Emunah Based on the Teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

Archive for March, 2011

The Key to Kedusha

We’ve just landed from the heights of “the ultimate knowledge is not knowing’ of the holy Megila with its astonishing miracle and the beaming kedusha of Mordechai and Esther.  Only yesterday we were flying beyond creation … and then the wine and whiskey faded.  We may have even forgotten that in the beginning of this week we were at such exalted place.

But something profound happened to us on Purim.  We touched a totally pristine truth.  For a few hours, we returned to a sweet innocence and touched the inner core of totally clean emunah.  If it wasn’t that time was passing and errands were beckoning, who in his right mind would want to leave such a holy world and return to the grayness of this everyday life?

We all wish to touch that longing and purity.  No one wants to return to the numbness that envelopes the heart.  No one in his right mind wants to plunge into the indifference and fatigue of the weekday all over again.  On Purim we tasted purity, spirit, and deliverance from the yokes of doubts.  We had a respite from a world of temptations and lusts.  We got a timeout from nagging fantasies.  We don’t want to leave that place.

But where can one find ropes that will keep our hearts and minds tied to the kedusha of Purim?  How can we remain connected to the peak of freedom while we wallow in the mud of incoherence and malice?

When the mind is clean, the holy thoughts can maintain the memory of the holy days and continue the connection even as the days propel us forward.  A spirit of defilement builds an iron curtain that creates fantasies that sever the cord of memory to the kedusha.  This is what brings us to numbness and oblivion.

A secret called “Parah”

During the time of Beis Hamikdash we had a way to extricate ourselves from defilement by using the mysterious ashes of a red heifer.  After being purified the soul shed the dense screen of blindness and apathy and was filled with a new, fresh spirit.  Today, more than at any time in history, we need that ash.  Being that the Torah is eternal, that miracle cure must be found in some fashion today as well.  Undoubtedly, Purim is the key.

In lesson 74 Rebbe Nachman explains that the spiritual road to Pesach emerges out of Purim. מפורים נעשה פרה  – “Purim becomes ‘Parah’ (heifer)”.  Heifer is the quintessential symbol of purification and it begins with Purim.

The Mitzvah of the red heifer is still a totally unfathomable mystery.  Shlomo Hamelech, the wisest of men, said: “I thought I have become wise (i.e. I will understand the secret of the red heifer) but it remains far from me.”   Spiritually, this is where the miraculous potency of the ashes of the red heifer lies.  It is to be found where the human intellect, with its multitude of questions and swirling doubts, cannot reach.

When the human mind encounters a question it cannot solve, it gets stuck and becomes clouded up.  This is the main reason for lethargic prayers.  You see, the world is filled with unanswerable questions and riddles.  It is not possible to comprehend the ways of the Divine.  So, sometimes we are filled with a subtle (or not so subtle) suspicion that ‘something isn’t right’ about the way Hashem runs the world.  When such thoughts enter the heart, we feel insulted, wondering: “Hey, why don’t things go my way?”   Everything seems to be going wrong just to spite me!  A heavy distrust creeps into the heart that things are somehow smoother and easier for people who are far from the service of Hashem.

The result is a clogged heart, which makes prayer so very hard.  In lesson 55 Rebbe Nachman talks about the heart being twisted, which blurs emunah and prayer.  A warm prayer can only come from a heart that is straight and simple.  The apex of emunah is the clear knowledge that Hashem is absolutely just.

The cure for the spirit of defilement is the ashes of the red heifer.  Purity can be found only in the lap of the unknowable. When you don’t insist on understanding, you do not fear questions.

Renewed With the World

The days of spring are fast approaching.  A person who seeks Hashem wishes to go to the field and renew himself among the plants and trees with fresh prayer and song.   A prayer invites the soul to renew itself to be set free from the jail of materialism and the madness of the flesh.  The heart calls for Hisbodedus … unfortunately, reality doesn’t always agree…

Renewing prayer suddenly becomes a battle.  Disturbing foreign thoughts squeeze the energy out of you to the point of exhaustion.  Humiliation and pain flood you from within and from the world around you.  Your prayer is crowded with a thousand thoughts of silliness and insanity that drive you clear out of your mind.   This is where you need the ashes of red heifer –  The secret of not asking anything and taking it all in your stride.

If our prayer didn’t go the way we wanted it to, trying to understand why it happened will only make it worse and actually drive us away from our goal.  Soon a suspicion permeates the heart after a failed Hisbodedus that things will not improve in the future either.  This results in a loss of many hours you could have spent praying.  The insistence on understanding can be the source of all defilement.  Demanding an explanation for every failure throws an opaque screen before the light.  The foundation of simplicity is that whatever transpired happened for a reason.  Hashem knows what He is doing – move on.  This is the secret of stability and permanence.

