Only you

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The Talmud (Taanis 21b) tells of a certain surgeon named Abba, who was on such a lofty spiritual level that he received daily greetings from the Heavenly Academy. The great amora Abaye, who only received weekly greetings, felt dejected because of the great honor given to Abba the Surgeon. Others told Abaye that the honor is given to this blood-letter and not you, because you can’t do what he does.

The Talmud offers a few examples: Abba the Surgeon designed a special garment for women to wear during their procedures with him, so he wouldn’t see their exposed bodies. He also kept a box out of public gaze where the patients deposited their fees. Those that could afford it put their fees there, and those who couldn’t pay were not embarrassed. Not only did he not charge young Torah scholars, but he would also give them some of his own money, telling them to go regain their strength.

One day Abaye decided to test him, sending him two scholars. Abba the Surgeon received them warmly, giving them food and drink and in the evening, he prepared fine woolen mattresses for them to sleep on. In the morning the scholars stole the precious bedding and took them to the market to sell. While in the market, they met up with the kind surgeon and asked him, “how much are these linens worth”? He replied, “Such and such”. They said to him, “Perhaps they’re worth more”? He replied, “that’s what I paid for them”. They said to him, “They’re yours and we took them from you. Tell us, please, what did you suspect when you saw us with your linens”? He replied, “I said to myself, maybe the Rabbis needed money to redeem captives and they were ashamed to tell me”. They replied, “Please take them back” and he answered, “from the moment I saw they were gone, I dismissed them from my mind and I devoted them to charity”.

In Torah 34, Rebbe Nachman briefly mentions this story to show how every Jew has something precious, a nekuda (unique point), that no one else has. Even the great Abaye, one of the most often quoted Talmudists, in some way couldn’t reach this simple surgeon’s level. And as we see from Abaye, we are too often comparing ourselves with others and feeling unimportant because of how we perceive ourselves in comparison. “וְעַמֵּךְ כֻּלָּם צַדִּיקִים; Every Jew is a tzaddik” (Isaiah 60:21). This means, says the Rebbe, that just like the world is sustained because of the tzaddikim, so too, at least, in a small way every single Jew has something that the world must have, and could only attain through him. We need to stop comparing ourselves to the perceived perfect people we dream of our neighbors. Instead we must use those powers of imagination to examine the mysteries of our own minds and souls and find that point we must share with the world.

The funnel

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:בת קול יוצאת מהר חורב ואומרת”

“כל העולם כולו ניזון בשביל חנינא בני, וחנינא בני דיו בקב חרובין מערב שבת לערב שבת

(ברכות יז)

“A heavenly voice leaves Sinai and says: ‘The whole world is sustained because of my son Chanina, and my son Chanina is sustained the entire week by a small measure of Carobs’”.

The Talmud’s statement is referring to the great tzaddik Rabbi Chanina Ben Dosa.

My friend, Yehuda Raice, pointed out that the whole world was getting its nutrition in merit of this great tzaddik, whereas the tzadik himself was exceedingly poor, as we know from other stories about him. Because there are two types of prayer: The first is with the hands up to the sky, begging Hashem for sustenance. This relationship (at least momentarily) ceases when Hashem provides the sustenance.

But the other type of prayer of the true tzaddik, symbolized by the attribute of Yesod, has his hands out, because the flow is coming through him to others. But he himself doesn’t necessarily have a lot. Jacob said to Esau “I have all I need”. He meant that he had all he needed and not more. Esau said “I have much”, meaning much more than he needed, and he was right, because Hashem pays evil people for their deeds, so that the relationship isn’t an ongoing one. But the tzaddik gets only what he needs and has to constantly re-approach Hashem for more. This makes the relationship much deeper and one built on immense trust.

“The adulteress traps the haughty soul (Proverbs 6)”. The arrogant ones get caught in the net of promiscuity. This is why the tzaddik, who embodies the attribute of Yesod, is represented by the reproductive organ. By means of his humility, he avoids promiscuity at all costs. Because the tzaddik is so reliant on Hashem, he has so little ego, and the flow goes right through him to others, as the Baal Shem Tov points out on the words, בשביל חנינא בני the word שביל means a path. The whole world was sustained through the pathway of Rabbi Chanina. The Divine flow comes down through the tzaddikim because they’re ego doesn’t obstruct the flow.

