The daughter of the Mitteler Rebbe, Reb Dov Ber of Lubavitch, was very precocious. Once, as a toddler, she was having a tantrum, as children do. In an attempt to placate his screaming daughter, Reb Dov Ber gave her a candy and put her on his lap. Sucking on the candy, she calmed down, as her father smiled. But a moment later, she looked up at her father and said, "you only think I stopped crying... but I'm just taking a break!"
This feels like an apt description of news and social media; certainly in the past year. Our experience is characterized by overwhelming screaming, with short breaks for entertainment. And the demands for us to join in the screaming as pervasive as it is exhausting.
Of course, when the world is falling apart (as it so often feels to be), decrying the insanities is an essential avoda, and, I dare say, a fundamental part of our culture. As Jews, it is our time-honored, sacred tradition to kvetch.
Learning How To Kvetch
Please don't misunderstand me; I am not being facetious. The Sod Yesharim (Haggadah Inyan 23 and Sefer HaZmanim 1) writes that the greatest evil in the world is thinking that everything is ok the way it is. The moment we realize that there are things lacking in our lives, is the moment we begin to repair it. If we don't think there is anything to complain about, we have no hope of growing.
Dr Stephen Bechen, a marriage therapist, writes about the phenomenon of couples doing therapy for years with little change.
At a recent lecture I gave, a member of the audience—a therapist—asked me if I get bored or frustrated in therapy. "Neither," I responded. "I have great empathy for my clients because I know first–hand how difficult the change process is." I even warn my clients: "If you want deep change, you'll have to hate your symptoms. You can't be somewhat aggravated, just as you can't say you'll give medical school a try—you're in the business of change or you're not."
The Medrash (מכילתא יתרו) tells us that no slave was ever able to leave Mitzraim. It's a strange Medrash. No-one?! We have stories of slaves in the South fleeing their masters, Jews in Nazi labor camps that were able to crawl out. But no Yid ever left Egypt?
So the Beis Yaakov (שמות אות כ׳) explains: The mindset of a Jew in Egypt was that it was so great to live there that no one, not even a slave wanted to leave. They couldn't imagine that life could be better anywhere else. That's not optimism. That's delusion. But they couldn't see beyond it.
The Geula began once people started to believe that life could be different. And for the first time, they cried out. The pasuk (שמות ב:כג) relates how the nation groaned:
וַיְהִי בַיָּמִים הָרַבִּים הָהֵם וַיָּמת מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם וַיֵּאָנְחוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מִן הָעֲבֹדָה וַיִּזְעָקוּ וַתַּעַל שַׁוְעָתָם אֶל הָאֱלֹהִים מִן הָעֲבֹדָה
And it came to pass in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died; and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the slavery, and they cried, and their cry came up to Hashem from the slavery.
This was not a well formulated, articulate tefillah, it was a cry. They finally kvetched.
Does that mean that we're all tzadikim for our constant social media outcries? Are we bringing the Geulah with by decrying moral injustice?
Maybe we'd like to think so; but I don't think it's true.
So Much Crying - Why So Few Tears?
There is a deep difference between decrying and crying. And it is this difference, I believe, in which we will find the way forward now and in general.
Decrying is rooted in anger and frustration. Decrying points fingers, assigns blame and calls for others to act in the interest of truth and justice. Decrying assumes malevolence, agendas and nefarious intent.
But crying the opposite. Crying is rooted in sadness and brokenness. Crying about a situation is not a protest against the people who caused it, but the situation itself. Crying does not assign blame. Crying assumes a better result could have been, if we were all living as our higher selves.
Which is a better response? The act of decrying is far more enticing. It simultaneously alleviates our personal responsibility, and creates an actionable step forward for someone else. But all parties decrying each other is an intractable gridlock.
Moreover, the loudness of our cries might well obscure the pressing need of any real work in changing who we are. And it promotes the most insidious notion that I shouldn’t need to work on myself because the world is so messed up that my actions are irrelevant.
Crying, on the other hand, offers little in the way of practical, actionable steps. And it doesn't feel very nice. But is does allow us to feel the pain of the wretchedness of our situation. And from that pain comes the license to dream again.
R' Aryeh Tzvi Frumer (ארץ צבי - וארא) explains that this is the promise that Hashem gives us in Egypt:
וְהוֹצֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם מִתַּחַת סִבְלֹת מִצְרַיִם וְהִצַּלְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מֵעֲבֹדָתָם
I will take you out from Egyptian suffering, and I will save you from their labor...
Ending physical slavery is called וְהִצַּלְתִּי (being saved from the harsh labor.) But that cannot happen until Hashem has extracted us from the confines of finger pointing, blame, and victimhood. Hashem is promising us something far more important as a first step: וְהוֹצֵאתִי - I'll free your heads and your hearts from the limits of Egyptian thought.
Geulah begins when we stop complaining, blaming and pointing fingers and we start dreaming again. Decrying evil is not the same thing as effecting change.
Bringing it Home
All of this is true from the level of Klal to P'rat, from the greatest public interest to the most localized individual concern. It is true regarding the USA, Israel, our local communities, friendships, families, marriages and personal challenges. Recognizing the problem is simply not enough. We need to cry, and not simply decry. Because we need to take ownership and responsibility, rather than assign blame.
Of course, in the deepest way, this is the ultimate recipe for getting out of Galus. Rav Shmuel Mohliver, the leader of Chibbat Tzion used to quip that the Jewish people will need to Mashiachs - Mashiach ben Yosef and Mashiach ben David. One will take the Jews out of Galus, and the other will take Galus out of the Jews.
Hashem should help us that very soon, He'll will wipe away the tears and fears, and we will finally merit to have Galus taken out of us.
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