The smiling skies

smiling sky

“You should know, [Hashem’s] presence fills the entire earth and there is no place that is empty of Him…Even if someone does business [far away from his home] with people of different cultures, he can’t excuse himself and say ‘I can’t serve Hashem here, because it’s too dark and mundane here’. In every physical thing and in all the languages of the world one can find Godliness.  Because without His Godliness, there is no ability at all to exist. It’s just that the lower the place is, the more hidden and covered up is its Godliness”. (Torah 33)

צָרִיךְ לָדַעַת, שֶׁמְּלֹא כָל הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ וְלֵית אֲתַר פָּנוּי מִנֵּהּ … וַאֲפִלּוּ מִי שֶׁעוֹסֵק בְּמַשָּׂא וּמַתָּן בַּגּוֹיִים לֹא יוּכַל לְהִתְנַצֵּל וְלוֹמַר אִי אֶפְשִׁי לַעֲבֹד אֶת הַשֵּׁם יִתְבָּרַךְ מֵחֲמַת עוֹבִיּוּת וְגַשְׁמִיּוּת שֶׁנּוֹפֵל תָּמִיד עָלָיו מֵחֲמַת הָעֵסֶק שֶׁעוֹסֵק תָּמִיד עִמָּהֶם, כִּי בְּכָל הַדְּבָרִים גַּשְׁמִיִּים וּבְכָל לְשׁוֹנוֹת הַגּוֹיִים יָכוֹל לִמְצֹא בָהֶם אֱלֹקוּתוֹ, כִּי בְּלֹא אֱלֹקוּתוֹ אֵין לָהֶם שׁוּם חִיּוּת וְקִיּוּם כְּלָל רַק כָּל מַה שֶּׁהַמַּדְרֵגָה יוֹתֵר תַּחְתּוֹנָה אֲזַי אֱלֹקוּתוֹ שָׁם בְּצִמְצוּם גָּדוֹל וּמְלֻבָּשׁ בְּמַלְבּוּשִׁים יוֹתֵר

So Hashem’s presence fills the entire world, right? But how does that help when we’re stuck in a these low places? How can we recognize His presence when we feel like hell and are having such a hard time coping?

There are 12 permutations of the Tetragrammaton (the name of Hashem יהו-ה). The simplest, and yet most essential permutation is of course יהו-ה. The Arizal writes that this permutation is an acronym for the verse “יִשְׂמְחוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם וְתָגֵל הָאָרֶץ” (Psalms, 96:11). “The Heavens will rejoice and the earth will be glad”.

I think, on the most basic level, the idea behind this is that the name of God, in its  simplest form, is represented by rejoicing and joy. A name is not a simple thing. The Maharal teaches that one’s name is his essence. שֵׁם (name) is the same letters as שָׂם (there). Meaning, you are where your name is. Whatever your name is, that defines where/who you are. This verse is indicating, that when we refer to Hashem’s name in the most straightforward way, we are referring to a state of gladness and rejoicing.

So maybe this is what Rebbe Nachman means? Hashem’s presence is everywhere, even in the lowest places. But how does one tap-in to this Godliness in a low place? By finding joy! When we can let go of our suffocating feelings and find something to be glad about – even in what seems to be the hardest situation – we can find Godliness absolutely anywhere. Of course, the lower the space, the harder it is to find Godliness (aka joy), but that’s just because it’s hidden. It’s truly there. The skies are always smiling.

The joy of longing

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Is there an end in sight to all of our struggling?
In Torah 72, Rebbe Nachman teaches thought even a complete victory over the physical and emotional appetites of the body doesn’t lead a person to a static state. In fact, the prior stage of victory over ones physicality is but an initiation into an infinite struggle and paradoxical life of oneness with the Divine, while simultaneously struggling to overcome the limitation of each level of awareness to one still higher. So even the greatest tzaddikim still struggle in a more esoteric way.
This never-ending battle sounds kind of depressing. right?
Wrong!
The sense of longing and incompleteness are themselves the greatest pleasure of all. In fact, Reb Nosson identifies the pleasure and delight of Shabbos, (called oneg shabbos) as essentially consisting of a heightened sense of longing (Hilchos Arev 3:7) This is similar to getting to know someone, whereby each new piece of information adds to the formation of a greater sense of the whole of that person, which in turns adds to the attractiveness of the enigma of who the person really is, which begs for ever more profound perceptions of them, ad inifinitum.

