Monday, April 7, 2008

The Rashab, Akiba, and other shtuff

Today is the anniversary of the passing of the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rashab. He was an interesting personality, as a quick search on Google will bear out. According to many he was medically depressed, or as the Rebbe put it, “The head grasps what the heart is unable to contain, and the heart cannot tolerate.” He was known to compare himself negatively to his predecessors, and to wonder if he was accomplishing anything.
I think that everyone has these feelings at one time or another. We all feel inadequate, and wonder what the point is. Actually, the Rebbe Rashab never wondered about this, because he knew exactly what the point was: To make a dwelling place for Hashem down here. The only difficulty is in the implementation. A similar query was posed to me by a well-respected person, “How does one do Teshuva?” I responded, “Regret the bad you've done and resolve to do only good in the future.” Again, a simple answer, but ever so difficult to apply practically.
This is something which annoys me to no end; why can't people just do the right thing and stop thinking so much? In the long run they'll be so much happier, so why bother with all the stupidity in the middle? Obviously I'm mainly addressing these comments to myself. We have a heart, and it exhibits strangely powerful tendencies which cause some bad things.
A Bochur here at YHSTC told me on Shabbos that he has a Facebook account. I began to tell him of all the evils to be found on social networking, and he stopped me with, “Oh, I'm careful, no harm harm will come my way.” This argument was so obviously flawed that it took all my analytical powers to comprehend how a boy who I thought was quite intelligent could make such a mistake. What's the problem? We pray every day that Hashem not expose us to temptation. Going on Facebook, and truth be told going online, is exposing oneself to major temptation. Fine, so I'm a hypocrite. Big deal. Everyone at some point in their life has to understand that life is not black and white, and that hypocrisy is a necessary component of survival. Conservative talk show hosts are always going on about the “hypocrisy of the left”; I would venture to say that conservatives are just as hypocritical as their liberal colleagues. All that's needed is to change the word to “compromise” and everyone feels good. Does it accomplish anything? Possibly not. But then when did the pursuit of truth become the standard that all of us lesser mortals were forced to be crucified upon?
Getting back to the temptation, which is something that I'm sure all of us are happy to do, the Talmud also states that one can't trust himself until the day he dies. No man, no matter how holy, is immune. Rabbi Akiba once said that he was too old, and the evil inclination had no power over him. The Satan appeared to the great sage in the visage of an extremely beautiful young maiden, and Rabbi Akiba was so taken by “her” appearance that he began to follow. The Satan started to run, and the Rabbi followed in close pursuit. Eventually “she” ran up a tree, to the end of a branch, and Rabbi Akiba was about to grab “her” when Satan revealed his true colors. Rabbi Akiba learned that no man is safe, not even a person who is renowned as being the savior of the Oral Torah.
In conclusion-wait, that would imply that there was some method to my madness over here. The truth is that I began to write without the vaguest premonition of where it would all end up, but it appears that it all turned out for the best, so that's good.