Emunah Based on the Teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

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The Answer

Parsha Va’era 5771

Exile is a perplexing question.  It is a suffocating reality which demands an explanation.

The answer was already given thousands of years ago.

The human mind has a favorite pastime which is to ask questions.

There is no shortage of subjects as befuddling mysteries are all around us at all times.  And so, one sits and wonders day and night, forever digging and pondering.  A simpler man has it easier as his mind simply accepts things for what they are.  But a wise man cannot do this.  He must understand everything.  He must know why this is, and how that is, and how will things be tomorrow, and how things would have been IF things were dealt with differently …  Wisdom, as we all know, offers a scant guarantee for either happiness or success.  “The wise are not guaranteed sustenance” says the verse.  Fortunes aren’t made off pondering and philosophizing.  And if this principle applies to material things, how much more so does it apply to Torah and Mitzvos.  This may lead one to think that there’s no place for questions in Judaism, but that, of course, is false.  In fact, the acquisition of Torah wisdom is predicated on incessant questioning.  However, there is a very fine line, a not always very clearly defined boundary, which delineates the borders of legitimate questioning and doubting that will make reliable conclusions impossible to achieve.

Questions beyond their limit drop the ground from under your belief.  Doubts can easily push one out of practical Torah and undermine its stability.

The ancient question

The last week’s Parsha ends with Moshe’s penetrating question of “O L-rd! Why have You harmed this people? Why have You sent me?”  It is a question that is asked out of deep, genuine pain of the true leader in a situation in which nothing can be known with certainty.

The people of Israel are suffering horribly.  The pure souls are on the verge of annihilation.  Moshe is seeing the death throes of the last remnants of the holy Patriarchs. Unless a miracle takes place, the land of Egypt will be the scene of a holocaust that may obliterate the eternal nation of G-d.

And then, when it looks as if Hashem has forsaken His people, He appears to the future leader from the burning bush.  The message of the redemption appeared out of a Heavenly vision and the communication of Hashem emerges in the confines of this world.  It is clear and unambiguous, shattering nature and natural forgetfulness.  But right then and there it is already difficult for Moshe to believe in his ability to carry out the mission.  “I’m not a man of words,” he insists.  “They will not believe me”.  But Hashem commands him to go nevertheless.  Moshe is now equipped with miracles.  The Great Heavenly Father is now expressing His love openly.  He demands the chosen leader to announce to the tyrant that this is “my elder son Israel” and not some forsaken, ‘inconsequential’ people.

Moshe’s mission in the horror chamber of the Egyptian palace is to give a divine message to the awesome idol of nature and demand him to give up a nation of slaves.  It is a mission carried out with total self sacrifice … that ends up looking like a huge, fatal mistake.

The ludicrous demand incensed the Egyptian epitome of human pride.  “You are lax, just lax. Therefore, you say, ‘Let us go, let us sacrifice to the Lord”, Pharaoh scoffs.  From now on the Israelites acquire their own straw to make their daily allotment of bricks.  Enslavement is deepened to a level unknown before.

And then Dosson and Aviram come out standing, voicing a seemingly just complaint; “You have brought us into foul odor in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of his servants”.  You did nothing but damage, they insist.  When Moshe turns to Hashem and asks “Why?” it is a question that brings into focus all the questions on earth.  It is a question that keeps following us from the depths of the first exile, scorching our souls throughout the generations.  It is an eternal question that is asked numberless times by great and small alike.  The answer, however, was already given to the eternal leader of Israel on the spot.

The answer is – no questions…

“I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob with [the name] Almighty God, but [with] My name (הויה), I did not become known to them” – not everything is understandable.  The revelation of “Appeared” is entwined with the reality of “I did not become known to them”.  The patriarchs did not achieve a revelation as clear as that of Moshe, yet still they had no questions.  They followed Hashem ‘with their eyes closed’ and complete faith through dozens of trials and tribulations and soul-disturbing mysteries.

One must understand that the very essence of exile is questions and refutations.  The essence of Egyptian exile revolves around חומר ולבנים, mortar and bricks.  The Holy Zohar explains that this refers to the dissemination of Halacha.  Exile, the mother of all suffering, is when there’s no access to the clarity of Torah. All you have is a barrier of questions and refutations that twist the mind and the heart.  Exile is impatience.  The visions of exile give birth to panic-stricken suppositions that stem from the lack of the presence of mind.   The prevailing feeling becomes “I can’t” and “I’ll never be able change”.  It is a feeling of spiritual suffocation.

The answer, which is the ray of hope of redemption, is inherent in the ability not to ask.

Hashem tells the tortured leader that the secret behind exile is infinite.  But alerts him to remember that “I heard the moans of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians are holding in bondage, and I remembered My covenant.”  He assures Moshe that it will end up with taking Israel to be His nation.