So many people associate happiness with attaining the end-goal. “When I finally get ___ , then I’ll be happy”. The truth is quite the opposite. The journey of life and the yearning to reach the goal is the real source of happiness. We associate the word satisfaction with completing something, like being satisfied from a meal. But really the most satisfying pleasures are the ups and downs of the non-static relationship we forge with our Creator. It will never just be bliss, like some might construe, but, thankfully, our souls will always long for more, even when they are already united with His glory.

(gleaned from the writings of Rabbi Leibish Hundert)

Better to be happy

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On a recent road trip I organized with some friends in Northern Israel, it became all too clear that executing the entire itinerary was a far-away dream. At first I was torn. Should I push everybody to keep moving or just go with the flow, and accept that we won’t reach all our destinations?

Similarly, an observant Jew who follows the legal code of the Shulchan Aruch must recognize that he will find himself in many situations where he is unable to uphold to his ideal standards of mitzvah observance. For example, traveling may often present an obstacle. There isn’t always a synagogue to pray in when we’re on the road. In business dealings as well, we can find ourselves socializing with people whose moral and ideological values threaten us. Even in our own homes too, sometimes our families’ needs temporarily prevent us from meeting our personal standards. These circumstances are an every day part of our life.

The problem usually isn’t the situation that arises around us, but rather how we respond to it. Yes, our intentions of accomplishing are respect-worthy, especially in Divine Service, but everything comes at a cost. Do we become madmen when it seems like things aren’t going to work out like we wished they would have?

Most of us are familiar with Rebbe Nachman’s famous words (Tinyana 24):

מִצְוָה גְּדוֹלָה לִהְיוֹת בְּשִׂמְחָה תָּמִיד

“It’s a great mitzvah to always be happy”.

I was thinking about this statement today and I made a simple inference. The Rebbe didn’t say, “It’s a mitzvah to be happy”, or “It’s even a mitzvah to be happy”. He said, “It’s a great mitzvah to be happy”, meaning it’s a very important and worthy mitzvah to strive for. Maybe sometimes when we’re feeling bad about ourselves because of the circumstances that surround us, or even situations that we ourselves are responsible for, we should remember those holy words and say, “the bigger mitzvah is to be happy now”. Ok, so on Thursday when you got the call to have Shabbos guests and you declined, it was because you were overwhelmed, and now that it’s Shabbos you wish you would have consented. But maybe it’s a greater mitzvah to overlook the regret and be happy now, than to have had the guests in the first place? It’s not just a simple mitzvah to be happy, said the Rebbe, it’s a great mitzvah! Let’s try to remember its paramount importance more often and wear a smile on our faces.

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Thank you

100

This is my one hundredth post on this blog! King David called his hundredth Psalm “A song of thanks”, so I’d like to also take this opportunity and express my gratitude. I’m forever grateful to Hashem for giving me this platform to share my thoughts and ideas with some very special readers. I’m grateful to Rebbe Nachman for inspiring me and guiding me since last May, when I started writing. I’m so thankful to my family who always encourages my blogging and I’m most grateful to my followers and readers, who although I don’t usually hear too much from, whenever they drop me a line, it helps me keep going and believing this little notebook is making a cosmic difference.

In Tinyana 2, the Rebbe says that the main pleasure of the next world is to glorify Hashem with thanks and praise, because by recognizing His good, one begins to unify with his Creator. It’s truly been a ‘next-worldly pleasure’ to author this blog and I hope that we share many more beautiful ideas together, connecting to the burning heart and soul of this great Tzaddik, Rebbe Nachman Ben Feige, until the coming of Mashaich soon in our days. Amen!

