B. S. D. Sunday night 10/27/96 and subsequent nights,
It was with a lump in my throat that I read your beautiful and inspirational letter. To quote your poetic words, "Your words have been a warm hug at lonely times." Believe it or not, I never know if and to whom my sichot touch, until I get feedback from the guys. I have not received too many. Consequently your chizuk to me is greatly appreciated, and gives me the impetus to continue trying to produce material for the Internet.
Especially now, that I have Boruch Hashem just began to recover from a blood infection, which had me laid up in the hospital for two weeks, your letter is a great medicine for me. I just received your letter tonight, which explains why I haven't responded till now.
Yes, I have said a few kapitalech Tehilim before I started this letter, and I only hope that this letter will help you as much and even more than my other letters on the Internet.
I want to start my response with an important lesson that my Rebbi taught me, that one should learn to get chizuk from every situation-even the most difficult-that one finds himself. I remember how he taught us, that no matter how low you go, you can always find some "silver lining" in the cloud. If you can't, then just realize, that the mere fact that it bothers you, and you want to be better, when other people in your situation, couldn't care less, this itself should be the biggest chizuk to you. Your letter which is permeated with your total sense of despair, lack of direction, and your thirst and yearning for the truth of Torah, should make you realize, that far from despair you should be greatly encouraged. The posuk says, " Hashem is close to the broken hearted; and those crushed in spirit, He saves. "(Psalm 34 Shabbos davening- L'Dovid, bshanoso. . . ). Every time you say this posuk in the Shabbos davening, realize that your beautiful moving letter entitles you to this special closeness and Siyata D'Shmaya from the Ribono Shel Olam. Of course, we can't know when this will be, whether immediately or a long time from now. One thing is clear, Hashem keeps his word. We have to learn to have patience. As my Rebbi said, one of the biggest problems that we Americans have is a lack of patience. The ongoing joke I once heard illustrates this point. They say that the typical American's prayer is, "L-rd , Give me patience, RIGHT NOW!" I hope, that in some small way, I can, with Hashem's help, be one of the conduits of bringing this posuk to fruition.
As I have done with my "Letter to an Alumnus", I will try to answer each point separately.
1) You write, "I HAVE MANY STRUGGLES IN LIFE THAT REALLY MAKE ME WONDER SOMETIMES WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT. IF HASHEM IS SO LOVING AND CARING, THEN WHY THE PAIN AND HARDSHIP?"
I want to answer this by first putting you at ease. You should know that you are not the only one who asked this question. It was none other than the Chofetz Chaim who also mentions this problem. In his sefer "Shem Olom" Shaar Shmiras Shabbos, (Chapter 3, in the footnotes) he basically asks, "If there is Divine Providence in this world, then why are there righteous people who are poor, and less righteous people who are rich?"
The Chofetz Chaim explains it with the following moshol-parable. A traveler spends shabbos in a foreign town. He observes the Gabai distributing the aliyos seemingly at random. He gives shilshi to a person sitting in the western part of the Shule, rviíii to a person in the corner, chamishi to a person sitting in the eastern part, etc. This visitor cannot understand the gabaiís logic and questions the gabaiís decisions. "Why didn't you shlishi to this person in the northern corner, isnít he more important? Rvíii should have gone someone else etc. The Gabai responds by saying "How dare you, a visitor from out of town, question my judgment? Had you been here last week you would have seen that I already gave the person sitting in the northern corner, an aliyah last week. If you wish to understand my order, you must be here an entire year and see how I distribute the aliyos. You cannot even attempt to understand my system by observing my act on only one Shabbos".
We are in a very similar situation, the Chofetz Chaim concludes. We are on this world for a very short stay and yet expect to understand G-D's perfect plan, which has begun long before our existence and will continue long after weíre gone! If we were around for many hundreds of years we might have seen how originally the fellow who is poor today, was rich in a previous gilgul-reincarnation. Unfortunately his wealth was then the cause of his spiritual downfall. In the present gilgul, Hashem is giving him a chance to do mitzvos as a poor person, maybe he'll do better. This will also atone for the sins which he did in his previous gilgul. [The Chofetz Chaim says (in the name of the Ari zt'l-Rav Yitzchok Luria), that nowadays almost all of the neshomos souls are gilgulim.] Since we are only here for a short stay, and we do not see the whole story, we cannot really expect to understand much of Hashemís system. We have no choice but to go with faith and belief that whatever Hashem does is for our best.
He also says that in general a person should not complain at all about suffering. The Midrash relates that Yitzchok Avinu upon realizing the severity of Midas Hadin - Divine Justice in the future, requested that Hashem afflict people in this world [to atone for our sins in an "easier" way]. Hashem replied that indeed suffering is a wonderful thing and therefore Yitzchak will be the first person to suffer. This is why Yitzchak became blind. Of course at this stage I refer you to the Jerry Lewis - Gam zu L'Tovah Sicha on the Internet, where this midrash is explained at length..
