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So did you have any guests for Sukkos? Well, you certainly did. The holy ushpizin, the seven shepherds, come to visit our sukkah during this festival. Sound weird to you? Well, then you need to ask yourself if you believe it or not. If you (understandably) don’t, then essentially, there’s something integral to this holiday that you’re ignoring. What about the idea that the shechina (the Holy Divine Presence) rests on the schach of our sukkah? Are you into that one? Wait, wait, wait. You know those four species that we hold together and shake every day? The Torah explicitly says that holding them make us happy. The Talmud teaches that they respond to our spine, heart, eyes and lips. Do you buy it?

Reb Nosson recorded in Torah 25 that after Rebbe Nachman taught the lesson, he said “Now we need to call the Evil One by a new name. It’s time to call it the כּחַ הַמְדַמֶּה (the power of imagination)”. Reb Nosson writes that even though the Rebbe said it jokingly, he understood that there was a serious intention there, which Reb Nosson admits he didn’t know.

Maybe we can say that by renaming the Evil One, Rebbe Nachman taught us something amazingly unique about faith. We must use our imagination to believe. We have to paint pictures in our minds and hearts and dream with certainty. Believing in Moshiach, in world peace, and in our personal salvation seems impossible. So does believing in the seven holy guests. You know the Talmud tells us that Hashem taught Moses on Sinai a number of leniencies in the laws of Sukkah, where we imagine walls to exist in our sukkah that actually don’t. The bottom line is that with mere cerebral faith, our observance is dry  and uninspiring. It’s incumbent upon us to see past what we can understand and believe in our imagination as if it is reality. Because once we do, it will be the reality.

Everything the Rebbe taught can be summarized in two words – simple faith. He foresaw the atheism (or maybe cynicism)  that was starting to spread and he taught like no other to believe in ones self, believe in the tzaddikim and believe in Hashem. To me it’s no coincidence that he passed away on Sukkos, a holiday that takes a lot of imaginary-type, simple faith to connect to. He actually passed on the fourth day of sukkos, the day the sefira of Netzach shines through. The Arizal taught that prophesy flows through the sefiros of Netzach and Hod. Maybe because a prophet needs a good measure of simple faith and imagination to prophesy? Nachman actually has the same numerical value  as Netzach (148). One might say that the Rebbe’s main mission was to get an increasingly cynical nation to believe in a reality that exists only through the power of imagination. Even his most famous lesson charges the reader to work on finding the good points in everyone and imagining that good point to be their essence, (because it really is). And what about his famous advice of hisbodedus? Again, charging his devout followers to get away from all the noise of heresy in the marketplace and imagine oneself sitting and talking directly to God. Did you know that the Rebbe said of himself, “I am a river that purifies all stains” (Chayei Moharan 332). Do you believe it? Well he knew he would have contenders who would dismiss all his extraordinary statements. He even said, (Chayei Moharan 262) ‘There really is no middle road here. Either I am what all my opponents say against me, or I really am a True Tzaddik that I claim to be!’ You see, the Rebbe’s essence doesn’t allow for a middle road. He taught only simple faith, without sophistication; Just allowing the imagination take you to another dimension. This is what Sukkos is about too, living in the clouds. 

May we all merit that in the zchus of this magical holiday, and in the zchus of a Rebbe who was “more novel than all before him” (Chayei Moharan 247), we can let go of our coolness and fears and be free to imagine a world that we know nothing about, a world more beautiful and warm than anything we every knew. Because we can’t know it, we can only imagine it. 

לעילוי נשמת הצדיק האמיתי, רבינו נחמן בן פיגע, זיעועכ״א

Still thinking about Uman

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They say that everything goes after the beginning (הכל הולך אחר הראש), so even though most people are preoccupied with Yom Kippur thoughts today, my mind is still by the Rebbe.

When I was growing up I found that the more cynical and sarcastic I would be, the more people would like me. I was daring and witty so I ended up getting all the laughs.

For some reason, after my first Rosh Hashana in Uman, the first thing I started working on was minimizing my cynicism. I prayed for help to adjust my personality a bit and find more hope in life and in people.

