Processing Uman Rosh Hashana 2019

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Shlomo Katz once said over that years back at a certain musical event Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and Bob Dylan were participants of a question and answer forum. The Master of Ceremonies asked Shlomo first, “What would be your dream come true”? Shlomo said “To meet every person in the world”. At that point Dylan piped up, saying “That would be my worst nightmare”.

Why did Shlomo Carlebach want to meet everyone he possibly could? I think it’s because he believed, with his deepest depths, that every single human-being on Earth has a unique aspect of God to reveal that no one else possibly can. Only I can bring out what I’m meant to, and only you can uncover the facet of God that you’re meant to. If that’s the case, then Shlomo wanted to see every face of God that’s out there. After all, we’re meant to attach ourselves to God, (וּלְדָבְקָה בוֹ), so wouldn’t we want to see as many angles of His presence as possible? That would certainly make the connection more relatable and easier.

On the other hand, with all his poetry, coolness and musical pioneering, Bob Dylan was small minded. He saw people as a burden and a nuisance to his chill, so he couldn’t imagine a worse idea than Shlomo’s fairytale dream.

Everyone who’s been to Uman will testify that there’s something totally unique about the Rosh Hashana experience there. Many say the brotherly love is on a level that can’t be matched. But it’s not just a coincidence. Rebbe Nachman told his followers to never stop reviewing Azamra (Torah 282), in which he teaches to search out and hunt for the good points in yourself and in others. The Rebbe himself was the master of this quality. He was always able to see the good. (Is it a wonder that he wanted everyone by him on Rosh Hashana, when we’re all being judged? With his ability to see the good in others, it’s only fair for Hashem to see that same good and judge us favorably). But this skill that the Rebbe developed is absolutely contagious in Uman. For some odd reason, we travel to one of the crummiest places in the world and we’re suddenly able to see the good in one another like never before. No one is ‘better than’ and everyone belongs, no matter what he looks like, where he’s from and what he did in the past. Finally finally, we can see each other with the Rebbe’s holy eyes, the eyes of Hashem Himself. What better day, the first day of the year, could there be to start anew and see ourselves and others as the one-of-a-kind Godly beings that we truly are?

Self encouragement

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

–  Davy Dombrowsky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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נ נח נחמ נחמן מאומן

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

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

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

One more thought:

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

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לעילוי נשמת הרב ישראל דב בער אודסר ז״ל

Why I’ll be back in Uman for Rosh Hashana 2018

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Yup! I just arrived back in the Holy Land a few hours ago and the first thing I did after davening was book my ticket for Uman Rosh Hashana 2018. I’m so happy!

Let me share with you why I think Uman is so special:

When I was in first grade, I remember raising my hand bashfully to ask my new teacher a question in front of the whole class. Mrs. Webber, a venerated educator, heard my question and said, “Wow! David, that’s a very good question. You’re so smart and it seems that you’ve been paying good attention. Class, did you hear David’s amazing question”? Needless to say Mrs. Webber’s response made me feel ten feet tall. I’m not exaggerating when I say that moment enhanced my entire elementary school experience.

In Torah 282 Rebbe Nachman urged his followers to search vigorously and find their own good points and the good points of others. It’s advice that he encouraged us to review constantly. The Rebbe, of course, is the absolute master of seeing good in others. When we go to Uman and stand before our Rebbe he only sees our goodness. No matter how bad we were all year long, he can find something good about us and make us feel unique, special and worthy. It’s such a good feeling that it’s just indescribable. But what’s really so amazing about it, is how contagious the feeling is. Because of the Rebbe’s good eye, everybody feels important and somehow we’re able to put aside – for a few days – our insecurities and see our friends’ greatness as well. Somehow everybody in Uman get’s along really well. We’re all brothers there. The unity is palpable. Away from all our comforts, we fall in love with each other, accepting one another for who they are, no matter what. It’s truly a taste of Moshiach!

Intellect vs. Imagery

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If there’s a mitzvah to judge our fellow favorably (Lev. 19:15), that means it doesn’t come naturally. Our instinctual reaction is to criticize and condemn our peers. But why should it be so hard to see the good in others?

Because we believe what we see! If we don’t use our power of logic and reason, then we naturally believe our imagination, which is triggered by what we see.

Rebbe Nachman urges us in Torah 25 to disengage ourselves from the influence of our illusions and elevate ourselves by using our intellect.

People seemingly do things wrong all the time because we don’t know the whole story. It’s like we snapped a picture of them in the act, but it was completely out of context. It’s only rational to take a step back and admit that we likely don’t know what’s really going on with them. And so too when we interact with others directly and they rub us the wrong way. It’s so much easier to just write them off! But if we understood better why they say the things they say and do the things they do, we’d probably give them the benefit of the doubt. As we know, many times our loved ones make mistakes and we overlook it lovingly because we know how hard they tried or what they’ve been going through. If we were to have that familiarity with other people as well, we could find reasons why they are lovable too.

