There are those who think that because the Tzaddik plays a role in the rectification the souls of all Jews, it means that the Tzaddik “works for them,” and thus they are not responsible for their own actions. Let’s see what this week’s parsha has to say about that.
This week’s Torah portion is parshat “Ki Teitzei.” There are many amazing topics covered in this parsha, and we will address two commandments which are mentioned in the parsha one after the other. At first glance it seems that there is no connection between them, but when we consider the matter more closely, we can see that they are actually are connected to one another.
The first commandment is the mitzvah of “hashavat aveidah.” The Torah commands us to return a lost item to its owner: “You should not see your brother’s ox or his sheep wandering untended and ignore them. You must surely return them to your brother. If your brother [the owner] is not nearby, or you don’t know who the animal belongs to, you must take the animal home and keep it with you until your brother [the owner] asks for it” (Deuteronomy 22:1-2).
Rabbi Nachman teaches: “Every person comes down into this world to carry out the mission with which he has been assigned; however, as soon as he comes into the world, he forgets the purpose for which he came. This “forgetfulness” is called “aveidah,” that which has been lost. (Our sages in Pirkei Avot 5:15 defined those who perceive quickly, yet quickly forget as: “Quick to hear and quick to lose.”) It is a person’s task to carefully search for that which he has lost and to find it, which means that he has to reveal what his mission is here in this world.
Rabbi Nachman expounds that the tzaddik strives with all his might to discover what it is that he has lost, and after he finds it, he then begins searching for what others have lost and finds those as well. Thus, a person should turn to the tzaddik to ask him for what he has lost since everything which was lost is to be found by the tzaddik. However, Rabbi Nachman adds, the tzaddik does not return the lost item before he checks that the person seeking the lost item is not trying to deceive him. As our sages have taught, one must carefully check that the petitioner is actually the owner of the lost item and is not just pretending to be the owner (Rashi). In our context, this refers to the fact that the tzaddik needs to make sure that a person’s request is sincere and that he indeed intends to do what is required of him. When the tzaddik is convinced that the person is sincerely searching for what he has lost, then the tzaddik returns the lost item to him (Likutei Moharan I, 188).
We will now move on to the second mitzvah which is mentioned right after the previous one, the mitzvah of “unloading and loading,” which deals with helping others with their burdens. “You should not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen under its load on the road and ignore it. Rather, you should pick up the load with him” (Deuteronomy 22:4). This mitzvah obligates anyone who encounters a someone on the road, whose donkey or ox has fallen from the heavy weight of his load, to help them stand them up and not just ignore them. This includes unloading the burden and then reloading on the animal again.
However, this does not have to be done at any cost. Exploitation is out of the question. For the sake of our discussion, we will use the names of the tribes, “Reuven” and “Shimon.” Imagine that Reuven is stuck on the side of the road, and Shimon stops to help him as the Torah commands. Reuven is pleased that the Torah has obligated Shimon to help him; now he has found “free labor.” Suddenly he is overcome by longing for his Torah studies, and he goes and sits down by the side of the road and starts learning, leaving Shimon to do all the work. The Torah teaches: “Certainly you will raise it up together with him.” The obligation to help out another person is conditional on that person also making an effort on his own. Only then are others required to help him (Rashi on Baba Metziah 32a).
The tzaddik does not return the lost item before he checks that the person seeking the lost item is not trying to deceive him. As our sages have taught, one must carefully check that the petitioner is actually the owner of the lost item and is not just pretending!
Now we will apply the wonderful teaching of this mitzvah to the spiritual realm, with an application that directly concerns everyone.
It is known that in this world we are on a journey, and it is our goal is to gather as many mitzvot and good deeds as we can on our way to our final destination, which is the World to Come. However, we do not always have the strength to deal with the difficult conditions along the way that this world presents us with, and we can sometimes collapse under the burden of our sins while on the highway of life.
HaKadosh Baruch Hu has mercy on us and in His compassion sends us great tzaddikim who faithfully fulfill their mission in this world and help us unload the burden of our sins. They inspire us to do mitzvot and good deeds in order to help us reach our goals.
