Mashiach and Jewish Leadership: Part 25 – Punishment – Submission for the Sake of the Whole

Another verse written by King Solomon (Proverbs 17:26): "Also punishment for a tzadik is not good…" appears to be a contradiction to the previously discussed Midrashic interpretation which points to the positive aspects of punishment. The idiom "not good" in the above verse reminds us of the first appearance of these words in relation to Adam, the first man (Genesis 2:18): "It is not good that man should be alone." The correlation between these two verses alludes to the tzadik being "divorced" or separated from the one he is punishing. In so far as he endeavors to have a deep soul connection with everyone he contacts, it as if he is "married" to them. When forced to dispense punishment, he feels momentarily "divorced" and existentially alone, causing himself at times great pain and anguish. Even knowing that the punishment will in the long run be beneficial does not mitigate the negative reaction the tzadik experiences.

The Talmud discusses the fine difference between a tzadik and a chasid in the context of how one must dispose carefully of his finger nails when cutting them, lest a pregnant woman come and step on them, causing pain or fright that could lead to a miscarriage. A tzadik, we are told, buries his finger nails while a chasid burns them. The difference is based on another Talmudic statement which asserts that if a person consciously destroys any part of his body it can very negatively affect him. The tzadik is careful to bury his finger nails so as not to endanger a pregnant woman or himself. A chasid burns his finger nails because even though it may hurt him, he would rather suffer personally than take even the slightest risk of the finger nails being unearthed, thus possibly harming another.

The founder of the Lubavitch movement, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liyadi, used this example to describe the philosophical foundation of the emerging Chassidic movement. He encouraged Chassidic leaders to be above the level of tzadik in respect to their degree of self-sacrifice when leading the people. To the true Chassidic leader, punishment is hurtful to his own being, in as much as all Jewish souls are connected. Nevertheless, in order to ultimately sweeten reality, the leader is willing to punish despite the painful personal toll. Moses, David and Elijah were all willing to exact punishment for the sake of the public good and the repentance the punishments inspired. As a result, the belief in the Torah of Moses, the kingship of David and the realization of the Oneness of G-d at the time of Elijah were all strengthened.

To elevate the intrinsic sense of caring for others above personal needs or desires requires taking the self out of one's center of focus, or in the language of Chassidut, "setting one's self aside." Rebbe Nachman of Breslov described this action as "augmenting the honor of heaven while simultaneously decreasing one's own personal honor."

In concluding the first manifestation of folly, we can see that it too follows the three stages of Divine service as taught by the Ba'al Shem Tov. The stage of submission is the effect punishment has on the leader. The impression on his soul remains long after the momentary submission experienced by the recipient of the punishment. Separation occurs as the person being punished is now able to differentiate between good and evil. Sweetening is achieved through sincere repentance, the purpose intended by the leader when he initially decided to apply punishment. Although this level of folly contains all three stages, it is most associated with submission, as manifest in the subjugation of the evil inclination, the lowering of ego and the leader's subjugating his own tendencies for the benefit of others.

Our sages taught that "No one commits a sin unless a [temporary] spirit of foolishness enters him." In recognizing this truth, the leader fights folly with folly, by submitting his own nature to work against itself for the good of others. In this sense, one leads others by subjugating one's own interests for the good of the whole, the paradigm of submission in the soul. The essence of leadership is thus revealed in one who learns how to submit himself in order to serve both G-d and man.

 


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