Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Question & Answer With Rabbi Micha Golshevsky - Anava & Azamra

A Simple Jew asks:

Kitzur Likutey Moharan 79:5 states, "The essence of humility is when a person considers himself to be beneath his own true level and lower than he actually is."

How are we to understand this teaching in light of Rebbe Nachman's teaching of Azamra?

Rabbi Micha Golshevsky answers:

Before explaining this statement in light of Azamra, we must first understand it. The Chovos Halevavos writes that one who feels humility like an animal is on no great level. To the contrary; true humility means that one sees his strengths and uses them properly.

Rebbe Nachman writes the same thing but he adds that it is very hard to come to true humility. Ga'avah can come in many ways and who is to say that one has truly attained humility? This could just be his swollen ego feeding him false information.

Yet, many have difficulty understanding how someone truly great and who knows his greatness can possibly feel smaller than his level? Isn't this an inherent contradiction to true humility which is quite hard enough to attain on its own?

I always illustrate this point with a favorite story. As is well known, Rebbe Akiva Eiger was the paradigm of humility. There are many truly astounding stories in this regard. Once some yeshivah bochurim apporoached Rav Shach to explain one such story.

When Rebbe Akiva Eiger came to a certain city, crowds of Jews came out to meet one of the foremost halachic authority of the nation.

The moment he noticed this kingly honor, he was heard to say, "Why are all these people coming out to greet me? The people of this city have never seen a hunchback before?"

The students asked Rav Shach what this could possibly mean. After all, as the Chovos Haelvavos states, true humility entails knowing ones greatness; how could Rebbe Akiva Eiger fail to understand that these people had come to greet him because of his great stature as a posek and tzaddik? Although clearly the respected sage had not been disingenuous yet how could he have missed what was obvious to any five year old?

Rav Shach explained, "You do not understand humility. Humility is not so much what you know since everyone knows how reprehensible it is to be arrogant. Humility is how you feel about yourself. If a person truly knows his own strengths yet feels that what he has is truly from Hashem and that he has not done nearly as much as he was able, then he will immediately dismiss any inappropriate showing of honor with any excuse. He understood why they were greeting him but brushed it off since he truly felt that this was completely inappropriate since it and undeserved."

The insidiousness of arrogance is so powerful that we must work very hard to fight as much as we can.

This is one reason why Rebbe Nachman exhorted us to always be fresh. "One is not allowed to be old. Not even an old chossid or an old tzaddik. One must always be new."

In the words of Rav Nosson, we must strive to feel like a little child who is just learning in cheider "Kamatz aleph aw" for the first time."

I was very gratified to find this significance of such an attitude that one is just starting out in Rav Wolbe's writings as well. He explains that one must learn the art of "hislamdus". This means that he feels as though he has not truly davened or learned as it should be done but is "learning how." Rav Wolbe writes that in this way he will be able to avoid arrogance.

He says a truly stunning thing which I have never seen from a Ba'al Mussar: "If you do not manage to acquire this trait do not bother learning Mussar since whatever you do will just bring to more and more ga'avah."

This echoes the Gra and the Beis Avrahom of Slonim who writes that ga'avah is the worst sin. This is not the venue to explain the Gra's deep reasoning behind this but the Beis Avraham says a much simpler reason. "One who does any other sin will be drawn to do teshuvah by learning Torah or davening; the higher their level, the more likely they are to do teshuvah. Conversely, one who has a ga'avah problem gets a worse problem the more they grow in Torah and tefilah!" This aspect of hislamdus is even if one is truly able to learn or daven compared to his peers. He knows that he yet lacks and continues to work on yiras Shamayim to fill the lack.

I think it is clear that this is in no way a setira to Azamra. Azamra entails truly seeing the good. Anava is when one also knows he has so far to go. On the contrary. When one is not in a happy joyous mood, he is not in a state of anava by definition since Rebbe Nachman teaches that simcha brings to anava and anava brings to simcha.

