Bringing down the light

body of light

“Imagine if I mamish believed that I should walk the streets all day, every day and give out gifts to everyone I see. I could do it, but I would have to stop doing everything else. I’d have to leave my wife and children and just walk around the streets distributing gifts. It’s a very holy thought, but I’ll end up going crazy. So instead I think to myself, “No, I can’t do that, because I have a job and I need to support my family”. So I abandon the gifts distribution idea. Either way is bad…either way is bad. You see, the world doesn’t yet know the secret of light and vessels. Either they have small vessels with not enough light, like the thought of abandoning the gift idea, or they have too much light and no vessels to contain it, like the idea of 24 hour gift distribution. The Baal Shem Tov would bless people that ‘your body should be strong enough for your soul’. Everybody can make their soul shine but what about the body?” (Adapted from Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach)

So how do we contain the light? Rebbe Nachman says (Torah 56) that the words of Torah are the greatest vessels to hold the light. In the most infinite, miraculous and immeasurable way, Hashem shined the light we need into those little black letters. A real holy teaching isn’t something that makes you crazy. A real holy teaching makes your light deeper and your vessels stronger. Similarly, the holiness of Jerusalem, says Shlomo, isn’t that there is no light anywhere else. The whole world is full of light. Jerusalem is the perfect vessel to contain this holy light.

It’s rare, but when you witness someone who has the-light-and-the-vessels-thing goin’ on, it’s a beautiful sight to behold. That’s the type of person who’s really bringing down the light.

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Absorbing our surroundings

Divine connection

Did you ever have a conversation with someone where you intended to teach them something but in the end you ended up learning something deeper about the idea yourself? As the words are leaving your mouth, you’re surprised at how clear it is to you and you notice how the other person feels deeply connected to what your saying. Or sometimes you discuss a certain challenge with a friend and come to a profound insight simply by speaking out the issue. (They might start responding with their advice but now you’re engulfed in your own thoughts, ignoring what they’re telling you).

Rebbe Nachman calls this the internalization of surrounding perceptions, אורות המקיפים.

In Tinyana 7 he says that when we speak with our friends and students about the fear of Heaven, we’re able to reach levels of knowledge that just before were unattainable to us. The Kabbalah speaks of two forms of perceptions, or spiritual lights. The first is called פנימי, or internal perception. The other is called מקיף, a peripheral perception. Whatever a person knows already is his internal perception. But there is always greater insights that he has yet to comprehend.  These peripheral perceptions are said to hover around his mind. The Rebbe teaches that when we engage ourselves in the loving act of teaching another human being, we empty our mind of our internal perceptions. This now allows the peripheral and transcendent perceptions to penetrate our mind.  Now we can understand that which was previously unattainable to us.

King David sings “מכל מלמדי השכלתי, I learned from all my teachers” (Psalms 119). What did David mean by saying that he learned from all his teachers? This could be answered by what the Talmud says in the name of Judah Hanasi, “I learned a lot of Torah from my teachers, and from my friends even more, but from my students the most” (Makkos 10a). How could it be that this great tanna learned the most from his students? But now we understand that when we give over our knowledge to others, we make space for new knowledge. When Judah Hanasi taught his students, he learned the most because the peripheral perceptions that he couldn’t grasp now became part of his internal knowledge.

Another thing that is crucial to learn from this teaching is the importance of communicating. So many of us feel too much pride to share. We feel too uncomfortable to make ourselves vulnerable, unburdening ourselves before others. But there’s deeper insight surrounding us, waiting to enter and illuminate our minds. Open your mouth, teach and let the light shine in.

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You’re worth it

mind

Why do we replay old uncomfortable episodes in our heads time and again? Granted, we’re not that happy with how we acted or reacted, but what’s the point in tormenting ourselves? Innate health professionals might say that we’re even coercing ourselves to feel negative by taking our thoughts so seriously, when naturally we could let go of those thoughts and move on.

Listen to the words of Reb Nosson:

When some people learn mussar books, which talk in detail about the bitterness of punishment in Hell, they get very scared. When that happens, ‘the evil one‘ trips them up and makes them fall into a deeper depression until sometimes, God forbid, it could actually lead them to heresy” (בכור בהמה ד’ אות י״ז).

I think that when we obsess about fixing our past, we are living in that narrow-minded world Reb Nosson is describing called ‘fear of punishment’. Our souls know where we came from and where we’re going, so we want to improve. But one of the unhealthy ways of expressing desire to change could be perfectionism, nit-picking and an infatuation with our past mistakes.

