Whada ya know

colorful-questions-abstract-painting-linda-woods

רפואה שלימה ליצחק בן יהודות בתוך שאר חולי ישראל

We’re afraid. But what are we afraid of? If we look deep inside ourselves we might find, as did I, that many of us are simply afraid of the unknown. Things are crumbling around us, and we don’t know what tomorrow will look like; certainly not a month or two down the road. That’s a very uncomfortable feeling, because we want to be in control of our lives and in control of our destiny. The truth is, as so many more of us can admit now, we are not at all in control of our destiny. We aren’t in control of anything. And even though we say gam zu l’tovah and baruch Hashem in every second sentence, we’re not really holding there. This is difficult for us. This is scary.

Many people who have experienced breakthroughs in therapy will tell you that the moment they started to heal was when they allowed themselves to face the old pain. Their real baggage wasn’t only the old pain or trauma, but the repeated stubbornness of  covering for it. The fear and anxiety of having that old pain play out again caused them to overcompensate in other ways and disturb their daily life on so many levels. When they got the courage to stand off against their old feelings, even if just to notice them and be compassionate to them, they soon realized that they personally inflated their fears to protect themselves. “That wasn’t as bad as I thought”, they end up saying.

Similarly, those who are looking to grow in their meditative-spiritual experiences many times also encounter difficulty because they want to force the issue. They’re looking to make it happen, when the only way to have the experience is by letting it happen. Once you desire it, you’ve entered the ring. But the only way to fight is by exiting the ring (bittul ha’yeshus) and letting your soul shine on its own.

The truth is, as opposed to the “go getter” mentality that is praised on the streets, and unfortunately has been adopted in our schools too, in all realms of spirituality the only way to excel is to allow yourself to be led. Avraham Avinu’s first spiritual test was to leave his homeland “to the place that I’ll show you”. He didn’t know where he was going. Hashem lovingly recalls the Israelites’ chessed n’urayich (the love of their youth), because they followed Him into the barren desert out of Egypt in pure faith. And what about the study of Talmud? When adults attempt to learn it for the first time they are often frustrated by the Talmud’s way of exploring unnecessary and irrelevant questions. You finally crack the difficulty of the language, the odd references, the back and forth, the sometimes outlandish answers and you realize that all that effort wasn’t even for a final resolution. Because that’s the point:

Life is meant to be unresolved.

Rebbe Nachman said (Tinyana 7) that “תַּכְלִית הַיְדִיעָה אֲשֶׁר לא נֵדַע“, the highest knowledge is not to know at all. This is the aspect of the highest sefira called כֶּתֶר, (a crown [like corona?]). It’s also called Ayin, (nothing), or מָה, (what), because it’s not knowable to us. There are many facets of this idea but, most simply, the only way to grow is to remain humble. Humility is being open to receive; not needing to manipulate everything around us.

Our greatest holiday is Purim, where we are meant to throw away our need to know. In that space, there’s no understanding. Good is the same as evil. No one is as you know them, and that’s ok.

Reb Nosson writes that the higher the tzaddikim reach, the more they realize they don’t know. The Rebbe said, if anyone says they think they know what’s going on, it’s a proof they know nothing at all.

It’s ok not to know. We’re not supposed to know. We should ask, we should try to understand, but ultimately we won’t know. But there’s comfort in that too. Typically, we’re trying to govern everything and it complicates things and gives us anxiety, because we honestly don’t know if we made the right moves.  But when we let go of control, and allow ourselves to be led, without knowing or understanding how it will end up, it’s quite liberating.

It’s clear that we’re being led here. Hashem has taken the driving wheel. So we don’t know the destination, So what? Just try and relax, we’re in good hands.

