Rebbe Nachman’s Rosh Hashana

one-706897_960_720

Caution: If you aren’t Breslov, you might not like the following article. Consider yourself warned 🙂

Rebbe Nachman said, “My Rosh Hashana is the greatest thing there is. There is nothing greater…My whole ענין (approach) is Rosh Hashana”. He instructed his chassidim to make the following proclamation: “Anyone who wants to get close to me should come to me on Rosh Hashana. No one should be missing”. He said that “my Rosh Hashana is totally original and Hashem knows that I didn’t inherit this from my forefathers, but rather He gifted me with the knowledge of what Rosh Hashana is. Not only are you all dependent on my Rosh Hashana but the entire world is dependent on my Rosh Hashana” (חיי מוהר”ן סימן תג-תה).

I can certainly empathize with someone reading these words and being very turned off. But I don’t want to address that here. What I want to explain is why I think Rebbe Nachman’s essence is all about Rosh Hashana. I know there’s a lot of thought out there about this idea but here’s mine.

Rosh Hashana is called “the day of memory”. One of the three integral parts of the prayer service is recognizing how Hashem remembers everything. “There is no forgetfulness before Your Throne of Glory. Everything is revealed and known to You from the beginning of time to the end of time”.

Rebbe Nachman taught in Torah 65 that we need to unite all our words of prayer so deeply, so that we can actually remember the first word we prayed at the time the last word leaves our mouths. As he goes on to explain later, in essence, the whole prayer is one word, or better yet one letter. It’s united with the deepest unifications connecting the whole world from beginning of time until the end of time.

Rebbe Nosson wrote in Kitzur 65 that we can’t reach this level of prayer unification on our own. Only the greatest Tzaddik, like Rebbe Nachman, can do it for us. He can take our prayer, fix it up and deliver it to God in perfect oneness. This is what’s happening on Rosh Hashana. The Talmud says (Beitzah 16) that all our sustenance is pre-determined on Rosh Hashana. Many of the Holy books write how not only is our financial sustenance determined then, but the entire year exists somehow in those powerful two days. The Rebbe, in his exalted greatness, was the master of unification. He understood how to unify it all, how to pray with absolute mindfulness and how to see the beginning and the end at once. This is why he needed everyone to be with him on Rosh Hashana and why the whole world is dependent on his Rosh Hashana. Because he felt that only he understood the true meaning of one.

Appreciating the journey

maxresdefault

What is it about elimination games that makes sports so compelling? When I’ve watched the final game’s closing minutes in sports that I don’t follow, I didn’t find them nearly as irresistible. This leads me to believe that what separates these nail-biters from all other games is full appreciation of the long and arduous path taken by both teams to get to this latest stage of the season.

In Torah 65 Rebbe Nachman describes an exalted level of prayer. He says that we need to unite all our words of prayer so deeply, so that we can actually remember the first word we prayed at the time the last word leaves our mouths. Reb Nosson clarifies that clearly this level of prayer is far higher than people like us can understand.

Although I also can’t imagine this type of perfection in prayer, I think there’s a strong lesson to be learned from here to other areas of life. When it comes to our careers, to child rearing and to personal growth we tend to judge our productivity by our latest results. This recency bias stunts our development because we forget all the remarkable achievements and kindnesses that brought us to this point. Also, thinking myopically worries us unfairly because we doubt if we can be successful since we’ve had a recent slump.

Life is about ups and downs. We can’t get fooled by our latest streaks. What makes the elimination game great is recalling all the tense moments that got the team there. The shots that almost didn’t go in. The injuries and key substitutions. Every part of the journey is special, not only the last couple of moments. The Rebbe describes this idea in our devotions because prayer is the ‘labor of the heart’. We can only wish that our prayers were so unified! But when it comes to our other activities as well, the idea is just as true. Life is a long journey with numerous stages. At times when we feel like we want to give up, if we could aspire to see the entire picture, we might appreciate the odyssey for what it is…an adventure!

New perspectives

Urban-Jungle-02

Many of us remember the infamous summer day in 2014 when three Israeli teenage boys were kidnapped and murdered in Gush Etzion while hitchhiking home for Shabbos. For the next eighteen days that authorities searched for our boys, the communal unity and heartfelt prayers were infectious. It was a time that I’ll never forget.

No less than three days after the kidnapping a star in Israel was born. Mrs. Rachelle Fraenkel, mother of one of the victims and an experienced educator, burst on to the scene with her exemplary faith and profound words of encouragement. Since then she has become an international speaker and nothing short of a religious heroine.

In Torah 65 Rebbe Nachman teaches that through suffering we can merit a new comprehension in Torah. Reb Nosson (‘נטילת ידים ד) is quick to explain that this ‘new understanding’ isn’t limited to a creative explanation of Talmudic law but it also includes grasping a fresh look on life. After we go through a crisis, God forbid, we experience true dependency on God and catch a glimpse of our life’s purpose. We often come back to reality with new insight and awareness.

