There is no Man that doesn’t have his hour and nothing that has no place… Be extremely low in spirit…” (Avos 4: 3-4)
A true Jew is required to have a split personality. Think about it. We learn about the importance of always being joyful, but we must maintain a state of constant mourning for the Beis Hamikdash. We strive to reach a state of closeness and love with the Almighty, but must maintain a sense of fear and reverence. We detach ourselves from physical indulgence, but embrace the physical world in attempt to elevate it. And here we find another tricky one. On the one hand we focus on the “greatness of Man”, the sense that “The world was created for me”, the recognition that we were put in the world to accomplish something that no one else in history was ever been able to accomplish, and that our actions- even the little ones- have unbelievable affects in the greater scheme of things, far beyond what we can comprehend. On the other hand, we are told to be “low in spirit”, to feel that we are falling short in what we can be accomplishing, that we are flawed in our service to God, and that we are just a speck in a massive cosmos of space and time.
This deep teaching was emphasized by many great Tzadikim each in his own style. The Chasidic master R’ Bunim of Peshischa would say, “A person was given two eyes, one to view his strengths, the other to view his weaknesses.” Rav Shlomo Freifeld would say, “A person must have pockets in his soul. In one pocket he must keep all the joy that can fit, and in the other all of his tears.” The Amshinover Rebbe put his own unique spin on it, “A person must wear two watches. One tells him how much time he has left to do great things. The other must tell him how much time has already gone by.”
On a practical note, how is it possible for a person to simultaneously be working on two opposite virtues? To answer this, allow me to share with you an incredible teaching of many of the great masters of Jewish thought.
Every single Jewish soul that enters the world must go through phases in life, referred to in the writings as “Days of Love” and “Days of Hatred”. Days of love means, as it implies, the times in life when we feel in our hearts “Hashem loves me”. In these days we view the world with an amazing sense of clarity, we can easily feel joy, and our hearts are open to embracing more and more spirituality into our life. In these days it is likely that our relationships with family and friends will be strong, we will find satisfaction in our lives, and new opportunities will present themselves. We are on top the world!
And then… just when we are getting comfy… come the days of hatred. Nothing seems clear anymore, we feel sadness for seemingly no reason at all, and we suddenly come to realize that there is a void of emptiness in our lives. The world around us seems to be turning its back on us, as well as our Father in Heaven, who no longer seems so fatherly.
Though this system might seem like “tough love”, it gives us the potential to keep that balance in our lives. To feel “big” in the days of love is no great feat, but can we maintain that when times get rough? And when we enter the days of love, do we use this precious time to correct the flaws that we discovered in the days of hatred, or do we get caught up in the moment of feeling bliss on this world? This is the message we are learning here. When life seems difficult make sure to reach into that pocket filled with joy to get you through, but use the time to realize the creases in life that need to be ironed out. And when the sun shines again and you feel empowered to take on the world, reach back into that pocket of tears and see how you can take life to the next level.
To quote an old Jewish saying, “Sometimes you just gotta take one step back, to take two steps forward”! And sometimes you just might have to cry a few tears, to bring out that true smile!
In Parshat Nasso, we are taught the laws of the Sotah, a woman charged with cheating on her husband, and the laws of the Nazir, a man who voluntarily separates himself from wine. Rashi comments on the juxtaposition of the two and says that the Torah is teaching us that those who are exposed to a woman undergoing the Sotah process must separate themselves from wine. This is because when we see someone acting inappropriately, God is also sending us a message to pay extra attention to our own attitudes and uproot any potential behavior that could bring us to a similar situation.
This idea of using the demise of someone else as impetus to look inwards is certainly a sharp piercing message. Our Sages challenge us to never view ourselves as an outsider. Everyone we meet is a teacher in some way, and every situation is an opportunity to learn. To quote Helen Keller “Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.”
With this in mind, we have a new appreciation for the words of our sages “Who is wise? One who learn from all people.” Our sages are not only referring to people that we look up to or are impressed with, but even people who we look down at, people we really don’t like being around, those who do the little things that get under our skin, acts that we frown upon, and display character traits we view as negative. Those people, too, can be our greatest teachers, if we take to heart what message we are supposed to be taking way from them. This is true with a boss, coworker, spouse, even a child who is acting disrespectfully.
This is especially true since very often we notice things in others that really exist inside of ourselves. We tend to love and hate things in other people according to what we love and hate about ourselves. A character trait that we ourselves don’t possess won’t affect us when we see it in someone else. Therefore when we see a flaw in someone else and it bothers us, e.g. “he’s so irresponsible”, “she’s so into herself”, we must ask the question, is there something that is really bothering me about myself that I am just projecting onto this person?
Additionally, the Almighty in his infinite perfection designed the world in a way that a person’s surroundings are tailor made to convey the lessons that one has to learn. When we see something that bothers us, He is sending us a personal message. When someone gives us a criticism and our knee-jerk reaction is to blow it off as illegitimate, we have to realize that for some reason or another, the Almighty wanted us to hear these words.
There is a story about a righteous man who once saw a child acting wildly in the street. He pulled the child aside and sharply scolded him, “go back to your Cheder (day school)”. The brazen child looked the righteous man square in the eye and with full blown Chutzpah responded, “Maybe YOU should go back to Cheder!” The righteous man took this as a message that he was neglecting certain areas of study and that he had to designate additional time for them.
Life is a constant learning experience. But it is our job to never let a lesson slip away, but rather to take every opportunity to ask ourselves “What is the Almighty trying to tell me?”