After this epic Rosh Hashana, I realized that even for the biggest naysayers, cynicism is absolutely absent in Uman. Rebbe Nachman was so hopeful! Belief was so real to him that in his presence, it’s so hard to see things in a negative light.

That light of hope is so healing that we feel so safe to share and be vulnerable in his presence. It’s almost as if everything is ok, no matter what, and we want to test the waters to see if EVEN WE, with all our mess ups, are acceptable and loveable.

Of course, it goes without saying, that this is how Hashem sees us. (The Tzaddikim see with Hashem’s eyes). His eyes only see good. כי מדי דברי בו זכור אזכרנו. Only good, only loving.

Please God we should see ourselves, our loved ones and everyone in this light. End the cynicism and live a life of hope. The real life. The good life.

 

גמר חתימה טובה מאד מאד!

 

Processing Uman Rosh Hashana 2019

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Shlomo Katz once said over that years back at a certain musical event Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and Bob Dylan were participants of a question and answer forum. The Master of Ceremonies asked Shlomo first, “What would be your dream come true”? Shlomo said “To meet every person in the world”. At that point Dylan piped up, saying “That would be my worst nightmare”.

Why did Shlomo Carlebach want to meet everyone he possibly could? I think it’s because he believed, with his deepest depths, that every single human-being on Earth has a unique aspect of God to reveal that no one else possibly can. Only I can bring out what I’m meant to, and only you can uncover the facet of God that you’re meant to. If that’s the case, then Shlomo wanted to see every face of God that’s out there. After all, we’re meant to attach ourselves to God, (וּלְדָבְקָה בוֹ), so wouldn’t we want to see as many angles of His presence as possible? That would certainly make the connection more relatable and easier.

On the other hand, with all his poetry, coolness and musical pioneering, Bob Dylan was small minded. He saw people as a burden and a nuisance to his chill, so he couldn’t imagine a worse idea than Shlomo’s fairytale dream.

Everyone who’s been to Uman will testify that there’s something totally unique about the Rosh Hashana experience there. Many say the brotherly love is on a level that can’t be matched. But it’s not just a coincidence. Rebbe Nachman told his followers to never stop reviewing Azamra (Torah 282), in which he teaches to search out and hunt for the good points in yourself and in others. The Rebbe himself was the master of this quality. He was always able to see the good. (Is it a wonder that he wanted everyone by him on Rosh Hashana, when we’re all being judged? With his ability to see the good in others, it’s only fair for Hashem to see that same good and judge us favorably). But this skill that the Rebbe developed is absolutely contagious in Uman. For some odd reason, we travel to one of the crummiest places in the world and we’re suddenly able to see the good in one another like never before. No one is ‘better than’ and everyone belongs, no matter what he looks like, where he’s from and what he did in the past. Finally finally, we can see each other with the Rebbe’s holy eyes, the eyes of Hashem Himself. What better day, the first day of the year, could there be to start anew and see ourselves and others as the one-of-a-kind Godly beings that we truly are?

Don’t stop after step one

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Thank God Rebbe Nachman’s advice to practice hisbodedus daily is heeded by many people worldwide.  I don’t like to be a stickler but can I suggest that we’ve been missing a key part of the formula?

Let’s see the text (Tinyana 25):

“וְיִזָּהֵר מְאֹד לְהַרְגִּיל עַצְמוֹ לְהַתְמִיד בָּזֶה מִדֵּי יוֹם בְּיוֹם שָׁעָה מְיֻחֶדֶת כַּנַּ”ל. וּשְׁאָר כָּל הַיּוֹם יִהְיֶה בְּשִׂמְחָה”

“One should be very careful to accustom himself to practicing [hisbodedus] consistently, designating an hour every day for it. And the rest of the day he should be happy“.

What happened to the second part? “And the rest of the day he should be happy”. When we finish our daily session with Hashem, there’s nothing to worry about anymore. He’s got our back. We need to stop going around moaning and groaning still about how hard everything is. That’s (partly) what hisbodedus is for. Let it all out there and then after, feel the relief and trust that the boss will take care of His part.

