Welcome to the New You

By Shneur Zalman Goldberg, Brooklyn, NY
Essays 2017

MyLife Essay Contest 2017

Time for Action
Everyone has an area where improvement is necessary, although not convenient or comfortable, and for all practical purposes one can be quite distant from actual change. Many are inspired by parenting techniques, education, self improvement, etc. but not always do these pieces of information actually take us out of our ‘exile’ i.e. the situation that ought to be changed for the better. Imagine finding out that there are tools that can make this a reality, and even more so – that every Yid essentially possesses these tools. Well it’s real, as we will see in the coming essay.

In Mitzrayim There Were Choices
When the Yidden left Mitzrayim, we are told that not everyone was redeemed, as four- 1 fifths of the Yidden perished during the Plague of Darkness . In other words, many people 2 remained stuck in their exile. They did not progress and become better people, redeemed people when Hashem manumitted the Yidden from Mitzrayim.

Why is that? They made the choice to exclude themselves from the Yiddishe nation by saying that they did not want to leave Mitzrayim in the coming redemption. In other words, they made the conscious decision not to become better, not to be redeemed from their issues, and they chose to stay in their dark situation.

In the words of the Medrash, Hashem does bring redemption even to those who don’t necessarily deserve it, as long as they don’t oppose the general Yiddishe attitude. In Mitzrayim that meant not opposing yetzias Mitzrayim. Those who were opposed to the redemption were giving the message that they wanted to keep the status quo, even if it is not at all good, and by doing that they extracted themselves from the rest of the community.

In the words of the Haggada shel Pesach, in which we tell the wicked son that ‘had he been in Mitzrayim he would not have been redeemed’, we are responding to his comment earlier in that paragraph when he refers to Hashem as ‘your Hashem’, not ‘our Hashem’,  and he thus shows that he is excluding himself from the community. To this we tell him that in Mitzrayim that would have meant that he would have stayed there, because all those who were  -יחידים individuals, by excluding themselves from redemption and changing for the better, were not included in the yiddishe nation, and died in Mitzrayim.

Not all Yidden who left Mitzrayim were righteous, but they were part of the community, and were interested in leaving Mitzrayim to serve Hashem and to become better people. The fact that there was an opportunity to leave the exile and to serve Hashem shows on the chance for change. The Yidden were in exile in every sense of the word; no freedom, no comforts, ruthless bosses, and most importantly a spiritual exile with very little service of Hashem.

What’s disturbing is that there were those who opposed that ‘improving change’, (and they basically remained the same people) and to make matters worse, Hashem let them get their way and they stayed lifeless in Egypt. When we realize that maintaining the status quo in exile means declining Hashem’s offer for redemption and possibly remaining stuck there in the same dark negative situation, it is very scary, and in Mitzrayim the result was fatal.

The Nature Aspect
The good news is that such an option was only available before Matan Torah, afterwards however, it is impossible to opt out of the Jewish community. There is NO option to NOT become better and improved. Why is that? What is the difference between before and after Matan Torah? What changed at the giving of the Torah?

Chassidus explains that when Hashem redeemed the Yidden from Mitzrayim, their relationship with Hashem was like father and son.  Now as we know, the love of a parent to his child is an essential love, it is just because the child is their child, and just because the parent is the parent. However, even though the parent child relationship is described as essential, because the love is not dependent on reasons, nonetheless there is a natural element; it is natural for a parent to love his child and vice versa. This is important to know because a person can decide to oppose their nature. Although people usually operate according to their nature, for it is inborn, it is still possible for a person to overpower his teva. So a person who is naturally very happy will be negatively affected if ch”v something sad happens with touches them very deeply. The parent- child relationship can be silenced if a person is affected very deeply. Because even though that love is part of one’s essence, it is naturally that way, and a person can overpower their natural tendencies (if they want to). This is why the Yidden in Mitzrayim had the potential to oppose their parent-child relationship with Hashem (by not wanting to leave Mitzrayim), because it is a nature and could be overruled.

