The Secret of the Good Point

The Secret of the Good Point

Life in the Rat Race

By Ron Webersod

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

Edited by Gershon Weissman

The air around us is poisoned.  Poisoned by competitions, poisoned by aggressiveness, poisoned by the toxin of “Edom[1].”  The Jewish people have gone through several exiles.  The final exile, which we find ourselves in, is called the exile of Edom, as it is written in the book Emek HaMelech[2]: “…and especially in this current exile which is the exile of Edom.”[3]

In the past Edom was identified with the culture of Rome.  Today Edom is identified with Western culture, the culture which is dominant in the world, the culture of achievements.  Who is the figure in scripture who is connected to Edom?  Esav.  “Esav, he is Edom.” (Genesis, 36:1)

What is so bad about Esav?  A contemplation of the stories in the Torah about Yaakov and Esav describes Esav as an incredible child, the educated son of his father, Yitzchak, who behaves in an amazing way and makes his father happy.  It sounds perfect.  And here is exactly the matter with Esav: everything seems perfect, from the outside.

However, the Sages teach us that Esav “is not so innocent”, to say the least.  The Midrashim[4] depict him as a villain, superficial, who tricks his father with made up questions of Jewish law, whose connection between them and keeping the mitzvahs or honoring the basic human ethics doesn’t exist.

Why?  Why is there such a huge gap between the image of Esav in the Torah to how he is depicted in the Midrashim?  There are several possible explanations for this, but this gap, the polarity between what is described in the plain meaning of the text to what we hear in the Midrashim of the Sages is exactly the point of Esav!  If we’ll ignore the Torah verses, we’ll find the image of a murderer, rapist and terrible villain, and if we’ll ignore the Midrashim, we’ll find the image of a good child, who tries to appease his father and do everything that his parents want.  What’s the truth?  I believe that’s exactly what we learn here.  The truth is that he behaves superficially a certain way (as is described in the Torah) but rather his internal truth is completely different (as is described by the Midrashim).

The Kotzker Rebbe topped everyone is his description of this gap: “Esav was not a clumsy farmer, who wears a funny shirt, walks barefoot and shepherds pigs.  Esav had a beard and side locks, he was the leader of a congregation, and taught Torah at the third Shabbat meal.  And nevertheless…”

According to the Midrash, he asked his father questions in Jewish law:  “How do you take tithes from straw?  How do you tithe salt?  (The answer is that you don’t take tithes from them, however it sounds wise and advanced- as if he is exacting in all laws of the Torah from the strictest to the most lenient.)  He is concerned with appearing perfect on the outside, but the Talmud tells us that on the same day that his grandfather, Avraham, passed away, he came upon a young engaged woman, murdered someone and did additional transgressions.  (Baba Batra, 16b)

The gap between the image of Esav in the Torah and what the Sages, the Midrashim, the Kabalistic books, and the Chassidic teachings tell us, is the gap between external, functional behavior lacking heart to a sincere internal connection.  It reminds me of the man whose wife feels that he doesn’t treat her well.  “But I do everything that is necessary!”  He wonders.  “My secretary sends her flowers on her birthday and I speak with her every day for 25 minutes!”

What is the connection between the scriptural Esav to the world in which we live?  There is a concept which is called “place, time, and soul.”  Everything is expressed in a certain place, a specific time of the year, and in the soul of a person.  The expression of Esav in the world is the culture of Edom, Western culture, the culture of aggressiveness and superficial success.  It’s possible to say that Esav is the spiritual father of Western culture.

The Midrash tells us that Esav’s head was buried in the Cave of the Patriarchs[5], and his body- outside of it.  This fact symbolizes an additional layer of disconnect in the form of Esav- a disconnect between his intellectual understanding and his self-control over his body and his deeds.  We learn that it’s not enough have a sharp mind.  If you won’t use this for your own benefit and for the benefit of those around you-one’s intelligence will remain cut off and disconnected from life.

Man in his perfected state subdues the physical body in order to fulfill lofty spiritual goals, which is the opposite of an unperfected man who uses his spiritual strengths in order to satisfy physical pleasures and desires.  It’s possible to see this in every place where gurus, community leaders or people with authority use their power and influence in order to use other people for their benefit.  Esav used his strengths in order to fulfill his desires and satisfy his pleasures.

