Monday, March 31, 2008

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Chassidic Jealousy

by A Simple Jew and Akiva at A Simple Jew and Mystical Paths

A Simple Jew asked:

Do you think an average chassid may feel jealousy if another chassid has greater access or a closer connection to their rebbe? In the case when their rebbe is no longer living, do you think it is natural for a chassid to feel a certain sense of possessiveness of this rebbe when someone else mentions a story or teaching from or about him?

Akiva answered:

Jealousy, almost without exception, is a negative middah (attribute). For, who is rich? He who is satisfied with what he has. (Pirke Avos) Many is the story of the chassidic master who didn't recognize their own deprivation among the material while living a rich spiritual life.

Yet, we are taught that jealously for another's Torah accomplishments, if used to drive oneself to greater accomplishments, is the sole positive use of jealously.

Can a chossid feel jealous of closeness to the rebbe of another chossid? Yes. If used positively, this may drive the chossid to greater heights of avoda and positive service to their rebbe, as they strive to achieve the greater connection they have seen. If used negatively, it's completely poisonous as they either attempt to drag the other down, poison the environment in general, or quietly let it eat away at their heart. This is often the Yetzer's opening into a tzaddik's environment.

It is natural for chassidim devoted to a rebbe, or even those devoted to a particular tzaddik or great rosh yeshiva, to feel a certain possessiveness about their relationship. Whether still physically in this world or only spiritually so, those who build an attachment through their devoted efforts of learning the rebbe's path, learning his Torah, and focusing their efforts in the directions that the tzaddik has set, feel exactly that, a special attachment.

So, they would ask, how can others come forward and represent our rebbe, whether giving over a story or a word of Torah, when they haven't given the years of commitment that we have?

And from one perspective, they're right! Understanding the nuances of the rebbe's Torah are developed through years of relationship, studying his Torah and following his path. Yet, this response would close off these gates of Torah to only those who are devoted followers, rather than enriching all of Klal Yisroel, and that surely isn't the intention of any tzaddik. (Perhaps with the exception of a few mekubalim, kabbalists.)

So I don't think it's unusual for a chossid to feel jealous and protective of his rebbe. (For example, I saw a post a R. Brody's blog of a story that's commonly attributed to the Baal HaTanya, being attributed to another rebbe. I found that very upsetting!!! Was R. Brody trying to be disrespectful to the Alter Rebbe of Chabad? G-d forbid, of course not. That didn't stop my initial feeling though.) However, we need to be on guard as this type of jealously is not positive, and make sure that if we're feeling jealously, we use it ONLY in the right way. Otherwise, we are simply giving ourselves over to the Yetzer Hara.

As I tell my children, the Yetzer Hara doesn't come to a chossid and say eat treif. Ahh, protect the kavod of your rebbe, that's a different matter, right?

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