 

Stripped down

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“The reason why the world is far from Hashem…is ONLY because they don’t have yishuv hadaas, [the ability to unite with their “present moment awareness”]. They’re not able to settle down. The main thing is to to try and really calm ourselves down.” (Tinyana 10)

 

You’re gonna think this is weird but the above teaching brings to mind something Rebbe Nachman said about Uman Rosh Hashana. The Rebbe said, “My Rosh Hashana is greater than anything else” and “anyone who merits to be with me for Rosh Hashana should be exceedingly happyרָאוּי לוֹ לִשְׂמחַ מְאד מְאד.  (Chayei Moharan 403)

This means that anyone who went to the Rebbe in Uman for Rosh Hashana should always be happy. Just for that one thing alone, we should bliss-out all year long. Really! So why isn’t that the case? Because we don’t have yishuv hadaas. We’re not living in the moment. We’re upset about our past and we’re afraid about our future but we’re not living in the moment.” The main thing is to really calm our minds”. It’s proving quite hard now with all that’s going on and our obsession with this virus. But we need to quiet our minds and live in the moment. It’s the only way to have dveikus. There’s almost nothing else to do anyways. (And, of course, even if you’ve never been to Uman for Rosh Hashana, I’m sure you have many many mitzvos that can bring you true joy. Why not meditate on that?) We need to build our muscle of yishuv hadaas.

You might ask, why should the present moment bring us joy? Because that’s our natural state. Sadly, we’ve corrupted our minds, so we don’t feel happy unless we peel away the layers, but happiness truly is our default position. For instance, our deepest, most real sound is heard from the shofar. The Rebbe teaches (Chayei Moharan 96) that the first letters of the verse “אָז יִמָּלֵא] שְׂחוֹק פִּינוּ וּלְשׁוֹנֵנוּ רִנָּה]” (“[Then our mouths were] filled with joy and our tongues with song”) is שׁוֹפָר (Shofar). And probably our deepest most real expression is crying (בכיה). The first letters of the verse בְּשִׁמְךָ יְגִילוּן כָּל הַיּוֹם (We will rejoice in Your name all day long) is בכיה. This tells me that our most authentic expressions are ones of joy. That’s who we are right now, in this moment.  We are happy people. If we can’t access it, it’s only because we don’t have yishuv hadaas, present moment awareness.

May Hashem bless us in these crazy times to settle down, block out the noise and access our truest state, our Divine state, a place of Joy. Amen!

Purim – it’s OUR time to shine

esther

Using the poetic license of Reb Nosson, we can see Esther as an aspect of the Jewish people, Mordechai as the generation’s tzaddik emes and, of course, the king as Hashem, the Holy, and One and Only King.

You might notice in the megilla that there are just a handful of conversations between Esther and the King. What’s more peculiar is that when Esther addresses the King, she always prefaces it with some version of the following statement:

אִם־מָצָ֨אתִי חֵ֜ן בְּעֵינֵ֣י הַמֶּ֗לֶךְ וְאִם־עַל־הַמֶּ֨לֶךְ֙ ט֔וֹב 

“If I find favor in the king’s eyes, and if it pleases the king”

The Malbim explains this seemingly redundant statement. Esther’s request was made on two conditions: First, that the king should grant her request simply because he desires her, and secondly, that the request itself should also be something that the King desires.

Which condition was first? אִם־מָצָ֨אתִי חֵ֜ן בְּעֵינֵ֣י (If I find favor in the king’s eyes). Esther knew that the critical condition was that He would desire her. It must have taken a great deal of pride for Esther to make such a condition. “I want you to give it to me because you love me” can only be said when you feel lovable.

Seems like Esther’s entire struggle is so relatable to the struggles that we all have. “The King hasn’t called my number in quite a long time, and you know what? Who have I become anyways? I’m not living the life I used to live. I’m surrounded by things that distract me from the person I remember myself to be. And now, my people need me, (me?!) to do something on their behalf? Me? I’m the person? Am I really capable of making a change? Am I worthy of coming before the king? Does my avodah mean anything”?     Then the tzaddik sends you a message, “You can do it! You really can. ‘Maybe’ this is why you found yourself here in the first place? It’s yours for the taking, but only when you believe you have what it takes. You need to love yourself, empower yourself, and believe that only you can make this happen”.

Esther did it. She got the message from Mordechai and she really believed in who she was. וַתִּלְבַּ֤שׁ אֶסְתֵּר֙ מַלְכ֔וּת – She dressed differently, that’s symbolic of her new self. And as she took those final few steps in that last dark hallway, Amalek’s doubts engulfed her mind. “I don’t knowww?!” “Am I sure about this?” But then when she was called on, she said “Give it to me because you want me”. I AM LOVABLE. I know it and You know it.

