In Hidabroot (sorry, I couldn’t find the same article in English), the following story appears (originally published with Dirshu) regarding Rav Shteinman ztz"l at the age of 95. (Source)
Rav Nachum Bernstein escorted an unnamed recent baal teshuvah to Rav Shteinman.
Rav Bernstein introduced the baal teshuvah as his talmid, saying, “This Jew has come a long way from the upbringing he received. Today, he merits to toil in Torah and to grow in mitzvot and yirat Shamayim. Yet there is one mitzvah he has not been capable of upholding and he has stumbled in this mitzvah time after time…”
At this point, the unnamed Jew burst into bitter tears and said, “I’ve done everything I can! I devote myself to Torah and, baruch Hashem, succeed in keeping most of the mitzvot. Only regarding this mitzvah, I’m not managing to prevail. Again and again, I stumble and the yetzer distracts me from my path. Again and again, I stumble and I don’t succeed in prevailing. Please, HaRav, what is there to do? How it is possible to cope?”
Both the frustrated baal teshuvah and the dedicated rabbi expected Rav Shteinman to offer either a segulah or practical advice.
To their surprise, Rav Shteinman rose to his full height and warmly clasped the hand of the baal teshuvah, then Rav Shteinman repeatedly hugged and kissed him.
With tears in his eyes, Rav Shteinman said, “Oy, how I envy you, how I envy you…all the merits you collect each time you DO manage to overcome yourself, how much eternal reward awaits you…I envy you!”
Rav Shteinman lovingly clasped the man’s hand again. “You’re a wonderful tzaddik, a rare tzaddik. It’s so difficult for you to cope, and yet you continue to strive and you keep trying. Despite everything, you keep fighting. The Creator of the World is proud of people like you; I am full of envy toward you!”
Everyone in the room was stunned.
Then Rav Shteinman requested that the baal teshuvah return soon because Rav Shteinman wanted to meet again with a person of such spiritual greatness.
A few months later, the pair returned and Rav Shteinman immediately remembered the struggling man. Rav Shteinman asked how he was doing and coping.
Now the man was managing a lot better and stumbling only occasionally. Yet again, Rav Shteinman became very excited and hugged the man with great warmth. “I’m thrilled to merit meeting a man like you! You succeed in prevailing, you fight like a lion—I’m proud of you. Ashreicha, how goodly is your portion!”
And the rav invited the man to visit him again in the near future.
At the third meeting, the man was able to report that he hadn’t stumbled even once since the last time they met.
In response, Rav Shteinman rose from his chair, kissed the man on the forehead, and said, “You are not a holy Jew—you are literally the Holy of Holies!”
You are Not Your Flaws; You are Your RESPONSE to Your Flaws
Even worse, people who genuinely struggle yet fail are often considered equal to those who do not try at all. If you’ve ever had this happen to you (and I have), it’s soul-destroying.
No matter how hard you try (and no matter how awful your nisayon is), some people will consider you just as bad as someone who never tries at all, consider you just as bad as people who not only won’t even acknowledge they possess a particular flaw, but also never show remorse for their behavior.
(Interestingly, the worst offenders of this kind of judgment are often people who would never even manage for one week in your difficult nisayon, let alone struggle as you do. Hmm…)
This kind of condemnation is very destructive.
It is also irrational and just plain wrong.
Yet many people feed into this distorted thinking.
You’re condemned for having the flaw (even though EVERYONE has flaws) and given absolutely no credit for fighting it.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Backwards, backwards, backwards.
So one of the Gedolei Hador, a tzaddik, responds in exactly the opposite manner, contrary to many.
The tzaddik is full of praise for the man for trying.
Look, at the first meeting the guy admitted that he was failing a lot. He was basically a failure in this particular area.
Except that he wasn’t.
Despite knowing that the man was losing far more rounds than he’d won, Rav Shteinman was full of praise and admiration because the man was trying.
Rav Shteinman praised the man’s struggle.
This is why it’s so important to try to get into the mindset of a Gadol. They think very differently than regular people, and their thinking is so much healthier—because it’s based on TRUTH.
Strugglers Deserve Encouragement & Validation, Not Disdain
Despite (or maybe because of) the fact that Rav Bender not only lacked these particular flaws, but probably could not personally relate to weakness on the level that it plagued these guys, Rav Bender spoke of them with admiration.
As far as Rav Bender was concerned, you may not be able to help how you were born (or later corrupted, in one case), but you can decide how you respond to your weak points. And crying out to Hashem and struggling against the yetzer hara is exactly the right way to respond.
So Rav Bender spoke of these strugglers with admiration and fondness.
The Real Winner
I think it has to do with humility.
In an earlier post (True Greatness Revealed in the Seemingly Small Stuff), we saw how Rav Shteinman revealed profound self-awareness that his placidity in the face of terrible stress may just be his nature and not necessarily true emunah.
He was digging down deep to make sure that his tranquility was coming from real emunah and not from some naturally occurring disassociative state.
Likewise, Rav Bender also struggled with aspects of himself, albeit not to the extent that some of his fellow Breslovers did.
So how does a Torah-oriented mind respond?
WOW. That’s a REALLY big nisayon. Gosh. I haven’t had to face a yetzer hara like that. (Or, if they have, they know how hard it is & appreciate the effort involved.) That’s such a tough battle. Whoa, think of all the reward involved for winning a battle like that!
Seeing the world through spiritual eyes is very different than seeing the world through eyes of ego or gaavah.
The following has been posted before, but Rav Akiva Rabinowitz’s words (from Rav Ofer Erez’s Ahavat Kedumim, pg. 170) are always worth repeating: