Emunah Based on the Teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

Archive for November, 2010

Holy Days of Chanukah – 1

The holy days of Chanukah are drawing nearer and it is fitting to begin preparing ourselves with the teachings of the Tzaddikim that pertain to them. In the coming weeks we will try to explain the general concept of the famous lesson: “The Days of Chanukah” (Likutey Tinyana 2) about which Reb Nosson exclaimed: “We must go with this torah” (Aleh Le’trufah 20). [This Lesson is extremely deep, we have explained only the main points, and anyone who wishes to explore it further is encouraged to study it inside.]

Part 1:

The days of Chanukah are days of thanksgiving, as is written: “they fixed these eight days of Chanukah for praise and thanksgiving”. Days of thanksgiving are an aspect of the delight of the world to come, for this is the main delight of the world to come, to thank and praise His Holy Great name, blessed be He, and to know Him, for the more we know and recognize Him, the closer we are to Him, blessed be He.

The main delight of the world to come, which we so greatly hope for, is that the mind and heart should be ignited with a tremendous illumination of knowledge of Hashem to the extent that we sing in thanks and praise to His great name until we merit through this to be truly close to Him. There is no greater pleasure than this – when the da’as (holy intellect) and dveikus ha’leiv (deep cleaving of the heart to Hashem) are ignited to understand the true meaning of ‘being close to Hashem’.

In this world there are days when the harsh judgments are sweetened, when darkness is dispelled and the wondrous ways of Hashem are revealed. Then a new illumination of the mind is born, similar to that which will be in the future, and we open our mouths in song and praise and merit to taste the awesome sweetness of closeness to Hashem. This is the light that shines forth on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

However, in contrast to this, there are days when a person experiences obstacles, confusion, suffering and emotional pain regarding both the needs of the body and those of the soul; the heart is terribly pressured and one cannot arouse his da’as to enliven himself with the knowledge that he is close to Hashem. This is the time of the main battle, to transform the sorrow and anguish into happiness and joy, to exert oneself greatly to encourage oneself specifically at a time of distress. This applies both in regards to physical distress – to find some aspect of how Hashem helped him even in the suffering that at least it should not be any worse, and both in regards to spiritual distress – to find some good points in oneself despite all the falls. Until one feels the kindness and wonders of Hashem and bursts forth in praise and thanks, thereby opening his heart to know how he is close to Hashem even from the depths of hell and amidst the difficulties.

This is the main topic of the lesson, to reveal that the holy days of Chanukah are the most auspicious time to transform the days of winter and darkness into ‘days’ of thanksgiving, to traverse the days of anguish the same way one would traverse a day in which he attained a fortune of wealth – The days of Chanukah are days of thanksgiving, as is written: “they fixed these eight days of Chanukah for praise and thanksgiving”, for in these days the sages “fixed” the root from which one can draw strength to encourage himself and seek out a way not to be drawn after the distress.

All the sacrifices will be nullified except for the Korban Todah (thanksgiving offering), for nothing will remain in the future besides gratitude and thanksgiving.

The Korban Todah is the only offering which is accompanied by a mincha-offering of chametz (leavened bread). This is because the sparking of the mind with recognition of the greatness of Hashem occurs when thanksgiving is revealed from within a situation of chametz and darkness. This is what will take place in the future and for this reason the Korban Todah will not be nullified. With the power of Chanukah we must strengthen ourselves to draw near to thanksgiving even while we are still in the darkness of exile.

…And the aspect of thanksgiving, which is the delight of the world to come, is an aspect of Halachos (the laws of the Torah), for the laws which we merit to learn, specifically one who merits to formulate novelties in them, are an aspect of the delight of the world to come, an aspect of [what the sages taught]: “anyone who studies halachos every day is guaranteed that he has a place in the world to come.”

Halacha is from the wondrous kindnesses of Hashem, who revealed to us paths and ways in every aspect of life how we can create a vessel to be close to Him from within the darkness. So too, through the study of Halacha, one can draw near to Him.