Just like when there are two ends of a drain pipe, there can only be two possibilities of where the pipe can get clogged; either from above or from below. So it is with the shefa of blessing and success that we need from Hashem. Either it’s clogged from above, meaning that we don’t believe enough that He can give it to us. Or it’s clogged from below, meaning that we don’t believe we can receive it, aka we’re not worthy enough/good enough/smart enough/lucky enough to receive it.

This is everything my friends! This is all we need to be successful. We need to always believe the King wants to give it and believe we are lovable enough to get it. And when we do,

וַיְהִי֩ כִרְא֨וֹת הַמֶּ֜לֶךְ אֶת־אֶסְתֵּ֣ר הַמַּלְכָּ֗ה עֹמֶ֨דֶת֙ בֶּֽחָצֵ֔ר נָֽשְׂאָ֥ה חֵ֖ן בְּעֵינָ֑יו וַיּ֨וֹשֶׁט הַמֶּ֜לֶךְ לְאֶסְתֵּ֗ר אֶת־שַׁרְבִ֤יט הַזָּהָב֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּיָד֔וֹ וַתִּקְרַ֣ב אֶסְתֵּ֔ר וַתִּגַּ֖ע בְּרֹ֥אשׁ הַשַּׁרְבִֽיט

And it was, when the King saw Queen Esther standing in the courtyard, that she won favor in His eyes, and the King extended to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand, and Esther approached and touched the end of the scepter. 🤩

Four reasons to be happy

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Rebbe Nachman said many times that the essential tool in ascending in Avodas Hashem is simcha, real joy. So much of what the rebbe taught was advice how to bring joy into our lives. Now, especially, that we’ve entered the month of Adar, where the Talmud says that we need to increase our joy, we’re all wondering how can we do it.

Reb Nosson (Hilchos Mincha 7:53) seems to have a very systematic approach to it. He says there are four essential ways to bring joy into our lives, no matter what the situation. These four ideas are an aspect of the tetragrammaton, the primary name of Hashem, י-ה-ו-ה.

The essential reason to be joyous, as the Rebbe told over in the story of the sad tzaddik is to remember that we merited to be Jewish. This is the essence of joy. As unpolitically correct as it is, we believe that we merited greatly to land this great fortune. Why is this the essential reason? Because it has absolutely nothing to do with our choice, or anything we earned and achieved. No matter what, that’s who we are, and it’s fitting to dance 1000 years for that reason alone. This is symbolically referenced in the י (yud) of Hashem’s name, as the Talmud says (Menachos 29b), the י refers to the ‘world to come’, the world of the tzaddikim, because the י is the smallest letter and there are few tzaddikim. But all of Israel has an aspect of the tzaddim as it says, (Isaiah 6:21) “And [the people of] your nation are all tzaddikim“. That’s why we’re called Jews, or Yehudim, because we’re are all yuds, or yidden.

The next way to add to our joy is by remembering that we merited to connect to the real tzaddikim. This is represented by the first ה of Hashem’s name, because ה represents bina, which is the mechanism of how we understand Hashem’s greatness. This is the job of the true tzaddikim. They put into our minds words of bina that help us understand how great Hashem is, which increases our desire to have a relationship with Him.

The third reason to be joyous is by recognizing that even we have good points ourselves, as the rebbe stressed in the famous lesson 282. It must be that we’ve done something good in our lives. By searching for even the smallest good points and slowly building on them, we can attain joy. This is represented by the ו in Hashem’s name, because the ו means to add, alluding to the process of adding another good point followed by another good point until we can recognize our essential greatness and return wholeheartedly to Hashem.

Finally, these three reasons can bring us enough joy to do a good thing right now, which is represented by the final ה of Hashem’s name, the letter representing action (malchus) in this world.

The common denominator of these four ways is simply recognizing the truth. The truth is always there. We spend too much of our life unconscious and unaware of the great gifts that we have. Just recognizing what we are, where we come from, what we’ve done and what we can do truly accomplish can bring us the essence of hope and joy. Amen!

 

Reuniting

tzaddik yesod olam

“צַדִּיק יְסוֹד עוֹלָם”

The tzaddik is the foundation of the world (Proverbs 10)

There’s an amazing statement in the Zohar (II:38A):

“יֵרָאֶה כָּל זְכוּרְךָ אֶת פְּנֵי הָאָדוֹן יְיָ’. מַאן פְּנֵי הָאָדוֹן יְיָ’? דָּא רִבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן יוֹחָאי”

The Torah says “[Three times a year], you must see the face of your master, Hashem”. Asks the Zohar, “What/Who is the face of Hashem? This is Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai“!

