Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Religious Imperative of Giving Yourself a Pat On The Back - A Little Known Genesis Gem From R. Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik (aka "The Rav")

Some are of the belief that in the Litvishe hashkafah, people are expected to always put down, or minimize their accomplishments (as part of religious mandated humility presumably). Is that correct however?

Recently, through the magic of technology, I heard a fine vort from Rav Yosef Dov (aka R. Yoshe Ber) Soloveitchik, renowned Bostoner Rav, and R"M at ישיבת רבינו יצחק אלחנן, addressing and illuminating this important issue.

In the words of his dedicated talmid, R. Yehudah (Julius) Berman shlit"a -

"In his inimitable fashion, the Rav started off by referring to the creation of the world, as reflected in the Torah in the beginning of Bereishis. The Rav pointed out that the Torah repeatedly states in the course of creation that וירא אלקים כי טוב, and G-d saw that it was good. And then finally, in noting the conclusion of creation, after six days, the Torah states וירא אלקים את כל אשר עשה והנה טוב מאוד, And G-d saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.

The Rav asked a simple question.

Is it really necessary for Hashem to look back to his creation and conclude that "it was good"? Could it really have been otherwise? Is there a suggestion here that G-d may have, of his own free will, created something and then turned around and said that he had, if one could be so bold as to use the phrase, 'goofed'?

The Rav went on to answer his own question.

Obviously, there is no real issue as to whether what G-d  had created was good in his eyes. In his eyes it could not have been otherwise. But G-d was teaching us a lesson, as to how we, as simple human beings, should relate to our own past activities during life. Normally, when we look back at our actions during the year, there is a tendency to focus upon the defects or deficiencies, in our performance, with the hope that we can correct them, by resolving to do better in the future. However, pointed out the Rav, there are times in one's life when one should, upon reflection, focus upon the positive aspects of one's past activities. Not only Hashem, but every human being, has the right, and indeed the duty, והלכת בדרכיו (imitatio Dei), to reflect upon one's past activities, and acknowledge achievements and accomplishments. And that is what G-d taught us when he bothered to look back at his own creation and judge its merits."

Source - address (app. 1:08:50-1:11:33) of R. Berman at recent חג הסמיכה of ישיבת רבינו יצחק אלחנן)

So even a Litvak can enjoy their own pat on the back sometimes.


A gutten chodesh Nissan.

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