Kedusha is predicated on stability and consistency.  Consistent learning and Hisbodedus schedules are the building blocks of your eventual personal sanctity.  To achieve this consistency you need to dismantle the roadblocks that bar your way – and the greatest one of them all is the insistence on understanding the reason for failures and difficulties.  Stability and consistency in kedusha means adhering to the correct schedule and regimen even if it seems to go ‘all wrong’.  You add one grain of goodness to another and build an edifice of kedusha.

Clear-headed simplicity is the key.

 

 

What Does One do during a Recess?

Recess is not only a waste of time, but a source of distress.  When excitement dwindles, coldness seeps in …

A deep silence descended on the Yeshiva.  A guest Torah luminary has just finished delivering a deep discourse on a difficult sugya.  The young students sent the Rosh Yeshiva their questions ahead of time, fully expecting their every confusion dispelled.  Yet for an hour they have been sitting there, listening, yet were unable to understand the revered guest’s logic.

Following the lecture the students tried looking for the Torah great and asked him to make things more clear, but he was gone.  Disappointed, the students returned to their books.  If the teacher was gone, his words were imprinted in their memory still.  The students sat together in small study groups, pondering and analyzing the words they heard.  Ever so slowly, the words were coming together.  Suddenly the connections the distinguished guest made became clear and before they knew it, the entire issue was illuminated, shining clear as day.  Before the evening the guest scholar returned.  “At my lecture” he said, “I have given you the basic understanding that was enough to answer all your questions.  But you had no way to understand what I said unless you had time to settle the things in your hearts.  I disappeared to give you that space and give you the chance to understand them on your own”.

♦♦♦

We’ve just entered the month of Adar full with zest and enthusiasm. Last week we heard the parsha of Shekalim, the first of the four Parshiot leading to Purim and Pessach.  During Rosh Chodesh we could practically feel the excitement of the oncoming Holidays while reciting the Halel.  If the first days were so electric, surely the days after would be even better… but they weren’t.  Instead they were quiet and, well, nothing.

Inexplicably, sandwiched between Shekalim and Zachor there is a ‘meaningless’ Shabbos set smack in middle.  A Jew may wonder ‘What now?’  What am I to do with an ’empty’ Shabbos in the midst of the most special times of the year?  What’s more, how do you get ready to the high, exalted upcoming holydays?  How do you affect deliverances?

This interlude is rather deflating.  There’s “too much time to think”, as it were.  Into the vacuum doubts can creep, and enthusiasm can wither on the vine.  And that is exactly where Amalek is lying in wait.

“There is one nation”’ Amalek thunders, “Who are quick to get excited and just as quick to get bored and cool off”.  They just woke up from the rustle of the Shekalim and are back asleep once again.

So why, then, is this intermission here, during such a critical time?

To stop and reflect

The answer to “what do we do now?” is “We stop and reflect”.

The break is intended for reflection.  Adar is a month of new beginnings as well as continuity.  It is a month of war against Amalek and his chilling doubts.  This is why a Shabbos that is dedicated to reflection is so important.  We heard Shekalim last week.  Now it is time to stop and take inventory.

When you look closely you notice that Judaism is made of new beginnings.  Surprisingly, one connects to the kedusha with half-baked efforts and not just with perfect accomplishments.  So the only thing left to do is … do.  You grab whatever you can and run with it.

If Amalek wishes to inject us with doubt, then doubt is the last thing we need to deal with now.  When the time comes to doing anything, Amalek comes up with the age-old song of: “Oh, I don’t know what to do”.  Even when it is time to daven Shachris, Amalek still contends that “things aren’t clear” and why should one rush?  After all, there really isn’t anything to do there anyhow.  Amalek also has “questions”: How will you know how to learn?  Or how to Pray? Or how to get ready for Purim or Pesach? Or which Mitzvah takes precedence?  In other words, Amalek concludes, you don’t have a clue how to be a Jew and if there’s anything that needs to be done, it is best pushed off until tomorrow.

The verse warns us about the war against Amalek and his ubiquitous “tomorrow”.  “Go and hold a fight against Amalek tomorrow”.  Do not push off anything until tomorrow because doubts and lack of enthusiasm will enter your heart until then.  Shabbos Shekalim screams: “Don’t let thoughts and doubts hold you up anymore”.  Paralysis is the result of insisting on perfection when happiness is possible only if you are willing to contend with scraps.  Anyone knows to grab good moments – a couple of moments of prayer, a steady shiur, and quickness to utilize an available half an hour for something good.  Amalek wants to rob us of this affluence and our goal is to push off doubts that will paralyze us.

