Chassidic story & lesson for Parshas Vayeitzei
Taking “Gezsh” and other feelings of entitlement to task. If you need to put someone down, focus on yourself!
In Parshas Vayeitzei we learn of Yaakov’s marriage to four sisters, two of whom were considered the main daughters of Lavan and another two which were considered mere maidservants. As we know from Chazal, the question of lineage of the brothers caused ample tension between them and as to which brother came from the real wife of Yaakov and which came from the mere sister wife or maidservant. It created jealousy, inferiority complex, and eventually the story of Joseph that we learn in Parshas Vayeishev. “Kayamim Haheim, Bezman Hazeh.” This notion of hierarchy of lineage and boasting of one’s ancestry is not just something of biblical times but is something that is likewise relevant today. For one reason or another, people with respectable ancestry or children of respected people in the community, or people with elite education, or vast wealth, or Torah knowledge and advanced service of G-d, can be driven to feel a sense of entitlement over others who they feel and judge to not contain the above advantages. The following story will reveal to us that such feelings are so natural that it even penetrated into the young son of the Alter Rebbe, Rebbe Dovber of Lubavitch, when he was a newly married young teenager, and it will emphasize the Chassidic perspective on entitlement, and what having superb lineage and/or elite education, broad knowledge etc. really demands of you.
The showdown between the young Mittler Rebbe and the local Mashpia of Yanovitch and how the Mittler Rebbe finally became a Chassid:
The Mittler Rebbe, Rabbi Dovber of Lubavitch, was a son-in-law of a respectable man from the city of Yanovitch. The following story occurred when he visited his father-in-law in Yanovitch in his young age shortly after his marriage which took place at age 14.
While in the city, he met with one of his father’s close followers, a Chassid of the Alter Rebbe. This Chassid was known in the city for his great devotion to the Alter Rebbe, his exemplary Avoda of prayer and knowledge of the Chassidic teachings. In fact, he was one of the greatest Chassidim of the Alter Rebbe in Avodas Hatefila.
The young Mittler Rebbe entered a conversation with this Chassid and felt it as his duty to put this Chassid in his place, a common Chassidic custom at appropriate times, such as during Chassidic Farbrengens. He told him that there is nothing that he should feel proud about regarding his knowledge and service of G-d, as in truth his knowledge is very shallow and likewise his service of G-d during prayer is merely external and lacking any truth. In short, the Mittler Rebbe broke this Chassid to pieces, helping him achieve the statement of the sages in Pirkeiy Avos and recorded in Tanya chapter 30, that one should feel low before all people. Indeed, after that conversation, the Chassid felt completely worthless after having been scolded by the holy son of his master and teacher the Alter Rebbe.
The Chassid, in what we could call unintentional reverse psychology, not only did not argue or push back against the attacks on his character but actually justified it. He told the Mittler Rebbe as follows: “How can you compare yourself to me? Look at who your father is and look at who my father is. Your father is our great master and teacher, and his level of holiness is well known. When he needed to draw down a soul into your body he certainly had great divine intents and managed to draw down a very holy soul for you, and it is this soul that you were born with. Furthermore, after you were born your parents guarded you very well so that you will grow up to become a holy and righteous person excelled in his intellectual understanding of Torah as well as in his divine service. And so, it is in truth, that you are a very righteous person and great Torah scholar much greater than me in incomparable terms. There is no great novelty in seeing how you have turned out noting the circumstances of the soul you were born with and how you were brought up. Now let’s talk about me: You can fully understand what divine unification’s my parents had in mind when I was born and how they barely managed to schlep me out of the mass production line of souls. Furthermore, even after my birth I was brought up like a goat, and even now my income is made through dealing with the Gentiles and providing them with seeds for them to plant their fields. As my business requires, I need to travel to the farm to the Gentiles to collect payment for their purchases, and don’t think it’s so simple to get money out of them. There is a whole order that I have to follow. First, we have to sit down and drink some alcohol together as otherwise they will not even begin to converse. If that’s not enough we have to offer also his wife the Shiksa from the bottle otherwise he will be offended. Only after all that, can I actually sit down and go through the accounting of what he owes, and so it is that I do from house to house to all of my Gentile clients. All this I do at night and only after I arrive home in the morning can I finally immerse in the Mikveh and begin to Daven. Now, Reb Berel, do you understand why my Davening looks the way it does. What do you expect from me?
Although this Chassid was truly very advanced in his service of G-d and ranked amongst the highest students of the Alter Rebbe, nonetheless due this great humility he nullified himself to nothingness, agreeing with the words of the son of his master and teacher.
When the Mittler Rebbe heard the above words from the Chassid, he was very affected emotionally, having realized that his chastising of that Chassid was really a double edge sword, and allowed him to see himself in the mirror and that the only one truly deserving of chastising is he himself, as what bragging rights has he truly personally earned with all of his G-d-given qualities and lineage. He was so broken that he decided to immediately return back to the city of Liozna and seek guidance from his father. When he arrived to his father and entered into a private audience with him known as Yechidus, he complained bitterly to his father that he feels very distraught of his spiritual level, and that he feels completely unaccomplished and that his service is not complete at all. He said that he feels like a completely empty vessel.
Later on that year when the above-mentioned Chassid made his way to Liozna to visit the Alter Rebbe, the Alter Rebbe handed him a great Yasher Koach, stating, “I am indebted to you and what you have done for my son. Thank you for turning my son Berrel into a Chassid!”
The Divine lesson:
The above powerful story may resonate with many people, with some undoubtedly being the victims of people who feel the right of entitlement on their expense, but also towards the perpetrators for whom the above story is mainly geared. One of the fascinating aspects of the story is that the Alter Rebbe did not just thank the Chassid of Yanovitch for teaching a good lesson to his son or helping him excel even more in his divine service, but rather thanked him for turning him into a Chassid. Meaning, that the feeling of entitlement and hierarchy over another Jew, with which one can verbally, or even merrily mentally in ones thought, nullify another person, is the opposite of a Chassid. The feeling of self-entitlement and self-appreciation that one is on incomparably great and excelled in his Torah learning and divine service, is the opposite of a Chassid! A Chassid must always value his good qualities and accomplishments with a feeling of humility and that perhaps with his G-d-given qualities and social standings he indeed is not doing enough as he should, and he should therefore never feel intrinsically greater than another. Likewise, a Chassid must always look at another Jew with a good eye and understand that his challenges may not be the same as yours. The attitude of Bittul Hazulas and Hisparus Atzmo [nullifying the other and glorifying oneself] which is common human nature, including of Chassidim, is the opposite of a Chassid. Rather, a Chassid works on himself to practice Bittul Atzmo while at the same time doing Hisparus Hazulas [nullifying himself and glorifying others]. Let us all take a moment to think of situations in our lives and relationships with certain people in which we have not acted until now like a Chassid and will finally begin to do so.
 Sippurei Chasisdim Torah Story 149; Otzer Sippurei Chabad Vol. 16 p. 24