It was told to Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk that there was a certain man who was greater than another. To this he replied: If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you. But if I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you.
Anyone whose wisdom exceeds his good deeds, to what can he be compared? – to a tree whose branches are numerous but whose roots are few; then the wind comes and uproots it and turns it upside down. But one whose good deeds exceed his wisdom, to what can he be compared? – to a tree whose branches are few but whose roots are numerous; even if all the winds in the world were to come and blow against it, they could not budge it from its place.
When G-d said to Noach, “The end of all flesh is come before Me,” Noach said: “What will You do with me?” But he did not pray for the world, as Abraham would pray for the city of Sodom. This is why the Flood is called “the waters of Noach” (Yishayahu 54:9) — he is culpable for them, because he did not appeal for mercy on the world’s behalf.
“I am a stranger and a resident amongst you” (Bereishit 23:4). The Jew is a “resident” in the world, for the Torah instructs us not to escape the physical reality but to inhabit it and elevate it. At the same time, the Jew feels himself a “stranger” in the material world — his true home is the world of spirituality, holiness and G-dliness from which his soul has been exiled and to which it yearns to return. Indeed, it is only because he remains a “stranger” that he can maintain the spiritual vision and integrity required to reside in the world and sanctify it as a “dwelling for G-d.”
“When you reap your harvest… and forget a sheaf in the field, do not go back to fetch it; it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless and for the widow” (Devorim 24:19). Certain opportunities and potentials are so lofty, that they cannot be accessed by the conscious self; they can only come about “by mistake.” An example of this is the mitzvah of shikchah, which can only be fulfilled by forgetting.
Our Sages have said: “All Israel are guarantors for each other” (Talmud, Shevuot 39a). But a person cannot serve as a guarantor unless he is more resourceful in some way than the one he is guaranteeing. For example, a poor man obviously would not be accepted as a guarantor for a rich man’s loan. So if the Talmud says that all Jews serve as guarantors to each other, this means that in every Jew there is a quality in which he or she is superior to all others.
“And G-d spoke to Moshe in the desert of Sinai” (Bamidbar 1:1) The Torah was given to the people of Israel in the ownerless desert. For if it were given in the Land of Israel, the residents of the Land of Israel would say, “It is ours;” and if it were given in some other place, the residents of that place would say, “It is ours.” Therefore it was given in the wilderness, so that anyone who wishes to acquire it may acquire it.
Rabbi Yisrael Salanter said: One can possess broad Talmudic knowledge and be a fountain of deep penetrating analysis and yet he does not deserve to be considered a true talmid chacham (Torah scholar). If he has not allowed his Torah knowledge to refine his character and restructure his personality, he is an am haaretz (boorish ignoramus) who happens to know how to learn.
A person must seek peace with his fellow human, and seek peace with himself. Inner peace means that one doesn’t differentiate between favorable occurrences and unfavorable occurrences, and happily sees the Hand of G-d in whatever happens.
Said Rabbi Yonatan: A potter does not examine defective vessels, because he cannot give them a single blow without breaking them. What then does he examine? Only the sound vessels, for he will not break them even with many blows. Similarly, G-d tests not the wicked but the righteous.