Rebbe Natan explains: “However, evil Esav’s intention was not for this at all, because he didn’t want to submit to the demands of holiness whatsoever.” (Likutei Halachot, Yoreh Deah, the laws of new grain, 3rd halacha)  Esav behaved outwardly as if he wanted to become holy and he asked his father lofty questions, but in reality he only wanted to deceive and to use his intelligence and spirituality in order to serve his desires.

The Sages say that Esav’s name is from the same Hebrew root as “to be done.”[6]  Esav was born already ready, done.  He doesn’t need to learn anything, he doesn’t need to undergo a process or journey.  He’s already complete.  How difficult is it for us to meet someone who’s perfected, while we are aware of our own lackings.  How hard is it to meet someone who with one wave of the hand succeeds in doing great and impressive things- and you?  Stuck behind.

This is an illusion!  Remember?  Esav represents a type of person who is not genuine, he’s not truly successful like he would want to appear.  In reality he’s miserable, but he covers over his wretchedness with thick layers of make-up, in compensation for his exaggerated superficial behavior in the opposite direction.

He wants so badly to succeed to the point that he takes a leap.  He wants so much “to already be there”- until he behaves exactly that way, as if he’s already “there.”  As if he’s a “Tsaddik.”  And the culture that we are living in, the culture of Edom, Western culture, encourages and strengthens these acts- the competitiveness, the disconnect from our true selves, the feeling that if we’re not perfect- there’s nothing to talk about.

Esav was in complete despair because his parameters were superficial, and in superficiality there will always be a breaking point, a crash, and an awareness that there’s someone who’s better.  According to the Talmud in Tractate Baba Batra, when Esav heard that his grandfather, our patriarch Avraham, died, he said: what is the value of living in this world, if even Avraham the Tsaddik died?  I can kill and do whatever I want, and in any case I’ll die in the end, and furthermore there’s no chance.

This is life in the rat race- chasing after perfection which is impossible to obtain.  It’s an illusion.  “The good life” is an illusion of superficiality, a way of thinking they’re trying to sell us.  The artificial grass of the neighbor’s yard is greener.  How do we get out of the race?

Rebbe Nachman tells a story about two people, one who was a sophisticate and the other was a simpleton, who were good friends in their childhood until they parted ways.  The sophisticate was always bitter and never satisfied, whereas the simpleton was always happy with his lot.  The sophisticate always saw what he was lacking and he was always occupied with the question what those around him would say: is this profession respectable enough?  If he’ll get married in this city, will that impress those in his hometown?  The simpleton, in contrast, was focused on what he was doing, and when his wife asked him why others earn more than him, he answered her simply: “That’s his business and this is mine.”  What I need to do in the world is not connected to anyone else.  I don’t need to compare myself with anyone, and therefore I’m not “losing in the race against Esav”, rather I’m doing what I need to do, concentrating on my point, on my next step.

I remember the moment that I understood I was leaving the high tech world.  Our company was at the height of its growth.  Those were the days of the bubble, the technological start-ups were soaring.  And myself?  I felt worn out.  I found myself at a business conference in Southern California, at an incredible hotel, with a tropical swimming pool with a small island of trees in the middle, an astronomical entrance fee to the conference and all the “who’s who” of the high tech industry were there.  There was a band playing on a boat near the shore with fireworks shooting out from the middle of the boat.  The best minds of the high tech industry met in order to try to close deals, raise funds or make business partnerships.  But I just wanted to escape.  Indeed, in those years before I was connected to Judaism and to Rebbe Nachman, beside my deep involvement in the business world I searched for spiritual and internal meaning.  I felt a lack of harmony between what I was doing in my life in contrast to my desire to do good in the world, to add something with spiritual and inner meaning.  When I chose to establish the internet company it was like a snowball which began to roll: I had no idea where it would end up, but the snowball grew until suddenly I saw that the connection between what I really want in life and the form my life had taken was minimal.

I stood in front of the trees on the artificial island and thought to myself: what am I doing here?!  What’s my connection to everything that’s going on here?  What good will blossom from here, except for some more money for our investors?  I felt despair.  I felt that I’m simply wasting my time.  I wanted to do something good in the world and I found myself locked behind a mask of smiles with investors and in conversations whose goal was to convince business partners of things which I didn’t really believe in.