וְעַמֵּךְ כֻּלָּם צַדִּיקִים

 

 

The tzaddik and me

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This time of year we read about the Jewish people’s exile in Egypt. Of course, the Torah is a living Torah, which is also addressing our current national and personal exile. Although Hashem ultimately brought us out of Egypt, he appointed a leader to effect our redemption. This is always the way it’s done, as the holy Zohar says, the soul of Moshe (Moses) exists in every generation. This means that there are always true tzaddikim who redeem their generations as Moshe saved his.

Moshe’s name was given to him by the daughter of Pharaoh. It means that he was drawn from the water, (referring to the waters of the Nile).  Reb Nosson (Birchas Hashachar 3) says that these waters also symbolize something much deeper. The Arizal taught that the Egyptian exile was in a sense a fixing for the sins of an earlier generation. After the flood, Hashem said that he won’t allow man to live past 120 (which was Moshe’s final age) because “בְּשַׁגַּם הוּא בָשָׂר” [“he is also flesh”]. The word בְּשַׁגַּם has the same numerical value (345) as משֶׁ֔ה.  This is why all the boys were sentenced to be drowned, and Moshe himself was even placed in the water, because there was still retribution necessary from the times of the flood. But the name Moshe means that the tzaddik will lower himself to the deepest, darkest waters in order to pull out the lost souls that are drowning in the floods.

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“טָבַעְתִּי בִּיוֵן מְצוּלָה וְאֵין מָעֳמָד, בָּאתִי בְמַעֲמַקֵּי מַיִם וְשִׁבֹּלֶת שְׁטָפָתְנִי”.           “I have sunk in muddy depths and there is no place to stand; I have come into the deep water, and the current has swept me away” (Psalms 69:3).

This is the power of the true tzaddikim. They prevent our ultimate destruction and give us hope to live again. Rebbe Nachman teaches (Torah 215) that the name Moshe stands in-between destruction and favor, because the word for destruction שמד is numerically 344, the name משה is 345 and the word for favor, רצון, is 346. So Moshe, and all the true tzaddikim of each generation, put themselves on the front lines to help lift us out of the mud.

I think one of the biggest obstacles we face nowadays is our low self confidence. With the whole world sharing information, we now see people who seem so much better than us in every way possible. If you have talent, there’s surely many out there who have more. If you’re making money, there’s definitely others who are making more. It can be disheartening.  And you don’t have to even look on the web. People are just not trying anymore, out of fear they won’t be successful.

I find so much solace by believing in the true tzaddik. I believe in Rebbe Nachman with every fiber of my being. I believe in his Year 2019 ability to help me and all those who cling to him, by representing us favorably to Hashem. This kesher (knot) that I have with the tzaddik makes me believe in myself so much more. I’m not limited by my own shortcomings. I can reach places I never even imagined because I believe strongly in my tzaddik’s ability to help me shine.

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The finishing touches

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There was once a large city that was fortified with a tremendous wall. All the kings used their forces to conquer it but were unsuccessful. Their troops eventually succumbed to all the arrows shot down from the city’s high walls. There was one smart king who scoped out the wall and thought he could take it down. He ordered his troops to go to the other side and attack but they were all defeated. When he went to the other side to check on them, he saw they were all slain, but he noticed that the inner fortification was so damaged that even the weakest of his people could tear it down. He called all the old and feeble, the women and children, and together they knocked down the wall.

Says Reb Nosson, many people ask, if the great tzaddikim of the earlier generations couldn’t bring the redemption, what chance do we have?

Who brought down the wall? You can’t say it was the elderly alone, for even if they worked for thousands of years, they couldn’t have done it. And if you say it was the earlier troops, but they died in the process, before it was torn down?

So it is with our final redemption. We had great tzaddikim who landed blow after blow on the evil snake. Now he’s so damaged that even little old us can take him down.

And the same is true with so many of our personal struggles. We try so hard for so long and then we’re knocked down again. We’re left to think it’s just impossible to overcome. But the truth is, we already caused a lot of damage and with just a little more effort, we can prevail. Let’s believe in ourselves and do it!

Self reflection

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Jacob is surrounded by his 12 sons and is about to die. He attempts to reveal to them the exact time of the final redemption and is unable to, because the Divine Spirit leaves him. He assumes it’s their fault, and at least one of them must be attached to unholiness, but they assure him that they are as pure on the inside as he perceived them to be from the outside.

