Bullying: An Opportunity, Not a Threat

Mendel Wilhelm, London, England
Essays 2019 / Harassment

Bullying, a problem parents, teachers, therapists and many more have looked into, dealt with, fought with, treated and encountered.

Many assume it is an issue that goes no further than primary school, some find it even in high school, few find it to be an issue that continues on in college and university. In truth, bullying has no age barrier, it just becomes more subtle with time, age and maturity. In the words of Psychotherapist Jenise Harmon in her article “6 Steps for Dealing with Adult Bullies”: “bullying doesn’t end at a certain age or level of maturity. Bullying does exist in adulthood. Sometimes it looks different or is called by different names. But, like in childhood, bullying is one person controlling or harming someone else by use of power.”[1]

In this essay we will learn, based on teaching of the Baal Shem tov (founder of chassidus), how bullying is an opportunity to fix, change, solve and undo an internal void and uncomfort that lies at the depth of a person’s heart and being, the depth of the “bully” and the “bullie”.

We will focus on the fundamentals of loving every single Jew unconditionally, as demonstrated by the Tzemach Tzedek in Derech Mitzvosecha. This will bring us to ignore our instinctive will for victory and replace it with a healing love and care.

We will learn – as elaborated in the “heart” of Chassidus (Tanya chapter 32) – how this opportunity reaches the deepest and greatest levels of our connection to the creator of the world, the creator of the “bully” and the “bullie”.

This essay is built in 3 simple steps. First we will clarify the causes and inner feelings of a bully. Second, what to use as defense and how to help and change the bully for the better. Third, how it affects the victim/bullie in a positive way.

  1. Understanding bullying and its consequences.

What is bullying?

Bullying is when someone makes you feel your actions are worthless. They ignore you and disrespect you. They make sure to point out your mistakes. They remind you of those humiliating moments. They magnify your deficiencies and discredit any good, any achievement or any accomplishment.

Many may think bullying is an issue only that presents in children and with maturity it fades away.

But truthfully adult bullying is indeed common, it’s just hidden and subtle, sometimes the bully doesn’t realize what he’s doing, but with short analysis, it becomes clear (as elaborated throughout the essay).

The difference between children and adults.

Over the years, I’ve observed that, children aren’t that good at hiding their feelings. When they are hurt they cry, when they’re happy they laugh and jump for joy. It seemed to me that children express what they feel, if someone is “taking their space” or “getting in their way”, they may express themselves physically, verbally and sometimes silently. These silent moments are also expressed, maybe with a cringe or a squint, but they do show.

Adults seem to be better at hiding their defects and they practice it a lot. I find that adults would rather hide their shame then express their feelings. This may be the reason to why children overcome issues quicker and more effectively. Because, when expressing feelings, one “admits” his/her imperfection and is ready for change. But when hiding themselves due to their ego and respect, changing and perfecting becomes almost impossible[2], as our sages tell us, “knowledge of illness is half its cure”[3]. In other words, one must acknowledge they are not perfect so that they can learn and grow. But as adults with “healthy ego’s” we’d rather show we’re right than admit the truth.

We can now apply this to adult bullying. Bullying is not good and everyone knows that[4]. In all cases where adults have become violent, whether physically or verbally, it was clear to me, the problem was in them, while the victim had nothing to worry. Therefore, I’ve concluded that adult bullies hide their intentions. In fact, bullies themselves may not be aware they are bullying, if they would know they’re bullying they would “hold it in”. A bully sees a problem in their victim and therefore points it out, as if just sharing information or “telling off” for the purpose of not repeating the same mistake. In this case the “bullied” may feel they are actually lacking something or have an internal problem, likely to cause them a lack of satisfaction throughout their day.

Why do bullies bully?

As mentioned earlier, “knowledge of illness is half its cure”. In our context – if we plan on “fighting” bullies we must first know what we are fighting.

In her article “6 Steps for Dealing with Adult Bullies”, Psychotherapist Jenise Harmon writes: “Understand that the bullying is not about you, or some flaw of yours. It’s about the bully’s need to control”. Just as in children, if they feel someone is “taking their space” or “getting in their way”, it may cause bullying, so too with adults. When an adult feel’s they’re missing something deep inside and have an internal void, they’ll feel “down” when they see others going on with life easily and calmly. They can’t “stand it” when others are incomplete and just continue moving, it “awakens” their internal void, it makes them feel lowly of themselves, hence the fact they can’t overpass obstacles whilst others do.

As The Baal Shem Tov teaches[5], a defect one sees in another is only mirroring his own deficiencies, people are bothered most by their own weaknesses they find in others. It’s subconscious, when noticing these mistakes in a fellow, it bothers them deep down and they take this opportunity to “cover up” and conceal their very own.