Suddenly it was clear to me.  I’m not supposed to be here.  I don’t have to be here.  I turned back towards the direction of the meeting and presentation room and on the way I met a Chabad Chassid who we were working with at that time.  He gave me a deep look with his eyes and asked: “So that’s it?  You’re leaving?”  “What?”  I asked him surprised, “How do you know?”  He smiled and that he saw it in my eyes.  The truth is, he said about himself, that after a long internal, spiritual journey he understood that he specifically needs to enter the world of business in order to support his family, but in me he sees that I’m on the way out.  It’s okay, he calmed me, it’s just important that I don’t ruin it for everyone and that I try not to cause a lot of damage in my leaving.

I decided that I’m not going to ruin it for our investors or for my partners- but I knew that I’m surely on the way out, or maybe it’s more correct to say: on the path inside, to a place which is more fitting for me, which I can connect to more and realize my talents; and I left.

This episode taught me again how much of a gap there was between what I was doing on the outside to what I truly felt inside myself.  Between the way of thinking which I was educated upon in Western society, of superficial success, and between the inner feeling of bitterness and emptiness which is impossible to fill even at a fancy cocktail party in Los Angeles.  Since then I encountered again and again this conflict between the external and the internal, in  places where I succeeded in connecting, and in all those places where I fell asleep, forgot and found myself suddenly disconnected from my inner aspirations while acting in a superficial and almost automatic way.

This mistaken way of thinking is impressed upon us so deeply, because we breathed this air since childhood.  It’s the version of our childhood, the way of thinking that is rooted within us, and it’s difficult to change such deeply held understandings.  Difficult, but possible!  Even a great mountain can be broken down, stone by stone.  Firstly, we need to understand what’s happening inside of us, what has taken root inside of us.  I need to understand that this feeling, that I’m not good enough, is connected to the need to compare myself to others and to the expectation of perfection and to the internal marathon to which we are enslaved.

I remember meeting a tailor in India.  I met him on a street whose stones were so hot that they had steam coming from them.  He was quick, very quick, and succeeded in sewing pants at a dizzying rate.  Maybe they were not perfect, but they were surely cheap.  He asked me what I do, and I explained to him that I work in computers.  He looked at me puzzled.  I tried to explain to him: computers, the devices which banks use and… “What does it do?”  He tried to understand.  “It helps make things faster… everything is faster with a computer, you can get more done.”  “Faster than me?”  He asked in wonderment, “they sew more than me?”  “Apparently not,” I admitted.

Esav tries to sell us the perspective that if we don’t have everything- we have nothing, however Rebbe Nachman teaches us the opposite!  If you’ll find a little good inside yourself, if you’ll connect to a bit of good- you’ll see that in the end you’ll have everything.  Because every bit of goodness has hidden inside it the connection to the eternal Good.  If we look at another person, we should do this not in order to compare, rather in order to learn from him a good point.  Not to copy him, not to be in competition with him- rather in order to receive “his point”, to learn from him, to be enriched by his spirituality, and of course, to give to him from our good point, if he so desires.

Despair comes from the attempt to be perfect, to live “the good life”, whereas the truth is step by step, to increase a bit of goodness.  The remedy for the despair of Esav, the attempt to make yourself be as good or as perfect as another person, as it were, is to refrain from making superficial comparisons to others, and only focus on finding within yourself a little bit of good.

Exercise:

The rat race: try to think about three people who are successful in your eyes.  What are their good attributes?  Do you feel a gap between their place and yours?  How would you feel if you understood that “that’s his deed and this is my deed?”  How would your life look if you succeeded in accepting where you are, of course by also receiving their good points, but with no feeling of internal competition or of having missed something?

What I need to do in the world is not connected to anyone else.  I don’t need to compare myself with anyone.

[1] Another name for Esav, the brother of Yaakov

[2]  Written by Rabbi Naftali Hertz Bachrach, lived in Germany in the 1600s

[3] Emek HaMelech, 16th Gate, Chapter 37

[4] Teachings by the Sages which discuss both the stories (Aggadah) and Jewish law in the Bible

[5] In Hebron

[6] עשו עשוי

[1] Another name for Esav, the brother of Yaakov

[2] The valley of the king

[3] Teachings by the Sages which discuss both the stories (Aggadah) and Jewish law in the Bible

[4] In Hebron

[5] עשו עשוי

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