Feeling lonely?

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וַתְּחַסְּרֵהוּ מְעַט מֵאֱלקִים, וְכָבוֹד וְהָדָר תְּעַטְּרֵהוּ

“You have made him (man) slightly less than God himself, and you have crowned him with glory and majesty” (Psalms 8:6)

Rebbe Nachman has a radically novel understanding of this verse.

“It’s known that anything that man is lacking whether physically or spiritually is a lack in the Divine Presence…[The problem is that] when man realizes that the lacking is above and below, he’ll feel great pain and be brought to sadness [and] this will prevent him from serving Hashem with joy. So [the solution is], he must say to himself ‘Who am I that the King should tell me about His lacking? Is there any greater honor than this [that the king should confide His lacking in someone as small as me]?’  From this reframe, he will come to great joy, and be revitalized to serve Hashem”. (Torah 89)

So the Rebbe is saying that the lacking וַתְּחַסְּרֵהוּ is מֵאֱלקִים, from Hashem. But the fact that He tells us about His lacking, gives us great honor וְכָבוֹד וְהָדָר, and that honor makes us crown Him תְּעַטְּרֵהוּ.

Most people know that we’re supposed to emulate Hashem, as it says וְהָלַכְתָּ בִּדְרָכָיו, “we should walk in His ways” (Devarim 28:9). What’s much lesser known is that Hashem has a desire to be like us too.  It says, וְהִתְהַלַּכְתִּי בְּתוֹכְכֶם, וְהָיִיתִי לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים , Hashem says: “I will walk amongst you and I will be your God” (Vayikra 26:12). Rashi says there, “I will stroll with You in the garden of Eden and you won’t tremble before Me. Maybe you’ll say, you won’t at all be in awe of Me? That’s why it says וְהָיִיתִי לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים, I will [still] be your God. Meaning, it needed to say “I will be your God”, or you might have actually thought that we would be so similar, that we’d be equal to Hashem.

What does all this mean? What does it mean that Hashem can lack? And what does it mean that Hashem has a desire to be like man?

So first of all, Hashem, the Creator of the Universe, lacks absolutely nothing. He is totally free and endless. That aspect of Hashem is beyond our grasp; no words can describe Him. But Hashem (the infinite) interfaces with this world (which is finite). That’s what we call the Shechina, the Divine Presence. He dresses Himself up in the presence of the Shechina so we can interact with Him.

One more gemara. (Chagiga 16a)

The Mishna says that one may not inquire what was before creation. The Talmud there gives an analogy of a king who built his palace on top of a garbage heap and the king doesn’t want people to discuss what was there before the palace.

What does it mean that before creation was like a heap of garbage?

Hashem is fully invested in this world and ultimately in Human life (see Torah 52). When we ask the question, “what does it mean that You existed before creation? What were You doing before us? What were You before You were relating to us”? He shuts down the question by saying, “all that is like garbage to Me, because you must know that I’m totally devoted to you and this world”. So much so that He, who has no lack, allows His presence to lack, so that we are not alienated and alone in our lacking. The verse before וַתְּחַסְּרֵהוּ מְעַט מֵאֱלקִים says מָה אֱנוֹשׁ כִּי תִזְכְּרֶנּוּ, the angels asked God, “Why create a finite feeble man”? There is a certain feeling of inadequacy as a created being that is totally dependent. Hashem, in his unimaginable loving-kindness, allows Himself to also lack to feel what we feel. He’s absolutely devoted to us, He empathizes with our struggle and He wears our pain – literally. He didn’t create us with a chance of reaching greatness but let us hang out to dry when we mess up. He created us and also assumed a similar state of alienation and feebleness, so that He is literally with us.

The Corona Situation

I’ve recently heard respected speakers saying how Hashem is punishing us for this and for that. Everyone’s all of a sudden a prophet. And more people are sadly saying how Hashem is angry at us and He kicked us out of the shuls and study halls, because He doesn’t want our service. This response is a product of a superficial (and Christian adopted) understanding of Hashem and our relationship with Him. When our children misbehave, we might punish them, because we are limited in what we can do. Hashem isn’t limited and He doesn’t punish us. It’s like He dressed Himself up into our shadow. When we ignore Him, we create our own problems that He is with us in. In His perfect brilliance, He always has an exit strategy for us. In a milli-second, at every moment we are just a half a breath away from turning right back to Him. But even in our filth, He allows His Divine presence to experience it too.

We don’t understand what’s happening and we don’t know what’s going to happen. But one thing is crystal clear: No matter what happens to us and no matter what we do, we are not alone. Period.

~ Inspired by and adapted from Reb Leibish Hundert

 

 

 

 

 

Whada ya know

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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.

 

Purim – it’s OUR time to shine

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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. 🤩

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

 

 

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

rosy

“…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

metal-castle-spiral-staircase

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.