Why I love you

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Reish Lakish says (Bereishis Rabba 80:7) that Hashem expressed his love of the Jews using three expressions: בדביקה, בחשיקה, ובחפיצה. (Loosely translated, דביקה means that we cling to Him, חשיקה means that He longs for us and חפיצה means that He desires us). But these expressions are originally found in the story of Shechem and Dina.

ר”ל אמר, בג’ לשונות של חבה חבב הקב”ה את ישראל. בדביקה, בחשיקה, ובחפיצה. בדביקה – ואתם הדבקים. בחשיקה – לא מרובכם מכל העמים חשק ה’. ובחפיצה – ואשרו אתכם כל הגוים כי תהיו אתם ארץ חפץ. ואנו למדים אותה מפרשה של רשע הזה. בדביקה – ותדבק נפשו. בחשיקה – שכם בני חשקה נפשו בבתכם. בחפיצה – כי חפץ בבת יעקב 

Asks the Nesivos Shalom, why does the Torah learn about the awesome love that Hashem has for his chosen nation from the deplorable feelings that Shechem had for Dina? The Torah actually calls Shechem’s actions scandalous (נְבָלָ֞ה עָשָׂ֣ה בְיִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל). Can’t we find a more refined place to use as the headquarters of love, rather than the abduction of an innocent young woman?

The Slonimer Rebbe answers by explaining how Shechem’s soul was a very high soul, but I’d like to give my own answer.

Rebbe Nachman tells a story of a certain tzaddik who was overcome with a terrible sense of sadness. Eventually this tzaddik fell so deep into sadness that he found it literally impossible even to moveHe wanted to encourage himself and pull himself up, but nothing could make him happy or inspired. No matter what he tried to be happy about, the Evil One found some reason to make him depressed about it. Finally, after trying everything, he tried to make himself happy by dwelling on the fact that Hashem created him as a Jew. This is certainly a reason to feel immeasurable joy, because the vast difference between the holiness of even the simplest Jew and the impurity of the gentiles is beyond all measure. The sad tzaddik started making himself feel happy about this. He started rejoicing and raising himself little by little. With each passing moment he felt greater joy until he reached such a level of joy that he attained the joy Moses experienced when he ascended to receive the Torah.

The Rebbe’s story is so profound because any happiness from a personal achievement can always be scrutinized and criticized. No matter what the achievement is, there are always shortcomings and deficiencies which can bring sadness. But to be created as a Jew is a gift of Hashem alone. Hashem Himself did it, it’s exclusively the work of God, so there is no lacking in that joy. Regardless of what kind of Jew the person may be, there is certainly an immeasurable difference between himself and the gentiles. So there is always a reason to be happy.

Most people either love themselves or hate themselves based on their personal achievements. Successful people are often egotistical because they imagine that they deserve to be loved for their accomplishments. On the other hand, so much sadness and self-loathing today is a product of people believing that due to their failures, they are underserving of love.

By introducing the expressions of love with the despicable relationship of Shechem and Dina, Hashem is showing us what true love is. He doesn’t love us because we are religious or because we are good Jews. He loves all Jews the same because we are His people. Period. Our spiritual accomplishments are certainly beneficial because they allow us to experience our relationship with Him, but even those with no spiritual accomplishments whatsoever have that same loving relationship. If the Torah introduced us to Hashem’s love with the example of our forefather Issac and Rebecca, then we might mistakenly think that Hashem only loves us when we have the character traits of Rebbeca, who entered her home and instantly performed miracles. So instead the Torah initiates the idea with a seemingly disgraceful type of love, to show that the love can’t be broken by our poor actions.

This point is driven home, as the Slonimer Rebbe also points out, from the fact that every time that the Torah uses an expression of love in the Shechem story, it follows with the words בת יעקב. He loves the daughter of Jacob. Meaning, Hashem loves us because we are His children, not because of any other reason.

