Living in the now

wpid-39-start-again

Life can be a rollercoaster. They say that when it rains, it pours. I notice that when the obstacles and challenges pile up, my thoughts trip me up. I feel like I wanna give up and I linger in the negativity for too long.

There is an interesting Mishna in Avos (5:11) which talks about the four types of temperaments that people have. Some people are easily angered, while others are slow to anger. Some are easily appeased after they get angry and others are very hard to appease.

I feel like when we vacillate in the negative thoughts, we’re acting like that guy in a bad mood who is just impossible to appease. It’s almost like the stubborn angry guy wants to simmer in his anger because he believes that he deserves to be angry for a long time, based on what happened to him. If he allows himself to feel better, then the bad cards he was dealt will be under-appreciated. But why would we want to feel bad for longer? Wouldn’t we feel better if we got over it? It’s obviously a trap that our mind (aka the other side) plays on us. It attempts to convince us that we’ll feel better if we brew in our anger, and the ego is easily fooled by this trick.

In Shivchei Haran, a small book written by Reb Nosson about the greatness of Rebbe Nachman, it talks about the Rebbe’s struggles in serving Hashem.

“He would start every day fresh. Meaning, sometimes when he fell from his [earlier] levels, he wouldn’t give up. He just said, ‘I’ll start now as if I never served Hashem before in my life. I’m just starting now to serve Him for the first time’. So it was every time. He always started over. He was accustomed to starting anew many times a day! (אות ו)

This level absolutely amazes me. That is so difficult to do! It takes such mental toughness to just start again, like you never started before and for the first time.

I always admired the professional athletes who can access this short term memory. When a pitcher takes the mound and gives up two home runs in a row to the first two batters, but then settles down and pitches lights out for the rest of the game, that is impressive. Or when a player is in a must-win game and has a poor first half, but then comes out in the second half and dominates, it shows that he was able to just hit the refresh button. It’s worth practicing. So much of why we get down and stay down is because we give too much credence to our thinking. We can easily be more like Rebbe Nachman and let go of trying to fix the past. We gotta focus on the now and let the good positive feelings that naturally flow from Hashem penetrate and fill our minds, so we can move forward happily again.

Please Hashem help us let go of our negative thoughts. Please fill our minds with positivity and quiet our egos, so we can feel Your presence and not linger in our misery. Amen!

 

You can’t understand what I’m going through!

 

will-we-be-finally-saved-by-faith-alone-dfcygt3f-3cc80237b2cbd75a5814f58b6da5a53e

The loneliness of pain and suffering can be unbearable. It’s all but frustrating to try and relate the pain, yet so so hard to bear it alone. Sometimes I feel like a skinny kite in a big storm.

Listen to Reb Nosson (Hilchos Gevias Chov Min Hayesomim 3:17):

“Each person will pass through many, many junctures in their life and many oceans and rivers and subterranean waters…and through many deserts filled with large and terrible  snakes and scorpions, until they are able to actually reach the gates of holiness for real. And this matter, the degree to which a person needs to keep strengthening themselves, is impossible for the mouth to speak of, to explain or to relate, from one person to another… for each person will imagine that [any and all encouragement] does not apply to them. Each person will think that their own trials and travails … cause them to be so stuck and so trapped, that there really is no way out, to the point that they will not believe in their ability to ever return from the darkness. So it seems to each individual”.

So what is there left to do? How can we move on if the pain is so real and so unique?What can we do to lift ourselves up?

Reb Nosson continues:

“This is [exactly] what Rebbe Nachman challenged when he said “Gevald!! do not give up on yourself”. And he drew out the word “gevald” very much”.

Gevald has no translation in english. It’s just an exclamation of alarm! In a little room in Ukraine, a bit more than 200 years ago, Rebbe Nachman was addressing this very feeling. He challenged the sufferer: “You think it’s unbearable? You think nobody could understand what you’re going through? You think there’s no hope for you? “Gevald!! don’t give up on yourself”. Even you, with your situation, your pain and your sins! To me this also means, don’t stop trying to heal. Don’t ever stop trying to connect with others. Don’t be afraid lay your heart out on the table. I know it feels like you’re all alone and it seems like it’s useless. Who can understand my pain? But “Gevald!!” There’s more than you know. There’s much more than you know…

 

