A new day, a new me

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“The true counsel can only be given by those who have already been released from the hands of the evil inclination. Because someone who is still imprisoned by the evil one is as blind as one who walks in thick darkness, with stumbling blocks placed before him, which he can’t see…What can this be compared to? A garden-maze, the type that was common among the upper class and planted for the sake of amusement. The high trees are planted and arranged into walls of confusing, intertwined and similar paths. The walker in the garden has no way of seeing or knowing if he is on the right path or not. But there was a high porch in the middle of these gardens, and he who has a commanding position on the porch can see all the paths before him. He can discriminate between the true and false paths. Only He can warn the walker where to go and where not to go” (The Path of the Just – Chapter Zehirus).

I always thought this analogy was a beautiful one. I recently learned a piece in Likutei Halachos that opened it up for me even more:

“Hashem saw that the world wasn’t worthy to use [the light], so he hid it for the tzaddikim. And now that the light has been hidden, it’s impossible to understand with our own knowledge that Hashem is recreating the world at every moment. The only way to believe it is with the faith that we get from the tzaddikim, who are nourished by the hidden light”. (Hilchos K’vod Rabo 3:14).

Reb Nosson is saying, based on Tinyana 8, that what makes us impossibly stuck in the garden-maze is our inability to grasp that Hashem is recreating the world. The world looks exactly as it always did. Our intellect doesn’t allows us to perceive its newness. This blockage also makes it impossible to understand how we can change, really change. We tried dieting before, we tried working on ourselves so many times, why would this time be different?

It’s only when we inundate ourselves with the words of faith that the tzaddikim teach us from their exposure to the hidden light, that we can believe in a new world, and a chance to be fresh again. This is so crucial. We must believe with every fiber of our being that we can fix what we’ve broken and be everything we’re meant to be. But we need the encouragement of the loving tzaddikim to infuse us with this faith.

May we merit to hear those words of faith and believe in ourselves and our potential to be absolutely novel. Amen!

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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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…

 

Always more

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Korach had completely neutralized his bodily desires. As one of the Levites that carried the holy ark, he was on such a spiritual level that he had absolutely no appetite for lusts and animalistic passion. This led him to believe, says Reb Nosson (Hilchos Shiluach Hakan 4), that he was perfect. He couldn’t understand why he needed to subjugate himself to leaders if he had attained such spiritual heights.

What he failed to recognize is that there are infinite levels of growth and connection to the Divine. It’s not game over when one has fixed his body alone. There are levels upon levels of sweetening the judgements that exist for those special individuals who soar at spiritual heights. Korach needed Moses to teach him and lead him higher, but his ego stopped his ascent.

How in the world is this relevant to us, who are nowhere near perfect? We, who struggle, every moment with bodily lusts and cravings – What can we learn from Korach’s mistake?

The truth is we make the same mistake all the time, because we think that on our low level, we can never rise up and reach new heights. By giving up on ourselves, we are essentially believing that Teshuva is not available for someone as bad as we are. The opposite is really true. The farther we are from Hashem, the greater glory He gets from our Teshuva. We too must believe that no matter how many times we tried, we can still be successful and reach places we’ve never been.

This is the job of the tzaddik. He encourages the sinners that there is still hope and they can certainly come back to Hashem, and he challenges the great ones to keep striving because they haven’t seen nothin’ yet. The tzaddik believes this with all his heart. He believes that the lowly Jews are the most precious jewels that fell in the dirt. And he believes that even on his awesome level, he essentially knows nothing.

When Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld was on his deathbed, his last words to his children were מער, בעסער, גרעסער – more, better, bigger. Greatness is always available. Always available.

 

This is how it is, or is it?

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Although the intellect of a child is typically much weaker than that of an adult, the opposite is true when it comes to his imagination. We’ve all seen how powerful a child’s imagination can be. They literally believe their thoughts to be an alternate reality.

In Tinyana 8, Rebbe Nachman says that 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.

So often in our life we’re faced with trying situations where we feel stuck. We don’t believe that we can ever break out of the cycle that we find ourselves in. Whether it’s a financial hole, a substance addiction or a bad job, we rack our brains exploring all the options to free ourselves, but we’re left with that dejected feeling of “the same old me”. I think this despondence comes from the opposite of imagination; cynicism. When we see a child lost is his imagination, it’s comical to us. We think it’s ridiculous that the child can believe in something that we can’t understand. We’re too limited by our intellect. Our ego doesn’t allow us to entertain something we don’t know exists. But the sweet child is in touch with a force that catapults him to another world. He imagines. He believes.

The Rebbe goes on to say that the role of the true tzaddik is to refine our imagination. With his ruach hakodesh (Divine Spirit), he teaches us about faith and cultivates our imaginative faculty.

Says Reb Nosson (Hilchos K’vod Rabo 3:6), this is what’s so bitter about the destruction of our Holy Temple. When the temple stood, there was a great spirit of prophecy. The tzaddikim drew down that Divine spirit and blew into our souls words of optimism that refined our imagination and enhanced our faith.

How sad that with so few true tzaddikim left, we feel stuck in a one dimensional world of repetition. Our only hope is to soak up their holy words and open our minds to another reality – The space of imagination, the world of faith.

 

Living in the now

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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!

 

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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…

 

The tzaddik and me

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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.

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“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.

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The finishing touches

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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!