I think this lesson is so important to internalize. We need to stop hating ourselves because of our shortcomings and we need to stop idolizing people because of their accomplishments. None of that matters. Everyone of us is lovable. Every one of us!

Renewal, at its core

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The holy Zohar characterizes Teshuva as “Throwing something back to the place where it was taken”.  Just like if a thief wants to make amends, he must return that which he took to its rightful owner, so too one who sins and desires to repent, must return that which he stole to its original place. Says Rebbe Nachman, our original place is called the emanation of “Chokhmah” (Wisdom). It’s the root of everything, as it says (Psalms 104) “כֻּלָּם בְּחָכְמָה עָשִׂיתָ”, Hashem created everything with wisdom.

The truth is that there is an even higher emanation, called Keter, but that emanation is so elevated that it’s unknowable to Humans. Another name for Keter is Ayin, because as far as we humans can comprehend, it’s nothing to us. It’s just too high for our intellect to fathom. That leaves us with Chokhmah as the root of everything, as King Solomon wrote, “הַחָכְמָה תְּחַיֶּה בְעָלֶיהָ”, Chokhmah gives life to all those who possess it.

The Rebbe warns us to be careful from extraneous wisdoms, which impede our ability to connect to our core, Divine wisdom. These unnecessary wisdoms, disturb us from that connection and renewal of Teshuva. This, he says, is the evil of פַּרְעֹה, who disturbs and interrupts the connection of holiness. Likes פַּרְעֹה said, “לָמָּה…תַּפְרִיעוּ אֶת הָעָם”, why are you disturbing the people? The words פַּרְעֹה and תַּפְרִיעוּ have the same root, because the evil in the world that tries to interrupt us from connection (think cell phones😱) is Pharaoh’s evil.

But it’s not enough to merely guard oneself from extraneous intellect. We need to renew our intellect all the time. How do we do that? Says the Rebbe, through sleep a person renews his mind and soul.

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When we sleep, our souls rise and travel to Chokhmah, the core of creation. This is the place where the world is recreating all the time. In order to renew our minds, and serve Hashem with a fresh perspective, we need to renew in the place of Chokhmah too.

The way that the soul travels to Chokhmah is with faith (the emanation of Malchus). Faith only starts at the point where wisdom can no longer comprehend. So when we go to sleep, and our minds are inactive, faith is what elevates our soul to a Divine state of evolving, renewing Wisdom. Even the little ounce of faith one has by going to sleep and relying on the Creator to wake him the next day propels the soul to renew at its core.

Of course, says Reb Nosson, this is why we proclaim the Shema Yisrael before we retire at night. We want to strengthen our faith, so that Malchus can escort our souls to Chokhmah.

Rebbe Nachman brings two other examples of sleep, that rejuvenates our minds/souls, so they can feel renewed again. The first type of sleep is learning the simple, plain meaning of the Torah. The Zohar (III. 244b) calls the study of Mishna and Talmud an aspect of sleep, in comparison to the mysteries of Kabbalah.  This is because Kabbalah explores the deepest insights of the Torah and reveals how Hashem can be found in every aspect of creation. On the surface of the Mishna and Talmud one only see laws, anecdotes and lessons for daily living. So Mishna is an aspect of Malchus (or faith) in comparison to Kabbalah, which corresponds to Chokhmah. One exhibits faith when delving into the intricacies of the law, because it’s not readily apparent how he is understanding the Creator in a deeper way.

The other type of sleep the Rebbe teaches about is doing business honestly, מַשָּׂא וּמַתָּן בֶּאֱמוּנָה.  When we act fairly in business, our minds enter faith and find renewal there. We cannot understand, with our intellect, how we are ultimately benefitting when we give up on profit that could have easily been ours had we not acted honestly. But with faith, we believe that we will get whatever is due us. That act of faith allows the renewal of our minds and souls.