The call of VaYikra is calling out to every Jew to come into the holy of holies and serve Hashem with Torah and Mitzvoth as it is said: “Every day a divine call comes out of the mount Choreb”.

The other way around

The month of Adar is a time of “the other way around”.  This is the month that has turned from lamentations to great joy.  This is the time to conduct a revolution of kedusha.  Breaks are made for continuity and not doubts and coldness.

Breaks and doubts ambush us at every corner, causing hours upon hours of idleness.  “It seems that there is no use to start as there isn’t enough time to finish anything, and nothing is going to change anyhow…”  It is the time to look at things differently.  If there’s no time, then it is time to move ahead and grab whatever we can and fill the temporal with the eternal.  When the people of Israel were called to donate their possessions for the building of the Mishkan they were well before the decree of having to spend forty years in the desert.  As far as they were concerned, they were mere weeks before entering into the land of Israel.  Still, not a single person claimed they should wait for the permanent home of the Shechinah and refrain from building the temporary Mishkan.  This is because they were burning with the holy fire of enthusiasm for the service of Hashem and were quick to grab onto any Mitzvah they could.

The sanctity that appeared upon us in the beginning of the four Parshiod didn’t disappear. The break means to give us some space for reflection.  The time when the light is gone is the best time to reflect on what I got from the light while it was here.  “Dead time” is telling anyone who is willing to hear and search that there is always what to do: it is always possible to do the best for this very minute.

 

 

Be Flexible Like a Reed

Meshivas Nefesh #42 – Elucidated

The main way of encouragement is to know the limitations of the human intellect, that in truth we  know nothing at all, as King Shlomo said: “I am a boor of men…” (Mishlei 30,2). We are therefore obligated to nullify and put aside our understanding completely and rather to believe in the words of the true Tzaddikim who teach that there truly is G-dly vitality even in the lowliest places. It is only that it is impossible to find Hashem’s glory there with any form of human comprehension. This is because these places are SEEMINGLY empty of G-dliness, in an aspect of “I will not give My glory to another” (Yeshaya 42,8).  Hence we must search for and seek out in these places: “Where is the place of His glory!” (Mussaf prayer). Through this alone can one arise again in the ultimate spiritual ascent.

The main encouragement and revival of those who are tremendously distant and have fallen to these places, which are an aspect of the “Challal HaPanui” (The mystical concept of The Vacant Space), is through the concept of “Rechicha” (flexibility/suppleness). For in these lowly places no light can be seen, as the light is so extremely subtle that it is cast aside and hidden from all who enter this place; just like a soft object is easily cast aside by anything that impacts it.  So too, the main form of encouragement in these places is also through Rechicha, which is an aspect of “Let go, and know that I am Hashem” (Tehillim 46,11). Regarding this our sages taught: “Let one always be soft as a reed and not hard as a Cedar tree” (Tractate Shabbos 30b). All the winds in the world cannot move a reed from its place, specifically because it is soft and flexible, bending before all that encounters it.  Although it is soft its roots are extremely strong. With this combination no wind can uproot it. A hard tree however, will be uprooted by strong and stormy winds. So it is with the places that are an aspect of the Challal HaPanui, where the winds of the Forces of Evil blow with extreme force.  It is forbidden for one in such a place to involve himself in questions and intellectual investigation, of which the verse says: “Do not harden your hearts” (Tehillim 95,8). For the main source of strength is to be supple like a reed, allowing all the questions, confusion and obstacles from within oneself and from others to brush past like the wind over a reed. One should not take notice of them at all, in an aspect of: “I will be like a man who does not hear” (Tehillim 38,15). For the questions and confusion that come from these places CANNOT be resolved. One must therefore be endlessly strong in his faith, rooted strongly like a reed in water; even though it bends before the winds its roots are ferociously strong. We must likewise cling tightly to the faith that we received from our ancestors and teachers, hearing nothing of the questions and confusion that come from these places. One must not answer them at all, as if one has no answer, to the extent that it seems to them that he has been subdued before them, G-d forbid.

Ironically this is one main source of strength, like the above mentioned reed. For the truth is that if one desires to search for answers in these places he will remain in complete darkness, since the questions that are rooted in these places cannot be answered with human intellect alone. Hence one must be flexible like a reed and adhere tightly to his roots, which practically means be strong in one’s faith and to search for Hashem in an aspect of “Where is the place of His glory!”. Specifically through this will one merit to the ultimate spiritual ascent.

