When I was a child, there were either good children or naughty children. Today naughty children do not exist. Children are either extremely gifted, or they have severe behavioral disorders. It seems as if our poor children, like the rest of modern society, are over-diagnosed and over-counselled. Adults, too suffer from a plethora of unpronounceable emotional maladies. And if you’re lucky, you will find yourself just ‘on the spectrum’ of something or other.
Normally, when you make a wrong decision, you are responsible for your choice. Of course, no one likes to be reminded of that. But if it can be shown that you suffer from some form of pathology, you immediately become exonerated. It’s much more comfortable to irreproachably walk away from a mistake, than to bear guilt for it. This is why we welcome those in the know who skillfully discover and reveal to us our emotional inadequacies.
Religiously, we are also becoming over-counselled. Decisions are often made for us in areas where perhaps we should and must exercise our own discretion.
The problem with continuous consultation with willing professionals is that we miss out on opportunities to grow. That’s not to say that we should never consult with experts, but we often do ourselves a disservice by not taking ownership of our problems. We frequently abuse those in the caring professions by trying to make our problems and issues, theirs. Good professionals, though, should never allow that to happen. But clients, congregants, followers and students – by definition and nature – can be very manipulative. Sometimes even battle-weary professionals fall prey to these calculating help seekers.
The Kotzker cautions against becoming reliant upon constant input from those who make it their business to dispense with advice:
“I can tell you” he says, “what not to do [i.e. what is prohibited under Jewish Law]. But I cannot tell you what to do [i.e. what personal life decisions to make]. That is something that has to be left up to the individual himself.”
(Kochav HaShachar p.16, par 5)
This is typical of the Kotzker’s teachings. Life has to be lived by the individual himself. Nothing great in terms of self-growth, he believes, is ever achieved through the vicarious participation of another.
Questions of a Halachic and allied nature are referred to the rabbi. But Life questions must be directed within.
He ups the ante a little in his next statement:
“People come to a rebbe to ask about how they can find G-d. But their efforts are in vain because G-d is to be found everywhere. Better they should simply ask themselves the same questions they usually ask their teachers.”
(Kochav HaShachar p18, par 1)
Here the Kotzker Rebbe surprisingly tells us that even the rabbi’s rabbi, is incapable (in his view) of dispensing all manner spiritual advice.
Again he teaches:
“People are accustomed to look to the void of Heaven for emotional support.Better they should look to the void within themselves.If one looks toward Heaven before looking within, one is liable to fall.”
(Kochav HaShachar p16, par 3,4)
He distinctly warns the individual not to make his problem, (never mind someone else’s problem, but even) G-d’s problem. Problems, even of a religious and spiritual nature, need to be owned before they can be dealt with.
Then, in fiery interpretation of a well known verse in Genesis, he explains:
“When Yosef was sent to look for his brothers, he became lost. A ‘man’ [an angel according to commentary] found him walking in the field, in a dazed state. ‘What are you looking for?’ the ‘man’ asked. [The narrative continues, but the Kotzker stops right there and instead of following commentary, substitutes the literal ‘man’, for the ‘angel’.] – When a person finds himself lost and bewildered emotionally or spiritually, the first thing the ‘man’ must do is ask of himself: ‘what are you looking for?’
(Kochav HaShachar p 21, par 1)
So we see that the Kotzker was outspoken when it came to a person seeking counsel. To him it didn’t matter whether one sought guidance from a professional, a rabbi, a rebbe, an angel or even G-d Himself.
The key, he steadfastly maintained, to much of life’s perplexities, lies…not only…but also solely…within.