Tadasana

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“Sometimes someone falls into a rut. And this time the rut is really really low, God forbid…And he starts having doubts and negative thoughts. Some of his thoughts even seem bizarre and dizzying. He’s constantly confused. Very confused (בִלְבּוּלִים רַבִּים)! Even though in this dark place it seems absolutely impossible to find Hashem, he still has some hope if he seeks out and looks for Hashem from that place. [How does he do that? How can he find Hashem in such a slump. By] asking ‘אַיֵּה מְקוֹם כְּבוֹדוֹ’, ‘Where are You Hashem’? The farther he feels from Hashem, the more he should express his pain and search for Hashem even more. [‘Where are You now Hashem? Look how far I’ve fallen now, can You possibly be here with me?’]. Through this method of longing and yearning for Hashem, recognizing how far one is from Him, one can actually rise out of this pit with a perfect ascent, because the aspect of אַיֵּה is exceedingly Holy and powerful”. (Meshivas Nefesh 30)

Rebbe Nachman urged his followers to live with this teaching; To constantly review it and to always ask אַיֵּה. In fact, even the greatest tzaddikim never stop asking אַיֵּה. The more they learn and ascend, the more they feel, in a sense, humbled and distant from Hashem. They ask אַיֵּה again and again. ‘Where are You now? I thought I knew where You were but now I realize that I didn’t know anything at all’.

I want to point out something very obvious from this teaching. The Rebbe talks about בִלְבּוּלִים, the uneasy feeling of confusion. It’s not uncommon these days to feel this feeling very strongly. Life moves really fast nowadays and there are so many expectations that we have from ourselves and that others have from us. We can literally walk around feeling drained from an overload of disorder and perplexity.

In Psalms 86, King David says  יַחֵד לְבָבִי לְיִרְאָה שְׁמֶךָ,  ‘Align my heart to be in awe of You’. The heart is the place of our thoughts (Torah 49). This is a cry to Hashem to straighten us out. Sometimes we just want to get to zero! Just put me back together. “Align us”, Hashem. There are so many בִלְבּוּלִים nowadays. We can’t do it without You. Unbend us, help us breathe; Help us think straight at least. יַחֵד לְבָבִי – Turn my many hearts into one heart, your heart!

tadasana

Whether you know it or not

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“In every Jew there is an aspect of malchut, (rule, authority or influence). Everyone [rules] according to how much they possesses this influence. There [can be] one who rules over his household, another whose rule is even broader and even one who rules over the entire world…This aspect of malchut can be manifest in the revealed or in the hidden”. (Torah 56)

What does Rebbe Nachman mean, that a person’s malchut can be manifest in the revealed or in the hidden? Sometimes we clearly see that a person has overt authority. For example, the president of a country, in many ways, rules over its citizens. But other times, it may seem that a person has no authority over anyone at all, but in the most concealed way he rules over many. In fact, after delivering this lesson, the Rebbe said, “You think the only influence I have is over you. But the truth is that I have power over all the tzaddikim of the generation, only it’s hidden” (Tzaddik #150).

How does a person exercise his malchut? In Torah 49 the Rebbe taught that prayer is the way to lift up one’s malchut. When we pray with full belief in our prayers, we can certainly increase our affect on people and the world at large.

But why does Hashem allow one person to rule over many others? And why does Hashem have this unique relationship with the tzaddik and, in a certain sense, leaves us in the tzaddik’s jurisdiction?

Let’s take a step back. Hashem Himself also maintains this hidden influence over everything. In fact through the prophet Malachi, Hashem said “In every place, offerings are burned and presented to My Name”. This is referring even to idol worship. As Rebbe Nachman elaborates later in the lesson, in the most covert way, Hashem exists even in the greatest sins. There is no space in which Hashem doesn’t exist, but in sin He is greatly concealed. He made it that way, so that we can have free choice. If we were fully aware of His presence, we would be coerced to obey His will. The same is true with the tzaddik. If we were aware of his influence, we would be forced to follow his lessons, thereby losing our free choice. So, because of Hashem’s kindness and desire to reward us, he conceals Himself and allows free choice.

Now back to the original question. Why are we under the tzaddik’s jurisdiction? Can’t we have a direct line to Hashem?