Faith is what drives us to renew, at our core and it’s not only available for the greatest Tzaddikim. By reciting the Shema before we retire, learning the Torah in its plain meaning or acting honestly in our business dealings, we will renew, connecting to the ever-changing world in a deeper, truer way.

 

 

 

Bigger than you know

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I look so small against those tall trees, don’t I?

Let me paraphrase a lesson from Reb Nosson (Pikadon 5:7) “If a person would believe that their soul is very, very high, surely they would never commit a single sin. You see there are three parts of Emunas Chachamim (faith in the sages) that are inseparable. First, we must have faith in the true Tzaddikim. Second, we must believe in our friends and speak to them about the awe of Heaven. And, most importantly, we must strengthen ourselves and overcome every obstacle to believe in oneself. That is, to believe that even one’s small achievements in his Divine service, and one’s study of Torah are very precious to Hashem. And particularly, believing that coming close to the Tzaddikim and believing in them, is in and of itself very, very precious to Hashem. Because even if one has faith in Hashem and in the Tzaddikim and in one’s friends but he doesn’t believe in himself, meaning he doesn’t believe that his faith in the Tzaddikim is very, very valuable, this too is a flaw in one’s Emunas Chachamim, and in a certain way, it is the most severe blemish of all. This spiritual disease is found today among many who have begun the path of Divine service, connecting with true Sages. They believe that their contemporaries are righteous, but they say, ‘how does that help me? I’m not on their level. I am full of sins’. And through this thinking, they fall, becoming completely estranged from observance…until many of them become outspoken opponents”.

You know, what impresses me most about the stories told of Tzaddikim is their unusually developed sensitivities and how much significance they place on what seems like small things. But, ironically, I have a hard time giving myself credit for the small things I do. Reb Nosson says here that simply believing in Tzaddikim is a tremendously great feat in the eyes of Hashem. Just believing in the greatness of other people is enormously precious to Him.

So I have to admit, I really do have faith in Tzaddikim. So now, when I see how tall the trees are, I think maybe I’m not so small in that pic after all?!

                                     

Maniac Moshiach move

 

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In the story of the Burgher and the Pauper, Rebbe Nachman alludes to the series of obstacles the soul of Moshiach undertakes before our redemption. The story tells of a poor man’s wife who was kidnapped by the general of a far-away land. The pauper lamented over her greatly because now not only did he lack any possessions or children, but he didn’t even have a wife. The heart of his wealthy merchant-friend, who was also childless, melted when seeing his poor friend’s bitterness. He then risked his life and saved the wife of the pauper. During the rescue, both the merchant and the pauper’s wife resisted temptation, so they merited to have children. The merchant had a boy and the pauper had the most magnificent girl. The boy suggests the soul of Moshiach and the girl hints to the Shechina, or Hashem’s holy manifestation in this world.  The rest of the story (read here) describes the difficulties Moshiach has before uniting with the Shechina and redeeming the world.

It all starts when the wealthy merchant (known as the burgher) had pity on the pauper and decided to save his wife. Listen how Rebbe Nachman describes the scene: “Then [the burgher] did something reckless (א ווילדע זאך). It was really utter madness. He made an inquiry as to where the general lived, and went there. When he got there, he again did something highly reckless. He marched right into the general’s house. There were guards around but he was behaving so recklessly that he was oblivious to them…When they saw a person approaching them in such a wild manner, the guards were also confused and frightened. Almost in panic, they didn’t challenge him”.

The commentators write that this scene is analogous to Abraham‘s brave rescue of his nephew, Lot, from Sodom. Attacking so many armies with just 318 trained servants (or maybe only his primary servant Eliezer, according to Rashi) was a wild act on the part of Abraham. But through that crazy act, Lot was saved and the soul of Moshiach was born into Moab (and later in Ruth). We also find that the soul of Moshiach was transferred in the rash act of Judah hiring a ‘prostitute’, who was really his daughter-in-law Tamar.

