- Would you give a Shetland pony the same kind of food in the same amounts as you would give a Morgan stallion?
- Would you give the same job to a British Shire as you would an Arabian horse?
- Would you have a Tennessee Walking Horse run the same kind of racecourse as a Thoroughbred?
For example, some people really need to be told to slow down and smell the daisies.
Yet other people are so into their slow-down and flower-smelling that they’ve made their bed among the daisies and lie there all day long with flower petals up their nose.
Likewise, when I became frum, I was very open to receiving direction and consulting with rabbis and rebbetzins for everything (because I got the impression that if I didn’t, I would make some kind of horrible mistake and then bad things would happen).
(Just to be clear, if it's a matter of actual Jewish law, then you need to ask someone knowledgeable in that area of law. But otherwise...)
And no matter how irrational or wrong the advice was, or how disdainfully given, I often pushed myself beyond my abilities to follow it.
Sometimes, I questioned them in order to understand what they were telling me to do. I’m very much the type of person who like to know why I’m doing something before I do it, partly so that I can do it exactly right.
Usually, they didn’t like it when I did that. (Later, I realized that some things are genuinely difficult to explain and I wouldn’t have been able to explain it either, but they could have had the humility to acknowledge that rather than getting sarcastic or disdainful.)
And to be completely upfront, sometimes I wasn't able to follow it because I couldn't hear beyond the disdain or jeering way it was given or because I couldn't understand it.
Anyway, when the advice either didn’t work or stopped working after two weeks, I’d go back to consult with them regarding what I had done wrong with the original advice.
(I was sure the negative results were my fault, and not the fault of the advice.)
This back-and-forth continued until they rejected me in some way.
Hashem: The Original Horse Whisperer
I was putting my faith in them due to a warped misunderstanding of emunat tzaddikim. (They weren’t tzaddikim, by the way. That was my first mistake. Many of them meant well and wanted to help, but that alone doesn’t make anyone a tzaddik.)
When I stopped consulting with others (and this means chinuch classes and everything else) AND started consulting with Hashem, many things in my life improved that never had budged (or had even gotten worse) when I was running around consulting with frum "experts" before.
Reading memoirs, Jewish history, and listening to frum people older than me also taught me that this insistence on running to rabbis and rebbetzins for all sorts of personal issues and non-halachic advice is actually a new invention of our generation. This is not what people traditionally did. They asked halacha (although not always even that, unfortunately) or they asked advice when they really, truly got stuck. And then, they asked someone who they felt would really know how to help them, whether that person was a true gadol, a rabbi, rebbetzin, relative, or friend.
For many, 2 factors were paramount in deciding whether to consult with a particular person:
- the level of the adviser’s emuna and yirat Shamayim
- how much the adviser genuinely cared about the person turning to them for advice
People looking for advice today don't necessarily consider those 2 factors first.
Then I came across Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender’s collection of lectures, which clearly repeat the idea of turning to Hashem with your issues, while using friends to give you general chizuk and point out your positive attributes.
Likewise, you also point out their positive attributes and give them general chizuk (encouragement).
He stresses that you need to allow your friends to shine their positive attributes on you and they must also allow your positive attributes to shine on them.
But he was clear about 2 things:
- While the desire to confide is very understandable, it's ultimately not beneficial for you or your friends to confide very personal things or sins you've committed because most people ultimately cannot handle it (even if you both mean well). Only a true tzaddik can really handle hearing your "confessions."
- The wrong advice can destroy the person receiving the advice. People need to consult with Hashem, each person according to his or her level.
It's not easy and it is a process. But you do the best you can and Hashem helps.
So I pound this idea (of using religious authorities for halacha only) pretty hard on my blog.
I lived it, it was excruciating, I survived it, and I really don’t want others to suffer like I did.
It’s about turning to Hashem and clinging tighter to Torah, and not flinging any part of Torah away in a rebellious state of “I gotta be meeee!”
But what if my above situation isn’t like yours?
Which Course is Right for YOU, Reb Horse?
What if you resisted anyone’s advice, let alone seek it out?
What if you found it all too easy to dismiss any advice you felt was too hard, simply not “you,” or just made you feel bad?
What if you regret not following the advice you received?
So, then...maybe what I write about isn’t for you. Maybe it’s even wrong for you!
And that’s perfectly fine.
People who experienced the above as I did might benefit a lot from the way this blog covers this topic.
But people who experienced the opposite might not.
You have attributes that I can learn from. I have attributes that you can learn from.
You have a strength in davka the area where I have a weakness.
Yet I have a strength in davka the area where you have a weakness.
This is how it is supposed to be. Hashem set things up in exactly this way.
The Main "Advice" for Both Groups
So tachlis. What do you do if you belong to either group?
You turn to Hashem.
(This isn’t Breslov or wacky me. It’s repeated throughout the Torah, Chazal, mussar book, etc.)
And interestingly, both groups can actually respond in more or less the same way:
Group #1 (my group) can get the message that Hashem is whomping over their head: TURN TO ME. They can sit down with Hashem as if He is their Good, True Friend and ask Him why this whole disappointing mess is happening.
- What’s the message?
- Are these advisers right?
- Are they wrong?
- A mixture of both?
(Speaking from personal experience…)
Group #2 can sit down with Hashem as if He is their Good, True Friend and ask Him how they should handle the advice they’ve received. They can admit that their instinctive response is to just fling it all aside and keep going their own way. Then they can describe the advice they received and piece it apart point by point with Hashem to see what they should keep and what they should discard (in the same way as described above).
The Basic Message in Any "Advice"
If it was said negatively, then I'm the first to admit that it's hard to swallow. At times, it's taken me a whole week before I could sit down with Hashem and go over what was said.
If a rabbi or rebbetzin didn’t say it to you, then maybe your aunt or your grocer would.
If Hashem wants you to hear it, then it will come from somewhere.
This applies everyone, regardless of what category they fit into.
Even in my situation, I still needed to seek out the grain of truth within the mostly wrong or hurtful words. And believe me, if you have a rav literally snickering at you while he’s explaining what you should do, it’s very hard to disregard the natural wall of defense your heart erects to protect itself.
That’s normal…which is why you turn to Hashem later in a private moment.