Hashem created such a big world with millions of different organisms in it, ranging from rocks and leaves, to animals and mankind. But who did He create it for? He created it for mankind. But let’s be even more specific. Did he create it for all of mankind? Well, as Rashi tells us, in the first word of the Torah בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית, Hashem created the world for the Jewish people (בשביל ישראל שנקראו ראשית). But He didn’t just give us this world as a present that we don’t earn. בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית also is referring to the Torah (בשביל התורה שנקראת ראשית). He created the world for us to learn the Torah and follow His perfect instructions how to live in the world. Unfortunately, not all of us are living up to this task at every moment. Because of our shortcomings, and our lack of connection to the Torah, there are moments when it seems that Hashem, if you could say this, made the world for nothing. But Hashem is the best CEO. He doesn’t make a business plan and not carry it out. In His amazing kindness, he chooses to deal directly with the most righteous people, who justify the world’s creation at every moment. (For how the world can exist when the tzaddik is not learning Torah, see Tinyana 78). The word tzaddik, of course, means to justify. The tzaddikim justify the world’s creation, as we clearly see with the first person the Torah calls a tzaddik, Noach.

So, it’s because Hashem loves the Jewish people and desires the continuation of the world that He allows us to attach ourselves to the tzaddikim and relate to Him. Because the tzaddikim are so awesomely humble, our relationship to Hashem through them is totally unadulterated. It’s the cleanest pipe possible. In fact, they want nothing more, and they sacrifice everything they have just so that we can connect with Him, which is why He chooses to interact with us through them. If we attach ourselves to the tzaddikim, then we will have a more intentional connection to Hashem. If we don’t, He will interact with us through them without our knowledge.

But don’t forget how we started this article. We all have the capability of lifting up our own malchut and affecting others too. That comes from a real desire to affect the world outside us, peeling away the concealment, believing in our prayers and praying for the good of the world. So let’s get to work…

 

 

Out of this world

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The Arizal taught that before creation, there was only the light of einsof. Hashem wanted to unveil his glory and needed to create humans with which to reveal His greatness. So He constricted His light, so to speak, and created an empty space in which He created all the worlds, synonymous with His attributes. Of course, without the constant connection and life force of the Creator, these worlds cannot exist. Therefore, even though, Hashem created an empty space, there must still be a trace connecting the worlds to Him. That trace is called a קו, a line, or רשימו, the imprint.

In Birkas Hashachar 5, Reb Nosson reveals that the verse Shema Yisraelשְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל, יְהֹוָה אֱלהֵינוּ, יְהֹוָה אֶחָד, has 25 letters in it, whereas the verse Baruch Shem בָּרוּךְ, שֵׁם כְּבוד מַלְכוּתו, לְעולָם וָעֶד, has 24 letters in it. I’d like to say that this is symbolic of the above teaching from the Arizal. What is Shema Yisrael? It’s affirming the oneness of God. It’s admission of nothing other than the Creator. That’s an aspect of einsof before the creation; total unity. Baruch Shem is more relevant to us. It talks about Hashem’s glory in the worlds, which is our avoda to reveal. The difference between the 24 letters in Baruch Shem and the 25 letters in Shema Yisrael is, of course, only one. This one represents the trace of einsof in this world that gives it vitality. I think that we express these two phenomenons in prayer often. First in Kaddish. The Kaddish starts off with יִתְגַּדַּל וְיִתְקַדַּשׁ שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא (His great name should be glorified and sanctified). This is an exclamation of His greatness and oneness, even before creation. Then we praise Him by saying יְהֵא שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא מְבָרַךְ לְעָלַם וּלְעָלְמֵי עָלְמַיָּא, (His great name should be blessed in all the worlds). Here we’re talking about His greatness after creation, in relation to the worlds. The same is true in the Kedusha prayer. The first proclamation we make is קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ ה’ צְבָאוֹת מְלֹא כָל הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ, this is saying that Hashem is greater than any world can fathom. Then we say בָּרוּךְ כְּבוֹד ה’ מִמְּקוֹמוֹ, this means that Hashem is great from His place, meaning He, so to speak, has a place in the worlds.

What does this mean to us? The fact that we have a connection to einsof is why there can never be reason to despair. This is the source of all Teshuva. We humans, even when we’re dirtied from sin in the lowest of all worlds, are always connected to something out of this world. We might have to hush the Baruch Shem in silence most of the time, but we still must say it. We recognize that the Creator is beyond any comprehension, but we must also admit that we have a direct line to the highest places unimaginable.