The truth is, the Rebbe writes that one can actually determine if he truly let go and opened his heart to Hashem based on his feelings afterwards. If he doesn’t feel happy, maybe his broken heart wasn’t what he thought it was? (Sichos Haran 45)

.אחר לב נשבר בא שמחה, וזה סימן, אם היה לו לב נשבר כשבא אחר כך לשמחה

There are so many benefits to practicing this type of unique prayer, but what could be better than feeling happy all the time? It’s like everything else in life, the more we believe it, the more it affects us. If we truly believed that we just finished entreating the most loving King of the Universe, who wants nothing else but to help us grow and succeed, then we must follow through after it with a real feeling of comfort, ease and simple happiness.

 

Hashem, help us make the time to talk real to You. Put the rights words in our mouth and open up our hearts of stone. Lead us deeper and deeper into our minds and souls, so we can tear through our fakeness and shallowness. We’re sitting here anyways, help us be real! Help us believe in You all the way. Help us believe that You truly hear our voices calling You. Let us break down and cry to You, like a child to their father. Then lift us up and help us trust that You will take care of the rest. All we can do is call out, so help us talk the truth. We know that if we can do it, nothing feels better. You got this! There’s nothing left for us to do, but sing and dance all day long!

 

Listen up

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In preperation for Rosh Hashana, Breslovers always review a certain lesson in the month of Elul. Torah Vav, as it’s called, discusses Rebbe Nachman’s approach to Teshuva, returning to Hashem.

The Rebbe makes the following statement:

וְעִקַּר הַתְּשׁוּבָה – כְּשֶׁיִּשְׁמַע בִּזְיוֹנוֹ, יִדֹּם וְיִשְׁתֹּק

“The essence of Teshuva is to hear oneself being insulted and remain silent”

Simply understood, as has been said in this forum many times, returning to Hashem means aligning your will with His will. In order to align our will with His, we need to be the party that concedes. After all, His will is perfect and righteous. It’s only our will, controlled by our ego, that’s messing up the alignment and stuffing up the pipes of blessing that should flow down on us. This act of teshuva takes quite a measure of humility.  Typically when someone is insulted by another, his ego becomes unleashed. The Rebbe says that the blood in his heart boils from an insult. We need to turn the דם (the blood of the heart) into דום (silence), by shutting our mouths when someone lays it on us real thick. Although it’s a simple act, it’s quite difficult to do. Overcoming the ego’s blood-boil, can have majorly positive results on our character and also make big noise in Heaven.

When my wife, Yocheved, was learning this lesson, she questioned it’s relevancy to those that are oppressed. Wouldn’t such an avodah, of letting oneself be humiliated, be unhealthy for them? How can it be beneficial for someone who is abused, or even someone who feels abused, to allow himself to be ashamed?

One can easily answer that the Rebbe is only addressing someone who is emotionally stable and not a person who is suffering from legitimate abuse. Although this might be the case with another tzaddik, it’s hard for me to believe that the super tzaddik (צדיק האמת) that Rebbe Nachman was wouldn’t address even the most unfortunate of us. I mean, that was what he was/is all about!

Yocheved had a great answer and a novel interpretation of this idea. The Rebbe doesn’t say that the essence of teshuva is when you hear another insult you and remain silent. He says real teshuva is when you hear your own humiliation and remain silent. It’s not as easy as we think to be truly honest with ourselves. Although we seem more ashamed before others than when we are in our own private space, we still hide from ourselves in the most humiliating situations.

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It’s hard to truly hear our own criticism. Even this generation, with all its openness and vulnerability, suffers from terribly low self-esteem. That’s because we’re afraid to be real about our most serious shortcomings. We’re ashamed to even admit these things to ourselves. But how can one align himself with something else, if he’s unaware of his true self?  And all the more difficult it must be to align with the source of all truth if we aren’t truthful to ourselves.

We need to open our minds and ears to our souls’ calling. We need to let go of our illusion of control and admit to ourselves who we really are. That’s the essence of teshuva, it’s coming back to the real you. Hashem already knows it anyways. It’s only us that’s still in the dark.

Keep going

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~ The following is based on a lesson from Rabbi Leibish Hundert.

