Thursday, April 17, 2008

Coherent ramblings

Tonight I once again had the privilege of attending a Farbrengen with Rabbi Manis Friedman, this time in his house, in honor of the 11th of Nissan, birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and certain devoted readers of this humble blog. Unfortunately for Rabbi Mordechai Friedman, and all of you, the Farbrengen was one of those that are very hard to write down afterwards, because their flow is so nebulous and their structure to free forming. Plus, it's two in the morning, I'm tired like nobody's (yes, not even yours) business, and, um, well, I'll try, but no promises. Oh, and yes, if any of the following sounds elitist, then so be it. I'm not Barack Obama, and you're not a group of San Fransisco donors, so no worries. Not that I won't take your money from you, no worries in that corner.

The wise son in the Haggada asks, "What are the Edus (Testimonies), Chukim (Decrees), and Mishpatim (Laws) that Hashem our G-d has commanded you?" What's his problem? He doesn't understand what exactly Hashem wants from him. Does he want him to understand, which is what the Mishpatim are all about, or does he want him to serve on blind faith, the Chukim. And what are these Edus things anyway? We normally explain them as being laws which we would not have come up with on our own, but once Hashem has commanded them we understand why. Another explanation is that Edus are laws which testify about something which we otherwise would not know about. If we know something, then obviously there's no need for testimony. (I don't remember where this one came in, but trust me, it all made sense at the time.)
So what is so great about the wise son? What makes him wise? It's very simple. He doesn't have an opinion. People make a big mistake. They think that they have to have an opinion on every topic. The truth is the opposite. People should not have an opinion on any topic. The less intelligent the person, the more strident they are in their opinions. For some reason, taxi drivers have very strong opinions. For some reason they remain taxi drivers. People call in to radio talk shows to express their opinions. Guess what? Nobody cares what you think! People have an opinion because they are full of themselves. Real smart people don't have opinions. If they know something they'll offer it, but they don't comment on what they don't know. Children, on the other hand, have very strong opinions. Why? Because they're immature. Their ego feels that it should have an opinion.
Hashem tells us what to do. We don't get to have an opinion. Whatever he says goes. Bittul, self-nullification, means that you don't have an opinion. Ego is the opposite. When a person refuses to put of Tefillin because he doesn't believe in G-d, what is he really showing? That he's not intelligent. This doesn't mean that he doesn't know a lot; just because you know a bunch of facts doesn't mean you are intelligent. People with strong opinions never innovate, because they never think outside the box. Einstein's particular genius lay in the fact that he was able to come up with many new ideas. Why was he able to do this? Because he never paid attention to himself. When he did voice an opinion, objecting to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, it was disastrous. Later he would call it, "The greatest mistake of my life." Why was he able to make this mistake? Because he developed an opinion. When a person, even the smartest one, develops an opinion, he effectively tells the world that he is qualified to form an opinion on any given subject, and moreover is confident that any position he has taken is the correct one.
Lubavitch sends out thousands of Shluchim, and each one is different. These Shluchim were endowed with a very unique quality: They have to be totally nullified, only doing what the Rebbe wants, and yet at the same time they have to understand what the right course of action is. The Rebbe would ask Shluchim why they hadn't consulted him before doing some project, yet at the same time ask Shluchim why they needed to ask. The point? A Shliach has to use his brains to figure out what to do, and many times that means asking the Rebbe what course of action should be undertaken. When a Shliach puts his own spin on the Rebbe's work, life will be much harder than necessary. Any person, when forming opinions, prevents himself from doing what he has to do.
(For those keeping score at home, Rabbi Friedman managed to convey his point in a much nicer fashion than I've been able to.)

Next up, again segued in somehow, was how to deal with life. If a person has an opinion, they they hold themselves to be important. They believe that they have answered the question, whichever question that might be. They can't deal with life the way they should deal with it.
A Chassid once complained to the Rebbe that he had no children. The Rebbe responded that he too had no children. The Chassid said, "Yes, but you're a Rebbe!" The Rebbe said, "A day does not pass that I don't think about this subject."
Was the Rebbe paralyzed by this problem? Certainly not. Only someone who's intelligent can recognize that there are problems in the world, and we have to work towards ending those problems. Egoists, when faced with a problem, give up. "Life is not fair," they say, "Why do I deserve this?"
What's the answer? I don't know. After the Holocaust there were three Jewish reactions. The first was to completely leave Hashem, because he had (seemingly) left them. The second was to come up with a half-baked excuse, and remain Frum. The third was to say that just like before the war nothing made sense, so too nothing makes sense afterwards. Having a child is a mystery. Losing a child is a mystery. We don't question when good comes our way, which is fine, but then we question when bad is our lot, which is not fine. Why the sudden change in attitude?
A humble person knows that certain questions will never be answered, but that's no excuse not to work. Children are able to survive much more traumatic experiences than adults. This is because they don't know what going on. The less you know, the better your chances for survival. For some Bochurim, Yeshiva is very difficult, because things are not perfectly right. For many people, life is very difficult, because things are not perfectly right. Should the pain bother you? Yes. But to let it interfere with the mission at hand? We don't know Hashem's master plan, and may not even want to know. If we just concentrate on doing the right thing, not forming opinions, then good shtuff will happen.
(Once again, it was much more nicely said by Rabbi Friedman.) I'd like to mention that it is now nearly three, and I hope that you're all grateful.


Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Real Shaliach:
I have taken the liberty of printing your Pesach posts and look forward to reviewing (and sharing them) at the Seders. Your hard work (at 2 a.m. or thereabouts) is really appreciated. Best wishes for a great Pesah. Leo de T.