Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Question & Answer With Chabakuk Elisha - Yerida L'Tzorich Aliya

(Necklace by Michael Bromberg)

A Simple Jew asks:

I once heard a mashul about a man who forgot the date of his wife's anniversary. When the day of the anniversary came and went, the wife broke down crying and was extremely distraught because her husband had not marked their special day in any special way; he had simply forgotten her. Finding his wife in tears, the husband was devastated when he realized that he had caused his wife so much pain. He recalled that just that day he had learned a teaching in the Shulchan Aruch that said, "A person must be particularly careful not to hurt his wife's feelings and not to cause her pain with harsh words, for a woman is sensitive by nature and even a slight hurt will bring tears to her eyes. And G-d, blessed be He, pays heed to tears, for the gates of tears are never closed." The husband knew that he had failed miserably.

The husband resolved at that very moment that he would never again take his wife for granted and forget his anniversary. From that day onward, he became the attentive and caring husband that she had always dreamed of and remained completely true to the resolution he made. The wife later told him that she regarded the day that he forgot their anniversary as the most important day in their marriage, for it was that day which was the turning point in their lives together.

I think this mashul is an excellent illustration of the concept of yerida l'tzorich aliya (descent for the purpose of ascent). Sometimes the realization that we have failed miserably becomes the fuel that propels us to new heights.

Can you think of an example from your life whereby a fall propelled you to climb even higher?

Chabakuk Elisha answers:

I am sure there are many; so many that we barely notice them! When describing the concept of yerida l'tzorich aliya there are many examples used: such as climbing stairs or booster rockets (pushing downward propels us forward), or another example used is a string – when a string breaks, we tie a not in it, which makes it stronger than it was before. In fact, the entire concept of Tshuva is based on this idea – that the aveira becomes a catalyst for vastly improved behavior – not unlike hitting rock-bottom can cause a person to turn their life around for the better. But, I think that the most inspiring element of yerida l'tzorich aliya is that it can help us get through moments where things can be pretty bleak.

This is a simple example, but here's another way to relate to the concept of yerida l'tzorich aliya:

When I was much younger I went on a trip for a simcha with my family. On the way we ran into some challenges that cars have been known to experience: a break down and a flat tire. I was miserable (and so was everyone else), but eventually it was all straightened out and we ultimately got to our designation a little late. I clearly remember that when we got there we told people the whole story, fully dramatized, with laughter and a smile on my face.

One individual asked me, "Isn't it odd? Why do we laugh and smile about something that was hardly funny or pleasant at the time? Shouldn't we become full of frustration, anger or misery when recalling the episode? Yet, usually, we even find it funny – although we certainly didn't feel that way when it was taking place!"

"Well," I said, "Why do you think that is?"

"Yerida L'tzorich Aliya," he answered.

At that moment I realized that the "yerida" – the challenges, the hardships, the struggles, the failures – is part of progress. And since progress gets us to the goal, the yeridos are all just part of the trip.

When I was a kid I helped out on a small farm for a summer. One of the things I learned was that unpumped water will flow upwards – over hills and valleys – as long as the end is lower than the start point (once the flow has been started). It fascinated me at the time – how can water go up against gravity?! But it was explained to me that the main thing is where it begins and ends, and that the flow will carry it to its destination since the gravity at the end is what pulls it through. It seems to me that this is the case in life: We travel a bumpy road. There are peaks and valleys. But if we end up better off than we started, they all become part of the destination; the yerida dip or struggle was just a step on the way to getting closer to the ultimate aliya – which is what it's all about.

They say that "getting there is half the fun," and I agree, but that's often only once we "get there" – because once we do, we can look back and the entire trip is seen as part of that goal. So, sure, we might call it a yerida when it happens, but technically that yerida is in fact one step closer to the next aliya. So, while in a yerida it certainly helps to see that its all part of the coming, greater, aliya.

Of course, the obvious question is, wouldn't it be better to skip the yeridos? What if we could have only aliyos all the time? Who needs to be a Baal Tshuva if we can just be Tzaddikim?

And, of course, this is one of the big questions of creation. Indeed, why create at all? Can perfection be improved on? Why bother with the yerida?

Well, I'm sure we've all heard the phrase "Cause it builds character." I guess it does.


At July 25, 2007 at 9:03:00 AM EDT, Blogger Alice said...

This is a super interesting topic.

At July 25, 2007 at 9:06:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Thank you, Alice. Do you have any insights on this topic that you would like to share?

At July 25, 2007 at 9:09:00 AM EDT, Blogger Alice said...

It seems like we are designed to need this. Those who are lucky enough to have parents/teachers/friends who let us in on this spiritual law of the universe are hopefully the ones who spring back.

Which means we should be helping other people to be 'booster rockets' not say... road kill. : )

At July 25, 2007 at 10:27:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the basic idea is that YL"A = opportunity. The bottom line is that it is a reason for perpetual optimism, through focusing on the future with a positive attitude. Right?

When I was in Yeshiva they used the moshul of a batter hitting a baseball: The pitch comes at him, he pulls back the bat (!), and with that is able to swing forward and propel the ball farther and faster than it came…

At July 25, 2007 at 8:28:00 PM EDT, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Great baseball moshul.

Chabakuk Elisha, do you think the currenct yeshiva/day school system teaches the concept of "Yerida L'tzorich Aliya"?

At July 26, 2007 at 6:59:00 AM EDT, Blogger yitz said...


Tzaddikim have yeridah l'tzorech aliyah as well .. just in the extreme best case, it's their yeridah ltzorech everyone else's aliyah.
(i posted re: this over here in short the Pri Ha'aretz (Menachem Mendel Vitebsker) explains that we have much more value to the world when we undergo yeridah because our (coming) aliyah can raise up the shechinah as well.)

One can think of a yeridah as in increase in potential energy. (like a taught spring) we're stretched as far from HaShem as we can get, and we're about to snap back.

At July 26, 2007 at 10:17:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I imagine that it's going to get less coverage in a day school than in more chassidic or yehivishe institution.

Most definitely - and thanks for the link!
This is a theme that gets discussed in many chassidishe sforim, but I like Pri Haaretz the best ;-)
The Maggid has a beatuful pshat, that is somewhat related, regarding the Ger that visited Hilel & Shamai and asked to be taught the entire Torah on one foot.

At July 26, 2007 at 10:48:00 AM EDT, Blogger Neil Harris said...

C E: I appreciate your answer. I heard (in person) from R Shaya Cohen (Priority 1) that one of the many factors that lead to out 'at-risk' crisis is that kids grow up thinking that their yiddishkeit is an all or nothing issue. Ex: If I don't put on tefillin today, why should I bother making a bracha when I drink a bottle of coke.

You post is a step towards a cure!

At July 27, 2007 at 10:13:00 AM EDT, Blogger yitz said...


i think the Pri Ha'aretz quotes that Torah in vayeshev, i didn't mention it, but it's one of the illustrations he brings down to explain the concept--i guess he got it from the maggid :)


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