The Peril of Loneliness

We have no concept of the spiritual loftiness of the Avos, and we certainly cannot presume to grasp their intentions. At the same time, we must view each of their actions as a lesson for us to learn.

Yaakov Avinu forgot some small earthenware pitchers and returned to retrieve them. The passuk states, “Yaakov was left alone.” He was attacked by the sar of Esav, and a battle ensued that lasted until dawn. Chazal tell us of the enormous repercussions of this battle, which affect us to this day.

Hagaon Harav Chaim Shmulevitz, zy”a, points out that from this, one sees the great danger of being alone. As long as Yaakov was with members of his family, he was not in danger. Although hisbodedus — an individual’s personal introspection — was practiced by Gedolei Yisrael and has great advantages, it is also a very dangerous route, for when a person is alone, the Satan tries his utmost to overcome him.

Chazal stress the crucial importance of friendship. As Yehoshua ben Perachyah teaches us in Pirkei Avos, “Asei lecha rav u’knei lecha chaver” — we are obligated to find ourselves a teacher and “purchase” a friend. For just as a teacher is crucial for learning Torah, so is a friend important for our success in avodas Hashem.

The story is told of a chassid who was traveling alone and found himself facing a great nisayon. How can I do something that the Torah forbids? he thought. But this alone was not enough to convince him to control himself.

If I do this aveirah, I will never be able to face my Rebbe again, he thought. But this did not suffice either, because he decided that he would simply stop traveling to his Rebbe.

But I will never be able to look at my friends again! he suddenly realized. This thought gave him the courage to strengthen himself, and he overcame his challenge.

Some time later he arrived at his Rebbe’s court. Before he could say a word, the Rebbe looked at him and declared, “Not the Ribbono shel Olam, not the Rebbe, only the chaveirim!”

About 40 years ago, Harav Moshe Mordechai Heschel, the Kopycznitzer Rebbe, zy”a, expressed concern about the many lonely souls in our community. In prewar Europe, he explained, a Yid usually belonged to a close-knit kehillah or chevrah. If there was a problem, whether spiritual or financial, his friends or his mentor knew about it and stepped in to help.

The Kopycznitzer Rebbe — who was a “best friend” and mentor to hundreds of individuals — was extremely worried about the fact that so many Jews were alone in the world. Many of them might have had acquaintances, but in their time of need no one knew of their internal struggles or felt their pain.

This remains as true today as it was back then.

Shlomo Hamelech teaches us in Koheles, “Two are better than one, for they get a greater return for their labor. For should they fall, one can lift the other; but woe to the one who is alone when he falls and there is no one to lift him.”

Given the complex spiritual struggles of our era, this loneliness is especially troubling. Certainly a significant part of the solution is to reach out to others — to worry and care about those with whom we come in contact.

The Baal Shem Tov, zy”a, homiletically interpreted the passuk (Devarim 5:5) “I was standing between Hashem and you” as meaning that it is the “I” — the fact that man worries only about himself — that stands between him and his Creator.

The Piaseczna Rebbe, Hy”d, writes in his sefer Tzav V’zeiruz that the key to removing this barrier between us and Hashem is ahavas chaveirim. He explains that man’s preoccupation with his own needs and desires is a reaction to what he perceives around him. It seems to him that all the people around him are concerned only with themselves, and he feels he is alone in the world. Therefore, he subconsciously responds by focusing on himself.

Over time, like an unhealthy growth, this feeling becomes a powerful obsession with his own desires and needs.

The solution to this dilemma is to develop close, caring friendships. When individuals unite to serve Hashem in brotherhood and harmony, each person worries about his friend as much as he worries about himself. Each one knows of the troubles and joys of his friend, worrying and celebrating with him accordingly. Neither feels alone in the world any longer, and it is possible to do away with self-centeredness.

Harav Mordechai, the Rebbe of Lechovitz, zy”a, once said about friendship, “When one rubs one stone against another, this too emits fire.” Through a true friendship, two individuals can reach spiritual heights that are unimaginable separately. Together they can ford mighty streams and overcome the most imposing barriers.

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