Emunah Based on the Teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

Archive for June, 2011

Keeping the Flame Alive

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The world is constantly progressing. Our small globe is filled with novelties; at every possible moment new innovations are being discovered. What was considered yesterday a novelty, is today regarded an antique. Everything around us is developing; the potential is being actualized at a dizzying pace, and in the center of it all is none other than man himself.

Behind every innovation could be found a number of scientists who toiled months on end to bring it to fruition. Refined materials, advanced medications and more efficient technology appear out of nowhere, being the result of the many stages of a living process of creation.  The human population is constantly in motion. Just taking a look out the window for a moment will portray a picture bustling with motion –  people moving about non-stop. This one is running, that one is walking, one person is conversing with his mouth and the other is signaling with his hands. The one thing they all have in common is that something is beating inside them.

Enthusiasm is the driving force behind everything

If something is in motion then there must be something causing it to move. A boat gliding upon the ocean waters bears testimony to a wind blowing through its sails, an illuminated light bulb attests to electricity flowing through its wire and if you find a person vigorously active and energetic then there is no doubt  something excites him. People do all sorts of things, they build and destroy, they dream and contemplate, they create and invent.  Behind all of these stands one thing – Hislahavus (enthusiasm/liveliness).

Both man and the world itself are rooted in the element of earth and were it not for the life force of enthusiasm that was placed inside man, he would seem like nothing more than a mound of earth protruding from the ground. This world is heavy, it is not easy to get things moving, and in order to give a life-like form to a clump of dirt, one needs much hislahavus.

If this hislahavus is fundamental to mankind so too, it must be regarding the world at large. The world was formed with the Ten Sayings of Creation (asarah maamaros) and it is also through them that it continues to exist. The holy Torah preceded the world and with it, Hashem created the world. The world revolves constantly around an axis, developing and progressing, and the wind that blows in its sails is – the Torah.

Man in his physical essence is nothing but the dust of the earth and at certain times he returns to this definition. When Hashem sent the soul into partnership with the body he prepared for it much work to be done.

The world is filled with challenges – good and evil are found in every corner and it is imperative to be awake and alert.  The Torah does not only provide us with clear definitions of good and evil, it also bestows upon us the strength and ability to stand up to the challenge of free will (bechirah).

The Giving of the Torah – the strength to choose good over evil.

Not long ago – so the calendar claims, was the Chag of the giving of the Torah and seemingly we received something. Yes, we received the Torah, a completely new Torah, the likes of which has never before appeared. During the coming yearly cycle that stands before us, we will find ourselves upon many battlefields in which both good and evil will be found, and we will need to always choose the good. The Torah that we now have in our hands contains all the strength required by the soul in order to pass through the coming cycle peacefully.

Within the words of the Torah is contained an incredible energy – all the strengths and abilities in existence draw their life-force from the letters of the Torah. Every Jew has a part in the Torah and this part is meant to be the driving force of his 248 limbs and 365 sinews, to instill in them the ability to properly navigate his way amidst the 248 positive and 365 negative commandments.

All of us, all the good Jews who have been living on the face of the earth in the last two weeks, were all at Har Sinai. We stood at the foot of the mountain as Moshe brought the Torah down from the heavens; we received it ready packed and all, set to take home. The days after Shavuos flew by and we are still wandering around somewhere on the pathways that leave Har Sinai, stepping from one day to the next, from Shacharis to Minchah to Maariv, and in our hands remains a sealed package.

The precious package that we received on the sixth of Sivan is held close to our hearts. We clasp it tightly with both hands, careful not to lose it, G-d forbid. The Torah accompanies us wherever we go and sometimes we even take a small peek at it through a narrow crack, nod our heads and continue along our way.

Let’s be honest, we’re not new at this. Every year we travel this path always arriving in the vicinity of Har Sinai somewhere around the beginning of Sivan, always receiving the Torah in some way. So what? This is nothing new.  Our family always spoke about this, our friends are well accustomed to this luxury, we have the Torah in our hands, we don’t need to arrange for quality-control testing. We would never suspect that Moshe would hand us an empty package – we trust him…

Hashem does something very unusual every year. He opens the most top-secret vault there is in existence, where the plans on which the entire creation was created and formed, are hidden.  Those G-dly codes which Hashem used as the blueprint for the world contain within them the driving force for all that took place in the past and all that will occur in the future. From that G-dly framework which is called – the Torah, emerge all the innovations that Hashem creates in His world spiritually and physically at every moment.

Every year on the sixth of Sivan Hashem withdraws the G-dly plans for all that will transpire in the coming year. It is this code that He sends down into the world and bestows upon each and every one of us his part in the plan.

When the thundering sounds were silenced and the lightening ceased, we took our three steps back, bowed with awe in the direction of the mountain and began our journey home. Shavuos moved into yesterday and we continued towards tomorrow. We move forward, yet a watchful eye follows us from behind. He, who gave us that which we have in our hands, knows that the moment we open the package we will begin to move with dance-like steps.

