Emunah Based on the Teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

Archive for February, 2011

Who is Victorious? …

The war against Amalek, which represents the war against the Evil Inclination, is an extremely long battle. The main way in which Amalek is subdued is through encouragement – that no matter what a person endures during his entire life, he be extremely determined to not allow himself to become discouraged. “And if I make my bed in hell, behold there You are” (Tehillim 139; 8). Even from there, one should call out and scream to Hashem from the depths of one’s heart, as the verse says: “From the belly of Hell I cried out” (Iyov 2;3).This is the main path of teshuva that we work to draw upon ourselves during the awesomely holy days of Rosh Hashanah, The Ten Days of Repentance and Yom Kippur. This is the main victory in the battle that we are fighting during these days.

As long as a person does not despair, and strengthens himself to begin each time anew no matter what, he is already called victorious. This is because it is impossible for a person to defeat the Evil Inclination on his own, as our sages taught: “Without Hashem’s help, he could not overcome him” (Sukkah 52a), and as the verse states: “Hashem does battle with Amalek…” (Shemos 17;16). A person’s obligation is to strengthen himself anew each time and not to allow himself to retreat from this battle in despair no matter what. This is alluded to in the words of the Holy Zohar: “Who is Victorious? He who holds the weapons of battle in his hands” (Tikkun 13).  In this battle we certainly do not yet see who has won, for the war is still greatly prolonged, the exile is strengthening and each person is experiencing his own difficulties. However, as long as we hold our weapons in our hands – and our main weapon is prayer, as we have explained elsewhere (Likutey Moharan, lesson 2) – we are certainly being victorious. For as long as one does not despair and strengthens himself in prayer and screaming out to Hashem, he is called triumphant, for this itself is victory. (Likutey Halachos, Shabbos 7, section 54)

During this time of year when the days of Purim are approaching it is our obligation to adhere to the teaching of our sages: “When [the month] of Adar arrives, we increase our joy”. The simple reason for this added level of joy is that we merited to do battle with Amalek and to fulfill the commandment of: “You must eradicate the memory of Amalek”. Indeed, in these days we escalate in joy, in a manner far supreme to the rest of the year, to the extent that on Purim we express this great joy in an unusual way. All this is in celebration of the wondrous victory against Amalek.

This is seemingly hard to understand, for after all is said and done we are still in exile and the klippah (evil force) of Amalek still assaults us every day in many different forms. Who amongst us can say that we have truly merited eradicating the name of Amalek? How then can we be so quick to rejoice?

The truth is that this itself is the very answer. This is because the war with Amalek is unlike all other battles in which one destroys the enemy and simply celebrates victory. This war is an ongoing battle and as long as the physical world as we know it exists, Amalek remains. Amalek is the existence of the concealment of G-dliness that rests upon the world. It is a brazen and defiant force that attempts to discourage and subdue our uprising against it. Even if we merited defeating him a number of times, he immediately returns to battle in a renewed effort to overcome us. His aim is to cause us constant confusion and to ensure that we remain with many failures – this is the kilppah of Haman Amalek.

His entire ambition is to remove every last drop of holy desire from inside us, to crush us completely. Now we can understand the ‘extreme’ way in which the Torah relates to Amalek, commanding us to remember that we must annihilate him, “Do not forget!”

What this practically means is that  our victory in this battle is gauged by how much desire we still have to continue fighting, to get up after a stumble and to keep yearning to come close to Hashem – This is victory.

This is what the Zohar teaches about the Lulav and Esrog we hold in our hands on Sukkos – it is the symbol of our victory against the Klippah of Eisav that threatened us on Yom Kippur.  “Who is Victorious? He who holds the weapons of battle in his hands” (Tikkun 13). At first glance we would have thought the exact opposite, surely when the battle is over one would resign his weapons and not continue to grasp them? Is the holding of these weapons not the greatest sign that the war is NOT over! However, as we have explained, Amalek’s entire aim is for us to surrender and as long as we clasp the weapons of war in our hands we are truly victorious.

In light of this it is truly fitting that we renew ourselves with ecstatic joy and celebrate Hashem’s wondrous miracles, that we are still fighting, that we want nothing more than closeness to Hashem, and most of all – that He wants nothing more than us …

 

 

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How to Awaken from Spiritual Slumber

Question:

One of the main things which the Rebbe advises us is to find the good points within ourselves. Isn’t there a concern that there is a possibility that consequently a person might stop advancing in his Avodas Hashem? Don’t we always have to motivate ourselves and strive to move forward in Avodas Hashem?