Why is the soul of Moshiach born out of a wild act?

We need Moshiach to save us. Upon his arrival things certainly won’t be the same. There might be wars and we will come back to Israel. Our status will drastically improve amongst the nations. But one thing is for certain: He will make changes. He is our savior. He is the liberator of the Jewish people.

A number of times in the life of a person they realize they’re stuck. It could be in a bad job or a harmful relationship. Most of the time they’re afraid to do anything about it. Fear of change is a tremendous impediment to success. People are more likely to remain stuck in their bad situations than to take a risk for something better. Even when things are dangerously bad, such as domestic abuse, the comfortability of knowing what’s next might seem easier than making a change for the better. But we see from our Patriarch Abraham and from the burgher that sometimes we need to be reckless. Sometimes we need to be brave and change the channel in our lives.

Why do we shake the Lulav in Hallel when we read the verse אנא ה’ הושיעא נא (Please God – Save us!) and not when we read אנא ה’ הצליחה נא (Please God – Make us successful)? Says Rav Hutner zt”l that when you want success, you can find it anywhere. You don’t have to look anywhere else. But when you want to be saved, you need to shake up the situation. You might need to look somewhere totally different to be saved.

Many of us aren’t proactive enough in our lives. We’re looking for jobs that are safe. We pick the schools that will educate our children just like everybody else. We just want to fit in, even at the expense of our potential talents. We might even feel unfulfilled in our lives, but we rather shut off that voice that wants to change than deal with it. We wish we could just be satisfied with less, rather than acknowledge our dormant capabilities.

Don’t let your life pass you by! Don’t be a spectator.

Everyone has their own unique and creative spirit that needs to shine. That’s what will save you. But it’s not easy to access it. You need to be bold, and sometimes seen as crazy, to bring out that special flair. It’s ok to be wild. Joseph had some crazy dreams. He suffered from revealing them, but in the end he supported the whole world because he wasn’t afraid to be who he had to be.

Better safe than sorry does make sense but sometimes we need to unshackle ourselves and be a little bananas!

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The saddest story

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Every year on Yom Hashoah we remember the Nazi genocide of European Jewry during WWII. Much has been written about the holocaust and, although I’m writing something now as well, I feel unworthy to even discuss it. As someone who grew up with the comforts that I did, I can say with certainty that I cannot in any way fathom a millionth of the trauma that our people experienced during that dark time. I hope that anything I write doesn’t undermine or belittle the bravery of our martyrs and survivors.

In Tinyana 7 Rebbe Nachman teaches that a true leader has to be entirely merciful. Our greatest leader, Moses, was exactly that. He had compassion for Israel and sacrificed everything he had for the people. Chassidus teaches that the first time a word or idea appears in the Torah, it should be understood as its primary meaning. Maybe we can say as well that we learn about a person’s character from the first time he appears in the Torah? The opening sentence about Moses’ character says (Shemos 2,11) “[Moses] grew up, went out [of the palace] to see his brothers and identified with their suffering”. That’s a true leader. Someone empathetic, who perceives the pain of his fellow.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The Rebbe says that the leader is the most compassionate to the sinner. The one who is sullied from sin is the most deserving of mercy, and it is to him who the leader is most kind. “All the suffering in the world is considered negligible in comparison to the heavy weight of sin”. This is because whoever truly appreciates the holiness of the Jewish people understands that they are so far from sin. The Jewish soul is a part of Hashem himself. Opposing the will of Hashem is the antithesis of a Jew. So when a Jew finds himself carrying the weight of his sins, the leader has so much compassion on him. This was Moses’ life task. He was always defending the Jewish people and begging forgiveness for their sins.

