Our Rebbeim Paved the Way
Rabbi Y. OliverThe Rebbe related that Rav Yosef Karo once struggled for a long time over a very complex and difficult halachic question, until at long last he reached a resolution. Not long afterward, while sitting in the study hall, he overheard a student of average intelligence study that very topic, pose that very question, and immediately and effortlessly reach the exact solution that Rav Yosef Karo had invested so much time and effort to attain!
Rav Yosef Karo was disheartened. “How could it be,” he wondered, “that I had to struggle for so long, and this beginner grasped the solution immediately?”
When he approached his teacher, the Alshich (or, some say, the Arizal), his teacher explained that on the contrary, through Rav Yosef Karo’s grueling exertion, he had brought the topic down into the world in a way that made it accessible to everyone. This enabled even that average student to arrive at Rav Yosef Karo’s solution with ease!
Sometimes we express wonder at, and perhaps even doubt, our ability to accomplish what the Rebbeim have demanded of us, and this leads us to neglect to strive to implement these directives. Several examples that seem unfortunately prevalent: inspiring others to adopt observance of Yiddishkeit and the ways of Chassidus; studying Chassidus and reaching a truly in-depth understanding of it; pleading sincerely of Hashem to send Moshiach; and publicizing the Rebbe’s message that Moshiach’s arrival is imminent, and therefore we ought to prepare for his coming.
It should be obvious to every chossid that when a Rebbe instructs us to do something, he is not merely sharing with us an idea that he understands intellectually, or has learnt from his experience. He is revealing to us the spiritual reality that he perceives, that now is the time for a certain teaching to be revealed, or for a certain campaign to be launched, and the like.
However, this story expresses an even deeper level of the Rebbe’s powers. The Rebbe doesn’t just see the reality, he makes it. When a Rebbe acts in a certain way, it alters the fabric of the cosmos, making that behavior easier and more accessible for regular folks, for whom such behavior would have been extremely difficult, if not unattainable.
On numerous occasions, the Rebbe described this process as “paving the way.” The analogy of paving can be understood simply. It is perilous to travel through a wild forest, for one may lose one’s way, trip and become hurt, be assaulted by carnivorous animals, or simply encounter an insurmountable obstacle and be forced to turn back. However, when someone comes with a bulldozer and paves a way through the forest, then everyone can pass through with ease.
Similarly, as chassidim, it is inaccurate to define the role of the Rebbeim as merely prescribing and planning out for us our derech (way) in serving Hashem. (It should be noted that although the individual prescription may vary for each individual—see here—the general prescription is the same.) Rather, they have themselves paved the way for us to do it, enabling us to accomplish heights of devotion otherwise unattainable to us. Our focus is thus not on trying to figure out how to serve Hashem, but on faithfully implementing the prescription we have been given, confident in the knowledge that we are not acting with our own strength, but with that provided from Hashem, via the efforts of our Rebbeim.
(On this topic, see the end of the Rebbe’s first maamar here, towards the top of the page.)
 See Kesser Shem Tov #256.