What does this mean? Is Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai Hashem, G-d forbid?

In Tinyana 67, Rebbe Nachman explains how the world is created of the four elements, fire, water, earth and wind. Those four elements are the four streams that were split from the river that flowed from Eden to water the Garden of Eden. (Genesis 2). The river itself is that one tzaddik, who’s the beauty and splendor of the world. He’s the eyes of the world. The four elements are also the four parts of the eye [three colors and the pupil]). Through the tzaddik, we’re able to see Hashem. The elements flow into the world through the tzaddik. These elements can lead us astray. Fire is our anger, water is our lust, earth is depression and wind is our pride. By neutralizing his ego, a human being can elevate himself out of this world, above the four elements, and be more aligned with Hashem than with this world. This wonderful tzaddik, like Hashem, is a simple oneness. The Rebbe calls it יְסוֹד הַפָּשׁוּט. By conquering his ego, he has embodied the Divine oneness that precedes these elements.

נִמְצָא כְּשֶׁנִּתְגַּדֵּל שֵׁם הַצַּדִּיק, נִתְגַּדֵּל שְׁמוֹ יִתְבָּרַך וְכָל מַה שֶּׁנִּתְגַּדֵּל יוֹתֵר שֵׁם הַצַּדִּיק, נִתְגַּדֵּל יוֹתֵר שְׁמוֹ יִתְבָּרַך

“When the tzaddik’s name is glorified, Hashem’s name and glory is more magnified in the world”, because when the tzaddik nullifies his ego, all that’s left of him is his Divine image. So when we see the tzaddik, we’re seeing an unadulterated tiny aspect of Hashem. We’re obviously nothing without Hashem, but Hashem wants us to be his feet in this world. We expand his recognition. The more we limit our prides and lusts, the more we make a vessel for His light to shine. It’s a beautiful light. He wants us to have it, but He also needs us to shine it.

~ Based on a shiur of Rabbi Leibish Hundert

 

 

Life sucks

Hard Times

Did I get your attention? That was my intention.

“THE REBBE DECLARED: LOOK! EVERYONE SAYS THERE IS ‘THIS WORLD’ AND ‘THE WORLD TO COME’. NOW WE [CERTAINLY] BELIEVE THERE IS A WORLD TO COME. AND IT’S POSSIBLE THAT AN OLAM HAZEH EXISTS IN SOME UNIVERSE [TOO]. BUT HERE IT LOOKS MORE LIKE HELL, BECAUSE EVERYONE IS FULL OF GREAT SUFFERING – ALWAYS!”

“[HE] ALSO SAID: THERE IS NO OLAM HAZEH AT ALL!”

(Tinyana 119)

I think we’re brought up with a certain misconception about life. Kids are always complaining that “it’s not fair!” They’re right! It’s not. Maybe it’s because we’re taught that Hashem is only good? Well, that’s true. He is perfectly good and everything that happens to us is unquestionably for the best, but life is still replete with suffering. It’s technically all good because there is a Divine plan that we don’t understand. But we don’t experience life as all good. Everyone suffers all the time, says Rebbe Nachman. Everyone. All the time. That’s a fact of life that I don’t need to prove to you, because I’m sure you’ve experienced it yourself.

There’s no contradiction to the fact that Hashem is purely good and that we experience great pain. Why do we suppress those thoughts about how hard things are when they surface? Why do we lie to ourselves and to our children that everything is fair and great? I think it’s extremely confusing.

This is why we need to constantly remind ourselves of the rebbe’s crucial advice (Torah 282) of searching for the good in everything. Because even though there is real suffering everywhere we look, there is also tremendous open kindness and goodness. Our job is to train ourselves to focus on the good. Our eyes were given to us to see the good. Our minds were put in our heads to think about the good in ourselves, in others, in the world and in Hashem. It’s true that there’s bad too. You’d have to be a fool not to notice how bad things are everywhere. But we have an important mission: Look for the good. There are bad people, but our job is to see the good in them. We do bad things too, but our job is to see our own good.

