The unappreciated mitzvah

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“הַהִתְבּוֹדְדוּת הוּא מַעֲלָה עֶלְיוֹנָה וּגְדוֹלָה מִן הַכּל”

“Secluded and improvised prayer [in ones native tongue] is the greatest asset and higher than everything else”

(Tinyana 25)

The Ramchal doesn’t even waste one page in his magnum opus, Mesilas Yesharim, before telling us that the entire purpose of the world is להתענג על ה’ ולהנות מזיו שכינתו, to delight in the transcendency of the Divine presence. In fact, this all-encompassing  ‘life-purpose’ is an explicit mitzvah in the Torah as it says “וּב֣וֹ תִדְבָּ֔ק”, “you should cleave to Him”. This is called D’veikus, an out of body experience of oneness. In D’veikus, you’re bound with something much greater than yourself.

The Zohar states in many places that the 613 mitzvos are 613 עיתין, pieces of advice, in which one can elevate his soul to its Divine source. But it’s not just a mystical thing. The Talmud says (Berachos 21a) “ולוואי שיתפלל אדם כל היום כולו”, would it only be that we would pray all day!

“The biggest lie in Torah tradition is that [only] at the end of [performing] all the mitzvos, and all its stringencies is when you reach D’veikus” – Rabbi Doniel Katz

The truth is exactly the opposite. We have a direct relationship with Hashem. The mitzvos help us broaden, deepen, strengthen and intensify that supernatural relationship that we already have. I like to compare it to the time between Passover and Shavuot. The Arizal says that on the first night of Passover we attain tremendous מוחין, consciousness. Then we lose it, because our bodies are insufficient vessels to hold the light. The avodah (work) of Sefirat Haomer is Tikkun Hamiddos, to build the proper emotional fortitude to get back to the place that we already reached.

My friends, I don’t need to tell you that, since our Holy temple has been destroyed, we have lost the forest in the trees. We are so bogged down by mitzvah performance that we’ve almost totally lost the mitzvah experience. 😫

Take a stand! Don’t settle for the monotonous, boring, and unfulfilling mitzvah observance. We have the ability to connect within us. Maybe, as a suggestion, together we can create a powerful collective consciousness by trying to have a bit of extra intent when we make the blessing in the morning on learning Torah?

:בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ לַעֲסוֹק בְּדִבְרֵי תוֹרָה:

וְהַעֲרֵב נָא, יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, אֶת דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָתְךָ בְּפִינוּ וּבְפִיּוֹת עַמְּךָ בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְנִהְיֶה אֲנַחְנוּ וְצֶאֱצָאֵינוּ, וְצֶאֱצָאֵי עַמְּךָ בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל, כֻּלָּנוּ יוֹדְעֵי שְׁמֶךָ, וְלוֹמְדֵי תוֹרָתְךָ לִשְׁמָהּ. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה, הַמְלַמֵּד תּוֹרָה לְעַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל:

Roughly translated – Hashem, our God, King of the universe, You are the source of all blessing, and You uplifted us with the mitzvah of studying Torah. Please make the words of Torah sweet in our mouths, so that we and all our future progeny know Your name and learn Your Torah for its own sake. You are the source of all blessing, Hashem, who teaches Torah to His nation, Israel. Amen!

Torah and mitzvos are sweet because we can transcend through them. It sure is not automatic, but it’s also not impossible. We can know Hashem’s name. That is a blissful state.

Let’s go!

 

 

The history of Jewish Meditation

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“The key ingredient to true faith is a clear imagination. The intellect is limited by its knowledge. Faith only starts where the intellect can no longer go. By means of a pure imagination we can soar to heights of faith and come close to our Creator”.

(Tinyana 8)

Much of the below was gleaned from classes I heard from Rabbi Daniel Katz of The Elevation Project.

Most people think that meditation practices are sourced in newer religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, when in fact Judaism, the oldest religion known today, is nothing less than saturated with meditation and consciousness teachings. It’s no exaggeration to say that much of the meditation practice studied today is sourced in Judaic writings. So, why has it been a secret until now and why is it suddenly being revealed?