This is our main avodah (divine service), to believe in general that the fulfillment of every mitzvah makes us close to Hashem. So too in specifics, every mitzvah and halacha has a deeper meaning and a way in which specifically through this mitzvah one can come closer to Hashem, as we see in Likutey Halachos where Reb Nosson reveals the inner divine service contained in the mitzvos.

When a person involves himself in the study and clarification of the laws, whether pertaining to the parameters of what is forbidden and what is permitted, or the study of the practical ways of serving Hashem, how to conduct oneself properly and with good character traits; if this is done with a faith and contemplation of how this halacha is what Hashem desires of him, in order to draw close to Him, through this one can merit to a sparking illumination of holy intellect that he is truly close and near to Hashem – a taste of the thanksgiving that will be in the future. Especially one who merits innovating novelties in Halacha, to uncover the will of Hashem in a new situation that has not yet been clarified in halacha, through this is revealed a new da’as of how to draw near to Hashem through another thing in the world.

The kindness of Hashem is an aspect of Halachos, as the sages taught: “one who prevents his student from apprenticing him is as if he withholds from him Chesed (kindess).”

When a wise man allows a student to be an apprentice to him and to learn from him the exact ways of clarifying the law, through this he bestows kindness upon the student. On a deeper level a great piece of advice can be understood from this – that we need to be “apprentices” by Tzaddikim and to learn from them how to view the halachos as Hashem’s kindness, to fulfill them with joy and to believe that every mitzvah and halacha is what Hashem desires from me now in order to draw close to him. Through this one can merit to transform the days of suffering into days of thanksgiving and kindness.

This is what is said regarding King David: “and Hashem is with him”, upon which the sages expounded: “that the law is in accordance with him”. For regarding King David the verse states “the faithful kindnesses of David” – meaning, he involved himself in Halacha from amidst faith that every Halacha is kindness and that through it “Hashem is with him”. This is how the psalm of “hodu La’Shem Ki Tov (Praise Hashem for He is good)” (Tehillim 107) concludes: “He who is wise will fulfill these [laws] and they will contemplate the kindness of Hashem” – to study the laws together with contemplation of the kindness of Hashem that they contain, that through them it is possible to come close to Hashem from every place.

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Holy Days of Chanukah – 2

Summary of Part 1:

Chanukah is the most auspicious time for transforming the days of suffering into days of joy and thanksgiving, to be close to Hashem as it will be in the world to come. This is achieved in two ways: A) through thanking Hashem and finding the aspects of relief that exist within the difficulties, and B) by learning halacha with contemplation that every law is a revelation of Hashem’s will. This enables us to be close to Him through all aspects of the world.

Part 2:

…through this comes giving birth with ease.

The main form of sweetening all the judgments and distress, as is known, is to ‘give birth’ to the holy intellect – to know and perceive Hashem. The way in which this takes place is that the recognition of Hashem’s greatness appears specifically when one emerges from distress, lack of enthusiasm and difficulty. For it is imperative that there be a lack of light in the lowly places in order that through this one can come to a new perception of Hashem when he is saved. However, the Rebbe revealed a segulah for ‘giving birth’ with ease – to say the chapter of Tehillim beginning “Mizmor L’etodah” (Tehillim 100) [unlike the prevalent custom to thank Hashem after the birth], for when a person thanks Hashem and learns Halacha even before the salvation, without falling in his spirit because of the distress, with this he causes the ‘birth’ to take place easily. Then, the knowledge that he is close to Hashem is born even before the physical salvation. This is the secret of the mystical intentions of Chanukah, to shine the light down to the ‘feet’ – to the lowest facets of the soul.

