The Avner Institute presents a letter to a despondent young rabbi where the Rebbe offers not only professional encouragement but insight as to the origin of sadness and the most effective way to combat it – by viewing problems as challenges to overcome and pathways to holiness.
“Every Beginning is Difficult”
By the Grace of G-d
28 Tevet 5721
Blessing and Greeting,
I received your recent letter and the previous one. Needless to say, I was somewhat taken aback by the tone of your letter. It is a good illustration of how it is possible for a person to read and to learn and to receive instruction from books and teacher, and yet when it comes to actual experience all this instruction goes by the wayside.
I refer to the things which you have surely learned in the books of mussar [ethics] and especially Chassidus about the fact of the yetzer harah [evil inclincation] to instill spirit of depression, discouragement, and despondency in order to prevent the Jewish person from fulfilling his divine mission. This is the most effective approach. If the yetzer harah would attempt to dissuade the person directly from fulfilling his mission, he would not be easily misled. However, instead, the yetzer tries to discourage the person in all sorts of ways, using “pious” arguments which unfortunately often prove effective at least in some degree.
This is exactly what has happened in your case, and I am surprised that you do not realize it. The proof is that from the information I have received I can see that you have accomplished a great deal more than you imagine. Incidentally, at the annual dinner of the Lubavitcher Yeshiva last night, Rabbi N. spoke of his visit in O . . . and how impressed he was with the Lubavitch work there, and his address was one of the highlights of the dinner.
Let me also add another important and essential consideration. You surely know of the saying of the Ba’al Shem Tov that a soul comes down to live on this earth for a period of 70 to 80 years for the sole purpose to do another Jew a single favor, materially or spiritually. In other words, it is worthwhile for a Jewish soul to make that tremendous journey and descent from heaven to earth in order to do something once for a fellow (one) Jew.
In your case the journey was only from the USA to O. and can in no way be compared with the journey of the soul from Heaven to earth; and however pessimistic you may feel, even the yetzer horah would have to agree that you have done not only a single favor but numerous good deeds, and even only your work with the children of the Gan [kindergarten] would have justified it. Considering further that every beginning is difficult, especially where there is a chance of place and environment, language, etc., and yet the beginning has proved so successful, one is surely justified in expecting that as time goes on and the initial difficulties are minimized and overcome, there will be more than corresponding improvement in the good accomplishments. Not to mention the fact that your arrival in O. has undoubtedly considerably encouraged also your sister and brother-in-law and has inspired other young people on similar missions.
As for your mentioning the fact that no one seems interested in your work, etc., surely you will admit that G-d, whose knowledge and providence extends to everyone individually, knows and is interested in what you are doing, especially as you are working in the field of education of Jewish children, boys and girls, which is so much emphasized in the Torah. After all, to teach children to make a brocha [blessing] and to say the prayers, etc., this is living Yiddishkeit. (I need hardly add too that I am interested in your work.) If it seems to you that it has been left to you to “carry the ball” yourself, it is surely only because there is confidence in you and that since you have been sent to O., you undoubtedly have the ability, qualifications, and initiative to do your work without outside promptings, etc.
Since one is only human, it is not unusual to relapse occasionally into a mood of discouragement. But as has been explained in the Tanya and in other sources, such a relapse should only serve as a challenge to bring fourth additional inner reserves and energy to overcome the tactics of the yetzer harah and to do even better than before.
I trust that since you wrote your letter your mood and outlook have considerably improved and that this letter will find you in a completely different frame of mind. Nevertheless, I am sending you this letter, since one is only human and subject to changes of mind as mentioned above.
Finally, I want to say that the above should not be understood to mean that if you do find yourself in the above frame of mind you should try to conceal it and not write about it. For our Sages say that “he who has an anxiety should relate it to others” for getting something off one’s chest is a relief in itself.
One should also bear in mind, as the Old Rebbe stated most emphatically in the laws of learning and of teaching children Torah, that a person who is engaged in teaching children Torah should especially take care of his health, as this has a direct effect on the success of his work. I trust therefore that you are looking after yourself in matters of diet and rest, and that you will always be in a state of cheerfulness and gladness.
Hoping to hear good news from you,
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