Throughout the writings of the Prophets one clearly sees that prophecy was only reached from a state of meditation. The Talmud (Megillah 14a) states that there were 1.2 million prophets who shared their prophecy throughout our history. It is inferred that scores of other prophets existed, who simply didn’t share their revelations. Unfortunately, at the very beginning of the Second Temple era the desire for spiritual connection was leading the Jews astray. The lust to worship idols and draw out their spiritual energy was ruining our overall relationship with Hashem, so the sages made a bold move. They used their powers to remove the lust for idol worship, knowing full well that our holy spiritual connection of prophecy would be lost as well.

So how does one connect to Hashem when his main technique of spirituality is removed? The answer is that the Torah went into exile. This means that the Torah has a unique dynamic relationship with the Jews. When we change, the Torah changes to meet us. This doesn’t mean that the laws or the practices of the Torah change, but our interface with it changes. At the time when prophecy ceased, the Greeks were coming into power, with their rationalist and analytical ideas, so Hashem revealed a new aspect of the Torah, which was focused primarily on analyzation. This was the beginning of Jewish debating, opinion and the study of the the Talmud.

The study of Jewish law continued to grow from the Babylonian exile until approximately 1740/1840, when the Baal Shem Tov realized that on a national level we were too used to thinking about the Torah intellectually, and we almost completely lost the Divine language of experience (Tzavaas Harivash #80). This resulted in the Jewish people learning text superficially, without understanding its deeper meditational influence and references. But that’s not all he noticed, there was another change too. It used to be that people naturally understood their life’s purpose, know as their shoresh neshama. But as time went on throughout our exile, the Baal Shem Tov saw (Shaar Hayichud Vhaemuna) that there was an inter-inclusion of the souls, called Hiskalilus. Everything was mixed up now and even the simple people wanted to experience the Divine, a phenomenon that never existed prior to. This is because Hashem started to exponentially hasten the coming of the redemption, as is stated in Isaiah (60) “B’ita Achishena” (“in it’s time, I will hasten it”), which the Zohar predicts to mean specifically from around the eighteenth century. In order to meet the needs of the changing Jewish souls, the Baal Shem Tov began to reveal the secrets of the Torah and meditation, which were lost, hidden, shunned and exiled. The path of Chassidus is no more and no less than the path of prophecy being re-revealed in our generation.

But from that time in the 18th century, the Divine revelation didn’t only start to ramp up from the Torah’s side. The discoveries of science, technology and psychology also began to burst forth at an unprecedented speed and accuracy. This dual revelation of science, from the bottom up, and Torah, from the top down is the fulfillment of that same prophecy predicted in the Zohar (Parshas Vayera). The Torah writes regarding the flood in the times of Noah (Genesis 7:11) “on this day, all the springs of the great deep were split, and the windows of the heavens opened up ”. The Zohar explains that there will be a similar two-way flood of consciousness that will reoccur in the final redemption. “The springs of the great deep” will be the knowledge that science reveals, and “the windows of Heaven” will reveal the consciousness of the Divine in the Torah path. When these two paths meet, the world will be flooded with knowledge and consciousness of the Divine. This is happening now and, please G-d, we should merit to see the end, when the whole world will proclaim Hashem’s unity, Amen!

 

Photo of Abir Yaakov Painting – By David Aharon Podbere

 

 

Accessing more

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Rosh Hashana 2018 fell out on a Sunday night. I left to Uman on Thursday night and had the most uplifting last shabbos of the year there. Some time later, when talking to my wife, I noticed that she was upset at me. She couldn’t believe that I just assumed it was ok to leave the family for shabbos too. I didn’t even discuss the idea with her. She said, “It’s already hard enough that you leave the family for Rosh Hashana, but when you leave for the shabbos before too, it makes me feel unappreciated”.