Answer:

People are under the impression that the way to wake oneself up from spiritual slumber and sleeping through life is through finding deficiencies in Avodas Hashem within oneself.

However, the Rebbe reveals regarding thoughts of inspiration and motivation to serve Hashem properly which pass through a person’s mind, that if it’s a thought which concentrates on how far he is and his shortcomings, not only won’t it be helpful, but also the thought itself will strengthen his spiritual sleep. Reb Nosson writes, “When a person sees that he’s far from Hashem this is an aspect of sleep.” (Likutei Halachos Hashkamas HaBoker 1:2)

We thus see that if we’re talking about waking up in Avodas Hashem, we must be careful not to think about the bad. Thinking about how distant one is from Hashem is in itself sleeping.

This is not just another nice idea meant to encourage people and to keep them from giving up when they see how far they are. This is the way to wake up from our sleep. The whole purpose of Avodas Hashem is to connect to Hashem and to be close to Him. It’s therefore self-understood that the way to wake up to Avodas Hashem after a fall is by searching and finding in oneself a good point, not in order to prevent oneself from giving up, but rather because in this way he will be able to truly restore his bond with Hashem after the fall. Every Mitzvah makes a sort of rope which attaches a person to Hashem, a rope which is impossible to ever sever and take apart. ‘Mitzvah’ is from the same root as ‘Tzavta’, a connection. Every Mitzvah and good deed that a person does is a G-dly light which dwells on him.

Not only that, but on Hashem’s side the whole renewal of the connection and forgiving of sin is brought about by a person’s search to believe in his good point. Every sin makes the Shechinah depart a little bit. A person therefore has to rebuild his Mishkan, his place for the Shechinah, by intensifying his thoughts to focus on the fact that he is tightly connected to Hashem through the Mitzvah which he has done.

Even though Hashem knows a person’s good, still, a person has to wake himself up to think about the Shechinah, the dwelling of the Divine Presence through the Mitzvos, and to take strength and encouragement from it. This is really how a person arouses Hashem’s Compassion to only focus on our good and to forgive our sins (Likutei Halachos ibid). This is the power which a Jewish thought, thinking about the Shechinah, has. It’s not just an encouraging idea.

This is also the way to conduct Hisbodedus and to speak out one’s heart before Hashem.  We must first find those points which tie us with the Creator, and from there to start pouring out our hearts before Him that we haven’t yet merited to more. (Likutei Moharan I 54)

If so, it is understood what when a person will be strong with the good which he has within himself because of the G-dliness inside him, and he will awaken himself to recognize his connection which already exists  with Hashem, there is no concern that he might fall asleep on his job.

Question:

Isn’t it pride for a person to think about the good which he did?

Answer:

On the contrary, this is the utmost humility. As we have explained, this is not in the same lines as those who are involved with pop-psychology who try picking people up and making them happy by helping them find “unique successes” or specific “uniqueness’s” .

“Nekudos Tovos” means to connect with the “simple” Yiddishkeit which everyone has, like Kashrus, Shabbos, Prayer, Tzitzis and Tefillin, etc., and to believe in their greatness in Hashem’s eyes. We aren’t ignoring our sins. We are waking up our acknowledgment and our thoughts regarding the ropes and strings which tie us to Hashem despite the darkness and evil which envelop us. In so doing we renew our connection to Hashem.

There is no more wonderful connection to Hashem. When a person realizes how far he is and sees his lowliness, and strengthens himself to see how despite all of this he is close to Hashem because of some Mitzvah which he once did, this is true humility which brings one closer to Hashem (see Likutei Halachos Reishis HaGez 4). This is not a false humility which makes someone lazy when he decides that he is not worth anything anyway and what difference would it make if he would run into Avodas Hashem.

In addition, since ‘Nekudos Tovos’ means to search for Hashem’s light which is resting upon him because of the good within him, if so, we have to look for the good points in all of Klal Yisroel and to see how Hashem’s light rests upon them through the good deeds which every Jew has.

When we enter a shul, we can look around and start bringing the Shechinah to rest upon the people there, by thinking about each one individually what good point he has, and to think about how Hashem is with him. At the same time, he can include himself with everyone else, as he realizes that he also has some Mitzvah through which Hashem has rested His light on him.

