Emunah Based on the Teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

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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”.

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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.

 

 

“I shall take you to Me for a people…”

Every child is raised with the phrase ‘don’t let your imagination run wild.’ This perception accompanies us from childhood. Educators, parents and anyone who has some experience with the letdowns of this world take care to imbed in the hearts of all who heed their advice, that one must be cautious not to be swept away by the imagination, lest one be sorely disappointed. As a result of this, we generally prefer a somewhat conservative outlook of what is in store for us, not too much and not too little.

This is the way we relate to daily life, and so too to the Chaggim. The chag of Pesach presents us with a dilemma – aside from the ‘Chag Ha’Matzos’ it has another name too – “Chag Ha’Cheirus” (“The Festival of Freedom”). If we desired to relate to Pesach with a moderate approach, to expect seven days of relaxation and nothing more, Reb Nosson comes along and ruins our plans. Rabbeinu as well, did not relinquish the use of awesomely lofty concepts and expressions. According to the picture painted to us by the sifrei tzaddikim (the works of the Tzaddikim) the world is simply going to change and our lives are approaching a sharp turn for the better.

Why is it that the promises and speeches of a brighter future, for the most part cause us feelings of reluctance and inhibition. We wave a hand of dismissal when our peace is disturbed by the enthusiasm of Reb Nosson as he speaks of an influx of da’as (holy intellect), of G-dly perception and of the kedusha of Chag Ha’Pesach that is soon to shower down upon us. We find ourselves saying “Seriously, let’s be a little more down to earth, let’s not get carried away; Ge’ula (redemption), kedusha, lofty perceptions… where am I in relation to all this”. “You Know what” we eventually compromise, “forget the Ge’ula and all the other exalted stuff, it’s above us, let us just have a peaceful chag … it would be nice if there would be even a prospect of some financial salvation in the near future.’

There is another problem that arises when we begin to hear talk of the Ge’ula, of purification, of fear and love of Hashem and of the receiving of the Torah that is on the horizon. Our hearts begin to sink as we suddenly are struck with awareness of how far we are. The gallus (exile) rises up and declares “hey! Don’t get carried away, you’re still way down in the depths.”

Perhaps now we can begin to understand our forefathers in Mitzrayim, why it was that they were so bothered by the lofty promises of Moshe, why they were unable to accept with simplicity the guarantee of “I will take you out … I will rescue you … I will redeem you… I will take you as a people to me” (Shemos 6;6). Moshe arrives as a direct messenger from Hashem doing wonders and miracles that completely defy nature and requests only one thing: ‘Have faith, agree to be redeemed’. But no, “and they did not listen to Moshe” (6; 9) – they were unable to accept this.

Yes, we are indeed very well acquainted with this. ‘I will take you out, I will rescue you… what? It can’t be. Let’s be logical for a moment, give us even one reason why He would desire to redeem such lowly creatures as ourselves – perhaps the intention is to someone at the other end of Mitzrayim who did not cease praying and calling out to Hashem for a moment, even when he had a mountain of bricks piled on his back – but us, impossible…’

If we are honest we must admit that the Chag of Pesach appears against a background that seems unrealistic and perhaps even quite absurd. Suddenly, a chag from another galaxy appears in our lives and showers down upon us love and kindness. Ears that have become accustomed to the screams of brutal slave-drivers and soldiers are unable to absorb the tune of comfort and condolence and they seem horrifyingly foreign and bizarre. ‘What’s going on here? Someone is calling me ‘My child’? I have a loving father? But I’m just an Egyptian slave, an evildoer and a sinner who is liable to suffering and exile. We are afraid, unable to let go and receive Pesach … it is just seems too good to be true … perhaps it is nothing more than a pleasant fantasy.

This is exactly what troubled our forefathers in Mitzrayim, they couldn’t hear all this, they just were not capable of accepting it. Yet in truth, how did the Ge’ula actually take place? Klal Yisroel were then on the lowest of levels, those prosecuting them in heaven saying: “these (Egyptians) worship idols and so do these (Jewish people)”, were not little children – they were fiery angels who knew exactly that they were saying; they truly did not see any difference between them. In truth, every Jew would have been prepared to put his signature on this statement; they all truly felt like Egyptians. Against a background of pyramids and alters that were clouded in the smoke of the service of idolatry, the Ge’ula truly seemed like nothing more than a hallucination … But it was indeed very real.

Reb Nosson reveals the secret – The first one in the world who made use of the concept of ‘Azamra’ (L.M 282) was Hashem himself in all His glory, for if not, “we and our children and our children’s children would still be slaves…”

In order that we shouldn’t misunderstand, it is important to note that Jews in Mitzrayim were deeply involved in the ways of Mitzrayim. If the process of accessing their status would have been performed in accordance with any commonly accepted principles, not one soul would have left Mitzrayim. When Hashem withdrew the souls of Klal Yisroel from their entanglement in the profanity of Egypt, He delicately picked out only their ‘Nekudos Toivos’ (points of good).

