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A New Approach to Life’s Challenges

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Shneur Itzinger, Oak Park, Michigan
MyLife Essay Contest 2018 

Introduction

I stand at the bottom of the slope, looking up at the mountain I must climb. The trek is surely arduous. Each step will be more difficult than the next, harder as I go. I may never reach the top, so why start? As I climb, I fall. The peak is far, so many individual steps away, not in my reach at all. And if I fall today all I have climbed yesterday, I will have gained nothing.

I am below, the peak is above, far out of my reach. A different realm altogether.

I am overwhelmed.

I will propose how Chassidus teaches that a person’s service of G-d, even his subservience and Kabolas Oil, is not about breaking himself and negating his own desires. It is not about reaching something he is not. There is no need for a person to look at himself as fighting a slope whose peak he may not reach, and whose every step is fraught with hardships. Chassidus provides the person with a very different approach, one in which his very essence is ‘climbing the mountain’ of service of G-d, not negating or breaking himself, rather the contrary, building himself, reaching closer to his real self, his real מציאות.

This approach in practical application leaves a person feeling happy in his service of G-d, rather than overwhelmed at the magnitude of the task.


The approach of Kabolas Ol and ‘breaking oneself’

In Chassidus, much emphasis is placed on the concept of Kabolas Ol, (literally ‘accepting the yoke of Gd’,) being subservient to G-d and following his will without reckoning with one’s own desires. Following this approach, each step a person takes in his service of G-d is one where he must ‘break himself’, and does not leave room for a persons own self, his own existence. How I feel about the matter is irrelevant, and I do anything asked of me no matter my personal feeling towards it.

Often(1), the example brought is one of a servant, totally dedicated to his master’s will. This dedication negates the servants own feelings and desires, leaving no room for his own self advancement. There is only the master and his will, nothing else exists. The main thing is for the master’s desire to be fulfilled, and only the actions to that effect are relevant, not the intellect or emotion.

When the approach to each step is one where I force myself to get to somewhere I am not, to do something I have no feeling for, life is a constant battle. In the context of the above example, each action is forced upon the servant against his will, and permeates him only on a superficial level, his action, not changing him in any real way. The servant is doing what someone else wants, an external desire, detached from him. He is working towards something he is not.

The servant wishes to be free. He does the masters will against his own desire, breaking his מציאות, his identity, for the master.(2) 

Issue in applying the above approach

When I contemplate the above approach to service of G-d, it leaves me overwhelmed. How can I constantly break myself, always climbing one step higher on the spiritual ‘mountain’, not certain I will ever reach the highest peak of perfection, not changing along the way. Action after action, deed after deed, towards a peak I am still learning about, on a slope on which I constantly fall, finding myself exactly where I was yesterday, never gaining in my own self-advancement, my own ,מציאות along the way. Each step is difficult, negating my desires, my will, even my emotions and feelings, all in the name of Kabolas Ol, doing what the creator wants without asking why. My identity is not involved. It is being broken.

I am climbing a mountain towards something I am not. Only doing, not becoming anything different. I am breaking myself, my מציאות.

Practically speaking, it means that I have a hard time doing what is expected from me in service of G-d. It makes even the first step seem difficult, and contemplating beyond that is, as I wrote above, overwhelming.

A different approach

In Lekutei Sichos, one can find a different approach to the concept of Kabolas Ol. I will explain based on the Rebbe’s teachings how, in truth, all aspects of the service of G-d, including Kabolas Ol, is not an act of breaking oneself, doing someone else’s will, rather an act of the person simply revealing who he really is. Therefore, all he does, even matters of Kabolas Ol, can be done in an enjoyable way, with a געשמאק.

I will paraphrase two Sichos which come to this conclusion in different ways, and then bring it into practical application.
The first is in Lekutei Sichos volume 17(3);

The Torah refers to the Jews leaving Egypt and going towards the giving of the Torah at Sinai as ‘the birth of the Jewish nation’.(4) It is explained that this is not simply because Jews became a nation by leaving the Egyptian bondage, rather the term ‘birth’ is used to mean receiving a new identity. Upon receiving the Torah, the Jewish people received a new identity, a new מציאות. They became a מציאות of Torah.