…Halacha too, is an aspect of giving birth…

The revelation of the law into the world takes place much in the same way as the process of giving birth. For the supporters of Torah scholars give away their money, which is an aspect of lack, and through this the halachos are innovated and ‘born’ [See inside the Lesson for a fuller explanation of the connection between Halacha and birth]. Since the halachos are an aspect of Hashem’s kindness, automatically the bounty is returned and their lack is filled. Just like the kindness that is revealed has the power to bestow monetary bounty in return, so too is it able to bestow a revelation of kindness in the form of closeness to Hashem from any place of deficiency.

This also provides us with a simple piece of advice, to support those learning Torah, for through this one merits to the light of kindness contained within the halachos and will thus be able to strengthen himself in every situation. On a deeper level, this relates to the Pidyon (monetary redemption) that is given to the Tzaddik, for the main miracle that is brought about through this is not only the physical salvation, but rather redemption of the holy intellect from exile, that one should be able to always be close to Hashem.

…The nature of the moon is cold, and in the future it will be filled like the light of the sun, an aspect of the filling of deficiency.

Until now we have spoken about the advice of giving thanks in order to take a person out of suffering. However, in truth, this is advice for all times when a person feels a coldness and lack in his service of Hashem. Through strengthening oneself in giving thanks and learning Halacha one can fill the lack of the moon that it should shine like the light of the sun. On a deeper level this is the secret of the unification of Hashem and his Divine Presence, the unification of the aspects of the sun and moon, which is the purpose of all the mitzvos, to become one with Hashem through performing the mitzvos. This is achieved by giving thanks and learning Halacha.

…originally, when the blood floods the heart, this is an aspect of a deficiency in truth, an aspect of “men of blood will hate one who is complete”(Mishlei 29)

When a person is in distress and the blood doesn’t flow properly, then one despises hearing words of truth, that there is surely always a point of good and things aren’t all bad. When one is ‘in the moment’ he desires only a manifest and complete salvation, he is not willing to understand that his main salvation is that he should receive the intellect to know that he is close to Hashem. This is the meaning of the verse: “men of blood will hate one who is complete” – when the blood and troubles take hold one hates the truth.

When one emerges from the distress, then the truth shines forth and brings completion to speech.

The weekdays, with all their obligations and responsibilities, jumble the mind and prevent a person from feeling close to Hashem. This ‘forgetfulness’ is mainly caused by one’s faculty of speech, for speech is that which connects a person with the light of truth, to emerge from distress through giving thanks and learning Halacha. Through this the faculty of speech is perfected in complete holiness and one’s faith can no longer be disturbed.

The faculty of speech is divided into four categories, two of a physical nature and two of a spiritual nature. [This is a very deep concept that contains much mystical depth; we have only explained that which practically emerges from it.]

One type of speech is that which that connects people – like pleasant words with the members of one’s household or with one relatives and friends. This is called ‘speech of charity’. With an abundance of speech in relation to physical needs one can forget Hashem and become ‘cooled off’ from the light of emunah. However, when one remembers the truth, even in the darkness, then these words do not distance him from Hashem and he can constantly remember that he is close to Hashem.

The second type of speech is that of confession, when one speaks words in order to rectify the past, this is known as ‘speech of repentance’, as the verse stated: “take words with you and return to Hashem” [This form of speech is the main rectification for the ‘speech of charity’, to arouse oneself to remember Hashem]. However, if one does not constantly involve himself in connecting to the truth by remembering Hashem’s infinite mercy, then when he sees how immensely far from Hashem he is, he can be drawn further away from Hashem and despair specifically because of this improper repentance. Yet with the light of truth one will remember Hashem’s mercy and believe that the words of repentance have the power to overturn everything from evil to good.

The third type of speech is that which is used for control and forceful commands and is called “the speech of the affluent”. This type of speech is used mostly for giving instructions in order to get things done as one desires. These words often contain a great deal of anger and can be the cause of much anguish which can distance a person from Hashem. Yet with the light of truth one will not be distanced by such words since he will remember that Hashem’s providence is in these words too.

