Walking the Tightrope

One of the Great Chasidic masters once accompanied his students to a performance of a tightrope walker. The rabbi sat with great attention, viewing the performer’s dangerous feats with great intent. The students could not understand why the tightrope walker’s act held such great interest for their teacher.

The Rabbi explained to them, “This man walks a thin tight rope for payment and honor that awaits him once he reaches his destination. But at the moment he is on that rope, suspended between Heaven and Earth, he does not have money, honor or anything on his mind. At that point, he is thinking of only one thing and that’s to keep his balance until he gets to the other end.

“During his lifetime, man also walks a tightrope between the forbidden and the permitted, the ethical and unethical, and truth and falsehood,” the Rabbi continued, “He must carry out all his jobs in this world to the best that he can. He must be concerned about arriving at his destination safely.”

We can apply this idea to the issue of unintentional sin. Errors generally result from distractions and unfocused thinking. Man focuses only on things that he feels are important to him. He certainly would not be distracted from a matter of life and death. Therefore he is held accountable for his unintentional sins and called a sinner for his lack of awareness and being unfocused.

Sometimes people sin unintentionally because they are distracted by life’s problems. In such circumstances, because of stress and hastiness, a person does not pay sufficient attention to his thoughts, words, or actions.

People would succumb to error much less often if their focus would be more on Hashem’s presence and not only on the materialistic and problematic objects and life-styles of this world.

The following story will illustrate more of what this means.

A student once went to his rabbi and complained bitterly to him.

“My Parnasah (lot in life from God) is not enough. My Shalom Bayit (peace at home) is in shambles. My kids do not give me an ounce of peace of mind. Physically, I am not in the best of shape,” the student went on and to complain very bitterly to his rabbi.

The rabbi then told his student to come with him. The man then went with the rabbi. He took him to a mikveh, and told the man, “Dunk your head inside.”

The man, not able to understand what was going through the rabbis head, asked why he must do so? The rabbi told him to hold his questions until after and then he would explain. So the young man did as the rabbi said and dunked his head in the water.

The rabbi watched and then placed his hand on the young man’s head holding it down in the water. After a few moments as the young man was gasping for help the rabbi let go.

The man was shocked at what the rabbi was doing and questioned his intentions.

The rabbi then asked him, “What was going on through your mind when your head was held down in the water for a few moments?”

The man answered that his focus was on surviving the ordeal. He just wanted to live and breathe another breath of fresh air of life.

“Aha,” said the rabbi, “Just as I expected.”

We all want to always do the right thing, but unintentionally we don’t always focus on the right priorities in life. Many times we lose focus and unintentionally focus on things that don’t truly matter in the eyes of God.

We are all on a tightrope, so to speak. That is the analogy of the importance of focusing in this world to be able achieve, accomplish, and collect all of the right things for the next world to come.

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Rabbi Shaul Cohen is currently the assistant Rabbi at Congregation Magen Abraham in Brooklyn, NY.