Emunah Based on the Teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

Archive for February 11, 2011

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.

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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.


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