Be Flexible Like a Reed
Meshivas Nefesh #42 – Elucidated
The main way of encouragement is to know the limitations of the human intellect, that in truth we know nothing at all, as King Shlomo said: “I am a boor of men…” (Mishlei 30,2). We are therefore obligated to nullify and put aside our understanding completely and rather to believe in the words of the true Tzaddikim who teach that there truly is G-dly vitality even in the lowliest places. It is only that it is impossible to find Hashem’s glory there with any form of human comprehension. This is because these places are SEEMINGLY empty of G-dliness, in an aspect of “I will not give My glory to another” (Yeshaya 42,8). Hence we must search for and seek out in these places: “Where is the place of His glory!” (Mussaf prayer). Through this alone can one arise again in the ultimate spiritual ascent.
The main encouragement and revival of those who are tremendously distant and have fallen to these places, which are an aspect of the “Challal HaPanui” (The mystical concept of The Vacant Space), is through the concept of “Rechicha” (flexibility/suppleness). For in these lowly places no light can be seen, as the light is so extremely subtle that it is cast aside and hidden from all who enter this place; just like a soft object is easily cast aside by anything that impacts it. So too, the main form of encouragement in these places is also through Rechicha, which is an aspect of “Let go, and know that I am Hashem” (Tehillim 46,11). Regarding this our sages taught: “Let one always be soft as a reed and not hard as a Cedar tree” (Tractate Shabbos 30b). All the winds in the world cannot move a reed from its place, specifically because it is soft and flexible, bending before all that encounters it. Although it is soft its roots are extremely strong. With this combination no wind can uproot it. A hard tree however, will be uprooted by strong and stormy winds. So it is with the places that are an aspect of the Challal HaPanui, where the winds of the Forces of Evil blow with extreme force. It is forbidden for one in such a place to involve himself in questions and intellectual investigation, of which the verse says: “Do not harden your hearts” (Tehillim 95,8). For the main source of strength is to be supple like a reed, allowing all the questions, confusion and obstacles from within oneself and from others to brush past like the wind over a reed. One should not take notice of them at all, in an aspect of: “I will be like a man who does not hear” (Tehillim 38,15). For the questions and confusion that come from these places CANNOT be resolved. One must therefore be endlessly strong in his faith, rooted strongly like a reed in water; even though it bends before the winds its roots are ferociously strong. We must likewise cling tightly to the faith that we received from our ancestors and teachers, hearing nothing of the questions and confusion that come from these places. One must not answer them at all, as if one has no answer, to the extent that it seems to them that he has been subdued before them, G-d forbid.
Ironically this is one main source of strength, like the above mentioned reed. For the truth is that if one desires to search for answers in these places he will remain in complete darkness, since the questions that are rooted in these places cannot be answered with human intellect alone. Hence one must be flexible like a reed and adhere tightly to his roots, which practically means be strong in one’s faith and to search for Hashem in an aspect of “Where is the place of His glory!”. Specifically through this will one merit to the ultimate spiritual ascent.
The main rectification of the world itself, which will come about through the two Moshiachs, one a descendent of Yosef and the other of King David, will be through the concept of “Soft as a reed”. This is why Yosef is called “Avreich” (אברך) which is composed of the two words “Av” (Father) and “Rach” (soft). For although he possessed great ‘fatherly’ knowledge, he was also ‘soft as a reed’, knowing which questions cannot be answered. Regarding King David it also says: “I am today Rach…” (Shmuel 2; 3,39). Concerning this topic of “Rechicha” there is much to be said, however, it is impossible to put it in writing. One who is perceptive and truly desires will understand on his own in what manner he must be soft like a reed and nevertheless extremely strong in his roots, and how this ‘softness’ is his main source of strength eternally. (Likutey Halachos, Eiruvei Techumin 6, section 8)
Stubbornness can be a very valuable trait, for it is imperative to keeping the Torah. One needs ‘holy stubbornness’ to stand before Hashem in prayer, to maintain set times for Torah study each day, to strain one’s mind to remember Hashem and to contemplate the things one has learned in the works of the Tzaddikim. It is only through stubbornness that one can persevere in his Divine service.
However, on the other hand one must know that stubbornness alone can be detrimental too. If one clings to his stubbornness excessively, he might give up completely if he isn’t successful in achieving things exactly the way he desired. It could also lead him to lose his cool and to get angry in the face of obstacles. He could drive himself crazy and hurt others too, specifically because he lacks the flexibility to adjust, to do what is possible and to keep going. It can clearly be seen how there are times when the stubborn succeed and for others when it is the very reason for their failure.
There is another down side to obstinacy. The stubborn person desires to understand everything immediately and as long as he does not, he refuses to move forward. This is true regarding Torah learning but even more so concerning questions on Hashem. It is in this way that one can be held back for years on the same point of confusion and puzzlement, wasting one’s life away in emptiness – all because of stubbornness.
By Kind David we find completion both in the attribute of stubbornness as well as in that of flexibility. One must pray extensively to Hashem to receive this wondrous gift, to abandon the negative side of this attribute; the desire to understand things that are not to be understood. There are testing times when one is sent down to difficult places where it is impossible to find Hashem through intellect, only through pure faith alone. If one would just let go of his obstinate desire for the clear revelations he has experienced in the past, he could quickly overcome this hurdle. The advice is to cast away one’s desire to understand and to return to an all-encompassing understanding that the Tzaddikim reveal – that Hashem is always with us. For if the eye sees and the hand moves, Hashem is certainly with me and if I don’t understand how, who ever said I’m supposed to. Despite the fact that I may be accustomed to perceiving the glory of Hashem in a more revealed fashion, I certainly have a purpose in this place too, to bring about rectifications through strengthening myself even without feeling and doing what I can. The main thing is to let go of the stubbornness, to understand that there are those who must endure downfalls and contend with places of darkness. In this way one can return to a life full of light, avoid going crazy and find some peace of mind.