Whether you know it or not

image

“In every Jew there is an aspect of malchut, (rule, authority or influence). Everyone [rules] according to how much they possesses this influence. There [can be] one who rules over his household, another whose rule is even broader and even one who rules over the entire world…This aspect of malchut can be manifest in the revealed or in the hidden”. (Torah 56)

What does Rebbe Nachman mean, that a person’s malchut can be manifest in the revealed or in the hidden? Sometimes we clearly see that a person has overt authority. For example, the president of a country, in many ways, rules over its citizens. But other times, it may seem that a person has no authority over anyone at all, but in the most concealed way he rules over many. In fact, after delivering this lesson, the Rebbe said, “You think the only influence I have is over you. But the truth is that I have power over all the tzaddikim of the generation, only it’s hidden” (Tzaddik #150).

How does a person exercise his malchut? In Torah 49 the Rebbe taught that prayer is the way to lift up one’s malchut. When we pray with full belief in our prayers, we can certainly increase our affect on people and the world at large.

But why does Hashem allow one person to rule over many others? And why does Hashem have this unique relationship with the tzaddik and, in a certain sense, leaves us in the tzaddik’s jurisdiction?

Let’s take a step back. Hashem Himself also maintains this hidden influence over everything. In fact through the prophet Malachi, Hashem said “In every place, offerings are burned and presented to My Name”. This is referring even to idol worship. As Rebbe Nachman elaborates later in the lesson, in the most covert way, Hashem exists even in the greatest sins. There is no space in which Hashem doesn’t exist, but in sin He is greatly concealed. He made it that way, so that we can have free choice. If we were fully aware of His presence, we would be coerced to obey His will. The same is true with the tzaddik. If we were aware of his influence, we would be forced to follow his lessons, thereby losing our free choice. So, because of Hashem’s kindness and desire to reward us, he conceals Himself and allows free choice.

Now back to the original question. Why are we under the tzaddik’s jurisdiction? Can’t we have a direct line to Hashem?

Hashem created such a big world with millions of different organisms in it, ranging from rocks and leaves, to animals and mankind. But who did He create it for? He created it for mankind. But let’s be even more specific. Did he create it for all of mankind? Well, as Rashi tells us, in the first word of the Torah בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית, Hashem created the world for the Jewish people (בשביל ישראל שנקראו ראשית). But He didn’t just give us this world as a present that we don’t earn. בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית also is referring to the Torah (בשביל התורה שנקראת ראשית). He created the world for us to learn the Torah and follow His perfect instructions how to live in the world. Unfortunately, not all of us are living up to this task at every moment. Because of our shortcomings, and our lack of connection to the Torah, there are moments when it seems that Hashem, if you could say this, made the world for nothing. But Hashem is the best CEO. He doesn’t make a business plan and not carry it out. In His amazing kindness, he chooses to deal directly with the most righteous people, who justify the world’s creation at every moment. (For how the world can exist when the tzaddik is not learning Torah, see Tinyana 78). The word tzaddik, of course, means to justify. The tzaddikim justify the world’s creation, as we clearly see with the first person the Torah calls a tzaddik, Noach.

So, it’s because Hashem loves the Jewish people and desires the continuation of the world that He allows us to attach ourselves to the tzaddikim and relate to Him. Because the tzaddikim are so awesomely humble, our relationship to Hashem through them is totally unadulterated. It’s the cleanest pipe possible. In fact, they want nothing more, and they sacrifice everything they have just so that we can connect with Him, which is why He chooses to interact with us through them. If we attach ourselves to the tzaddikim, then we will have a more intentional connection to Hashem. If we don’t, He will interact with us through them without our knowledge.

But don’t forget how we started this article. We all have the capability of lifting up our own malchut and affecting others too. That comes from a real desire to affect the world outside us, peeling away the concealment, believing in our prayers and praying for the good of the world. So let’s get to work…

 

 

Go with the flow

surf

It’s very fashionable to speak about the energy of the universe. Religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, or practices such as meditation and yoga glorify a certain mental state which lacks drive and attains personal and universal energy.

Of course, any truth can be traced back to our Torah, and the same is true here. Rebbe Nachman (Torah 52) says that the only way to attach ourselves to our deepest root-soul, and become etched in the universe, is via self-nullification (ביטול). What does that mean? Are we supposed to be ascetics and reject any pleasure the world has to offer? Of course not, our sages say that Heaven will hold us accountable for not partaking in the enjoyments our beautiful world has to offer. What it means is that we need to negate our lower self (the נפש), which is always craving to satiate itself, even at the expense of itself and others. It’s ok to enjoy this world, but when we interface with the world via the נפש, we aren’t aligned with the universe, because the self is so inflated.