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א  מִזְמוֹר לְתוֹדָה: הָרִיעוּ לַיהוָה, כָּל-הָאָרֶץ.
ב  עִבְדוּ אֶת-יְהוָה בְּשִׂמְחָה; בֹּאוּ לְפָנָיו, בִּרְנָנָה.
ג  דְּעוּ כִּי יְהוָה, הוּא אֱלֹהִים: הוּא-עָשָׂנוּ, ולא (וְלוֹ) אֲנַחְנוּ עַמּוֹ, וְצֹאן מַרְעִיתוֹ.
ד  בֹּאוּ שְׁעָרָיו, בְּתוֹדָה--חֲצֵרֹתָיו בִּתְהִלָּה; הוֹדוּ-לוֹ, בָּרְכוּ שְׁמוֹ.
ה  כִּי-טוֹב יְהוָה, לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ; וְעַד-דֹּר וָדֹר, אֱמוּנָתוֹ.

The joy of mindfulness

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The Holy Arizal said that he merited his exalted levels of Divine spirit from all of his toil to find joy in performing mitzvos. How does one enjoy performing mitzvos? Mitzvah observance seems demanding. We’re often doing mitzvos for reasons we don’t fully understand and some of the mitzvos we do seem so irrelevant in our times. Even mitzvos whose significance we can appreciate, such as prayer, become so robotic over time. How can we find joy in mitzvos?

People have one of two motivations in observing the mitzvos, says Rebbe Nachman. Most people want the reward in the world to come, but some people actually enjoy the mitzvah itself.  The Rebbe compares this to the difference between Moses’ ability to prophesy and the prophetic skills of our other profits. All of the other prophets were said to have seen their visions through an opaque mirror, whereas Moses saw his visions through a translucent one. This means that the other prophets were describing their interpretation of the vision, which was a subjective one seen from a distance. But Moses’ prophecy was the absolute word of God. He wasn’t speculating or interpreting the vision subjectively, but rather his humility allowed the word of God to reach the listener in its authentic form. This is the difference between doing a mitzvah for some reward in the future and doing a mitzvah for the mitzvah itself. When someone does a mitzvah for something in the future, he isn’t having pleasure now. But someone who only wants the mitzvah, experiences sheer joy from the mitzvah.  The Rebbe says (Torah 5) that the Joy of Hashem is enclothed in the mitzvos. It’s His connection to us and when we are in it for its own sake we are like Moses, whose perceptions are exact. We’re able to tap into the essence of what the mitzvah is, which is joy – the joy of the Creator.

Ok, but seriously, how does this relate to me? Am I all of a sudden going to run to do a mitzvah for its purest sake? How am I, who generally performs mitzvos in cruise control, going to enjoy the mitzvah?

I think we need to read between the lines of what Rebbe Nachman is teaching here. Where are you when you’re doing a mitzvah? Are you present or are you checking it off your list? Are you mindful of what you’re doing or are you just putting one step in front of the other, because that’s what you did yesterday? Is your head focused on the mitzvah or are you concerned to present a certain way? Are you conscientious of it or are you dreaming of something else? The Rebbe is saying something very simple. To experience the joy of the mitzvah, you need to want only the mitzvah. But what if I don’t want the mitzvah? Well, no wonder you don’t find joy from it. Maybe you have ulterior motives for your mitzvah performance? Those considerations are interfering with the pleasure that’s inherent in the mitzvah itself. Mitzvos are משמחי לב, they make us happy (Psalms 19:9). Some might find that happiness from being associated with the observant community. Others might be meticulously observant for the pleasure they get when receiving honor. In the long-term those things don’t do it for me. If I’m doing this mitzvah-thing, I’m doing it because I believe in what the mitzvah itself has to offer me. But if I’m not present when I’m carrying it out, then I’m not enjoying it. If I’m not enjoying it, doing it annoys me. So my avodah is to be as mindful as I can when I’m doing it. If I’m spending the time on it anyways, it’s worth the extra effort to shut out everything else and reap the joy it has to offer.