This is wonderful advice how to find encouragement together with real humility.

When a person is sunk into feelings of distance from Hashem and sadness, it’s very hard to find joy with the good which he has. But if he will go out of himself a little and will begin to think about Hashem’s Shechinah dwelling by other people, he can then bring himself in together with them.

It may be for this reason that the Rebbe began the Torah of “Nekudos Tovos”, known as “Azamra” (Likutei Moharan I 282) with seeing merit by others, before looking for merit by oneself. If a person will conduct himself in such a way, he certainly won’t be able to fall into pride, because everyone else is also as good as he is …

Don’t wonder whether your thoughts about other people make a difference. In truth, through every such thought of finding a “Nekudah Tovah”, whether about another Jew or about oneself, a person brings the Shechinah into this world, awakens Hashem’s great mercy and compassion, and builds a dwelling for Hashem in this lower world.

The thoughts of a Jew have great potency. He must therefore be strong to bring the Shechinah everywhere he goes by accustoming himself to find some good in everyone he sees and to think about it until he will strengthen his Emunah that “Hashem is here and I am walking through the Mishkan of Hashem”.

Thus we can achieve the first paragraph of Shulchan Aruch- the paragraph which most people have given up on – “’I place Hashem before me constantly’ is a great principle in Torah, that a person should place before his eyes…”.  This paragraph is relevant for everyone on whatever level he is on, by thinking about the kindness of Hashem and to see how Hashem dwells upon him in merit of his good and the good of others. (Likutei Halachos Hashkamas HaBoker 1)

 

 

 

Can We Dream Of Miracles?

There are times when a popular rebellion that threatens to take down an entire kingdom starts by external forces.  A band of infiltrators settles down and, over time, undermines the stability of the country.  They inject silent venom of mutiny and bitterness that easily sways the people’s emotions.  Their toxic speech wreck a delicate structure of trust and admiration.  At those times, the dispute between the people and the leaders isn’t the real problem at the heart of the nation; rather, it is a foreign affliction, virulent and deadly as cancer, that needs to be removed.  The way to return the trust and rebuild the relationships is to separate the people from the foreign influence and unite them around a kernel of true trust and appreciation of the sublime honor of the kingdom.

♦♦♦

Last week the Torah told us just of such an event.  The people of Israel, the crown of creation, the beloved children of Hashem, pure souls for whom the entire universe and beyond was created – fall, in one instant, from utter perfection to the depth of unimaginable sacrilege.

But the horrendous transgression wasn’t the deed of the Jewish souls.  The devastating breakdown of trust and faith was the deed of Egyptian infiltrators, the “Erev Rav”.

As long as the Jewish nation was secluded, they basked in the closeness to G-d and the sublime privilege of His unparalleled love for them.  The nature of this intimate relationship cannot be described with words.  The people of Israel were immersed in a divine glow that is beyond description of being picked out of billions of identical people and made incomparably unique.  When one feels that way, the legs lift themselves up all on their own and run to serve Hashem.  When the heart is overflowing with love for Hashem, it pulls the entire body with unbreakable ropes of love.  But somebody really didn’t like that special connection.

The Infiltrators’ Rebellion

There are always those who take a very jaundice view of the special relationship Israel has with Hashem.  During the failing of the golden calf, it was the Erev Rav who introduced the bane of rebelliousness into the hearts of the people of Israel.  They killed the very living spirit that pulsates in the Jewish heart, replacing it with doubt and suspicion.  This is the way of Amalek, he who jumped into the fire to put out the flame of Jewish faith.  Like the Erev Rav, Amalek introduced the notion of עם קל, a rearrangement of the letters of its name עמלק, inferring that Israel is ‘just another nation’, nothing special.  A nation like any other.  From there to downfall, the way is short and easy.

The golden calf wrecked the Jewish heart, yes, yet in parshas VaYakhel the Torah tells us how this damage was rectified.

ויקהל משה – “And Moshe has gathered the congregation of Israel”.  The Holy Zohar explains “The congregation of Israel” – excluding the Erev Rav.  This gathering came to rectify the crime of the golden calf by separating the nation of Israel from the Egyptian lecherous plague.  This is the secret.

The sin of the golden calf is the direct result of intermingling; it’s as simple as that.  This is what Amalek and the Erev Rav are after: the dimming of the divine radiance of our Jewish identity.

Erev Rav, Get Out!