The Mishna Brura writes, (O”C 125:5): “It says in the Sefer Heichalos (an early Kabbalistic work), ‘[Hashem says to the Heavenly angels], You should be blessed if you go and tell my children what I do when they sanctify My name and say קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ. Go teach them that [when saying it] they should raise their eyes up to the skies and lift up their bodies to Me. Because no pleasure I have in this world compares to the moment that their eyes look into my eyes, and my eyes in theirs. At that moment I grab the image of [their grandfather] Jacob on the Holy Throne, and I hug it and kiss it. Then I remember their merits and hasten their redemption“.

What is קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ? Kadosh means separate, or utterly unique. The commentators say that the idea of repeating it three times symbolizes its eternal continuum. So what we’re saying is that Hashem is totally without equal. But more, is that the recognition that He is beyond our comprehension is considered looking into Hashems’ eyes.

The difference between seeing and hearing is that when you see something you see all of it, but when you hear something it’s sequential. You need to keep on hearing and hearing to capture something. There is one exception. Looking into another’s eyes. When you look into someone’s eyes, it’s forever…

When the Mishna (Shabbos 73b) counts the 39 primary prohibitions of labor on shabbos, it lists planting and then plowing. The Talmud asks, doesn’t one plow before he plants? It answers that the author of the Mishna lived in the Land of Israel. In Israel, since the earth is hard and rock-like, one had to plow, plant and then plow again to cover the seeds. In Israel one has to do a second act of covering the seeds. What this means, allegorically, is that covering up is a profound sense of letting go. You thought you plowed and seeded and you’re done, but then Israel requires you to do it again.  It’s hard in Israel. Israel makes you do things again and again (not just going to the משרד הפנים) and that builds the relationship. קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ – again and again, looking into His eternal eyes!

You know, if you look at the blessings that Isaac gave Jacob and Esau, they both got the same blessing! They both were blessed with rain and dew. The difference is that in Esau’s blessing, he gets it once and he’s set, but Jacob gets his flow and then he has to ask again to get it (Rashi says on the vav of וְיִתֶּן לְךָ, that יתן ויחזור ויתן. That’s the blessing, not the rain and dew, but the relationship. To keep and asking and getting, asking and getting, again and again.

This could be what Rebbe Nachman means in Torah 6 that we need to do Teshuva al Hateshuva, we need to constantly be in a state of longing. The tzaddik never stops searching for Hashem, אַיֵּה מְקוֹם כְּבוֹדוֹ again and again. The more he knows the more he understands that he knows nothing. Hisbodedus every day! Never giving up. Hashem isn’t as interested in one good prayer as he is a series of prayers. Again and again!

!קַוֵּה אֶל יְהוָה חֲזַק וְיַאֲמֵץ לִבֶּךָ וְקַוֵּה אֶל יְהוָה

 

Tadasana

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“Sometimes someone falls into a rut. And this time the rut is really really low, God forbid…And he starts having doubts and negative thoughts. Some of his thoughts even seem bizarre and dizzying. He’s constantly confused. Very confused (בִלְבּוּלִים רַבִּים)! Even though in this dark place it seems absolutely impossible to find Hashem, he still has some hope if he seeks out and looks for Hashem from that place. [How does he do that? How can he find Hashem in such a slump. By] asking ‘אַיֵּה מְקוֹם כְּבוֹדוֹ’, ‘Where are You Hashem’? The farther he feels from Hashem, the more he should express his pain and search for Hashem even more. [‘Where are You now Hashem? Look how far I’ve fallen now, can You possibly be here with me?’]. Through this method of longing and yearning for Hashem, recognizing how far one is from Him, one can actually rise out of this pit with a perfect ascent, because the aspect of אַיֵּה is exceedingly Holy and powerful”. (Meshivas Nefesh 30)

Rebbe Nachman urged his followers to live with this teaching; To constantly review it and to always ask אַיֵּה. In fact, even the greatest tzaddikim never stop asking אַיֵּה. The more they learn and ascend, the more they feel, in a sense, humbled and distant from Hashem. They ask אַיֵּה again and again. ‘Where are You now? I thought I knew where You were but now I realize that I didn’t know anything at all’.

I want to point out something very obvious from this teaching. The Rebbe talks about בִלְבּוּלִים, the uneasy feeling of confusion. It’s not uncommon these days to feel this feeling very strongly. Life moves really fast nowadays and there are so many expectations that we have from ourselves and that others have from us. We can literally walk around feeling drained from an overload of disorder and perplexity.