A person makes his way along the trails of life and upon his path are heaps of tests, difficulties and obstacles. He huffs and puffs with exertion thinking to himself: ‘how difficult could they possibly make it for a person. Isn’t there some mistake here – this is a trail for professional hikers, not for me…’. Not only is the terrain extremely strenuous, but the package from Har Sinai is adding to the unbearable burden.  Then perhaps the time has come to open the package, to simply begin to make use of what it holds inside.

The Torah is meant to ignite us; this is exactly why we received it. The heart experiences the world as it is. It is the heart which feels all that happens around us and it is there that the true ability to cope must be found. Above, at the top of the spinal cord, is the mind. It functions exactly like a power station; G-dly life-force enters the brain and sets the cogs of thought in motion. When holy thoughts fill the mind then it generates heat; chochmah (wisdom) is something warm and filled with vitality. This warmth descends to the heart and ignites it. A warm and enthusiastic heart skips easily over the pitfalls of life. When the mind is filled with sanctity the vision of life that the eye perceives is far less frightening.

The Rebbe speaks about this in Likutey Moharan lesson 21, explaining that the power of the Torah is hidden within its words – when one enunciates them vocally, they take effect. Since the kedusha is already found within the words, one doesn’t have to do much, as everything is hidden inside that which we already have in our hands. All we need to do is open it and begin to make use of what’s inside.

The Kedusha of the shivah neiros (seven candles)

Every Jew desires to run through the course of life without becoming stuck at confusing and unclear crossroads. When the engine is warm the wheels manage easily on every terrain, uphill just like downhill, a sharp turn just like a straight road. Anyone who has ever come into contact with the Torah knows this. When one sinks for a few hours into the reservoir of life within the letters, then when one emerges everything looks different. The problem is that something else needs to be taken into account.

There are seven orifices in the heads: Two for the sense of sight, another two for hearing, two more for scent and another one for speech.  These seven openings connect us with our surroundings; they absorb and also transmit information.  These seven orifices are like the seven branches of the Menorah and when they are complete they enable the flame to burn strongly. The world is filled with winds that threaten to extinguish the candles; sometimes such a wind blows in one’s ears or one’s eyes and the candle of holy intellect that burns inside flickers in a desperate attempt to stay alight.

When we guard our senses whereby candles are lit at the entrance to these seven openings, then the evil outside is burnt and destroyed in an instant.  But when the wind extinguishes these candles then things start becoming complicated.

We have a Torah, it is already in our hands, we need only to remove the cover and begin to read aloud. The words will light the wicks on fire and if we allow the holy words to rest on our lips, it will happen on its own.

Not every wind needs to visit our ears, our eyes, our nose and our mouth … all that remains for us to do is to pay some attention …

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“Raise your Head and be counted” ”

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A person is searching for himself – this is perhaps how we can define the exploration that centers on the essence of our being which is many times left as the unidentifiable –“me”. A person seeks to weave an identity around his being, to see himself defined as someone. A person has many descriptive titles. Here one is a father and there a friend, in one place a worker and in another, a manager. A job, more than it serves to save from the pangs of hunger, is intended to bestow upon a person some title, that he should not G-d forbid, remain lacking a definition.

A person is searching for himself, requesting of all those who pass by: “perhaps you know who I am?”

One lifts his eyes to his fellow men hoping that someone will place him somewhere.

One will not find a business today, large or small, which does not have at least as many positions as it does employees. If ten laborers are found working around the production line, it is reasonable to assume that there are twelve different job titles amongst them. Not to mention the managerial positions where one could discover three of four titles on the business card of one single person.

Indeed, the managers, investors and owners know well how to squeeze out the best performance from each individual.

An old army saying tells that “a soldier without a uniform is not a soldier”. In truth it is hard to understand what’s so important about a unified outfit, a soldier seemingly is more in need of muscles, fitness and survival instincts. Clothing? What place do garments have with a fighter?

This policy does not end on the doorstep of prestigious professions. Today, even cleaners are defined within the pyramid of authority – Head of sanitation, second in charge, kitchen manager, department manager etc. Every task is accompanied by its label, each job has its name and each person carries his title, and sometimes more than one. This procedure does not only serve to ensure that the world functions in an orderly fashion but also brings order to a person himself, to define his place in it all. It is from this place that a person draws his strength and ability to function; if a person has a place, then he also possesses ability.
A person wonders about in Hashem’s world, his spirit bewildered and his mind even more so. His thoughts are filled with the things that necessity demands to be completed and taken care of. He trudges along with droopy shoulders and his hands lagging at his sides – his entire being is screaming: “where am I in this world?” The opportunities pass right by him yet he doesn’t bother to reach out for them, to catch a ride on one of them. He has neither the strength nor the sense; he doesn’t know where to start.

In fact, perhaps it is worthwhile to start from the very beginning…

As mentioned, the world in which we find ourselves is Hashem’s world and He created it lichvo’do (for his glory/honor). This means that the purpose of the world is that Hashem’s name be elevated, exalted and glorified through every part of mineral, vegetable, animal and human life forms. The entire universe throws itself at the feet of a Jew, beseeching and imploring that he bring it to its ultimate perfection. The Jew – is the only one out of infinite creations who is able to unify all that takes place here with the Creator, blessed be He. If his actions will cause the world to reveal Hashem’s glory, at that moment the entire creation becomes a Beis Hamikdash – a place for Hashem.