The way to disrobe the heavy, soiled garments of heresy is to hold an exclusive gathering that rejects everything that doesn’t belong in the inner Jewish point.  The Erev Rav ‘gave us’ many things; opinions … emotions … doubt … calling them by fancy names to camouflage the fact they are a rancid fruit of foreign spirit.  The results of that ‘enlightenment’ are the feelings of distance and fatigue that led to the sin of the golden calf, as well as the confusions of emunah people experience today.

If we want to renew our connection to Hashem we must first get rid of that which comes from the outside and gather around the points of goodness, good thoughts and the true wisdom of the Torah of Moshe Rabbeinu.

Moshe reveals that even though we’ve sinned, Hashem’s affection is still with us, a love of a Father to His children which we will never be able to imagine.  During this gathering Moshe connected himself to every single Jew, from the greatest to the lowliest.  Even the lowest Jew received the astonishing gift of connecting to Moshe.  This is possible because Tzaddikim see the G-dliness in everything, even when it’s deeply concealed in the very dwelling of defilement itself.  When Moshe looks at the smallest Jew he sees only the Jewish point in him.  This is what enables Moshe to connect himself with everyone.

To Gather So We Can Pray

Purim is right ahead of us.  The story of the Megila eerily reflects the present times we live in.  The people of Israel need mercy and pardon like never before.  We are all stuck deep to our necks in the mud of trouble and difficulties.

We watch over millenniums at the marvels of the Megila and wordlessly wonder if ניסים can happen today as well.  Can we dream of miracles?  The answer is that it is not only possible, but essential.  What we need to do now is gather.

Gathering creates unity and unity brings the essential faith to the heart of the nation.  A Jewish heart must be nourished with emunah.  To pray and achieve deliverance, we have to be glowing with the pride of belonging to the Kingdom of Hashem.  When the people of Israel can cast off the filth that became mixed in with the life of emunah and gather around our points of goodness, emunah, and hope, the gates of prayer will be flung wide open.

VaYakhel renews the living remembrance of the love of a merciful Father.  Getting together and expelling the external influences kindle the Jewish fire in our hearts again.  It is what allows us to know that no matter how low we might have sunk; His love is still with us.  At anytime and anyplace we can get together and evoke new compassion upon us all.

All we have to do, is do it.

 

 

The Power of Perseverance

The majority of a person’s falls in his Divine service are because he sees that he has been aroused to serve Hashem a number of times and yet he fell each time. In truth, the exact opposite is true, for do we not know that even one who sinned his entire life and was never aroused to repentance, if he repents in the end he is forgiven, as our sages of blessed memory taught. How much more so if one was been aroused many times but fell away again each time, there is certainly hope for him and it is certainly easier for him to truly return to Hashem, for “there is no good will that is lost”. (Likutei Halachos, Shabbos 7, section 7)

The Power of Perseverance

It is well known that when one seeks to build a house it is necessary to enter into a long process that requires much patience. Much effort together with many tests and plans are required, before the building even begins as well as during the process itself. Sometimes a wall must be demolished and moved somewhere else and support beams may need to be rearranged, until eventually one merits to see the house in its completion. One who desires to build a home prepares himself for the fact that it might take some time. So it is with learning to play an instrument or studying a trade; one must be prepared for much time to be ‘wasted’ because of unexpected obstacles and mistakes before one can reap the fruits of his labor.

However, for some reason, when it comes to the service of Hashem it is ever so difficult to convince a person that in this area too, things take time and one must prepare himself with much patience; that one will most likely have to spend time building a wall that will later have to be demolished and rebuilt elsewhere – perhaps even a few walls…

People do not want to accept this truth and it is therefore difficult to enter into the service of Hashem, for “The majority of a person’s falls in his Divine service are because he sees that he has been aroused to serve Hashem a number of times and yet he fell each time”. One doesn’t understand that this is the way things are built, that one requires perseverance and a strong desire to begin again and again until one sees some success.

The Many beginnings of Teshuva

It is here that Reb Nosson reveals to us the great magnitude of our mistake, how the evil inclination deceives a person into weakening his resolve because he hasn’t succeeded in constructing a building in one shot. This is so ironic in light of the fact that we all know that even if a person only repents at the end of life he is forgiven. How is it then that one becomes so discouraged when he has not yet succeeded in accomplishing a certain aspect of holiness, for if one single of teshuva can help a person at the end of his life, how much more so can many of teshuvas come to one’s aid. Such a person will certainly receive heavenly assistance and every teshuva helps and gives strength to the next teshuva. It is only that the evil inclination deceives a person and makes it seem as if he cannot succeed. One fails to understand that this is the building process and that he is certainly better off than one who remains ‘fallen’ his entire life and only repents at the very end.