This concept is alluded to in the opinion of Rebbe that Yom Kippur atones for all sins aside from the sins that pertain to Yom Kippur itself, like not eating etc. In other words, even though Yom Kippur atones for all sins because it represents our essential relationship with Hashem, this relationship can be overridden, as we see that Yom Kippur itself can be the source of sins (if one transgresses a prohibition directly relating to Yom Kippur).

When Hashem Chose Us Essentially, We Essentially Lost Our Choice… …To Opt Out
This is contrasted with the novelty and revolution of the giving of the Torah, at which time Hashem chose us as His nation. In addition to our having a father child relationship, we now received a new dimension, ‘The Chosen Nation’.  What implications does this have?

There are two kinds of choices; the ones which are reasonable and the ones that are not founded on any logic, its just what the person essentially wants. Here we are referring to the latter type of choice.

Chassidus says that when Hashem chose us at Har Sinai, the level from which Hashem chose us was not a place where our deeds have any influence, i.e. both Yaakov and Eisav are equal. Even though Yaakov is hands down more righteous than Eisav, that is on this world and in realms where our deeds have influence. But in Hashem Himself, i.e. His essence, all are equal. And in this position Hashem says, ‘I chose Yaakov’. So Hashem is not choosing the Yidden because they are better or nicer or more refined, rather He Himself decided deep down in His essence that He is choosing the Yidden with no outside force driving Him to that decision. This decision is an expression of who Hashem is.

Decisions based on the essence aren’t subject to change. If a decision is rational then it can be changed if the circumstance changes, but a decision stemming from the essence isn’t subject to those limitations. The places where change is possible is not the essence. So, for example, the nature of loving one’s child or parent, however deep it is, can be changed. But a choice which represents the person’s self, ‘this is who the person is’ which is why they choose it, not because of any reason, superior quality etc. cannot be changed lest the essence of the person be altered.

This is why after Matan Torah there is no real ‘leaving the fold’ and ‘going solo’ and staying in one’s ‘exile’ and dark situation, because after Hashem chose the Yidden, the Yidden also received the ability to be able to choose on an essential level, in a way that represents them as a Yid. Therefore now that every Yid essentially chose Hashem on an essential level, our relationship with Hashem is essential and completely unalterable (unlike the parent child relationship discussed earlier) and rivaling that is like closing shop and saying they would rather cease to exist, because that is the essence of their being (which is impossible to say). In other words, prior to Matan Torah our connection to Hashem was not the absolute essential kind and could be overridden, and it wouldn’t be considered closing down our entire being (although it would be extremely sad). After Matan Torah, however, now that our relationship with Hashem is our essence and therefore absolute, it can’t be retracted or altered.

The Rebbe reflected this very point about Eretz Yisroel when addressing an advisor to the prime minister. He said that taking a weak stance and offering land in exchange for supposed peace is contrary to the very existence of Eretz Yisroel. It exists only because we are not intimidated by the nations of the world, rather we stand with firm adherence to Hashem’s will. In other words, negotiating peace is not something which is just (potentially) detrimental to Eretz Yisroel, it opposes its very existence!

The Essence of You
When a person is totally into something with their entire being beyond any reason, to the extent that ‘this is who they are, and this is what describes them’, that is an example of essential choice. Like the mesirus nefesh of one who is completely devoted to the cause to the point of sacrificing his life, this is a proof that describes who they are. There are no distractions etc. it’s just forging ahead.  People don’t usually operate on this wavelength, but when we know that it exists, the tremendous power it has, and how to put it into practice, there is no exile that we cannot escape from. Any situation can be overpowered and improved when putting into effect our essential beings. There is nothing that can stand in our way.

This is what R’ Yona Kagan told R’ Mendel Futerfas when the latter was considering leaving Russia in 1947; “I didn’t know that Mesiras Nefesh also has limits.” Meaning that if you are truly fully devoted with your essence and not just involved externally then you will not leave Russia, when there is still work to do to save Yidden and Yiddishkeit. Nothing at all can override that. R’ Mendel stayed, because he was essentially involved, and this work described who he essentially was.

