Sunday, May 24, 2009

Some things are understood

Tonight I once again have the privilege of posting an old post. It's Rabbi Manis Friedman, from last year's 11 Nissan celebration. Enjoy.

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.)


Altie said...

I have to admit- didn't actually read it yet, it's too long, and I have no time. I'll get to it, and maybe post an intelligent comment then. but at first glance- nu nu nu. you are posting way too many old posts. and even though shamefully I admit I haven't read your whole blog, and may never get to it, AND it says that even if you hear the same thing 100 times, you can always learn something new, especially if it is a dvar torah, and I commend you on putting up something old as opposed to not posting something at all, and I'm possibly commenting now just so I could be the 1st one to comment again, and so you will continue to comment on my own blog (wow I am out of breath)
bottom line: get cracking, start posting some refreshing new stuff so I don't feel like I'm breathing the same ole stale air again. ch''v.

Yitzchak said...

So I'm the first commenter who actually read it. What happened to "binah" understanding?

Just like a guy said...

Altie: When your brain turns off... In general I find that people prefer something old that's intelligent to something new that isn't.

Modeh: What about it?

C said...

Good stuff, classic Rabbi Friedman. I can hear him saying this :).

One thing he told me that really hit home was (I don't remember the exact quote) that when you don't take life so seriously it is easier to be happy. When one expects things, he is never content... but one who doesn't think much of himself appreciates the little things. Simple, but powerful.

Altie said...

and now an intelligent response:
Though I realize I am not arguing with you, but the one who said it, but.. don't you think not having an opinion at all is like being a robot? G-d created us with brains, so we could have free thought on any suject. of course, to voice an opinion when it was not asked for (ahem) or when it is a stupid thing to say, is not called for But in general...?

Just like a guy said...

C: Hmm, sounds good.

Altie: ich vais nisht. ask him

Altie said...

how bout u ask him for me.

Modeh B'Miktsas said...

That's what I meant about what happened to bina. Given history in general and Jewish history in particular, it pays to be very suspicious of people who tell you not to think. Especially people in long coats.

Just like a guy said...

Altie: "Hey Rabbi Friedman, I just wanted to ask you about something you said a year and a half ago..."

Modeh: He's not telling you not to think.

le7 said...


bonne said...

This was nice, now I can have an ego about being one to hardly ever voice opinion. Just kidding...sort of. Anyways, nice.

Just like a guy said...

(scroll to the bottom)