I also thought I had worked on myself up to the point that I was above such tizzies.
Anyway, it was the kind of chatty cheerfully insulting fauxpology that very messed-up people tend to offer, which just ends up exasperating and hurting you more than ever.
And I totally forgot about most of the principles I learned, believed in, and even write about on this blog.
And I started engaging in the behaviors that even the non-Jewish world advises against (like obsessively pondering exactly how to respond, mentally playing out different scenarios of how you could possibly communicate your thoughts to them, imagining how the scenario could get even worse with her calling me or talking about me to others, etc.).
And I did all this even as I knew that was all the wrong thing to do.
Therefore, I was also very angry with myself because I knew I was responding all wrong, but I just couldn’t make myself better.
(After all, this whole miserable incident was from Hashem and for my own good! And shouldn’t I feel distressed on her behalf? After all, look at what Minchat Yehudah says happens to dysfunctional people who never do teshuvah! Where's my compassion?)
And I yearned to be on a higher level and above petty incidents like this, so I could be a happier and better person. But I wasn’t. So I was really frustrated with myself.
Yet between crying jags, I managed to ask Hashem to help this person do teshuvah.
But that didn't help me either.
Judging Favorably Strikes Again!
In addition, I’ve sat with Hashem several times over the past 3 years and related this person’s good points, and also increased compassion by talking to Hashem about this person’s emotionally abusive upbringing (of which she herself is in denial, but the stories she humorously tells hint at mind-boggling dysfunction).
And as long as I didn’t actually speak with her over the past 3 years, I was able to feel genuine compassion for her and sincerely ask Hashem to help her in all sorts of ways (in addition to mental health problems, she has physical health problems, marital problems, and child-rearing problems—a certain amount of which is self-caused), and plead her case.
I also realized that a significant part of her abusive behavior was Prozac-induced.
(Prozac can cause mania and also emotional blunting, which means that you don’t feel things like you should—including how your behavior is affecting others.)
So at this point, I was feeling like, “Why doesn’t being dan l’kaf zechut ever work for me? How many times have I given someone the benefit of the doubt only to be stabbed in the gut in return? Or cheated? Or exploited? Or mocked?”
I mean, even the classic “Oh, they’re wrong but they don’t really mean it, they don’t really know what they’re doing”…
No! Sometimes they do mean it!
(Sometimes, definitely not always.)
And finding her good points over the past 3 years clearly did not help her do teshuvah in any way whatsoever.
So I tried viewing the awful letter as sign to daven for her more, but I couldn’t stop hating her (and hating Prozac and Prozac-junkies like her and the psychiatrists who prescribe Prozac).
Then I tried viewing the crud she wrote as a hint of what I needed to correct in myself.
And yeah, I found stuff.
But no relief.
Talking to God didn’t help either. (Well, not immediately. Please read on...)
And I just felt totally irrelevant as a human being.
How many times have I really and sincerely tried to do the right thing only to have it explode in my face?
Yeah, I know we often don't see reward in This World and that's not what I was expecting. But to see that following sagely advice doesn’t even have the spiritual effect seemingly promised by the sage…well, I just felt like garbage.
I often see these things that work out for everyone else.
But for me, following frum advice often makes things worse.
Then Hashem made me realize that I wasn’t the only one—not by a long shot…
Much Worse Happened to Much Better People
But...nope! No apparent spark.
The moisser reports the tremendous tzaddik anyway and Rav Bender spends time in an awful prison, his wife nearly dies back home (but is saved by another courageous Breslover tzaddik), and Rav Bender is eventually and miraculously released.
Rebbe Nachman himself also faced some serious haters, despite the fact that Rebbe Nachman prayed for them and noted their good points.
So the fact that finding merits in and davening for people helps neither them nor me in any perceivable way? Nothing new here.
My actions weren't wrong; my expectations and understanding were lacking.
Insults Come in Different Forms
The Hebrew (and the Aramaic and the abbreviations, for that matter) in Likutei Moharan are exceptionally difficult for me and I always end up missing out on a lot simply because I can’t understand it. But I forced myself through Section 6 and I quickly realized where I was messing up:
- Insults are sent in order to destroy your Yetzer Hara.
- Insults help you.
- Insults atone for your sins and destroy your Yetzer Hara so that you won't sin anymore.
Here, God was being so nice to me and taking shots at my Yetzer Hara, and what was I doing? Strengthening my Yetzer Hara even more!
