If you read the excellent guest post from weight loss hero Roy Naim earlier this week (and if not, why not? – go and read it now on pain of death), you will have read him make mention of some wise words by Rabbi Hunter.
What I didn’t realize until I spoke with Roy this morning is that the quote and subsequent paraphrasing were taken from a longer letter.
I said I was curious and Roy asked me if I wanted to hear the whole thing. Sure I did.
Something struck me as Roy was reading it, something that I think many people miss – especially those invested in and aligned strongly with any particular point of view.
I had seen this happen on Facebook in the aftermath of the school killings in Connecticut and the subsequent discussions on gun control. In fact I slipped into it myself if I’m being honest.
It’s the basic inability to take any good out of an ‘opponents’ opinions. And when I say opponent, that could simply mean somebody with different religious views or has a contrary opinion on politics or any other emotive subject.
Life Isn’t Black and White
But life is almost never that black and white, especially when you’re dealing with opinions and facts that are sometimes wide open to interpretation, even for experts.
This is a strange introduction to the letter by Rabbi Hunter, but I think it’s important.
Wisdom can come from any source, yet all to often we reject it (or don’t even see it) because we don’t like the person who is delivery the information.
Or as is more often the case, we don’t like what they stand for and believe that they therefore have nothing of value to add.
I’m pretty sure (and very much hope) you will see the depth of knowledge and wisdom in the letter and accept it for what it is no matter what your beliefs.
However many people worldwide would turn off the moment they hear the source is a Rabbi. And other people would have done the same if it came from the Pope and others from a Muslim Ayatollah.
In such situations our cognitive biases take over and hi-jack our critical thinking abilities without us even knowing.
So I guess I’m saying, strive to understand the message at all times. It’s by no means easy, but it’s very worthwhile.
And remember, messages come in all forms
The bitchy boss may have just found out her husband is sleeping with their pet goat.
The guy that cuts you up in traffic may be rushing to meet a family member who has been rushed into hospital.
And the man that staunchly defends relaxed gun laws and claims guns don’t kill, people do, may just be an idiot.
That last bit was a joke btw ;-)
Words of Wisdom
Although the student’s letter is not printed, Rabbi Hutner quotes a portion of it in his response.
“I’ll never forget the desire i had to succeed and to keep advancing from one spiritual level to the next, from one dream to the next. Now, however, I realize that my dreams have not com true. All is lost. ”
Rav Hutner writes back:
“My friend, I am pressing you to my heart and whispering in your ear. Had your letter described all the good deeds you are involved in, I would have said that I received a good letter from you. Now that you chose to write a letter about the pitfalls you face and your spiritual failures, I say that I received a very good letter from you.”
Imagine the student’s feeling upon reading the response Discussion of his failures makes his letter “very good?”
Rabbi Hutner points out the underlying mistake that made this student feel so despondent. He writes:
“There is a terrible sickness among us. When we tell stories of a great man, a successful person, we only record their later years, when they already succeeding in becoming great, and we make it sound like that they were filled with perfection from birth rather than it coming from years and years of internal struggles.
I beg of you, don’t picture these great people as people who were born perfect, people are constantly with their good side. Rather, realize the greatness that these great people achieved is a result of a steady tenacious war against every base and low inclination.
Know, that when you feel your evil side, your failures, raging inside of you, it means that you are on par with the greatest of people.
Everyone is amazed at the purity of speech of the Chofetz Chaim, but who knows of the battles, struggles and obstacles, the slumps and regressions that the Chofetz Chaim encountered in his war with his evil side?
Know, however, my dear friend, that your soul is rooted not in the tranquility of the good side but rather in the battle of evil, of failures.
The expression, Lose a battle win a war, applies. Certainly you have stumbled and will stumble again, and in many battles you will fall. I promise you though, that after losing battles you will emerge victorious, Lose battles but win the wars.
The wisest of all men (King Solomon) said, A righteous man falls seven times and rises again.
Fools believe that the intent of this verse is to teach us something remarkable. The righteous man has fallen seven times and yet he rises. But the knowledgeable are aware that the essence of a righteous man, of a successful person rising, is by way of his seven falls. Because of his failures.”