Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Inside A Fortune Cookie

A Simple Jew queried:

A few months ago I ate at a local kosher Chinese restaurant. At the end of the meal, the waiter brought me a fortune cookie that contained this saying inside, "Discontent is the first necessity of progress."

Reflecting upon the fortune cookie's message, it struck me that this sounded a lot like the Alter Rebbe's teaching in Chapter 31 of Tanya about the difference between the destructiveness of atzvus (depression) and the potential benefits of merirus (bitterness).

Could you please explain what the application of this teaching from Tanya is to us in our generation?

Akiva from Mystical Paths responded:

A Simple Jew reveals himself to be anything but. He follows the Baal Shem Tov's aphorism to look for lessons of Torah and see Hashem in everything. Hashaga Pratis (divine orchestration) in a fortune cookie? Absolutely, for those who are looking for it.

The question appears rather straightforward as secular society goes on at length about the dangers of depression, such that a whole division of the medical profession and drugs have been created to 'treat' it. But looking in to the Tanya reveals a completely different depth and perspective on this question.

Chassidus teaches that Torah and mitzvot need to be performed with joy. To quote the Baal HaTanya, quoting from the Talmud Shabbos 30b, 'The Shechina (Divine Presence) abides only in joy...as is the case also in the study of Torah.' Great emphasis is placed on approaching Torah and mitzvot as a privilege and pleasure, not, G-d forbid, a burden.

Yet we are also instructed to spend some time in self reflection. What is our state, what is our lot? How far are we from what we could be? When doing so, it's quite normal to come to a state that's the opposite of joy.

The Tanya teaches us, that's ok if directed correctly. Further, not only is it ok it can be absolutely necessary. For while great levels can be reached with Chesed, the attributes and sefirah of kindness, some heights, or rather, some depths, some drives, can only be counteracted and raised upwards through Gevurah, the attributes and sefirah of strictness / severity.

This is the path of bitterness. By becoming bitter with our situation, how far we have fallen from where we should be, how distant we are from our Father in heaven compared to where we could be, it drives us to strive harder, to push farther, to reach where otherwise we wouldn't. It pushes us to focus on what's important, our connection with the divine, and push away from what's not, the gross needs of the body and the physical pleasures of this world. It doesn't elevate the body or it's natural life force (and the Tanya teaches that only the tzaddikim, the righteous saints, can reach the point of really doing so), but rather brings us to constrain it and provide pure focus on our connection with G-d, our nefesh elokus, which is the best that the benoni (the intermediate man) can achieve.

10 Comments:

At February 1, 2006 at 6:41:00 AM EST, Anonymous Aviel said...

"which is the best that the benoni (the intermediate man) can achieve."

Rebbe Nachman is teaching that anyone can reach the highest levels. Anyone can be at the level of the highest tzadikim.

 
At February 1, 2006 at 10:18:00 AM EST, Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Interestingly, there was an article in the Atlantic Monthly about how Lincoln's depression was instrumental in his ability to rise to greatness.

 
At February 1, 2006 at 10:21:00 AM EST, Blogger Jewish Blogmeister said...

I guess some chinese guys were learning with the alter rebbe?

 
At February 1, 2006 at 10:52:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

E-Kvetcher: Thanks for the link.

Jewish Blogmeister: That is the conclusion I came to ;)

 
At February 1, 2006 at 12:23:00 PM EST, Blogger Akiva said...

A Simple quotes from Tanya, the Book of the Intermediates, and I respond from such. The benoni conquers his yetzer hara, such that the yetzer is never given any expression in the garments of the body, neither thought, speech, or action. In other words, the benoni never sins.

Yet, he has not destroyed the yetzer, coverting it to good and using it's energy towards Torah and mitzvot. He's still battling, every day, to keep the foe under control. If he succeeds and jumps to the next level, and jump is the term as it requires heavenly assistance, then he's a tzadik.

Now, as much as I think of myself and my fellow yidden and blog readers, I find it extremely doubtful that there's anyone reading who has conquered his evil inclination to the point that it is never given any expression in thought, speech or action, in other words someone who doesn't sin even to the point, as stated in Tanya, of not missing even a single free moment to give to Torah study, isn't your statement a little theoretical?

In the U.S. we say anyone could be president, yet very few ever make it even to a seat in Congress, much less the presidency. What's the source that says, "Hashem saw the tzadikkim were few, so he scattered them through the generations"?

Personally, I just aspire to, G-d willing, do less avayrot today.

 
At February 1, 2006 at 4:21:00 PM EST, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

Merirus can be a great catalyst to improving ourselves, but it carries the risk of its closeness to atzvus (depression), with is the height of counter-productivity. For that reason, merirus is generally not encouraged as the best path to take on a regular basis. Rather, it is best used only at the right time and with the right dosage... like sharp spices, how much and where they are placed makes all the difference.

It is important to point out that the Alter Rebbe's language and terms (Tzaddik , Beinoni, Rasha) are pretty much unique to Chabad. So, if one sees the terms used elsewhere they should not immediately infer the same definitions.

 
At February 2, 2006 at 3:52:00 AM EST, Blogger MC Aryeh said...

ASJ, the line you quote from Rav Shneur Zalman really speaks to me. I would like that to appear in my fortune cookie...

 
At February 2, 2006 at 6:24:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

MCAryeh: Do you mean the quote in the posting below?

 
At February 2, 2006 at 6:44:00 AM EST, Blogger MC Aryeh said...

Yes. Is it from Tanya?

 
At February 2, 2006 at 6:51:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

I am not 100% sure.

 

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