I sat there listening to her and I knew that she was right. Of course, I said I’m sorry and I’ll try to be more appreciative. The next week, during hisbodedus, I was praying to be more grateful and I noticed something profound. When we’re ungrateful, we are very much unaware of what’s happening around us. Conversely, when a person is appreciative, he notices a lot of the good in his life. In Hebrew it’s called הכרת הטוב, which literally means recognizing the good. When we’re grateful, we’re significantly more alert and aware of what’s going on in our life.

Reb Nosson develops this idea (Kilei Beheima 4:6):

King David sings in Tehillim (Psalms 3) “A song by David, as he was escaping from his son Absalom“. The Talmud asks (Brachot 7b), “A song? [Who sings a song during such a calamity?], he should of said “A dirge by David”! The Talmud answers, that David knew that a son has compassion on his father, so he was at least happy that it was his son who who made him a fugitive. Reb Nosson explains: David was in such a state of distress, fleeing from Jerusalem for his life from his traitorous son, that his mind was warped and he literally couldn’t cry out to Hashem, as he was used to doing. He became so infatuated with his stress, that he was losing his mind. But because of his great righteousness, Hashem lit up his eyes with an idea. He could at least thank Hashem for all the good that he had until now. Little by little he started to feel grateful until, amazingly, he was actually able to see something good about the situation he found himself in; that at least his son might have compassion on him, as opposed to a stranger trying to usurp his kingdom. בַּצָּר הִרְחַבְתָּ לִּי, even in the most difficult position, he found space to praise Hashem. Only through this meditation, did his mind open up. He found a part of himself that he was previously unable to access.

This is why we sing Psukei D’zimra before we pray each morning, (and the Amidah prayer itself also starts with praise of Hashem). In order to access our deepest place of need, we must first – as my friend Reb Leibish says – “bliss out” on Hashem. That intense exalting, which takes work, is a key to a deeper place in our soul. When we’re ungrateful, we’re unaware. It’s like walking in the dark. We don’t see everything that’s being done for us, and Reb Nosson is saying, we don’t even know ourselves. But when we work on finding the good in all the situations, it’s like turning on the lights and we’re able to see clearly what’s happening on the outside and simultaneously deeply access what’s on the inside.

The greatness of empathy

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The first thing the Torah tells us about Moshe’s personality is “וַיֵּצֵא אֶל אֶחָיו, וַיַּרְא בְּסִבְלֹתָם”, he went out to observe his brothers and he saw their suffering. Rashi explains that he focused on their pain and kept their suffering in his heart. We clearly see Moshe’s great humility from his introduction. In Birchos Hashahar 5 Reb Nosson brings a midrash (Vayikra Rabba Ch. 37) that Hashem said, “because you cared about your brothers’ suffering, you will merit to be taught the laws of vows”.

The obvious question is, what’s the connection between the two things? I understand that it’s a great reward to be taught any law from God, but why is Moshe’s empathy for his people rewarded with being taught the laws of vows? Reb Nosson gives his own answer (ibid).

I was thinking as follows: One of the most interesting type of vows is the Nazir’s vow. A nazir is someone who voluntarily vowed to abstain from all alcohol derived from grapes. (He also can’t cut his hair or become ritually impure). When the Torah introduces this idea it says:

“אִישׁ אוֹ אִשָּׁה כִּי יַפְלִא לִנְדֹּר נֶדֶר נָזִיר”

“If a man or woman sets themselves apart by making a nazarite vow” 

The word יַפְלִא, to set himself apart, says the Even Ezra stems from the root פלא (wonder). Meaning that he did a wondrous thing by making a vow. Here the whole world is running after their desires and this person is a marvel, in that he sets himself apart and abstains from his desires. The same is true for many vows. If someone vows to give charity or vows to do a mitzvah, this is truly a wonder; something so rare.

I think that this is why Moshe merited to be taught the laws of vows for his compassion. The same way that it’s a phenomenon for someone to want to abstain from his desires, when the rest of the world is stuck in the mud of bodily desires, so too it’s equally a rarity for someone to care about another person. The same selfishness that entraps people to follow their lusts, hooks them to be narcissistic. The Torah says that יֵצֶר לֵב הָאָדָם רַע מִנְּעֻרָיו, a person’s natural tendency is to be preoccupied with himself. Children only care about themselves and, unfortunately, too many people never grow up. If the first thing the Torah tells us about Moshe was that he was compassionate for others, that means it was an essential value of his. The more selfless you are, the greater you are, because you are more like God himself, who is totally selfless. Sadly, it’s not common enough to see true altruism, just like it’s not that common to witness people abstain from the desires of this world.