Up up and…up some more

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The Talmud describes the events at Mt. Sinai. “When the Jews said they would perform the mitzvos even before they heard what the mitzvos were, also known as נעשה ונשמע, six hundred thousand ministering angels came down and tied two crowns on the head of every Jew, one crown for נעשה and one crown for נשמע. When they sinned with the golden calf, 1.2 million destructive angels came and removed their crowns…Reish Lakish said, In the future Hashem will return those crowns to us. As Isaiah prophesied “The redeemed of God will return to Zion singing, with everlasting joy on their heads” (Shabbos 88a).

From this last verse in the Talmud, Rebbe Nachman learned (Torah 22) that the idea of נעשה ונשמע is what joy is all about. The Rebbe understood that נעשה ונשמע wasn’t just a moment in time when the Jews in the desert showed tremendous loyalty, but rather it’s something that we experience constantly. Every person on his own level has the things he understands and the things he doesn’t. As he continues his service of God and ascends from level to level, things that were once hidden from him, נשמע, become known to him and doable, נעשה. But now there are new things that are hidden from him, נשמע.

Very beautifully, the Rebbe likens נעשה to performing mitzvos, whereas נשמע is likened to prayer. It’s clear why נעשה would be likened to performing mitzvos, but why is נשמע likened to prayer? Because prayer is the way we attach ourselves to what we don’t have. Prayer is hope. Hope elevates us into the ‘real world’, although we can’t see it. On an even deeper level, prayer is heartfelt and the heart is connected to the infinite (see Torah 49).

So נעשה ונשמע is about elevating ourselves to higher spiritual levels where we have new insight and new mysteries. But what’s the connection to joy?

Here’s where we might be making a mistake:

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Many of us think that we’ll attain our happiness when we reach our goals. We work hard our whole lives waiting to retire and sit on some hammock with a Pina Colada, as if that is the happiness we were always seeking. But happiness isn’t about reaching the destination. True joy is found in the journey itself. The process of growth, with its euphoric victories and emphatic falls give us the greatest satisfaction. Reaching the end-goal might leave us with uncomfortable feelings of emptiness and regret, but working hard towards our goals is where we find true pleasure. There’s something about the נשמע that gives us a glimpse of our smallness when compared to the infinity of God. That feeling makes us turn inwards and pray from the depths of our infinite hearts to reach higher levels of oneness with God and the world. That prayer is the journey with the greatest joy!

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Come as you are

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I find it so difficult to concentrate in prayer. I think the hardest part about it for me is that when I stop to pray I feel weighed down by either the things I’ve recently been busy with or the things I want to accomplish later. So I struggle to quiet my mind for that short time.

I read recently in Miriam Kosman’s book, “Circle Arrow, Spiral: Exploring Gender in Judaism”, that it’s a male quality to want to do and a female quality to want to be. I must be very manly because all I want to do is produce, perform and execute. I find it much more difficult to develop, nurture and be mindful.

 

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Rebbe Nachman says in Torah 49 that prayer is an aspect of the divine-feature Royalty (מלכות). King David who embodied this divine-feature sang of himself (Psalms 109:4), “and I am [all] prayer”. The divine feature of Royalty is a feminine aspect of God, so based on the above understanding, King David is claiming that he’s satisfied being in the state of prayer. He doesn’t need to go out and shout victory over his opponents. He’s not thinking about the future as he’s praying. He’s not itching to get-on to the next thing. He genuinely feels complete with just praying. This is an attribute of humility, because in order to fully rely on God, we need to hand over the reigns to Him. If we don’t entirely let go of the control, then at least a part of us will need some action other than prayer.

The Rebbe then goes on to teach (in a most amazing way, that’s sadly too complicated for this short article) that Teshuva – Coming back to God – is lifting ourselves back up to this type of Royalty. You see in the beginning of the lesson he speaks about positive thoughts and negative thoughts. The negative thoughts create evil realities and weaken the feature of Royalty. Teshuva is when we elevate the Royalty back to its place. (As the Zohar says, תשובה is the same letters as ‘תשוב ‘ה, which means to return the letter ה back to its place. The letter ה represents Royalty). According to how we’re learning Royalty, as a feminine, nurturing and present space, Teshuva is releasing ourselves from our need to move forward. Obviously many times that means curtailing our immoral passions. But I’m referring to something more profound. Coming back to God means humbling ourselves and realizing that we’ve been so macho-like, trying to perform and accomplish. Of course we mean well and He wants us to try in every way possible to succeed. But ultimately there is nothing happening outside His dominion. When it’s time to come back to God, there’s nothing else to do. There’s no life outside of His life-force. So it’s time to let go and just be, as hard as that is for some of us. We need to put down our phones, quiet our minds and be present in the moment.

