The Truth About Me

By Bentzion Geisinsky, Bloomfield Hills, MI
Essays 2016

MyLife Essay Contest 2016

Lots of opinions. Lots of perspectives. Which are right? Which should I follow?

Oftentimes we read an op-ed in which someone expresses their opinion on a pressing issue in the community. Generally it generates many comments, some of which are purely emotional, but many are truly intellectual and thought provoking.

Some of these comments are very compelling. Then there’s another comment, also powerful, but diametrically opposed to the first.  Sometimes, there are yet several more excellent and convincing points of view. This is similar to the well-known story about a rabbi who was called upon to settle a dispute between two of his followers.  The first man poured out his complaints to the rabbi, and when he finished, the rabbi said, “You’re right.”  When the second one finished, the rabbi said, “You’re also right.”  The rabbi’s wife, who had been listening to the conversation, said incredulously to her husband, “What do you mean, ‘You’re also right’? They can’t both be right!”  The rabbi thought for a moment, and then replied, “You know, you’re also right.”

But can they both really be right?

The ultimate truth is infinite and applies in all circumstances; anything that doesn’t apply in every type of existence is limited and thus not true in some way. The only being that is completely “perfectly true” in every realm is Hashem- “V’Hashem Elokim Emes”. Anything true, or right, in our world is a reflection of G-dliness – albeit limited. (See Likutei Torah on Parshas Matos)

In Tanya (Perek 13), The Alter Rebbe explains that what may be considered true service of Hashem for Reuven may not be sufficient for Shimon, but it is a “complete service” for Reuven.  What is true and right for a person correlates with the unique circumstances in which Hashem placed him. So what may be considered true self-sacrifice for Reuven is “kids’ stuff” for Shimon. (See Lku”s vol. 17 pg. 115). Yet they all are truly serving Hashem correctly – each appropriate for their own truth.

How can I determine what is my unique ‘truth’?

How can one figure out what the Torah expects of him in every situation he faces – for the truth that is unique to him?  It gets even more complex; some statements in Torah seem to indicate that we should act one way, yet other sources in Torah point in a totally different direction.

Hashem has blessed us with a Rebbe who guides us in essentially every issue out there.  We learn proper values for a Yid from The Rebbe’s teachings and actions.  Still, it sometimes gets tricky to determine exactly what The Rebbe would tell you for your particular scenario. The Rebbe’s responses to seemingly the very same issue sometimes point in opposite directions, as they were addressing different people – to their unique individual truth.  However, in life, you can only chose one to be totally correct – on your level at least.

So, which way to choose? How do we find clarity?

Can’t we just make a compromise?

Not really. Compromise is not truth, it’s a little of this and a little of that.  The Rambam writes (Laws of Sanhedrin 22:4) “A Beis Din which makes a compromise shall be praised; as it is written ‘A judgment of peace shall you judge in your gates.’” In disputes, a compromise is preferred over a Din Torah.  Nonetheless, it is not reflective of what is just and truthful.

Parenthetically, this can also be understood from the fact that the Rambam quotes the possuk starting at “a judgement of peace” not from the word beforehand in the possuk “TRUTH and a judgment of peace”.  Beyond disputes between people, however, compromise isn’t a Torah value.

The Rebbe wrote to a Rabbi who had just been appointed as the Rav of a community. In his letter, He stated, that he should not suggest compromises to the community, for that way he’ll lose the trust of the community.  (Igros vol. 14 pg. 65)

So, back to square one. If no compromise, what should I do when at a loss for the proper path for me?

Obviously, there may be a clear answer to the question. But here I address what to do if you have no way of knowing what, or even if there is a clear answer.

This is the primary issue addressed in the “Compiler’s Forward” to Tanya. There, The Alter Rebbe explains his decision to offer his guidance through a book rather than seeing people on an individual basis. He knew there would be complaints that people wouldn’t be able to analyze each circumstance in life based on teachings in a book, even a book like Tanya. He strongly pleads to the “great ones of each city” to guide the local lay people in deciphering the advice the Tanya has for their individual problem.  The Alter Rebbe was advising for a system of Mashpi’im.

In each generation there are Rebbes and Mashpi’im. It is the responsibility of the Mashpia to guide the Chossid in understanding how The Rebbe’s words apply to his particular situation, at that particular time – based on his particular truth.

But how does the Mashpia know?

Let’s take a look at the first time the Jewish people were expected to ask a Mashpia:

During the Farbrengen of 12 Tammuz 5727, The Rebbe analyzed the words that the Frierdiker Rebbe had written 40 years earlier (on the day of his liberation from exile). And He delved into a discourse in the Gemara (Avoda Zara 5b) about how to be a true disciple, one who truly integrates his teacher’s lessons into his way of thinking and being.

