Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Question & Answer With Dixie Yid - The Epitome Of Selflessness?

(Picture courtesy of Dark Sun)

A Simple Jew asks:

There once was a man who was the epitome of selflessness. The needs of others were paramount in his eyes and his tremendous acts of kindness remain legendary to this day. As inspiring as he was, there was one tragic aspect to his personality. Perhaps he considered his wife and children as part of himself, however for reasons that we will never know, his selflessness did not extend to them. He was always caring for others and was not able to provide the attention that his wife expected. In the end, his selfless nature cost him his marriage.

This man was certainly on a level miles above me. As I have reflected on this man's life, I am reminded of a teaching I once saw from Rabbi Chaim Vital:

"When a person faces his judgment in Olam Haba, he is not evaluated according to how much he helped other people. He may be a tremendous activist, may be constantly running from one affair to another, may be constantly involved in one project or another, but his worth is measured according to how he behaved with his wife and children. The way a person acts with his family reflects who he really is."

As with all great men, had this man devoted himself solely to his family he would not have been able to leave behind the world with all the precious gifts that he left behind. However, based on this teaching from Rabbi Chaim Vital, in your opinion should this man have followed a different path and devoted himself to his family instead?

Dixie Yid answers:

He certainly should have! I am in no position to disagree with Rav Chaim Vital regardless, but it certainly seems that he went overboard. There's a difficult tension for those people who want to work for Klal Yisroel; between that work and their personal obligations, and not everyone makes the right choice. At a certain point, the children, and especially the wife, begin asking and begging the person to take some time for them, since they never see him. At some point, it becomes a compulsion and the husband/father cannot accommodate them.

I think the answer to your question is best expressed by MoChassid's rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, as quoted in a now-deleted posting on Foster parenting, "My rabbi said something I will never forget: "Just because you signed up to be tzaddikim (righteous people) doesn't mean your kids did. You can't turn them into 'karbanos' (sacrifices) because you want to do chasadim (good deeds)."

Curbing one's kiruv/chesed/Klal work in order to avoid damaging his children and his marriage is not only an issue of fulfilling one's obligations to his family. It is also an issue of fairness. It's just not fair to make one's wife and children suffer and sacrifice for a cause they never bought into (or at least not to an extreme degree).

Part of this mistake is due to a lack of perspective and Emunah. One feels, "If I don't do X, Y, and Z, they will not get done." As Mordechai said in Megilas Esther (4:14), "כִּי אִם-הַחֲרֵשׁ תַּחֲרִישִׁי, בָּעֵת הַזֹּאת--רֶוַח וְהַצָּלָה יַעֲמוֹד לַיְּהוּדִים מִמָּקוֹם אַחֵר." "If you remain silent at this time, salvation and rescue will be established for the Jewish people from another place." Taking a slightly different message from this truth, if a person remains silent and abstains from saving the world because he must do so for his own family, he must know that there is still a Master of the World. Hashem will take care of his people. It is the obligation of each person to do what Hashem wants him to do. It is not his obligation to do every chessed and save every soul that he can. "רֶוַח וְהַצָּלָה יַעֲמוֹד לַיְּהוּדִים מִמָּקוֹם אַחֵר."

The truth of this approach can be seen from the story of Moshe, Tzipporah and the snake. I heard a vort many years ago by Rabbi Benjamin Blech on the psukim in Shmos 4:24-25: " וַיְהִי בַדֶּרֶךְ, בַּמָּלוֹן; וַיִּפְגְּשֵׁהוּ יְהוָה, וַיְבַקֵּשׁ הֲמִיתוֹ. כה וַתִּקַּח צִפֹּרָה צֹר, וַתִּכְרֹת אֶת-עָרְלַת בְּנָהּ, וַתַּגַּע, לְרַגְלָיו; וַתֹּאמֶר, כִּי חֲתַן-דָּמִים אַתָּה לִי." Moshe was on the way from Midyan to Mitzraim to save the Jewish people. He was in such a hurry to do so, that he did not give his son a bris mila (since traveling would have been prohibited afterwards, for health reasons). Hashem wanted to teach Moshe Rabbeinu that it is not right to sacrifice the basic needs of his family, even for something as great as (literally) saving the Jewish people. Therefore, he sent a snake to kill him. In this situation, it was his wife Tzipporah, who knew what to do and circumcised their son herself, thus saving Moshe Rabbeinu's life.