This explains the Mishna that says “The first pious ones used to wait an hour before they prayed”. Maimonides says they did this to quiet their mind. Many of us feel we don’t have that extra time and we’re probably right. But there are other techniques to help. Try keeping a finger on the place or try saying the words out loud and melodically. But most importantly, when we step into synagogue – or into our own private space to pray – we need to recognize very clearly that we’ve just set aside time to leave our world and enter God’s world. Let’s take a look at our watch. Give ourselves X minutes and make them count. I want to stress that nobody at all cares if we finish all the words. It’s not a race, so what’s the rush? We anyways committed to being here. So let’s quiet our minds and be active in our prayers. Let’s try hard to make each word meaningful. It’s my prayer that we can all attain this peace of mind and trust in God. This will elevate our own Royalty and His Royalty so we can merit to unite with the true King on the glorious day of His coronation, Rosh Hashana.

 

Heartfelt

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In 1798, during the Napoleonic Wars, Rebbe Nachman bravely made the pilgrimage from the Ukraine to the Land of Israel. Under the constant threat of death, the journey took more than 4 months. When he finally set foot on the holy soil and took four steps, he turned to his attendant and said, “I have attained everything I came for. We can go back now!”

The Land of Israel, and more specifically Jerusalem, is the heart of the world, as Isaiah prophesied “דברו על לב ירושלים” (Speak to the heart of Jerusalem). Those words aren’t an embellishment. Jerusalem is truly a heart!

What’s a heart? Besides being a central organ in our bodies, we use the word heart to describe our emotions. “He has such a good heart…” “My heart goes out to her…” “She broke my heart…”Rebbe Nachman teaches in Torah 49 that all of our expressions (a.k.a. attributes) stem from our hearts. All of our passion, yearning, despair, empathy, ecstasy and shame are born in our hearts. So not only is Jerusalem the center of the world, as evidenced by every faith’s interest in it, but all the emotions and feelings of the world are rooted in Jerusalem.

What does this mean?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot and here’s the only way I can understand it.

Our hearts are broken because Jerusalem is in ruins. Yes, there’s Mamilla and the Waldorf and even the Western Wall, but the Jerusalem we see is devastated. But don’t we see that people are still joyous and passionate even in this exile? In truth, I would say no. But because of God’s kindness, and the performance of mitzvos, to a small extent we still have positive feelings often. But our joy is a mere fraction of the joy we would experience in redemption, may it come speedily in our days. Amen!

 מי שלא ראה שמחת בית-השואבה, לא ראה שמחה מימיו

Whoever didn’t witness the the joy of the water libation on sukkos, never witnessed joy!

מי שלא ראה ירושלים בתפארתה, לא ראה כרך נחמד מעולם

Whoever didn’t see Jerusalem in its glory, never saw a beautiful city in their life!

 

What’s happening?

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You might think I’m unrealistic but I don’t believe we’re here on Earth to commemorate the past. Rather, I trust that when we perform mitzvos we are attaching to something supernatural. Although I don’t see it or feel it, when I lay tefillin every morning I’m confident that by surrendering my mind and soul to my Creator, I’m opening up my head and my heart to His flow of purity that will protect me from filth and sin.

This week is Shvuos. Although it’s a very nice idea to commemorate that our nation received the Torah thousands of years ago from God, that’s not what’s happening! We, as a nation, are consecrating a new marriage to God and receiving the Torah anew as our ketuba. Here’s the crazier thing: The more we believe it, the more it affects us. But if we don’t believe it, it’s almost as if it doesn’t happen to us at all. God is hiding Himself. It’s up to us to reveal Him. If we don’t, then He remains invisible.

Rebbe Nachman says in Torah 49 that “serving God and creating the world is exactly the same thing”. He wasn’t speaking tongue-in-cheek. The world we know so intimately is overly convincing that nothing miraculous is ever happening. But it’s so pitiful to live in that reality. Having nothing to do with the next world, I rather die having believed in my ability to uplift and affect this world than to go about my daily life like an ant marching…

What now?