The main rectification of the world itself, which will come about through the two Moshiachs, one a descendent of Yosef and the other of King David, will be through the concept of “Soft as a reed”. This is why Yosef is called “Avreich” (אברך) which is composed of the two words “Av” (Father) and “Rach” (soft). For although he possessed great ‘fatherly’ knowledge, he was also ‘soft as a reed’, knowing which questions cannot be answered. Regarding King David it also says: “I am today Rach…” (Shmuel 2; 3,39). Concerning this topic of “Rechicha” there is much to be said, however, it is impossible to put it in writing.  One who is perceptive and truly desires will understand on his own in what manner he must be soft like a reed and nevertheless extremely strong in his roots, and how this ‘softness’ is his main source of strength eternally. (Likutey Halachos, Eiruvei Techumin 6, section 8)

Stubbornness can be a very valuable trait, for it is imperative to keeping the Torah. One needs ‘holy stubbornness’ to stand before Hashem in prayer, to maintain set times for Torah study each day, to strain one’s mind to remember Hashem and to contemplate the things one has learned in the works of the Tzaddikim.  It is only through stubbornness that one can persevere in his Divine service.

However, on the other hand one must know that stubbornness alone can be detrimental too. If one clings to his stubbornness excessively, he might give up completely if he isn’t successful in achieving things exactly the way he desired. It could also lead him to lose his cool and to get angry in the face of obstacles. He could drive himself crazy and hurt others too, specifically because he lacks the flexibility to adjust, to do what is possible and to keep going. It can clearly be seen how there are times when the stubborn succeed and for others when it is the very reason for their failure.

There is another down side to obstinacy. The stubborn person desires to understand everything immediately and as long as he does not, he refuses to move forward. This is true regarding Torah learning but even more so concerning questions on Hashem. It is in this way that one can be held back for years on the same point of confusion and puzzlement, wasting one’s life away in emptiness – all because of stubbornness.

By Kind David we find completion both in the attribute of stubbornness as well as in that of flexibility.  One must pray extensively to Hashem to receive this wondrous gift, to abandon the negative side of this attribute; the desire to understand things that are not to be understood. There are testing times when one is sent down to difficult places where it is impossible to find Hashem through intellect, only through pure faith alone. If one would just let go of his obstinate desire for the clear revelations he has experienced in the past, he could quickly overcome this hurdle.  The advice is to cast away one’s desire to understand and to return to an all-encompassing understanding that the Tzaddikim reveal – that Hashem is always with us. For if the eye sees and the hand moves, Hashem is certainly with me and if I don’t understand how, who ever said I’m supposed to. Despite the fact that I may be accustomed to perceiving the glory of Hashem in a more revealed fashion, I certainly have a purpose in this place too, to bring about rectifications through strengthening myself even without feeling and doing what I can. The main thing is to let go of the stubbornness, to understand that there are those who must endure downfalls and contend with places of darkness. In this way one can return to a life full of light, avoid going crazy and find some peace of mind.

 

 

IF YOU BELIEVE IT IS POSSIBLE TO CAUSE DAMAGE, BELIEVE IT IS POSSIBLE TO RECTIFY

Meshivas Nefesh #41 – Elucidated

The main thing is emunah, which is an aspect of Shabbos, for as long as one has emunah he will certainly return to Hashem completely. Therefore a person should encourage himself with this itself. The evil inclination and the forces of evil seek to bring about ones downfall through giving him the feeling that he has sinned and done so much damage that he can no longer repent and rectify such terrible sins. Especially since there truly are people who have done tremendous damage, as they themselves know the many great and severe sins they have transgressed over many days and years, G-d forbid.

There are those who began a number of times with teshuva and Divine service but then fell again as they did, each person with his own falls. Through this the Evil inclination implants in them each time the feeling that they are hopeless owing to these great sins. But the truth is that with this itself a person can enliven and encourage himself, for since he still believes that a sin is something terrible through which damage is caused in all the heavenly worlds, this shows that he still has faith. And since one still has faith, there is certainly hope for him, for if one believes that he can cause damage he can certainly rectify too.

For it is well known that the philosophers and apostates do not believe at all that one causes damage in the heavenly worlds though one’s sins. This is what brings them to come up with all sorts of false explanations for the commandments of the Torah. Yet we, the Holy Nation, believe that a sin, G-d forbid, causes tremendous damage in the heavenly words and the evil inclination tries to use this itself to discourage a person, G-d forbid. However, the exact opposite is true, for it is fitting that one encourage himself with the fact that he still has faith.

