Question & Answer With Rabbi Micha Golshevsky - Bizyonos
A Simple Jew asks:
There appears to be a dichotomy when it comes to the topic of bizyonos (insults/disgraces) in Jewish thought. We are taught that suffering bizyonos in silence helps a person attain his soul correction. On the other hand, our siddur contains a request that we not suffer from bizyonos - ולא ל'ד' בז'ון . We ask this of Hashem in the morning and again during Krias Shema al Hamita every single day.
Pirkei Avos 3:13 tells us that another person's displeasure with us is a sign that Hashem is also not pleased with us. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov expresses this idea with a bit stronger language, "If there are those who hate you here below, you can be sure that there are those who hate you On High as well."
In a sense, receiving bizyonos can be likened to a Heavenly pressure release valve which does not allow our aveiros to accumulate beyond a certain point. I can thus appreciate why we should attempt to view them with the proper perspective and not necessarily as a negative thing. Yet, they are still Hashem's sign that we are not doing what we should be; they are a sign that He is upset with us.
If they are ultimately good for us, why do we say ולא ל'ד' בז'ון ?
Rabbi Micha Golshevsky answers:
Actually Rebbe Nachman commented on that very line in davening. The line is let us not fall to a spiritual test or a embarrassment. Rebbe Nachman said, "Either a nisayon or an embarrassment." This is taken to mean, "Either one successfully stands up to a spiritual test or one receives a shaming."
Rav Nosson of Breslov taught that the main way to repent is by remaining silent despite embarrassment. He goes so far as to say that if one is not embarrassed one should feel terrible embarrassment of the bad he has done. This is indicated in the Gemara, "One who does a sin and is embarrassed by it is forgiven." The embarrassment leads to true regret and galvanizes one to really change. So it is possible to answer quite simply. We ask that we need not experience the embarrassment that comes from falling in a nisayon by not advancing spiritually. (Someone who is feels the shame himself will not have to experience a shaming from outside, while someone less sensitive to his own flaws will need a shaming from an external source.)
Embarrassment can bring even a person who tends to chase honor to the highest place, absolute anavah (then he starts pursuing Hashem instead of honor!) True humility is the key to all spiritual elevation. The more anavah, the higher one can ascend. Rav Chaim Vital brings down an amazing story in reference to the power of embarrassment to release one from all sorts of delusions of grandeur. There was a man who fasted most days and did many charitable deeds and married off many orphans but wished for honor. Not far from him were some Misbodedim, who had reached the level of nevuah. He asked their leader a question, "After all the good things I have done, why have I not achieved the towering spiritual heights you have attained. Why was I not worthy to your great levels?" Their leader replied, "Take a bag filled with nuts and figs and go to a street so that you are in front of the notables of the town and call the children to you. Tell them, 'Whoever wants to have a treat should give me a couple of slaps!' If you do this many times return to me." The man was horrified, "But sir, how can a respectable man like myself do such a thing?" It is possible that the man would not have had to really undergo such embarrassment. Perhaps being willing would have been enough. In any case, the man was so full of himself that he was literally chasing Hashem away but still didn't get it! To put it in the words of Rav Avraham Grodzensky, zt"l, "An arrogant man in essence wants to replace Hashem on the throne of dominion." Although this story is extreme, the problem is common to us all. As Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz put it, "Everyone knows that one of the seminal figures of deep learning is Rav Chaim Brisker, Yet when I walk through the Mirrer Yeshivah and hear the students say, 'Rav Chaim says…' something in the back of my mind tells me they are talking about me!" We all have that little voice telling us that we are better than another human being because…the list is literally endless. The truth is that we are no better than anyone else. We each have a unique job to do on this world and no else can do ours and we can't do anyone else's.
Bizyonos can shock one out of the worst character defects but of course they are no picnic. One who is embarrassed dies in a sense. As a matter of fact, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt"l, was very troubled since the exact rationale of the prohibition to violate the Shabbos to avoid embarrassing another is unclear. Why isn't this treated like saving one's life? Because of this fact sometimes embarrassment can lead to a great spiritual fall.
Once there was a man who went in the way of the students of the Baal Shem Tov. He would fast from Shabbos to Shabbos in order to come closer to Hashem. (Many students of the Baal Shem Tov did so as did Rebbe Nachman of Breslov but don't try this at home!) Once, during such a fast he was suddenly struck with a great hunger. He was literally about to collapse from malnourishment. The only food available was the community matzos left in shul to enable the community eiruv. He was caught consuming them and was terribly embarrassed. He became the laughing stock of the entire town. It's easy to imagine the jokes this poor man was the brunt of. In any event, he unfortunately could not withstand the embarrassment and left the Jewish faith altogether.
On a deeper level then, the reason why we request that we be spared embarrassment is because of the great pain and potential for difficulty embarrassment involves, despite its potential benefits.