May we merit to truly be selfless and dedicated to the service of Hashem and our fellow people.

Not so glamorous

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It’s hard to believe that Moshe, the greatest man who ever lived had a seven day standoff with Hashem, refusing to take out the Jews from Egypt. I mean, if God came to me and said “I want you to be the redeemer”, I would puff-up my chest and say “bring it on!” But Moshe has this long, drawn-out exchange with Hashem giving reason after reason why he’s not the right guy for the job. His last rebuttal was as follows: “שְׁלַח נָא בְּיַד תִּשְׁלָח”. Rashi brings two explanations for this statement: First, “Send [my brother Aharon, who you usually send as your emissary”. The second one is more peculiar. “Send someone else, because I won’t end up finishing the job, by bringing them into Israel as their redeemer”. (A side question is, how did Moshe know at this point that he won’t bring them into Israel? But that’s for another discussion).

Reb Leibish Hundert commented that this comment from Moshe is so relatable. He was basically saying, “what’s the point in sending me if I’m gonna mess it up anyway?” How many times do we wake up late and say to ourselves, “Oh forget it! I’m not gonna go to minyan or even to my exercise class, because I’ll be late!” Like, if it’s not perfect, why try at all?!

I was thinking today that one of the two lessons that Rebbe Nachman said to never stop reviewing was Tinyana 12, referred to as אַיֵּה. It’s generally understood that the Rebbe held it to be so important because it teaches us that we can find Hashem even in the lowest places, but let’s not forget how the lesson starts: “When someone follows their own cleverness, they can make many bad mistakes…The essence of Judaism is to serve God in simplicity and innocence, without any sophistication. We should simply examine everything we do and determine the following: Will it reveal the Glory of God? It if will, then do it. If it won’t, then don’t.” This simple question is so sharp. It can cut through so many doubts we have, and it’s important to keep it handy. Will [the following action] reveal the Glory of God [or not]? It if will, then do it. If it won’t, then don’t. With this litmus-question, we’re able to easily see through a lot of the stories we tell ourselves. It helps us understand clearly that we should grab every opportunity we have to come closer to Hashem, even if it’s not what we expected or what we had hoped for. This avodah is called בִּתְמִימוּת וּבִפְשִׁיטוּת, serving Hashem with simplicity. I guess it’s possible that Moshe felt that if he would be Hashem’s emissary, God’s glory would not be revealed? But if Moshe, on his awesome level, would have asked himself this question, then maybe he wouldn’t have angered Hashem with his stubbornness?

 

The search team

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Rebbe Nachman says in Torah 188 that we need to go to the tzaddik to find our lost objects. You see, before we were born we were taught and shown everything we need to do in this world, but when we’re born we forget it. So we have to go searching for our lost objects. The tzaddik finds our lost objects, because he doesn’t stop searching until he finds them. Reb Nosson (Aveida U’metzia 3:2) clarifies that there’s no magic going on here.

״בכל פעם שבאים אל הצדיק…הוא מאיר עליהם אור גדול עד שיש להם כח בעצמם לחפש ולבקש אחר שארי איבדתם שעדיין לא מצאו״

“Every time we go to the the tzaddik, he shines a bright light for us, which EMPOWERS US to search for what we lost”. As Matisyahu, the jewish-reggae star said, “the Rebbeh is the geologist of the soul. He can show you where to dig and what to dig for. But the digging you must do yourself. The digging you must do yourself”.

Feeling small on Chanuka

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Do you find it hard to stay lit on Chanuka? The more people I talk to, the more I hear how difficult it is to stay positive on Chanuka. Some people have had some of the darkest days of their lives when the Chanuka candles were burning. Is this some type of coincidence?