The fourth type of speech is that which is used in serving Hashem through Torah and tefillah and is called “the speech of malchus (kingdom [of holiness])” because the main revelation of Hashem’s Kingship is brought about by words of holiness, as the Zohar teaches malchus is the mouth”. However, these words are only capable of bringing us close to Hashem in as much as we connect to the light of truth that Hashem hears every single word.

When the light of truth shines forth and speech is perfected, then one can be in this world without becoming bewildered and forgetting about the delights of the world to come. He will thus be truly close to Hashem, always.

 

FAQS – Loving our Fellow

Question:

What is so special about strengthening ourselves in our Ahavas Yisroel during the period of Sefiras HaOmer? I anyhow try not to insult others or cause them pain. I want to understand why Ahavas Yisroel is such a fundamental Torah concept on which all Avodas Hashem depends.

Answer:

1] Ahavas Yisroel does not only mean to act ethically by not insulting or hurting anyone. By the other nations we also find rules of proper social behavior.

Ahavas Yisroel is an inner feeling in the heart, on which basic Emunah in Hashem depends. When a person loves Hashem he automatically loves His children, and focuses on the good within them. He believes in every Jew as someone who has a part in crowning Hashem as King in this world with the little bit of good that they do, since it is impossible that somebody has never done some good in his life.

As you accustom yourself to thinking this way about every Jew that you see, i.e., when you arrive at Shul, you take a look at the congregants and say to yourself: ”Here are Hashem’s people … I’m part of this holy nation …” .  And with this, you will start to feel a strong fervor in Avodas Hashem. Your thoughts will be elevated to concentrating more on Hashem’s Glory, and you will realize throughout all your prayers and Torah study that you are a part of the nation which crowns Hashem. You will stop constantly thinking just about yourself, how much you have accomplished, how successful you have been and how the Tefilah went, etc.

This is why in the “L’sheim Yichud” prayer which we recite before performing Mitzvos we say: “… in the name of all of Klal Yisroel” since we are connecting with the Avodas Hashem of all of Klal Yisroel.  This is also why the Ariza”l says that before davening we should accept upon ourselves the mitzvah of Ahavas Yisroel, and to love every Jew as one loves himself.

2] The Ariza”l also teaches that especially friends who engage in Torah study together must stick together as if they are each limbs of one body. If one member of the group is in pain, the entire group should pray for him.

The Yetzer Hara tries very hard to cause us to forget how essential the gathering of friends together is to Avodas Hashem. It’s important to get together to truly encourage and strengthen each other in Avodas Hashem, and to listen to what the other friends have to say. Not only without any arguing, but they should also have a real desire to join together, as brothers of the same father.

Someone who has not participated in such a gathering can not understand, but the sweetness of Avodas Hashem is most felt between good friends who through their friendliness are able to strengthen and encourage one another, worry for each other, and provide help for one another to the best of their ability. On Shabbos they find time to gather and sing Zemiros together. But when there is no love and in its place there is division, it is impossible to gather new strength and energy in Avodas Hashem, as Chazal say: ‘Either a friend or death.’

We must again emphasize that division isn’t necessarily bickering. It is being unable to sit together and speak pleasantly between friends, which causes a loss of vigor in Avodas Hashem. This is because the nature of a person is to be drawn after the world, and this world is a place which screams out nature, pain and suffering, and a concealment of all things divine and holy etc. But when a person knows that he’s connected with friends that are strengthening themselves together to live a life of Emunah, a life of rejoicing in Hashem, etc., he then has the emotional strength to confront the world. Then, even when he isn’t able to get together with his friends, the awareness that he is part of such a group already gives him the inner strength to deal with all the trials and difficulties.

This is still only what we ourselves are aware of – what we see with our own eyes. But in truth, there’s even more to the matter.  There is a spiritual energy which assists those who serve Hashem together as a group. The Rebbe once remarked to Reb Lipa after he didn’t journey to him for a while: “I wonder how you can throw away such a caring and beloved group. If all this time you haven’t gone in the ways of Hashem properly, you’ve certainly lost out on what you’ve lost. And if you did serve Hashem properly, wouldn’t it have been better if you would have pooled all your devotions together with these beloved friends … others would have been able to achieve successes through your Avodah!”

