Emunah Based on the Teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

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You’re Doing Great!

Revised and translated from the lessons of Rabbi Nissan Dovid Kivak shlit”a

Rebbe Nachman teaches us what serving Hashem really means and how to best invest all of our time in this world. The main service of Hashem is Torah and mitzvos – to look at the inherent wisdom and inner essence of everything, to understand that there is a Creator, one G-d, and to take this into our hearts. We need to live with the light of Emuna, to think about how Hashem constantly renews the creation, and about how He is running our lives with great love and kindness. This is the most important thing in Yiddishkeit – that a person connects himself to the inherent wisdom in everything, to the point that whenever he does a mitzvah, he looks to the inner essence of the mitzvah. He puts on Tzitzit and Tefillin and thinks about the inner meaning of these mitzvos; he looks for the deeper essence of everything he does. There are the books of the Tzaddikim, and especially Reb Nosson’s Likutei Halachos – incredible things that help us understand the inner essence.

The general underlying idea is simply to connect to Hashem, and this is the main thing in Yiddishkeit, to look for the inner spiritual essence in everything we do. In everything that we are busy with, whether it’s at work or at home, or just generally if we are tired and don’t have much strength to learn, or if we are facing all sorts of hassles and things to take care of – to not get confused by this, and to know that this is also serving Hashem. In each thing, look for it’s inner spiritual essence and for what there is to fix there. When you do this, it becomes part of serving Hashem. This is a principle of the Baal Shem Tov and the Tzaddikim, that when a person looks for the inherent wisdom in everything, he lives with true charm in serving Hashem.

Our Rebbe in the first discourse in Likutei Moharan greatly expands on this idea, and he adds to it. He tells us, “I know that there is a problem here – that you feel that you can’t do this. You feel that you can’t look for and connect to the deeper essence and inherent wisdom of things, and that you can’t become enflamed by your Emuna that there are sparks here to elevate and corrections to make. I know that you are weak people – you forget things and get all confused and confounded. You aren’t sure of things, and you haven’t got any strength, and the Yetzer Hora (evil inclination) is pushing you relentlessly and you fall again and again and again. Despite all this – I’m still directing my words to you, and I’m telling you that you can connect to this wonderful light and you can be connected to the true charm of serving Hashem. It’s the truth! Even if you make mistakes and fall, each time that happens, come back and focus yourself – ‘I don’t want to be superficial! I want to look at things with inherent wisdom.’”

Just like the Moon. The Moon shines very beautifully at night. What does it do? It simply stands itself facing the Sun. We have to do the same thing. “I want inherent wisdom. I know that I need to constrain myself.” When there’s an overabundance of light – when a person wants things too much, then he can easily get discouraged, and this isn’t good. Too little light also isn’t good, because then a person thinks that he doesn’t want to act in the ways described in the books of the Tzaddikim. Neither of these ways works. What does work is the way our Rebbe describes here – “Take what you already have; you don’t need more than that. Whatever it is that Hashem has arranged for you, your simple Yiddishkeit. Baruch Hashem you have a beard and peyos, you have Tzitzit and Tefillin and you pray every day. Now grab as much Torah and mitzvos as you can, and rejoice with whatever you manage to do. Take hold of these things – this is your holy servitude, your acceptance of Hashem’s yoke, and here your closeness to Hashem can shine.”

The main service of Hashem is Tefillah. Tell Hashem what you’re going through. “Ribono Shel Olam, I wanted to be like this… (XYZ). I’ve wanted this for sixty years… and I still want it! For today, I want to be close to You with what I have. Not an overabundance of light, with what I don’t have, but to rejoice with my Shabbos observance – ‘I’m the most successful man in the world! I’ve done it! I’m a billionaire! I have ten cars outside, and a private jet. I fly to Uman every few hours. Ah! I have such a good life – with what? Because I keep Shabbos! I’ve already succeeded’. Be happy in what you’re doing. Get rid of the fantasies that you can’t serve Hashem if you’re not some great Rosh Yeshiva or Kabbalist – that’s nonsense! Realize how everything else is just false illusions. Just rejoice with Hashem. You’re already great. “Here – I ate kosher food. I’ve guarded my thoughts, and my speech. One moment of silence is worth all the riches in the world.” Now, you’re free to serve Hashem with a smile in everything you do. Do you know why? If you look at yourself properly, you’re already doing a wonderful job.

 

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When will they take notice of me above?

Interpersonal relationships are of the most intricate of the many facets of life. Much takes place in this delicate area, yet behind everything stands mainly the question of “how am I related to.” More than anything that one can receive from his fellow man, one is most in need of the simple feeling that ‘I am needed’ and that ‘I am taken notice of’.