(If you don’t relate to what I’m saying here, then I guess just skip the following article).

As a kid, Chanuka was awesome! We looked forward to our presents and we loved lighting the menorah and the time off from school. But as we grew older, maybe we began to notice that although Chanuka has so much good to offer, we felt like it was hard to remain happy, and we easily sunk into a low state of mind.

(I could easily pin this on having all of our children home for 8 days 😆, but that’s true of all our holidays. There’s something different about Chanuka. What is it?)

In Tinyana 2, Rebbe Nachman teaches that the days of Chanuka are days of appreciation. Without getting into the depth of it, he goes on to connect appreciation to praising Hashem, the delight of the next world, true lovingkindness, halacha and truth. Those are some serious topics. It’s not so easy to be truly appreciative. Maybe you even say ‘thank you Hashem’ all day and night, but then something little doesn’t go your way and you get all bent out of shape. Why aren’t you appreciative then? Why aren’t you praising Hashem then? It’s because absolute truth and deep gratitude takes a great deal of work. How about true lovingkindness, even when it’s inconvenient? Or when it will go unnoticed? Not so easy then, right? And following halacha, specifically originating halacha, takes nearly complete humility. These traits take a certain amount of refinement. We don’t know too much about the next world (Olam Haba), but we know it’s called Olam Ha’emes, a world of truth. In that space, everything will finally be manifest. We won’t be fooled by our illusions and egotistic perceptions anymore.

It’s no coincidence that Chanuka comes out in the time of year when the night hours are the longest. The same way the darkness of the winter has already intensified, so too our spiritual darkness has already become overwhelming. We’re now as far as we can possibly be from Simchas Torah without spiritually collapsing, so Chazal gave us the lights of Chanuka. But the lights are so puny! A few measly lights for a half hour a night, barely three feet off the floor? That’s gonna do it?

Throughout the Hassidic writings all the Masters are talking about how holy the lights of Chanuka are. Even the Talmud asks, if a poor man only has a small amount of oil should he use it to light a Chanuka candle or a Shabbos candle? To even ask that question shows the greatness of Chanuka. What are we missing?

The same thing we’re missing is exactly the greatness of this amazing holiday. It’s true – we are so far from real appreciation of Hashem and acting with real kindness and truth. That’s why the lights are so little. We have so little of it. The darkness of our distortion, perversion and misrepresentation is crushing. We have very small keilim (equipment) to hold this strong light. But you know what? We do have a small amount of light. We might think it’s trivial, and our attempts to act kindly and live with sincerity are inconsequential but we’re dead wrong. Hashem doesn’t have our bloated complicated perceptions of reality. Hashem is truthful. He truly appreciates our struggle. He knows every time we try and He is appreciative.

We need to stare into the Chanuka lights and burn away our false perceptions of who we are. We’re not bad, and we don’t need to inflate our ego to protect others from knowing how bad we feel about ourselves. This is why the real tzaddikim chapped on to Chanuka so strongly. All the tzaddikim are geniuses in seeing the good. They see those feeble Chanuka lights and they see great torches of holiness. As we see can attest to, from past years of Chanuka, the light of truth is almost blinding. It’s not easy to go through Chanuka and stay positive. But we just need to do two things. First, we need to light one small fire and continue adding to it. Don’t try and win the game tonight. It’s a process. Start small. Appreciate the small things. And second, we need to believe in the tzaddikim. They’ve done the work. They’re gurus of seeing the good and acting truthfully. Simply believing in them and asking Hashem to help us in their merit see the good in ourselves will lift us up. This is a holiday of miracles. It’s not about what we can do. It’s about doing a little and believing that He will do the rest.