The Chofetz Chaim concludes that he heard from a trustworthy sage who heard directly from a certain Gaon Rav Yaccov Moshe who quoted his grandfather the Vilna Gaon, who said that without suffering we would not find our hands and feet in this world [we would not be able to exist]. This is beautifully illustrated in the following scenario of what happens after one dies and is brought to judgment.
The neshomo sees a balancing scale on which the mitzvos and aveiros are to placed. The Neshomoís fate will be decided by whichever one outweighs the other. A voice rings out that all his merits should gather to this scale and they come and ascend the right side of the scale. Then the voice rings out for the sins to gather. They all come and they are much more then his merits for two reasons. First, in quantity and secondly, in quality. Since the sins were done with great desire and gusto they are very strong as opposed to the mitzvos which are weak as they were done begrudgingly and without zeal. Consequently the sins far outweigh the mitzvos. The person then bemoans and thinks of his imminent verdict of being pronounced a rosho. His thoughts are interrupted by another proclamation, that all the suffering that he endured his entire life should gather. Immediately they come and join ranks with his mitzvos on the right hand side of the scale. Together they far surpass his aveiros, because through his suffering much of his sins are atoned for. His verdict is given as a tzadik and he is overjoyed and gives thanks to Hashem for all that he has endured. [Till here is what the Chofetz Chaim heard].
I also saw a beautiful story, from Rav Shabsi Yudelevitch, similar to the previous one, but with an interesting twist, in the sefer "Lekach Tov" on Breishis, p. 142.
He tells of a fellow who was having sickness, much suffering and lacked sustenance. One day he told his wife that he was traveling to the great Tzadik and Kabalist, Rav Sholom Sharabi, z'tl, to ask him how to understand Hashem's way of dealing with him, and how to better his lot. Upon his arrival he was told, by the Rebetzin, to remain seated and wait until the great Tzadik would be available. The long and arduous trip took its toll and he immediately fell into a deep sleep. He dreamt that he was present at a scenario like the one of the Chofetz Chaim. His trial was in process and his sins outweighed his mitzvos. Then his suffering came and it looked like they may tip the scale in his favor. But, alas, to his horror, even after all his suffering ascended the scale, his aveiros very slightly tipped the scale against him. At this stage he began to scream bitterly, "[If only they would] Give me a little more suffering." At the sound of his scream, he woke up and realized that it was all a dream. The household also heard it and came in to see what happened. The man just got up and headed for the door to leave the house. The Rebetzin inquired, "Didn't you want to speak to the Rav?"2)You ask, "WHY IS IT THAT I CAN'T SEEM TO FIND MYSELF?"
The man responded, "There is no need anymore, I received the proper reply from Heaven!"
One of the points that I mention in the Jerry Lewis Sicha is the Shaarey Teshuvah who says that suffering is to atone for his sins, and to remind a person to change his ways.
Maybe Hashem is trying to make you realize that you can't find yourself, BY YOURSELF. You need the help of a Rebbi who will show you how to find yourself. That means trying to find a Rebbi there whom you are in constant contact with. One whom you are comfortable with, and you can explain to him your entire situation, so he can properly advise and guide you. If you will look again at the Alumni Letter you will see that I explain at length [in the answer to #6] why we cannot find ourselves truthfully without the help of a Rebbi. I also refer you to Rabbi Krohn who loves Neveh and knows where the guys are coming from. He said he would try to help the guys find Rebbeim. He even gave me permission to put it on the Internet. [As hashgocho would have it, Rabbi Krohn just spoke today 10/30/ at Neveh. I spoke to him about another boy who would contact him in the States to help find him a Rebbi, and he was very receptive to the idea.] His particulars are:
3)You ask, "WHY IS IT THAT MY LEVEL OF CONSISTENCY, WHEN IT COMES TO YIDDISHKEIT, FLUCTUATES SO VIOLENTLY?"
Again, this question is a very common one. My Rebbi would discuss this problem at length. How one moment a guy can be steeped in a Tosfos, and the next moment, chas v'sholom he can be thinking about what aveiro to do. When this happens the person feels like he's some sort of schizophrenic-Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde.
But this is not so. The trouble is that we don't realize what a person really is. There is a famous moshol that I heard from the Magid of Yerushalayim-Rav Shalom Shwadron-may he have a refuah shleima, that really shows us what we are.