For the main intention of the Evil Inclination is to discourage a person so greatly, casting him into outright apostasy until he says: “There is no judgment and no judge”, G-d forbid. This is what the sages taught: “Today he (the Evil Inclination) tells a person to do such and such, until he eventually tells him to go and serve idolatry.” As we see in every generation how there are many who come to what they come to, G-d forbid, through their downfalls and the discouragement that the Evil Inclination instills in them.

Therefore a person must be sensible and strengthen himself constantly in any way that he can no matter what happens. One must use the above mentioned knowledge and encourage himself with the very fact that he still believes that tremendous damage is caused by sin. For as long as one has faith there is hope for him and he can certainly rectify everything, for “all your commandments are faith.” The main purpose of the Mitzvos is to come through them to perfect emunah and gain awareness of the Creator of the universe. As long as one still retains a hint of holy emunah there is still hope for him, for there certainly exists guidance and advice that can help even him return to Hashem easily by way of some pleasure that he can give to Hashem from wherever he may be. Through this he will merit to return to Hashem through the power of the true Tzaddikim, to the extent that he can merit to such perfect repentance that, as our sages taught, all his sins will be turned into merits. (Likutey Halachos, Techumin 5, section 35)

In this piece Reb Nosson explains the famous saying of our holy Rebbe: “If you believe that it is possible to cause damage, believe that it is possible to rectify!” These words are not just wise words of encouragement; they contain a deep and most wondrous understanding of the very foundation of Judaism.

When one strives to attain some degree of holiness yet sees how each time he falls and cannot seem to succeed in achieving that which he desires, the natural response to this is deep-felt pain and disappointment. Eventually one begins to get the feeling that he just isn’t cut out for serving Hashem. Some people feel this way completely and others feel this regarding some specific aspect of Divine service like Torah, prayer, sanctity and the like.

Regarding this the Rebbe exclaimed: “If you believe that it is possible to cause damage, believe that it is possible to rectify!” This reveals the awesome power of faith in Hashem. For there are many people in the world who have fallen into atheism and apostasy – they no longer believe in the importance of Mitzvos and what tremendous ramifications they have in Heaven. They thus automatically make light of the commandments. There are also those who have been “cooled off” from Judaism and strive only to emulate the gentiles. They have no understanding of the concept of “Yiddishkeit”, and the ways of the Tzaddikim with their exceeding piety, seems to them to be extraneous and unnecessary. In this way little-by-little, they have lost their understanding of the difference between good and evil.

The Rebbe therefore tells us that as long as one still has faith, meaning that one’s ability to differentiate between good and evil has not been blurred and he still believes that anything that is not done for the glory of Hashem is damaging, he must know with certainty that he can rectify, for he is still innately connected to holiness.

This is the power of the correct appreciation and awareness of emunah. Even if one sees his tremendous distance from holiness and his lack of connection to the service of Hashem, he must nevertheless meticulously guard this awareness of the contrast between good and evil. For as long as one understands that there exists a concept of spiritual destruction, he can certainly rectify everything.

 

 

Preparing for Purim – Part I

Question:

What is the proper way to prepare for the upcoming holiday of Purim?

Answer:

Reb Nosson said that when one cries out to Hashem in prayer for thirty days prior to Purim, “Save me from the evil forces of Haman and Amalek,” a person can merit seeing Mordechai and Esther during the reading of the Megillah (some say that he said forty days).  But the point isn’t to keep count of the days of saying “Save me…”. The idea is to motivate oneself to perform the Mitzvah of blotting out Amalek, through understanding that Amalek is a real force which stands over us and tries to destroy us. It’s similar to what Reb Nosson said that he sees Amalek standing over him with a metal stick. As much as we internalize who Amalek is, we will be able to ask Hashem and scream out to Him that we should be saved from him.

To prepare for Purim is by identifying with entire story of the Megillah of Esther and Amalek and reading it into our own daily lives, not to see it just as a story which happened many years ago. This is an important teaching of the Rebbe: to interpret every idea onto ourselves. When reciting Tehillim in which Dovid HaMelech screams out to Hashem to be saved from those who were pursuing him, we are supposed to interpret it onto our own situation with our own Yetzer Hara which is chasing after us. The same thing is by mourning at Tikkun Chatzos about our own personal “Destruction of the Beis HaMikdash”.

On this note the Tzaddikim explain the Mishna, “Whoever reads the Megillah backwards doesn’t fulfill his obligation” to mean that whoever reads the Megillah as if it’s a story that happened once upon a time – backwards – hasn’t fulfilled his obligation. The main thing is to concentrate on the “In those days in this time”, on what’s happening in our times.

Reb Levi Yitzchak Bender used to relate how in Uman they had to stop the Megillah reading several times because of all the noise of the congregation’s crying.

