All in its right time

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One of the hardest things for me is waiting. I don’t mean standing in line, but rather waiting for the long processes of life to play out. I feel like I naturally get things right away and I get the itch to sell for a small profit rather than hold-on long-term. I prefer to hit fast-forward and move on to the next scene because sometimes this scene is unfolding just too slow for my taste.

In Torah 72, Rebbe Nachman discusses two aspects of our evil side. The first aspect, which we are all too familiar with, can be described as a physical (blood boiling) urge to seek the unholy, whether it’s something that is prohibited to us or even a desire to release a negative emotion without limitation. But the second aspect of the yetzer hara is where the more spiritually aware might become ensnared.  This is the evil of דינים, judgements. Our job is to overcome and sweeten the judgements, so there is only absolute good. The Light of the Infinite One (einsof) exists where there is only good, and no judgements. In order to be absorbed in that highest place, we need to be free of any judgements.

To briefly explain judgements, we need to understand that there is no aspect of creation that stands outside of Hashem’s domain. This applies equally to good and bad. However, whereas the good is a direct outcome of Hashem’s Infinite Light manifesting in the world, the bad is a byproduct of hester panim, Hashem’s withholding His Light in response to our sins. Although the light doesn’t disappear entirely (for the world would cease to exist), its presence is greatly diminished. These tzimtzumim, or contractions of the Light, empower the Divine Attribute of Din (justice) to exact punishment. These ‘unholy dinim‘ are the root of all pain and suffering in the world.

A person may receive that which is destined to be his only after eliminating the impediments that had been holding it back from him. One of the ways of vanquishing the obstacles can be by forcing the issue. While this approach may hasten a person’s accomplishing his goal, it is not without cost. Alternatively, one can exercise perseverance and patience. This forbearance is also rooted in tzimtzumim and dinim. The difference is that these dinim remain attached to holiness. The restraint one exhibits by not forcing the issue has the power to mitigate the dinim and eliminate all obstacles at their root. Then he can receive that which he is meant to receive, all in its right time.

There you are

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There’s a chassidishe torah that says, Everyone of us is from God and the soul He gave us is pure. The question is, what does it mean that my soul is pure? So, imagine I’m in New York and I want to go to London but by mistake I go all the way to San Francisco. I get to San Francisco and I think I’m in London. But they tell me, No, you’re crazy! You have to go east, not west. So I go all the way back to New York and start my journey again. But with the soul it’s different. If a person, God forbid, makes a wrong turn and he finds out he went the wrong way, his soul is so pure that he’s always right there. The moment I find out I went the wrong way, I’m already there. You see it’s really both; on the one hand we’re absolutely there and on the other hand, we have to get there. (Adapted from Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach)

But am I there already or do I still have somewhere to go?

Reb Nosson (Birkas Hashachar 5) parallels matzah and chometz respectively to Divine Providence and the natural order. Matzah symbolizes a bread that is made with almost no human intervention. It’s baked quickly and doesn’t have time to rise. There’s no preservatives or spices in it. It’s analogous to complete trust in the Creator’s ordinance, without relying on our own efforts. Chometz, on the other hand is an aspect of running nature’s course. Chometz is created by expending human effort into the creative process, with bake times recipes and seasoning. This is likened to putting in long days at work and feeling all the pressure of success on our own shoulders.

The events of our lives are dependent on our perspective. When one lives his life with trust, acting as a pipeline of Divine Providence, every sequence of his life is another scene of Hashem’s loving-kindness, the name יהוה. But when one lives the lonely life of random natural acts, he is subject to דינים, judgements, because nature, הטבע, has the same numerical value as the word אלהים, the Divine name of judgement.

But in the deepest most truest place, even the judgements are sweetened. Even the natural order is all part of the most exact Divine Providence. When the דינים are sweetened, then everything is compassion and loving-kindness. This is what Reb Shlomo meant, that the soul is always at its destination. Yes, it still has to go somewhere but it’s already there. When the light shines so bright from behind the curtain, like when Elijah the prophet embarrassed the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel, then it’s crystal clear that יהוה הוא האלהים! We then see that everything is oneness. All judgments are really kindness and all effort is necessary to move to where we already are.

 

Ants marching

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Do you ever feel like you’re losing your individuality? Sometimes my yiddishkeit can morph into a mindless zombie march. I feel like shul is a jail and I’m unenthusiastic about my learning and mitzvah observance. I don’t know about you, but when this happens to me, it swallows me alive. I lose my passion and I feel stuck in my negative thinking.

