FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION OR TRAIN TO RESTRAIN
The Constitution declares that all people of the United States are guaranteed the freedom of expression. Does that mean that since we possess this freedom we should impulsively express whatever we feel, wherever we are, and whenever we want? The Kotzker Rebbe said Not everything that one thinks of he should say, not everything one says he should write, and not everything one writes he should print. Just because one finds a published book it does not necessarily mean it is true or appropriate worth spending the time and energy reading it.
The English word expression and its concept do not exist in Lashon Hakodesh. Express means fast moving, like an express lane, without pause. In Torah and Mussar the opposite is taught and embraced. One must think very well before one talks, emotes, or acts, lest it could be damaging to you and to others. Torah Hashkafa is the antithesis of our Cultural Express. We are disciplined in self control, and learned not to just blurt words out of our mouths with a knee jerk reaction, or “Just to do it” as our culture fosters and prescribes under the banner of “do as you please conduct”.
The passuk in our Parsha saysויבא אברהם לספד לשרה ולבכתה Avraham came to eulogize Sara and to cry for her. The Torah writes the word ולבכתה with a small letter chuff. Why? Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch comments that the word ויבוא connotes coming into a private place. Avraham did not emote publicly with grief, but rather with self control he held the sorrow and pain in his heart. The small chuff alludes to this fact that it wasn’t expressed mostly on the outside but rather withheld inside.
The great and famous sage Hillel had eighty most distinguished disciples; thirty of them were said to be worthy to enjoy the Divine Presence as Moshe Rabbeinu did; another thirty were said to be great enough to have stopped the sun in its path as Yehoshua did; the remaining twenty were “in the middle” The greatest of all of Hillel’s disciples was Yonasan ben Uzziel; the smallest among them was Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, who was familiar with all the hidden secrets of the holy Torah. Chazal say on Yonasan Ben Uziel, when he would learn Torah, the fire that he emitted from his learning would burn up a bird that flew directly over his head. The Kotzker Rebbe asked if this is what occurred to Hillel’s talmid while he learned, what happened to the Rebbe himself in the same scenario? The Kotzker answered “Nothing would happen”. For the greater the person the more self control he possesses.
I heard from my Rebbi Rav Shlomo Freifeld ztl the story of Rav Yechiel Michel Gordon ztl the Lomza Rosh Yeshiva who was once in America collecting funds for his yeshiva. His family was still in Europe and he had an office in the East Side from where he would network. Suddenly his wife past away yet for some reason he did not get the news immediately. In walks an old friend who somehow got first hand information on the petirah even before Rav Michel. Assuming that Rav Michel had already heard the bad tidings, he opened the conversation with words of nechama that he was sorry to hear the news of his wife’s passing. Can you imagine the burst of emotion that erupted from Reb Michel upon hearing the tragic news in the manner he did. Well, stop imagining because nothing happened. There was no change of emotion displayed by Rav Michel. His friend stayed a few more minutes and talked about another short matter seeking the Rav’s help, and then he left. As soon as the door closed Rav Michel collapsed and broke down from the mere pressure of holding in all the bursting emotion. People rushed in to see what happened. He got his composure and told them the news and how it was delivered to him. Someone asked why did he attempt to use super human strength to restrain the natural reaction to the tragedy? He answered if I would not have had the discipline of full self control, the person would be traumatized his entire life thinking that he unintentionally was the one who broke the tragic news to me.
This is what makes a Gadol in Torah. He always strives to have control of even his natural instincts and goes against the freedom of loose expression, so that even in situations like these, his reaction will be of a divine spirit. When someone slammed the car door on Rav Moshe Feinstein’s ztl finger unknowingly, there too was no reaction lest the individual who closed the door will forever feel that he injured the Posek Hador. In these instances there is no time to deliberate whether to make a reaction or not. You and me could not achieve such a giant act of spirit. We are part of the Express Culture and therefore lack the self training of restraining thereby making our instinct stink.