When I learned this idea I was struck by the greatness of who we are. My point is not at all, God forbid, to diminish the suffering that our people went through in the Holocaust. Their pain was beyond anything I can ever imagine or describe. So much so that, incredibly, we still suffer today – generations later – from the repercussions of children who grew up in the homes of survivors. But to think that someone who steals or lies is even a bigger רחמנות (sad story) than a survivor? That’s mind blowing! I must need to re-evaluate my own worth and learn to appreciate my friend’s worth. Our souls want nothing but to do the will of God. May it be Hashem’s will that we come back to Him and glorify His holy name with our Mitzvos. And may our actions and prayers be a merit for all those Holy souls who were murdered and tortured during that dark time in our history. Amen!

לעילוי נשמת כל קדושי השואה הי״ד 

You, and no one but you

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It’s commonplace to question what our personal role is in this world? Of course we’re all here to serve Hashem and perform his mitzvos, but that’s a communal approach. We must believe very strongly that each one of us has something unique to contribute to the world, as the Talmud says (Sanhedrin 37a) “Everyone is obligated to say, this world was created just for me”. Or as I recently heard from Rabbi Yehoshua Gerzi, “the creative God created a world with creations who create”. But for many of us it’s hard to know what our specific task is.

Confusing the issue even more is when we notice others excelling in certain areas with ease. We might think to ourselves, ‘I wish things would come easier for me? Why can’t I naturally be good at anything? Why do I need to fight so hard just to do something so small’?

I saw something very encouraging in Tinyana 4 about this. The Rebbe says, “When someone who is naturally compassionate gives charity, due to his loving nature, it isn’t an act of devotion [to Hashem. In fact,] there are even animals that have compassionate instincts. Rather, the essential devotion is transforming ones cruelty into compassion”.

Let’s first clarify this statement. The loving person who gives charity surely performed a mitzvah. No one is taking that away from him. Every mitzvah brings us closer to Hashem, and this ‘easy’ mitzvah for Mr. Generosity is no different. But the point here is that he didn’t do an act of devotion (עבודה). Meaning, he didn’t work on himself. He didn’t move himself with this act to the next station. In a certain sense, he didn’t improve himself or become his ideal-self through this charitable act.  Whereas the cheapskate who groans in pain with every penny that leaves his hands is molding himself into a new person with his act of charity. Similarly, it might seem that some people have strong faith, but maybe they’re just naturally optimistic? Or what about the people who have a table full of guests every Shabbos? Maybe they just love the action? Or maybe they’re afraid to be alone with their families? On the other hand, other families are more than content to spend Shabbos alone, yet they push themselves to invite guests and share their space.

I found this lesson so validating. It’s another example of how comparing ourselves to others breeds jealousy and is ultimately a fruitless undertaking. Every person is so different and only Hashem knows what’s considered an act of devotion and what was done from a person’s natural instinct. We’re lucky to be in a relationship with an infinitely great God who knows us so intimately. He wants us for who we are, whether we could compete with others or not. In His perfection, He has a 100% unique expectation of us. He wants nothing more from us and nothing less of us. The things that come naturally to us aren’t even necessarily the things that we’re here to accomplish. Those natural talents are useful assets for us, but it’s not absurd to think that by exerting ourselves, even in something totally unfamiliar to us, we can uncover a new part of ourselves that will lead us to our true personal perfection.

The real truth

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Rebbe Nachman tells a story about a prince and the son of a maid who were exchanged at birth. The maid’s son becomes king and finds out about the switch. In order to secure his rulership of the kingdom, he eventually expels the true prince from the land. The dejected and exiled prince loses his way and falls into sin, excessive drinking and despair. Eventually, in the end, he does become king. As with all of the Rebbe’s stories, even the simple understanding makes for an amazing story. (If you haven’t read the story, you can read it in old-fashioned english here or buy a nice english book with some of the deeper secrets of the story here).

In Birchas Hashachar 3Reb Nosson shows how this story, of course, is analogous to the history of the Jewish people. Although we Jews are the true princes of Hashem, we’ve been exiled numerous times and sold into slavery. For two thousand years, we’ve been on the receiving end of ceaseless persecution and genocide. Throughout the diaspora of our people, we’ve certainly lost our way. As you might know, the assimilation statistics are frightening. Most Jews don’t identify as such at all anymore, and of the few who still do, even less are observant.