Sometimes, thank God, we don’t need to encounter enormous tragedy to experience this kind of awakening. More often this happens to us while we sleep. We frequently go to bed mentally exhausted and emotionally spent. We close our eyes, drift away into another world and wake up, by the grace of God, revitalized not only physically but also mentally.

One morning the Baal Shem Tov asked Chaikel the water carrier, “How are you”? Chaikel responded, “Rabbi, if you really want to know, I’m suffering. I have three daughters to marry off and I can’t pay for a dowry with the pennies that I make shlepping water. My back is broken from the hard labor and my wife is always yelling at me that we have no money to cover our expenses!” So the Rabbi blessed him with success. The next day the Baal Shem happened to see Chaikel again in the marketplace. “How are you today Chaikel”? “Not bad Rabbi. I know this job is tough but at least it’s a steady income and I’m not unemployed. My daughters are so great and I’m sure some good boys will gobble them up. And I can’t blame my wife. She’s had a hard life and she means well”.

So the Baal Shem Tov turned to his students and asked, “What happened? Nothing changed for Chaikel. He still has no money, three unmarried daughters and a testy wife! But today he woke up refreshed. He changed his perspective. He has a new understanding of things” (heard from Rav Moshe Weinberger).

Jeremiah the prophet praises God in Lamentations (3:23):

.”חדשים לבקרים, רבה אמונתיך”

“[Your Kindness] is renewed every morning. Your loyalty is abundant”.

I pray that we all never experience any suffering. Instead we should find those original perspectives without anguish, like from our sleep. But as the prophet Isaiah states, Although God leads the expectant mother in pain to the birthing stool, it’s from there that He brings forth new life!

 

“Support of the world”

6940479-beautiful-tulips-field

“There’s a field that grows magnificent plants and trees. The allure of this field is simply indescribable. Happy are the eyes that have seen it! The plants in this field are holy souls and there are many leafless souls that wander around outside the field yearning immensely for the land-owner (בעל השדה) to busy himself with their remedy, so they can return to the field (Torah 65)”.

In my late teens I read a number of biographies about gedolim and I was awed by their vast knowledge of Torah, their immense modesty and refined character. I appreciated them as an embodiment of Torah values in this world, an example of success and a glorification of God’s name. Rebbe Nachman taught me something about the Tzaddik that I never knew before; and that is how essential they are for me and you!

Because of his endless love of God and Israel, the true tzaddik spends his life and after-life occupied with fixing the souls of his brothers. Not anybody can be this בעל השדה. This precious tzaddik, although human, lives on a much higher plain than we do. He’s extremely wise, knowledgable, meditated, iron-willed, courageous and modest.

Obviously Rebbe Nachman, who suffered tremendously because of the remedies he revealed to us, is one of these true tzaddikim. That’s why so many people, from all walks of life, flock to his gravesite in Uman to say the ten chapters of psalms that he revealed as the complete remedy.  (Why we go on Rosh Hashana is a discussion for another time).

As the Ramchal writes in his magnum opus, the goal of life is to attach ourselves to God. The only way to cling to Him is to mirror His ways of kindness and mercy. As hard as it is for many of us to believe, the true tzaddikim have achieved this feat. Similar to God, their essence is giving. We, on the other hand, although our efforts are exceedingly precious to God, are lacking in our devotions and consistency. So, as the King of all Kings, it’s only befitting that Hashem mostly deal directly with the tzaddikim. And our good fortune is that if we bind ourselves to the tzaddikim, they’ll do whatever they can to straighten us out so that we can also enter that marvelous field!

 

 

Seeing the end

 

phosphenes

We close our eyes often. Sometimes it’s because we’re scared and sometimes we close them from pain. Whether we’re squinting to see something or whether we’re sleeping, our eyes instinctively close.

Why do we close our eyes?

Rebbe Nachman teaches something very deep in Torah 65. He explains that our vision services our mind. Whatever we see is processed in our brains and becomes our knowledge. Another way of saying “I understand” is saying “I see”.

But sometimes our vision is too limited and we need to ‘see’ past what our minds can understand. In times of suffering, God forbid, we need to attach ourselves to a higher knowledge. When we’re scared of inevitable pain we automatically try to connect to something more infinite than what we know. This is why we close our eyes. We innately know that the only way to bear the agony is by shutting out this world and attaching our minds to the end, where we really believe that it’s all good. In that elevated state of mind there is no pain. This isn’t a place that we can stay too long, but indeed it’s a place we go.

Similarly when we squint to see something, we’re shutting out the peripherals that flood our vision and confuse our mind. And when we sleep our eyes close because our souls are connecting to the infinite (Lessons 54 & 7).

I find this idea to be amazing! Of course the naysayers will poo-poo it, but I see in this teaching one of the few instances where our souls control our bodies.

Maybe this is the reason why we close our eyes when we say Shma Yisroel? Because when we’re declaring Hashem’s oneness we must see past everything. Our worldly perceptions bring us down to a place where we question His oneness often. “Why is this happening to me”? Or “this is terrible”! But when we declare His oneness we’re trying to reach a higher understanding so we close our eyes and soar!