There was once a town that faced a drought. The Jews of the town were G-d fearing people, unlearned, but trying their best to serve their Maker. In those days it was a common thing for preachers (maggidim) to wander around giving lectures designed to scare simple and faithful Jews into “repenting” their transgressions. These maggidim saw themselves as the holy embodiment of Divine judgement- responsible for bringing people to teshuva through speeches filled with righteous indignation and the threat of Divine punishment. If the maggid could make the crowd cry in despair and tremble with terror then he considered it a job well done.
That day, the maggid scolded the townspeople for davening for rain when they so clearly (to him) were not doing mitzvos properly. “How can you daven for your own, personal needs when you have not yet begun to serve the Creator in the way you should! Are you no better than spoiled children?” And on…and on.
Unbeknownst to the maggid, however, there was another stranger in town that day, a travelling teacher (melamed). When this melamed heard the vitriol of the maggid’s speech, he spoke up to try and protect the whole-hearted Jews of the town from the terrible words that the maggid was directing at them. He said to them, “Don’t you know that Hashem loves you?! That Hashem is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in love and truth! Hashem’s kindness is everlasting! Precious Jews! Do not be sad and despondent. Rather serve Hashem with joy! Serve Hashem with dance and with song and with your hearts full of faith that He loves us like a father loves His child.”
“Let us dance with joy at the faith that we have in Hashem! Let us dance with joy knowing that He is taking care of us! Let us dance knowing that the rain will come!”
And that is what they did…and the rains came.
The melamed was, of course, the Baal Shem Tov, who revealed the path of Chassidus to the world and opened the door to serving Hashem in an imminent and personal way, with joy, light, love and deep commitment.
I first heard this story decades ago, and I have told it countless times since then- to my kids, my students, my community and my friends. I’m not sure, though, that I ever told it properly to myself. But today something changed. Today the message finally entered my heart that this story is not only about Jews in a past generation being saved by the warmth of Chassidus. No, this story is about me. And maybe you.
How many of us speak to ourselves with the words and the voice of the maggid? How many of us criticize and judge ourselves for every little mistake, perceived or actual? My inner voice has always been the voice of the maggid, never the voice of the melamed. Never the voice of the Baal Shem Tov.
In the story it is so clear which voice is the better one, which voice is the one with which we should speak to other people. So why isn’t it a given that this is also the voice with which we should speak to ourselves? Maybe we feel like the critical voice is the voice of truth because we think its intention is honest self-analysis for the purpose of growth? But it’s not. In reality it is ego-based. In reality it is the yetzer hara.
Self-criticism is a habit, like any other one. Difficult to break, but not impossible. What is the key to changing that inner voice? Well, the Rebbe always said that the way to get rid of darkness is by adding more light.
The more I allow myself to hear my inner “Baal Shem Tov,” that voice of love, support, encouragement and positivity, the more I enable myself to see and believe in my own value as well as in my potential for positive growth.
I bless myself and all of you to listen for and hear the inner voice of positive encouragement and to drown out the harsh critic. I bless us to know that when we grow as a result of feeling inspired and loved, we can reach even loftier heights and realize even greater goals. I bless us to have the strength to serve Hashem with joy and then, just like the townspeople, to feel Hashem’s brachos raining down upon us.