Then comes Hannukah. The candles of Hannukah shine a light of truth into the world. As King David sings, “Send your light and truth to lead me” (Psalms 43:3). This light of truth that we draw down with our measly little flames affects us. It pierces our soul so she no longer identifies as a slave, but as the princess she truly is. This is why we always read about Joseph being sold into slavery and then rising to the throne around Hannukah time. We need to be reminded that we’re truly great, even though we’re seen in the world as filthy slaves. The eight candles that we light represent the eight times we say the word אמת, or truth, after unifying Hashem’s name every morning in prayers (see here). This is because the name of Hashem is truth and every one of the eight Hannukah lights shines more truth in to the world and into our souls.

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What’s a miracle if not a moment of undeniable truth? A miracle and a flag have the same hebrew word, נס. This is because when Hashem performs a miracle, it’s akin to Him sticking a flag in the ground saying “Here I am. I’m true and you can no longer deny Me”. The main mitzvah of Hannukah is to give thanks to Hashem for the miracles in our lives. Gratitude means recognizing the truth and admitting to it. This is why the Rebbe taught (Tinyana 2) that thanksgiving is the pleasure of the world to come. That world is a world of absolute truth. When we give thanks, we’re connecting to that world. This is also why the Talmud calls one who learns halacha a member of the world to come, בן עולם הבא. Because halacha is about defining the truth of the matter.

Do we believe in miracles? Not just national miracles, but do we believe that Hashem performs miracles for us individually? Miracles! Do we believe that we’re true princes and princesses? Sadly, the darkness of winter and the confusion of our lives, (a.k.a. the true maid’s son who’s now king), overwhelms us. We can barely catch our breath, let alone ponder our true worth. But those lights, those little puny lights, are real. Isn’t it odd how many Jews come out of the woodworks to light Hannukah candles, a rabbinically derived mitzvah? There’s something special happening when we light those candles. There’s something real and true about them. Let’s stare at them. Let’s gaze at them and hope for more meaning and truth in our lives. Let’s let them light us up and burn away everything fake that we believe in. That’s the real Hanukkah, a glimmer of the world to come.

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Speak to the rock

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“Let me tell you what I saw and you can tell it to your children:

A man was lying on the ground and people were sitting around him in a circle. Around that circle were many other circles of people. Even beyond those circles were many other people sitting in no particular order.  The man in the middle was moving his lips and all the people around him were moving their lips too. And then I looked and he was gone. And everyone in the circles stopped moving their lips. I asked, ‘what’s going on?’ They answered me that he cooled down and passed away. When he stopped talking, they stopped talking.

Afterwards everybody began to run and I ran after them. I saw two palaces; beautiful structures. In front were sitting two very powerful men and everyone ran over and argued with them saying, ‘why did you trick us?’ The people wanted to kill the men. The men managed to escape. I saw their essence and I was very impressed with them. I ran after them and I saw from afar a beautiful tent. They were calling out from the tent to the two men, ‘Turn around, ask for all your merits and take them. Then go to the candle that’s hanging there. From there you can do everything you need’! So they turned around and took all their merits. There were bundles and bundles of merits. They ran to the candle and I ran after them. I saw a flame burning in midair. These two powerhouses came to the candle and threw their merits at the candle. Sparks fell out of the candle into their mouths and the candle became a river and they drank from the river. The river-water became creatures inside of them and when they started to speak the creatures came out of them. I saw the creatures going back and forth. They weren’t human or animal-like. They were just creatures.

