When The Right Advice Is Wrong

It was about halfway through my first year in yeshiva. The war in Gaza was going in full force. Rockets were pummeling Israel, Israel was fighting back, and the world sat back in their comfort and judged.

I had been put in a unique situation, because I was writing for a website, Chabad.org, that had a huge following of people that wanted to know what was happening in a more real perspective. Open-minded folks that wanted to hear the news from the front, without the lies the world was telling them.

I was the only one writing for them at the time that was willing to jump into the fray and get the word out about what was happening.

I had already reported in Sderot once, before the war, and it was calling to me again. I told Chana Weisberg, my editor at the time, that I wanted to go in. She said okay, as long as I understood the danger I was putting myself in. At that time, rockets were barraging all of the south of Israel regularly, and people were fleeing. I understood the danger, but I wanted to go.

I told one of my rabbis in yeshiva that I would have to miss the next day of learning. I had been warned by him before that he really didn’t think it was good I was missing so much class during the war, but I figured he would understand. He didn’t.

Now, this isn’t one of those stories of a kid from yeshiva who is complaining about his rabbi. In fact, his points were all so true, and so strong, that I became extremely confused.

“Elad, you’re here to grow. You have only one year to do it in. Every moment is precious, every moment counts. You won’t ever have a chance like this again.  Your growth is the most important thing,” he said.

I remember listening to him, realizing that what he was saying was true. I had missed so much, and I had fallen behind many of my classmates.There’s no question that every moment in yeshiva counts when you only have one year to do it in, and since I was already one of those guys that had trouble sitting down and learning and focusing, I knew I would be making a heavy sacrifice by continuing to miss class.

And so I did what I usually did at these times. I went to what I considered my mentor at the time, another rabbi in the yeshiva. He always seemed to get me, and I needed to hear what he had to say.

We met in his office. It was late at night, maybe eleven or so. He smiled at me, and grabbed a bottle of whiskey that was sitting on his desk and poured us both a glass. We said l’chaim, and I laid it all out for him. How I felt about my writing, how I felt about yeshiva, how I felt that the first rabbi was right, that I should probably listen to him, but this just felt so important, I didn’t know what to do.

He looked at me this whole time, with these serious but soft eyes, and I remember how his smile slowly left, and I could tell he was thinking this all over, and after I finished talking, we sat there for a bit in the quiet and the dimly lit room, and I watched as he mulled over what I had said.

At first, he didn’t seem to answer my question. He said, as he took another sip of l’chaim, “There’s so much misinformation out there. Lies. And it’s holding us hostage. Our leaders hostage. They act because of what the world tells them, and not because of what they know is right.”

I nodded, and noticed that his eyes were a bit red.

“Hashem put you in this situation for a reason,” he continued, “You’re a writer, and your words have the power to change the world.”

Our conversation continued, and I told him how I felt about missing class and how I wasn’t doing enough and he nodded, and said, “Your doing this will help you embrace your Judaism more in the long run. I think you should go.”

And I remember how when he said that, something felt like it clicked in my head, and I knew he was right, and I knew I had to go.

The next day, I went to Sderot.

That ended up being one of the most meaningful days of my life, and I don’t think I ever understood the nature of Israel more than that day. I published the piece on Chabad.org, as well as on my own personal blog at the time. It became the most popular piece on my own blog, and generated enormous discussion. Who knows, maybe it changed the way people saw things.

I do know one thing for sure: that experience of sitting down with my rabbi, hearing what he said, that moment forever changed the way I looked at  the process of growth. I learned that sometimes, advice can be objectively good and true, but still not be the right advice for us. That our road will never be the same as everyone around us, and that truth is tailor fit to each person.

I’ll always be thankful to my mentor and rabbi for guiding me in a way that was beyond the objective. I hope that one day, everyone will have access to such advice.

  • Great post. A simple idea but one that we can’t remind ourselves enough about: People are different. Every person has a story. Every person is (very) different.

    I feel we can do better at internalizing this very simple truth in our religious circles…

  • BirdieWaters

    Well put. Thank you for sharing your experience. No one else is equipped with the ability to know the direction we’re to take. At the same time, it’s precious to be surrounded surrounded by caring people who express their concern and love about the direction our life
    is taking. Decisions like the one you made wont make sense to others, but it will be the thing that fulfills and supports us. We’ve gone over this scenario in our learning, but there’s an old saying “words don’t teach, experience teaches” that has a ring of truth. Living it unlocks doors of understanding.

    You feel it as it draws you with its positive, exciting and “right” essence – the indicator that it’s the correct direction. If we understand what it is, we feel confidence in taking action. If we’re not sure, then we become muddled and confused as we listen to other influences (including the deliciously lovely people we surround ourselves with). It’s our uniquely divine GPS system. Thank you for following yours.

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Birdie. Sorry it took me a bit of time to respond. I agree, I think it’s all about looking at ourselves as individuals. I think that, for the most part, we are scared of doing this. It means we have to think a bit deeper, and take a stand. It’s far easier to simply follow a predetermined set of rules.

  • Having a mentor is crucial. It means literally life and death spiritually and so many individuals lack this most important asset in their life. We have our parents, spouses and friends, but no one can take the place of what we call in Lubavitch a “Mashpia”. I see so many friends struggling and confused and not growing spiritually, or physically and almost every time they tell me they dont have a Mashpia. While without one some might skip class, if you didn’t have one, maybe you would have went to class….

    The Alter Rebbe once told a chasid in yechidus, “You ask what you need, but not what you are needed for.”

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