For the week ending 10 March 2018 / 23 Adar II 5778

Hurdles and Heights

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Henry

Dear Rabbi,

There’s a particular prohibition that I am regularly and particularly challenged by. In all honesty, I “fall” time and time again. This makes me very upset, and I’m wondering why Gd puts this barrier before me, and how I can possibly serve Him with joy when I’m weighed down by this recurrent sin.

Dear Henry,

From the way you perceive and thus describe the phenomenon that you are experiencing, it certainly seems frustrating. Nevertheless, G-d certainly does not intend for it to be an insurmountable barrier, or an unbearable burden.

On the contrary, as odd as it may initially seem, the dynamic you refer to is actually a series of hurdles which, when navigated properly, are liberating and enable one to serve G-d with joy.

The great thinker and Kabbalist Rav Tzadok HaCohen (1823-1900, Lublin) writes that every person has individual tendencies to transgress specific prohibitions. And the specific area in which he is weakest is the very area in which he has the greatest potential to receive G-d’s blessing if he returns to Him with all his heart, realizing that these tendencies have been placed within him by Gd Himself (Tzidkat HaTzadik 181).

There are areas in which the evil inclination has a special strength, either because a person has an especially powerful desire or extra difficulty in battling a specific weakness. G-d does this in order to make a person aware of his shortcomings. But this failure to resist temptation is intended to be the battle-cry which rouses him to wage the war of self-perfection.

Further, Rav Tzadok explains why each person has a different, specific area of weakness. He writes that the area in which the evil inclination attacks most fiercely, and in which a person transgresses most, is the area for which he is most prepared to cleanse, purify and achieve a unique rectification for his soul. This is because everyone was created to repair some specific detail to which his being is bound, and he was created to correct that very thing (Tzidkat HaTzadik 49).

Thus, one must not despair, but rather view this as an indication of the area for which he was uniquely created to serve G-d. Specifically here is the place where, if he rises to the challenge, he can find special rectification and purification. This knowledge then liberates one from the shackles which fetter him, enabling him to rise above the hurdles and rejoice in his service.

Rav Yitzchak Hutner (1906, Warsaw-1980, NY) once wrote a letter addressing a student with a question similar to yours. His words are thus also applicable to you:

“The wise King Solomon wrote, ‘Seven times will a tzadik fall and rise’ (Prov. 24:16). People think this means that despite transgressing, he will not despair, but rather will rise to the occasion of serving G-d. But the real meaning is that, not despite, but rather precisely through falling, he becomes elevated.

“The Sages comment on the verse, ‘And He saw all that He did, and it was very good (tov me’od)’ (Gen. 1:31). ‘Tov’ — good, refers to the good inclination. ‘Me’od’ — very, refers to the evil inclination. Had your letter related all the learning and good deeds that you’ve been doing, I would have said that I received a good letter from you. Now that you’ve conveyed the failures you’ve suffered, I can say that I’ve received a very good letter from you. Your spirit clamors to be great. Specifically in those areas where you find yourself failing so often, there you are capable of being a vessel of excellence for the glory of Heaven” (Iggrot Pachad Yitzchak, 128).

  • Sources: Crown Him with Joy, Rabbi Hadar Margolin, pp. 32-36

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