Parashat Vayishlach

Everything or nothing?!


Harav Israel Asulin

Monday, 11th of Kislev, 5776


“Yeah, I already tried, I already worked on this point, but I didn’t succeed.  It’s too much for me, and that’s it.”

This is a sentence that we hear a lot from many people and in many variations, where the common message of all of them is: “Listen, I tried- it didn’t work for me, so leave me alone.”

One of the stronger tendencies in our soul is the tendency towards everything or nothing.  This tendency raises its head with more strength and intensity when we try to enter the service of Hashem, work on ourselves and connect to our inner self.

Also here we want to be successful.  We want to serve Hashem in a complete way, to do everything and exactly the way that Hashem wants from us.  To have a hour a day of personal prayer with a broken heart and supplications, and to be happy and joyful the remaining twenty three hours… to be successful in Torah learning, fulfill the mitzvahs with beauty, to finally be weaned and overcome all addictions, to be an amazing husband- a good listener, accepting, understanding, and a good father and educator…

In short, to be complete.

This is good and correct, to want to reach all of the true spiritual good.

The problem begins when our will meets the evil inclination and all of his soldiers, and the accomplishments become distant from us, and nothing goes our way, and we scream at our children instead of hugging them and we eat donuts instead of cucumbers and we don’t succeed in weaning ourselves like we hoped and we don’t pray like we wanted to and we’re not able to learn like we dreamed.

If also then we continue to hold the flag of “everything or nothing” and the “everything” gets buried, then what we are left with is the despair of “nothing”.  This is the sentence that says “listen, I tried- it didn’t work for me, so leave me alone.”

In this week’s Torah portion Rebbe Nachman speaks in an incredible way exactly about this matter.

It is written: “Then Jacob sent angels ahead of him to Esau his brother to the land of Seir, the field of Edom…The angels returned to Jacob, saying, ‘We came to your brother, to Esau; moreover, he is heading towards you, and four hundred men are with him.  Jacob became very frightened, and it distressed him.  So he divided the people with him, and the flocks, cattle, and camels, into two camps.  For he said, ‘If Esau comes to the one camp and strikes it down, then the remaining camp shall survive.’” (Genesis, Chapter 32)

When Esav and his soldiers came close to Yaakov’s camp, and the threat was great and tangible, Yaakov divided his camp into two camps.  What is the reason for this division?  “Then the remaining camp shall survive.”  If, God forbid, he is not able to save everyone, at least he can save some of them.

Rebbe Natan explains: “When we see that it is difficult to obtain the complete advice, we need to behave according to part of the advice in any case, in a way that the remaining camp shall survive and not be completely lost, God forbid.  That is to say that when a person sees that the evil inclination overcomes him and it seems to him that he doesn’t have the strength to stand up to him as he needs to, and whatever advice and plan he thinks of does not succeed as he wants, he should behave according to part of the advice, which is the aspect of ‘he divided the people with him… then the remaining camp shall survive.’

This means that a person should establish in his heart that no matter what, nevertheless I’m remaining strong so that I won’t fall backwards completely from Hashem and I will never cause myself to despair, and I will make an effort with all my strength to grab some good every day of my life; and if, God forbid, I can’t pray at all, I’ll see to it to speak afterwards some words of request and supplication, and if I will be prevented also from this God forbid, I’ll scream in any case- ‘Master of the world please save me’, and so forth.” (Likutei Halachot[1], Rosh Chodesh, 7th halacha, paragraph 52)

Listen- Rebbe Nachman and Rebbe Natan say- I understand your tendency to choose ‘nothing’ when you don’t succeed in touching ‘everything’.  Understand, here is exactly your work!  Be okay with the fact that you are not perfect and cannot do everything.  Be okay with the fact that not everything is in your hands.  Agree to do just half of everything you dreamed about.  Do what you can.  Grab something.  Don’t give up, God forbid, on everything.

You can’t pray?  Say a few words.

You can’t get out even a word?  Scream!

You are running to the bakery to fill all of the empty batteries from the last few months of detoxification?  You’re not able to overcome?  Okay, but keep something small for yourself.  At least the willpower, at least the right direction.  Don’t fall apart, hold on to your clarity as you face the croissants.

Don’t choose to become despaired.

Understand, God has pleasure from your work even when it is partial.  He loves you also when you succeed one day and fail the next.  He is happy with you, also when you try and don’t succeed, and you choose to continue and begin anew.

On the contrary, in Heaven they love specifically this struggle, your courageous falling and getting up, your effort to grab onto something when it is impossible to do everything perfectly, your tremendous courage to forego the flag of ‘everything or nothing’ in exchange for true nullification to God’s will.

This is the most exact service of Hashem; I don’t serve myself and the dreams of heights or depths which the evil inclination sketches for me with an artist’s hand.  I’m not supposed to supply a certain amount of goods according to the plans and the planners…

I serve Hashem, as He wants- at the pace and the time and in the way that he dictates; not the plans, not the output, and mainly- not myself.

[1] Rebbe Natan’s explanation of the Code of Jewish law, based upon the teachings of Rebbe Nachman

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