Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Professor's Challenges - a Fascinating Yechidus With the Rebbe

Rebbe, How is reward and punishment, Gan Eden and Gehonim to be interpreted? How do I conquer my fear whenever I enter the classroom and contemplate the responsibility of teaching G-d’s Torah? The Avner Institute presents insightful religious instruction to a New York college professor during a private audience in the winter of 1962.

The Rebbe Archive would like to present a unique photo of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe Yosef Yitzhak Schneerson, circa winter 1934 in a suburb of Poland, with special thanks to the Levin family.

Good Shabbos

Religious Instruction

QUESTION: How is reward and punishment, Gan Eden and Gehonim to be interpreted?

THE REBBE: Just as one must use a material knife to cut bread, so also if one is walking on Broadway, he must summon physical thoughts in order to divert the evil inclination. At such a time, philosophical expositions of Gan Eden or seventh heaven would have less influence on the yetzer horah than would thoughts of Gehonim or a story with a moral. To successfully combat one’s corporeal desires, he must apply thoughts that fit his mood at the time. If one has an urge to eat a non-kosher steak, for example, an abstract discussion of religion will not spoil his appetite. He must reflect that this animal ate grass, and that fertilizer was on the grass, and similar reason to deter his lust. The same applies to other impulses—murder, theft, concupiscence, etc.—one must gear his reasoning to bringing about the undesirability of these actions, according to his own level.

Therefore, the Torah discusses reward and punishment, according to a material, and not a spiritual, aspect—you will live longer, you will have a good field, etc. The Torah is for everybody, even for lower mentalities. The greatest tzadik was at one time only a thirteen-year-old, when particularly these physical considerations are effective in restraining him from straying from the path of G-d.

The Torah was G-d’s blueprint for the Creation. We observe that the Creation consists of many levels; consequently, we must conclude that its blueprint, the Torah, also contains many degrees of explanation. For instance, “In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth” has its literal meaning. A deeper interpretation is that G-d created heavenly, lofty emotions and earthly, carnal passions in the human heart. A more profound concept is that G-d created two components of the soul—one is sublime and spiritual, the other is the earthly intellect. Similarly, when the Torah speaks of the reward of long life, its first meaning is the plain one—ain mikro yotzay miday peshuto. But it also includes another meaning: Whether a person is materialistic or philosophic, proper behavior will be rewarded with a keener understanding of the world around him. Thus, every minute of his life will be “long” in the sense that it will be utilized in a more worthwhile and intelligent manner.

Similarly, all the material rewards and punishments of the Torah can be interpreted profoundly as well as simply.

QUESTION: I find that, as I enter the classroom, I am overcome with feelings of dread and trepidation as I contemplate the great responsibility of teaching G-d’s Torah. What can I do about this?

THE REBBE: The primary axiom of Judaism is that a Perfect Being created and creates everything according to His definite system and design. Nothing happens by accident; thus, for every problem there is a solution. Unequivocal cognizance of this fact vitiates despair and frustration, as G-d has given everyone the ability to complete his tasks.

On the contrary, these feelings of dread and anxiety were also created for a good purpose—to arouse one to summon all his physical and intellectual capabilities in order to arrive at a correct solution. The one who is calm and indifferent in facing his responsibilities will often be satisfied with practically any conclusion.

Moreover, these misgivings and awe are often an indication that one is progressing to a higher level. When one ascends a flight of stairs, there is always a moment when his foot is suspended in air without solid support. However, afterwards comes an inner satisfaction from the knowledge that one has elevated himself. Others may “sleep on one step” for 120 years, experiencing neither apprehension nor the “inner harmony” that comes with a feeling of accomplishment.

QUESTION: How should one begin in instructing his students, with just performance of the mitzvoth, or should he talk about hislahavus (enthusiastic ecstasy) as well?

THE REBBE: You must choose the approach that fits the individual you are dealing with. If hislahavus will appeal to him, choose that method. But one must be cognizant of the fact that the essential is “ma-aseh be-poel,” the actual performance of mitzvoth, and it is wise to begin with the essential so that if your talk becomes soporiferous in the middle, your audience will at least go away with an essential.

QUESTION: Is quality more important than quantity?

THE REBBE: Einstein said that quantity transfers into quality, mass into energy. The Midrash Rabba cites an interesting point: If even one Jew of the 600,000 had been missing at Mt. Sinai, G-d would not have given the Torah. Not just a Jew like Moshe Rabeinu, but even the Jew who had an idol in his tent, pesel mika, had he not been present, the Torah would not have been given. Nine Moses’ cannot make a minyan to say a kedusha, though that would be a tremendous amount of quality; but if you have ten in quantity, you can say kedusha, just as the Midrash Rabba stated that 600,000 was necessary for the Revelation. This indicates that quantity and quality are transformative.