Therefore it’s self-understood that before Purim the main Avodah and the right way to prepare is by indentifying Amalek well, and crying out to Hashem to be saved from his dangerous hands. The more one prays, the more he will be able to feel the holiness of Mordechai and Esther when the Megillah will be read.

It’s therefore also appropriate to study these days the teachings of the Tzaddikim about Purim in order to understand what Amalek is (or at least one point of it), and to gain knowledge of what the holiness of Mordechai and Esther is. Since he knows what he’s asking for he will then be able to cry to Hashem better.

Question:

When I just think about my personal Amalek, I immediately give up from ever conquering it. I wonder if there’s any hope in this long conflict.

Answer:

Amalek can let a person identify with the first half of the story of the Megillah, which tells about Klal Yisroel falling to enjoying Achashverosh’s feast and Haman’s decree. But he then makes us forget about the beginning of the miracle of ‘that night the king’s sleep was disturbed’ – referring to the King of the World. This is the part which tells us about the miracles and our hope. Amalek doesn’t want us to realize how much Hashem ‘disturbs His sleep’ so to speak, in order to bring us closer to Him from wherever we are, until in the end ‘it turns over that the Jews rule over their enemies.’

The same way we have to understand that Amalek is inside our hearts and we have to fight him, we also have to recognize and identify with the miracle of the Megillah. These days, as we enter into the month of Adar, it’s a Mitzvah to increase in happiness, meaning to awaken a new hope within ourselves. A new flow of Divine assistance is coming down now to help us fight Amalek.

This is also the reason for the Fast of Esther. Unlike other fast days which are in commemoration of troubles which befell us, this fast is in memory of the miracle, in order to remember that Hashem listens to all of our prayers.

This is the wicked ability of Amalek, who stands at the top of all malevolent and impure powers: to demonstrate for a person that he is so great that it’s impossible even to begin overpowering him. (Hil’ Birchas HaReiach 5)

Amalek is very tricky. He starts by approaching a person in a way that he shouldn’t realize it – in an unrecognizable manner. But even after a person wakes up to discern who Amalek is and that he must be obliterated, Amalek puts on a new outfit: despair, small mindedness. He throws person into a fear in order that he shouldn’t realize his own strength. He makes a person imagine as if Amalek is something so big that we can’t even start dealing with it. He reminds us of all the years that we have already cried: “save me from Haman and Amalek …” and it still seems as if we haven’t even begun to see any form of salvation.

Even more, not only does he cause a person to give up, he also mixes himself into a person’s psyche in a fashion that it’s difficult to make him out. A person imagines about himself that his whole essence is anger and earthly desires. He doesn’t grasp that this is not him at all but the Amalek which has attached himself to him. A person himself is a part of Klal Yisroel, a Yiddish soul whose source is from the Heavenly Throne, pure and holy and entirely removed from sin.

This is ‘remember what Amalek did for you’, to remember that Amalek has done all of this to you and this isn’t you. Through identifying the enemy, you will awaken within yourself the ability to cry out and the strength to fight him.

The truth be told, is that it is impossible to totally conquer Amalek until Moshiach comes. Then, Hashem’s name will be revealed throughout the universe, and all evil will be null. Amalek is this material world which hides Hashem. It’s therefore understood that we can’t totally erase him, because then the whole universe would be null.

It is important to know that the war with Amalek is fought little by little. The main Mitzvah is to remain persistent in battle, not to put down the weapon and surrender (Hil’ Shabbos 6). This is the Torah’s commandment to remember what Amalek has done to us. The way we erase Amalek is by remembering that Amalek exists and that he only wants that we shouldn’t realize that he exists.

Keep strong ‘to proclaim that all who hope in you will not be shamed, and all who take refuge in you will never be shamed’.

 

 

 

 

Two Sides of the Coin

The defeat was humiliating and the conduct of the army was giving off the scent of stinging shame.  The embarrassment of the head of the army and the king was overwhelming.  The shocked soldiers returned to their land in total disgrace.  The feelings of pride and self-worth of old were replaced with guilt and weakness.

But the upcoming battle demands a far greater power and determination.  Down trodden, the armies will be stepping into unavoidable defeat all over again.  The troops must be inspired with bravery and self-confidence.  People must regain the admiration for their monarch who epitomizes their self-identity and self-worth.  So, to return the élan to his people, the king himself must come down and dwell among his nation in a most unusual and startling manner.  During the following days the royal image of the king could be seen walking the camp, beaming benevolently.  Low foot soldiers got to meet their exalted monarch face to face and be personally acknowledged by him.

This extraordinary gesture returned the spirit to the armies.  Emboldened, they return to battle, united by feelings of shared destiny and unity.