The evil inclination knows that it is regarding this point that he must deceive us, for this is his greatest fear, that one make a new beginning. ‘Many beginnings’ are the main way of weakening the strength of the evil inclination and this is why he focuses so greatly on this point.

This is why we must strengthen ourselves exceedingly in this aspect Divine service – making many new beginnings of ‘repentance’ and starting over many times. The truth is that every repentance completely atones for the past. Even if one falls again, he should not be discouraged, but rather begin again to repent, for he is in the midst of construction and every new beginning brings him closer to finishing the job.

FAQ: Jealousy and Envy

Question:

What should I do that I feel very unhappy when I see that my friends are more successful in their Avodas Hashem than I am?

Answer:

Before we discuss the issue itself, we have to pay attention to whether we are dealing here with ‘jealousy’ or ‘envy’. Although they both aren’t good character traits, ‘envy’ is worse. There’s a big difference between the two. Jealousy is when a person thinks to himself, “Why am I not like so-and-so?” because he also wants to do well. But ‘envy’ is “Why is so-and-so successful?” as if to say that it bothers him that this person is successful when he’s not. He therefore looks to find something wrong with the other person, to spot where he’s unsuccessful. He would like to see him trip and fall.

For this reason we have to think carefully what we are looking for in life; we want to bring delight to Hashem. If I don’t merit revealing Hashem enough in the world, at least let there be someone else that will be. In the end I might also gain, because I might be inspired further in Avodas Hashem when there will be more holiness in the world through someone else’s Avodah.

Therefore, before we talk about unhappiness that comes about from jealousy of others, we should be careful that at least we shouldn’t take satisfaction in their downfall. On the contrary, we have to be full of love and compassion on all of Klal Yisroel, and especially with our close friends, and hope for all of them to be as Hashem wants.

The Rebbe very much praised the ability to be pleased about one’s friend’s Avodas Hashem even though he himself hasn’t been successful. It’s very common that a person should be pained to see others being successful, especially when he’s on a low. (Sichos Haran 119)

Question:

What’s the solution for this?

Answer:

There is a simple solution: to pray for another’s success in that matter which he himself wants to do well. This can help bring a person to a real nullification before Hashem (Likutei Mohoran 22). In the beginning it’s difficult to pray for someone else to be successful, but he should still try to force himself a little to pray for him.

In addition, through praying for his friend’s success in Avodas Hashem, he will cleanse his own wishes, making them purer and more Heavenly focused. He won’t only be thinking about his own personal success, but about Hashem being revealed in the world. Thus, Hashem will help him so that his wishes will be accepted, bringing him to merit true Avodas Hashem.

After we have strengthened ourselves in valuing other people’s success, let’s now discuss jealousy, the feeling of ‘When will I be like him?’

We must be very careful to run away from any thoughts of jealousy. This is one of the greatest causes of people to be distanced from Hashem, and it brings people down to the point where they have no ability to focus on the World to Come nor the state of mind of living with Hashem (Likutei Mohoran I 54).

We have to strengthen ourselves very much in our Emunah to know that each person has a specific job in this world which no one else has. Like a large machine which has many screws; each screw and part is an essential part of the machine, and without it the machine wouldn’t be able to operate. We can imagine that if one screw would want to go into the place of another screw, not only wouldn’t it be able to fit because of the size of the other screw’s hole, but also its own hole would remain empty. The entire machine would be worthless.

We need to know that the same thing is in regards to the special mission which each person has which is fitting just for him. Every person has his talents and surroundings which he was born into and grew up with, and tests and trials which he had to pass. The entire world depends on him fulfilling his own mission and to serve Hashem with the tools which he has, not with someone else’s tools.

But again, this is all only when one truly tries encouraging himself to seek Hashem’s will. I.e what does Hashem want from ‘me’, ‘This is my job and that is someone else’s’.

Question:

How should we understand Chazal’s saying, ‘Jealousy amongst the wise increases wisdom’?

Answer:

Everything in the world can be used for good and can also be used to ruin. Everything has a good side and a bad side.

