be a tzaddik! Do not be a rasha!”

The oath continues with the person being adjured that even if everyone in the world tells him that he is a tzaddik, he must never become complacent by believing their compliments. Rather, the person must always strive for perfection and consider himself to be a rasha.

“Now,” continued the Rebbe, “who can confirm that he has fulfilled this oath which his soul has taken and that he is a tzaddik? Who can insist that he has not taken a false
oath?”

Daf Yomi Digest
Gemera Gem
“Be a tzaddik! Do not be a rasha!”
Niddah 30

This is midrash and not (as far as I know) literal fact, so I don’t suppose that before we are physically born, our souls take an oath before God to be righteous and not to be evil. Still, what if you happen to feel obligated to do good but find yourself doing the opposite? Who are you accountable to and what are the consequences?

I commented in yesterday’s morning meditation about the ongoing debate between Atheists and Christians (and other religious people). I mentioned that atheism as a belief system, does not have a built-in moral or ethical structure. The only requirement to be an atheist is to not believe in God or that any supernatural being had anything to do with the creation of the universe, or is involved in the course of human events.

But if you choose to be a person of faith, you are agreeing to a certain set of moral and ethical standards. If you fail to meet those standards, even occasionally, you have not only reneged on your agreement with your religion and with God, but you have dragged the Name of God through the mud for all to see, especially those who disdain religion and religious people.

If you believe that you have taken an oath before God to be a “tzaddik” and not be a “rasha,” you’ve failed that, too.

The problem is, being human, sooner or later, you will fail. If a non-religious person fails, who is hurt? It depends on the failure. They may hurt themselves, people where they work, their friends, their family, and so forth. Of course none of that is good, but when we who claim faith in God fail, particularly in a moral or ethical area, we fail all those people and we fail God as well. We become a “rasha” and not a “tzaddik.”

I’m exaggerating here. Not all people in religion can be considered tzaddikim, since these are the most righteous, noble, and holy in the world of faith. Christianity would call them “saints.” How many Christians can truly be called “saints” (although some Christian denominations consider all Christians to be worthy of being saints because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ)?

Most of us are “mere mortals” who are doing our best to try to make it through one day at a time. Some days are better than others. Some days we’re better at honoring God and His desires than others. Some days seem pretty crummy, but we try to keep going because of our faith and our belief that God is with us, regardless of our circumstances and, in most cases, regardless of how badly we fail.

That’s why anti-Christian and anti-religious rhetoric on the Internet or in real life is so disturbing. Not because secular people don’t agree with my choosing to have faith, but because it means that I or someone like me has failed. We have failed to show that we are doing our best to follow a moral standard that was set for us by the Creator of the Universe and the lover of our souls. We have given the world the opportunity to believe that our faith is not only a lie, but an excuse to actually indulge in selfish, moral attacks on those we deem weaker or more vulnerable in the world.

I wish I could find the image I saw the other day on the web (thought it was on the atheism sub-reddit but I can’t find it). It was a “rant” on how a young atheist found himself in church (not sure how this happened) and listened to the Pastor preach on how young people don’t have values today. The person listening to the sermon reasoned that the Pastor meant that young people don’t have the church’s values, which the commenter described as repression, inequality, exclusivism and so forth. He defined atheist values as inclusiveness (except if you’re a person of faith, but that’s beside the point), equality, compassion and so forth (I really wish I could find the image because it was just brilliant).

The conclusion is that the church wasn’t particularly moral at all and that atheism, by comparison, was a much better belief system. Of course, the commenter wasn’t really describing atheism but rather western political and social progressivism which includes atheism as a core element. Nevertheless, there are times when Christians do not take the moral high road and liberal progressives do (and I should mention that there are more than a few Jewish people who have doubts about God, too).

But the argument against religion has to discount the times when Christian programs really do feed the hungry, send visitors to the sick, comforts the mourning, defends the widow, the orphan, and the disadvantaged, but those people and programs don’t make it on the news or, for the most part, in the popular social networking sites. It also isn’t generally advertised that the civil rights movement was started and supported by Christian and Jewish activists rather than atheists and scientists.

Whether you as a Christian like it or not, the world is watching and waiting for us to fail (they never expect us to succeed). Some of those watching are really anxious for us to fall face down in the sewer. When we do fail, we fall far, and we hit hard, and we take the reputation of God with us when we go over the edge.

Debating atheists on their own terms will not sanctify the Name of God. You will never elevate God’s reputation by trying to “prove” He exists and created the universe. Living a life of faith and devotion to your ideals by helping others and repairing our damaged world will. You may never convince even one atheist to consider a life of faith, but at your finest, you will be fulfilling your oath, doing your best to live as a “tzaddik,” and helping vulnerable and needy people in the process. But you should always question your own motives before criticizing someone else’s.

If you have not yet succeeded in fulfilling the criteria to be a critic, yet still feel a necessity to provide criticism, there is an alternative:

Sit and criticize yourself, very hard, from the bottom of your heart, until the other person hears.

If it comes from your heart, it will enter his as well.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Last Word on Criticizing”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Repair the world one day at a time. And for Heaven’s sake, be a tzaddik! Do not be a rasha!