Torah Portion

Parashat Noach

My Tsaddik[1]

At the time that the American inventor Thomas Alva Edison labored over inventing the electric light bulb, (incandescent lamp) he ran into a difficult problem.  Despite the best of his efforts he had still not been able to reveal the correct material to use for the conducting wire inside of the bulb.  He tried different types of materials with no success.  The light bulb refused to ignite.

light bulb

Harav Israel Asulin

Monday, 29th of Tishrei, 5776

BS”D

At the time that the American inventor Thomas Alva Edison labored over inventing the electric lightbulb, (incandescent lamp) he ran into a difficult problem.  Despite the best of his efforts he had still not been able to reveal the correct material to use for the conducting wire inside of the bulb.  He tried different types of materials with no success.  The lightbulb refused to ignite.

A different person would have thrown his hands in the air and moved on to a different and more promising invention, but Edison refused to give up.  He went back to the work table, installed a new conducting wire, and tried it over and over.  In the end, after 600 failed attempts (!!!), he succeeded in discovering the correct material, and there was light.  The electric lightbulb was revealed.

After some time a young journalist met him and asked him to reveal the secret of his success: “After so many failures how did you not give up?  What gave you the strength to persevere in your efforts after so many disappointments?”  Edison looked him in the eyes and answered: “The answer is very simple.  I never failed.  Every time I learned a new way how not to light an electric light bulb…”

***

“These are the offspring of Noah- Noah was a righteous man…” (Bereshit[2] Chapter 6, Verse 9)

Who is a tsaddik?

In contrast to the accepted viewpoint, a tsaddik is not someone who’s never failed in anything, fulfills all of the 613 mitzvahs with exalted closeness to God, learns every day, engages in acts of kindness etc., in short a Tsaddik!!  That might be called a chasid[3] in the language of the Sages, but not a tsaddik.  So what is a tsaddik?

“The beginning of coming closer is going farther away, as the Sages said- someone who wants to be a tsaddik here below, they bring upon him judgments from above.” (Likutei Moharan, Torah 74, Part 1)

Rebbe Nachman tells us here and in many additional places that the beginning of coming closer is going farther away.  A person who wants to come closer to Hashem, in the beginning he is shown distance, why?  What is the logic in this intentional distancing?  Seemingly the approach should be the opposite, he is invited to come closer?!

Any person who engages in the work of healing his soul must know that part of internal work is to go through those difficult places, where he doesn’t understand anything and there is difficulty and pain in the soul, what is called “narrow understanding” in Rebbe Nachman’s language.  Without this it is impossible to heal the soul; without going through these places you cannot reveal from within yourself the internal strengths which were hidden inside.  This is the process which allows you to let go of being stuck where you are, and open up to the new internal inspiration which is hidden inside of you.

The failure is unavoidable.  It’s not pleasant to hear, but that is the reality.  Sooner or later we will all fail.  Therefore the question is not if we will fail, rather how we will fail.  One of the most important gifts that a person can give to himself or to his children is to acquire the art of failure, or in other words, learning how to fail in a smart way.  It should be known- sometimes a successful failure is worth more than a success, and the true ‘loser’ is the one who doesn’t know how to fail correctly.

It turns out that the fear of failure is not a new phenomenon.  Its days are like the days of the world.  Already thousands of years ago King Solomon realized that this is one of the main stumbling blocks in the path of someone who strives to have excellent values and spiritual growth.  Let’s see the words that the wisest of all men wrote in the book of Proverbs (Chapter 24, Verse 16):  “For though the righteous one may fall seven times, he will arise, but the wicked ones will stumble through evil.”

Three revolutionary understandings can be found in this short verse.

  1. Firstly, King Solomon enlightens us, also a tsaddik is made to fall. There are those who reason that a tsaddik is a person who comes to the world already perfect and complete, like someone who is born with a silver spoon of continuous spiritual success, and since then the only thing in his world is conquering new spiritual heights one after the other.  It’s enough to look briefly in the mirror to know that we are not like the tsaddik.  We know well declines and falling, disappointments and frustration.  Does this mean that we don’t have any chance to join the club of the tsaddikim?  The answer, says King Solomon, is that also the tsaddik went on the same path.  He was also tried in the same way.  There is still hope, we are in good company.
  1. If the tsaddik also experiences downfalls, what is the key to his special greatness? The answer to this can be found in the difference between the reaction of a wicked person and a righteous person.  The tsaddik falls down and get backs up, the wicked one ‘stumbles in evil’.  The true failure is not in the decline itself, rather in what happens afterwards.  In contrast to many others, when the tsaddik falls down he doesn’t despair, he doesn’t raise up his hands, and he doesn’t wave a white flag.  He arises, shakes off the dust which is stuck to his clothes and continues onward with more strength and determination.  The tsaddik is not afraid to be tested by another failure.  He clings to his goal.  He knows that success is not certain, but he must make the effort.  In his heart he has humility, and he understands that ‘a person will not fulfill the words of the Torah unless he fails in them.’ (Talmud, Gittin, Page 43)
  1. There is also an additional insight, amazing and revolutionary, which is also hidden in this verse. King Solomon reveals to us a little bit of what happens ‘behind the curtains’ in the soul of the tsaddik.  He reveals to us that getting up from the falls is what built the personality of the tsaddik.  If he had not fallen and gotten up- he would not have become a tsaddik.  The essence of his getting up is in the seven times of falling that he went through.  From every stumble he learned lessons.  Every decline taught him which approach is not correct and from what does he need to be wary of in the future.  Every time he started over made him stronger.  Every time he overcame it added a new level to his spiritual standing.  From fall to fall and from each arising his strength grew until he became what he is today.

