A new day, a new me

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“The true counsel can only be given by those who have already been released from the hands of the evil inclination. Because someone who is still imprisoned by the evil one is as blind as one who walks in thick darkness, with stumbling blocks placed before him, which he can’t see…What can this be compared to? A garden-maze, the type that was common among the upper class and planted for the sake of amusement. The high trees are planted and arranged into walls of confusing, intertwined and similar paths. The walker in the garden has no way of seeing or knowing if he is on the right path or not. But there was a high porch in the middle of these gardens, and he who has a commanding position on the porch can see all the paths before him. He can discriminate between the true and false paths. Only He can warn the walker where to go and where not to go” (The Path of the Just – Chapter Zehirus).

I always thought this analogy was a beautiful one. I recently learned a piece in Likutei Halachos that opened it up for me even more:

“Hashem saw that the world wasn’t worthy to use [the light], so he hid it for the tzaddikim. And now that the light has been hidden, it’s impossible to understand with our own knowledge that Hashem is recreating the world at every moment. The only way to believe it is with the faith that we get from the tzaddikim, who are nourished by the hidden light”. (Hilchos K’vod Rabo 3:14).

Reb Nosson is saying, based on Tinyana 8, that what makes us impossibly stuck in the garden-maze is our inability to grasp that Hashem is recreating the world. The world looks exactly as it always did. Our intellect doesn’t allows us to perceive its newness. This blockage also makes it impossible to understand how we can change, really change. We tried dieting before, we tried working on ourselves so many times, why would this time be different?

It’s only when we inundate ourselves with the words of faith that the tzaddikim teach us from their exposure to the hidden light, that we can believe in a new world, and a chance to be fresh again. This is so crucial. We must believe with every fiber of our being that we can fix what we’ve broken and be everything we’re meant to be. But we need the encouragement of the loving tzaddikim to infuse us with this faith.

May we merit to hear those words of faith and believe in ourselves and our potential to be absolutely novel. Amen!

This is how it is, or is it?

imagination

Although the intellect of a child is typically much weaker than that of an adult, the opposite is true when it comes to his imagination. We’ve all seen how powerful a child’s imagination can be. They literally believe their thoughts to be an alternate reality.

In Tinyana 8, Rebbe Nachman says that 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.

So often in our life we’re faced with trying situations where we feel stuck. We don’t believe that we can ever break out of the cycle that we find ourselves in. Whether it’s a financial hole, a substance addiction or a bad job, we rack our brains exploring all the options to free ourselves, but we’re left with that dejected feeling of “the same old me”. I think this despondence comes from the opposite of imagination; cynicism. When we see a child lost is his imagination, it’s comical to us. We think it’s ridiculous that the child can believe in something that we can’t understand. We’re too limited by our intellect. Our ego doesn’t allow us to entertain something we don’t know exists. But the sweet child is in touch with a force that catapults him to another world. He imagines. He believes.

The Rebbe goes on to say that the role of the true tzaddik is to refine our imagination. With his ruach hakodesh (Divine Spirit), he teaches us about faith and cultivates our imaginative faculty.

Says Reb Nosson (Hilchos K’vod Rabo 3:6), this is what’s so bitter about the destruction of our Holy Temple. When the temple stood, there was a great spirit of prophecy. The tzaddikim drew down that Divine spirit and blew into our souls words of optimism that refined our imagination and enhanced our faith.

How sad that with so few true tzaddikim left, we feel stuck in a one dimensional world of repetition. Our only hope is to soak up their holy words and open our minds to another reality – The space of imagination, the world of faith.

 

Faith

sun rays

Judaism is saturated with prayer time. Halacha mandates us to pray three times a day. When we’re off from work, on Shabbos and Festivals, our prayers are extended. On the High Holy Days we pretty much spend the entire day in synagogue. That’s not all! Besides the institutionalized prayers it’s also recommended to set aside some time every day to talk to God in our own words. As Rabbi Yochanan said (Brachos 21a), “How great would it be if we would pray all day long!” But why do we need to pray so much?

By far the hardest thing to believe is that God constantly renews the world. Meaning, not only did He create the world a long time ago, but every millisecond He is conceiving the entire creation anew. Everything our eyes see indicate the exact opposite. We wake up in the morning and we still have our debts. Our bosses are still in bad moods and we’re tired from going to sleep too late the previous night. Just about everything we remember from the past continues presently with no change. God’s invisibility (הסתר פנים), specifically in regards to the renewal of the world, is ultimately the most powerful ploy of the other side.