There is a Community Kollel and kiruv organization nationwide moderated e-support group for the wives of these Klal workers. It is very difficult for them. Many chose the challenge and accepted the sacrifice, though they still needed the support to help get through the difficult times. A few others felt that they didn't really have a choice in the lifestyle and resented it. They all need and use the support group to get through it.

At the end of the day, whether it's work for the Shul, Chessed, Kiruv or, kal va'chomer, a secular job, one must learn the ability to say "No, I'm sorry I can't do it.," sometimes. Without the ability to do this, despite the difficulty, a person puts his marriage and his children in danger. If one "makes" several Baalei Teshuva, but his own children go off the derech, it is a net loss, and it is not the ratzon Hashem.

May Hashem strengthen us to sacrifice and give to Him and His people, without sacrificing our families!


At June 20, 2007 at 6:17:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

A quote related to this topic by George Bernard Shaw:

"A true artist will let his wife starve, his children go barefoot, his mother drudge for his living at seventy, sooner than work at anything but his art."

Reading this, I can't help think that his family was not too fond of him...

At June 20, 2007 at 9:04:00 AM EDT, Blogger yitz said...


1. where'd you come across that drasha on רוח והצלה ? i heard it in ~2000 @ yeshivat haKotel -- but I've never seen it inside in any source.. so I was curious to know who it's quoting..


on a separate note, it's really hard to know to judge someone like that..

remember that someone who is not married is not considered 'Adam', 'Man' and there is a mitzwah to be married, and being single is a p'gam (Zohar about Nadav V'Avihu) so there's no way for someone to forego being married for the benefit of the klal without violating some basic and important laws..

we also don't know about the previous gilgulim of anyone involved.. and know of cases where the wives of tzaddikim died, perhaps to free them up from the responsibility of having to take care of their family..

there are also many occasions of tzaddikim whose wives try to protect them from the wear and tear of serving the public rather than for their own 'personal' benefit..

I don't think it is such a clear-cut case that we could ever judge someone based on their apparent behavior with their family---even when it leads to a ruined marriage.

Perhaps that is why HaShem judges us in shamayim about this (vis a vis the R' Hayyim Vital quote) because the matter is too hidden from us for us to judge it down here in this world.

certainly someone should know that there will be an accounting for their treatment of their family, and the true level of what it means to take care of and provide for one's family (materially, emotionally, and spiritually) but, we can't judge others..

At June 20, 2007 at 9:29:00 AM EDT, Blogger DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...


the knaitch in "Revach V'hatzala" as it applies to this topic was my own, actually. (Unless I once heard it remembered the vort without remembering that I'd heard it from someone else...) It's nice to hear that someone at Hakotel taught the same thing and that it has truth to it.

-Dixie Yid

At June 20, 2007 at 10:36:00 AM EDT, Blogger yitz said...

@Dixie Yid

When I first heard that teaching on רוח והצלה it really affected me and I've passed it on to many many people---it gets people out of the altruistic mode and into a more productive kol haOlam lo nivra ela bishvili mentality.. (in the positive sense that the only one who loses out when you don't do mitzwoth (chas v shalom) is yourself)

At June 20, 2007 at 12:08:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget that there're exceptions to the rule. While in general what you said is true, there're some very exceptional people to whom these rules may not apply the same way they apply to us. If you're talking about Reb Shlomo zt'l he's one of them.
Also in the story of Moshe Rabeinu and the snake, the problem wasn't that he ignored the basic needs of his family. We see this with Moshe Rabeinu himself when he separated from his wife for the sake of klal yisroel! Ester Hamalka and Yael also sacrificed their family life for klal yisroel. One has to know his level of course.
Many rabbis will often twist the true meaning in order to make it more politically correct for their audience... Oy vey...