Goody goody

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“…And this is the aspect of Yosef Hatzaddik (Joseph), of whom it says, ‘איש אשר רוח אלקים בו’ (‘A man who possesses the spirit of God within him’). Because Yosef is the type of tzaddik that can go down to the lowest places and extract souls from the dungeons. Yosef himself also fell to those dark places, as it says ‘לעבד נמכר יוסף’ (‘Joseph was sold as a slave’). Slavery is the aspect of sadness, (as we learned in another place) which comes from the poison of the snake, which is an aspect of Ham, the forefather of Egypt, who was cursed to be a slave of slaves. Yosef went through all that. He was in jail for many years and he had gigantic challenges with lust, which comes from sadness. But precisely because he went through those challenging times and was able to hold one to his faith, he merited to attain additional holiness. And that’s why he has the power to reverse everything to GOOD; to reverse pain and suffering into joy. This is what Rachel prophesied when Joseph was born. She said ‘אסף אלקים את חרפתי’,  ‘Hashem collected (אסף) my disgrace’. Because that’s Yosef. He can go through all the disgraces and remove them. And then Rachel said, ‘יוסף ה’ לי בן אחר’ ‘Hashem should add (יוסף) to me another son’. Because not only does Yosef erase the disgrace. He can do even more (יוסף); He can turn it all into GOOD”.  (Hilchos Hoda’ah 6:32)

“Joseph was a seventeen year old shepherd” Says Reb Nosson, (Hashkamas Haboker 4:16), “A shepherd is what we call the leaders of the generation. He was the greatest of his generation. And he was seventeen, which has the numerical value of טוב (GOOD). Because Yosef was good to everyone and was able to bring everyone closer to God. He was able to see the good in the lowest people”.

This is the power of the real tzaddikim. They don’t put us down. They aren’t looking for the ‘elite students’, whatever that is (if it even exists?) They are masters of finding the good. No matter what adversity they go through, they pray and pray to see the good. They believe so strongly that Hashem is perfectly good that they won’t entertain the thought that their circumstance can be bad. Instead they hope endlessly and profusely to see the good. The same is true with how they interact with others. They only try to find the good. They’re not foolish. They know that the low people have bad traits. But they also know that their eyes should only be used to see good. It’s not always easy. But they won’t yield until they can find something good and bring the lowly person back to Hashem.

As I was reading through the story of Yosef this year, it struck me again how often the torah uses the word ויהי (and it was) in the story. That word is found in the story an abnormal amount of times. The Talmud in Megilla (10b) says that the Torah uses the word ויהי to precede a difficult time. I decided to count it up. From Chapter 39, when it says ‘ויוסף הורד מצרימה’ (‘and Joseph was brought down to Egypt’), the Torah writes the word ויהי a total of 17 times till the end of the parsha, which is just when things start to turn around. As Reb Nosson said above, 17 has the numerical value of טוב (GOOD). This is a beautiful clue the Torah is dropping us to show how even in the darkest, scariest time of his life, Joseph doesn’t stop clinging to Hashem and turning everything into good.

No doubt, this type of faith and ability to turn everything into good is really hard to do. Most of us sink further and further away from Hashem – and positive thoughts – when we experience adversity. But Breslov Torah teaches that we need to trust in the tzaddik. He did it, he can do it, and if we believe in him, attach ourselves to him and his ability to find the good, then we’ve admitted that there is a possibility of good, even in the adversity. This is how we can slowly grow to see more and more good in our lives. This is the greatest investment. The more we see good, the better life gets – no matter what position we are in. It’s worth the work. Good luck!

 

Finding the space

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Sometimes the stress of life, specifically in hard times, can become so intolerable that it feels like our whole world is crumbling before us. They say “when it rains, it pours”. It’s almost like the side of evil is going for the knockout punch. He sees us floundering, with very little resolve or hope, so he brings an onslaught of – maybe even small – inconveniences or nuisances to finish us off in a final blow.

What do you do when it seems like everything is going wrong?

King David sang (Psalms 4:2) “בצר הרחבת לי”, “You gave me space in my pain”. צר literally means narrow. So David was saying something like, I was narrow-minded, and only thinking about my pain and struggles. It seemed that everywhere I turned, there were more obstacles and suffering. My world was caving-in on me. But You, Hashem, gave me space, even in that constricted mindset.

Reb Nosson says on that verse (Kilei B’heima 4:8) that in every state of pain or suffering, our minds can find a space that’s free of the pain. We need to search for those spaces of ease when we’re feeling squashed by the stress around us.

