Garbage Theory: A Second Take
Response to Lech Lecha 5780
I received a slew of emails—some complimentary, but most critical—in response to last week’s article, “Hey, dump that garbage!” I understand many of you were hurt by what I wrote and how I wrote it, and I am sorry.
Thank you for making me aware and giving me the opportunity to apologize. Please understand that I had no intention of “cornering” anyone, or blasting you with mussar. I spoke too strongly when I referred to people as “peddlers of avoda zara.” I should have been more sensitive.
I would also like to thank everyone who wrote. As chazal say, a teacher learns the most from his students, and our correspondences have given me a deeper and more sensitive perspective on the subject at hand and on the nature of people’s struggles. I hope to keep learning.
I cannot address all of your concerns here, but I will try to touch on one point that would address the main ones.
Some of the objections echoed by many were:
“Do we have to be perfect? Does Torah not allow us to first find composure when confronted with garbage, and then move on to see the hashgacha pratis in it?”
“Is the Gershon Dov Paharer ideal even attainable today? Is it realistic?”
“Is it even a healthy ideal to strive for? Perhaps it’s actually neurosis to take everything in as a lesson.”
“I’m tired of hearing that everything happens for a reason; stop finding purpose in my challenges.”
The Torah understands that we’re not perfect. Yes, there is value in finding ways to stay calm and composed in the face of “garbage,” and yes, it is unrealistic to expect the average chossid today to internalize the idea of hashgacha pratis the way Reb Gershon Dov did. The issue only begins when complacency becomes our ideal.
The more we internalize the idea of Hashem in our lives, the more spiritually mature we become. And like mental or emotional maturity, the more we develop our spiritual maturity, the stronger we become.
Reb Mendel Futerfas was once interrogated by the KGB in a room strategically adjacent to a torture chamber. He could hear the cries and see the bloody bodies being carried out, yet, he had the strength to tell his interrogators: “Hashem is in charge. If He wants me to live, then all your tortures won’t be able to kill me. And if He wants me to die, then you can free me right now and I’ll be hit by a truck as I leave this building.”
A spiritually mature person like that is strong, resilient, and happy.
We’re not perfect, and we’re certainly not on his level, but why rob ourselves of this ideal altogether?
My daughter calls the dentist’s office the “worstest place in the world” and claims that the dentist “hates kids and likes hurting them.” My hope is that one day she’ll mature. I remember when as an older child, I finally internalized the idea that the dentist is good; it made me feel calmer and safer.
If my daughter would, chas v’shalom, have a traumatic experience at the dentist, it would surely be more difficult for her to accept the more mature level of understanding-- that the dentist is there for her good. Nevertheless, would I not do my best to help her overcome her hurt and grow in her understanding? I certainly would!
People have been jaded by the idea of hashgacha pratis because of the many challenging experiences Hashem gave them. (For others, the idea is foreign simply from lack of education.) It would be cruel to simply tell these people to tough it up. That would be like telling your three-year-old to sit like a big girl at the dentist. But it would be even crueler to let them get stuck in their limited perception, without ever feeling the resilience, serenity, and happiness that can be attained when we begin to understand—and truly feel—that Hashem is always with us.
In essence, then, promoting the idea of hashgacha pratis is not simply for Hashem's honor, it's in our own best interest.