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Sunday, 22 June 2014

020) Give Me What I Know I Need

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk was born in the town of Gurai, and later settled in Tomashov where his father-in-law resided.
An old chassid [whose name, for some reason is not recorded] once passed through the town of Tomashov. The Kotzker [who at the time of this story was still very young], befriended the old man. One night, after everyone else had left the study house, the two of them remained behind to talk. The old man started telling his young friend all about the ways of the Baal Shem Tov and about the new light that was brought into the world by the Chassidic movement in general.  The young man was deeply inspired by the stranger and became determined explore Chassidism for himself. He later said of the old man; “He knew how to talk and I knew how to listen.” He subsequently journeyed to R Yaakov Yitzchak, the ‘Seer’ or Chozeh of Lublin.
To give you some idea of the esteem in which the Chozeh of Lublin was held, this is how R Asher of Ropshitz described him: 
Lublin was as holy as the Land of Israel. The courtyard of the Chozeh was like Jerusalem. His Beit HaMedrash was like the Temple Mount. The Chozeh himself was like the Holy of Holies. And when he spoke it was as if the Divine Presence was speaking.” 
At that time people from all over Poland were streaming in their thousands to see the Chozeh. Historically, the Chozeh had created the biggest mass movement (to that date), since the founding of the Chassidic movement itself. It was very difficult to get a private audience with him because of the great demand to speak with him. 
To many people’s surprise, the Chozeh invited the young man into his private and exclusive inner circle. He showed great honor to his young visitor and spent much time talking to him - Yet, notwithstanding all the attention and honor, the Kotzker remained unmoved in the slightest. He said he didn’t find what he was looking for in LublinHe knew exactly what he wanted. But the Chozeh, great as he may have been, was not to be the one to teach it to him.
(Sneh Bo’er BeKotzk p27)

How very different is the act of finding a teacher today: Although a popular pastime, the prevalent contemporary process is a lot more passive. Today, we don't seek out or journey to teachers. We wait for them to pass through. We listen to one speaker after another, and after a process of elimination we make our choice. Often it’s the one who entertains us the best. Sometimes it’s the one who impresses us the most with his display of great wisdom. Other times it’s the one who, through carefully constructed arguments, win us over to his way of thinking, and convinces us to change our minds or to shift our paradigms.

Most of the processes enumerated above, involve sitting and listening. And the best teacher wins.

However, in Kotzk, as we have seen, the process of finding a teacher is far more complicated and dynamic.
More demand is placed on the student, than on the teacher. More than the teacher teaches, the student is expected to learn.

For me, two points stand out:
1)      “He knew how to talk and I knew how to listen.” It’s not enough to just have a teacher who knows how to talk. We need to know how to carefully analyze and interpret what is said. We need to be able to discern for ourselves whether there is any real value for us in what we hear. It has to be more that just interesting, convincing and entertaining. We need to know what to listen out for, so that we can identify whether we have been touched to the core, or simply moved superficially.


2)      “He knew exactly what he wanted.” It’s not enough for a teacher to ply you with knowledge. It’s not his job to tell you what you need to know. You need to know what it is you need to know. This needs to be very clear from the outset. You know you have found the teacher you are looking for, when at the end of the whole process, you find you have not been blown off course. Instead, you are right where you want to be. You did not have your mind manipulated or changed. You knew what you wanted to know and now you know it. (When I first came across the teachings of Kotzk, my immediate reaction was: “Wow, I have always thought like this. I just didn't know anyone else wrote like this.”)

After all this has occurred, you may have just found yourself a teacher, instead of having the teacher find you.

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