I’m Not on That Level

There are five words that really hamper our Avodas Hashem and they are: “I’m not on that level”. The first problem with that statement is that it’s true. We’re not on that level!

We’re certainly not on the level of Chassidus (Saintliness), always looking to go beyond what the halacha requires because we have an always present deep love and connection to Hashem. We’re not on the level of Nekiyus (Cleanliness), which involves meticulous observance of all mitzvos, all the time, including such tough ones as wasting time, getting angry and being careful in all our speech. We’re probably not even at the lower level of Zehirus (Watchfulness), being careful not to sin, since we’re probably not in the habit of always thinking before we act, nor reviewing our actions on a daily basis. If we were to honestly rate our overall performance, “I’m not on that level” is quite accurate.

The major problem with “I’m not on the level” is that it can be used as a justification to remain at our current level. Hashem wants us to continually advance in our observance. The Mesillas Yesharim makes it quite clear in the introduction that low levels of service are not acceptable. We need to continually up our game. That’s why we were created and it is a doable achievement.

Improving our Service of Hashem goes much further than obligation. A life driven by spirituality is the most fulfilling life possible because: 1) we are controlling and leveraging our bodily drives like eating and using them to stay healthy and have God commanded pleasure on Shabbos and Yom Tov, 2) we have the opportunity to connect to people in every interaction, 3) we can connect to God in all that we do and thereby fulfill our purpose in this world with our every action.

Yes, we’re not on that level. But whatever level we are on, we can take it to the next level and continually strive to live a life of more purpose, meaning, happiness and purposeful pleasure. We are quite fortunate that the Mesillas Yesharim speaks out everything mentioned here and he gives us an extremely practical playbook on how to keep on increasing our level.

4 comments on “I’m Not on That Level

  1. “Gedolim stories in which the gadol is doing something that should be unremarkable.”

    From “Are Gedolim Stories Good for Chinuch?” by R. Simcha Feurman:

    “…Related to this point, I have noticed a strange phenomenon in regard to certain inspirational stories. Typically, the story will go something like this: So and so, a great sage, despite his high stature did an amazing kindness for someone of lower perceived social status. For example, we have the famous story about Rav Yisrael Salanter who went to hold a crying baby on Yom Kippur eve during Kol Nidre, or the story of how Rav Moshe Feinstein ran after a gentile delivery boy to make sure he received his dollar tip.

    Of course these stories model acts of compassion and decency, and deserve recognition. Sadly though, I fear there is a hidden and subtle message of surprise being conveyed along with these stories, as they suggest that basic human compassion and decency is an astounding ethical feat. After all, who would not show the basic decency of giving an expected tip, or who could be cold-hearted enough to ignore the cries of a baby on Kol Nidre night — or any night for that matter? So what is the real message here? Either we are surprised to see great people behave in a human and kindhearted manner, or we consider it to be an act that only a true tzaddik can achieve.

    Whichever message you choose, I submit for your consideration that this kind of thinking is a product of a culture that has difficulty embracing the full passion of its emotions when seen through the lens of Torah thought. Because, in the light of stone-cold Torah analysis without being informed by a sense of compassion, one might erroneously decide that praying is more important than responding to the cries of an infant, or that being sensitive to the needs of a poor delivery boy is irrelevant. And indeed, halakha must trump emotions. However no proper conclusion can be reached without consulting with all “five” volumes of Shulhan Arukh. Our chinuch messages must take that into account.”

  2. I don’t think it’s hypocritical, because one can do an act of Nekiyus without being a Naki. And that’s what Hashem wants.

    I can say the brocha and put on my Tallis slowly and correctly with the focus on the meaning and intention of each of the 12 words and there will be some lishma there. That does not make me a hypocrite, just someone who is trying to do the mitzvah properly.

    The Ramchal wants us to read the whole book again and again because there are things in the later chapters that are applicable to us.

  3. I had a rebbe who used to say, “And where in the Torah does it prohibit being a hypocrite?” It is too easy to invoke hypocrisy as an excuse to perform across the board in a manner most consistent with wherever I’m at the lowest level. After all, if I tend to daven minchah without a minyan, who am I to think I’m too holy to drink chalav hacompanies? Yuhara!

    To which this rebbe would have replied: Better to be a “hypocrite” and get whatever you get from the extra caution in what you eat, then to claim the “personal integrity” of not getting that either!

    Related problem, or perhaps pet-peeve: Gedolim stories in which the gadol is doing something that should be unremarkable. Rav Moshe Feinstein washed the dishes when his wife was tired. Many husbands would. But it’s in an anecdote in Rabbi Shimon Finkelman’s biography because many people would think of Rav Moshe in loftier terms, and therefore may be helped by the reminder that Rav Moshe didn’t think of himself that way.

    However, it also creates the illusion that such behavior is on some kind of special level, rather than something most balebatim should be striving for.

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