In Psalms 86, King David says  יַחֵד לְבָבִי לְיִרְאָה שְׁמֶךָ,  ‘Align my heart to be in awe of You’. The heart is the place of our thoughts (Torah 49). This is a cry to Hashem to straighten us out. Sometimes we just want to get to zero! Just put me back together. “Align us”, Hashem. There are so many בִלְבּוּלִים nowadays. We can’t do it without You. Unbend us, help us breathe; Help us think straight at least. יַחֵד לְבָבִי – Turn my many hearts into one heart, your heart!

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Uman 2016 Revisited

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With Rosh Hashana around the corner, of course, I’ve been thinking a lot about the annual kibbutz to Uman. I was recently reminiscing of my first trip to the Rebbe in 2016. I remember feeling blown away by the aura of unity and joy; It was unearthly. The experience touched me so deeply that my desire to prolong the feeling led me to learn what it’s all about. Thank God, when I returned to Israel, I still felt the longing and I started the never-ending journey of learning Rebbe Nachman‘s lessons straight from the source.

In retrospect, I’m very pleased that my interest in Uman led me to delve into the Rebbe’s books. I could have easily chosen a more cosmetic path, which I’m not certain would have had the same profound effect on me.

But I had another thought recently too. Maybe I’m wrong, (and if so I apologize), but I’d bet that at least half of the chevra the yearly pilgrimage to Uman on Rosh Hashana aren’t well-versed in the books of Breslov. So why did I think that by learning Rebbe Nachman’s teachings, I would uncover the mystery of Uman Rosh Hashana? Maybe the special feeling wasn’t sourced in his holy lessons, but rather in something else?

My friends, I tell you plainly, nearly three years after that first trip, that the amazingness of the Uman experience is solely a product of the most magnificent and awe-inspiring Torah lessons taught by Rebbe Nachman, and his admiring pupil Reb Nosson. The only thing that matches the glory of Uman is the brilliance of Toras Breslov. It’s nothing short of bewildering how his lessons can speak to the most simple unlearned people and simultaneously uncover for the greatest scholars the deepest secrets of Kabbalah. This was Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. A unique lover of all Jews – every single one – no matter where that person was holding, and an extraordinary desire to relate to that Jew and inspire him to desire a relationship with God in his every day life.

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The smiling skies

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“You should know, [Hashem’s] presence fills the entire earth and there is no place that is empty of Him…Even if someone does business [far away from his home] with people of different cultures, he can’t excuse himself and say ‘I can’t serve Hashem here, because it’s too dark and mundane here’. In every physical thing and in all the languages of the world one can find Godliness.  Because without His Godliness, there is no ability at all to exist. It’s just that the lower the place is, the more hidden and covered up is its Godliness”. (Torah 33)

צָרִיךְ לָדַעַת, שֶׁמְּלֹא כָל הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ וְלֵית אֲתַר פָּנוּי מִנֵּהּ … וַאֲפִלּוּ מִי שֶׁעוֹסֵק בְּמַשָּׂא וּמַתָּן בַּגּוֹיִים לֹא יוּכַל לְהִתְנַצֵּל וְלוֹמַר אִי אֶפְשִׁי לַעֲבֹד אֶת הַשֵּׁם יִתְבָּרַךְ מֵחֲמַת עוֹבִיּוּת וְגַשְׁמִיּוּת שֶׁנּוֹפֵל תָּמִיד עָלָיו מֵחֲמַת הָעֵסֶק שֶׁעוֹסֵק תָּמִיד עִמָּהֶם, כִּי בְּכָל הַדְּבָרִים גַּשְׁמִיִּים וּבְכָל לְשׁוֹנוֹת הַגּוֹיִים יָכוֹל לִמְצֹא בָהֶם אֱלֹקוּתוֹ, כִּי בְּלֹא אֱלֹקוּתוֹ אֵין לָהֶם שׁוּם חִיּוּת וְקִיּוּם כְּלָל רַק כָּל מַה שֶּׁהַמַּדְרֵגָה יוֹתֵר תַּחְתּוֹנָה אֲזַי אֱלֹקוּתוֹ שָׁם בְּצִמְצוּם גָּדוֹל וּמְלֻבָּשׁ בְּמַלְבּוּשִׁים יוֹתֵר

So Hashem’s presence fills the entire world, right? But how does that help when we’re stuck in a these low places? How can we recognize His presence when we feel like hell and are having such a hard time coping?