A person seeks only one thing – that others relate to him. Many are the ways that people find to attain this, whether explicitly or indirectly, through hints or outright verbally; whatever it takes to get a dose of this most essential vitamin – some attention.

The first of the believers

Ur-Kassdim – the cradle of foolish beliefs and idol worship. Terach, Nimrod and the masses of worshipers; some found a mighty deity in the form of a clump of clay, others identified the creator with a statute carved of wood. Nature’s forces, the stars and constellations, illusions and warped traditions; each man chose his faith as he pleased. Amidst this darkness wandered one small child who was simply not satisfied and asked again and again: “who created all this?”

The first of our forefathers, Avraham Avinu, recognized his creator at the age of three. He searched, contemplated and investigated until he was able to declare with clarity: “this is it!” Initially, the creation had shown no hint of an answer to his question, nothing seemed to indicate the existence of The Creator, of His will and His providence, yet the more he searched, the more The Creator revealed Himself to him. The veil of concealment gradually faded, the false beliefs began to crumble and emunah began to shine forth in the world.

Avraham had no tradition from his ancestors, no leader and no guide. He embarked on his path completely alone and prepared the way for the rest of the world. He taught da’as (holy intellect) and emunah to the masses and brought thousands under the shelter of the shechinah (divine presence). Torah had not yet descended into the world, neither had the mitzvos, yet nevertheless his entire life was one complete succession of d’veikus (cleaving to Hashem). Day after day, night after night, through winter and summer, ups and downs, challenges and opposition; how did Avraham endure all this, around what was his wondrous connection with the creator woven?

Yearning – this is the secret.

Avraham Avinu was the first one to bring knowledge of Hashem to the world. It is he who brought down the first strand that connects the created to The Creator and his whole life was just one long endless desire – to know Hashem.

At the beginning of any book one can find an introduction that outlines the purpose for which it was authored and in essence gives the reader “the bottom line”. The Torah too, has an introduction. Before the Torah describes 613 mitzvos, the positive and negative commandments, it precedes them with the purpose; the main point and intention that is meant to result from fulfilling all that follows.

Avraham Avinu is the introduction. If you desire to know what the focal point of the fulfillment of the Torah is, take a look at our first forefather; on what hinge did the life of the father of our nation revolve, around what where all his thoughts, words and actions centered?

Avraham Avinu directed his entire life to The Creator, even the minutest motion, thought or action was carefully weighed on the scale of: “I place Hashem before me always” (Tehillim). At every possible moment the desire to know Hashem burned inside him and no perception that he attained could quench his soul’s endless thirst. With ten tests did The Creator test his dedication and sincerity, and he stood up to them all with his clear and wondrous conviction of Hashem’s presence.

The first of the circumcised

How does one merit to such an awakened soul? – we all ask ourselves. The drowsiness that envelopes our senses almost constantly transforms our lives into something dark and heavy, how can we be freed from it? The soul is meant to be naturally aflame with passion for every holy thing, if one would know how much he is wanted above, how much they anticipate every truthful thought on his part and how much weight just one word of truth carries, his legs would take him of their own from the shul to the Beis Medrash, from there to the fields and back in a never ending cycle. Yet our blind eyes see nothing of all this.

Sins, transgressions and iniquities are what form this barrier; they do not allow a person to receive that most essential sustenance – to be related to from above.  The most desired feeling, the deep sense of “The Creator needs me”, is generally buried beneath a thick layer of wrongdoings and the like.

Avraham Avinu was the first of the creation to identify emunah from within the world of physicality; he achieved this through the bris mila (circumcision). The arlah (foreskin) is the barrier that overshadows the senses and does not allow them to perceive anything beyond dark fantasies of evil. When the arlah is removed the soul is aroused to life. The first of the believers was also the first of the circumcised; he was the first man who was sensible enough to remove the barriers of evil.

Lech Lecha – Go to yourself.

Through yearning and desire, searching and request, Klal Yisroel was born. The yearning that burned inside Avraham Avinu is to be found by way of inheritance inside each one of us. This together with the recognition of Hashem’s existence he passed on to us. Inside every one of us is an awakened soul that is full of desire and searching. We need just remove from upon it the layers of arlah, of forgetfulness and tiredness. The ability for this too we inherited. Every tiny drop of arlah that is removed, every piece of evil, of sadness, of illusion and bewilderment that we cast off, reveals in the heart another hint of spiritual alertness.

Everyone has a soul, everyone has desire and yearning, we need just go there – to ourselves. Nothing can prevent the searching soul from attaining its desire. We must cast aside all that seems imperative, unchangeable or “a part of me” and simply get going.

