Ask Yourself

When Reb Yitzchak of Vorki was a new husband, his wife complained about him every chance she got. Reb Yitzchak chose to endure her insults in silence. When he saw that she treated the servants in the same manner, he went to his rebbe, Reb David of Lelov, for advice.

The rebbe listened and said, “Why are you asking me? Ask yourself!”

Reb Yitzchak was confused by his teacher’s response. He knew his teacher was trying to teach him something, but he was unsure as to what it was. Then he recalled a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov:

“If you suffer from the anguish of servants, it is due to your own error in action. If your spouse curses you, it is because you have failed to master your tongue. If your children trouble you, it is due to your obsession with errant thoughts. If you align these three with godliness –— if your thought, word, and deed are holy and hallowing –— then all this distress turns to joy.”

Suddenly Reb Yitzchak understood what his teacher was saying. If he wanted to improve the situation of others he must begin with himself.


There are three levels of reality –— physical, psychological, and spiritual –— and each has its core epistemological principle. The German physicist Werner Heisenberg proved that at the deepest levels of physical world, we know nothing for certain. Every act of investigation colors that which we are investigating, and even math becomes metaphor. The Baal Shem Tov provides us with the principle governing knowledge in the psychological dimension: Everything we encounter is colored by the quality of our thoughts. God provides us with the third principle: “Be still and know” (Psalm 46:10). When you stop investigating, when you stop reacting, when you stop doing, then there is a knowing that surpasses all self-centered understanding. This knowing comes not from you but through you from God.

Reb David knew that before Reb Yitzchak could engage his wife constructively, he would have to let go of his own view of the situation. He would have to realize that he did not know the whole story and that his sense of justice was colored by his lack of knowledge. Acting and reacting from partiality makes it impossible to be an impartial mediator.

The same is true of you. To engage the world constructively, you have to cleanse your thoughts of partiality; you have to stop acting and reacting from your own limited knowledge; you have to be still and allow what is to be present without bias. Don’t investigate, don’t think, just receive, and then you will know how best to respond.


Deeds, words, and thoughts are called the Three Garments of the Soul, the three primary ways in which consciousness manifests in the world of human beings. The soul is pure and at one with God, but the Garments are stained by selfishness. Cleanse the Garments, and unity of all with All is apparent.

Published in: on January 15, 2011 at 1:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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