Please Don't Feed the Bear

By Leibel Gniwisch


I’ve never been afraid of rollercoasters. They were thrilling, yes, even scary, but we embraced the fear and became nourished by it. Going up was the scariest part; our small hearts pounded to the sound of the car’s slow ascent. Clickety-clack, clickety-clack, “CGI! CGI!” Clickety-clack. That first drop and the subsequent twists and turns were both terrible and awesome. “Let’s go again!”

“Come on guys,” our counselor would say, “it’s lunchtime. We aren’t meant to stay in Gan Eden forever!”

The proverbial rollercoaster, though—oh boy—that guy’s a menace. I sat in my mashpia’s office and complained about Mendel. Mendel hadn’t done anything wrong; not at all. Actually, Mendel was (and still is) one of the nicest people I know. I sat and lamented our differences. I grumbled about his apparent ease at sailing through life. “What’s up with these guys? Every day they come on time and learn without letting up! I literally can’t go a week without somehow slashing my consistency, falling prey to laziness, and some form of mild despair!” (I paraphrase.)

He stroked his (then) black beard and lovingly informed me of a letter he had recently read. “Reb Binyomin Kletzker wrote it,” he began, referring to the famed wood merchant and Chossid of the Mitteler Rebbe. “This was in response to a misnaged who railed against the Chassidim’s lack of schedule and inconsistent behavior. Reb Binyomin explained that there were two types of Jews: Tzadikim and Baalei Teshuva. He didn’t mean them in their colloquial forms but as portraits of different modes of living. The Tzadik in our analogy is perfect; she rarely yells at her children and her perfectly scheduled day makes us feel disjointed. The Tzadik excels at consistency, productivity. The BT is fractured, splintered in his application of the values he’s supposed to espouse. Sometimes he’ll step up to bat, often, he’ll strikeout. In contrast, the Baal Teshuvah’s life is more colorful, more dynamic. Shacharis will sometimes be after the zman but it pulses with energy, passion, and a healthy dose of bitterness.”

Later, I heard another application of this nuance. In Nishmas we say, “and if our eyes shone like the sun and moon [1].” The sun. And the moon. The sun, that shining ball of fire and gas, the source of warmth and light to billions. Dude, I want my eyes to be that brilliant any day. But the moon? A rocky desert devoid of its own light. I’m good, thanks.

The Magid of Mezritch dons the lawyer’s suit and argues in favor of the moon. “Constant pleasure ceases to be enjoyable [2]. The moon represents the one who waxes and wanes and only he can experience the passion of a broken heart.”

“So what? Is consistency not a value? Should I abort its pursuit?” I once asked said mashpia at a farbrengen. While this continues to be a struggle, my personal answer seems to come in two acts:

ACT I: Be intentional.

Intentional: what a great word! I re-learned it during teacher in-service at Lamplighters. In pairs, we were asked to post adjectives about the topic on a poster board we were given. One said “Our Curriculum,” another, “Our Personal Behavior” and the like. Sticky notes began to populate the cardstock. “Authentic,” “Engaging,” “Encouraging questions,” were offered for the Curriculum poster, while “Personable,” “Warm,” Listening ear,” filled the Behavior one. Intentional came up for “Our School as an Environment,” and it started me thinking...

The alternative to consistency is to ask the big questions and to ask them currently. “What does the universe need from me right now? To learn Gemara? Ok, I’ll go learn. To assist a friend in need? Sounds good! Here I come!” To be intentional is to be inquisitive in this way; it is to see time as a bunch of vertical lines in succession as opposed to a long horizontal one.

Hashem doesn’t need you to be consistent, only thoughtful.

ACT II: Accept your glorious moon self.

Moshe ascended the mountain calmly and he could still make out the faint din of the assembled nation. Suddenly, all became white and the lawmaker found himself in a different dimension. Here, angels floated by deliberately and stared with curiosity at the newcomer. When word spread of the intruder’s intent, however, rage and malice filled the realm. The Torah, an artifact held in their highest esteems was to be given to the humans, an inferior and weaker race. Terrified, Moshe grabbed hold of Hashem’s throne and with permission, began to advocate for the superiority of people. “Well, they’ve got an Evil Inclination and you don’t. Um... they live in a locale rife with idolatry and I don’t see any idols here.” Moshe waited with bated breath. In a plot twist, the angels acquiesce and we received the greatest gift of history.

Hold on. The malachim revile our weakness and Moshe confirms it. And he won the debate? Plot twist.

The angels thought Torah was just another angel-esque task and they are, after all, the quintessential agents. Lacking the toxicity of humans, they get the job done; no hangups. But, as Moshe informs them, Torah was designed for broken beings. To quote the venerable Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, “Why did a G‑d of infinite wisdom design creatures so prone to failure as us frail human beings?

So that He could share with us His deepest wisdom: The wisdom to heal a broken world.”

So, shake off the dust, arise (התנערי, מעפר קומי) and let your perfectly imperfect moon shine. To quote the hackneyed phrase: failure isn’t in the fall, but in the decision not to get up. Well, it’s a cliché because it’s true. You know, like, take the road most traveled (or was it less traveled?).

You aren’t without taint? That’s quite ok. After all, we weren’t meant to stay in Gan Eden forever.

[1] ועינינו מאירות כשמש וכירח

[2] תענוג תמידי אינו תענוג

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