“Lech Lecha” – is said to each one of us: leave aside all the calculations and fears, the heaviness and depression that are rooted in “ארצך” (your land); the corporeality of the element of earth. Leave a little “מולדתך” (your birth place); the negative character traits and natural tendencies that seem to be an inheritance that threatens to accompany us throughout our lives. Abandon somewhat your “בית אביך” (father’s house); the negative influences and philosophies of your surroundings. Go forth towards your soul’s desire, to where you truly yearn to be.

To this place you will be accompanied by your nekudos toivos (good points), by emunah, bitachon and the ancient call of “lech lecha”.  For to your root only you can go, in the light of Hashem’s hashgacha (Divine providence).

“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…

“The Power of Rashbi”

As long as he can remember, he has seen them standing alert and at attention, appearing to him like iron statues. He was a child and they were adults and one question filled his entire world – how do they do it? Where do they get the strength from, to stand for so many hours, to march back and forth, to run and to train. Do they never tire? It seemed as if the pangs of exhaustion had been forever banished from their eyes.

As he grew and developed into a young man, so too did his question sprout and evolve, taking on a new form and deepening its roots. Now he understood, that in truth these people have nothing else in their worlds – neither family nor friends. Their lives revolve around one thing only, it is called in their words “His Majesty”. He is a servant boy and not a minister nor a soldier. These people seem so way above his perception – how can he possibly understand them?

Then, one day it happened, he understood. No one knows how his legs found their way to the threshold of the splendid room. In any event, he was there, and even the door itself came to his aid. The small gap between the slightly open door and its frame revealed to him the entire secret. The vision lasted only a few moments, until the door was shut tightly, but for him it was enough to last the rest of his life. He will never forget the look in the eyes of those strong and usually stoic men. The king’s face he did not see, but their faces he surely did, and what he perceived in their glowing eyes had never before appeared in the thousands of pairs of eyes he had glanced at in the past.

The mystery no longer bothered him.  If such a thing exists, if his eyes too would ever perceive whatever otherworldly thing they saw, then sleep would surely never find its place in them either. Of this he has no doubt.  ■

How can it be that as we enter the heart of the scorching summer, amidst the days of the Sefirah, when we have just taken leave of the month of Nissan and set foot upon the highway that escalates all the way to the chag of Shavu’os, that suddenly we find in the torah portion – Yom Ha’Kippurim. It is quite startling to abruptly find the holiest day of the year six months after we left it behind together with the days of Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos.

If we have already begun with the topic of time periods and dates, we discover that we always, for some reason, read the parsha of Acharei Mos – Kedoshim somewhere in the vicinity of Lag B’Omer and the Hillulas Rashbi (The Yartzheit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai). Presumably there is some deeper meaning in this…

All of us, we can safely assume, count the Sefiras Ha’Omer each night. The Sefirah is not merely a bracha and short sentence said in addition to Ma’ariv, it holds a very important, even essential role, so much so that these days have even warranted their very own name and have been crowned with the title “Yimei Ha’Sfirah” (The days of the counting), meaning – days which their very chiyus (life-force) is drawn from the mitzvos of the Sefiras Ha’Omer. What is it that we say in the prayer before the counting ‘Ribboino Shel Olam… (Master of the Universe…)’ that makes every bachur with a heart scream with all his strength, ‘…May we be purified and sanctified’, yes, we are simply requesting exactly this, purity and holiness.

When we were young we also screamed out: ‘today’, maybe at the beginning, around where we say ‘one day’ or ‘two days’, but when we continue to: ‘…… which are one week’, many voices fade out. Honestly, how much can we push ourselves; and just between us, why should we scream out so intensely, what are we missing in life, what’s the big commotion about? Did something happen on Pesach that we have some urgent need to be purified? Were we not okay until now? What was, still is, a wonderful Jewish life; there is no doubt that there are things that need to be rectified, but what’s the big rush? Why does it specifically need to be “be’kedushah shel ma’alah (with heavenly holiness)”, can we not be satisfied with simple, good and flowing Judaism … as it has been until today?

It’s true that we have heard of great people who live in a different atmosphere, we have even seen them at various opportunities. We followed them with staring eyes, and a subtle desire was sparked in the depths of our hearts. ‘Ahh…this is what I would have wanted, to serve Hashem with my entire being and with such passion. It is wondrous to live with an inseparable connection to something so very alive, to invest all one’s capabilities and effort for someone whom one would sacrifice everything for. To approach tefillah without thinking about what one will be doing after he concludes “Oseh Shalom…”, to sink into the words and to forget all of existence.

But then we caught ourselves: ‘Oops, don’t get swept away, take a step back, you’re not built for that’. Since then those holy people have remained in a golden frame on the wall. They even hold an honored place in our hearts. We respect them and their ways –  perhaps in our next gilgul (reincarnation) we’ll try too…

This feeling returns when the first sentence of Parshas Kedoshim appears from amidst the torah reading: “…be holy…”. With Rashi’s explanation (that we should stay clear of sin) we can manage, but when we see the Rambam’s explanation: ‘be holy in that which is permissible to you’, things get a little more complicated. How is it even possible? I’m not there; I have a home, a family, work and a life. How could I ever do it?