When a person wishes to receive a new מציאות, a new identity, from something much higher than himself, two things must happen.

An example is brought of a student who wishes to receive a novel idea from his teacher, an idea which is so complex, it is currently beyond his grasp altogether. He must;

1) Nullify himself, his own intellect, to the teacher. The reason being, since with his own intellect he won’t understand the idea, as it is not yet within his grasp. Only when he nullifies himself to the teacher, who is in the realm of this novel idea, will he understand it.
2) Take the idea into his own mind, through using his own intellect and his own מציאות. The intention is for the student to understand the idea himself, not just as his teacher gives it over.

The first step alone is lacking his own involvement. He has pushed himself away to understand his teacher. Only after completing the second step, understanding the idea with his own intellect, has he achieved complete understanding. He must be an empty vessel, not full of his own self. But he must be a complete vessel.

Similarly, with regard to Jews receiving the Torah, two steps are needed. The first is nullification, Kabolas Ol, as the Jews proclaimed upon receiving the Torah (5) נעשה ונשמע, we will do what G-d desires and only afterward will we seek an explanation.

However, the nullification is not done in a way in which a person breaks himself. Rather, the essence and identity, מציאות, of a Jew is Torah. By giving himself over to G-d’s will as expressed in the Torah, not only is he not breaking himself, on the contrary, he is building himself. He is becoming closer to his true essence.

A Jew is not only מבטל himself to Torah, negating himself. He makes himself, his very essence, Torah.

In the Mishna(6) we find the phrase, ‘There is no free man like the man who studies Torah’. Seemingly, this is paradoxical. One who learns Torah and fulfills its commandments is bound to rules that dictate his every move. How can such a person be considered ‘free’? However based on the above, the Talmud’s statement is clear. A Jew’s essence is fulfilling the Torahs laws. Although one’s life may appear easier without Torah, such a lifestyle is contrary to his very existence.

The second is in Lekutei Sichos volume 5(7);

The Rebbe explains the difference between the Jewish nation and all other creations. Everything was created by G-d with a purpose. However, all creations are a means with which to reach the purpose. The Jewish people are the purpose of creation itself. Therefore, the true being and identity of a Jew is G-d’s will.

Whatever a Jew does in his service of G-d, he enjoys. Even when practicing Kabolas Ol and selfnullification to G-d’s will, seemingly not an enjoyable experience, it is not an act of breaking himself. Rather this is who he is, his essence.(8) 

Practical application of the second approach

When facing challenges in service of G-d with this approach, everything is done with an enjoyment. I am not constantly fighting myself. There is no constant struggle to be something I am not. With each step, I become more in touch with myself, my true essence and identity.

Of course, this has a big effect on any practical action I do. Why look at life’s obstacles in a way where I am constantly breaking myself. Everything I do can be with an enjoyment, a געשמאק, for this is my identity. I am someone who serves G-d in various ways, including Kabolas Ol, and therefore even my subservience is not an act outside of my true self. It is not an external act, conforming to someone else’s will, breaking my own. It is me.

There is no sense of an overwhelming burden I must deal with. A mountain I must climb, whose peak is out of my reach. Each step is not one in a trek towards something I am not, a goal which is not mine, one that I have no feeling or desire for. Rather, each step is bringing me closer to my true identity, deeper inside myself.


1 See, for example המשך ת רס”ו ע’ שיב ואילך
2 In המשך תרס”ו brought above, one can also find 2 approaches, that of the עבד פשוט and that of the . עבד נאמן However, although it is explained that the עבד נאמן an enjoyment in his work, it is the enjoyment of the master, the תענוג האדו ן , rather than his own.
3 ע’ , חג הפסח א’. סעיפים ב, ג, ו.17
יחזקאל פרק ט”ז ובמפרשים שם4
שבת פ”ח.5
אבות ‘ פרק ו ‘משנה ב6
ע .סעיף ט 642 ‘ ‘. 7
8 For more on how this extends from תורה into מצוות, see ד “ה ואלה המשפטים תשמ”א סעיף ח’ . For more on this subject, see also ד”ה ארבעה ראש השנים תשמ”א

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