Reb Nosson says (Gezeila 5) at that point Jacob realized his mistake and that one cannot rush matters before their appointed time. It’s then that he began criticizing his oldest three sons, exactly about this matter. Reuben made a mistake, after the death of Rachel, by getting involved in his father’s private affairs. This was also a rushed decision of zealotry that ended up costing Reuben the kingdom and priesthood. Simeon and Levi also acted with haste after the rape of Dina, by raiding the city of Shechem and killing all the males. Jacob admonished his sons to exercise patience; not using aggression and dominance to expedite matters.

I’d like to add a twist here. Jacob makes a futile attempt to reveal the future and when it doesn’t work, he assumes it’s not his fault, but other peoples fault. Reb Nosson says Jacob was wrong. It was Jacob’s mistake trying to rush these matters. Then he criticizes his sons for rushing things. (Reb Nosson doesn’t say the following, but if you allow my puny mind a minute, I’d say that) because Jacob was just presently guilty of rushing things prematurely, that’s exactly what he saw in his sons. The Baal Shem Tov says that we only see faults in others that we ourselves have. Maybe if Jacob didn’t make the error himself, his eternal words to his oldest three sons would have been different?

And what about Judah? Why wasn’t he criticized? Because Judah’s descendant was King David, and, at least in one instance, David exercised the greatest patience imaginable. David longed to build the Temple, but Hashem told him that it wouldn’t be proper for a warrior with blood on his hands to build it. It would only be built by his son Solomon.

This is a powerful everyday lesson. When we’re small-minded, we spread negativity everywhere we look. And it’s because of our own messed-up lenses. But when we feel good, we only see good. Next time we wanna give somebody a piece of our mind, let’s not rush. Let’s stop and notice that we’re probably only sensitive to their imperfections, because we have those same flaws ourselves.

 

A new belief

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The woman in the painting doesn’t see the tree. She needs to turn around.

After 22 years separation from his favorite son, Jacob comes down to Egypt to see his son before he dies and says the following:

“וַיֹּאמֶר יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל יוֹסֵף, רְאֹה פָנֶיךָ לֹא פִלָּלְתִּי וְהִנֵּה הֶרְאָה אֹתִי אֱלֹהִים גַּם אֶת זַרְעֶךָ”

“Israel [Jacob] says to Joseph, I never expected to see your face [again], and now God has shown me your children too”.

Rashi defines the peculiar word פִלָּלְתִּי.

“לא מלאני לבי לחשב מחשבה, שאראה פניך עוד” 

“My heart never entertained the thought that I’d see your face again”.

I realized today that this word פִלָּלְתִּי has the same root as the word להתפלל, to pray.  This means that prayer fills our hearts with new thoughts and beliefs that previously weren’t possible. When we pray, we’re accessing ideas and beliefs that we never entertained before. This explains why we sometimes feel so refreshed after a real prayer.

Maybe this is what Rebbe Nachman means in the end of Torah 7, when he writes that prayer and faith is beneficial for the memory. Because forgetfulness entails having had something in mind, having it lapse and no longer be part of us. Meaning that forgetfulness is holding on to old thoughts that get lost, but memory is allowing the course of new thoughts [Divine thoughts] to fill your mind.

When we allow ourselves to pray with an open heart and mind and believe differently, we can see many new things. Thoughts that we never entertained can become our new realities.

The most devout

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Tonight is Reb Nosson’s yahrzeit. Reb Nosson was the closest student and scribe of Rebbe Nachman. The following story epitomizes in my mind the life mission that Reb Nosson sought to accomplish:

In 1807, Rebbe Nachman suddenly left on a most mysterious journey to Lemberg. His health was declining, and while in Lemberg he nearly died. He was so sick that in order to save his life, he was forced to send back to Breslov his trusted gabbai, Reb Shimon, to burn one of his precious manuscripts (later known as the Sefer Hanisraf). He was crying and crying to Reb Shimon that he lost his wife and children over this book, and now he knew that if he would reveal it, he would have to die as well.

Before he left to Lemberg, Reb Nosson describes in his diary the fear he had of losing his Rebbe, and his urgency to catch up with the Rebbe’s coach and see him one last time.

Early in the morning, Rebbe Nachman left without warning. Reb Nosson literally ran after the coach, even though it was silly to think he could catch it on foot. He ran and ran to the end of the village. The Rebbe’s coach was forced to slow down while ascending a little mountain and then finally, Reb Nosson caught up with the carriage.