Rebbe Nachman writes (Tinyana 8) “The essence of the world’s renewal is dependent upon faith. It’s impossible to comprehend the renewal of the world with our intellect. That’s why the infidels refuse to believe it”. I think the reason why the Rebbe said “it’s impossible to comprehend” is because everything we experience discredits this renewal.

When the Israelites battled Amalek in the desert, they would prevail when Moses raised his hands and would lose when he lowered them. The Talmud explains that when Moses raised his hands, the Israelites would subjugate their hearts to Heaven and pray. The verse describes Moses’ hands as ‘faith’ because prayer is the tool we have to instill faith.

In yiddish to pray is to daven, from the Aramaic word d’avuhon (דאבוהון), which means “from our fathers”. It’s true that our prayers were instituted by our forefathers, the patriarchs, but there is a subtle meaning here as well. What it’s saying is that prayer is old and stale. It’s something that was relevant a long time ago but it’s not for us. This is why, sadly, the term davening also connotes verbalizing something without paying attention to its meaning.

This misconception about prayer couldn’t be further from the truth. When we pray we’re demonstrating our faith that God perpetually renews the world and everything about it. If a person is sick, we pray asking God to renew the world without that diagnosis. When we pray for money, we’re begging God to revive the world with a new way to help us make a buck!

Davening is the way Amalek wants us to pray. With no heart, no belief and no vitality. This is what we see too often in our synagogues and within ourselves. But we need to forget what we know about prayer and start again. Just like God recreates the world, we need to recreate our prayers. Let’s go to synagogue grounded and meditate slowly. Lets say meaningful and powerful words. Even if we don’t say most of it. It doesn’t matter! It’s our time to connect to the world’s renewal. It’s not God forbid something that was only relevant to our grandparents. We all have a part in the rebirth of the world. That’s why our Sages established so much prayer time. Because we need to combat the never ending illusions that life is just “the same old thing”!

This is the last month of the year. Although the world is constantly rejuvenated, there are still auspicious times of rebirth. Let’s forget about how cumbersome institutionalized prayer has become and do something new with our prayers. God isn’t concerned that we finish the entire siddur. He’s just waiting for us to call out sincerely, in the way that only we can, with faith!

Let go!

dreams

To all familiar with the beauty and sweetness of Torah, no evidence or testament is necessary to validate God’s authenticity. Its vastness and depth is immeasurable. Its lessons and teachings are perfectly righteous and its few truly loyal students tower above all men.

But the Jews who sadly aren’t acquainted with authentic Torah seek proofs of God’s existence and providence. Engulfed by cynicism, no logic seems adequate to believe in an infinite, all-powerful God that can’t be seen.

The truth is, says Rebbe Nachman, that these skeptics are exactly right!

“Essentially, faith is only found where the intellect is suspended and a person can’t comprehend the matter with his mind. It’s there that one requires faith” (Tinyana 8).

The Rebbe is teaching that faith starts where the intellect stops. At a certain point things can’t be proven anymore and no rationale justifies the matter. It’s exactly there that we need to have faith and put our hope in God.

But how do we do it? If we’re stripped of our intellect, our most prized tool, then how can we believe in anything?

Here’s where the Rebbe’s genius blows the mind (pun intended):

“Faith is primarily dependent on our imagination“.

We tend to associate imagination with children, but it’s really our ability to be creative and resourceful. Reb Nosson describes the imaginative faculty as “the most spiritual of all things physical and at the same time the most physical of all things spiritual”. Children use their imagination well because they’re untainted by the cynicism and misery of this world and its opinions. We have to let go of all our derisive sentiment and allow there to be more than we know in this world. Does this surrendering of our intellect require us to do something? Yes it does! But that shouldn’t hold us back, because as the Mishna clearly says, when we refuse to accept Torah, we assume other responsibilities. Yet when we submit to Torah, those responsibilities are eliminated. We need to dream and visualize more. Although the evil one convinces us otherwise, belief in a higher power who loves and cares about every detail in our lives is liberating and revitalizing. Unfortunately the pessimism and sarcasm is so rampant. But it’s extremely unbecoming to people of our stature. We’re a light to the nations. That means we need to bring light where there’s darkness. There’s darkness everywhere. People are stricken with depression, anxiety and despair. It’s very easy to be cynical and sarcastic after all the trauma we’ve been through in our lives. But simple faith and hope is a gift from Heaven. We can dream! We can release ourselves from the bondage of limitation and use our creativity to soar into infinity! Let gooo!