Of course, in order to find motivation in Avodas Hashem it is good to keep the company of good friends who will increase one’s desire and aspirations to emulate their ways – a form of jealousy which increases wisdom.

But we have to be careful not to ruin anything with this trait of jealousy, meaning, we shouldn’t want to be exactly like someone else, because no two people are alike. Chazal say “Many tried to do like Rashbi and were unsuccessful.” The Baal Shem Tov explains that this was because they made the mistake of trying to reach Rashbi’s spiritual level and imitate him, and didn’t focus on giving Hashem satisfaction.

The positive form of jealousy is when a person receives from other people a general inspiration for Avodas Hashem, to see that Avodas Hashem is a relevant, possible thing, and that we can come close to Hashem from within this stormy world.

But this inspiration has to be within one’s own account with Hashem, according to his own talents and capabilities, and not in relation to competition with others. To think, “How can I be so far while someone else is advancing?”, would be real pride. (Likutei Halachos Pesach 9)

We have to be very careful about this. The same way there can be obstacles towards Avodas Hashem from the Yetzer Hara, it is also possible for close friends to become obstacles by their causing us to feel dejected when we see their advancement, and we start to imagine that they are ‘cutting us off’. We have to strengthen ourselves in our belief in our own Avodah, and to remember that it’s for sure very dear in Hashem’s eyes. We don’t know Hashem’s calculations, who’s greater, who puts in more effort, and in what way Hashem takes satisfaction.

Don’t worry that maybe because of this you will weaken in Avodas Hashem. If a person is seriously looking to do Hashem’s will, and prays that Hashem draw him close, without any feelings of dejection from others, nor that his Avodah should just be the imitation of others, then he will truly advance little by little according to his abilities.

 

Acquiring Perfection

We started so many times – where are all those beginnings?  Is there any way to assemble the pieces into something whole?

The palace is getting ready for the big day of the coronation.  Kingdom bigwigs come and go as ministers and countless laborers fill the halls with bustle.  Inside, in a private chamber, sits the king and with him is his trusted advisor.  Before them is a detailed design of the royal crown.  The greatest artisans in the world are toiling on the creation of the magnificent symbol of the kingdom’s might and glory. The king is asking his trusted advisor to choose for him the appropriate jewel that will adorn the very top of the crown.  The advisor suggested a rare diamond that can be found only in a far away land.  A special, loyal man is chosen for the difficult quest of fetching the precious stone.   The man himself cannot understand how he’ll ever be able to accomplish the feat.  How can he travel that far, all alone on a road fraught so with dangers, to the place where the stone can be found?  But the king just says, ‘Go to the house of my advisor.  Stay with him at his house.  There you will find what you need for your quest.’

Sure enough, a few days later, after spending time with the monarch’s friend, the loyal man has absorbed the necessary survival skills.  Now the stone is within reach.  Keeping to a few rules, he’ll be able to traverse the great distances, overcome the trials along the way, and bring the crown jewel to the king.

♦♦♦

We started many times (and we intended to start even more times …) but we still came to a screeching halt every single time.  Some new beginnings were truly spectacular, full of zest and enthusiasm … only to fizzle out before we even took the first step.  Those beginnings just dispersed like dust in the wind, lost in space, drowning into a void of depression and lethargy.  Is there a way to turn this dust powder into something whole?  Can we even hope to stick to a new start and reach completion – dare we say perfection?

The answer is in parshat Tetzaveh.  In last week’s parsha we were ordered to bring a donation of half a shekel.  Whatever ‘semi-goodness’ we possessed was warmly received and became a part of the Mishkan, enabling the divine inspiration of the people of Israel.  Now, however, the Mishkan is already standing and in it we are to perform services with ‘temple-class’ sanctity.  From the preparation of the Menorah through the sacrifices, the toil of the Mishkan demands uncompromising perfection.

The Menorah was fed oil that was the best and purest.  After all, if you wish to set the souls and hearts of the people of Israel aflame, you must feed them the purest of fuels.  Mediocre oils are plentiful, but the very best are few and far between.  ‘Perfect deeds’ are Mitzvos that are filled with love and awe.  They are performed with punctiliousness, wholehearted, and inspired excitement.  And above all, they are infused by the purest thought in heart and mind.

This is about as rare as the crown Jewels of England.

The secret of survival

When a Jew sets out to bring the crowning jewel for the King’s crown, parshat Tetzaveh orders him to adhere to the Tzaddik.  The Tzaddik is the only truly loyal friend the King has.  He is the only one who can instruct a Jew how to survive the adventurous trip to the perfect deed.