How do we attain this ביטול? With hisbodedus (setting aside time to be alone and speak to Hashem in our mother tongue). It’s a bit ironic! By closeting ourselves from the world (ideally late at night and in an uninhabited place), we can actually connect most to the world. We need to stand, sit or walk alone with Hashem, asking in detail to be freed from each and every aspect of our lower self. He will respond by releasing us from the burden of those unquenchable desires which deny us the vision to see beyond ourselves and connect with the universe. It’s not so complicated. We just need to practice it. We’ll be shocked at first to see the results. Because once we can quiet that ego-state, we will start to hear our neshama (soul) talking. Then we can follow our personal truth and unify with the ultimate truth. Try it. Go with the flow!

 

Only you

everyone-is-unique-1-696x443

The Talmud (Taanis 21b) tells of a certain surgeon named Abba, who was on such a lofty spiritual level that he received daily greetings from the Heavenly Academy. The great amora Abaye, who only received weekly greetings, felt dejected because of the great honor given to Abba the Surgeon. Others told Abaye that the honor is given to this blood-letter and not you, because you can’t do what he does.

The Talmud offers a few examples: Abba the Surgeon designed a special garment for women to wear during their procedures with him, so he wouldn’t see their exposed bodies. He also kept a box out of public gaze where the patients deposited their fees. Those that could afford it put their fees there, and those who couldn’t pay were not embarrassed. Not only did he not charge young Torah scholars, but he would also give them some of his own money, telling them to go regain their strength.

One day Abaye decided to test him, sending him two scholars. Abba the Surgeon received them warmly, giving them food and drink and in the evening, he prepared fine woolen mattresses for them to sleep on. In the morning the scholars stole the precious bedding and took them to the market to sell. While in the market, they met up with the kind surgeon and asked him, “how much are these linens worth”? He replied, “Such and such”. They said to him, “Perhaps they’re worth more”? He replied, “that’s what I paid for them”. They said to him, “They’re yours and we took them from you. Tell us, please, what did you suspect when you saw us with your linens”? He replied, “I said to myself, maybe the Rabbis needed money to redeem captives and they were ashamed to tell me”. They replied, “Please take them back” and he answered, “from the moment I saw they were gone, I dismissed them from my mind and I devoted them to charity”.

In Torah 34, Rebbe Nachman briefly mentions this story to show how every Jew has something precious, a nekuda (unique point), that no one else has. Even the great Abaye, one of the most often quoted Talmudists, in some way couldn’t reach this simple surgeon’s level. And as we see from Abaye, we are too often comparing ourselves with others and feeling unimportant because of how we perceive ourselves in comparison. “וְעַמֵּךְ כֻּלָּם צַדִּיקִים; Every Jew is a tzaddik” (Isaiah 60:21). This means, says the Rebbe, that just like the world is sustained because of the tzaddikim, so too, at least, in a small way every single Jew has something that the world must have, and could only attain through him. We need to stop comparing ourselves to the perceived perfect people we dream of our neighbors. Instead we must use those powers of imagination to examine the mysteries of our own minds and souls and find that point we must share with the world.

The funnel

6080848a-8ebf-4e6c-8c9b-996e629071d3

:בת קול יוצאת מהר חורב ואומרת”

“כל העולם כולו ניזון בשביל חנינא בני, וחנינא בני דיו בקב חרובין מערב שבת לערב שבת

(ברכות יז)

“A heavenly voice leaves Sinai and says: ‘The whole world is sustained because of my son Chanina, and my son Chanina is sustained the entire week by a small measure of Carobs’”.

The Talmud’s statement is referring to the great tzaddik Rabbi Chanina Ben Dosa.

My friend, Yehuda Raice, pointed out that the whole world was getting its nutrition in merit of this great tzaddik, whereas the tzadik himself was exceedingly poor, as we know from other stories about him. Because there are two types of prayer: The first is with the hands up to the sky, begging Hashem for sustenance. This relationship (at least momentarily) ceases when Hashem provides the sustenance.