In Hilchos Geneiva 5, Reb Nosson discusses Hashem’s first instructions to our patriarch Abraham. Hashem told him to leave his homeland, לך לך. The words literally mean “go to yourself”, or maybe “go for yourself”.  The commentaries are bothered by the unusual language in this directive. What did Hashem mean when he said ‘go to yourself’? Since Abraham was the first to popularize monotheism in a generation of paganism, Reb Nosson sees him as the one who discovered the truth. Hashem was telling him to go to yourself, enter your truest place. We have bodies and souls, but, as Rebbe Nachman taught in Torah 22, only the soul can truly be considered our true self. So Abraham was commanded to leave his land, because as Reb Nosson writes, in every neighborhood no matter how good it is, there’s always phoniness and lies that hide the truth. He was also told to leave his place of birth – This is a reference to the hangups and lies we tell ourselves about our childhood. We too often limit ourselves and distort the truth based on our adolescence. Finally Abraham was urged to leave his father’s house – This is an indication of the silliness and absurdities that we convince ourselves about our families.

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Abraham was told to move away from his hangups and follow his own truth. He was asked to march to the beat of his own drum. We too often believe our own lies. We think that the community limits us or our childhood inhibits us. Now more than ever we have names for life long excuses. I’m ADD, so I can’t learn or I’m claustrophobic so I can’t visit that place. We need to let go, take a stand and trust our own truth. Don’t be scared to be different and creative. Stop following everyone else because it’s the safer thing to do.

Reb Nosson himself risked everything to follow the Rebbe. He had major opposition from his own family and even more from his wife’s family. After the Rebbe died, Reb Nosson was exiled, ridiculed and even nearly assassinated. But what would we have left from the Rebbe today, if not for the dedication and creativity of Reb Nosson? He writes, “It’s known from the Rebbe’s words that people pose a greater obstacle in Avodas Hashem than the evil inclination. And I’m not only referring to evil people, scoffers and naysayers. But even people who fear Hashem can many times confuse someone with their poor advice [and prevent him from] his proper path; And this has unlimited implications.”

Nobody knows you better than yourself. Don’t be afraid to hear your own voice and take action. Everyone has something unique to contribute, but if we just follow the guy next door’s lead, then not only will we be an inferior version of him but we’re denying the potential stardom of who we really are.

כִּי כְּבָר מְבֹאָר בִּדְבָרָיו זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה שֶׁבְּנֵי אָדָם הֵם מוֹנְעִים גְּדוֹלִים יוֹתֵר מֵהַיֵּצֶר הָרָע, כַּמְבֹאָר שִֹיחוֹתָיו הַקְּדוֹשׁוֹת בָּזֶה, עַיֵּן שָׁם. וְלֹא מִבָּעְיָא שֶׁיֵּשׁ מוֹנְעִים רְשָׁעִים אוֹ קַלֵּי עוֹלָם וְלֵצָנִים וְכוּ’ הַמּוֹנְעִים בְּדִבְרֵיהֶם מִן הָאֱמֶת אַף גַּם יִרְאֵי ה’ יְכוֹלִים  לִפְעָמִים לְבַלְבֵּל אֶת הָאָדָם בַּעֲצָתָם שֶׁאֵינָהּ טוֹבָה לְפָנָיו לְפִי דַּרְכּוֹ וְיֵשׁ בָּזֶה כַּמָּה בְּחִינוֹת בְּלִי שִׁעוּר

 ליקוטי הלכות – הלכות גניבה ה:ח

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The truth is in your head

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I’ve noticed that when I go out and pray in the fields, maybe the most common adjective I use is the word real. I pray to be real. I ask myself if I’m being real? Is this what I really want? Is that what I really think? Conversely, something I scorn is the word fake, and I hope that I’m not being fake.

 

“When someone stands in prayer, he is surrounded with foreign thoughts. He is left in the dark and can’t pray, as it says ‘You’ve enveloped Yourself in a cloud, so that no prayer can pass through’ (Lamentations 3)…There are many ways to exit this darkness but man is blind and can’t find the exit. You should know that [by seeking] the truth, one can find the exit, as it says (Psalms 27), ‘Hashem is my light and my savior'”. (Torah 9)

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קָרוֹב יְהוָה לְכָל קֹרְאָיו לְכֹל אֲשֶׁר יִקְרָאֻהוּ בֶאֱמֶת
Hashem is close to those who call out in truth (Psalms 145)

So Rebbe Nachman‘s saying that by accessing our truth, we can see the light and pray properly. How do we do that? How do we know if we’re being true to ourselves?

