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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!

A new belief

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The woman in the painting doesn’t see the tree. She needs to turn around.

After 22 years separation from his favorite son, Jacob comes down to Egypt to see his son before he dies and says the following:

“וַיֹּאמֶר יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל יוֹסֵף, רְאֹה פָנֶיךָ לֹא פִלָּלְתִּי וְהִנֵּה הֶרְאָה אֹתִי אֱלֹהִים גַּם אֶת זַרְעֶךָ”

“Israel [Jacob] says to Joseph, I never expected to see your face [again], and now God has shown me your children too”.

Rashi defines the peculiar word פִלָּלְתִּי.

“לא מלאני לבי לחשב מחשבה, שאראה פניך עוד” 

“My heart never entertained the thought that I’d see your face again”.

I realized today that this word פִלָּלְתִּי has the same root as the word להתפלל, to pray.  This means that prayer fills our hearts with new thoughts and beliefs that previously weren’t possible. When we pray, we’re accessing ideas and beliefs that we never entertained before. This explains why we sometimes feel so refreshed after a real prayer.

Maybe this is what Rebbe Nachman means in the end of Torah 7, when he writes that prayer and faith is beneficial for the memory. Because forgetfulness entails having had something in mind, having it lapse and no longer be part of us. Meaning that forgetfulness is holding on to old thoughts that get lost, but memory is allowing the course of new thoughts [Divine thoughts] to fill your mind.

When we allow ourselves to pray with an open heart and mind and believe differently, we can see many new things. Thoughts that we never entertained can become our new realities.

You can do it!

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In Reb Nosson‘s dairy, he describes the scene of his meeting some emissaries from Vilna,  while on his way to the Land of Israel (April 1822 in Odessa):

“And I began to speak with them about emunas chachomim (believing in the sages), being that I was convinced that surely they at least have some faith in the Gaon of Vilna, for it is by his name that they are called and associated. But they immediately retorted, especially one of them who was the main speaker with whom they all agreed, saying such and such, ‘I should have faith in a person?’ and they said so with a tone of incredulity. He spoke in this manner with me, and they all agreed with him. And I began to argue with him, saying, ‘If so, what is emunas chachamim?’ But they would not lend their ears to hear me at all, and they answered words of foolishness and vanity, which were related somewhat to heresy. For truly one who lacks emunas chachomim – even their faith in G-d is incomplete, as is explained in our teachings at length.

It was then that I clearly saw the difference between the Hassidim and the Misnagdim, for I saw  that even in their own sage, whom they know was exceedingly learned and exceedingly pious, even in he they have no faith. And later on I said so to them explicitly: ‘I thought that [even] if you don’t have faith in the great Hassidic tzaddikim, at least you would believe in your own sage. But now I see that you actually have no faith at all“.

(Yemei Moharnat 242).

In this week’s Torah portion Judah approaches Joseph and pleas with him to release Benjamin from impending slavery. Reb Nosson (Hilchos Taanis 4) writes that this episode symbolizes the Jewish people (who are called Jews after Judah) approaching the true tzaddik (symbolized by Joseph) and begging his forgiveness for selling him, which represents our lack of emunas chachamim.

Many people have a hard time believing in the Sages. They’re ok with the Divinity and perfection of the Torah but why should we heed the words of the sages, especially later sages, with the same regard? Why must we believe in the tzaddik? Maybe he’s a great person but he’s only human and he makes mistakes, so not everything he says should be followed.

The answer is that this belief is critical to our own development. The reason why people don’t believe in the near perfection of the tzaddikim is because they look at themselves, see their own shortcomings, and they can’t imagine that there is a person in the world who overcame every obstacle, step by step, and achieved true greatness. They think if I can’t do it, and pretty much everyone I know is struggling with this too, then it’s impossible. We must see things from the exact opposite perspective. We must believe that true greatness is attainable, and has been attained by these near-angels, so that we can fully believe in our own ability to become great. If we are always skeptical of everyone else, never believing that someone can be superior to most people, then how can we ever believe in ourselves, and reach the levels that we are destined to reach? Believing in the tzaddikim is believing in man’s ability (and our own ability) to soar to unimaginable heights. This is a critical part of Avodas Hashem.

 

This world

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“The Rebbe, of blessed memory, declared: Look! Everyone says there is this world and the World to Come. Now, we believe there is a World to Come. And it is possible that an Olam Hazeh exists in some universe. But here it looks more like hell, because everyone is full of great suffering – always!”

“The Rebbe also said: There is no Olam Hazeh at all!”

(Tinyana 119)

Doesn’t sound so Breslov, does it? But Rebbe Nachman did indeed say this. In fact, says Reb Nosson, he discussed this idea often. The truth is, it’s hard to argue. People are experiencing so much suffering within their family, or with health and financial problems. Mental health is so hard to maintain nowadays and addictions are rampant. We’re really in bad shape, so what do we do?

There is another lesson that I think helps.

In Torah 4 the Rebbe says that “When a person knows that everything that happens to him is for his own good, this is an aspect of the World to Come”. (This is based on the passage in the Talmud (Pesachim 50a) that quotes the verse, (Zachariah 14), “On that day, Hashem will be one”. The Talmud asks, “is He not one now”? And answers, “now when something good happens, we bless ‘[He] is good and bestows good’ and when something bad happens, we bless “the true Judge”. But in the World to Come we will only bless ‘[He] is good and bestows good'”).

According to this lesson, we can say that, in fact, there really is no Olam Hazeh at all, meaning there is no good life here. Everyone everywhere is always suffering. But if a person recognizes that every one of his experiences is for his own good, then he lives in the World to Come. He lives in an alternate reality. He is drawing from the World to Come and living in that world right here.

This exercise takes faith. Like the Rebbe said above, “We believe there is a World to Come”. Faith creates possibilities and new realities. Don’t live in hell. Believe there is a perfect master-planner who only does good for you. It hurts so much and we don’t understand His reasoning, so it’s damn hard to believe. But when we do, we are one with the World to Come.