Reb Nosson suggests that the space can simply be recognizing the good that Hashem gave us until now. I hate to say this, but in my inferior opinion, I think that his suggestion is for someone on a high level. When my world is crumbling, I find it very difficult to be thankful for the good in my life. My narrow-mindedness doesn’t really allow me to focus on the good of the past. I need to get back my equilibrium before I can start being thankful. I find that breathing can be very helpful. I’m not even talking about fancy meditation and not even necessarily following my breath. Just putting my phone away and breathing quietly for a few minutes, maybe with my eyes closed; maybe not, gives me some space. When I find myself too worked up to even breathe, I find it can even be helpful to merely recognize that I’m flooded with emotion. Just noticing that I’m overwhelmed makes me feel a bit less overwhelmed. Maybe even say something like, “I’m overwhelmed. I feel like the whole world is against me. Everywhere I turn, I get more and more stressed”. But even without using words, just observing the feeling is a space that’s free of the feeling. When things are so tough, we tend to think that we need an enormous miracle to get out of it, but it usually doesn’t take that much to release the pressure.

This is why when Jacob sent the gift of many animals to Esau, he left a space between each herd. Rashi says it was to make the gift look very big, but Reb Nosson adds that symbolically, it was to show that in every time of struggle (like the one Jacob was having with Esau), there is a space that’s free of struggle. Our job is simply to find it. It’s not easy, but it’s simple and it makes all the difference. Good luck!

His greatness

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In Torah 25, Rebbe Nachman writes about spiritually ascending from level to level. He says that at the entrance, so to speak, of every new level there are klipos (a protective outer space, like a shell) that prevent us from entering. These klipos present themselves in the form of illusions, doubts, strong urges, confusion and obstacles. The only way, says the Rebbe, to overcome these klipos is by revealing Hashem’s greatness. So how do we reveal Hashem’s greatness in the world? By giving charity. Simply understood, this could mean that when we emulate God’s kindness and assist the less fortunate, His greatness becomes known. This idea is similar to how the Talmud (Yoma 86a) expounds the words, “You must Love your God, Hashem”, i.e. that He should be loved [by others] through you.

But then in the last few lines of the lesson, the Rebbe slips in another little something. “You should also know, that in order to overpower the klipos that surround these levels, you need to awaken the joy in your mitzvos. Meaning, [when you do the mitzvah], you should be happy that you were blessed to come close to Hashem. Through this joy, you can overpower the klipa and ascend to the next level”

One might ask, didn’t the Rebbe just say the way to overcome these klipos is by revealing Hashem’s greatness? Why is he saying now that the way to vanquish them is by doing mitzvos with joy?

I’d like to suggest that both paths are one and the same. Unfortunately, but understandably, sometimes we do mitzvos simply because we did them yesterday and the day before. But when we’re excited by mitzvos because we appreciate how fortunate we are to align with our Creator, it’s a major revelation of His greatness.

Imagine you see a guy walking to shul in the morning with a minor frown and slugged shoulders. Do you wanna go where he’s going? I think not! But what about the other guy who’s skipping into shul and snapping his fingers? “Where’s he going?” you think to yourself. “Oh, to shul? What’s there? Davening? Praising Hashem? That’s all?! Just praising Hashem makes him so happy? Hashem must be great!

Cute, right? Do mitzvos with Joy, like what we teach little kids in cheder.

It’s no small thing. Rebbe Nachman writes (Torah 24) that by performing mitzvos with joy, one can reach the light of Ein Sof, which is way above all the levels of souls. And it’s not just a chassidus thing either. The Mishna Brurah (O”CH 669:11) writes that the Arizal said about himself that the highest levels he ever reached were through the joy of performing mitzvos.

When we strip it all down to what’s really important, it’s easy to see that there’s nothing as good as being with Him. Everything else is stained and fragile, but He is perfect and strong. He is far better than anything we could imagine. And he gave us the instructions how to connect; With his mitzvos. That’s something to truly be happy about! Lcha’im!