♦♦♦

Smells of a new beginning start to permeate the air; Passover is on the horizon.  The first moment of the new year, a Rosh Hashanah all its own.  Pessach is a beginning, and like any beginning it has a segue leading to it: the four special Shabbossim that precede the ultimate holiday of freedom and liberty.

This week we will read the first parsha of the four, parshas Shekalim.  Next we’ll go through the parshios of Zachor, Para and Chodesh.  These four parshios aren’t mere additions to the weekly portion, they constitute gateways through which every Jew can enter the sanctity of Passover.  They open the way to freedom and success – if you know how to use them.

“These are the commandments of the Mishkan of testimony”.  Rashi explains: “[For it is a] testimony that Hashem forgave the sin of the golden calf.”  The Mishkan is the royal smile, a monarchial declaration of love.  Immediately after we committed the most atrocious sin imaginable, Hashem agrees to be mollified and declares before the entire world that His love for His people has not waned. The proof positive that Hashem has not left His people is that He orders them to build Him a home so He can reside among them.

The Mitzvah of half a shekel invites every Jew to take real part in the divine inspiration of the Jewish people.  Everyone is requested to become a partner in the holy service of Hashem.

Two Sides of the Coin

As we stand on the cusp of new beginning, a thought of the golden calf sneaks in.  Suddenly the heart is divided. On one hand, the intimacy of the Mishkan is inviting us to come forth and become a part of the Divine Presence.  The heart wishes to badly to see the smiling face of the King and receive his absolution.  On the other hand, another thought enters the heart.  Maybe it is time to stop and reckon with the unpardonable sin we just committed.  It’s not as if it didn’t happen.  Maybe it is time to figure out where we are and reconcile with what we have done.  Time to rectify the wrong.  This is how doubt captures the soul on the precipice of new beginnings:  Should it be “Azamra” – or judgment?  Should I rejoice in what I have or be judged on what is still missing?

There are two sides to the coin of the half-shekel.  One side evokes the petition for mercy for a transgression for the ages.  It invites us to forget the bad and see ourselves as part of the Shechina.  It is the King coming down, inviting us and acknowledging even the simplest Jew, encouraging us to become a part of eternity for the small deed of a half a shekel.

But the half shekel also denotes “mishkal” – weigh.  It is a call for the bringing up of the deeds and weighing them precisely.  It is the need to evaluate and judge that which needs to be fixed.  A Jew must judge his ways in relation to the Torah and correct all that needs correction.  Both are needed.

The question, of course, is where to begin.

Azamra – the gate to success

Hischazkus – strengething – and judgment are both crucial, but the first step to success can be accomplished only through the gate opened for us in parshas Shekalim.  Parshas Shekalim proclaims “Azamra”.  Just when the memory of the golden calf is chasing us from behind, we must immediately find a connection to the dwelling place of Hashem.  The Mitzvah of half a shekel calls every Jew to become a part of the Temple of Hashem.  This is not time for judgment and the establishment of self-righteous inquiry panels.  Now the light of the divine presence shines in the world.  It consoles tired souls and lays the groundwork for the new Kingdom.

“Azamra” is a search for the points of goodness in a landscape that seems to be devoid of anything positive.  When there is a need to rectify a failure as great as the sin of the golden calf, the way to begin is half a shekel.  Rejoicing in נקודות טובות  and finding happiness in what there is.

If you make the first steps in through the gateway of Azamra, you will find the doorway to partshas Zachor where the war against Amalek can be fought successfully.  Victory is possible if Azamra prepares the ground first.  The fight against the coldness of Amalek, to dispel the winds of heresy and shake laziness and lethargy off the heart, must start off with the song that is made up of the good points.

And when you enter in through the gates of Azamra and Zachor, you find the spirit of purity of Para and are ready to face Shabbat Hagadol.

You’re marching towards a world of freedom and success.

 

 

Preparing for Purim – Part II

Question:

Purim is coming up, a day of which the Zohar teaches is holier even than Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is only ‘like’ Purim, Ki-Purim. But I ask myself, how do I fit into this holiness?

Answer:

The Rebbe reveals in Likutei Moharan II 74, “Now, all beginnings are from Purim.” For this reason the holiday of Purim takes up such an important position in the internal Avodah of Breslover Chassidim.  No matter if the whole year has passed in such a way that today we don’t feel any connection with Purim, still, on Purim there’s a special opportunity to catch a glimpse of what’s going on inside the holiness and to enter inside. We have witnessed many people who became close to holiness through seeing the wonderful light which shines by Breslover Chassidim on Purim.