Oddly, it's not like I don't know that insults atone for a person. I do know!
So why had I missed it?
Well, my nemesis's barbs didn't come in the form of conventional insults.
They had to do with her own warped worldview and her own messed-up value system. (For example, there are behaviors and traits condemned as bad and wrong by Chazal, but she considers these same behaviors and traits neutral or innocent, even though she looks like a very frum person.)
And while this person in the past had certainly insulted me directly either by name-calling (“Just being honest!”) or by crowing gleefully, “IT’S AAAAALL YOUR FAAAULT!”, most of her attacks tended to be a lot more subtle than that.
In today's world, a lot of people come from a culture and educational background which discourages direct insults and attacks.
So instead they stand there with a charming smile while speaking in a light tone as they thrust the pointy dagger under your ribcage when you least expect it.
Then as you double-over in pain and shock, they chirp, “Ooh, gosh…you should really get a doctor to check that out!”
And then slander you to others by saying, “I don’t know why she no longer speaks to me. I have done nothing but love and care about her. I even encouraged her to get medical help when she was doubled over and even though she was bleeding on the tips of my shoes.”
And then if you point out that she stabbed you, she throws a hissy fit about how you transgressed the prohibition against revenge by bleeding on her shoes.
It doesn't sound like the insults referred to in Chazal. But it is.
Being silent and not responding in the face of any insult—including these subtle chirpy ones—atones for your sins and destroys your Yetzer Hara.
Yes, you feel like you are the one being destroyed, but that pointy dagger is really meant for your Yetzer Hara.
Yet if you're not careful, the Yetzer Hara deflects the blade and thrusts it into you.
Becoming Hashem's Personal Jeweler
(I think this means keeping your mind quiet too, and not obsessing over the verbal assault.)
Even if you don’t see these wondrous results in your life, they still exist on your cheshbon in another dimension.
But it was the final paragraph of Likutei Moharan 6 that fixed things for me.
You see, the merits we find in others are jewels in HASHEM’S crown. Every time we relate a good point in someone else, we are setting an invaluable emerald or sapphire into God’s metaphorical Crown.
In fact, a major part of the section is how we need to worry about Hashem’s Kavod (honor) and to mostly forget about our own kavod. Okay, this is no chiddush in Judaism. Discussions of increasing Hashem’s Kavod while nullifying our own desire for kavod abound through millennia of Torah writings.
So why was this helpful?
Because finding merits and judging favorably aren’t about the other person, even though this topic is often presented this way. And I myself have presented this on this blog, that davening, dancing, and finding good points in the other person helps them to do teshuvah.
And it does!
But not always.
However, what is 100% certain is that finding a good point in a fellow Jew increases Hashem’s Kavod and you—whoever and however flawed you are—end up decorating the Crown of the only real King we have.
And this is real. That’s a guarantee.
Part of the Last Paragraph of Likutei Moharan 6:
By means of the stillness and the silence, -- that they are silent to their fellow when they are disparaging him -- by means of this, he merits to do teshuvah, which is an aspect of Keter [Crown] as explained above...because a fence for wisdom is silence...
For you need to be very careful to judge every person on the side of merit. And even if they argue with [you] and disparage [you], you need to judge them on the side of merit and to remain silent toward them. And through this, one is made into the aspect of Keter.
As is brought in Midrash Vayikra 82: It is compared to one who found his friend making a crown.
He said to him: "For whom?"
[His friend] said to him: "For the king."
He said to him: "Because it is required for the king, each precious gem you find, set it within [the crown]."
This is so for every Jew; he is an aspect of Hashem's Crown.
And you need to set within it every kind of precious gem that is possible to find.
Meaning, you need to try to search out and seek after every side of merit and good thing that is possible to find in Yisrael, and to judge all according to the side of merit...
Via judging all to the side of merit by remaining silent to he who disparages [you] -- because you find within him a merit that he isn't so guilty [of the sin he committed] in that he disparages [you] because according to his opinion and reasoning, it seems to him that it is appropriate for him to disparage [you] and so on -- in this way, one is made into the aspect of Keter...
(Rebbe Nachman himself says "that he isn't so guilty..." -- verbal abuse is not okay according to Jewish Law.)
It doesn't make the person innocent of wrong-doing nor does it mean that you deserve to be abused, but it softens their sin which transforms you into an aspect of God's Crown.
And this is a very good and powerful thing.