But the other type of prayer of the true tzaddik, symbolized by the attribute of Yesod, has his hands out, because the flow is coming through him to others. But he himself doesn’t necessarily have a lot. Jacob said to Esau “I have all I need”. He meant that he had all he needed and not more. Esau said “I have much”, meaning much more than he needed, and he was right, because Hashem pays evil people for their deeds, so that the relationship isn’t an ongoing one. But the tzaddik gets only what he needs and has to constantly re-approach Hashem for more. This makes the relationship much deeper and one built on immense trust.

“The adulteress traps the haughty soul (Proverbs 6)”. The arrogant ones get caught in the net of promiscuity. This is why the tzaddik, who embodies the attribute of Yesod, is represented by the reproductive organ. By means of his humility, he avoids promiscuity at all costs. Because the tzaddik is so reliant on Hashem, he has so little ego, and the flow goes right through him to others, as the Baal Shem Tov points out on the words, בשביל חנינא בני the word שביל means a path. The whole world was sustained through the pathway of Rabbi Chanina. The Divine flow comes down through the tzaddikim because they’re ego doesn’t obstruct the flow.

וְעַמֵּךְ כֻּלָּם צַדִּיקִים

 

 

The tzaddik and me

IMG-6210

This time of year we read about the Jewish people’s exile in Egypt. Of course, the Torah is a living Torah, which is also addressing our current national and personal exile. Although Hashem ultimately brought us out of Egypt, he appointed a leader to effect our redemption. This is always the way it’s done, as the holy Zohar says, the soul of Moshe (Moses) exists in every generation. This means that there are always true tzaddikim who redeem their generations as Moshe saved his.

Moshe’s name was given to him by the daughter of Pharaoh. It means that he was drawn from the water, (referring to the waters of the Nile).  Reb Nosson (Birchas Hashachar 3) says that these waters also symbolize something much deeper. The Arizal taught that the Egyptian exile was in a sense a fixing for the sins of an earlier generation. After the flood, Hashem said that he won’t allow man to live past 120 (which was Moshe’s final age) because “בְּשַׁגַּם הוּא בָשָׂר” [“he is also flesh”]. The word בְּשַׁגַּם has the same numerical value (345) as משֶׁ֔ה.  This is why all the boys were sentenced to be drowned, and Moshe himself was even placed in the water, because there was still retribution necessary from the times of the flood. But the name Moshe means that the tzaddik will lower himself to the deepest, darkest waters in order to pull out the lost souls that are drowning in the floods.

1_vCG_pN2OVGVCjNjYcX0QmA

“טָבַעְתִּי בִּיוֵן מְצוּלָה וְאֵין מָעֳמָד, בָּאתִי בְמַעֲמַקֵּי מַיִם וְשִׁבֹּלֶת שְׁטָפָתְנִי”.           “I have sunk in muddy depths and there is no place to stand; I have come into the deep water, and the current has swept me away” (Psalms 69:3).

This is the power of the true tzaddikim. They prevent our ultimate destruction and give us hope to live again. Rebbe Nachman teaches (Torah 215) that the name Moshe stands in-between destruction and favor, because the word for destruction שמד is numerically 344, the name משה is 345 and the word for favor, רצון, is 346. So Moshe, and all the true tzaddikim of each generation, put themselves on the front lines to help lift us out of the mud.

I think one of the biggest obstacles we face nowadays is our low self confidence. With the whole world sharing information, we now see people who seem so much better than us in every way possible. If you have talent, there’s surely many out there who have more. If you’re making money, there’s definitely others who are making more. It can be disheartening.  And you don’t have to even look on the web. People are just not trying anymore, out of fear they won’t be successful.

I find so much solace by believing in the true tzaddik. I believe in Rebbe Nachman with every fiber of my being. I believe in his Year 2019 ability to help me and all those who cling to him, by representing us favorably to Hashem. This kesher (knot) that I have with the tzaddik makes me believe in myself so much more. I’m not limited by my own shortcomings. I can reach places I never even imagined because I believe strongly in my tzaddik’s ability to help me shine.

unnamed

 

The finishing touches

IshtarGate1

There was once a large city that was fortified with a tremendous wall. All the kings used their forces to conquer it but were unsuccessful. Their troops eventually succumbed to all the arrows shot down from the city’s high walls. There was one smart king who scoped out the wall and thought he could take it down. He ordered his troops to go to the other side and attack but they were all defeated. When he went to the other side to check on them, he saw they were all slain, but he noticed that the inner fortification was so damaged that even the weakest of his people could tear it down. He called all the old and feeble, the women and children, and together they knocked down the wall.