Don’t wait around and anticipate a group of friends to organize themselves together with you. You don’t need to have an official group which makes up meeting times and resolutions, although of course it would be appropriate to do such a thing. The main thing is that you yourself should take the initiative, and start to believe in your friends – that they are Hashem’s children, and realize that each one certainly has within himself a unique good point which no one else does. You will be able to give everyone an authentic smile, and you won’t be embarrassed to speak with your friends about Avodas Hashem. With time, you will start to feel how your Avodas Hashem is full of life and joy.

Question:

How is it possible to come together with everyone when each person is attached to an outlook and path which is different from mine?

Answer:

Of course, on one hand it’s very important that you remain strong in your own path, and not get confused by all the different outlooks. But still, if your intentions are for the sake of Heaven and to search for Hashem, you will then see that it’s possible to connect with anyone and that you are able to be greatly encouraged by everyone.

This is an important rule when friends are discussing Avodas Hashem together. The conversation must be with the aim to derive inspiration and motivation for Avodas Hashem from each other. The Yetzer Hara tries very hard to steer conversations around all sorts of minor details in Avodas Hashem on which there is debate and different views, or to elucidate different views in Chassidus, etc. Often, arguments spark from such types of conversations, as if the clarification which they are discussing is what will further motivate them in their Avodas Hashem. [It really is necessary to clarify every issue, but for such things it’s better to go to someone who knows and understands the subject well and not to attempt to clarify it through loud discussions between friends.] Reb Nosson’s warning to young people to keep away from arguments, is well known.

The conversation between friends should be in general to talk about Hashem’s Greatness, and His Compassion, and how it’s always possible to renew oneself in Avodas Hashem, and to strengthen oneself in Torah and Tefillah. It’s possible to have such conversations with any Jew if the intention is to truly hear the Word of Hashem. If you would hear that someone is standing in the street praising your father in front of a crowd, you would definitely go and join them to hear, without checking who’s speaking, even if he isn’t saying anything new.

We will end off with the words of Reb Nosson in Hilchos Berchas HaReiyah 5: A person must be bold as a leopard in Avodas Hashem, but he must still not dislike his friends just because they don’t act the same way as him, because perhaps he needs to go in the path which he chose for himself, for perhaps according to the root of his soul, this is the way he has to go.

FAQ – Emunah

Question:

The Rebbe warns us to distance ourselves from philosophical speculation and skepticism. How is this topic relevant to me, if I anyways don’t read this type of material?

Answer:

A)     You should know, that the Rebbe says “People think that Emunah is something small. By me, Emunah is a very great thing.” (Sichos Haran 33).  It should be clear by everyone that the basis of Yiddishkeit is belief in Hashem. Without it, it would be impossible to perform any Mitzvos. But for whatever reason, it has become accepted to thing that every Jew who keeps Mitzvos already has Emunah. If you would ask him if he believes, he would certainly answer in the positive. He would of course be ready to sacrifice himself for Hashem’s name. Because of this, we have almost no motivation to strengthen ourselves in Emunah, unless some type of tragedy occurs. Only then do we try strengthening ourselves in order to endure the difficulties with words of faith. But the general conversation is to strengthen ourselves in performing Mitzvos and Torah study.

This is what the Rebbe meant, that people think Emunah is a small thing. “Emunah is the main thing, and every individual must search within himself and strengthen himself in Emunah.” (Likutei Moharan II 5) Emunah is something that we must constantly be involved in, to awaken it and keep it alive. It can be compared to dough, which starts leavening and souring when left alone.