One moment, someone already dealt with this, he was called Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai, yes, the one from the holy Zohar. He screamed out and exclaimed: “it (the torah) will not be forgotten from the mouths of his offspring” – the Sefer Ha’Zohar is the surety for this. By inference we understand what would happen without it, Rebbi Shimon told us something new, something that no one else could say, and the others were no simpletons, they were holy Tana’im. The Gemorah tells us about the sages who sat in a vineyard in Yavneh evaluating the situation, and they came to the conclusion that within a few generations, the Torah would become forgotten in a world without the Beis Hamikdash. Rebbi Shimon was very young at the time; he was only “a certain student”.  Yet a few years later, on a separate occasion, he declared that without that which he revealed, the Torah truly would be forgotten – but that after the Zohar had come into the world this would not happen – “for it will not be forgotten from his offspring” (in Hebrew the last letters of this verse spell ‘Yochai’, see the introduction to Likutey Moharan).

But why prophesize such a dark and gloomy future in the fist place? Why were the Tana’im in Yavneh so worried. Are we little children, can we not manage on our own? Look at what we have achieved; there was never a generation in which there were so many holy books in so many splendid editions. When in all of history were there so many learned people in Klal Yisroel. Today every child can deliver a most impressive Dvar Torah. There are even computer programs for accelerated Torah learning and one can get smichah by correspondence. What’s so bad? We’re managing just fine. We can relax.

Yes, it’s true, there is no need to worry – with regard to this no one has any problems, the holy Tana’im knew very well how smart and intelligent we would be in the future, they were not concerned that we would forget or loose information … we can even make a ‘backup’. They were alarmed about a much more dangerous situation, in which the Sefer Torah has long since disappeared and all that remains is the beautiful cover that can be embraced with the arms. They prophesized of a situation in which it is possible to preach and expound the laws of Shabbos and to completely forget that it IS Shabbos today.

They worried about a Judaism that can be intellectually explained but that is empty of fiery Emunah. They worried about a splendid Esrog that costs a fortune yet its owner has a heart that is cold and apathetic, together with a mind that is elsewhere. They knew that only a Beis Hamikdash is what can bring the soul of a Jew to dwell in his body. From there, where the Shechina (Divine Presence) dwelled in a structure made of stone, were sent forth veins of life to the heart of every Jew. It was these that fixed in their minds and hearts the living Zicharon (memory/awareness) and vitality of the Torah. Without the Beis Hamikdash where could this awareness possibly come from?

Rashbi, in his tremendous holiness and tremendously powerful soul, knew something else. He knew that there is a Tzaddik that is so great, that the very Beis Hamikdash itself draws its holiness from Him and that a Tzaddik of this caliber is able to guarantee that indeed, the Torah will not be forgotten. For he already prepared a solution to the problem, he built an ark that can save us from the flood – it is called the ‘Zohar’ and all who have even the slightest contact with it, immediately remember.

This is also what the torah reading does to us; it is not for nothing that they sent us, in the heat of the summer, a pure breeze of Yom Ha-Kippurim. When the soul is absorbed into the scent of Kedusha and Tahara (purity), when a person finds himself, even for a few moments, in the king’s chamber; when he sees, feels and tastes the sweetness of forgiveness and pardon, when he receives a smile that radiates nothing but love and closeness, then he begins to understand how it is possible to enter into a life of Kedusha. For he who sees the face of the king –  even once a year – and is therefore able to toil three hundred and sixty four days without fatigue and tiredness, to bear the ‘burden’ of the taryag (613) mitzvos and to cling constantly to the holy Emunah.

We count the days every evening and remember that I too left Mitzrayim. I am not just some unholy Jew – I am something else entirely. We also remember that the Mitzvos do have an effect on us, the Torah makes us holy, and it is not something dead but rather entirely alive.

Then, in the middle of the days of the Omer we ascend together to Meiron, to the place from where this awareness is spread across the entire globe. This celebration that casts aside even the most stringent customs of mourning, reminds us that Judaism takes form around the ‘living’ Tzaddikim. It reminds us that even in a world of forgetfulness and confusion, there is a Beis HaMikdash – a true Tzaddik who’s teachings are in our midst.

One need only open a Likutei Moharan, ‘go over’ a piece of Likutei Halachos and talk with good friends who are searching together for true guidance and advice. When one tastes even a tiny spoonful of this, one instantly understands how there can be those for whom the king is their entire lives, and that we too can be like them; even within our simple and quiet lives we can live with the king at literally every moment.