ותפתח ותראהו והנה נער בוכה Basya opened up the basket and saw the baby Moshe crying. Usually one hears the baby cry and not sees it? The Torah is relating here that this was a different type of crying. Moshe was only moving his lips and crying but there were no sounds. That is why she stated מילדי העבריים זה that this must be a Jewish child for Yidden can cry in their hearts and not always emote outside. With this explanation we can say that there is no disagreement between the Vilna Gaon and the Baal Hatanya when it comes to hearing the shofar. The Gaon says that hearing of the shofar should make one joyous for this is the occasion that one coronates Hashem as the King. On the other hand the Baal Hatanya writes that if one does not cry during the shofar blowing his neshama is not pure. The answer is on the outside one must be happy however on the inside one must cry because he is hearing the call for teshuvah to Hashem.
In the 1970’s there arose a fashion of Mood Rings. The rings had stones that would turn different colors depending upon one’s mood. It really reacted to temperature in one’s fingers. A crazy Meshugas was what it was. If someone would ask you to do for them a favor or inquire why he or she was so grumpy all they had to do was display the Mood Ring and say can’t you see I am in a bad mood? Somehow this fad dysfunction caught on quickly. There still were some sane people who didn’t go along with the Emperor’s new clothes and asked where is the self control? Saying I am in a bad mood and using it as an excuse, is tantamount to having an “adult tantrum” without the ability to discipline oneself. Are we giving license to shirk responsibility and not deal with reality because I want to push the escape button and I take myself out.
Chazal say (Baba Kamma 3b) אדם מועד לעולם that man is responsible for any damages even if he caused it by accident. He is likened to an ox which gored there times which is called a מועד which can be pronounced as “mood” and he is obligated to pay full damages even on the first instance of damaging. A person is מועד לעולם, always in a “mood”, either for good or bad. Know that you must take responsibility to pay for all the damages both physical and emotional that your mood (adult tantrum) caused because of your failed training of restraining.
In contrast the Baalei Mussar especially Reb Yerucham ztl the Mashgiach from the Mir Yeshiva would emphasize that one’s face is a בור ברשות הרבים one of the four ways of damaging listed in the first Mishna of Baba Kammah. If a person digs a pit in public property then he is responsible for its effect of damaging people and animals. One’s face can also be a pit in public. A face is the only part of the body which is usually seeable. If one is in a bad mood what right does he have to express it and hang out the dirty laundry others and put everyone else such as his entire family in the same bad mood! Use self control and process your feelings in your heart or with a friend, instead of turning off or stonewalling, and thereby ruining other people’s day.
When Yaakov met Pharoah and was asked how old he was, he responded with the words מעט ורעים היו ימי שני חיי The Medrash says that upon hearing this, Hashem said to Yaakov I saved you from Eisav, Lavan, returned Dina and Yosef and you complain about your bad life? Tosfos on the Torah writes that counting the words fromויאמר פרעה אל יעקב כמה ימי שני חייך עד בימי מגורי which add up to 33, will be the number of years deducted from Yaakov’s lifetime. Yitzchak lived 180 and you will live only 147. The question arises why is the words of Pharaoh’s inquiry to Yaakov also included in the count of 33? Only the response of the complaint should be counted? Rav Chaim Shmulevitz ztl answered that since Yaakov allowed the expression on his face to appear disenchanted and sullen because of all his tzaros, that was what prompted and evoked Pharaoh to ask Yaakov his age and life experiences since he looked more aged than usual. Yaakov should have harbored his pain inside and not allow it to be displayed to others to notice and to be effected by it.
Freedom of Expression. If not controlled properly, this freedom can cause you to develop into becoming what I call “Freedumb”, for it can actually give a brain freeze that leads one to do and say stupid and dumb things that one will surely regret if not then, at least later on in life.
In concise form, message that is main is to rid oneself of a cultural frozen brain, and become willing to train in order to restrain so not to live a life in vain. In this way one will immensely gain by saving oneself and others from a lot of pain, and by doing so, one will remain sane without too many middos stain and only then will true freedom reign in your life.