Jewish Spirituality
Volume 23

By way of preface:

Jewish Spirituality - Volume 23

Problem Solving --
Subject: Problem Solving
By: Mordechai Torczyner

During my studies in Israel I encountered a phenomenal teacher who passed along a piece of non-intuitive advice: If you are faced with a confusing problem, no matter its nature (social, religious, psychological, intellectual, etc), sit down with a Gemara and learn for a while, and then come back to the problem.

I say this advice was not intuitive for me because I like to tackle problems head-on. At the time, it seemed to me that my rebbe was saying that orienting myself around Torah would calm me and give me the needed guidance for handling the issue at hand. In addition, my subconscious could work on the problem. It really works - when I am faced with a problem, I handle it much better if I sit down to learn for a significant period of time before dealing with the issue.

I recently found an interesting idea in the Maharal of Prague's "Nesivos Olam," in his section called "Nesiv Koach haYetzer." This idea [translation mine] gives new meaning to my rebbe's advice:

It is written in the book of Mishlei [Proverbs]: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him bread. If he is thirsty, give him water to drink. You are raking coals on his head, and HaShem will repay you." King Solomon was saying that if your enemy is hungry, don't restrain yourself from feeding him bread, for mercy will reverse your enemy's nature. When you have mercy on him, you are bound and united with him…
He said that you are raking coals on the enemy's head, meaning that you are entirely annulling him, until he, himself, disappears…he will not oppose you any longer…
When your enemy receives support from you, it is not possible for him to oppose you…the recipient enters the space of the donor, and so you are raking coals on his head when he receives from you. HaShem will repay you, for HaShem does not desire any form of strife, and so He will repay your hand, and He will aid and assist you in this endeavor.
The Gemara teaches…that the Yetzer haRa [evil inclination] is a man's enemy and foe. If your enemy is hungry, meaning that the Yetzer haRa tries to persuade you to commit evil, feed him the bread of Torah. If he is thirsty, give him water [which is compared to Torah] to drink.

The essential explanation is that this teaches us the value of Torah. Via Torah, the Yetzer haRa is removed from a person, for the Yetzer haRa actually is the part of a person which is deficient. When the deficiency is removed, the Yetzer haRa is removed, and the person is then on the level of an angel.

It seems to me, then, that sitting down to study Torah before handling a problem has another benefit, above and beyond the benefits I mentioned above. Studying Torah perfects a person, removing his flaws. He is then more readily able to handle his problems.

Have a good Shabbos and a Kesivah vaChasimah Tovah,
Mordechai Torczyner

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