  1. How to win (help) the bully.

If bullying is none other than a feeling of inner void, lack and need to control, fighting it shouldn’t be of much struggle. Once the victim stands strong the bully will stop. Bigger ego’s defeat smaller one’s and if the victim shows no fear, defensiveness and vulnerability, the bully will lose courage and will surely stop shortly there after. ‘’If you make it look like the bully’s actions and words don’t affect you, it ruins it for them. Try to keep your ego in check and let it all roll over you’’.[6]

It’s easy to win but the right thing to do is, fix.

Chassidus teaches us not to break evil rather to fix it[7], not to fight darkness but to transform it into light, it teaches us not to destroy bad, but rather to refine it. Chassidus teaches that everything in the universe has a purpose. Even those cruel and vicious entities that only seem to harm and destroy, were placed here by the creator of the world to fulfill a task. Deep down they are truthfully only good, we need just to reveal it. It may take much effort and time, but surely it can be done[8].

When confronted by a bully we can easily defeat them, hence their inner void. But chassidus teaches us to fix. When dealing with bullying we must think of the opportunity to help a fellow, it’s a chance to “fill” their void, a possibility to transform their lives from darkness and pain to a life of caring and sensitivity.


Although we can stand strong and save ourselves, but the Baal Shem tov says[9], a “neshoma” (soul) comes to this world for seventy to eighty years, just to do a favor for another. Therefore we must grab this opportunity to help the bully with positivity. This will not only avoid the problem, it will also fix it. It will cure their discomfort, fill their emptiness and leave them a happy and satisfied heart. They will feel no need to gain control or put others down.


In “Mitzvas Ahavas Yisroel” of “Derech Mitzvosecha” by the Tzemach Tzedek, it rationalizes loving everyone equally. The Maamer compares all souls to a unified body. True, they all are different, they possess different talents and each has its own expertise. Nevertheless all serve one body, one goal. Just as an illness in one limb can affect the entire body function, so to a disorder in one soul influences the goal in the “big picture”.

If we apply this concept of accepting people how they are, realizing they are not only valuable for their actions and deeds, rather their essential and intrinsic self. If we act in a fashion, which treats all with the understanding that they play a mandatory role, in our own life and mission. Only then can we truly cure the void that causes bullying, because love and warmth, cure.

Love and warmth, cure.

The bully is looking for power because they’re missing inner warmth and comfort, they’re lacking confidence and self esteem. When they bully others they’re “sharing” their discomfort, they’re revealing their inner struggle and internal void. It’s almost identical to someone who comes to share their inner discomfort with a close friend. The only difference is that here it’s subconscious since there is no revealed friendship.

Once a person “opens up” and shares their inner discomfort, the only thing left is to show them our love and care. If they get a feeling of care from their “victim” (who is now acting as a friend/ doctor), they’ll feel as if they’ve released masses of guilt and unacceptance. Now they feel as if they’ve communicated to a friend.

Therefore it’s crucial to treat this subject with caution. we can fool ourselves to believe the bully is a cruel person and the only solution is to ignore them and keep our distance, or stand strong and respond confidently. But maybe there is a better technique, perhaps instead of breaking we can modify, we can “bring out” that crying soul covered by layers of selfishness and ego.

  1. The bullie too is incomplete.

If being bullied bothers a person, it’s an indication they too lack something. If they would be completely full at heart, no insults would harm them and no degradation would affect them (this is not in contradiction to the above mentioned “bullying is not about you”, see footnote[10]). The opportunity of bullying is for the victim too, it’s a chance to overcome a sense of loneliness and discomfort.

Why can’t one cure oneself?

It’s hard to cure oneself because people are biased and are not always honest with themselves, they’d rather cover their problems then reveal them and deal with them (as said above), they are afraid to be true even to themselves. Our sages teach: “One who is bound cannot release himself”[11], only an entity beyond himself, can do so for him.

When helping others, one helps oneself.

The Torah tells us, “People are born selfish”[12]. When people have no care for their surroundings, rather they do everything for their very own good, they’ll feel empty and meaningless. Someone who worries only for their own good, will use friendship as a means for comfort, enjoyment and the like, but it’s not internal, there is no true and real connection between them. Such a person lives his life to satisfy himself, but it lacks meaning and purpose.

A person like most of us, is incomplete and finite. But – as addressed above- we have within ourselves a deep meaning, a divine purpose. Yet to reveal it, we must turn to a fellow, because after-all, we have a combined goal, we all possess the same mission and it’s the deepest part of our being.