Tzaddikim would say about the Halachah, “Whoever stretches out his hand [for charity on Purim,] is given.”  That on this day Hashem sends down immense spiritual gifts for every individual without looking to see if they deserve it or not.  On Purim, prayer is elevated to the level of “a home” (see Likutei Moharan I 10), to be a perfect prayer through which anything can be accomplished, especially the main, eternal victory which we are all so much hoping for- to merit closeness to Hashem, to attach ourselves with Him.

The Ariza”l revealed that there is no revelation of holiness throughout the year as much as there is on Purim, not on any Shabbos or other holiday. On Purim the highest level of spiritual light, the revelation of the Tzaddik’s great light comes down into our material world.  Certainly, whoever is connected to the Tree of Life, and the whole year awaits and longs to come close to Hashem, will use this awesome day to its fullest. This day is the opening, the beginning.

Question:

I want to understand why we need to fast on Taanis Esther if it’s only in commemoration of the miracle?

Answer:

It is understood from Likutei Halachos as well as other holy books that a great part of Purim’s light depends on Taanis Esther.  Now is the main war with Amalek and Haman.

We have to realize that the battle with Amalek is the beginning of the war with the Yetzer Hara. Amalek is not just another materialistic desire or spiritual trial. Amalek wants to uproot the point of holiness within every Jew’s heart.  He will then be more dead than alive, without any desire to serve Hashem. The way he worked is by throwing us down in the issue of the desire for food by Achashverosh’s feast. Through unholy eating a person’s heart cools off and he loses all of his good desires, as the Rebbe teaches in many places

Therefore, on Taanis Esther, which is a day of battle, there is special divine assistance to be victorious through the following two ways:

First of all, through not eating, and strengthening one’s longing and desire for Hashem, that his entire internal wish is only to be attached to Hashem and do His will, and he doesn’t want to be drawn after food. Through this he can rectify all that he’s blemished through his desire for food, which is the aspect of Achashverosh’s feast (Likutei Halachos Purim 2).

Secondly, through prayer and calling out to Hashem with all your heart.  Taanis Esther was established in order that we remember that Hashem sees and hears every person at his time of pain.  Therefore, now is the time to uproot Amalek which is trying to sow doubt in our hearts as if Hashem isn’t listening to our prayers. We have to wake ourselves up with fresh enthusiasm to set aside time every day to speak to Hashem and to tell Him all the difficulties which we have in Avodas Hashem, to say a lot of Tehillim and Likutei Teffilos, with a strong faith that Hashem is certainly listening to every word and that no Tefillah goes to waste. This is the great joy of Purim which is in the revelation of the fact that Hashem listens to all of our prayers. (Likutei Halachos 4)

Question:

What is the Avodah of the night of Purim?

Answer:

1] Maariv and the reading of the Megillah:

You should know that from the moment that Maariv starts, the awesome and wonderful light of Purim begins to shine in the world. This is a light which can give everyone a taste of the pleasantness of Hashem’s light.  It is therefore appropriate to put extra effort into concentrating during Maariv and to think about the wonderful kindness of Hashem.  You will thereby prepare yourself for the first Mitzvah of Purim – the reading of the Megillah.

The Ariza”l says that Megillah comes from the root of “giluy” – “to reveal”. Meaning that through it there is a revelation of such an understanding that brings awe of Hashem into our hearts with a wonderful perfectness. This light is now shining down below in places where it is not revealed throughout the year. We therefore spread the Megillah out like a letter. This is the miracle of Purim which renews itself every year.

Pay attention to the story of the Megillah as it’s being read. The story has the ability to wake us up from our sleep (Likutei Halachos Purim 1). Try standing by the Megillah as if by Matan Torah, with awe and trepidation (Likutei Halachos Bechor Behema Tehora).

When we read the Megillah, and publicize the miracle which was done through Mordechai and Esther who acted with great wisdom and holiness, we show and shine their ‘faces’ from within the Megillah, and it is as if we see them and look at their faces (Tefillin 6, Otzar HaYirah Purim 5).

2] Chatzos:

If the whole year the time of Chatzos is a special time, of course on Purim it’s even greater. The main Avodas is to wake up properly, to strengthen yourself with faith that Hashem is taking pleasure now with the souls of Klal Yisroel and is sending down limitless spiritual bounty. Try connecting with it through prayer.

Even if it seems as if you are distant from all this, know and remember that now is a time that you can go before the King even improperly, and to put yourself into davening with Mesirus Nefesh: whatever will happen, I will try no matter what.  Strengthen your belief that Hashem loves you no matter what you are, and the King will put out his scepter…

It is therefore advisable to go to sleep early in order to have the strength to get up in middle of the night or at least before dawn, to speak to Hashem.

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