A Holy Melody

History doesn’t record the date of the first chase after success, because it started before anyone attempted to document it. Everyone pursues success, but what’s the secret of those who achieve it? What’s the ‘magic’ ingredient that they possess? Whatever it is, it’s not something tangible, though it’s presence or absence are most definitely tangibly felt.

What’s the difference between a dead person and a live one, between something growing and something decayed, between alacrity and laziness, between joy and depression? Everything comes from the earth and eventually returns to it. Between birth and death this pile of earth learns to stand upright, walk, talk, eat and drink, think and create, all by means of the life-force that flows through it. So it seems that life-force – spirit, is the most important of all things.

Some may call it ‘joy’, others ‘vitality’ or ‘fulfilment’ – either way everyone is seeking this life-force, this spirit. All over the world people seek it and invest so many resources into discovering it’s source and secret. All pursue one goal – to truly be alive.

How strange it is then that the more the world invests into the manufacture of joy and fulfilment, the deeper it sinks into the depths of depression. People nowadays are great experts on joy and happiness – they can explain every state of mind and diagnose every emotional condition. Whole institutions and thousands of people are dedicated to the study of psychology and the human emotional condition. The topics of ‘happiness’, ‘fulfilment’ and ‘inner peace’ fill chapters and books in modern day research writings and text books. Everyone knows that happiness is the most precious commodity, and most are willing to pursue it all costs. Whether that means taking bitter pills, illicit drugs, deafening one’s ears with mindless music, dancing, running – whatever it takes to get a bit more of this spirit of happiness and vitality. This is true of the world at large. In the Torah world the spirit and state of the soul are also most central and essential issues.

Yet if we enter into the study hall of a Yeshiva during ‘seder’, the set time for learning, we witness a most perplexing phenomenon. All the young men will be busy with the same Tractate, the same topic, and will mostly probably be on precisely the same page, working to understand the same few lines of the Talmud. So why is it that for one boy the book open before him is like a well-spring of fresh water, bent over it enthusiastically, his fingers following every word with his eyes transfixed on the page, while facing him, sits another boy whose eyes are dim, whose face is pale, and who has half his body slumped under the table with his head above supported only by a hand that prevents him from collapsing entirely from boredom?

What did the Gemoro do for the boy whose eyes it lit up with joy and enthusiasm, that it didn’t do for his colleague who can just about manage to turn the pages? Why are the words of prayer a direct pathway to one boy’s heart, whilst to another they’re a meaningless mantra that must be mumbled as swiftly as possible? What’s the secret that makes one person jump out of bed at the crack of dawn, whilst his friend only greets the sun when it’s almost overhead? The answer lies hidden in the Parsha of the Metzora – leprosy.

Tsoraas, (commonly known as Leprosy) is never a pleasant thing, and together with the negative spiritual repercussions that it entails, it brings a person to a very low place indeed. It’s not for nothing that the Sages compared a person with Tsoraas to a corpse. A Metzora (a person with Tsoraas) is excommunicated from life, locked up outside the camp and is forbidden to communicate with anyone. The holy Zohar says Tsoraas entails the ‘closing off of heavenly light,’ – heavenly influx is withheld from the person.

The Rebbe talks about the meaning of Tsoraas and the process of purification from it in Torah 3 (I). There he explains where good and bad draw their respective life-forces from, and explains how it is that life can so suddenly become heavy going, how a heart that yesterday found so much fulfilment in a chapter of Mishnayos can today not even bring itself to utter the words.

What lies behind this, the Rebbe says, is nothing other than song – music.

“Because when he hears music from a wicked musician” warns the Rebbe, “it harms his ability to serve Hashem.” And the contrary is also true, “When he hears from a kosher musician then it’s good for him.”

Music is the ‘mochin’ (literally brains or mind) of both good and bad. Jealousy, physical appetites and honour-seeking in themselves aren’t as dangerous as the spirit that fuels them. If not for this ‘spirit’, which the media and other illusion-creators exploit to the full, the vanities of this world wouldn’t be able to entice even the most foolish of men. Around every vanity dances a song – this is what carries the illusion, strengthens it, and establishes it as a credible and powerful force.

When the Rebbe talks about music he uses the word as an umbrella term that encompasses all the various forms of entertainment and distraction that people engage in to arouse their weary spirits. The force that gave birth to all these activities, the thirst for true life and vitality, is also what has given birth to the prevalent frivolity of today’s world. Loshon Horoh, speaking negatively about others, is just a natural outcome of frantic burrowing in feelings of emptiness. In those boring moments all that’s left to do is to seek out some faults in someone else, because perhaps there, gloating in the faults and defects of another, will the soul find some respite.