Hashem should help us attain true hichadshus and hislamdus and serve Him with anava and joy!


At April 22, 2009 at 9:38:00 AM EDT, Anonymous emunatidbits said...

Thank you for the explanation, I really enjoyed it.
I think that the trouble people have in understanding this issue, is based on the Western mentality of arrogance that a person has to be the greatest in order to feel good.

At April 22, 2009 at 12:25:00 PM EDT, Blogger aaron.nanach said...


Question: Rebbe Nachman z'l says in Azamra that one ought to judge every person to the side of merit... does this apply to non Jews as well, or only to Jews? Please justify your answer, thanks.

At April 22, 2009 at 12:29:00 PM EDT, Blogger Anarchist Chossid said...

So, the reason you shouldn’t have ga’avah is because you haven’t reached your true potential, and there is still room to grow?

There is also a point where you realize that you’re but an aspect of Hashem at best and a tool in His hands at worst. Once you think about Hashem, you stop thinking about yourself (except as a way to be a better servant of Hashem).

At April 22, 2009 at 12:40:00 PM EDT, Blogger Shmerl said...

So, the reason you shouldn’t have ga’avah is because you haven’t reached your true potential, and there is still room to grow?This is still to some degree self centered and therefore is not a true anovo. What you said in the second part is more to the point:

you realize that you’re but an aspect of Hashem at best and a tool in His hands at worst. Once you think about Hashem, you stop thinking about yourselfThere is a wealth of Chasidic sources about this issue. Choyze miLublin for example often said that he is not a tzaddik (and held that if person perceives himself as a tzaddik this is already wrong).

There are several stories with the famous Rav of Lublin ("Ayzener Kop") who was a misnaged and the Choyze about this issue. The Rav once said, that if Choyze holds himself to be not a tzaddik, let him announce it in public so people would stop coming to him.

Choyze did so, and next time even more people came.

In reality though, how does it fit with the issue of emes? I think what Rebbe says, that it's hard to estimate one's level anyway, and it's better to underestimate (and have more desire to come closer to Hashem), than to overestimate and fall into the trap of gayvo.

At April 22, 2009 at 12:48:00 PM EDT, Blogger Anarchist Chossid said...

Then how do you explain Rashbi’s statement (“If there only two people on Earth know Torah, it’s my son and I, and if only one person knows Torah, it’s I”)?

(Obviously, not everyone — even the tzaddikim — is on the level of Rashbi.)

At April 22, 2009 at 1:02:00 PM EDT, Blogger Shmerl said...

The Rebbe said many things about himself, which describe his own levels. I guess there is a point when the tzaddik becomes totally beyond any essence of gayvo.

There was some interesting story about Reb Menachem Mendel Vitebsker ztz"l coming to Baal haToldoys wearing silver shoelaces. (I don't remember it exactly, may be someone can correct me). When Toldoys'es talmid noted that's its too arrogant, Toldoys answered that something like: "This yungerman is totally beyond any gayvo and he is hiding it wearing sliver shoelaces".

At April 22, 2009 at 2:17:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

A related posting on Rebbe Nachman's "self praise" can be found here.

At April 22, 2009 at 4:23:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Micha Golshevsky said...

