He Should Inspect His Deeds

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23 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    There is a kind of tension between:

    1. Through certain events, HaShem sends us messages as a guide to our personal improvement, and

    2. HaShem does certain things we can’t understand whatsoever

    How do you resolve this? How do we know if our assessment of a given event should fall into category 1 or category 2?

    As aside, I’m turned off when the response to a tragedy is for one to tell the other guy (or other ideological or social faction) to improve, on the assumption that he himself is perfect.

  2. micha says:

    I discussed this a while back in a post titled “The Four Sons Confront Tragedy“.

    R’ Soloveitchik points out the difference between finding a reason, and taking a lesson. As he puts it in Qol Dodi Dofeiq, the Jewish question about tragedy is not “Why?” but “How am I to respond?” In reality, tragedy shakes us out of our rut, and therefore it’s cruel to ignore that call. But that doesn’t mean any given tragedy was in order to move us.

  3. Bob Miller says:

    In 2. I wasn’t referring only to the reason, but to the personal lesson, too—that is, the matter does not give us a clear understanding about what to do in response (either in one’s inner world or in one’s external actions).

  4. micha says:

    But we’re not talking about learning from the event itself, but utilizing our natural response to the event. Tragic news shakes us up. It unites the community, at least in the short term. It changes how we treat our children, at least in the short term. Our eyes can be opened to what we have been doing now that we’re pushed for a moment to see beyond the walls of the rut we’re in. The person who doesn’t try to use that is an achzari.

  5. Bob Miller says:

    So the content of the inexplicable event is incidental as long as it gives us a jolt?

  6. micha says:

    If it gives us a jolt, and a particular kind of jolt, how can it still be incidental?

    I’m saying that the iqar of taking a lesson is to utilize the jolt, and not to explain the incident.

  7. Bob Miller says:

    Does the particular form taken by the mega-event color our specific responses?

  8. micha says:

    You tell me — do you have a different reaction when the news is about a murdered boy or about the restarting of missile fire into the Negev? If the answer is yes, then it’s quite reasonable for the two events to engender different pishpush bemaasim.

    When the tragedy makes me think about the preciousness and the gift of my children, it’s natural for me to look for potential errors in that domain.

  9. Bob Miller says:

    Good point Micha (#8). I’ve seen similar ideas in the Breslover literature.

  10. micha says:

    Now, Bob, we have to figure out how to tweak the original post to eliminate the need for a dialog like ours to get at my intent. Feel free to make suggestions.

  11. Bob Miller says:

    Maybe your aspaqlaria was crystal clear to everyone else?

    The only thing to add might be to emphasize that the self-examination should focus on some something one felt on hearing or reading the news, even if the event reported was inexplicable.

  12. Eli says:

    There are no “reasons”, there are messages.

    If Hashem wants to send you — YOU — a message through a certain event, then you can be sure that He is communicating to YOU in a way that YOU will understand.

    If you don’t understand, or can’t tell if there is a message from a particular event, then there WAS no message in that event for YOU.

  13. micha says:

    Eli,

    Agreed. And the added paragraph that was a consequence of my discussion with RBM makes a point of clarifying that.

    That said, there is a difference between not being able to understand or bothering to notice the message on the one hand, and deciding not to try and instead either go on with life or fall back on one of the standard responses on the other. Someone striving for ehlachkeit must pay attention to their actual spiritual needs; someone acting on frumkeit will seek being a spiritual person (intentionally phrasing it that way rather than “seek spirituality”) will respond more reflexively.

    -micha

  14. dovid says:

    Bob Miller: “… when the response to a tragedy is for one to tell the other guy … to improve, on the assumption that he himself is perfect.”

    Isn’t this a christian concept that only those who never sinned may pick up a stone (to throw it at a sinner)?

    Does the person raising an issue or giving tochacha assume he is perfect? Not necessarily. Those giving tochacha never claimed they have perfect midos. I remember R’ Eliezer Ginsburg of Mir/Brooklyn concluding his drasha saying that if his tochacha made a positive change in him (i.e., that he also needs tochacha and need to improve), then it was worth it.

    • micha says:

      Dovid,

      You’re citing J’s attempt to do away with misas beis din because the eidim who would throw the first stone were themselves far from perfect. I don’t think that’s on-point, since batei din have the job of judging others that a man on the street does not.

      It says in Matt 7:5: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Luke 6:42 repeats basically the same statement. But lehavdil R’ Tarfon, who lived in the same era as those who recorded J’s mythos (between the churban and Hadrian y”sh), also uses the same idiom (Eiruchin 16b):

      א”ר טרפון (תמיהני) אני אם יש בדור הזה שמקבל תוכחה אם אמר לו טול קיסם מבין שיניך אמר לו טול קורה מבין עיניך

      Too often the response to tragedy is to take the blame off oneself by finding the sin the other does (that has always been bugging you anyway) and blaming that. This isn’t true of someone responsible for a qehillah saying that the problem is his qehillah’s. But passing blame is not the mitzvah of tokhachah; it is at best “tokhachah shelo lishmah”, assuming R’ Tarfon’s dictum and the rule that tochakhah that won’t be accepted applies.

  15. dovid says:

    I wasn’t referring to this maase. I wasn’t aware of it. I was referring to a maase were a woman was suspect of z’nut are actually committed z’nut and the crowd wanted to stone her. J said something to the effect that only those should raise their hands to stone her who never committed (or considered committing?) a similar crime. Derech agav, christians hold her a “saint”, named streets and some of their houses of worship after her.

    Introspection, t’shuva are difficult and painful. It’s a hard avodah not to see Chodesh Av, Chodesh Elul, and Yamim Noraim but as inevitable yearly hurdles just to survive them. Same thing with a big tzarah sent to our communities. Our obsession with the suspect in the Kletzky affair, why he did it, what we should do to him, is our defense mechanism to do nothing about ourselves, and not to address the ills of our community.

  16. dovid says:

    There is a pasuk in Koheles (4:10) stating: kie ihm ipolu (clearly lashon rabim), haechad yakim et chavero. (I don’t have a keyboard with Hebrew letters). This pasuk is widely quoted to urge Yiden to undertake tikun hamidot together with a well-meaning and equally motivated chaver. The pasuk considers the possibility of both failing in the same nisayon. Still, the one who recovers first is not disqualified from pulling his chaver out through tochacha and encouragement, on account of his failing to the very same nisayon. On the contrary, the purpose of such a partnership is to give and receive tochacha and encouragement.

  17. Shmuel says:

    >Does the person raising an issue or giving tochacha assume he is perfect? Not necessarily. Those giving tochacha never claimed they have perfect midos.

    More importantly, the tru Ba’alei Mussar always made a point of stressing that they were talking to themselves, and whomever overheard said conversation may take from it what they needed; the point of the exercise was to inform everybody that this was not a sermon from the mount, and certainly not from some ivory tower…

  18. Bob Miller says:

    My point was NOT that you have to be perfect in order to criticize another, and WAS not related to being a judge or juror in a court. It was about lazily, smugly, reflexively blaming others (especially others outside your own circle) for some negative event while drawing no personal lesson.

  19. Bob Miller says:

    That WAS above should have been was. Sorry!

  20. Michael Harel says:

    Dear R’ Micha,
    The source of the gemora is in Brachot 5a not in Shabbos 5a.

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