Feeling small on Chanuka

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Do you find it hard to stay lit on Chanuka? The more people I talk to, the more I hear how difficult it is to stay positive on Chanuka. Some people have had some of the darkest days of their lives when the Chanuka candles were burning. Is this some type of coincidence?

(If you don’t relate to what I’m saying here, then I guess just skip the following article).

As a kid, Chanuka was awesome! We looked forward to our presents and we loved lighting the menorah and the time off from school. But as we grew older, maybe we began to notice that although Chanuka has so much good to offer, we felt like it was hard to remain happy, and we easily sunk into a low state of mind.

(I could easily pin this on having all of our children home for 8 days 😆, but that’s true of all our holidays. There’s something different about Chanuka. What is it?)

In Tinyana 2, Rebbe Nachman teaches that the days of Chanuka are days of appreciation. Without getting into the depth of it, he goes on to connect appreciation to praising Hashem, the delight of the next world, true lovingkindness, halacha and truth. Those are some serious topics. It’s not so easy to be truly appreciative. Maybe you even say ‘thank you Hashem’ all day and night, but then something little doesn’t go your way and you get all bent out of shape. Why aren’t you appreciative then? Why aren’t you praising Hashem then? It’s because absolute truth and deep gratitude takes a great deal of work. How about true lovingkindness, even when it’s inconvenient? Or when it will go unnoticed? Not so easy then, right? And following halacha, specifically originating halacha, takes nearly complete humility. These traits take a certain amount of refinement. We don’t know too much about the next world (Olam Haba), but we know it’s called Olam Ha’emes, a world of truth. In that space, everything will finally be manifest. We won’t be fooled by our illusions and egotistic perceptions anymore.

It’s no coincidence that Chanuka comes out in the time of year when the night hours are the longest. The same way the darkness of the winter has already intensified, so too our spiritual darkness has already become overwhelming. We’re now as far as we can possibly be from Simchas Torah without spiritually collapsing, so Chazal gave us the lights of Chanuka. But the lights are so puny! A few measly lights for a half hour a night, barely three feet off the floor? That’s gonna do it?

Throughout the Hassidic writings all the Masters are talking about how holy the lights of Chanuka are. Even the Talmud asks, if a poor man only has a small amount of oil should he use it to light a Chanuka candle or a Shabbos candle? To even ask that question shows the greatness of Chanuka. What are we missing?

The same thing we’re missing is exactly the greatness of this amazing holiday. It’s true – we are so far from real appreciation of Hashem and acting with real kindness and truth. That’s why the lights are so little. We have so little of it. The darkness of our distortion, perversion and misrepresentation is crushing. We have very small keilim (equipment) to hold this strong light. But you know what? We do have a small amount of light. We might think it’s trivial, and our attempts to act kindly and live with sincerity are inconsequential but we’re dead wrong. Hashem doesn’t have our bloated complicated perceptions of reality. Hashem is truthful. He truly appreciates our struggle. He knows every time we try and He is appreciative.

We need to stare into the Chanuka lights and burn away our false perceptions of who we are. We’re not bad, and we don’t need to inflate our ego to protect others from knowing how bad we feel about ourselves. This is why the real tzaddikim chapped on to Chanuka so strongly. All the tzaddikim are geniuses in seeing the good. They see those feeble Chanuka lights and they see great torches of holiness. As we see can attest to, from past years of Chanuka, the light of truth is almost blinding. It’s not easy to go through Chanuka and stay positive. But we just need to do two things. First, we need to light one small fire and continue adding to it. Don’t try and win the game tonight. It’s a process. Start small. Appreciate the small things. And second, we need to believe in the tzaddikim. They’ve done the work. They’re gurus of seeing the good and acting truthfully. Simply believing in them and asking Hashem to help us in their merit see the good in ourselves will lift us up. This is a holiday of miracles. It’s not about what we can do. It’s about doing a little and believing that He will do the rest.

Goody goody

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“…And this is the aspect of Yosef Hatzaddik (Joseph), of whom it says, ‘איש אשר רוח אלקים בו’ (‘A man who possesses the spirit of God within him’). Because Yosef is the type of tzaddik that can go down to the lowest places and extract souls from the dungeons. Yosef himself also fell to those dark places, as it says ‘לעבד נמכר יוסף’ (‘Joseph was sold as a slave’). Slavery is the aspect of sadness, (as we learned in another place) which comes from the poison of the snake, which is an aspect of Ham, the forefather of Egypt, who was cursed to be a slave of slaves. Yosef went through all that. He was in jail for many years and he had gigantic challenges with lust, which comes from sadness. But precisely because he went through those challenging times and was able to hold one to his faith, he merited to attain additional holiness. And that’s why he has the power to reverse everything to GOOD; to reverse pain and suffering into joy. This is what Rachel prophesied when Joseph was born. She said ‘אסף אלקים את חרפתי’,  ‘Hashem collected (אסף) my disgrace’. Because that’s Yosef. He can go through all the disgraces and remove them. And then Rachel said, ‘יוסף ה’ לי בן אחר’ ‘Hashem should add (יוסף) to me another son’. Because not only does Yosef erase the disgrace. He can do even more (יוסף); He can turn it all into GOOD”.  (Hilchos Hoda’ah 6:32)

“Joseph was a seventeen year old shepherd” Says Reb Nosson, (Hashkamas Haboker 4:16), “A shepherd is what we call the leaders of the generation. He was the greatest of his generation. And he was seventeen, which has the numerical value of טוב (GOOD). Because Yosef was good to everyone and was able to bring everyone closer to God. He was able to see the good in the lowest people”.

This is the power of the real tzaddikim. They don’t put us down. They aren’t looking for the ‘elite students’, whatever that is (if it even exists?) They are masters of finding the good. No matter what adversity they go through, they pray and pray to see the good. They believe so strongly that Hashem is perfectly good that they won’t entertain the thought that their circumstance can be bad. Instead they hope endlessly and profusely to see the good. The same is true with how they interact with others. They only try to find the good. They’re not foolish. They know that the low people have bad traits. But they also know that their eyes should only be used to see good. It’s not always easy. But they won’t yield until they can find something good and bring the lowly person back to Hashem.

As I was reading through the story of Yosef this year, it struck me again how often the torah uses the word ויהי (and it was) in the story. That word is found in the story an abnormal amount of times. The Talmud in Megilla (10b) says that the Torah uses the word ויהי to precede a difficult time. I decided to count it up. From Chapter 39, when it says ‘ויוסף הורד מצרימה’ (‘and Joseph was brought down to Egypt’), the Torah writes the word ויהי a total of 17 times till the end of the parsha, which is just when things start to turn around. As Reb Nosson said above, 17 has the numerical value of טוב (GOOD). This is a beautiful clue the Torah is dropping us to show how even in the darkest, scariest time of his life, Joseph doesn’t stop clinging to Hashem and turning everything into good.

No doubt, this type of faith and ability to turn everything into good is really hard to do. Most of us sink further and further away from Hashem – and positive thoughts – when we experience adversity. But Breslov Torah teaches that we need to trust in the tzaddik. He did it, he can do it, and if we believe in him, attach ourselves to him and his ability to find the good, then we’ve admitted that there is a possibility of good, even in the adversity. This is how we can slowly grow to see more and more good in our lives. This is the greatest investment. The more we see good, the better life gets – no matter what position we are in. It’s worth the work. Good luck!

 

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!

Picture this

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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

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!