In closing, it is worthwhile to bring the following letter written by Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner[4].

My beloved friend, peace and blessings!

Your letter has reached me, and your words have touched my heart.

You should know beloved friend that the essence of your letter opposes all of the descriptions which are found in it.  Now I will explain to you the content of this sentence.

We have a bad sickness that when we involve ourselves in the aspects of completeness in our great leaders, we are dealing with the final summary of their greatness.  We tell of the ways of their completeness, while at the same time we skip over the internal struggle which took place in their soul.

Your impression of the great Rabbis seems to be that they came out from under the hand of the Creator with their standing and character complete.  Everyone speaks of, is impressed by and thinks that the purity of tongue of the Chafetz Chaim[5] ztz”l is something incredible, but who knows all of the battles, struggles, failures, falls and declines that the Chafetz Chaim encountered on his path with the Evil Inclination- one example out of thousands.  That’s enough for a wise man such as yourself to learn from this one story the general principle.

The result of this outlook is that when a young man with spirituality, aspirations and energy finds in his life stumbling blocks, downfalls and difficulties, he seems in his own eyes to not be “planted in the house of Hashem.” (Psalms, Chapter 92)  According to the imagination of this youth, to be ‘planted in the house of Hashem’ means to sit peacefully in lush meadows with peaceful waters and enjoy his Good Inclination, just as the tsaddikim enjoy the light of God’s presence while sitting with crowns on their heads in the Garden of Eden.  However, you should know dear friend that the source of your soul is not the tranquility of your Good Inclination, rather specifically the war that the Good Inclination fights.  Your precious and warm letter testifies like a hundred witnesses that surely you are a true warrior in the army of the Good Inclination.

There is an expression- lose a battle, but win the war.  Of course you fail and stand to fail again (you don’t have to worry that this will give an opening to the evil forces), and in several battles you will be robbed.  I promise you, however, that after every lost battle you will come out of the war with a flower bouquet on your head with the fresh kill struggling in between your teeth.

The wisest of all men said “for though the righteous one may fall seven times, he will arise”, and the ignorant ones think that his intention is to say: even though the tsaddik will fall seven times, nevertheless he will get up.  However the wise ones know well that his intention is that the essence of the rise of the tsaddik is the seven times he falls.  “And God saw all that he had made, and behold it was very good.” (Genesis, Chapter 1, Verse 31).  ‘Good’ is the good inclination, and ‘very’ is the evil inclination.

My dear friend, I press you to my heart and whisper in your ear, that if your letter told me about the mitzvot and good deeds you have done, I would say that I received from you a good letter.  Now that your letter tells of declines and downfalls and stumbles, I say to you that I’ve received from you a very good letter.  Your spirit is raging towards the aspiration to be great.  Please, don’t paint for yourself a picture in your soul that the greatness of the great Sages is that they and their good inclinations are one and the same.  In contrast, paint for yourself a picture that the greatness of the great Sages is the terrible war they wage with all of the lowliest inclinations.  At the time that you feel inside of you that the evil inclination is raging, you should know that in this you are like the great ones, much more so than when you are in the complete rest that you want for yourself.  Specifically in those places where you find yourself in the greatest falls, there you stand to be a vessel for the glory of Heaven.

I join in your suffering, I’m confident in your victory, and pray for your success.

Yitzchak Hutner

In other words, the failures are not just something bothersome that we need to overcome.  They are the stages which create the ladder of success of the tsaddik.  The failure itself includes in it the seeds of success.

[1] A righteous person

[2] Genesis

[3] A pious person

[4] Former head of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, NY. 1906-1980

[5] A renowned Rabbi and righteous man who lived about 100 years ago in Poland

2 thoughts on “Parashat Noach”

  1. The Kotzker Rebbe said: “The only whole person is the one with a broken heart!” In other words, the one who has suffered a broken heart, recovered, and healed himself, and grew, and improved his character and midot, has the capacity and possibility of becoming a whole person. Putting together the broken pieces of a broken heart makes our heart and hurts be healed and helps us become whole.

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