emunahtidbits: My pleasure! Hm, you may be correct. Aaron: excellent question. Please see the notes to the first tefilah in the sason v'simcha prayer.
Crawling Axe wrote: "So, the reason you shouldn’t have ga’avah is because you haven’t reached your true potential, and there is still room to grow?"
Certainly not.
Thank you for catching that! I can't believe I forgot to write such an essential element.
Rebbe Nachman-- and Rav Aharon Kotler in Mishnah Rabi Aharon-- says that true anavah means that one appreciates that everything he has is truly from Hashem.
The truth is that this is explained in the Ramban in Chumash. When Hashem asks Hashem to redeem the Jewish people, Moshe replies, "Shlach na b'yad tishlach." This seems to mean, "Send whom ever," and vaious Rishonim explain and qualify this statement. The Ramban brings these opinions but explains that Moshe meant k'peshuto. Moshe was saying: Since everything I have is from You Hashem why not just give it to anybody else and that person will redeem the Jewish people.
But that is a very high level indeed and one who has it can easily feel that he is the greatest. Of course at that instant he loses it. The safest way l'ma'aseh to come to an attitude of true humility is through focusing on how much I have to go while truly appreciating what I have. But the focus of "how far I have to go" should be that as a result of hislamdus, "kamatz aleph aw" etc, I make as many new starts as I can.
Hashem should help us praise Him and start anew with every breath!

At April 22, 2009 at 4:30:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Micha Golshevsky said...

Aaron: I mean the first tefilah of the Sa'ason v'simcha section of Kochvei Ohr.

At April 22, 2009 at 5:42:00 PM EDT, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Great post, especially because it deals with something I struggle with. I've also heard "hislamdus" being explained to constantly find something to learn of others.

At April 22, 2009 at 7:35:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Micha Golshevsky said...

Thank you. I struggle with these issues as well.
As a matter of fact the Ba'al Shem Tov said that someone who claims to have an absolutely infallible answer for ga'avah is definitely not on the level. The only genuine answer is to daven!

Rav Wolbe's starting point is learning from every person since the Bartenura explains that this shows that he is l'shem shamayim and is not learning only to get honor since what is the honor in learning from even very simple people.
But the main thrust is to become a person who is always learning from every man until every his action becomes an act of chinuch. Each day he is learning how to daven, how to learn etc. He writes that acquiring (even a minimum grasp of) this trait takes at least half a year and that one who attains this trait will not have ga'avah since he isn't really doing anything b'shleymus.
Hashem should save us from ga'avah through true simcha!

At April 22, 2009 at 10:22:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok,ok, wait. should i be happy about reading this article? or, should i be more humble, not thinking, that i actually have some understanding of what this is? if i think i understand some of this, i would lack anava, but then i would be possibly missing a simcha that i read a piece on 'a simple jew' and benefitted. ahh, i could say, bH, that i happenned to find this piece, read it, and it was helpful, yet i can tell that it's not easy to understand such things.

At April 22, 2009 at 11:11:00 PM EDT, Blogger Neil Harris said...

R Golshevsky, thanks for expanding on what R Wolbe says. The whole anivus/self-worth issue seems to involve a little mussar and chassidus in the recipe.

At April 23, 2009 at 12:30:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Micha Golshevsky said...

Anonymous: Through sophistication, anything can be made complex...
Hashem should help us attain true simcha and humility!

At April 23, 2009 at 12:41:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Micha Golshevsky said...

Neil: B'simcha rabah!
I believe that you are correct, but like with any spiritual achievement, the main recipe for success is doing what we can with simplicity and joy.
One person may focus more on the mussar mehalech, while another may relate more to path of chasidus. As always, they overlap and compliment each other.
To quote Rav Wolbe, "All true ovdei Hashem are very close to one another regardless of their personal shittah."

At April 23, 2009 at 4:56:00 AM EDT, Anonymous avakesh said...

...never seen from other Baalei Mussar. "If you do not manage to acquire this trait do not bother learning Mussar since whatever you do will just bring to more and more ga'avah."

In the beginning of Ohr Yisroel he says that without tikkun hamiddos Mussar will only give a person tools to understand and manipulate others.

At April 23, 2009 at 6:31:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Micha Golshevsky said...