This leads us to the following question: Although the Holy Zohar is critical of someone who’s fear of Heaven is only from ‘fear of punishment’, Rebbe Nachman said unequivocally that our main עבודה (service of God) is via ‘fear of punishment’. He said it’s impossible to start without it. Even the Tzaddikim need it, because there are “very very few” who serve Hashem out of love (Sichos Haran 5).

So is fear of punishment a bad thing or a good thing?

Back to Reb Nosson:

In Hashem’s mercy He send us Tzaddikim, who teach us that even the lowest most despicable person has hope, because Hashem’s compassion is very very great. This celestial insight helps us not only avoid the depression associated with fear of punishment, but actually bring us so much joy” (ibid).

What joy is Reb Nosson talking about? Why would I be happy to be punished for my wrongdoings? Because it shows that I count. My actions count. I am significant. Even a person as dirty as me is important to Hashem. Even punishment itself isn’t some imaginary crane lowering me into an erupting volcano. It’s simply the exact actions I did with all the knowledge of it’s repercussions. When the veil is removed from this world and the truth shines, we’ll fully appreciate our actions. If they were good, we will experience their bliss. If they weren’t…

The fact that our actions count is reason enough never to give up hope and never to fall into the clutches of the other side, who wants to bury us when we mess up. Because if you believe that you can mess up, you have to believe that you can fix yourself too.

You are important reminder note

To fear or not to fear

fear

Fear is a dirty word these days. Fear holds us back and inhibits us. We wish we weren’t afraid of anything. The human race aspires for the inner courage to act as they wish, even if it might bring with it some shame. We are inundated by the media with slogans such as ‘just do it!’, ‘go for it’ and ‘have no fear’. Even Rebbe Nachman famously said that, “A person must pass over a very narrow bridge [in life] and the main thing is not at all to be afraid.” (Tinyana 48)

There’s more.

Our enemies wish to instill fear in us. ‘Terrorism’ is a term that really only started some forty years ago. Western civilization wants nothing more than to eradicate it and live free of fear. In fact, one of the major keywords of democracy, which most of the world views as the correct and fairest governmental body, is freedom. Of course in democracy, for the safety of civilization we must obey the law, but what’s imperative is the freedom to practice whatever it is we want, without fear of punishment. A major drawback of democracy’s goal for freedom has been liberalism, with its skewed views of truth and blurry boundary lines.

In Bechor Beheima 4 Reb Nosson brings from the Rebbe that our ultimate perfection in this world comes through fear, (that is fear of Heaven). As Moses said to Israel before he passed (Deuteronomy 10), “What does Hashem want from you but to fear Him”? And as King Solomon ends his mysterious Ecclesiastes, “After all is said, fear God”.

Reb Nosson explains that the main point of life is to find and recognize Hashem in this world. The only way to truly acknowledge and identify Hashem in our lives is by negating our ego in acceptance of His will. In an amazing line he says, “the nullification of our will is greater than any contemplation we could ever have of God, כי ביטול הוא למעלה מהמחשבה”. After someone authentically experiences this negation, he’s left with an imprint of Hashem’s infinite light. That imprint is the fear of God. That fear is the purpose of creation. The Tikkunei Zohar scrambles the letters of the first word in the Torah, בראשית, to read as ירא בשת, fear and shame, because Hashem’s desire in this world is to be the King. His ultimate ambition is to have His kingdom of kindness spread throughout the world, bar-none. Those who are familiar with basic Kabbalah understand that Malchus (Hashem’s Kingship) is the final of the 10 emanations and symbolizes the doing and action of all the other emanations.

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I think this is why in our time fear is so detested. Christianity basically stole all the lovey-doveyness of Judaism and deleted all the fear of Heaven. The same is true with Reform Judaism and all the new-age religions. Nobody wants to be told what to do anymore. Everyone thinks they know best now, and it’s not fashionable anymore to bear the yoke of Heaven. I struggle with this too. I am a cool guy. Being cool means to have no cares. It means you don’t have to answer to anybody because you think for yourself. When I learn the laws of Halacha, I’m overcome with feelings of ‘don’t tell me what to do’. I don’t want a boss. I even find that when I associate with more secular Jews, even those thirsty for more inspiration, I too much shy away from teaching fear of God. I am afraid to admit that I fear. And it makes sense that this is a struggle in these last minutes before Moshiach. Amazingly, Moshiach is the one with the task to make the whole world fear God. Sounds impossible but ‘והריחו ביראת ה (Isaiah 11), his fear of God will be phenomenally contagious. We need to pray for fear of Heaven. We need to pray to allow ourselves to negate our own ego and accept His dominion. Don’t be afraid to fear!

כי ביטול הוא למעלה מהמחשבה