In Torah 38 the Rebbe says that “Elevating speech begins from its head. This is the truest part of the spoken word, as it says, “ראש דברך אמת, the head of Your word is truth” (Psalms 119).

I think that everyone has their own truth that’s accessible to them. We get very caught up in our thoughts and many times they lead us away from our essential truth. (When we pray especially, the other side will do anything possible to disturb us, because a true prayer can overturn anything and bring personal or national salvation). The way to connect to our truth is to find its head. The head means the primary but also means the first. Many times we’re able to trace back our thoughts to their core. We need to simply ask ourselves a few ‘why’ questions to probe deeper and access our primary feelings. Some might say our healthy thoughts are most accessible by just letting the thoughts pass and allowing new thoughts to flow in, others might promote mindfulness and meditation. There are different opinions but what’s clear is that we have the capability of accessing our own truth. It takes a bit of practice and patience but, as the verse says, Hashem is close to those who call out in truth. That means that it’s closer than we think. The Talmud says that “Hashem’s stamp is truth” (Shabbat 55a). What’s interesting about a stamp is that even after the stamping action, the impression lasts. This means that when we see truth, it’s a sign that Hashem is there. These impressions are the insights that we get when we merit praying sincerely. We might wonder, “Why should I keep on talking and praying, when I’m never being answered”? But when we speak the truth, Hashem is right there and we can see the impression of His stamp almost as if He’s talking back.

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Purim afterthought

 

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You know what’s so unique about Purim? Everyone is misbehaving. Kids are eating tons of junk food. Grown men are prancing around and yelling. In general, the level of tzniyus dramatically declines for some reason. Even in shul there’s much more freedom of expression, with those wild noises during the Megilla reading. And I’m not only talking about the less observant Jews. I think it’s fair to say that the B’nei Torah, those who are very particular about their mitzvah observance and spend time studying the Talmud and its relevant laws, are the ones who get the most wild. It’s commonplace for these guys, who never drink alcohol, to over-drink, destroy property, get wasted, throw up and pass-out.

You might sarcastically say it’s the alcohol that makes Purim different, but I think this behavior change is because it’s a day that we can really get in touch with ourselves. During the year we are too inhibited by our self-image. We’re afraid to admit that we’re not perfect. Everyone goes around dressing the same and following suit. There’s no space for self expression, especially if it implies that you might not be successful. לב יודע מרת נפשו, everyone knows their own shortcomings. But it’s just unacceptable during the year to speak truthfully, to share real feelings and to admit our weaknesses. But on Purim we mostly do what we want to do. Firstly, we’re not coerced to spend too much time in shul. Even the time we do spend in shul is more fun. We don’t have to fast, or partake in mitzvos that most of us don’t understand too well, such as shaking a lulav. Instead, the mitzvos of the day allow for great self expression. Giving mishloach manos engenders a meaningful bond between two people, which brings out authenticity. Especially because we can choose who we want to give it to and what we want to give. The same is true with the gifts we give to the poor.

Giving is Good

Then we have a festive meal together with the people we love. We drink an inordinate amount of wine because as we all know “When wine goes in, the secrets come out” (Sanhedrin 38). What do we do at the meal? Shmooze and shmooze some more, hopefully baring some de-oxygenated soul and maybe a few tears. The point of purim is to be real. People get dressed up in one of two types of costumes: Either they wear something they deeply relate to, but are ashamed to wear (many times for good reason), or they wear something they totally don’t relate with, symbolizing that their outside says nothing about their inside.

The miracle of Purim happened when Esther came clean about who she was. As Reb Nosson says (‘בכור בהמה ד), Esther represent us, the downtrodden weakling Jews who don’t always do everything right. I don’t get why we all walk around wearing costumes all year long? Why are we so afraid to be real about who we are? If we need help, we should get help. If we want to change course, we should. Speak up and get in touch with the real you! Who are we faking but ourselves? A great person once told me, “There’s no point in posing to make people like you; If you get them to believe you, they only like the person you’re pretending to be, not you. And if you be yourself and they don’t like you, then you won’t want to be their friend anyways”. This is why Purim is the only holiday that will never cease, even in Messianic times. Because when Moshiach comes the whole world will be filled with truth, which is exactly what Purim is all about: Learning to be the true you.

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The real you

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This obstinate diaspora that we’re still suffering from began more than 2000 years ago when Rome destroyed our Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Although the Zohar considers Rome, Edom, EsauAmalek, Satan and the Angel of Death to be synonymous, they can be distinguished as different features of the same negative energy.