Afterwards the creatures decided to go back to their place. But they said, ‘How could we go back to our place?’ One of them answered, ‘Let’s ask the one who stands there (in our place) with a outstretched sword from heaven to earth’. But they said, ‘Who should we send?’ It was decided to send the creatures. The creatures went there and I ran after them. I saw him standing there instilling fear with a sword that reached from the heavens to the earth. The sword had many sides. One side was designated for death, one was for poverty and one was for weakness. As well, there were many other mouths of the sword with other retribution.

The creatures asked him, ‘It’s been so long that you’re punishing us. Please help us and bring us back to our place’. And he said, ‘I can’t help you’. They implored of him, ‘Give us the blade of death and we’ll kill the powerful men’, but he didn’t agree. They asked for another blade and he refused. So they returned. While they were returning, a decree was passed to kill the two men and their heads were removed.

Then it was exactly as before. Someone was lying on the ground surrounded by circles of people etc. Again they ran to the powerful men, exactly as before. But this time the men didn’t throw their merits at the candle. Instead they took their merits and came to the candle, pouring out their hearts in supplication before it. Sparks fell from the candle into their mouths. They cried out more and the candle became a river, which became creatures. I was told that these two men would live. The earlier men were sentenced to death because they threw their merits at the candle and didn’t appeal to it in prayer.

I didn’t understand what I was seeing. They said to me, ‘Go to so-and-so room and they will explain it to you’. I went there and saw an old man and asked him about it. He took his beard in his hand and said ‘my beard is the explanation of the story’. I said, ‘I still don’t understand’. He said to me, ‘Go to so-and-so room and there you will find the answer’. I went there and I saw an infinitely long and wide room that was completely filled with scrolls. With every scroll that I opened I saw the expression of this story.”

Rebbe Nachman described this awesome vision to his students before he taught them Torah 20 on Rosh Hashana of 1805. He said that the lesson was an explanation of the dream and that, indeed, all his lessons are related to the dream. Every word of the Rebbe’s vision is layered with the holiest of holy meaning. I just want to give a glimpse of how this vision was alluded to in his lesson that amazing Rosh Hashana.

In Torah 20 the Rebbe taught that the downfall of Moses and Aaron was that they didn’t bond themselves in prayer with the people at the time Moses hit the rock. Instead they used their merits to bring forth the water. This is hinted to in the vision by the powerful men who threw their merits at the candle. The lesson stresses that the teacher must strip his ego and pray in allegiance to his students before teaching them Torah. If not, then the Torah he teaches is weak, the soul that explains all of Torah in the world is removed and all teachers are inundated with argument and strife, God forbid.

This dream appears in Chaye Moharan 83. I also was told this dream in Uman this past Rosh Hashana. I was very moved by its other-worldliness and I strongly wanted to understand it and internalize it. Maybe some of us were lucky enough over the past holiday-filled month to have some super-natural spiritual feelings? Those feelings are real. Life isn’t just a day of work, a couple of bathrooms runs and some traffic on the way home! We might not have these shake-ups often but they’re some of the most authentic experiences we have. We aren’t Rebbe Nachman from Breslov, whose every breath was flowing with holiness and meaning, but we have vision too. We have vision too…

לעילוי נשמת רבי לוי יצחק בן שרה סאשא זי״עא

ךקהן

Going up?

Alway-Be-yourself

I remember, shortly after we moved to Israel, commenting that it seems we need to play a different role in serving God here than outside of Israel. Soon it became clear to me that in NY I was primarily focused on rejecting the negative influences. There’s so much distraction and lure there that the main objective was to keep everything out. Even the daily apparel catalogues mailed to our house were a major disturbance. I felt like I was in a boxing match, in the corner of the ring, with my gloves covering my face in defense. But in Israel, living with our brothers, the task wasn’t to shun the outside anymore. This forced me to look deep inside myself and question what am I really all about? It wasn’t sufficient anymore to play the guardian role – סור מרע. I needed to further develop my productive side – עשה טוב.  After learning Torah 20 I see that I was on to something.