I think this is a subtle point. It’s not ‘all good’. It’s good and bad. But we need to over-identify with the good. That’s how we can literally expand the good outward.

 

The unappreciated mitzvah

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“הַהִתְבּוֹדְדוּת הוּא מַעֲלָה עֶלְיוֹנָה וּגְדוֹלָה מִן הַכּל”

“Secluded and improvised prayer [in ones native tongue] is the greatest asset and higher than everything else”

(Tinyana 25)

The Ramchal doesn’t even waste one page in his magnum opus, Mesilas Yesharim, before telling us that the entire purpose of the world is להתענג על ה’ ולהנות מזיו שכינתו, to delight in the transcendency of the Divine presence. In fact, this all-encompassing  ‘life-purpose’ is an explicit mitzvah in the Torah as it says “וּב֣וֹ תִדְבָּ֔ק”, “you should cleave to Him”. This is called D’veikus, an out of body experience of oneness. In D’veikus, you’re bound with something much greater than yourself.

The Zohar states in many places that the 613 mitzvos are 613 עיתין, pieces of advice, in which one can elevate his soul to its Divine source. But it’s not just a mystical thing. The Talmud says (Berachos 21a) “ולוואי שיתפלל אדם כל היום כולו”, would it only be that we would pray all day!

“The biggest lie in Torah tradition is that [only] at the end of [performing] all the mitzvos, and all its stringencies is when you reach D’veikus” – Rabbi Doniel Katz

The truth is exactly the opposite. We have a direct relationship with Hashem. The mitzvos help us broaden, deepen, strengthen and intensify that supernatural relationship that we already have. I like to compare it to the time between Passover and Shavuot. The Arizal says that on the first night of Passover we attain tremendous מוחין, consciousness. Then we lose it, because our bodies are insufficient vessels to hold the light. The avodah (work) of Sefirat Haomer is Tikkun Hamiddos, to build the proper emotional fortitude to get back to the place that we already reached.

My friends, I don’t need to tell you that, since our Holy temple has been destroyed, we have lost the forest in the trees. We are so bogged down by mitzvah performance that we’ve almost totally lost the mitzvah experience. 😫

Take a stand! Don’t settle for the monotonous, boring, and unfulfilling mitzvah observance. We have the ability to connect within us. Maybe, as a suggestion, together we can create a powerful collective consciousness by trying to have a bit of extra intent when we make the blessing in the morning on learning Torah?

:בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ לַעֲסוֹק בְּדִבְרֵי תוֹרָה:

וְהַעֲרֵב נָא, יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, אֶת דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָתְךָ בְּפִינוּ וּבְפִיּוֹת עַמְּךָ בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְנִהְיֶה אֲנַחְנוּ וְצֶאֱצָאֵינוּ, וְצֶאֱצָאֵי עַמְּךָ בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל, כֻּלָּנוּ יוֹדְעֵי שְׁמֶךָ, וְלוֹמְדֵי תוֹרָתְךָ לִשְׁמָהּ. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה, הַמְלַמֵּד תּוֹרָה לְעַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל:

Roughly translated – Hashem, our God, King of the universe, You are the source of all blessing, and You uplifted us with the mitzvah of studying Torah. Please make the words of Torah sweet in our mouths, so that we and all our future progeny know Your name and learn Your Torah for its own sake. You are the source of all blessing, Hashem, who teaches Torah to His nation, Israel. Amen!

Torah and mitzvos are sweet because we can transcend through them. It sure is not automatic, but it’s also not impossible. We can know Hashem’s name. That is a blissful state.

Let’s go!

 

 

The history of Jewish Meditation

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“The key ingredient to true faith is a clear imagination. The intellect is limited by its knowledge. Faith only starts where the intellect can no longer go. By means of a pure imagination we can soar to heights of faith and come close to our Creator”.

(Tinyana 8)

Much of the below was gleaned from classes I heard from Rabbi Daniel Katz of The Elevation Project.

Most people think that meditation practices are sourced in newer religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, when in fact Judaism, the oldest religion known today, is nothing less than saturated with meditation and consciousness teachings. It’s no exaggeration to say that much of the meditation practice studied today is sourced in Judaic writings. So, why has it been a secret until now and why is it suddenly being revealed?