בתוך שאר חולי ישראל Lippe Minya bat Rose רפואה שלימה 

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

Self encouragement

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“Greatness isn’t about accomplishing more, but about fully appreciating what you already accomplish.”

–  Davy Dombrowsky

It’s hard to be mindful these days. We have so much on our plate that even when we’re taking care of one job, our minds are already worrying about the next task at hand. For example, when we pray with the congregation, it’s common to space out. When we refocus, we might start thinking about some important things we need to pray for but we’re still not paying attention to the words of the liturgy. Maybe some of us have assumed a large daily regimen of learning, such as the daf yomi or being maavir sedra. I’m sure you might find that too often you’re catching up or keeping pace and you’re not relaxed in the learning process.

The yetzer hara has so many ways of fooling us. One of his successful tools is to make us figuratively ‘look out the window’. Whether we’re comparing ourselves to others or continuously adding to our workload to make ourselves feel worthy, we might be totally ignoring the special things that we’re already busy with. What’s the point in reciting the korbanos liturgy before prayer if it makes us hurry through psukei dzimra?

Rebbe Nachman teaches that we need to focus on our good points. I’d like to say this also means that we should appreciate the things we’re doing while we’re doing them. It’s definitely valuable to want to achieve, but it’s not always beneficial to be yearning for more. Sometimes it’s important to just enjoy the now. Every now and then we need to stop planning, worrying and dreaming and start appreciating the things we currently do.

Too much of what we do is ho-hum and then, in search of inspiration, we add on a new thing. It’s really a bad idea. If we feel like a sinking boat, we need to stuff up the leaks and stop dumping more water on deck. A better idea would be to pray often to Hashem to help us find more meaning and more patience in the services we’re already engaged in.

In Sichos Haran 239 the Rebbe points out a difference between us and Hashem. The nature of a person is that the older his possessions get, the less he likes them. The first time he wore his new shirt, he felt great. But as time goes on, those garments become less and less important to him. Hashem is the opposite. He created the world in sort of a damaged state. In every generation new tzaddikim come and fix the world up more and more until in the end the world is completely fixed at the times of Moshiach. So the older the world gets, the more Hashem appreciates it.

We need to emulate this characteristic of Hashem. It’s important to get chizuk, but we’re spending too much time looking for it on the outside. How many tear-jerking social media videos do we need to watch to feel inspired? Maybe the goal isn’t to learn ‘just one more mishna‘? Maybe sometimes it’s more important to smile after we learn the mishna? Or to remember the mishna again later on that day and feel honored to have learned it?

We need to look inside ourselves and appreciate what we have already become!

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Be happy!

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In Tinyana 24 the Rebbe lit up the world with the famous words that we can’t live without:

“מצוה גדולה להיות בשמחה תמיד”

“It’s a great mitzvah to be constantly happy.”

I’ve heard some people question this teaching as follows: Is it really a mitzvah to be happy? Maybe what Rebbe Nachman meant was שמחה גדולה להיות במצוה תמיד; it’s a great joy to constantly be performing mitzvos. But what’s the big mitzvah of being happy?

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In the same lesson the Rebbe teaches that ‘everyone is full of suffering’. It’s not easy to be happy, let alone ‘constantly’ happy. But he says we need to arouse this inner joy ‘with all of our might’. We should even do silly things to arouse it, if that’s what it takes.

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Hashem knows how difficult it is to push ourselves to be happy. He’s well aware of how much we need to overcome to put a smile on our face. But when we do, Hashem sees it as the greatest possible thing we can do for Him. The word מצוה comes from the root-word צֶוֶת, which means crew or staff. We unite with Hashem, like a team, when we perform mitzvos. Ask any boss and he’ll tell you, there’s no better staff than a happy staff. They’re united with their leader. They’re ready and willing to go out of their way for the team. When we’re happy, we open ourselves to the entire world. Happiness is boundless and expansive. It frees our hearts from worry, so we can materialize the many opportunities that are presented us. I’m not sure if it’s one of the 613 mitzvos to be happy, but it’s certainly the greatest tool to performing mitzvos. Nothing stands in the way of the happy person. The entire world is the happy man’s playing field.