The Metzora is smitten with Tsoraas because he spoke Loshon Horoh. If a person would hear how the gates of Heavenly influx are bolted shut above him when he speaks a word of Loshon Hora he wouldn’t need any lectures about its severity. He would become an instant expert in the laws of Loshon Hora.

Every Jew has a song in his heart that’s just waiting to find the notes to express itself. The melody in the heart is the life spirit that’s contained in the heart of every Jew. When this melody meets notes of Torah and Tefillah, it strengthens, intensifies and becomes a beautiful symphony. Fear of heaven, rather than being a heavy yoke, then becomes light and pleasurable. It uplifts the soul and enables it to pass smoothly over all the challenges of life. This is how it can be so long as there’s wind (or spirit) in the sails. But when this spirit is quashed and departs, then even the smallest challenge becomes an unbearable burden. This is why it’s possible to see a strong healthy man mumbling his grace after meals feebly, like a worn out old man.

“There’s nothing greater than ‘ONeG’ (delight) and nothing worse than ‘NeGah’ (a plague or leprosy),” (Sefer Yetzira). Many times on the way to the Oneg a person finds himself thrown down into the depths of Negah. True Oneg provides genuine life-force, vitality and spirit, it enlivens the song of the heart which draws from the source of life, coming down like dew to water and quenches the soul’s thirst. But it’s only capable of satisfying our healthy thirst. When we thirst for other things and seek to be satisfied by other music (i.e. entertainments, distractions, etc.) the Oneg transforms into a purulent inflammation; a Negah, and delight transforms into a nightmare.

Though leprosy in its physical form may be very rare nowadays, its spiritual equivalent is a rampant epidemic. Most of mankind is ostracised from the camp of true life, each person suffering from his own form of leprosy – a lack of vitality and spirit. This is the root cause of all the modern day spiritual, emotional and social woes. These are the consequences of the contemporary Tsoraas.

So what can we do? True vitality is a rare commodity. There is only one option left – music. We’re already accustomed to turning to music for it’s healing and soothing power. It can help us forget our pain and raise us above our problems. It uplifts our weary spirits. The Halachic permission given to listen to and engage in music after the destruction of the Temple flowed from the fact that ‘Without this, what will happen to us…?’

But when the Rebbe speaks about the use of music and songs, he says that they only help when they flow forth from a kosher musician, one who sings and makes music solely for Hashem’s honour, with no other motives. Where do we find his tapes? Most of the music we hear is not of this calibre.

But don’t despair. After saying this the Rebbe also provides us with a practical piece of advice to help us out – to learn Torah at night. This, he said, protects us from the harm of non-kosher music. For our problem is, in reality, only an expression of a much greater problem. When a Jew lacks vitality in his Yiddishkeit and Kedushah this means that there’s something lacking in the general Malchus D’Kedushah, ‘Holy Kingdom’. When the whole world is dizzy with enthusiasm for foolishness and vanity, then the Malchus HaReshaah, the ‘Wicked Kingdom’ is rejoicing. To correct this situation we need to build up the Holy Kingdom.

In a nutshell – our problem is speech. Speech forms the spirit and the spirit infuses the words, and both of them together either destroy or build up fear of Heaven and faith, Emunah. When the mouth gets accustomed to spewing words of foolishness and vanity; when words are wasted on the oh-so important matters of this world, or are used to degrade others, then the spirit that blows in the sails of the soul is a foreign one, and  it’s very hard to do even the smallest holy act.

But if we want to be cured of the plague of Tsaraas there are two simple guidelines to follow. The first is – be quiet. This at the very least cuts off the channels of life-force from the Wicked Kingdom. Stop the negative talk. The second is – learn Torah at night. Such learning builds up the Holy Kingdom. In the night-time hours when the storm winds of this world settle down, a Jew can grasp for himself an hour of true pursuit and toil, an hour when his learning is just for Hashem. Such a genuine act that flows from the pure desire to serve Hashem is capable of rebuilding and restoring the Holy Kingdom. Such learning raises up the Holy Kingdom and revives it. When we do this, we are protected from even the worst music of this world, which then loses its power to bring us down or separate us from the Source of Life.

 

 

 

 

The Ultimate Defense Attorney

The Tzaddik is called a TaMaR (date tree) as the verse says “a Tzaddik will blossom like a tamar”, for the word Tamar is connected to the word TeMuRa (transforming). This is because the Tzaddik transforms everything for the best and turns all the accusations into merits. This is as the sages taught: “if one has even one defending angel from amidst a thousand [accusing angels]… he emerges meritorious.” The deeper meaning of this is that the defending angel is actually created “from amidst” the thousands accusing ones. For the more accusations there are against a person, the Tzaddik vouches for him even more through showing how despite all the bad he has still managed to find some good point in this person.