The problem is that one may lose perfection just because of his very ambition for it.  The tremendous thirst to do something whole, complete with pure mind and heart, can make us despair even before we begin.  Perfection is far, and the only way we can get to it is if we stick together.  Obtaining ‘pure oil’, says the Parsha, can only be acquired through togetherness with Tzaddikim.

Tzaddikim teach us the principle that ‘nothing good ever gets lost’ – no matter how compelling the evidence to the contrary.  The tiny shards of goodness we perform are forever kept in the vaults of Hashem.  Tzaddikim teach us that the reason why we don’t reach perfection is because we lose all our new beginnings along the way.  The Tzaddikim, who are Hashem’s loyal emissaries, are collecting every good deed and every holy thought a Jew has and ‘brings them home’.   Together, all the little pieces make a perfect whole.  This is why the secret to perfection is adhering to those Tzaddikim.

The mistake seekers of Hashem make far too often is that they think that perfection is achieved through perfect steps along the way.  Our righteous guides teach us that perfection is built, just like the Mishkan, with half-deeds and semi-precious points of light.  The secret is for someone to collect all the pieces, put them together, and build perfection out of them all.

Team work

Togetherness has a tremendous power. Imagine a person sitting by himself, studying a certain Torah sugiya.  He is tying one bit of understanding to another, weaving the pieces together into a coherent vista.  The next day he looks at it again and finds, to his horror, that the subject is more confusing than it ever was!  Forgetfulness untied the tenuous links between the pieces of comprehension, turning answers into questions, and reasonable assumptions into perplexing mysteries.   But if two people sit together on the issue, they will easily remind one another of all the forgotten details.  And whatever these two forget, a third person can remind them both!  Togetherness can maintain the missing pieces and put them all together.

The road to pure olive oil cannot be traversed by a single person, traveling on his own.  He has to join the Tzaddikim who collect everyone’s pieces of achievement.  Oil is produced by breaking down the olives.  Perfection is achieved by putting the pieces together following the breaking down process.

We must remember that all deeds, even those who seem lacking, have in them an undeniable point of perfection.  Any Torah study, as imperfect as it may seem, is blemished only here, in this passing, transient world.  Hashem considers it perfect if it is performed with the wish is to serve Hashem with it in mind.  If this is the reason behind the study, His will was already accomplished.

Since perfection is, per definition, impossible, every step towards it is perfection itself.


Building the Shechina a Dwelling place in your heart

Everyone longs for the sacred joy that can tear away the cobwebs of tiredness and defeat from one’s soul … We had it in the Beis Hamikdash, but where is it today?

Everything in creation sings the praise of Hashem, Blessed be He.  The heaven and the earth, countless stars and planets.  Untold millions of living creatures, plants and inanimate objects.  “For my honor I have created it, formed it, and also did it,” says the prophet Yishaya (chapter 42).  Everything is recreated every single day for the glory of Hashem.

When Hashem’s glory rests upon a person, that person feels an influx of indescribable pleasure and joy.  This is what the world was created for.  When the supernal pleasure flows in, it sets the heart aflame with longing to serve Hashem.  This is the residence of the holy Shechina inside the soul.  One can taste this pleasure during special times of grace.  And when the gates are thus open, this joy can be tasted in sweetness of the words of Torah, and in the fiery utterance of prayer.  When a person is so fortunate as to taste but a morsel of Hashem’s honor residing within him, he knows without any doubt why he was created.  This is what gives people the power to toil tirelessly in the service of Hashem.  When you feel the King, you have no trouble withstanding the temptations of the evil inclination.  Before the King there is no sadness, nor does one need seek succor and relief in the pleasures of this world.

Fortunate are those who have the strength to “stand in the palace of the King”.  Their good deeds purify their souls, enabling them to see the revelation of Hashem as a matter of course.  In their hearts they feel how the honor of Hashem permeates the world.  But then there are others whose hearts are blocked from any feeling of Hashem’s presence.  Their entire being is wrapped around calculations, thoughts of if’s and but’s, worries, and plans to no end.  In their hearts you cannot find joy or freedom of any kind, only a black hole of forgetfulness and emptiness. When such a person approaches Torah or prayer, every word seems to weigh a ton.  The trials and tribulation of time and place seem impassable.  This is because when the deeds are corrupt, divinity cannot rest there – and when the presence of Hashem is missing, everything is difficult to the point of being practically impossible.

