Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Question & Answer With Mottel - Good Bad Examples

(Picture by D. Shay)

A Simple Jew asks:

Often when confronted with something to her dislike, my mom will remark, "It was a good bad example". A "good bad example" is an occurrence that provides the one witnessing it with a good lesson of what not to do in a similar situation. Learning from a "good bad example" is thus essentially following the directive of Pirkei Avos 4:1 to learn from all people.

On occasion, we witness examples of another person's avodas Hashem that we seek to emulate, and at other times we witness a person's avodas Hashem that clearly provides guidance on how not to proceed. Can you think of a "good bad example" that you have recently encountered and the lesson you derived from it?

Mottel of Letters of Thought answers:

Throughout the course of our lives we come in contact with many people; from those that we meet in passing to friends and family who spend considerable time with us - each plays a part as a thread in the tapestry of our lives.

We are instructed to take a lesson from all things that we see... The unending grind of life with its ins and outs, the undulating current of the sea as it sends the water crashing to the shore - only to pull it back once more to its source, the jet stream of the winds as they pass through the endlessly bleak deserts, jagged cliffs and vibrant forests, the crawling of the ant as it pushes a grain of sand up a hill, the path of flight that a single leaf takes as it floats down from its former abode on high in a tree to its new one on the forest floor - all of these are hashgacha Protis.

Everything that we experience then, seem it good or not, contains a powerful lesson for us to take to heart in the improvement of our character and our service of Hashem.

Looking up to a tzaddik, a righteous person, or anyone else who has reached some level of greater sanctity is relatively easy - though not everything we see can we attain, the positive message he relates is clear. What then can we take from someone who seems so negative, and whose actions so far from exemplary?

A certain Jew in Los Angeles used to tell all he met that we should turn away from evil - from him... "Don't be like me!" he would chide. Though the character of this poshut'er Yid, raised in the old school of Chassidic tradition, was far greater then he made it, the truth of his words remains... We must learn not to copy the negative things we see in others.

In reality, though, the lesson is a much deeper. The Alter Rebbe writes in Tanya (Chapter 30, as explained in Lessons in Tanya) :

One who suffers from timtum halev must also set his heart to fulfill the instruction of our Sages: "Be lowly of spirit before every man."

The wording implies: "Be thus," and do not merely act thus, in all sincerity,in the presence of every man, even in the presence of the most worthless of worthless men (kal shebekalim). This can be accomplished by following the instruction of our Sages: "Judge not your fellow man until you have stood i.e., placed yourself in his place."

For it is literally his "place" i.e., his physical environment that causes him to sin, since his livelihood requires him to go about the market-place all day, and whenever he is not thus engaged he is of those who sit at the street-corners. Thus his eyes see all sorts of temptation; and "'what the eyes see, the heart desires."

Additionally it may be his spiritual "place", the nature of his evil impulse, that leads him to sin: his evil nature burns like a baker's fiery oven . . . It is different, however, with him who goes about but little in the market-place, and most of the day he is at home rather than at the street-corners, and he therefore encounters less temptation.

Even if he does go about the market-place all day, so that his physical "place" is the same as that of the kal shebekalim, yet it may be that his spiritual "place" is different, in that he is not so passionate by nature, and is therefore not as greatly tempted by the sights of the market-place.

For the evil impulse is not the same in everyone. One person's nature may be more passionate, and the other's less so, as explained elsewhere.

Therefore, every man ought to weigh and examine his own position, according to the standards of his place and rank in divine service . . .as to whether he serves G‑d in a situation requiring a comparable struggle in a manner commensurate with the dimensions of such a fierce battle and test as the kal shebekalim faces.

For even the most dispassionate and cloistered of men must often engage in battle with his evil inclination, both in the area of"doing good" and in that of "turning away from evil,"

Anyone who has not attained this standard of waging such a strenuous war against his body, waged daily within the kal shebekalim against the evil nature which burns like a fiery flame, so that it (this powerful evil impulse) be humbled and broken through the fear of G‑d has not yet measured up to the quality and dimension of the war.

Thus the actions of another ought not to remain 'merely' a 'simple' lesson in what not to do, but rather be taken as the impetus to clime great heights in one's own service of the Creator.

What is more, the Ba'al Shem Tov taught that all negative traits that we see in others, are in truth found in us - perhaps on a more minute level, but there none the less.

Thus what we see in those we encounter, those "good bad examples" that we meet, we are not only given a chance to learn a lesson, to inspire us or guard us from transgression, but are also offered a mirror into our souls - a chance to fix those blemishes of which we are unaware. It is related how the Rebbeim at times would even have to look into their own spiritual service to find the flaw that they wished to help fix in others.

Thus, as I see it, what we learn is threefold

1. A simple, moral lesson on how not to act.
2. The impetus to grow in our spiritual service of Hashem.
3. A chance to look deeper into ourselves.

I put a lot of thought into a 'good' good bad example... and in the end felt that the best example that I could bring was one that was in fact in me - so that others may take heed and grow:

There was a period of time that I was not very happy with where I was in life (literally)... Those who have followed my blogging for an extended period of time may know of what I speak. I was not happy with how the program I was in was run, and I often clashed with those in charge (Though I remained respectful the entire time, the difference of opinions was felt). Ultimately I left. Upset as to why I had been in a place that felt to be so not inline with my desires - my good desires - I would often wonder why life had taken the course it did

Now however, as time has passed (and dare I say, I have grown older?) I can look back in retrospect and see the hand of Hashem in my life. Skills that I gained, people that I met, and connections that were forged. Had I not been where I was, none of this would have been gained.

The 'bad' of this all: My failure to accept what was going on around me, to some degree, and not to be caught up in complaints about the present, left me upset. Though now time has healed all 'wounds', I would have been much happier then had I accepted the workings of Above. What will be, will be, the only thing in our control is make the ride as smooth as possible - why spoil it with unfounded doubts?

It is my hope then, that through being a "good bad" example to others, they will be able to grow - to experience joy in all situations, and become better as I myself have tried.


At May 14, 2008 at 7:21:00 AM EDT, Blogger Alice said...

These are excellent thoughts with which to start my day. Thank you.

At May 14, 2008 at 9:16:00 PM EDT, Blogger Mottel said...

It's interesting to note, that today (9 Iyar's) Hayom Yom is:
Our teacher the Baal Shem Tov said: "Every single thing one sees or hears is an instruction for his conduct in the service of G-d. This is the idea of avoda, service, to comprehend and discern in all things a way in which to serve G-d."


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