The explanation of this is that all the accusing angels against a person are actually the very ones that incited him to sin in the first place, as the sages taught: “he (the Satan) is the inciter and he is the accuser.” Therefore when the accusing angels are exceedingly great in number, G-d forbid, the defending angel arises and uses this fact itself for one’s defense but claiming that since one has so many accusations against him he must have had many challenges and incitements from the evil inclination. If so, on the contrary, it is ever so more wondrous that such a person overcame these great and numerous inciters and managed to grab onto good by doing some mitzvah. This is the aspect of “one defending angel from amidst a thousand” – that specifically by way of the thousand accusing angels does the Tzaddik defend him. The novelty is not that such a person sinned so terribly, since he was greatly incited. On the contrary, it is truly amazing that he strengthened himself to do even the slightest bit of good with such great forces fighting against him. Therefore the Tzaddik who follows this path is called Tamar, for he transforms and converts the accusations into merit.

(Likutey Halachos, Techumin 6, section 15)

A person who is preparing to stand trial searches for the best defending lawyer he can find, someone who is capable of arranging his claims in a fashion that emphasize his merit. The defense attorney does not necessarily have to change the facts, but rather shed light on things from a different angle. This is the main difference between the prosecutor and the defender, from what angle they present the case. The great need to search for someone with ‘a way with words’ who can convince the judge of his client’s righteousness is thus evident.

This is not only true with regards to court cases but also to any area in which a person needs to make a claim or present an argument. The best thing is to find a suitable representative who can present things eloquently and convincingly. This is as Reb Nosson teaches: “for even this aspect of merit itself that he (the Tzaddik) is emphasizing on behalf of a certain person, if he would do so without eloquence he would not be able to arouse mercy for him, for surely this merit is known in the Heavenly court even without him. Rather, the main power of the defender to bring about salvation and arouse mercy is through eloquence – by presenting the merit convincingly, with proper claims and articulacy. (Likutey Halachos, Tefillah 4)

It is certainly then surprising how regarding one’s Divine service, when he feels distant from Hashem, that he isn’t in such a rush to find an attorney who will prove his righteousness. One is simply prepared to give in the moment a thought of distance from Hashem arises in thought. For some reason he is willing to concede to the feeling that he is full of sin and has no hope of returning to holiness.

It is not that one has to seek a deceitful attorney who will deny the bad, G-d forbid, for Hashem’s will is that one acknowledges his sins. Nevertheless these thoughts of rebuke generally distance a person even more form serving Hashem and He certainly does not desire this either. Therefore one must seek a fitting advocate who can defend him in the Heavenly worlds, to arouse mercy on high that his sins should be looked at from a different angle; someone who can find one’s merit in the proper manner and arouse in one’s heart a feeling of renewed closeness to Hashem despite his sins.

With this we can understand Reb Nosson’s words in this teaching where he reveals to us that the Tzaddik is the attorney who is constantly involved in nullifying the harsh accusations against us. For every sin creates prosecuting angels, yet when the Tzaddik sees them he uses this to bring one’s merits to light. For one’s many sins are an indication of how greatly one is surrounded by inciting forces of evil and how one lacks the special help from above that is afforded to the righteous and pious. This only emphasizes the worth and value of such a person’s efforts in renewing himself in the service of Hashem. In this way the many falls can be transformed into a solid defense.

We see from this how greatly we must strengthen ourselves against Amalek who strives to discourage us constantly. We should tell him that on the contrary, if I am as bad as you say then my every good point is all the more valuable. We do however need the Tzaddik who is an aspect of the tamar, for it is he who stands above to truly arouse mercy upon the Jewish people, to transform and change the bad into good and to give one a boost back into holiness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Really, what do they Expect of Us?

It seems that you take one step forward, and the next step there’s an obstacle.  At a certain point you ask yourself, what is going on here?

Heskel didn’t know what to think anymore.  The day before the shift at the plant where he works was called off suddenly.  This week the entire plant was moved to a new location without as much as an explanation.  The day before an electrical blackout stopped production dead on its tracks.  Yes, workers are extremely resourceful, but production is still way down.  When Heskel first got the job he thought it was a dream come true.  Now he thinks of quitting.  According to his math, the plant is about to close.

Surprisingly, the work manager didn’t seem perturbed at all by Heskel’s doomsday calculations.  He revealed to his astonished worker that the plant is no regular factory at all.  It is a plant designed to train special production methods for times of emergency.  High management is looking for adaptability and the aptitude to improvise under pressure.  They don’t really care about production and quotas.  They are look for the ability to cope with adversity, ingenuity and plain old durability under difficulty.

♦♦♦

Who can toil with no aim in sight? Who is mentally strong enough to work with no goal, future, or prospects in sight?  That is exactly the kind of work the Israelites in Egypt were facing.  The architects of Pitom and Ramses had no building aspirations whatsoever.  Their only goal was to enslave the people of Israel, drain their energy, and sap their faith.