As Hassidic literature explains, in these last days before Moshiach arrives, we’re bothered primarily by the spiritual energy of Amalek. That’s why Purim, the day where we defeat Amalek, is the happiest day of the year and the only festival that won’t be canceled in the days of Moshiach.

Reb Nosson writes (‘הל’ ברכת הריח ד) that what makes Amalek such a tricky opponent is that we don’t even realize that we’re capable of fighting the battle. From the onset we believe it’s a lost cause to even try. In the Purim story the king’s signet ring was given over to Haman and the edict was delivered to wipe out the Jewish people. That means there was no chance of surviving. We were doomed! But of course the prayers of the Tzaddikim, Mordechai and Esther created new realities. This is the capacity of Amalek’s influence. We’re led to believe that there’s no hope of change.

How does this translate into today’s struggles?

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I know many readers will disagree, but I’m not alone in believing that the addict’s mentality reinforces him to believe that he’s powerless. I don’t question that the compulsive behavior of the addict is a powerful dependence and freeing oneself from addiction takes iron-will, but it’s done all the time. It can be done! Addicts are not forever powerless. Amalek sells us that there’s no hope! The recovering addict believes that he has a disease and can always slip back into feeding his addiction. There’s no disease. He’s well conditioned to follow his obsessive desires and if he let’s his guard down, as he’s done so many times, he will be swallowed up again. That’s not a disease, it’s just reality. But he has hope!

I think homosexuals and transgender people are also victims of Amalek’s spell, believing wholeheartedly that they can’t change.

Reb Nosson writes here that “every Jew is a master of strength. But unfortunately not everyone merits to know their own strength”. If the Torah demands something of us, we can do it. Everyone of us can do it without exception. We don’t know our capabilities. I’m not just referring to beating drugs, illicit sex and alcohol but also our smaller challenges such as waking up early, controlling our temper and being patient.

Those two high school students in the 1930s who created Superman were onto something. Clark Kent is a nerd. He has an introverted personality with conservative mannerisms and a slight slouch. But underneath that disguise he’s Superman, possessing extraordinary powers. But we aren’t fiction. This is real! On Purim we wear costumes to symbolize how Amalek blankets us with layer upon layer of camouflage. The disguise is so convincing. But it’s just a smokescreen. Hiding under all that cover-up is the real us, a powerful Godly being with unimaginable potential to be great!

 

Who’s that?

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Why is it so hard for us to believe in the Tzaddik’s ability to fix our souls?

I think there are a number of reasons:

First, it sounds like Christianity. Secondly, because we’re all so fooled by our shortcomings and barely believe in our own capabilities, it seems nearly impossible to believe that a human being can reach such an elevated plain. Also, why should we need the Tzaddik? Can’t we just have a direct relationship with God? These questions can be reconciled but I think the real issue is deeper.

We don’t want to feel vulnerable. It’s hard enough to accept that God is our master, but at least we don’t have to look Him in the eyes. But to need another person and attach ourselves to them is humiliating. The primary mitzvah to love your friend as yourself requires us to root for our friend’s success and mourn his loss. Unfortunately we’re so far from that. When we see someone succeed our insecurities make us jealous and we might even try to mock their achievements. But it’s so critical to remember that our friends’ success is great for us. We’re one entity! We’re a big family! When one Jew does a mitzvah he brings merit to all of Israel. Our ascent from level to level raises other Jews above us to even higher levels (Torah 25), and similarly we each affect one another and can bring each other back to God. Sure it’s hard to believe that there’s a person out there so devoted to serving God that he utilizes his every breath to enrich the world, while we have a hard time doing the bare minimum. But we don’t doubt that there are a number people who’ve made superhuman achievements physically or financially. The difference is that we see those achievements with our own eyes. There’s no denying that. But it stings to admit that someone is exalted spiritually, when we know deep down that we too can be more uplifted.

Rebbe Nachman teaches to free ourselves from of our cleverness (“זרוק את השכל” Torah 123). We have so many tricks to believe our own stories. But it won’t hurt as much as we think if we just let go and believe that we’re all interconnected and essential to one another.  1 + 1 = 1!

 

Intellect vs. Imagery

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If there’s a mitzvah to judge our fellow favorably (Lev. 19:15), that means it doesn’t come naturally. Our instinctual reaction is to criticize and condemn our peers. But why should it be so hard to see the good in others?

Because we believe what we see! If we don’t use our power of logic and reason, then we naturally believe our imagination, which is triggered by what we see.

Rebbe Nachman urges us in Torah 25 to disengage ourselves from the influence of our illusions and elevate ourselves by using our intellect.

