The name of the game

Friday, 16 October, 2020 - 5:38 am

 A few weeks ago, a yeshiva boy called me up to consult with me. He is happy in the yeshiva, and he is learning quite well, but every once in a while he has days when he feels that he is not really connected to the yeshiva and to what it has to offer. Sometimes the learning and the davening really touch his soul and he feels that they are part of him, and sometimes this feeling disappears. He continues to learn and to daven, but he does it on automatic drive. Even during a hitva’adut, which naturally tends to connect, he sometimes feels a part of it and sometimes he just sits and waits for it to be over.

“Please advise me how to cope with this,” he requested.

“I have no advice for you,” I replied, “but I have a prophecy. This challenge of good days and days that are not so good is going to be part of your life till 120, be’ezrat Hashem in good health. Try not to get confused by it. Go forward knowing that there will always be ups and downs. For more than forty years I have been coping more or less with what you describe. That is the way we were created, and that is the name of the game.”

I didn’t have a quote for him at that moment, but this week I saw something that the Rebbe said on Shabbat Bereishit (the Shabbat when we read parashat Bereishit), 5742 (1981): “What is to be learned from the general story about the sin of the Tree of Knowledge is that the general work of man is that he has a yetzer hara  (evil inclination), and his job is not to be cowed by it; on the contrary, he should vanquish it. Of course, the work of battling the yetzer hara is a greater and more sublime work than working in a situation where there is no need to battle the yetzer hara.”

Shabbat Bereishit marks the end of the month of holidays, a month of spiritual elevation, when we detach somewhat from this material world. Practically, too, the many holidays keep us busy with davening and festive meals. The content and essence of the Yamim Noraim and the holidays also raise us up to great heights. Shabbat Bereishit is the bridge between this month full of spiritual abundance and the colorless winter routine, especially since Shabbat Bereishit is always the Shabbat on which we say Birkat Hachodesh for the month of Cheshvan, the month that symbolizes that routine. It seems that the Rebbe said what he said at the hitvaadut as preparation for the descent from the holidays. For a full month he had been raising them to heights, holiday after holiday, hitvaadut following hitvaadut – and then the climax of Simchat Torah, of course. He was now telling them: Friends, prepare yourselves. The next battle of perfecting your character in particular and serving Hashem in general is just around the corner. For, just like Adam Harishon, we have inclinations. Like him, we too have challenges and problems to cope with. Our job is not to be cowed by them.

There was only one thing that I asked the young man to do, at the end of our conversation: “Do yourself a favor. Do not define yourself by these negative feelings. Do not tell yourself: I don’t belong, I am not connected, I am not worthy. This is simply not true and therefore you would not be fair to yourself if you said this. Do tell yourself: I am a good Jew with a yetzer tov and a yetzer ra. I am a yeshiva student, a chassid, true to my purpose and a Torah Jew even on those days when my inner struggle feels a bit too much for me.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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