Rebbe Nachman’s love for the Land of Israel was unparalleled. Not only did he risk his life in the late 18th Century and make the courageous pilgrimage to our homeland, but his writings and teachings are brimming with lessons on the Holy Land’s powers and spiritual benefits.

Reb Nosson writes that when the Rebbe said over Torah 20 on Rosh Hashana of 1804, he made the following declaration: “It’s not possible to be a Jew, meaning to go from level to level, without the Land of Israel”. After the lesson Reb Nosson thought that the Rebbe was alluding to some lofty concept, so he asked him, “What are you specifically referring to when you say that the Land of Israel is so great”? The Rebbe answered him chidingly, “I’m referring simply to the Land of Israel, with its’ houses and apartments”.

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So what is it about the streets, stones and buildings of Israel that separates it from everywhere else? I don’t claim to have that answer. But in the same superficial way that we can regard Shabbos as simply Saturday or view a Tzaddik as a plain human being, we can mistakenly see the Holy Land as just the same old dirt and rock. But it’s much more than that.

Israel is potentially perfect for holiness. There are a number of mitzvos that are only a possibility in the Land of Israel, such as the first fruit offering. What this means is that mundane activity has potential for Holiness in this Land more than anywhere else. In fact, on some level, what the 12 spies failed to understand was how we can work the land for sustenance and attain greater spiritual connection than in the desert where God was taking care of all our needs without our efforts. It’s specifically in Israel, amongst our people that we can produce corporeally and become the unique individuals and nation that we’re destined to become. Outside of Israel we can only hold on for dear life and shelter ourselves from the storm of assimilation. But in Israel we’re free to explore who we truly are. Like the Rebbe said, we need the Land of Israel to go ‘from level to level’.

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Soul-shine

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The holy Reb Aharon from Karlin was once eating an apple when one of his chassidim brashly asked him, “Rebbe, I don’t understand! You eat apples and I eat apples. You make a bracha and I make a bracha. What’s the difference between me and you”? The Rebbe answered him as follows: “When I wake up in the morning, I’m awe-inspired by creation and the lovingkindness of our Creator. I feel humbled and have an urge to say ‘Blessed are you God’ but I’m not allowed to bless unless I eat something. So I eat the apple. You wake up in the morning with the urge to eat an apple. Because you’re a religious Jew you make the blessing and eat it. The difference is that you make the bracha to eat the apple and I eat the apple to make the bracha”!

The Talmud asks, “Why don’t the sons of torah scholars follow in their ways? Because their fathers didn’t make the blessing on the Torah before they learned it”. Rebbe Nachman (Torah 14) explains quite esoterically that when we learn Torah we need to shine light through our blessing into our root-soul. Meaning to say, it’s not that the scholars didn’t make the blessing before they learnt, but rather they didn’t bless THE BEFORE when they learnt. Our soul is the before, because it was conceived in God’s mind before creation (Zohar Chadash).  

Sometimes after going all-out for our kids, in a way that only a loving parent can, they say thank you. I know there’s nothing more they can do than express their thanks verbally, but I think to myself, “do you know how much it entailed to do this for you? I’m happy you’re thankful but there’s no way you can appreciate all the sweat and time I put into this for you”!

The same is true with our brachos, except that God does know if and how appreciative we are. We religious Jews strive to make 100 blessings per day. I know how hard it is to change our concentration level in our blessings. (You’re not the only one who can’t remember if they made an after-bracha)! But maybe we can choose just one blessing a day where we take a moment and appreciate all the preparation that God is constantly doing for us, all the way back to the creation of our soul? Our Jewish soul is what we should be most grateful for. We can never thank Him enough for it! Similar to the chesed we do for our small children, our soul is much greater than we can ever appreciate. I know it’s not that easy. By now we do things almost robotically. But we certainly can make a small change. All we can do is try a little-bit more to recognize and visualize the fine details of His love and with those stronger blessings shine light into all of our holy souls!