Every Jew has a magnificent soul! We get fooled too often by all the exterior trappings. But that’s what the surface is, just ‘trappings’. They trap you!

The Rebbe says in אזמרה that we need to investigate thoroughly (לחפש) for the beauty in our peers. We can’t just expect to see their good without a comprehensive examination and detailed scrutiny. It’s a serious undertaking! But we must do it because the benefits are tremendous. Not only will we see more positivity and feel more love, but we’ll actually bring others closer to God and bring Moshiach. Amen!

 

Just an ounce!

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As we’re approaching the Nine Days it feels an appropriate time to discuss Rebbe Nachman’s famous lesson entitled אזמרה.

The Rebbe teaches that we need to judge everyone favorably. And even if someone is totally corrupt, we should seek to find the little measure of good in him. (It can’t be, says the Rebbe, that he has no good qualities at all, ([for even Esau honored his father greatly]). And when we find that small measure of good in this foul person, we can recognize his kindness and literally bring him back to God. And as Reb Nosson adds later in the piece, the Rebbe cautioned his Chassidim to live with this lesson. Search and hunt for the good points in others and bring everyone back to God.

I’m embarrassed to admit it but personally I struggle with this lesson. Being a competitive person I naturally want to be better than everyone. Instead of suffering from jealousy I prefer to find other people’s faults so I don’t have to worry that they’re ‘better than me’. This makes it very difficult for me to see the good points in others.

But there’s more to the lesson! The Rebbe continues: Not only do we need to look for the good points in others, we need to seek out and find the good points in ourselves too. At first when I learned this lesson I thought “That’s not my problem! If anything I delude myself to only see my good points”. But after meditating on it some more I realize that I’m not being honest enough with myself. If I’m not able to see enough good in others, it’s because I don’t see the good in myself either. If I appreciated myself more, I would have no problem allowing others to succeed as well. It’s mostly because of my own insecurities that I’m competitive and critical of others.

On the verse “Don’t insult the convert, because you were also converts in Egypt”, the Talmud teaches (ב״מ נ״ט): “If you have a flaw, don’t point it out in another”. The Baal Shem Tov notes beautifully, “When you see imperfections in others, it’s because you have those same flaws in yourself. Hashem is showing it to you in others, like a mirror, so you can fix it in yourself”.

We all know that the Second Temple was destroyed because of the Jews’ unwarranted hatred of one another. And if the Temple is not rebuilt in our generation it’s because we’re still hating each other unjustifiably. Maybe this is what Rebbe Nachman meant when he said that his fire will burn until Mashiach comes? He meant that his primary lesson will be the one that brings Mashiach. If we can put down our gloves and find the good points in ourselves and in our friends, then we will stop the slandering, strife, defamation and internal animosity that we’re suffering from.

It’s not easy to do these days with our insecurities but the Rebbe encouraged the Chassidim greatly to search and seek for just an ounce of good. That’s all we need to start. Just an ounce!

Rena

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We had a baby girl this week who we named Rena, which means to sing in Joy!

I’d like to slightly move away from the ordinary format of this blog today and discuss why we named her Rena. Although, in truth, most of Rebbe Nachman’s lessons were inspired by current events and personal affairs in his life. He never sat down to write a book. So it makes sense to have this discussion now.

One of the most famous lessons the Rebbe taught is entitled אזמרה. He encouraged the chassidim to review it over and over because he felt it to be a monumental foundation in coming close to Hashem. Although we will discuss the idea more in depth at a later time in this blog, the short of it is that we must search for the good points in ourselves and in others. By finding the good points in everyone, even a totally corrupt person, we can actually bring them back to Hashem. There is no Jew who is too far away and too full of sin to be brought back. Everybody has good points. Everybody!

Later on in the lesson he teaches that the craft of finding the good points in ourselves and in others creates a beautiful song. The Tzaddik sings this song. His whole essence is singing this song all the time. A true Tzaddik only sees the good points in others, because in reality the good points are the real person. All the other pronounced parts of the person that are screaming ‘bad dude’ are not the real them. The authentic person is his good points. And no matter how small or covered up those beautiful points are, the Tzaddik gathers them together and sings a song. (In fact, all insight and faith is nourished from this supreme song of creation [Torah 64]).

King David also sang this song and he urged all the Tzaddikim to sing it too:

“רננו צדיקים ביהו-ה”

Righteous one! Sing joyously out loud in Hashem!

This is the song we hope our new daughter will sing! The song of our own beauty and spirituality! The pure song of seeing the good in all of creation. And, in fact, this is the song we will all sing when Moshiach comes, as David sings “אז ימלא שחוק פינו ולשונינו רנה“, (our mouths will be filled with laughter and our tongues will sing out of joy!) Because when Moshiach arrives we will finally know the truth. And we will see clearly that every Jew is so precious and beautiful. May that day come soon and in our time! Amen!