At exodus Hashem said “they are my slaves”.  The story of working for nothing is over forever.  Kabolas HaTorah took us into a whole new ‘factory’ – work of the most sublime rhyme and reason of them all.  It is work in the palace of the king, where every single effort in thought, speech, and deed for the sake of the King has an eternal, inestimable value.  Together with shedding slavery, we also received a calendar.  Unfortunately, the Jewish calendar revolves around the moon.

For 210 years we waited for the redemption and we finally got it.  And when we finally got above the laws of nature, suddenly we are chained to the constant trials of ups and downs.  The moon forever increases and decreases every single month, while the sun is both shiny and stable.  Why were we chained to such an unstable cycle upon getting out of Egypt?

Measure of Success

Success depends so much on a right beginning.  Beginnings are usually flushed with great fanfare and enthusiasm.  A new year … a new season … a new job … they all give you a huge jolt of spirit and hope to start and do great work.  The first steps can focus the mental energy on surging ahead.  Spring is a time for renewal.  Creation wears new clothes.  Liberty permeates the air.  A new volition and ambition flows into creation.  We feel a strong pull towards our Father in Heaven and He, onto us in return.

That is the beginning.  What comes after is … well … different.  We all know that consistent time-keeping is a must.  A Jew must keep a stable, consistent schedule of kedusha.  But some parts of one’s life are simply not under your control.  The urge and yearning you feel for Hashem isn’t constant either.  Sometimes you heart is open like a hall and then, many thousands of times your heart is closed as a fist.  Tzaddikim tell it to us straight off.  This is the way it’s going to be – ups and downs all the way – just like the moon.

Is this a wise policy?  Isn’t there a danger that pre-knowledge of the fickle nature of our trek will diminish and cool down our enthusiasm?

Eyes on the Goal

When you start out, you need to know what the goal is.  If it’s a race, you had better come first.  But the service of Hashem isn’t a race and has a very different goal.  This is why the Tzaddikim tell us straight off-the-bat what we’re heading into.

Man is flesh and blood, infused with a spiritual soul.  The body pulls down while the neshoma yearns for the Heavens.  Since the two are destined to coexist, there is a constant struggle going on.  Rebbe Nachman calls the ‘up’ and ‘down’ forces the forces of ‘pulling and enforcing’.  The pulling force draws the Neshomah up while the enforcing power compels the body down.  The balance between the two forces is the engine behind both creation and creativity.  Rebbe Nosson gives a wonderful example of a watch.

Yesteryears watches were mechanical.  The power that drove the watch’s movement was a spring, a long thin piece of metal tightly wound daily.  The tension stored in the spring was gradually released by the watch’s mechanism over a 24 hour time period.  It is the interrelation between the spring’s forward driving force and the intricate mechanism holding it back that releases the power in a tightly controlled fashion.  That consistent release enables a sustained movement of the watch’s hands and the exact keeping of time.  Without the spring, nothing can happen – without the restraining mechanism that energy would have blown off uselessly.

The goal of the service of Hashem is ביטול – self annulment.  That self-annulment is created by what seems like being torn by the conflicts between our built-in up and down tendencies.  The beauty of the soul pulls the soul with yearning, and the body’s dense materialism holds it back.  The combined resulting struggle creates the immense joy of Heaven.  The success isn’t a race, but coping with the constant struggle against the “enforcer” that hold you back.  Some get a delicate “enforcer” that allows them hours for uninterrupted learning and praying.  Others are giving Heaven immeasurable joy from a pit of tar, struggling under burdens that would break a mule’s back.  Success is the ability to sustain the struggle between the two opposing forces.

This is what we are told when the Torah tells us “This is your first month”.  Now, that you have gone through the gates of emunah in the service of Hashem, you are now the slave of the King of all Kings. The initial enthusiasm isn’t the goal, it’s only a tool.  The goal is to forever reignite a new urge that will subdue another instance of necessary hold-backs.

When you enter the month of Nissan and Pesach with this understanding you grasp that Nissan, like Rosh Hashanah, is a time of renewal.  On Tishrei Hashem’s slaves are sitting in synagogues, wrapped with praying shawls – in Nissan they get down on their knees, scrubbing the physical chometz off – but the principle is the same.

Rosh Chodesh Nissan is the Rosh Hashanah of kings.  Rebbe Nahcman reveals that this is the time when new honor and authority is given to new power holders.  During this day, the soul of each and every one of us is renewed.  Our springs, as it were, are wound.  We fortify our souls with new longings and urge to reach the infinite, and overcome the “enforcing” deflation of Pesach cleaning.  This is when we realize that success isn’t in winning the race, but in being willing to carry the load.

 

 

 

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