Throughout the writings of the Prophets one clearly sees that prophecy was only reached from a state of meditation. The Talmud (Megillah 14a) states that there were 1.2 million prophets who shared their prophecy throughout our history. It is inferred that scores of other prophets existed, who simply didn’t share their revelations. Unfortunately, at the very beginning of the Second Temple era the desire for spiritual connection was leading the Jews astray. The lust to worship idols and draw out their spiritual energy was ruining our overall relationship with Hashem, so the sages made a bold move. They used their powers to remove the lust for idol worship, knowing full well that our holy spiritual connection of prophecy would be lost as well.

So how does one connect to Hashem when his main technique of spirituality is removed? The answer is that the Torah went into exile. This means that the Torah has a unique dynamic relationship with the Jews. When we change, the Torah changes to meet us. This doesn’t mean that the laws or the practices of the Torah change, but our interface with it changes. At the time when prophecy ceased, the Greeks were coming into power, with their rationalist and analytical ideas, so Hashem revealed a new aspect of the Torah, which was focused primarily on analyzation. This was the beginning of Jewish debating, opinion and the study of the the Talmud.

The study of Jewish law continued to grow from the Babylonian exile until approximately 1740/1840, when the Baal Shem Tov realized that on a national level we were too used to thinking about the Torah intellectually, and we almost completely lost the Divine language of experience (Tzavaas Harivash #80). This resulted in the Jewish people learning text superficially, without understanding its deeper meditational influence and references. But that’s not all he noticed, there was another change too. It used to be that people naturally understood their life’s purpose, know as their shoresh neshama. But as time went on throughout our exile, the Baal Shem Tov saw (Shaar Hayichud Vhaemuna) that there was an inter-inclusion of the souls, called Hiskalilus. Everything was mixed up now and even the simple people wanted to experience the Divine, a phenomenon that never existed prior to. This is because Hashem started to exponentially hasten the coming of the redemption, as is stated in Isaiah (60) “B’ita Achishena” (“in it’s time, I will hasten it”), which the Zohar predicts to mean specifically from around the eighteenth century. In order to meet the needs of the changing Jewish souls, the Baal Shem Tov began to reveal the secrets of the Torah and meditation, which were lost, hidden, shunned and exiled. The path of Chassidus is no more and no less than the path of prophecy being re-revealed in our generation.

But from that time in the 18th century, the Divine revelation didn’t only start to ramp up from the Torah’s side. The discoveries of science, technology and psychology also began to burst forth at an unprecedented speed and accuracy. This dual revelation of science, from the bottom up, and Torah, from the top down is the fulfillment of that same prophecy predicted in the Zohar (Parshas Vayera). The Torah writes regarding the flood in the times of Noah (Genesis 7:11) “on this day, all the springs of the great deep were split, and the windows of the heavens opened up ”. The Zohar explains that there will be a similar two-way flood of consciousness that will reoccur in the final redemption. “The springs of the great deep” will be the knowledge that science reveals, and “the windows of Heaven” will reveal the consciousness of the Divine in the Torah path. When these two paths meet, the world will be flooded with knowledge and consciousness of the Divine. This is happening now and, please G-d, we should merit to see the end, when the whole world will proclaim Hashem’s unity, Amen!

 

Photo of Abir Yaakov Painting – By David Aharon Podbere

 

 

Accessing more

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Rosh Hashana 2018 fell out on a Sunday night. I left to Uman on Thursday night and had the most uplifting last shabbos of the year there. Some time later, when talking to my wife, I noticed that she was upset at me. She couldn’t believe that I just assumed it was ok to leave the family for shabbos too. I didn’t even discuss the idea with her. She said, “It’s already hard enough that you leave the family for Rosh Hashana, but when you leave for the shabbos before too, it makes me feel unappreciated”.

I sat there listening to her and I knew that she was right. Of course, I said I’m sorry and I’ll try to be more appreciative. The next week, during hisbodedus, I was praying to be more grateful and I noticed something profound. When we’re ungrateful, we are very much unaware of what’s happening around us. Conversely, when a person is appreciative, he notices a lot of the good in his life. In Hebrew it’s called הכרת הטוב, which literally means recognizing the good. When we’re grateful, we’re significantly more alert and aware of what’s going on in our life.