This is why in the coming redemption there isn’t an opt out option, while in Mitzrayim there was. Being that now (after Matan Torah) the essence of every single Yid is to be completely devoted to Hashem, just because ‘we chose Hashem’ in our essence, (not because of His amazing qualities, and the like, which could be overridden) it is practically impossible to change that, because that is our essence. Therefore we can in every circumstance employ and reveal this essential choice, and make improvements in our lives, even if it is contrary to our nature, it’s not comfortable or convenient; it’s our essence and that’s all that matters. This essence will, by the time Moshiach comes, permeate every single Yid. By Mitzrayim we didn’t yet have the essential quality yet, and therefore it was up for discussion if the person should stay around, and the person would not be considered going against his own essence, and therefore improving oneself wasn’t a given at that time.

Practical Applications
The above can be applied and can be very helpful to all areas of life. Whenever challenges arise and there is potential for the challenge to not be dealt with, either because it is not comfortable or convenient to improve the situation, it is then crucial to employ the essential power that every Yid possesses to change the situation for the better. It may be a situation where relations with others need to be amended (it can even be with close family members, with whom there was a falling out, and it’s uncomfortable to take initiative to change the situation), or where one can use improvement in their davening with kavana, or with setting aside time for Torah study, etc. In any case, even when actual change and improvement is hard, change can become reality by our realizing that we have an essential power, which is our real self, and that by employing this essential power we can overcome any challenge, however dark it seems. In fact, this power was given to us so that we should employ it to overcome any situation that can be characterized as ‘exile’, all we need to do is use it. When one is not sure what it is that Hashem wants, a Mashpia can be helpful, but the resoluteness to follow through with the improvement is already there.

At times we find that the problem is more complex. It seems that the essential choice has been used for the negative to overcome the deep natural tendencies that Hashem placed within us. For example, a person can override their natural love to their family member, by essentially deciding and choosing to strongly dislike them. It will probably be without reason, or at least the reason won’t adequately explain the negative relations. The problem is that change and improvement seem like a far away dream at best.

The proper advice then is to realize that our essential choice which we received at Har Sinai is a power which is connected to the neshama and therefore only usable in holiness. There is a similar power in the Yaitzer Hara , which is very strong, but is not the essence of a Yid, (of 3 course Hashem didn’t give us a negative essence at Har Sinai). Thus, even such a situation is reversible when employing the essential choice of a Yid to make decisions based on what Hashem wants, and thus change and improvement is still a real option.

We are always looking for ways to help in the shidduch world. When choosing a spouse there can be many external reasons in support of a good idea, but for the sake of making it long lasting, essential choosing can be employed again. When one is sure that to the best of one’s knowledge the shidduch is a good idea, then it’s time to completely invest oneself in the shidduch, with complete commitment and devotion, as though they are choosing it with their essence, and this is their life, and it will mold their future life, and therefore there is obviously no option for turning back. When a person has the clarity to choose not just based on similarities, but to make the essential choice as well, they are well on the way to a very stable marriage, which can easily handle a lot (if need be).

As we said before, this concept can literally help a person to feel not stuck, and that he can change and improve any situation, daunting or uncomfortable as it may seem, as long as the essence of the person is invested in making that positive change which Hashem wants.

This is exhilarating, for often, as inspired as people are and as much knowledge as people have, real change and becoming a new person may seem to be beyond reality, but with our practical application of this concept, it’s a matter of expressing what we have internally in our essence, and … in no time it will be hard to recognize ourselves with all of the positive changes that were successfully made.


Sources and Footnotes

[1] Based on a sicha in vol 11, shmos sicha #11
[2] Perhaps we can say jokingly that ‘their darkness killed them’. Based on the explanation.
[3] See hemshech samech vov, parshas shlach