However, a person may often find himself thinking: “It’s a good thing that the tzaddik has it all under control. I am so happy that there is someone who is doing all the work for me. I’ll just kick back, and the tzaddik will do all the dirty work for me, taking on the burden of rectifying my soul, since after all it’s his responsibility.”
This is exactly what the Torah teaches us: “Certainly you will raise it up together with him.” Only when a person has mercy on himself and attempts to rectify his own soul will the tzaddik help him. The main problem a person has is that he is unable to manage on his own because of the spiritual and emotional difficulties he encounters, and he finds himself desperate for some help. This is when the tzaddik will help him. But if his real aim is to shirk off his obligations, and he shows no real interest in engaging in the rectification of his soul and expects the tzaddik to do the work for him, then in such a case the tzaddik is not required to aid him, since it is impossible to help a person who has “free choice” unless he makes an attempt to help himself.
In this world we are on a journey…
Now we will look more closely at how the two mitzvot are connected to one another. As we have seen, Rabbi Nachman taught that every person should go to the tzaddik who will give him back what he has lost, meaning, he will remind him of what his mission is here in this world. But the tzaddik does not give him back what he has lost in a casual manner. First, he makes sure that he is truly sincere. The success of a person will depend upon his desire. A person who is searching for that which he has lost is often unable to deal all at once with all the aspects of his “aveidah” (loss) which comprise his mission in this world. It is too much for him. Therefore, the tzaddik does not give him back what he has lost until after he understands his spiritual state at that particular time. Only once the tzaddik sees that he is making a sincere effort does he direct him towards spiritual success according to his abilities in his present state.
Thus, each time the owner of the lost object strives to rectify himself and rise up to a higher level, he has to return to the tzaddik and ask for his help again. The tzaddik then re-examines his spiritual state and his capabilities, and accordingly returns to him more of his “aveidot.” He can even give him the tools to be able to search and find his aveidot on his own, which are his different missions in this world, until he finds them all.
This is also what happens when a person is on the road, and he is “collapsing from the weight of his sins.” Rabbi Nachman teaches that a person’s sins can cause him to lose much of the good that exists inside him, as it is written: “The desires of the wicked will be lost” (Psalms 112:10; Likutei Moharan II, 88). When he comes to the tzaddik and asks him to return to him that which he has lost, he is in fact asking the tzaddik to help him unload the heavy burden of his sins and recharge him with spiritual strength. The tzaddik does not give him an immediate answer; this is not at all a simple matter. It requires a precise understanding as to what is the right measure that the seeker can handle. It is clear, however, that every step that he makes enables the tzaddik to influence him and bring him closer to G-d, and then he will be able to take another step, and the tzaddik for his part will be able to bring him even closer, and so on.
Rabbi Nachman once said to one of his chassidim: “It is true that you cannot accomplish anything without me, but similarly, I cannot accomplish without you.” This means that you cannot fulfill your mission alone without me directing you, but even I, without you, also cannot help you. This means I cannot do the work for you—you have to do your part.
This is especially true these days, during the month of Elul which is the month of mercy and a time when G-d is willing to be appeased. It is especially at this time that we try to get closer to G-d, but at the same time we discover that we are still so far away. Once we appreciate that every step we make enables the tzaddik to bestow upon us more of our rectification and return to us that which we have lost, it makes it easier for us, because we can rely on the fact that with our every slightest improvement, the tzaddik will become more involved in our rectification, according to our efforts. And then we can make a further step, and again the tzaddik will increase our rectification and return to us more aveidot, until we can return in complete repentance to G-d and arrive on Rosh HaShanah cleansed of all iniquity and full of spiritual energy.
May we have the privilege of taking advantage of these holy days to draw near to G-d and return in complete repentance as we should during the days of the holy month of Elul and may we all have a good and sweet year.
(Based on to Likutei Halachot, Aveida U’Metziah 3:2, 15)