B)      The Rebbe reveals an awesome thing, “that even thought it appears that the general public is distant from speculation and skepticism, and are not philosophically inclined at all, in reality, everyone is caught up in speculation. Every person has doubts; even children have confusing and doubting thoughts.” (Sichos Haran 32) But people usually don’t identify these thoughts as “skepticism”. Only after some time is their influence recognizable. It’s like a mosquito bite, which isn’t felt at the time of the sting, only afterwards… When a person starts to lose his liveliness in Avodas Hashem, it’s a sign of an itching sting. This is why the measurement of time for leavening of dough is 18 minutes, because the souring of Emunah causes someone to lose his liveliness (Life חי=18)

All this starts with a tiny skeptic which sits in the heart and thinks, “Does Hashem really need me, is He interested in my Mitzvos, does He still love me even after I fall? Why do I have so many difficulties, why was I born into this family, why am I so unsuccessful, is true satisfaction really in holiness?”

The Rebbe gives us a clear indication which proves the existence of hidden questions – that during davening we aren’t full of fervor from the fact that we are speaking to Hashem. “If someone would know in his heart that Hashem’s Glory fills the world, and that He is standing over him during his prayers and listening to his prayers, he would surely pray with great enthusiasm, and would be very exacting with himself to concentrate by every word.” (Likutei Moharan I 62)

Question:

How can we achieve a clear Emunah?

Answer:

A)     Even though we explained that everyone is full of speculation and doubts, still, the way to increase your Emunah is not by looking to see how far you are from it. The proper way is to motivate yourself to remind yourself that you do have Emunah in your heart, which you just need to awaken (see Parpaot Le’Chochma II 5). Through trying to grab a moment and another moment of thinking about Hashem, you will grow your faith, little by little.

You should know that thoughts don’t just pass through our minds. They are real entities which cause great and elevated things to happen up high, as explained throughout all the works of Tzaddikim, and the Rebbe himself discusses it many times. With every thought of Emunah you can be performing many Mitzvos.

B)      The main way to build up a heart with Emunah is through being involved in prayer. Both by praying for Emunah, by crying out to Hashem from the depths of your heart that Hashem should give you faith, and also by accustoming yourself to speak to Hashem in your native language and asking Him for all you needs, and to thank Him for everything good which happens to you. Be adamant about this, even if you still aren’t feeling Emunah. With time, you will get used to seeing that everything is from Hashem, and everything is in His hands and only He can help you. Your entire Yiddishkeit will take on an entirely new form.

C)      When you try going into the Avodah of Emunah, don’t panic when you see that the doubts and confusions continue to come up, perhaps even more than before. The truth is that all of these questions were there before, but you just weren’t conscious of them. They seemed to be just one solid piece of distance from Hashem. When you start to awaken the Emunah, you can start to pay attention to the difficulties in accepting the realities of Emunah. You should know that this is how it goes; sometimes Emunah wins out, sometimes the opposite. This is Hashem’s pride in us; that a Jew continues to try fighting his thoughts, and strives to think only of Hashem.

D)     You should know that when it comes to Emunah, there are many infinite levels upon levels. For that reason it’s necessary to study the books of the Tzaddikim who go in the path of the Baal Shem Tov. Especially Likutei Halachos, which reveals wonderful ways how to feel Hashem’s existence, on many levels and in many ways, by thinking about encouragement and closeness to Hashem.  Sometimes with simple faith without any feeling, sometimes with feeling, sometimes with intellectual inspiration, etc. All things which can all lead to a great desire for Hashem.

Their holy works speak about the fact that Emunah is already in every Jew’s heart, because we are all parts of Hashem’s presence. They thereby reveal ways to cling to Hashem and thinking about Him. These all bring a person into a reality of a life of Emunah, of tasting how Hashem is good.

[This is in contrast to other books of Jewish thought which try to bring a person to Emunah through explanations and intellectual arguments. They usually don’t have the ability to give a person a way how to liven up our hearts with Emunah, only to bring us to an intellectual agreement on Hashem’s existence.]

 

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