"Moshiach is ready to come now-our part is to increase in acts of goodness and kindness" -The Rebbe

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Recognizing Spiritual Sickness

Recognizing Spiritual Sickness

Rabbi Y. Oliver

The Frierdiker Rebbe writes:
There are physical sicknesses of which the sick person may not be aware, and of which he learns the truth only after undergoing various tests. Thus, it is vital that the sick person be aware:
  1. that he is sick, and comes to desire and yearn to become well;
  2. that his health can be restored; this should bring him to maintain full hope and trust that with the help of Hashem, it will.
One must follow these conditions, and to an even greater extent, with regard to sicknesses of the soul.

Guidance in applying these two criteria can be found in the Chassidic texts, and it can be applied under the direction of a
chossid who engages in the study of Chassidus and has expert knowledge of the ways of chassidim.

Adapted from Igros Kodesh Admur HaRayatz, Vol. 4, pp. 353-354.
In my own words, with explanation:

Let’s face it. Of course, we don’t like to recognize it one bit. But, and this is nothing personal, most of us are sick.

Sick in the head. Sick in the heart. Sick in the soul.

But this does not occur to us. We must be normal, we reason, because we observe that so many others around us are, it seems, not so different from us spiritually. In fact, we relativize, it often seems that others around us are even worse off. The thought that almost everyone is spiritually sick is depressing, so we push it out of our minds. For if that’s true, how can a cure be found for a problem so prevalent? In such an atmosphere of spiritual apathy and rampant materialism, the thought that a real cure  for our spiritual ailments might exist, and that anyone could actually be truly, deeply inspired, seems altogether unrealistic.

However, those who are more serious in their service of
Hashem are simply the ones who are honest enough with themselves to recognize their lowly state, and motivated enough to do something about it. They have succeeded at passing the crucial stage of self-knowledge, and so they have a chance of true progress.

And how indeed does one come to truly realize the nature and degree of one’s sickness? The Frierdiker Rebbe speaks of the possibility of not detecting a physical sickness until tests are administered. In the spiritual realm, this could correspond to many things, for instance:

  • experiences of failure or damage bring the person to realize his or her faults directly
  • others offer rebuke for one's wrong actions
  • by perceiving faults in others, the person comes to realize that those same faults lie in him- or herself, according to the Baal Shem Tov’s teaching that “a person is a mirror”
To attain this goal through Chassidus, however, seems to involve a different process, one that the Frierdiker Rebbe apparently regards as the most ideal and effective method of recognizing one’s faults. Through Chassidus one refines and elevates oneself to the point that the faults to which one was oblivious in his past coarse state, one now perceives clearly. It seems to me (from my general knowledge of the difference between Chassidus and Mussar) that this is the means of recognizing one’s sickness that the Frierdiker Rebbe refers to in his letter. He explains that guidance in the process of self-knowledge through Chassidus, and advice for an appropriate cure, can be obtained through delving into the teachings of Chassidus under the guidance of an experienced mashpia.


  1. So now that a person realizes his faults, they seem like to many to deal with. How does one stay focused on being happy while faced with so many problems?

  2. Perhaps don't let them overwhelm you by focussing on one at a time.


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