At June 20, 2007 at 12:31:00 PM EDT, Blogger DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

True, that is especially evident by Moshe Rebbeinu who, later on, was poreish from his wife competely so he could always be ready for nevuah. The pshat on the story with the snake might be a bit drushy, but it does bring out a true lesson for most of us regular people which is very important for us. Most of us aren't R' Shlomo Carlebachs or Moshe Rebbeinus (even if we sometimes think we are...). Yashar koach on the he'orah.

-Dixie Yid

At June 20, 2007 at 2:11:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where to draw the line between duties to the Klal and duties to one's family is not always clear. As with everything, it depends on the person and the situation. Great Tzaddikim have made decisions for themselves in this regard that they have not necessarily wished others on another level to copy. In some cases, they became aware of a mandate from HaShem to act in a certain way. Moshe Rabbeinu's separation from his wife because of his unique prophetic role is a documented example of this, as noted above.

Those who manage kiruv operations, kollelim, etc., need to advise each of their people appropriately to prevent problems like burnout and deterioration of family life.

At June 20, 2007 at 3:09:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a loaded topic and there are many sides to it… we could probably discuss it for a lifetime.

A couple things:

Regarding Moshe Rabbeinu – it was assumed by none other than Moshe’s sister Miriam that Moshe was wrong for separating from his wife. As it turned out, she was incorrect and Moshe was an exception – but that doesn’t mean that others should follow the exception, rather, that perhaps the lesson is just the opposite: We should follow the rule. Most probably, it is only in very extreme and unusual cases that anyone should follow Moshe’s example here.

The Gemora tells a story (I can’t remember where off hand) of a great sage that would learn in Beis Medrash all year without coming home or seeing his wife. He would come home one day a year (I don’t remember what day it was – maybe someone else does?) and he would go back to learn the following day. It so happened that one year, he was so involved in his studies that he forgot to go home.

His wife waited all year for that day. She dressed in her best clothing. She prepared food and organized the house. All day she waited by the door. When night came, he realized that he had missed his day to go home, and unfortunately it was too late – he would go next year.

His wife sighed as the sun set. She saw that it wasn’t going to happen this year – and we can imagine how sad she must have felt. Without question, she supported the lifestyle that they lived, but she was certainly sad that she wouldn’t see her husband that year. Sadly though, his neglect of this responsibility wasn’t taken lightly in Heaven, and he passed away as a result.

So we see that there is a balance here: on the one hand, he spent all his time away anyhow – which we could view as pretty neglectful in the first place – yet, since his wife supported this, and indeed wanted him to spend his time there, it actually wasn’t. Nevertheless, that one day a year was significant – she didn’t want to be neglected on that day, and as a result he was considered too careless.

It is quite important that people put their families first – and how that is done differs in each situation – their needs are no less important, indeed they are more important, than any other worthy cause.

But we do clearly see a common phenomenon: many of the greatest people who had a real impact had no children. In modern times we can look at Sarah Schnerer, the Beis Yisroel of Ger, R’ Aharon of Belz , the Satmar rov or the Lubavicther Rebbe, to name a few, and notice that all of them were childless, and they were leading figures shaping the face of Yiddishkeit. I know that there were leaders that did have children as well, and I haven’t got the statistics, but I recall a great man once remarked that truly great people cannot be great f they have children – and I suspect that the numbers will bear that out. I would bet that people who had a significant impact were predominantly childless or bad parents (just ask Einstein’s kids).

At June 20, 2007 at 3:33:00 PM EDT, Blogger DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

Thank you for that. You probably meant this, but it could be that Hashem saw to it that those great people had no children because of their greatness, and not that they were great because they had no children. Your comment could have been a post on its own!

-Dixie Yid

At June 20, 2007 at 6:19:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think it also means that one must take care of oneself too. tending to one's health and one's family is the main thing. i don't like it when i hear about people who negelect their families or themselves to "save the world".

"take extremely good care of your soul"...means just what it says.

At June 20, 2007 at 11:15:00 PM EDT, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Great question and answer.


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