Reb Nosson develops this idea (Kilei Beheima 4:6):

King David sings in Tehillim (Psalms 3) “A song by David, as he was escaping from his son Absalom“. The Talmud asks (Brachot 7b), “A song? [Who sings a song during such a calamity?], he should of said “A dirge by David”! The Talmud answers, that David knew that a son has compassion on his father, so he was at least happy that it was his son who who made him a fugitive. Reb Nosson explains: David was in such a state of distress, fleeing from Jerusalem for his life from his traitorous son, that his mind was warped and he literally couldn’t cry out to Hashem, as he was used to doing. He became so infatuated with his stress, that he was losing his mind. But because of his great righteousness, Hashem lit up his eyes with an idea. He could at least thank Hashem for all the good that he had until now. Little by little he started to feel grateful until, amazingly, he was actually able to see something good about the situation he found himself in; that at least his son might have compassion on him, as opposed to a stranger trying to usurp his kingdom. בַּצָּר הִרְחַבְתָּ לִּי, even in the most difficult position, he found space to praise Hashem. Only through this meditation, did his mind open up. He found a part of himself that he was previously unable to access.

This is why we sing Psukei D’zimra before we pray each morning, (and the Amidah prayer itself also starts with praise of Hashem). In order to access our deepest place of need, we must first – as my friend Reb Leibish says – “bliss out” on Hashem. That intense exalting, which takes work, is a key to a deeper place in our soul. When we’re ungrateful, we’re unaware. It’s like walking in the dark. We don’t see everything that’s being done for us, and Reb Nosson is saying, we don’t even know ourselves. But when we work on finding the good in all the situations, it’s like turning on the lights and we’re able to see clearly what’s happening on the outside and simultaneously deeply access what’s on the inside.

The greatness of empathy

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The first thing the Torah tells us about Moshe’s personality is “וַיֵּצֵא אֶל אֶחָיו, וַיַּרְא בְּסִבְלֹתָם”, he went out to observe his brothers and he saw their suffering. Rashi explains that he focused on their pain and kept their suffering in his heart. We clearly see Moshe’s great humility from his introduction. In Birchos Hashahar 5 Reb Nosson brings a midrash (Vayikra Rabba Ch. 37) that Hashem said, “because you cared about your brothers’ suffering, you will merit to be taught the laws of vows”.

The obvious question is, what’s the connection between the two things? I understand that it’s a great reward to be taught any law from God, but why is Moshe’s empathy for his people rewarded with being taught the laws of vows? Reb Nosson gives his own answer (ibid).

I was thinking as follows: One of the most interesting type of vows is the Nazir’s vow. A nazir is someone who voluntarily vowed to abstain from all alcohol derived from grapes. (He also can’t cut his hair or become ritually impure). When the Torah introduces this idea it says:

“אִישׁ אוֹ אִשָּׁה כִּי יַפְלִא לִנְדֹּר נֶדֶר נָזִיר”

“If a man or woman sets themselves apart by making a nazarite vow” 

The word יַפְלִא, to set himself apart, says the Even Ezra stems from the root פלא (wonder). Meaning that he did a wondrous thing by making a vow. Here the whole world is running after their desires and this person is a marvel, in that he sets himself apart and abstains from his desires. The same is true for many vows. If someone vows to give charity or vows to do a mitzvah, this is truly a wonder; something so rare.

I think that this is why Moshe merited to be taught the laws of vows for his compassion. The same way that it’s a phenomenon for someone to want to abstain from his desires, when the rest of the world is stuck in the mud of bodily desires, so too it’s equally a rarity for someone to care about another person. The same selfishness that entraps people to follow their lusts, hooks them to be narcissistic. The Torah says that יֵצֶר לֵב הָאָדָם רַע מִנְּעֻרָיו, a person’s natural tendency is to be preoccupied with himself. Children only care about themselves and, unfortunately, too many people never grow up. If the first thing the Torah tells us about Moshe was that he was compassionate for others, that means it was an essential value of his. The more selfless you are, the greater you are, because you are more like God himself, who is totally selfless. Sadly, it’s not common enough to see true altruism, just like it’s not that common to witness people abstain from the desires of this world.

May we merit to truly be selfless and dedicated to the service of Hashem and our fellow people.