[Hat tip to R’ Micha]
This is a sobering letter from R’ Yitzchak Hutner ז’ל. He was a very interesting, non-standard, Charedi Rosh Yeshivah, who considered Rav Kook ז’ל as his Rav HaMuvhak for many years; R’ Kook’s picture used to hang prominently in his Succah. The Rayatz of Lubavitch ז’ל arranged for him to have a personal Chavrusa in Chassidus with the last Rebbe ז’ל before he became Rebbe. He was Rosh Yeshivah of Chaim Berlin, and Rabbi Groner ז’ל was also influenced by him and spoke about him. He is best known for his Sefer Pachad Yitzchak, something that’s on my “need to learn properly” list; a list that seems to be getting longer and longer. A generally fiery and charismatic character who some considered to be almost Rebbe like given the Tishes he used to host, R’ Hutner wrote a letter (no. 128) to presumably a Talmid. This letter was translated and published in the Jewish Observer in December 1981.
Unfortunately, as we all know, the Artscrolls and HaModias of the Charedi world tend to never portray the full picture of Gedolim, making them all appear perfect in every possible way. This is of course an exercise in Sheker and a great shame. Furthermore, it can put unrealistic pressure on the ordinary person. Our task is to clone ourselves, but that cloning is to the Middos of Hakadosh Baruch Hu, through adherence to Halacha. We know that we cannot reach that level of perfection. We strive and struggle, but should be under no illusions that we can achieve the type of perfection described by Charedi Hagiography. A dose of realism never hurt anyonw.
Given that we are in Ellul, it’s also a fortuitous moment to re-publish the excerpt below.
…A failing many of us suffer from is, that when we consider the
aspects of perfection of our sages, we focus on the ultimate level of
their attainments… while omitting mention of the inner struggles
that had previously raged within them. A listener would get the
impression that these individuals came out of the hand of their
Creator in full-blown form.
Everyone is awed at the purity of speech of the Chofetz Chaim,
z.t.l., considering it a miraculous phenomenon. But who knows of the
battles, struggles and obstacles, the slumps and regressions that
the Chofetz Chaim encountered in his war with the yetzer horo (evil
inclination)? There are many such examples, to which a discerning
individual such as yourself can certainly apply the rule.
The result of this failing is that when an ambitious young man
of spirit and enthusiasm meets obstacles, falls and slumps, he
imagines himself as unworthy of being ‘planted in the house of
Hashem.’ According to this young man’s fancy, flourishing in the house
of Hashem means to repose with calm spirit on ‘lush meadows’ beside
‘tranquil waters’ (Tehilim-Psalm 23) delighting in the yetzer hatov
[good inclination], in the manner of the righteous delighting in the
reflection of the Shechina [Divine Presence], with crowns on their
heads, gathered in Gan Eden [Garden of Eden]. And at the same time,
untroubled by the agitation of the yetzer hora….
Know, however, my dear friend, that your soul is rooted not in
the TRANQUILITY of the yetzer tov, but rather in the BATTLE of the
yetzer tov. And your precious warm-hearted letter ‘testifies as one
hundred witnesses’ that you are a worthy warrior in the battalion
of the yetzer tov. The English expression, ‘Lose a battle and win
a war’ applies. Certainly you have stumbled, and will tumble again
(a self-fulfilling prophecy is not intended) and in many battles
you will fall lame. I promise you, though, that after those losing
campaigns you will emerge from the war with the laurels of victory
upon your head…. Lose battles but win wars.