He was standing before the Rebbe for what could have been the last time. The Rebbe asked him, “Tell me what you want. Should I bless you or should I say Torah?”

Reb Nosson answered him, “You’ll bless us when you come back home, אי״ה, but the Torah tell us now”.

Reb Nosson understood that if he didn’t hear the Torah now, he would never hear it again. It was there, in the wagon that the Rebbe taught him the conclusion of “Azamra”, the famous lesson about Nekudos Tovos (finding ones good points), one of the most indispensable lessons Rebbe Nachman left us with.

Clearly, Reb Nosson felt a responsibility to the world to learn as much Torah from Rebbe Nachman as he possibly could. It wasn’t nearly as important to him to get a bracha, or for that matter have any amount of serenity is his life. His dedication to his holy Rebbe caused him scorn, humiliation and great suffering. But the most important thing for him was to spread Rebbe Nachman’s fire, no matter what. He single-handedly kept the chassidus going against tremendous odds and everything Breslov we have today is in his merit.

May his soul keep rising and rising until Moshiach comes, speedily in our days, Amen!

 

לעילוי נשמת ר’ נתן בן ר’ נפתלי הרץ זצ״ל

 

You can do it!

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In Reb Nosson‘s dairy, he describes the scene of his meeting some emissaries from Vilna,  while on his way to the Land of Israel (April 1822 in Odessa):

“And I began to speak with them about emunas chachomim (believing in the sages), being that I was convinced that surely they at least have some faith in the Gaon of Vilna, for it is by his name that they are called and associated. But they immediately retorted, especially one of them who was the main speaker with whom they all agreed, saying such and such, ‘I should have faith in a person?’ and they said so with a tone of incredulity. He spoke in this manner with me, and they all agreed with him. And I began to argue with him, saying, ‘If so, what is emunas chachamim?’ But they would not lend their ears to hear me at all, and they answered words of foolishness and vanity, which were related somewhat to heresy. For truly one who lacks emunas chachomim – even their faith in G-d is incomplete, as is explained in our teachings at length.

It was then that I clearly saw the difference between the Hassidim and the Misnagdim, for I saw  that even in their own sage, whom they know was exceedingly learned and exceedingly pious, even in he they have no faith. And later on I said so to them explicitly: ‘I thought that [even] if you don’t have faith in the great Hassidic tzaddikim, at least you would believe in your own sage. But now I see that you actually have no faith at all“.

(Yemei Moharnat 242).

In this week’s Torah portion Judah approaches Joseph and pleas with him to release Benjamin from impending slavery. Reb Nosson (Hilchos Taanis 4) writes that this episode symbolizes the Jewish people (who are called Jews after Judah) approaching the true tzaddik (symbolized by Joseph) and begging his forgiveness for selling him, which represents our lack of emunas chachamim.

Many people have a hard time believing in the Sages. They’re ok with the Divinity and perfection of the Torah but why should we heed the words of the sages, especially later sages, with the same regard? Why must we believe in the tzaddik? Maybe he’s a great person but he’s only human and he makes mistakes, so not everything he says should be followed.

The answer is that this belief is critical to our own development. The reason why people don’t believe in the near perfection of the tzaddikim is because they look at themselves, see their own shortcomings, and they can’t imagine that there is a person in the world who overcame every obstacle, step by step, and achieved true greatness. They think if I can’t do it, and pretty much everyone I know is struggling with this too, then it’s impossible. We must see things from the exact opposite perspective. We must believe that true greatness is attainable, and has been attained by these near-angels, so that we can fully believe in our own ability to become great. If we are always skeptical of everyone else, never believing that someone can be superior to most people, then how can we ever believe in ourselves, and reach the levels that we are destined to reach? Believing in the tzaddikim is believing in man’s ability (and our own ability) to soar to unimaginable heights. This is a critical part of Avodas Hashem.

 

This world

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“The Rebbe, of blessed memory, declared: Look! Everyone says there is this world and the World to Come. Now, we believe there is a World to Come. And it is possible that an Olam Hazeh exists in some universe. But here it looks more like hell, because everyone is full of great suffering – always!”

“The Rebbe also said: There is no Olam Hazeh at all!”

