Chassidic Psychologymain posts

Good Advice

The first sinner in the Torah is the cunning serpent, who took advantage of the naiveté and blindness of Adam and Eve and misled them with bad advice, urging them to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, bringing death to the world. The serpent placed a “stumbling block before the blind” and caused humanity to be covered in “garments of skin” – in  the  opaque murkiness of “snakeskin.”

Giving bad advice can be known only in the heart of the advisor, himself. He can always justify himself and claim that he had nothing but good intentions. The ultimately negative result begins with bad intention –hatred – in the heart. It is expressed by bad advice conveyed in speech. When the person who took the advice fails, the bad advice is actualized in reality.  It follows that the deep rectification of Adam’s sin requires a heart pure of any hint of hatred, jealousy, or evil intentions toward another person. It requires cleansing the heart of baseless hatred – the reason for the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and the long exile.

The complete rectification of Adam’s sin is not to only abstain from giving bad advice. True love for another person should be expressed by good advice – at least when someone asks for it. Good advice is complex, and the person giving it is liable to fail – even if unconsciously – due to a lack of careful consideration or even a slight, unconscious hint of negativity toward the advice-seeker.  Why, then, should we get ourselves involved in giving advice? The Torah commands those who can do so, to give others good, sweet advice. “The sweetness of a friend from the advice of the soul.”[1] To rectify the evil in the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil” we have to give good advice from within the complicated reality in which we live – from within the tasks of the physical world. We have to give advice (eitzah) from the Eitz Hachaim (Tree of Life), advice that gives vitality and clarity in the service of God and the fulfillment of the Torah and its mitzvot.

Like bad advice, good advice is also known only to the heart of the advisor. To give someone good advice, the advisor has to fulfill “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He has to give him the very same advice that he would have given himself in a similar situation. Of course, the advice has to be tailored to the seeker. The good advice that I would give to myself is not necessarily going to work for someone else. The idea is that just as I would give myself the best and most fitting advice possible, so should I give the best and most fitting advice to the advice-seeker. To do so, the advisor has to understand how the advice-seeker thinks. He has to align himself with his personality, his way of thinking and his emotional world – and  attempt to fulfill “Deep waters are the advice in the heart of a man and a man of understanding will draw it up.” From there, the advisor should give the best advice according to his faith and understanding. He should also make sure that the advice is given in a way that can be accepted, with explanation, in a manner that is understandable to the advice-seeker and that can enter his heart. This is the preliminary path to fostering his acceptance of the advice and following it through.

A “man of wisdom” gives good advice. Sometimes, however, in the depths of wisdom, the advisor discovers that the real answer is simply “I don’t know.” When this answer is given with love and from the depths of the heart, it arouses inspiration in the advice-seeker to find the truly good advice within himself.

Giving good advice rectifies the sin of the Tree of Knowledge, restores humanity to the Garden of Eden, enclothes it in garments of light (or with an alef) instead of garments of skin (or with an ayin) and brings the Mashiach, called the “wondrous advisor,” closer.


[1] Proverbs 27:9.

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