A wedding party once passed by the home of Reb Zusya of Hanipoli. The rebbe raced outdoors and danced before the bride and groom with joyous abandon. When he returned indoors, his family was waiting for him, scowling. “It is unseemly for the rebbe of Hanipoli to dance at some strangers’ wedding,” they said.
Reb Zusya smiled and said, “I will tell you a story: Once, when I was a young student, my rebbe scolded me severely. He later asked my forgiveness, which, of course, I was eager to give. But that night the ghost of his father awakened me, saying, ‘I have but one son left on this earth, and you would destroy him because he criticized you?’
“I explained that I had indeed forgiven him, but the ghost said, ‘You do not know the meaning of forgiveness.’ In an instant he transported me to the mikveh. ‘Immerse yourself three times,’ the ghost said, and each time affirm that you have forgiven my son.’ I did as I was told, and when I came out of the mikveh, the ghost shone with the light of the noonday sun.
“Seeing my amazement, the rebbe said, ‘This light is my true face. It comes in fulfillment of three rules: honoring others, forgiving others, and being generous toward others. You honor and are generous, but you could not see it until you had experienced the joy of complete forgiveness.”‘
Reb Zusya paused for a moment, and his wife said, “And what does all of this have to do with my husband dancing like a madman at those strangers’ wedding?”
“Ah, yes!” Reb Zusya continued. “What my rebbe’s father had attained through his three laws, I attain through pure joy. It is joy that reveals our true nature! So when I saw the wedding party, I remembered this teaching and raced outside to participate fully in the principle of joy!”
Here are two paths to enlightenment. The way of Dov Ber’s father takes us on an arduous journey of self-discipline, slowly stripping away the stains that sully the window through which the pure light of God is streaming. The second is way of Reb Zusya: opening the window without cleaning it, allowing the light to flood in and bathe you in pure divine ecstasy. There are value and danger in both paths.
If you clean the window, the value is the purifying of your character that prepares you to receive the Divine Light and use it for the good. The danger is that you will obsess over every stain and never experience the Light. If you open the window, the value is the immediate experience of bliss. The danger is that you have not prepared your character to receive it and cannot use it for anything but self-aggrandizement.
Perhaps for most of us, the best way is a blending of these two paths. Cleanse the window while it is open; experience the Presence of God and use that experience to cleanse the self of selfishness.
There is, however, a third path: throw a brick through the window, and shatter the glass once and for all. Just remember to clean up the mess afterward.
Mikveh (literally, “a gathering place of water”): Ritual bath. Along with the synagogue and beis midrash (religion school), the mikveh has been a central institution of Jewish communal life since ancient times. First mentioned in Leviticus 11:36 as a means for purifying people and utensils, the mikveh was used by the Hasidim as a means of cleansing themselves of impure and selfish thoughts before Shabbat.