It is impossible to comprehend the depth of the concept of exile.  What we see may be illogical, perplexing and even exceedingly cruel.  But behind it all there is a road that leads to the eternal salvation with a meaning too profound for human comprehension.  No one can decipher the secret reason behind his own existence.  Everything in our lives is miraculous, and everything is happening exactly as it should.  Be it health, livelihood, or serenity – each one of us takes his or her miraculous path, many times shrouded in mystery, exile, enslavement and lack of understanding.  About times like these it is said: “and at that time the wise shall remain silent”.

Rebbe Nosson says in Likutei Halachos (Hand washing and breaking the bread, Halacha 6): “For now, in the end of days, one must remain silent about a great deal of what’s going on in this world and not get himself into the quagmire of questioning and deliberations.  The principle is to remain silent and await Hashem’s salvation. Most times remaining still will fire up one’s heart and enable him to call and cry for Hashem.”

You must realize that there is no intelligence capable of comprehending the staggering effect of a Jewish cry in the upper worlds.  We’ll be able to understand it all only in the world to come.  As for now, we just pray, remain silent, and wait…




“… And G-d spoke to Moshe and said to him: ‘I am Hashem …’”

The pains singe him like white hot stokers along the whole length of his sick body, and nothing he does brings him any relief. Whatever position he tries, it is intensely painful; he can’t sit, stand, lie down or move around. He feels that he’s losing his sanity day by day. True, his friends advised him a few times to go to a certain doctor, they gave him a name and address, but he’s not prepared to entertain the idea. He’s not a fool, to run after these new-age healers who sprout up all the time. He’s educated. He’s a deep thinker. He knows it’s not possible, to heal using such a technique, it can’t be.

He even knows someone who was treated by a pupil of this particular doctor and, although the treatment helped in the end, at first it made the pains even worse. And anyway, he knows this man, this lauded doctor; they learned together and sat on the same bench. That he became a doctor? No way, he’s not going to him and that’s that.

But in the end he caved in – the pains were more than he could bear. After the treatment the pains did worsen, but only because he neglected to follow through with the treatment plan; he hadn’t understood the doctor’s instructions properly. When he then studied the concepts in depth, an original and unique way of healing opened up before his eyes. Soon afterwards, he was completely healed.

Today, looking back, he finds it hard to believe. The treatment’s so simple and accessible, and yet so many people miss out on it, just because they ‘have to understand…’

Exile – Questions

Egypt was a swamp of questions – so the Rebbe reveals in Torah 64. This was the essence of the Egyptian exile – a burden of questions, uncertainties and confusion that created an impenetrable barrier before any thoughts of da’as (holy awareness) and Emunah. Egypt smothered the Jewish souls with a heavy blanket of impurity; the exile enwrapped the Jewish mind with sticky unanswerable questions and uncertainties. If only one clear thought of faith would pierce the blanket of questions and penetrate the Jewish people’s minds, the mighty walls of Egypt would crumble and collapse.

Moshe Rabeinu understood the situation, so when Hashem told him to go announce the coming of the redemption, he said, “But they won’t believe me and won’t listen to me,” (Exodus 4:1). He was saying, “How can I go and announce the coming of the redemption, perform wonders and reveal faith, when the people’s minds and hearts are stopped up with questions? Every one of them bears the heavy weight of painful memories; they’re full of questions about the world, about the Creator of the world, about themselves. They can’t understand how the descendants of the holy Forefathers, Avrohom, Yitzchak and Yaakov, could be reduced to such a miserable state. How is it possible to talk to them about redemption? They won’t accept it. They won’t believe me.”

Despite his reservations, Moshe Rabeinu went along. Hashem gave him wonders and signs to perform and taught him how to arouse the people’s hearts from their slumber of disbelief. The Jewish people did believe and their blinded eyes began to open; the announcement of the coming redemption pierced the thick blanket of the exile. And right then, just when their faith was beginning to blossom, they were dealt their heaviest blow yet. When Moshe and Aharon, Hashem’s messengers, went to see Pharaoh, not only did they not make anything better, but on the contrary they fired up Pharaoh’s anger and provided him with a good excuse to be even more cruel to his Israelite slaves.

This was truly beyond their ability to understand or accept, to the point that Moshe himself cried out and queried Hashem about this – “Why have You dealt badly with this People?” (Exodus, 5:22)

Then, just when the wall of questions and quandaries threatened to close down forever the sick Jewish souls, Hashem revealed to Moshe the secret – “I am Hashem.” “All the questions,” explained Hashem, “are aroused from my management of the world with the attribute of judgment, whose root is my name “Elokim,” this is what prevents people from understanding Me in this world. It looks like I decreed the destruction of my own People, G-d forbid. But the truth is that I am “Havaya” (Hashem’s name that denotes mercy), and even that which appears to be harsh and cruel judgment, is in actual fact great loving-kindness and mercy.  For only I know how to unite love and judgment together, and no-one can understand Me. The Jewish nation must past through this harsh exile; only when they pass the tests that only the exile can present them with, and only after bearing the questions, and breaking through the doubts, only in this way will they be able to receive the light of the redemption.”