This goal is tremendously vast; it spans the expanses of time, from the sin of Adam HaRishon until the summation of the six thousand years. All the creations and formations are active partners in this assignment. However, only Am Yisroel are able to cause all of these creations to effect something meaningful for the sake of this purpose.

Every Jew has a mission, even many of them. Sometimes he stands up to the task, and sometimes not entirely. Success and failure are measured in proportion. For example, yesterday a certain portion of what I did was for the ultimate purpose, the other parts were spent sunken in my own selfness. Today I merited investing more of myself in the true goal, how wonderful!
If each Jew has his own personal mission, then Klal Yisroel as a whole are constantly fulfilling one long and complex mission. This mission we received at Mattan Torah (the giving of the Torah). At that awesome and monumental event, the mission descended in its entirety and was subdivided into fine details, each soul receiving its unique part.

The journeys of Am Yisroel in the desert were a synopsis of the thousands of journeys that they would endure in the future. Each Jew has his own journey and all of them are included in those forty two ancient journeys. This week we began the Chumash of Bamidbar, in it will unfold all that happened to us during those journeys, mainly the failures. In the next few weeks we will hear about Korach, the spies and the mey merivah (waters of strife); we will see time and again the mission slipping out from our fingers and the journey in the desert winding itself around in circles – as if the path we are traveling does not lead anywhere.
Sometimes our personal route also seems dizzying. A person walks along his life’s path asking ‘am I fulfilling any mission at all…’ This mission is something frighteningly evasive, one moment you felt it clearly in your hands, and the next, it’s gone. In general, the natural conclusion is – that’s it, I’m out, maybe I’ll wait for the next round…

Therefore, at the threshold to Chumash Bamidbar the Torah hands us something very important – a counting. Yes, before we enter the battle field we take a full census. That census, that took place in the desert, gathered all the souls into the realm of holiness. A number means that you are a part of a whole – you are not just a ‘lone wolf’, you are a piece in a gigantic puzzle. The whole brings completion to the part and the part brings completion to the whole. The counting bestows upon each person his unique place – you have something that no one else has and with this you are constantly a part of something enormous that is continuously functioning, something that is conquering and succeeding. If you dozed off for a moment or slept for an entire year, you still have not been discharged from the system. Klal Yisroel is constantly functioning, the mission is not conditional, it is a reality and you are a part of it.
This mission, with all its compartments and sections, carved in the desert sand a meaningful picture. Am Yisorel took on the form of the heavenly legions. The banners (degallim) and the camps that were arranged with such precision were an expression of a divine form. So it is taught in the Holy Books, that the order of the degallim and the camps mirrored the order of the camps of the angels. When Klal Yisroel camp or walk in the desert in a G-dly formation then the glory of Hashem is openly revealed upon them.

Generally, when we walk through the deserts of life, the sands cover over the beauty of the mission; it is not always that we have the opportunity to see clearly the heavenly Chariot of which we are a part. This is what happens to us on a regular afternoon when suddenly the desert closes in on us, isolates us and leaves us behind. It is then that it seems as if nothing ever was and that nothing will ever be. I was never anything special and I never will be.
Specifically because of this, the Sefer of Bamidbar opens with Parshas Naso. The opening words of the Pasha: “Naso es rosh” literally mean “lift the head” – this is exactly what we need. In order to gasp a fresh breath of air we must lift our heads, become uplifted and see the journey from a bird’s eye view. It is through being counted that we can take flight. The number makes us a part of the whole and nevertheless leaves us our uniqueness as a part. When the soul receives the title that is unique to it, its garment and its vessel for the light, then it is able to lift its head and see the vision of The Chariot. It can then understand that truthfully it is a part of Hashem’s legions. It is a vehicle for the revelation of Hashem in the world.

This is the power of the counting. It can infuse the power of the whole into the part. The uniforms, for example, bestow upon a single soldier the awesome strength of an entire army – with regular clothes he is just another person. The uniform transforms him into a piece of an army. For this reason everyone is so obsessed with titles. If someone asks you who you are, tell them with certainty what your task is. This is who I am, this is me.

We have come down from Har Sinai, from the sanctity of Shavu’os. Each person holds in his hands a Torah, signed and sealed. Small people look at the wrapped gift in their hands with confusion and bewilderment: ‘what is inside this gift. Is it possible that something meaningful will take place with me?’
The scorching summer that follows the sixth of Sivan is the place. It is here that our mission will take place. In this arena the wrapped gift will materialize into a reality, our own personal and unique mission is intertwined with the unique part of the Torah that we received at Har Sinai. This mission is our place in the heavenly Chariot. Through this part Hashem will be revealed this coming year.

From here forth there is no room for confusion or despair. The Torah is already in our hands; our part in the perpetual system will not be changed no matter what. Whether we want or not, we are here, on the inside. Each one of us has an exact place and number. The wheels of the Chariot of the Shechinah (Divine Presence) have begun to turn and we are already in the heat of the mission, at the very moment that we are reading these lines and right now we are wanted here. Onwards…

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