There are 12 permutations of the Tetragrammaton (the name of Hashem יהו-ה). The simplest, and yet most essential permutation is of course יהו-ה. The Arizal writes that this permutation is an acronym for the verse “יִשְׂמְחוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם וְתָגֵל הָאָרֶץ” (Psalms, 96:11). “The Heavens will rejoice and the earth will be glad”.

I think, on the most basic level, the idea behind this is that the name of God, in its  simplest form, is represented by rejoicing and joy. A name is not a simple thing. The Maharal teaches that one’s name is his essence. שֵׁם (name) is the same letters as שָׂם (there). Meaning, you are where your name is. Whatever your name is, that defines where/who you are. This verse is indicating, that when we refer to Hashem’s name in the most straightforward way, we are referring to a state of gladness and rejoicing.

So maybe this is what Rebbe Nachman means? Hashem’s presence is everywhere, even in the lowest places. But how does one tap-in to this Godliness in a low place? By finding joy! When we can let go of our suffocating feelings and find something to be glad about – even in what seems to be the hardest situation – we can find Godliness absolutely anywhere. Of course, the lower the space, the harder it is to find Godliness (aka joy), but that’s just because it’s hidden. It’s truly there. The skies are always smiling.

Back to the basics

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There is a popular Breslov book called השתפכות הנפש. It’s a collection of teachings from the writings of Rebbe Nachman and Reb Nosson on the topic of prayer, authored by Alter Tepliker, a fourth generation Breslover chassid.

The book starts off with a rather lengthy introduction in which he demonstrates how prayer, specifically hisbodedus (the practice of setting aside time for improvisational personal prayer in our mother tongue) was a foundational practice used by all of our forefathers and ancestry throughout Jewish history.

I found it interesting that, after the introduction, the author starts off the body of the book with the following piece from Tinyana 73:

“Whoever wants to be worthy of תשובה (coming back to Hashem), should recite Psalms frequently, because reciting Psalms is מסוגל (propitious) for returning to Hashem”. 

In that piece Rebbe Nachman teaches how King David prophetically embedded Psalms  to the 49 gates of תשובה, so that all the 12 tribes, whose names total 49 letters, can enter the proper gate to return to Hashem.

But why start with this lesson? If I wanted to teach about hisbodedus, surely I would find a better lesson to begin with and inspire my readers. Namely, the second lesson he quotes, “Hisbodedus is a great virtue and higher than everything”! Why begin with a lesson about the importance of reciting Psalms?

I think there is a very profound, and layered message that the author might be hinting at by using this lesson as a starting point. Many people think that hisbodedus and personal prayer is some immensely inspiring practice. When we go out to the woods or enter another place of seclusion and talk to Hashem we want it to be esoteric and life changing. We’re always seeking inspiration to sweep us off our feet and give us wings to fly. But it doesn’t always happen. Anyone who practices personal prayer consistently will tell you that it doesn’t always flow and you don’t feel significantly different after every session.

To too many people, reciting Psalms is a chore. “I can’t connect”, “I don’t understand what I’m saying”, or “What does saying these old texts really do for me?” I very much relate to Psalms and I think the main reason why most people don’t relate to them is because there’s this bizarre pressure to recite many of them. It’s like we don’t feel that we’ve accomplished anything if we didn’t finish our quota, or a significant amount. We need to reframe and put our utmost attention into the few lines we say. Every word is stuffed with holiness, like an overpacked suitcase. If we don’t understand the words, there are available translations in every language possible. Stop trying to finish Psalms and allow yourself to relate in the most simple way to the deepest and simplest words of prayer ever written. Maybe it’s not the most glorious thing to do, maybe it’s hard to focus on but we must slow it down significantly and get real with it. Tehillim is infused with opportunities for תשובה. King David, in his unfathomable greatness, had every one of us in mind when he drew these words down from Heaven, and his ultimate purpose was to draw us back to Heaven.

Try it again…Slow down…Wake yourself up and come back to Him. He’s waiting for you to call…