To bring the Jewish nation out of their exile of questions and uncertainties, it was necessary to perform many wonders and signs, and to smite Egypt with the Ten Plagues. This was the only way Hashem could break down the walls of questions that blocked the path to Redemption. Every plague tore down one more barrier of disbelief and apathy in the Jewish hearts.

To Break the Wall of Questions and Go Free

It’s a wondrous thing when the mind is clear and filled with holy awareness. At such a time a person understands how Hashem truly stands over him and watches over his every step with a merciful eye, and how everything is miracles and wonders. Such awareness raises the soul up and out of all suffering and laziness, and opens the way to Teshuva, repentance.

But in the meantime, while we are still caught up in questions and uncertainties, it’s impossible for this awareness to break through the threshold of our minds. We’re too clever; we’re not willing to open up for a moment, to stand and be stirred by Hashem’s wonders, to warm up our hearts with awareness of Hashem’s Providence. No, we’re not willing to make a break and let go of our questions and uncertainties. How can we just get up in the morning light and forget about everything that has been bothering us? Accept the coming redemption just like that? Egypt still surrounds us on all sides! We’re not willing to be weaned from the exile mentality of disbelief, denial, natural cause and effect and questions. And so our years roll by within the walls of Egypt, it’s gates locked with our questions, which we jealously guard.

But there is another option. Hashem revealed it to Moshe. He told him that the way to redemption is to break down the walls of questions. Exile is the inability to understand, so it’s impossible to escape from it with understanding, because you can’t understand – the questions are shackles, and only when you break them can you start to understand what redemption is. The only thing we have to know, or more precisely, believe, is that the exile, the questions and everything that appears to not make any sense – all this is pure good and is the path to our rectification. There is One who has planned everything for our good and who’s standing, waiting to see us break down and destroy the walls of questions. On the other side of those walls an everlasting redemption of clarity of mind and faith awaits us. The exile is a treatment process, though it’s often not recognised as such; it’s painful, it’s not readily understood, but it definitely heals.

But a person thinks that questions aren’t what are bothering him. He just simply doesn’t understand how it could be that he prayed, and put in so much effort, and despite all this, didn’t succeed. There are many things in his life that he’s also not satisfied with, they aren’t going as he’d like them to.

But questions, who’s thinking about questions? The Rebbe reveals that ruminations about all the things that aren’t as he’d like them to be are what prevents a person from receiving the light of redemption. The Tzaddikim reveal such wondrous awareness, they announce your redemption, but you’re sunk in your questions, and you have to understand. Throw out your questions and jump onto the train to success!

A Jew sits on the Seder night, reads the Hagaddah and tries to fulfill the obligation that we each have to “consider himself as if he personally came out from Egypt.” And a big question comes to his mind – he doesn’t understand, why is he supposed to be so inspired and stirred by the Seder, from relating the miracles and wonders of the Redemption from Egypt? “Hold on a minute,” he asks, “Who was it who took us down to Egypt in the first place? Hashem!” Another thing he doesn’t understand – “So what if there was once a redemption, right now we’re back in Exile!” He’s confused. He knows it’s blasphemous, but what can he do, he really doesn’t understand.

The Exile comes to rectify something, and the way to rectification necessitates passing through a crucible of questions. Only when we gird ourselves not to ask, and just believe, only then do we break through the walls of exile. Only then does the exile achieve its purpose, and only then is it possible to come to true redemption.

The Egyptian exile truly was too much to bear. We didn’t know any of this back then. We were sunk up to our necks in the exile and there was no-one to tell us that all of this was paving the way to our rectification and redemption. But now we’ve seen the redemption from Egypt, and many other redemptions. Now, even if we find ourselves in a new and long drawn out exile, we know that this is the path of rectification. The exile is a necessity, it’s a healing process, a treatment programme, with redemption waiting at the end. For us it’s easier to stay afloat and not get swept up in the questions. It’s easier for us to stay firm in our faith that all is for the good and look forward to the coming redemption.

The Tikkun of Shovevim  – to Throw Out the Questions

We’re in the period of “Shovevim,” (the weeks between the Parshiyos of Shmos through Mishpatim). The Arizal revealed that the entire purpose of the Egyptian exile was to rectify the sin of Adam HaRishon, the first man. In these days of Shovevim the Jewish people busy themselves with repentance – why? Because in this period when we learn about the Egyptian exile many questions are aroused, and our answer to those questions is – Teshuva, we repent. We don’t ask for answers, because we understand that the experience of having the questions and uncertainties is a necessary part of our rectification. We’re not capable of understanding; we’re in exile and this is the way that leads us towards our rectification, in the same way that the Egyptian exile rectified Adam’s sin.

So we just have to repent; this is a time to rectify, and an auspicious one too. The story of the Egyptian exile and redemption teaches us that this is the way that the world comes to its rectification and perfection – there is exile followed by redemption.

Our task is to not to get caught up in the questions, but rather strengthen our faith, and then the redemption will speedily come.

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