(Tinyana 119)

Doesn’t sound so Breslov, does it? But Rebbe Nachman did indeed say this. In fact, says Reb Nosson, he discussed this idea often. The truth is, it’s hard to argue. People are experiencing so much suffering within their family, or with health and financial problems. Mental health is so hard to maintain nowadays and addictions are rampant. We’re really in bad shape, so what do we do?

There is another lesson that I think helps.

In Torah 4 the Rebbe says that “When a person knows that everything that happens to him is for his own good, this is an aspect of the World to Come”. (This is based on the passage in the Talmud (Pesachim 50a) that quotes the verse, (Zachariah 14), “On that day, Hashem will be one”. The Talmud asks, “is He not one now”? And answers, “now when something good happens, we bless ‘[He] is good and bestows good’ and when something bad happens, we bless “the true Judge”. But in the World to Come we will only bless ‘[He] is good and bestows good'”).

According to this lesson, we can say that, in fact, there really is no Olam Hazeh at all, meaning there is no good life here. Everyone everywhere is always suffering. But if a person recognizes that every one of his experiences is for his own good, then he lives in the World to Come. He lives in an alternate reality. He is drawing from the World to Come and living in that world right here.

This exercise takes faith. Like the Rebbe said above, “We believe there is a World to Come”. Faith creates possibilities and new realities. Don’t live in hell. Believe there is a perfect master-planner who only does good for you. It hurts so much and we don’t understand His reasoning, so it’s damn hard to believe. But when we do, we are one with the World to Come.

Cry Baby Cry

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Did you ever notice how much Joseph cries in the story of his descent to Egypt? More than once, when the brothers stood before him, he’s forced to excuse himself and cry from his emotions.  He cries when he sees Benjamin for the first time. After revealing himself, he cries on the shoulders of all of the brothers. Then he cries on Benjamin’s neck. When he sees his father after 22 years, he cries. I once counted (correct me if I’m wrong) that the Torah mentions Joseph’s crying 8 times, (and we all know how connected Joseph is to Chanukah, so it’s no coincidence).

Why does Joseph cry more than any other character in Tanach? There were others who experienced pain and suffering too, but why is he always crying?

If I would have to find Joseph’s one defining quality, I would say it is his clear recognition of Divine Providence. After twelve years in prison, he is whisked out of the dungeon and pushed before Pharaoh, who says to him, “I hear you know how to interpret dreams”. He answers, “It’s not me! The Lord will provide Pharaoh with peace”. This is how he rose to the top of every place he found himself, as Rashi (Genesis 39:3) points out “the name of Heaven was frequently in his mouth”. The most stark example of his oneness with the Divine plan is what he says to brothers right after he reveals himself to them. “But now don’t be sad, and let it not trouble you that you sold me here, for it was to preserve life that God sent me before you”. His ability to see Divine Providence is truly amazing!

So why is he alway crying?

In Torah 250 Rebbe Nachman explains the meaning of tears. He says that all the pain and suffering of this world stems from lacking the knowledge of Divine providence. If we truly appreciated that Hashem is running things behind the scenes, we wouldn’t experience any suffering. The problem is that we feel like nature is running it’s course, which causes us great anguish. When somebody cries from pain he’s lacking that understanding of Divine Providence. The tears that come out of his eyes are infused with awareness of Hashem and a clearer vision of His providence. In a certain sense, he loses his own vision and is imbued with God’s vision. This is why after we cry, we feel better. Because crying is transformative. It’s not only an expression of the pain, but it’s also a remedy of that feeling.

I can only imagine those dark years that Joseph was alone in the dungeon. Here is a kid who knew how great he was and believed in his destiny to rule and yet he finds himself all alone, incarcerated in the most corrupt place on earth. I’m sure he shed an innumerable amount of bitter tears to Hashem in that dark place. I bet he cried and cried, but I think that every time he cried he felt somewhat better and he was able to see a little more light at the end of the tunnel.  All of his crying gave him the eyes of God, as the Rebbe says. After all those tears, he became absolutely one with the hand of God. This is why he was crying more than anybody else and this is why every where he went he was successful, because his pain toughened him up so much that when he saw something, he saw it exactly as Hashem saw it. His struggles didn’t drown him. In the end, they aligned him.

Maybe this is another meaning of the verse about Joseph (Psalms 105:19) “אִמְרַ֖ת יְהֹוָ֣ה צְרָפָֽתְהוּ”. “The word of God purified him”. The fact that he always spoke of God, and spoke to God in his pain, purified him.