by Arik Shemtov (Detroit)
The oped by Rabbi Gershon Avtzon (Is It Time to Change How We Talk of Shlichus?) and its response by Rabbi Shimon Posner (“No More Shlichus Opportunities Left”) seem to be dealing with a much more general age-old question: “Is it good to have expectations of yourself?”
“The key to happiness is low expectations,” and seeing the disappointment of those who have not fulfilled their expectations” argues the first op-ed, “maybe it’s time to lower ours.”
The response argues: “why lower our expectations, better to increase the urgency.”
I don’t know which one is right. (Neither is my English as rich as Rabbi Posner’s)
But let me suggest a third approach:
Lubavitch is not a Derech, as much as it is a Nekudah (a dot). A Derech takes you in one direction, a dot faces different directions at once. (footnote 1)
If you start from the Nekudah and only take one path, you may reach the destination of that path, but you have plucked it away from its (source, and multi-faced) Nekudah. Eventually, that path will dry up.
One path: the Rebbe has a goal, a mission, and we are his soldiers. The Rebbe’s Chinuch is Mesiras Nefesh and “who said we are meant to be comfortable” if you travel on Shlichus the Rebbe is proud of you, and if not, you missed the train, and “the least u can do about it is feel anguished…”
“The fire is burning, and we won’t lower our “expectations” until Moshiach comes.
I would venture to say that even if someone takes solely this approach (to the extreme) and succeeds, then even while on shlichus, he will not feel happy inside and always feel like he isn’t good enough…(“which is good to feel that way” they proudly argue, while pulling out 7 different Sichos Kodesh volumes to prove their point).
As the dust settles, ultimately, such a conscience will manifest in friction with others and a need to look and put down the “lower class” (since they look down at themselves), a trend which is Meracheik and gives a bitter taste to the idea of Shlichus
(please note: this is (as stated above) an extreme and obviously not the norm cha”v, but we can all relate to an extent. Just look inside yourself, even as you’re reading this, a part of your brain is subconsciously looking for a subtle flaw in what I’m writing, thereby proclaiming yourself a nuanced thinker…)
Second path: “it’s all nice and fine, just lower the volume, please. The train has boarded and filled, and you’re lucky if you get a back seat.” “Every yid is a Shliach” is the banner they carry with pride. (a term heard always ironically around the Kinnus, less so, on a Tuesday afternoon). “Shlichus is a mindset,” they tell you with an enlightened twinkle in their eye. (as if that’s less demanding than the practical term of Shlichus) and “unreasonable expectations are not good for your mental health.”
Is there a third? Is there a dot (nekuda) that can bring out how the view of Rabbi’s Avtzon/Posner is a continuation, without the compromise of the first or the heartache of the second?
Imagine a mother telling her child: “You’re a good boy, but it’s really a tough world out there, and I just don’t know if you’ll make it. Well, thankfully, there’s an extra room in our basement, so let’s get a bunk bed, and you’ll move in here with your wife…”
Imagine a mother telling her child, “it’s a tough world but you’re tougher. And lest you think you can just opt out and not live up to our prestigious family name, you should know, you’ll always be “second to the best.”
Both are sick.
But the Rebbe(2) would tell us “I see who you are, you are a Shliach already, you are a Shliach even whilst living in my basement. And therefore, the question begs: what are you doing, living forever in my basement??!!”
Expectations coming from a void (needing to prove yourself to others or yourself) is just a tormented ego mapping it’s own destruction. it will leave you feeling either dented (when lost) or swollen (when achieved) and all in all awkward and out of place with yourself and others.
But if coming from where you are already (3), it leaves no room for heartache, guilt or inferiority, It’s all an expression of where you were before you even started. If you failed the first time, just reboot and start over.
Ultimately, you know you are in the right place. And there is no lack of confidence when claiming what is yours (4,5) already (even before you married).
In such contexts, lowering the bar is just a symbol of dishonesty and a lack of trust in what you have to offer.
So too in chinuch. A teacher is one who can honestly tell his student, “I see you are a shliach even if you don’t travel on shlichus, but that’s why I know that (one day) you will”, if he can’t say that, then even when he sees a shliach, he is just looking at a costume. No wonder then, his message will sound either diluted or brutal.
You can be a modern psychologist or an old-school zealot, but the message of Lubavitch is reserved and brought through those who step out of their line and live in the “point” that takes both. Otherwise, you won’t be able to keep up.
The Rebbe taught us a “Nekudah” how to approach a yid (Something which the Mussar movement still can’t wrap their heads around): “You’re a jew and a perfect one. No matter what. As much as Moshe Rabbeinu. And that’s why you should put on Tefillin.”
It’s time we apply this method to ourselves…
Likkutei sichos vol. 3 p. 969.
Leil simchat torah 5746 (an iconic sicha about shlichus, mugah in lekus”h vol. 29 p. 358)
והיינו שכל עניינו אינו אלא התפשטות מהעצם הבלתי משתנה
see Basi legani 5730 ois 6-9.
This letter is based on mayim rabim 5738, hadron on mesechto keilim 5750.
P.S. concerning the first article, I wonder if you switch the word “shlichus” for the word “Moshiach,” would the article still find a place in this generation? “Moshiach is not someone we’re actually waiting for, it’s more of an attitude and mindset,” -said no Lubavitcher ever.