We all know how hard it is. We know how easily we feel down and how it feels like too much for us to stimulate our own happiness. We need to pray hard and often to be happy. It’s ok to pray for that, it’s even recommended. We have to try as hard as we can with any possible (permissible) method to spark those smiles. Whether it’s by dancing, singing, creative outlets, joking around or shmoozing. Whatever it takes, do it! It’s the key to success, the prerequisite to healthy living and the essential drive of mitzvah performance.

מצוה גדולה להיות בשמחה תמיד = שלום מרדכי רובאשקין יוצא בח׳ בחג

 

נ נח נחמ נחמן מאומן

nanach plder man dancing

Today is the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Yisrael Dov Ber Odesser z”l, known as Sabba Yisrael. He was the leader of the Na Nach movement who died in 1994. Late last night I went to the hilula of this Tzaddik, by his burial site on Har Hamenuchos. Here’s a short clip of the festivities:

I don’t use this blog as a political user-face and won’t defend or criticize the ‘Nanach-ers’. That being said, I’m not a Na-Nacher. I don’t believe in the note that Sabba claimed to receive from heaven and I disagree with some of his followers who think that he was mashiach. So why did I go last night to dance and say the Tikkun Haklali by his grave?

In Rebbe Nachman’s most famous lesson, entitled ‘Azamra‘, he taught about the importance of finding the good points in others. Sabba Yisrael spent his entire life serving Hashem with great intensity. At the end of his life, when he was well over 100, he collected close to a million dollars from his wheelchair and started a publishing house where Breslov books are still distributed at subsidized prices. He brought back so many unaffiliated Jews to Hashem. His merits are literally innumerable. Of course I can focus on the graffiti that some of his followers do and the craziness that surrounds them, but my job is to find the good and celebrate it.

One more thought:

As you might know, Rebbe Nachman waged a war against depression.  In Tinyana 48 he said “The most important thing is to always be happy. One should arouse his happiness in any way  that he possibly can, even with utter silliness. He should even act like an idiot and do silly things, with jumping and dancing, to come to joy. Because joy is a tremendous thing”. I credit the Na-Nachers with living by this lesson. I sometimes feel like they hijacked all the joy from the more mainstream Breslovers, but as long as I’m around I’ll make sure that’s not the case 🙂 “Because joy is a tremendous thing”!

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לעילוי נשמת הרב ישראל דב בער אודסר ז״ל

Soaring from song

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“You should know that every type of wisdom in the world has a unique song. In fact, it’s from that particular song, where we draw the wisdom…Faith also has a song. The song of faith is the highest of all songs. It’s from that lofty song of pure faith where all the world’s songs are drawn down” (Torah 64).

Last night we sang and danced in the streets of Jerusalem to celebrate the life of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach z”l, on the day of his yahrtzeit.

I can’t describe in words the euphoric feeling of singing and dancing together with all my ‘brothers and sisters’ last night. The energy there was other worldy. I’ve been singing publicly my entire life and from a very young age my mother wisely told me that the power of song will unlock doors for me. Shlomo was a master of song. That’s why he was so deep. His torah and his stories left you yearning. He wouldn’t finish his thoughts. It was more about what he didn’t say. Similarly, music connects us to something way above us. When we sing, we actually draw down that holiness and experience it.

Nothing in this world is higher than song. It inspires prophesy and it’s the back drop of our Holy Temple. “So this is my deepest prayer, in the name of all of us, ושם נשיר, ‘Master of the world, put a new song into our hearts'”. So we can parade together back to the Holy City, “my children, your children ושם נשיר שיר חדש”!

 לעילוי נשמת הרב שלמה בן הרב נפתלי קרליבך ז״ל

I love you Shlomo! Thank you!