Erev Pesach 5773 -- All Comparisons are Invidious
by Jonathan Rosenblum
March 22, 2013
All Comparisons are Invidious
The intense cleaning in preparation for Pesach should arouse in us a desire to similarly cleanse from within the se'or she'be'isa – the yetzer hara – that prevents us from doing Hashem's Will. As we burn the chametz on Erev Pesach, many have the minhag to recite a prayer that just as we have burned all our chametz so may Hashem burn from within us our yetzer hara.
Of all those things the various forms of enslavement which prevent us from doing Hashem's Will, the most difficult to overcome are those that come from within.
To do Hashem's Will, we must first seek to know His Will, which consists of two parts: the halacha, which is equally binding on all Jews, and the particular mission for which Hashem created each of us individually. Too often, however, our quest for understanding either aspect of Hashem's Will – particularly the latter – is stifled because we are too involved in another question: "What will the neighbors say?"
To say of someone, "He really wants to know that the Ribbono Olam wants from him, not what the neighbors will say," is very high praise indeed.
That is not to argue that communal standards are unimportant. They can often serve as an important "lo lishma" that brings us to the lishma. Most chilul Hashem could be avoided if we spent more time visualizing the consequences of our behavior becoming generally known.
The commentators explain that all of Klal Yisrael was punished with defeat at Ai for Achan's act of violating the cherem on Jericho. If Achan been certain that he would be subjected to opprobrium if his taking plunder were discovered, he would never have violated the cherem.
But too great a concern with communal standards is more frequently a means of lowering our own self-expectations. What others do becomes the upper limit on what we demand of ourselves, and in some areas, like tznius, communal standards can become a substitute for halacha.
Even where the behavior of our neighbors is well within the parameters of halacha, as is the case for almost all Mishpacha readers, if the likely reaction of our neighbors to what we do becomes a prime motivator for us, we come perilously close to entering the realm of mitzvos enoshim m'limuda, the rote performance of mitzvos.
Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler writes that any mitzvah done only because our parents teach us to do that mitzvah earns us no reward. That does not mean that we must wash negel vasser in a different way than our father does. Rather it means that we must think about what we are doing and thereby appropriate the mitzvah for ourselves by putting something of ourself into the mitzvah. When we are constantly looking around us to determine what our neighbors will say, even our mitzvos do not fully belong to us.
REMEMBERING THAT EACH OF US has a unique mission that belongs to no one else is the best antidote to allowing ourselves to be driven by what the neighbors will say. That mission belongs to no one else, and no one else has been provided with the tools to perform it or placed in same life situation as we have. Each of us is born with certain strengths and specific weaknesses to overcome, and provided with a variety of challenges. How we utilize those strengths and overcome our challenges constitutes our unique song of praise to Hashem -- the specific message we convey to the world about what it means to be a Jew shaped by the Torah.
Since no one else shares the same exact mission, no one else can set the standard for me. That is not to say that others cannot provide invaluable guidance on how to overcome particular weaknesses or provide models worthy of emulation. Hashem's world is one of interrelationships, and learning from others is one aspect of that interrelationship.
But it does mean that the incessant ranking of ourselves vis-à-vis others that most of us engage in is pointless. We are not in competition with others because we are ultimately not playing the same game. We are in competition only with ourselves and will be measured against the scale of what we could have achieved with the "gifts" we received from Hashem.
Recognizing that we will not be judged in relation to anyone else is a potential cure for the low self-image of those who imagine themselves to be at the bottom of the class and for the ga'avah of those who rank at the top. The Tolna Rebbe recently spoke for over an hour on this topic in Los Angeles. Among the many of mosholim he used was that of an airplane. In the eyes of the world, and often times himself, the pilot of a jumbo jet ranks far above the maintenance worker responsible for oiling the landing gear, and might not even give the latter the time of the day. Certainly, the pilot is paid much more. Yet the failure of the maintenance worker to do his job properly is as capable of bringing about disaster as pilot error.
In his chapters on Anava (humility) in Mesilas Yesharim, the Ramchal repeatedly decries the tendency to look down on others. How often do we try to salve our own feelings of failure by looking at others – e.g., the non-religious – to whom we can feel superior? But the greatest among us – and at the same time the most humble – never do that because they realize all comparisons to others are ultimately irrelevant. We are only judged in relation to ourselves.
We have no basis for looking down at others whose accomplishments do not match our own because we were assigned and given the tools for a different mission than they were, and we can never know which of us is performing his or her mission better. The badchanim who cheer people up may turn out to be the only people in the market place guaranteed ben Olam Haba, even if only Eliyahu HaNavi could discern their true status (Taanis22b).
Surely the Chazon Ish knew that no one pushed himself as he did to the limits of his physical capabilities. But he did not pride himself on that hasmada. Rather he viewed the techunos hanefesh that allowed him to do so as another gift from Hashem, and told himself that another born with the same techunos hanefesh might have driven himself even harder.
The true anav is at once the best-balanced and freest person because he cannot be touched by either the praise of the world nor its contempt. The only judgment that counts for him is his own cheshbon hanefesh based on rigorous self-examination of how he is fulfilling the mission assigned him by Hashem.
He is also the deepest person, Rav Yerucham Levovitz's man of contemplation, who, like Avraham Avinu, comes to knowledge of His creator through contemplation of himself and his mission.
Related Topics: Jewish Ethics, Pesach
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