The Jewish people asked Moshe to be the one to transmit to them the words of the Torah, because their physical bodies could not handle the great holiness of receiving the Torah directly from Hashem. Though Moshe was displeased with this request, Hashem told Moshe “Who can give that their hearts be like this, to fear Me and to keep all My commandments all the days.” Loosely translated, Hashem was saying “If only they would always have the same Yiras Hashem in their hearts as they have today.”

Later, Moshe chastised the Jewish people for not answering back to Hashem “You should give”,  that is to say that Hashem should guarantee that their hearts be one with Him for all times. The Amora Rabba points out that Moshe did not tell this to them until 40 years after that fateful event. Rabba extrapolates from this: “A man does not grasp the thinking of his master until 40 years later.” For this reason, Moshe showed disappointment in the Yidden that they still did not “get it” after 40 years of witnessing Hashem’s care and learning Hashem’s teachings.

The Rebbe analyzed the Gemara: Firstly, Rabba uses the word “inish” for man. Of the four titles for man [i.e.: Enosh, Gever, Ish and Odom], Enosh is the one used to describe the lowest character of man. It follows that this level, of truly integrating one’s teacher’s lessons into his life after 40 years, can be reached by every Jewish student.

Quoting a Rashi in Chumash, The Rebbe described the method needed to truly know how one’s teacher might respond to particular issues.  When one delves into the wording of his teacher, and analyzes the behavior of his teacher for 40 years, he can then access his teacher’s thinking patterns and figure out how to address the issue – in the same way his teacher would.

And what if one haden’t had the opportunity to witness and learn from his teacher for 40 years? The Rebbe answers “Go find someone that has; ask him!” In the Chumash, Moshe was disappointed in all the Yidden of his time, not only the elders. Evidently, it is expected of all Jews to search out an older student of Moshe, if they are not one themselves.

Furthermore, even regarding matters that have been explained by the teacher less than 40 years prior, the older student is capable of seeing it as the teacher would. For once he’s acquired the teacher’s viewpoint in other matters it should clarify his view on everything that comes his way.

With enough dedication, you can come to the right conclusion – on your own

Then came the most powerful point in this discourse. When one cannot (in his opinion) find someone who qualifies as the 40 year long student, he’s expected to find out what is the proper thing to do himself –  even if he has not been studying for 40 years.

This is similar to what’s brought in Hayom Yom (9 Elul): When a subject is of deep concern to a person, even those of weak intellect will come up with profound concepts.  When it comes to important issues that truly matter to him, even a simple person can easily think up arguments that would take the greatest Talmudic sages much effort to come up with.

The same is true in this case. If you’re not just skimming through the op-ed comments, or differing valid opinions on a particular issue,  but rather you are looking to make (what may be) a life changing decision, you really do have the ability within yourself to come to the correct conclusion. It will happen – by truly dedicating your efforts to study and then discern what the teacher (the Moshe of our generation) would say in this particular circumstance.

In 5749, The Rebbe spoke several times about that year being the 40th year since the passing of the Frierdiker Rebbe (which also means that it was 40 years of The Rebbe teaching us). That year, The Rebbe frequently quoted the above mentioned Gemara. The Rebbe then added that for this to be done right, Hashem aids the Jew, as Moshe told the Jews after 40 years in the desert “Hashem gives you a heart to know”.

Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb related that the Rebbe once told him that “sometimes you have to confide in yourself”. He says that he has done just that many times, after spending some time learning through some of The Rebbe’s teachings to reconnect with The Rebbe. It has “unfailingly” helped him each time.

So what happens if two such Mashpi’im (or on a smaller scale, two blog commentators) offer two opposite approaches of what The Rebbe would say?

That’s fine. Torah is given to humans and has many dimensions. Of course, only if they are not compromising on the words of The Rebbe. To this, I’ll relate an episode I once heard from one of the Chassidim involved in writing the sichos for The Rebbe in the later years:

The system always was that people would transcribe The Rebbe’s words, The Rebbe would then edit. At one point, an arrangement was made that on alternate weeks, the writers of one committee would write up the sicha in Hebrew, and another would write the next week’s sicha in Yiddish. And so it went for a while. For whatever reason, one week the writers of both committees prepared the same sicha for editing. Certain points were understood differently by the Hebrew writers and the Yiddish writers. Yet, The Rebbe let them both pass. When The Rebbe was asked what His intent was originally, the reply was that those are 2 of the 70 dimensions of Torah.

What is absolutely clear is obviously clear. And when you need help to determine the best path for your unique self, reach to the teachings of The Rebbe – all the while putting your strongest effort on being true to yourself and true to the source.  Just as the Jews were expected to do in the desert.

Seek insight from a Mashpia – someone who truly understands The Rebbe’s views clearly and is well acquainted with you and your circumstance. As necessary, you should ask yourself; you really do have the ability to come up with the right answers.

May we merit to speedily see the day when “no longer shall one teach his neighbor or [shall] one [teach] his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know Me from their smallest to their greatest”.