As explained in Tanya chapter 32[13]: The true path of connecting with G-d is only when one’s soul becomes the priority. When the soul is the main thing – while the body and physical are secondary – only then can one have true friendship. People who care only for their physical, worldly and corporal needs, will not and can not have real friendship and love.

When doing a favor for another, we ignore our meaningless selfishness and we use our true self, our inner purpose. This will completely transform the inner void into a deep meaning, it will open our lenses to a good, loving, happy, true and meaningful life.

Ending words

Education for adults first.

It’s easy to tell others how to act, it’s simple to tell children not to fight, but one must be a living example. When adults learn to be truthful and happy with themselves, children will more likely change automatically.


What you think before you sleep has a great effect on you.

Before returning your soul to its creator when you go to sleep at night, take a moment to think about your day, did you insult anyone throughout the day? Perhaps you were ‘disrespected’ and you ‘defended’ yourself. Maybe you only ignored someone. If you take a moment to think about these things, you’ll realize that the healthiest decision for you and all your surroundings, is to be compassionate, caring, and sensitive to all, even those who seem to be power seekers.

The morning is also extremely important. Take some time every morning while everything is still calm, to think about how everyone deserves compassion, regardless of their deeds. If you’re dealing with a specific person, realize their inner discomfort and think of a way to befriend them.

Throughout the day is the time for action. Sometimes just a smile or saying ‘good morning’ can change someone’s day, even if you don’t know them. Why not bring them a cup of water while you’re getting one for yourself.

The key word you must keep in mind all day is; “The goal”. Try to remember that we’re here for 70-80 years just to do a favor for another. The goal is to change the world for the better and transform it to a G-dly dwelling place. Having this in mind surely will enhance the way we act.

To help children who are bullied, although we must implement the above in ourselves first, education is also needed. If a child is being bullied, the first thing they must know is that it’s not their issue. They must understand that they’re OK, they don’t really lack. Make it a daily exercise with them, teach them about their true self and their role in refining this world for the better. The issue is easy to solve, it just needs to be addressed and internalized, so just find the time and do it.


Bullies lack something. They subconsciously try to comfort themselves, by putting others down. They make a big deal out of the mistakes and imperfections. They show disrespect.

But the issue is theirs. They can’t find inner peace and happiness, so they blame it on you.

You can easily protect yourself, just laugh along and don’t show any fear.

But chassidus teaches us that there’s a goal, there’s a Soul. It teaches us to use love and compassion. you should therefore help them in the deepest way, you should seek to assist them in overcoming their inner void. This is only achieved thru love and acceptance, accept them for who they really are not what they do. Don’t forget you too will gain greatly by doing this, you’ll discover your deepest self and meaning. Keep “the goal” in mind and change your day.

May we merit to see the day when there will be no more negative competition and conflict “with the coming of moshiach speedily in our days”.

[1] Kuntres Hechaltzu discusses at length why conflict between people arises and where it comes from. much can be derived from this discourse on the topic of bullying. Follow the footnotes to see where referenced.

[2] See “Kuntres Hechaltzu” chapters 10 and on.

[3] See Toras Menachem 25 page 148, see more references there.

[4] In “Kuntres Hechaltzu” chapter 9, it’s explained that people will discredit others good for no logical reason at all, rather illogical hate. It continues to say in its following chapters, that this hate comes from lack of completion. Obviously nobody wants to advertise that, therefore they’ll do it quietly and maybe even subtly, as mentioned below.

[5] Likutei Sichos vol. 10, page 24 and on.

[6] ‘’How to Handle Being Bullied as an Adult’’  Patrick Allan. He adds some suggestions: ‘’If someone keeps making jokes at your expense, laugh along with them. If someone makes sarcastic, fake compliments, thank them. When someone says something rude, pretend that you didn’t hear them. If someone harps on the same mistake or accident you made, tell them that you don’t care about that anymore. Keep your cool if you do anything embarrassing so you don’t give them any fuel.’’

[7] See “Hayom Yom” 28 shvat (and many more).

[8] See Tanya end of chapter 9 “even the evil inclination is for his own good”. See more in Sichos Kodesh 5724 Parshas Balak ch.9, even kelipa has a g-dly spark within. See more in Sichos Kodesh 5737 beginning of Mishpatim, even they will eventually be refined and uplifted.

[9] “Hayom yom” 5 Iyar.

[10] When someone feels they must degrade others for their mistakes, one should not be offended by them. Therefore, if they do feel “lowered” despite their innocence, there must be something deeper bothering them.

[11] Brachos, page 5 side 2.

[12] Bereshit, 8:21. Iyov , 11:12. The verse uses the wording “man’s drives are bad from birth”

[13] See more, Hayom Yom 6 Tishrei, 12 Menachem Av; true love of g-d is only possible on fulfilling love of fellow.