Some thoughts coming from Pesach…
In a well known Sicha (Likutei Sichos 1, pg 129) the Rebbe elegantly brings out – in his typical way – a powerful lesson from a most obvious and often overlooked interesting detail. The Rebbe highlights the fact that on Pesach, while we are so careful to not have the slightest bit of Chometz, and refrain (especially in Chabad) from any possibility of Chometz in the remotest possible way, we nevertheless make a point – and the very essence of Pesach is dependent on – eating that which most resembles Chometz, and is most likely to become Chometz if not guarded very carefully – Matzoh.
In explaining this stange fact, the Rebbe shows how, not only are the ingredients of bread and Motzoh almost identical – Chometz including a tiny additional moment of time – but also the words themselves are almost identical – Chometz including a tiny additional line. Both words have a Mem, and a Tzadik. The only difference is the Ches vs. the Hay. And even those two letters are only separated by the bit of ink that closes the Hay on the top to form the Ches.
The lesson from both the spelling as well as the items themselves is that when a person is full of himself, as in the case of Chomtez, he has, so to speak, nowhere to go but down, as we see in the letter Ches. While a person who is humbled and Botul is like the Hay, in which he has an “escape hatch” above to go up. This is because an arrogant person feels he is always right and will never admit his mistakes – and as a result will therefore never do Teshuva. His only direction is down.
A humble person knows that he is not perfect and that there is room for improvement, so is not afraid to admit wrongdoing and is interested, therefore, in correcting it – Teshuva.
The Rebbe continues at length beautifully showing how this applies not only to past wrongdoings but also in other areas of Avodah. But as I was learning this Sicha and thinking in the context of Chinuch, a thought that occurred to me, specifically in regards to Bochurim and teens in general. Herein is a powerful lesson that we can impart upon youth.
So many of us (and I would venture to say all of us), are to one degree or another insecure about ourselves. We all want approval and have the need to fit in with our peers. How much more so is this true for adolescents! At this age, kids are changing and evolving into new independence seeking individuals and, paradoxically, are even more dependent on the approval and acceptance of others. The challenge is to give the child enough sense of security and self worth to be willing to admit a lack of perfection so they take responsibility for mistakes and make efforts to improve.
At first glance it does seem paradoxical that someone who feels perfect can not cope with personal faults and feels compelled to deny them, whereas a person who is comfortable with their faults and is more secure in who they are, is open to facing them in a healthy manner.
This is the exact lesson of the Matzoh. Our true wroth and value does not come from our achievements or accomplishments, but rather from our very essence. In essence we are infinite, a part of Hashem. And that can be the only reference point to gauge our worth. In comparison to Hashem we are nothing, but in that nothingness is the ultimate somethingness. From that perspective, I can see that my faults and mistakes are not who I truly am, and that they are simply the challenges that I was given to work with. On the contrary, those challenges do not lower my value but show the potential that I have, for only someone with the capability of dealing with these challenges, with the strength to overcome them, is given this specific set of tests – and in acknowledging them and facing them, I live up to my true self worth.
This is the challenge when raising our children and educating our Talmidim. We certainly need to acknowledge their successes, academic and personal. But at the same time, we need to be careful that they do not become dependent on those praises to validate their self worth. By raising our children and Talmidim to view themselves as a Matzoh, as completely nullified in reference to their Creator, we enable them to reach their greatest potential. Just as an empty glass has the greatest capacity to receive, so does a person with Bitul have the most room to grow and achieve true greatness, that of living up to his purpose.
So the questions is how is this achieved? That is the underlying foundation of the philosophy of Mesivta Lev Tmimim. You are invited to peruse the website and learn more about our program and approach. IY”H in future posts I’ll discuss more in depth the means we believe are effective in achieving this in the context of a Yeshiva.