One Small Chamber

In our parsha Hashem is asking Am Yisroel to prepare a place for the Shechina to dwell amongst them.  “Let them take for me a donation and I shall dwell among them.”

The medrash explains it with a parable:

Once there was a king who had a single daughter.  One day a prince came and he married her.  When the prince wished to return to his country with his new wife, the king said to him:  “The daughter you married is my only daughter.  I cannot separate from her at all – nor can I tell you not to take her away, since she is your wife.  So I ask you this favor.  Wherever you go, make me a small chamber so that I can reside with you, since separating from my daughter isn’t an option for me.”

This incredible parable reveals Hashem’s amazing love for us to the point he cannot separate from us even for a single second.

The medrash also reveals to us something else: it tells us that to get the Shechina to dwell in us all we need to do is to build for it a ‘little chamber’.  Before the sin of the golden calf, the people of Israel lived inside the palace of the King.  Their entire reality was bathing in the supernal delight of Hashem’s glory.  The sin took it all away.  Now it is no longer possible to feel Hashem’s presence in every place.  But just when things are the lowest, Hashem is giving a new way to connect with Him; “Make me a Temple”.  The Mishkan is that ‘small chamber’ we talked about.  It is a small room, full of sacred tools that make the dwelling of the Shechina in our midst possible.

With the Beis Hamikdash, like the Tabernacle in the desert, we could experience the revelation of Hashem’s glory.  When we performed the sacred pilgrimage of Aliya Laregel three times a year, we merited to have our souls purified.  We were able to receive an illumination which made it possible for us to actually intellectually understand the glory of Hashem and be fully cognizant of the presence of the Shechina in our midst.  It is the loss of this lucidity that we lament when we recite the Tikkun Chatzos.  The Beis Hamikdash is the first thing we miss.  Our very existence has become dark, as if someone dimmed down the sun.

So where can we find such a chamber that can contain the glory of Hashem today?

The advice for doing just that is also here, in Parshas Terumah.  The Torah invites every single Jew to be a part of building the Mishkan and the dwelling place of the holy Shechina.  We can make the Shechina reside within us with doing a Mitzvah and every single holy spark of goodness.  This is the chamber where the Shechina and Hashem’s glory dwell.

Rebbe Nachman warned us to be joyful at all times and adhere to Hashem through every single point of goodness within us (teaching # 282).  The Torah reveals this secret with the account of building the Mishkan.  The people of Israel were told to bring a gift from whatever they happen to have.  Some brought gold, others brought silver and some, who had no gold or silver, brought painted wool yarn.  These gifts allude to the Mitzvos we perform – big and small – at times without even realizing we are doing them … this is the chamber Hashem asked us to build for Him.

Each and every one of our days is filled with thousands of points of light.  Good thoughts … intentions to do teshuvah … overcoming temptations … each one of these can be an incredible donation to the building of the Mishkan.  The donations should be brought with the intent to reveal the Shechina and make a chamber for the divine providence to dwell among us.  When your mind aims towards that goal with every good deed you perform, it builds your own Mishkan and Hashem resides within you.

 

Skip over the sins and build

The minute our lives revolve around building a dwelling place for Hashem, we are forbidden to look backwards and judge ourselves, “What have I done? How could I be so stupid? How will I ever correct this or that? Whatever will become of me?”  The Torah tells us this secret by switching the order of events:  The sin of golden calf actually took place before the building of the Mishkan – yet the Torah disregards the proper order and ‘skips’ to the construction of the Tabernacle first just to tell you that Hashem’s love for us is without parallel.

The Torah is telling you: Don’t deal with sins now.  Stay away from any thought that may cause you to become discouraged.   We’ll get to rectifying the sin of the golden calf when the time comes.  But right now, run along. Keep moving.  Prepare a Mishkan for Hashem in your heart.  Bring a donation out of anything you can.  Any good point in your life can be a tool for inserting the Shechina into your life.

The donation creates a tool that enables the dwelling of Hashem amongst us.  Every single crumb of goodness we donate to the honor of Hashem builds this chamber.  The last letters of “לחזות בנעםה ולבקר בהיכלו” spell  “ת’ר’ו’מ’ה” to tell us that if we want to gaze upon the glory of Hashem we must bring this individual donation of personal goodness we can find within us.  All we have to do is mean it.


 

 

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