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I need structure in my life. I thrive when I follow in detail the programs that I set up for myself. But it’s not that easy! First of all, life throws many curveballs at us. Too many times ‘today’s schedule’ becomes today’s wish list due to our own emergencies, laziness, and other people’s needs. Additionally, when I peek ahead to see what I still have to do, my overwhelmed feelings could paralyze me totally, or at least weaken my concentration in the task at hand, because I’m worried about finishing everything on my plate.

Say I wake up late, how do I know what to do first?  What if I don’t have a lot of energy on a particular day? Is the day wasted ?

In Torah 49 Rebbe Nachman teaches a profound idea. The Arizal taught that in order for God to create the world He needed to constrict His infinite light, making an empty space for creation. Before creation, there was only unlimited and undefined existence of God’s light. In order for there to be a revelation of His kingdom, He needed people to recognize Him. So He needed to somehow condense this infinite light and make room for creation of people and worlds.

Says Rebbe Nachman, since we were created in the image of God, this idea is true by us humans as well. Just like God’s light is infinite, so to our souls have a boundless longing to connect with our creator. But the same way that God had to restrain His vast light in order to produce anything, so too we need to constrict our yearning to some extent in order for us to bear fruit.  How do we do that?

Here are some examples:

Firstly, we need to make sure that we sleep well, eat well and exercise. Obviously, when we’re sleeping we can’t be building, but it’s a necessary reduction in order to produce better at a later time.

Next, let’s try to focus on the task at hand like it’s the only thing we have to do, because in reality it is. We all naturally want to multitask because we’re created in the image of God, who is the ultimate multi-tasker. But we can only do one thing at a time. So there’s no point in worrying about the future or trying to do both ineffectively. We’ll get to the next thing faster if  we can pay good attention to our present duties.

Also, sometimes we’re inspired to do something and we’re waiting for the perfect moment or user-face to express that feeling. Don’t wait! Jump on it and start with even something tiny. It might not be what you were originally hoping for, but instead of losing steam you now have something to work with and adjust at a later time.

Lastly, taking a little time to pray to God in our own words is the ultimate tool in focusing and defining our desires. It seems like a waste of time! We say “Why talk to myself?” Or “I could have accomplished something the whole time I was praying, instead of just meditating?” But the truth is that when we mindfully stop, process and unburden ourselves to Hashem, we are creating the space to allow us to produce in a much more concentrated and effective way.

Work with what we have

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I’m hard on myself! I might seem like I’m chilled out, and I really am, but I expect a lot from myself and sometimes I get upset when I don’t perform on the level I imagined that I could.

I recently shared a personal story in a group setting that when I witnessed somebody doing something extra devout my immediate reaction was to play it down and criticize the guy in my mind because I likely felt intimidated by his piety. By imagining his intentions to be less than sincere I was able to be ok with my own lack of devotion.  A little later I noticed the pettiness of my reaction and tried to reassess the situation in my mind, instead thinking that I’m proud of him and happy that I witnessed his behavior so I can learn from it and become more sensitive myself.

I expressed to the group that although I came to terms with what happened, I felt frustrated that my initial reaction was so flawed. The group leader taught me an amazing lesson that I find so revitalizing. The Gemara says ‘מתוך שלא לשמה, בא לשמה’. This means that although someone’s intentions [in learning Torah] might at first be for the wrong reasons (such as honor), he will eventually come to study for the sake of Heaven. Then he quoted to me a new explanation of this teaching: ‘Because we have the wrong intentions at first, it allows us to overcome those thoughts and feelings, and have proper feelings’. Only because I started off feeling negative, was I able to turn around and see things positively.

This idea is so liberating for me!    The thoughts that flow into my mind initially are not something I can control, so why beat myself up about them? Rather I need to see them as my personal springboard to have newer, better thoughts that are positive and favorable.

One step deeper…In Torah 49 Rebbe Nachman teaches that the thoughts in our hearts create the world we live in. If a person has negative thoughts, he’s creating negativity in the world. The world becomes a product of his negativity. This might seem outrageous but it’s true. Conversely, of course, if we produce positive thoughts, we are allowing Hashem’s Divine traits to flow into the world and create positivity. Similar to the idea in my earlier post, our thoughts define the world we live in.  If we collaborate the two ideas, what comes out is that Hashem controls our initial perceptions. All we can do is take the thinking we naturally received and try to adapt to positivity. That’s how we can create a better world!