Says Reb Nosson, many people ask, if the great tzaddikim of the earlier generations couldn’t bring the redemption, what chance do we have?

Who brought down the wall? You can’t say it was the elderly alone, for even if they worked for thousands of years, they couldn’t have done it. And if you say it was the earlier troops, but they died in the process, before it was torn down?

So it is with our final redemption. We had great tzaddikim who landed blow after blow on the evil snake. Now he’s so damaged that even little old us can take him down.

And the same is true with so many of our personal struggles. We try so hard for so long and then we’re knocked down again. We’re left to think it’s just impossible to overcome. But the truth is, we already caused a lot of damage and with just a little more effort, we can prevail. Let’s believe in ourselves and do it!

Self reflection

images

Jacob is surrounded by his 12 sons and is about to die. He attempts to reveal to them the exact time of the final redemption and is unable to, because the Divine Spirit leaves him. He assumes it’s their fault, and at least one of them must be attached to unholiness, but they assure him that they are as pure on the inside as he perceived them to be from the outside.

Reb Nosson says (Gezeila 5) at that point Jacob realized his mistake and that one cannot rush matters before their appointed time. It’s then that he began criticizing his oldest three sons, exactly about this matter. Reuben made a mistake, after the death of Rachel, by getting involved in his father’s private affairs. This was also a rushed decision of zealotry that ended up costing Reuben the kingdom and priesthood. Simeon and Levi also acted with haste after the rape of Dina, by raiding the city of Shechem and killing all the males. Jacob admonished his sons to exercise patience; not using aggression and dominance to expedite matters.

I’d like to add a twist here. Jacob makes a futile attempt to reveal the future and when it doesn’t work, he assumes it’s not his fault, but other peoples fault. Reb Nosson says Jacob was wrong. It was Jacob’s mistake trying to rush these matters. Then he criticizes his sons for rushing things. (Reb Nosson doesn’t say the following, but if you allow my puny mind a minute, I’d say that) because Jacob was just presently guilty of rushing things prematurely, that’s exactly what he saw in his sons. The Baal Shem Tov says that we only see faults in others that we ourselves have. Maybe if Jacob didn’t make the error himself, his eternal words to his oldest three sons would have been different?

And what about Judah? Why wasn’t he criticized? Because Judah’s descendant was King David, and, at least in one instance, David exercised the greatest patience imaginable. David longed to build the Temple, but Hashem told him that it wouldn’t be proper for a warrior with blood on his hands to build it. It would only be built by his son Solomon.

This is a powerful everyday lesson. When we’re small-minded, we spread negativity everywhere we look. And it’s because of our own messed-up lenses. But when we feel good, we only see good. Next time we wanna give somebody a piece of our mind, let’s not rush. Let’s stop and notice that we’re probably only sensitive to their imperfections, because we have those same flaws ourselves.

 

A new belief

alyse1

The woman in the painting doesn’t see the tree. She needs to turn around.

After 22 years separation from his favorite son, Jacob comes down to Egypt to see his son before he dies and says the following:

“וַיֹּאמֶר יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל יוֹסֵף, רְאֹה פָנֶיךָ לֹא פִלָּלְתִּי וְהִנֵּה הֶרְאָה אֹתִי אֱלֹהִים גַּם אֶת זַרְעֶךָ”

“Israel [Jacob] says to Joseph, I never expected to see your face [again], and now God has shown me your children too”.

Rashi defines the peculiar word פִלָּלְתִּי.

“לא מלאני לבי לחשב מחשבה, שאראה פניך עוד” 

“My heart never entertained the thought that I’d see your face again”.

I realized today that this word פִלָּלְתִּי has the same root as the word להתפלל, to pray.  This means that prayer fills our hearts with new thoughts and beliefs that previously weren’t possible. When we pray, we’re accessing ideas and beliefs that we never entertained before. This explains why we sometimes feel so refreshed after a real prayer.

Maybe this is what Rebbe Nachman means in the end of Torah 7, when he writes that prayer and faith is beneficial for the memory. Because forgetfulness entails having had something in mind, having it lapse and no longer be part of us. Meaning that forgetfulness is holding on to old thoughts that get lost, but memory is allowing the course of new thoughts [Divine thoughts] to fill your mind.

When we allow ourselves to pray with an open heart and mind and believe differently, we can see many new things. Thoughts that we never entertained can become our new realities.