People seemingly do things wrong all the time because we don’t know the whole story. It’s like we snapped a picture of them in the act, but it was completely out of context. It’s only rational to take a step back and admit that we likely don’t know what’s really going on with them. And so too when we interact with others directly and they rub us the wrong way. It’s so much easier to just write them off! But if we understood better why they say the things they say and do the things they do, we’d probably give them the benefit of the doubt. As we know, many times our loved ones make mistakes and we overlook it lovingly because we know how hard they tried or what they’ve been going through. If we were to have that familiarity with other people as well, we could find reasons why they are lovable too.

Every Jew has a magnificent soul! We get fooled too often by all the exterior trappings. But that’s what the surface is, just ‘trappings’. They trap you!

The Rebbe says in אזמרה that we need to investigate thoroughly (לחפש) for the beauty in our peers. We can’t just expect to see their good without a comprehensive examination and detailed scrutiny. It’s a serious undertaking! But we must do it because the benefits are tremendous. Not only will we see more positivity and feel more love, but we’ll actually bring others closer to God and bring Moshiach. Amen!

 

Conscious contentment

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It’s really very simple. We all want the same thing. We just want to be happy. In fact, even our limited understanding of the next world is associated with happiness and pleasure.

But why is it that so many of us aren’t happy if it’s the one thing we all want? And even those of us who are often happy, why can’t we sustain that feeling, at least more often?

Because our power of imagination deceives us all the time. Maybe we’ll see a juicy hamburger and fantasize about how good it would taste, even though we ate dinner already (twice)! Or sometimes a teenager might try drinking when he sees how much fun his friends are having, despite his parents’ specific instructions to abstain and his near certain chances of being disciplined harshly. The power of illusion is so strong and it tricks us to pursue instant gratification as we forfeit our ability to reason.

So how do we fight back?

Rebbe Nachman says in Torah 25 that we need to fight fire with fire! Just like the power of illusion fools us to think we’ll be happy if we follow our fantasies, so too we need to awaken real joy in our devotions to Hashem. We all go through the motions anyways! Whether we’re very religious or not so religious, there are certainly many mitzvos we can do with more joy. Don’t we all call our parents, dress our kids in the morning and work to support our families? If we would arouse ourselves to be more joyous when we perform these mitzvos, we would weaken the illusions that lure us to grief. (Note that the Rebbe says we need to ‘awaken’ the joy, which means the joy is there already).

How do we excite ourselves in our devotions?

By using our brains! We need to think about what we’re doing. How many of us put on Tefillin every morning but never stop to think what it’s all about? If we would take a second to remember that we’re binding ourselves to the All-Powerful Creator it could bring us joy. How about when we make (or buy) dinner for the family? We’re so used to these things that they don’t bring us joy anymore. But can you think of a greater act of loving-kindness than nourishing children who can’t take care of themselves? And they don’t appreciate it either, so we’re doing it without an ounce of gratitude. That’s truly emulating our Creator and reason to be joyous.

I’m not saying it’s easy. It takes dedication and time. But unfortunately we don’t try hard enough because our fantasies just seem more enticing. Here’s my problem: We’re doing these things anyways and because we don’t concentrate, we end up unhappy and unfulfilled. If we would only invest a little thinking in what we’re already doing, we would be happier. Isn’t it worth it? After all, happiness is all we want!

What’s happening?

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You might think I’m unrealistic but I don’t believe we’re here on Earth to commemorate the past. Rather, I trust that when we perform mitzvos we are attaching to something supernatural. Although I don’t see it or feel it, when I lay tefillin every morning I’m confident that by surrendering my mind and soul to my Creator, I’m opening up my head and my heart to His flow of purity that will protect me from filth and sin.

This week is Shvuos. Although it’s a very nice idea to commemorate that our nation received the Torah thousands of years ago from God, that’s not what’s happening! We, as a nation, are consecrating a new marriage to God and receiving the Torah anew as our ketuba. Here’s the crazier thing: The more we believe it, the more it affects us. But if we don’t believe it, it’s almost as if it doesn’t happen to us at all. God is hiding Himself. It’s up to us to reveal Him. If we don’t, then He remains invisible.

Rebbe Nachman says in Torah 49 that “serving God and creating the world is exactly the same thing”. He wasn’t speaking tongue-in-cheek. The world we know so intimately is overly convincing that nothing miraculous is ever happening. But it’s so pitiful to live in that reality. Having nothing to do with the next world, I rather die having believed in my ability to uplift and affect this world than to go about my daily life like an ant marching…