Warning: Choking Hazard!

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Remember these images from the film Jaws? Oh the nightmares I had from that scary little flick! In case you never saw it, the last scene has the police chief trapped on the sinking boat. In his last effort to survive and save Amity Island’s beaches from the killing-machine-shark, he manages to stuff a pressurized scuba tank into the shark’s mouth, and, climbing the post, shoots the tank with a rifle. The resulting explosion obliterates the shark and they all live happily ever after (until the sequel of course)!

Rebbe Nachman’s description of the Tzaddik’s prayer in Tinyana 8 brings these frightening memories back into my mind.

Here we go…

Rabbe Shimon in Avos 2:3 warns us not to make our prayers routine, but rather an entreaty of ‘compassion and supplication’.  Although the mishna doesn’t discuss what happens when we pray monotonously and by rote, Rebbe Nachman does discuss it.

He teaches that when our prayers aren’t prayers of compassion, they’re prayers of judgement. Prayers of compassion can be answered even if we’re not worthy. But judgement-prayers can only be answered if we’re worthy. Since we’re not worthy, they get swallowed up by the side of evil. These prayers actually give life to the side of evil. (For more detail, see here).

This begs the obvious question: When we know we can’t pray compassionately, why pray at all? We know it won’t be answered and it will be swallowed up by the other side?

The solution, of course, is the Tzaddik’s prayer. In this lesson the Rebbe calls the tzaddik “a master of strength”. Although most of the time tzaddikim don’t choose to pray in their own merits (see first Rashi in Parshas Vaeschanan), they are capable of having their judgement prayers answered. King David sings in Psalms (106) “Pinchas stood up and judged”. The Talmud teaches from this verse that Pinchas prayed and argued with God to save His people. Now the other side also feeds on the judgment prayers of the Tzaddikim but it can’t swallow those prayers. The evil one chokes on it and ends up regurgitating all the previous prayers that it swallowed. But not only that, it also throws up it’s guts of holiness, which leads wayward Jews back to God and gentiles to convert.

As he typically does, Reb Nosson takes this concept to the next level (‘ברכת הריח ד).  (His words are so sweet that it’s worth seeing their translation here). He writes that not only is the Tzaddik a ‘master of strength’. But every single Jew, even the lowest of the low, can be his own master of strength and defeat his evil side. He just has to want it badly enough. Hashem isn’t trying to defeat us. We have the strength within us. We can do it with enough desire. So aim your rifle Officer Brody and fire!

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You smell that?

Baby girl smelling giant rose

The biggest turnoff is when someone reprimands us poorly. We’re mostly fine with admitting that we were wrong but ‘who are they to tell us off’? And even if they rightfully are our authoritative figure, it’s so difficult to give proper rebuke that we’re usually left feeling resentful and uneasy. (In fact, I find it difficult to properly describe the tragic consequences over the years resulting from parents and educators improperly rebuking their children and students).

In Tinyana 8 Rebbe Nachman describes what’s really going on when we’re ‘lectured’ unsatisfactorily.

“When the rebuker isn’t appropriate to admonish, not only isn’t his criticism effective but it actually causes the soul that hears it to emit a bad odor, because through his words he awakens the unpleasant smell of the wrongful acts and bad qualities of the person being criticized. Just like when something smelly is lying on the ground, if you don’t move it, then you don’t really smell anything. But once you move it, you greatly rouse its stench”.

When a Jewish soul emits a bad odor it gets weaker and suspends the flow to all the worlds that are dependent on that soul. Because the soul mainly gets its nourishment from the sense of smell.

But when the rebuker is befitting to admonish his listener, with his voice he adds a beautiful smell to the listener’s soul and strengthens the latter’s soul to come back to God.

What’s going on here? To be honest I’m not quite sure how to understand the inner-workings of our souls and their sustenance from holy smells, but there’s something very valuable to learn from this lesson: We need one another and we’re vital for each other’s success. Nobody likes to be put in their place. We need to be extremely careful who we criticize and how we do it, if it can even be done effectively nowadays. Never the less we are capable of working together. That’s a great privilege and responsibility! We can build each other up (or God forbid the opposite) more than we believe. Let’s pray that we use these opportunities wisely and make a positive difference in the lives of those we know.