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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Fight fire with fire

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I’ll never forget the first time I heard Reb Tzvi Meyer Zilverberg say Krias Shema. In NY, after a talk he gave, he led the Maariv prayer. When he finished the second blessing, the congregants went right into the Shema as usual. About 15 seconds later we were all startled by a shrieking cry, “Sh—maaaaaa” followed by a groaning and drawn out “Yisruuuuuh-elllll”. There was a hush. Then maybe 10 seconds later he continued the rest of the verse…Growing up modern orthodox I was accustomed to treat the synagogue as a library, where there’s no talking (not even to God). This novelty of expression was curious and made a big impression on me.

In Torah 22 Rebbe Nachman says that the way to perfect faith is via עזות דקדושה (holy courage). Because the ‘other side’ is a king without a crown. When a king doesn’t have a crown, he forces his subjects to obey him. In this case the coercion is the immediacy of pleasure we feel when we follow our immoral desires. It’s almost too hard to stop. Since the other side uses force, we must be bold as well to combat the allure of evil.

The Rebbe says that sound is an expression of that holy courage. It could be the sound of our yelling or groaning, the sound of the shofar or the sound of an instrument. These sounds display a certain courage that allows the holiness to engage the evil head-on.

Now, obviously, if someone grew up in the Hassidic court of Karlin, where screaming during prayer is commonplace, then yelling won’t be effective. I think even if someone were to imitate Rav Zilverberg’s jumping and theatrics, it also wouldn’t be adequate. So how do we have holy courage?

Here’s the secret:

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The Mishna (Avos 5:20) teaches that this ‘courage’ is a characteristic found in the leopard. The leopard employs all sorts of clever tricks to get his prey, and isn’t intimidated by animals that outweigh him. A British hunter once watched a leopard prepare for its stalk of a buffalo calf by first rolling in buffalo dung in order to disguise its body-scent and get closer to the calf without frightening it. So the boldness of the leopard, and the courage necessary to fight off the forces of depression, anger and anxiety, takes a certain ingenuity. We need to be creative, innovative and imaginative in our service of God. This is why the sound of an instrument exudes that courage. Because when you play music, your insides are expressed creatively and uniquely via the instrument. We need to stop blindly following everyone else’s lead and be our true selves. Each one of us has something unique and brilliant to contribute. We need some nerve to express ourselves and it’s our only hope to living with perfect faith.

In english we say that someone courageous has ‘guts’. Why guts? Because when you’re fearless, your insides (your guts) can show on the outside. But when you’re a coward, your insides stay on the inside and your outside isn’t the real you.

We live with too much fear. Fear of others and fear of ourselves. But one thing I can tell you with perfect faith: No one in the world could be you. Only you can be you. And when you’re not you, you’re sorely missed.

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What are you so afraid of?

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“[The] epidemic of the world is fear.” (Moshav Band)

Everyone is shouldering so much fear. The fears range from nuclear warfare, fear of death, fear of failure, to even smaller fears, like being late for an appointment. Why are we so afraid? The truth is that if we would stop the frightened person and ask them, “What are you so afraid of?” They would most likely admit that their fears are really unfounded.

In Sichos Haran 83 Rebbe Nachman explains what’s going on in our hearts.

The Rebbe says that we’re really only afraid of one thing. It’s almost as if we’re sure that  this ‘primary fear’ is going to ‘get us’ eventually. So all these other fears are merely an extension of our one major fear and when we stress about the small stuff it’s because there’s almost an assumption that now the time has finally arrived when ‘this thing’ will destroy us once and for all!

If you scare somebody from behind he panics even before his mind processes if there’s any reason to be scared. Why? Because he’s already scared of his ‘primary fear’ and when you jump him, he’s assuming that his primary fear ‘got him’.

So what can we do about this?

The Rebbe says that we need to take some quiet time and clarify what it is that we’re really afraid of. It’s not that hard. We need to relax and let ourselves imagine what would happen if our fears were realized. How would that make us feel? Why would it be so bad? Maybe it’s because of something else? And what would be so bad about that etc. etc. We need to keep digging deeper and ask ourselves, “what would be so bad if that fear was realized”? We can definitely do this self-help exercise and simplify what’s causing us this excess anxiety. And the greatest benefit of this practice is that we’ll most likely realize that our primary fear is not so scary after all…