Recognizing Problems

When Rebbe Shimon Bar
Yochai and his son, Rebbe Eliezer, left their cave for the first time, they were
so impatient with the ordinary life of working people that they burned up
whatever they saw. A Bas Kol went forth from Heaven and sent them back into the
cave for another year. When they came out, Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai was no longer
impatient but Rebbe Eliezer was! He still looked at the world in a way that
burned it up. But his father restored the damage he did. The question always
bothered me: why didn’t the Bas Kol send Rebbe Eliezer back into the cave for
another year until he, too, would be more tolerant and stop burning things up?
The answer is that there’s a place for being critical. We’re not supposed to
see the world naively, through rose colored glasses. We’re supposed to see
that there are problems in life. To disregard problems, make-believe they don’t
exist or be so naive that they are not acknowledged is foolish.

“And if you shall say, What shall we eat in the seventh
year? Behold, we shall not sow or gather in our increase: then I will command My
blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three
years. (Vayikra 25:20-21) All the commentators ask: What if you don’t ask?
What if you have such great trust and faith in G-d—such great bitachon
that you don’t raise the question of how we will eat?

Some commentators explain that if the question is not asked
G-d gives an even greater blessing. But it’s just the opposite. You only get
the blessing if you ask. Not to ask is not a demonstration of bitachon.
It’s just naivete. If you’re not plowing, you’re not planting, and you’re
not harvesting, then anyone who takes life seriously is going to wonder how he
will eat. The question should come into his mind. And after the question arises—that’s
when it is appropriate to say: G-d will provide.

But if you don’t recognize the problems and walk through
this world starry-eyed, as though there weren’t any problems, you don’t
deserve any blessings. What you deserve is to be sharply awakened so that you’ll
realize that there are problems in life and that you need bitachon. Bitachon
is not thinking that there are no problems. Bitachon is knowing that
there are problems and trusting G-d to work them out. There are things to be
critical of.

So we need a Rebbe Eliezer to look around with a critical eye
and burn things, but that’s only when he has a partner like Rebbe Shimon who
knows how to restore what he burns: a partner who has the wisdom to see through
all the problems to what’s really positive beneath it all. That’s the power
behind a successful effort to cope with problems. With that wisdom, criticism is
the first step to a positive effort to deal with the problems. The critical and
the positive eye work together to take matters in hand and make them better.
That’s why we have two eyes: one to be critical and one to be positive!

Children build up by knocking things down. They’re just
critical. They respond to problems by being negative and destructive. That’s
immature. Mature people deal with problems in just the opposite way. When they
want to knock something down, when there’s a problem that they want to
overcome, they build things up. They take a constructive, positive approach that
makes for real change. There are things that need to be knocked down, but the
way to go about it is to be positive. A person has to be capable of seeing what’s
wrong. He has to have an eye for the negative, but to make things better he has
to respond to the bad that he sees in a positive, constructive way.

The Gemora tells us that we should consider the loss incurred
for doing a mitzvah against the reward, and the reward to be gotten for an averah
against the loss. The loss incurred for doing a mitzvah might be the money it
costs. But what is the reward for doing an averah? A person has to
realize that there is no situation in this world which is not ambiguous. If a
person thinks that doing mitzvahs is all positive and doing averos is all
negative, he’s not living in the real world. There’s nothing in this world
that is totally good or totally bad. Every averah is going to have some
good point to it, and every mitzvah is going to have some negative point to it.
If you’re looking for something that’s totally good, you’re bound to be
disappointed.

To live constructive lives we have to accept the fact that
life is filled with ambiguities. We have to keep in mind that the only way to
maximize the positive is to cultivate the patience and wisdom that weighs the
positive against the negative and rejoices in the goodness that we find.