He tells of a special museum with exhibits of unbelievable scenarios. In one room sitting together at one table are none other than the saintly Chofetz Chaim, and l'havdil the biggest gangster of all times-Al Capone. Everyone expects Al Capone to eat up the Chofetz Chaim alive, but much to their astonishment, the two people seem to be having an interesting conversation. One moment Al Capone is speaking his profanities, and the Chofetz Chaim is listening. A few minutes later the Chofetz Chaim speaks his Torah, and Al Capone is listening. All the people observing the scene marvel at this co-existence.
The truth is, however, that every Jew falls in to this category. The Torah [Breishis 2:7] describes how man was created from the dust of the earth. Hashem later blew a spiritual neshama into this physical body. The body, made of dust, has all the animalistic desires of an Al Capone.
The neshomo is so to speak a piece of the Ribono Shel Olom [the Zohar says "One who blows, blows of Himself"] and desires spirituality only.
Of course, our job is for the neshomo to rule the body and not vice versa. However, there will a constant fierce battle and many times the body will win. This explains why one moment our neshomo is on top, and the next moment the tables turn and the body is on top.
The bottom line is, my Rebbi would say, think of it as two separate people Rueven and Shimon. Rueven learns mussar and is a good person. Shimon on the other hand does not learn mussar and is a bad person. Would someone think of asking Shimon, how he can be bad if Rueven learns mussar? Of course not, because they are two different people, and one's mussar will not affect the other. So too, each individual, with his neshomo and a body is really like two different people. Therefore it is no wonder that one minute our neshomo is in charge and the next minute it's the body. The main thing is to realize that wining this war is our true purpose in life, and therefore we should never give up even if we lose a few battles.
I just thought of an interesting comparison that will help us understand this point. A fellow went through a serious operation successfully and left the hospital. However, the doctor forgot to inform his patient, that as part of his healing process he would feel some very strange and uncomfortable symptoms. You can imagine the fear and dismay that the patient feels. Just when he thought the worst was over, he begins to feel these strange symptoms. You can also understand his great relief when he finally speaks to the doctor and finds out that is a good sign that he's healing and is par for the course. On the contrary, if he wouldn't feel these pains that would mean that it's not healing.
So too in our case. Rav Shlomo Brevda, Shlita [he's also a very good Rebbi as he has spoken at Neveh many times and understands the problems that the boys have. He's helped out alot of our guys. He's not always in the states, but he lives in Brooklyn when he's there, you could mention that you went to Neveh. He knows Rabbi Shwab very well] would say that if a person has these inner battles then that's a good sign. It shows that he is alive and well and doing what Hashem put him here, to do-to keep fighting and don't give up. But if nothing bothers him, that usually means that the body has already won and his neshomo has given up. So keep up the good work, but remember getting a Rebbi will help you immensely.
4)You ask, "WILL I REMAIN SOMEWHERE IN THE ABYSS FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE, OR ONLY FOR ANOTHER TWENTY YEARS? WHERE IS THIS ALL GOING TO LEAD?"
My only answer to you is that it all depends on you. I'm trying to give you a ladder to climb out of this "abyss". That is to get a Rebbi. If you climb the ladder then you will definitely get out. I know it's hard, but when you realize what's at stake then you understand that you have no choice. Many years ago one of my daughters once had an accident. She was hospitalized in a certain hospital awaiting serious surgery. A person, whose expertise was knowing the best hospitals and doctors, told me emphatically to remove her from that particular hospital, as their treatment would be inadequate. You canít imagine how difficult it was for me to demand the release of my child, but I knew I had no choice. Boruch Hashem I took her out and placed her in a better hospital where she received excellent care. I hope that this is" all going to lead" to you getting a Rebbi.
5)You write that you are". . . HOPING THAT ALL WILL EVENTUALLY CLARIFY ITSELF THROUGH TORAH. "
I hope that by now you realize that it certainly will, but you need a Rebbi to help you see how the Torah clarifies it. I'm sure that you understand that a fellow who is sick doesn't just look in medical books for a cure because he realizes that he may not clearly understand what it says and could make his situation worse. He realizes that he needs a doctor to help him understand what it says in the medical books. So too you can understand for the same reason that you need a Rebbi.
I will end off with one quote from the Reader's Digest that made me realize how much we need to daven to Hashem to help us out. It says "Having children makes you a parent, as much as having a piano makes you a pianist." This is so to the point that even if you have a piano you don't necessarily know how to play it. So too having children doesn't mean that you know how to bring them up. It certainly goes for a Rebbi and talmidim also. The bottom line is that we have to daven to Hashem especially in the brocho of "Ato Chonen L'odom Daas", to ask for knowledge and Siyatta D'shmaya to find the truth and give it over to others. [For a more detailed explanation about the importance of tefila I refer you to the "Superman Sicha"].
I pray to Hashem that this in some small way will improve your situation. May Hashem lead you in the right direction, and you should let Him.
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