Avakesh: But that is hardly equivalent to saying not to bother learning mussar. Rav Yisrael is very clear that everyone must learn mussar since it is the only way (in his opinion) that one can overcome the yetzer. For example, see Ohr Yisrael, (the beginning of letter #3) where he writes that although there are certain people who are not obligated to learn Torah, no one is discharged from mussar. His exact language is: "achas lo ne'edar."
sounds pretty conclusive to me.
Now the Chazon Ish (in Emunah V'bitachon) is an entirely different story. But he is not exactly in the mussar camp...
Most would say that he argues on Rav Yisrael.
It is eminently clear that he disputes the Chayay Adam and (presumably the) Mishnah Berurah who pasken that one should learn Musssar even if he will not do mishnayos since according to their mehalech, it is the most important limud.

At April 23, 2009 at 12:23:00 PM EDT, Blogger aaron.nanach said...

Aaron: I mean the first tefilah of the Sa'ason v'simcha section of Kochvei Ohr.

Shalom Rabbi, I do not have this sefer, would it be possible for you to explain what it says there b'kitzur? Thanks

At April 23, 2009 at 5:18:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Micha Golshevsky said...

Aaron: Sorry about that. I was not willing to write a megillah to "justify myself" when the megillah is already written up. Instead I gave you a strong Breslov source.
So b'kitzur, it comes out from there that Azamra could theoretically apply to non Jews.
I once spent Shabbos in the same place as a certain talmid chacham who wished to dispute this. Sadly, although he holds of Rebbe Nachman in general, he really didn't care what it says in Rebbe Nachamn's name since he felt he had unanswerable proofs to the contrary. I explained to him that this conclusion emerges from a number of sources, including a careful reading of Lev Eliyahu at the end of Bereishis. He learned through it and tried very hard to avoid this conclusion but was eventually convinced. An additional advantage of the Lev Eliyahu is that he clearly explains all the seemingly contradictory sources.
This is also clear from the Ramchal and the Zohar Hakadosh.
But I would like to conclude with two points to ponder.
First a brief section from the Tomer Devorah: Just as Hashem sustains us all, each person should be a father to all His creations but the ikkur, main thing should be Yisrael since they have the holiest neshamos.
Similarly, while azamra can be applied to a non Jew as well, it should most often be used while we focus on Jews.
Second point: The dan l'chaf zechus Rebbe Nachman is discussing refers to the entirety of the person not his motives in a particular situation\action.

At April 24, 2009 at 4:54:00 AM EDT, Anonymous yehudis said...

The verse that is brought by the Rebbe in support of the idea of being below one's own level is "shvu ish tachtav"--"each person should [literally] sit beneath himself." On the level of pshat, this refers to not leaving the techum Shabbos. In the Rebbe's universe, this means that one should not rest on one's spiritual "place," but should instead, "sit beneath it."
Reb Nosson has a very beautiful lesson on this in Likutei Halachos, Hilchos Orlah, maybe 4 or 5, I don't have the sefer in front of me right now.
The only reason why I mention it is because this being in the least place is really very expansive, it is "little holding much," and fits very well with azamra. When a person doesn't "hold from himself," when he is small in that way, he is extremely appreciative of every good point, not only in himself but most especially in others. This is the foundation of shalom bayis, kibud horim u'morim, kavod ha'brios, and all avodas Hashem.
On this subject, Micha writes from the heart. I know, because as I believe Rav Naftoli Ropshitzer said, no one but the wife and the gabbai really know the man.

At June 9, 2014 at 2:16:00 PM EDT, Anonymous breslovwoman said...

Superb post. This question keeps coming up: How can you seek out the nikudos tovos and remain without gaava? I think that gaava is truly the flip side of self-denigration and a cover-up. All the self-loathing gets projected onto others (hence, the sharp skill with which arrogant-seeming individuals condemn others). I believe the Rebbe might, in part, begin Azamra with seeing the good in others to help us understand that if we can't see the good (sourced in Kedushas Yisroel) in others, we certainly are incapable of truly understanding the good in ourselves. It is perhaps easier to practice on others because when we first start to truly examine ourselves, such as in hisbodedus when it is required, it can feel cataclysmic. Be merciful, with others and yourself.


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