Amidst the darkest wasteland sparkled points of Jewish light, it was these points that indicated the place of the Jewish souls; a point of light that dragged behind it a dark, heavy and coarsely physical body.

Hashem tells us about this Himself – “Then I passed over you and saw you wallowing in your blood…’(Yechezkel 16; 6), Hashem was saying ‘I have found nothing in you, but I have desired to redeem you and therefore I have looked upon you with eyes of kindness and mercy, I have searched for only that which is truly important to Me, that small point of truth, the tiny Jew deep down inside, the pain and the outcries that are almost indiscernible’, and then “…I said to you, ‘In your blood you shall live’”.

If Hashem needed to make us of ‘Azamra’ in order to free us from Mitzrayim, then when we seek to receive Pesach it is absolutely impossible to achieve this without ‘Azamra’. On Pesach a wondrous shir (song) is played throughout the world, a song of miracles and wonders, a melody of closeness and comfort. This song penetrates to the depths of the exile and plays upon the strings of the souls that a have been numbed by a lengthy gallus.  From there it turns heavenward with yearning, ascends the ladder of the spiritual worlds and uplifts the soul to the level of a beloved child. It whispers in the ear:’ you are the child of Hashem, and He loves you with a love that knows no bounds’.

In order to hear the wondrous niggun it is necessary to build and develop it. In general it develops in four stanzas (paralleling the four levels of mochin (intellect) that are drawn down on the night of the Seder, as explained in the teachings of the Arizal). It begins with a very low tone, at times when our souls are wallowing in the dust of katnus (constricted consciousness) when we are surrounded by confusion and small-mindedness.  Then, when we perceive how lowly and crooked our life’s paths are, overloaded with nonsense and vanity, and burning with flames of lowly desires, if we learn the correct approach we can transform this into the first stage of the wondrous niggun.

It is obvious that we must proceed along the path and to continue along the soul’s journey. Yet instead of discerning and highlighting the bad and the emptiness, we must focus ONLY on the good, to find the light that can overcome the darkness. If my path is so crooked yet I persist in trying to move along it and not despair, then I am a person of tremendous mesiras-nefesh (self-sacrifice) and this is marvelously wondrous. If these types of lowly thoughts flood my mind, how incredible is it that I still recognize them and try somewhat to overcome them,  where do I get the strength to continue fighting? An Egyptian certainly wouldn’t be able to do this. There is no doubt that Hashem presents examples like myself to all the heavenly worlds, to show them how special his children are and how it was worthwhile to create the whole world just for them.

Then one ascends to the next stanza, at this stage the soul already begins to experience some relief and in fact begins to radiate: ‘Yes, I am a Jew, I won – I succeeded in strengthening myself and dispelling the evil’. On this level the mind is illuminated and spirit of purity begins to serge throughout the soul.

In the next stanza the main avodah is – bitachon (trust in Hashem). Now we are neither here nor there, one foot in and one foot out. A level of truth begins to sparkle within us, love or fear of Hashem for example. This ignites the mind and warms the heart. Yet then, the thoughts of doubt begin to appear ‘who said this is real’,’ perhaps in another moment it will completely disappear’. In order to play this stanza, we must dive inside and trust completely in Hashem’s infinite goodness and kindness, to believe that I DO have it – I am a Jew and all the good in the world is intended for me – I will certainly succeed in entering inside.

The highest stanza is played upon the most subtle of cords; it is there that the perception that there is no nature at all is revealed, that the entire existence is nothing but one solid piece of Hashem’s splendor. With my every movement I arouse tremendous joy above; Hashem loves me and creates everything anew every second for me. This is the Pesach – a tremendously great perception.

The preparations for Pesach already begin from Purim, yes, it does not only work like this with cleaning. The spiritual avodah of creating Pesach itself is meant to begin with the eradication of Amalek. When the vision of myself seen through the lens of ‘reality’ tries to persuade me by arguing: ‘There is no difference, you are just like an Egyption’ – this is Amalek. His eradication is the defiance of and protest against this kefirah (heresy), ‘I AM a Jew, and Hashem specifically chose me!’

On Rosh Chodesh the main avodah begins, it is called – kibbutz niddachim (the ingathering of the dispersed). We must then begin to do what Hashem did on that night, when He Himself, and not a messenger, went amongst the houses and the courtyards to identify the Nekudos Toivos (good points). This is the avodah that begins on Rosh Chodesh, the avodah of the filling of the moon. It begins the month concealed, and as we proceed to find the good points, its light is slowly increased until it reaches its pinnacle on the night the Seder. We must stubbornly persist to search out the good, the wonders that sparkle inside us, to recognize who it is that Hashem chose to take as a nation for Himself and to agree … Yes, to really agree to be truly redeemed, in the full sense of the word.

You can download the entire parasha sheet here..

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