Emunah Based on the Teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

Posts tagged ‘Azamra’

Two Sides of the Coin

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

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

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

♦♦♦

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

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

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

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

Two Sides of the Coin

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

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

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

The question, of course, is where to begin.

Azamra – the gate to success

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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How to Awaken from Spiritual Slumber

Question:

One of the main things which the Rebbe advises us is to find the good points within ourselves. Isn’t there a concern that there is a possibility that consequently a person might stop advancing in his Avodas Hashem? Don’t we always have to motivate ourselves and strive to move forward in Avodas Hashem?

Answer:

People are under the impression that the way to wake oneself up from spiritual slumber and sleeping through life is through finding deficiencies in Avodas Hashem within oneself.

However, the Rebbe reveals regarding thoughts of inspiration and motivation to serve Hashem properly which pass through a person’s mind, that if it’s a thought which concentrates on how far he is and his shortcomings, not only won’t it be helpful, but also the thought itself will strengthen his spiritual sleep. Reb Nosson writes, “When a person sees that he’s far from Hashem this is an aspect of sleep.” (Likutei Halachos Hashkamas HaBoker 1:2)

We thus see that if we’re talking about waking up in Avodas Hashem, we must be careful not to think about the bad. Thinking about how distant one is from Hashem is in itself sleeping.

This is not just another nice idea meant to encourage people and to keep them from giving up when they see how far they are. This is the way to wake up from our sleep. The whole purpose of Avodas Hashem is to connect to Hashem and to be close to Him. It’s therefore self-understood that the way to wake up to Avodas Hashem after a fall is by searching and finding in oneself a good point, not in order to prevent oneself from giving up, but rather because in this way he will be able to truly restore his bond with Hashem after the fall. Every Mitzvah makes a sort of rope which attaches a person to Hashem, a rope which is impossible to ever sever and take apart. ‘Mitzvah’ is from the same root as ‘Tzavta’, a connection. Every Mitzvah and good deed that a person does is a G-dly light which dwells on him.

Not only that, but on Hashem’s side the whole renewal of the connection and forgiving of sin is brought about by a person’s search to believe in his good point. Every sin makes the Shechinah depart a little bit. A person therefore has to rebuild his Mishkan, his place for the Shechinah, by intensifying his thoughts to focus on the fact that he is tightly connected to Hashem through the Mitzvah which he has done.

Even though Hashem knows a person’s good, still, a person has to wake himself up to think about the Shechinah, the dwelling of the Divine Presence through the Mitzvos, and to take strength and encouragement from it. This is really how a person arouses Hashem’s Compassion to only focus on our good and to forgive our sins (Likutei Halachos ibid). This is the power which a Jewish thought, thinking about the Shechinah, has. It’s not just an encouraging idea.

This is also the way to conduct Hisbodedus and to speak out one’s heart before Hashem.  We must first find those points which tie us with the Creator, and from there to start pouring out our hearts before Him that we haven’t yet merited to more. (Likutei Moharan I 54)

If so, it is understood what when a person will be strong with the good which he has within himself because of the G-dliness inside him, and he will awaken himself to recognize his connection which already exists  with Hashem, there is no concern that he might fall asleep on his job.

Question:

Isn’t it pride for a person to think about the good which he did?

Answer:

On the contrary, this is the utmost humility. As we have explained, this is not in the same lines as those who are involved with pop-psychology who try picking people up and making them happy by helping them find “unique successes” or specific “uniqueness’s” .

“Nekudos Tovos” means to connect with the “simple” Yiddishkeit which everyone has, like Kashrus, Shabbos, Prayer, Tzitzis and Tefillin, etc., and to believe in their greatness in Hashem’s eyes. We aren’t ignoring our sins. We are waking up our acknowledgment and our thoughts regarding the ropes and strings which tie us to Hashem despite the darkness and evil which envelop us. In so doing we renew our connection to Hashem.

There is no more wonderful connection to Hashem. When a person realizes how far he is and sees his lowliness, and strengthens himself to see how despite all of this he is close to Hashem because of some Mitzvah which he once did, this is true humility which brings one closer to Hashem (see Likutei Halachos Reishis HaGez 4). This is not a false humility which makes someone lazy when he decides that he is not worth anything anyway and what difference would it make if he would run into Avodas Hashem.

In addition, since ‘Nekudos Tovos’ means to search for Hashem’s light which is resting upon him because of the good within him, if so, we have to look for the good points in all of Klal Yisroel and to see how Hashem’s light rests upon them through the good deeds which every Jew has.

When we enter a shul, we can look around and start bringing the Shechinah to rest upon the people there, by thinking about each one individually what good point he has, and to think about how Hashem is with him. At the same time, he can include himself with everyone else, as he realizes that he also has some Mitzvah through which Hashem has rested His light on him.

This is wonderful advice how to find encouragement together with real humility.

When a person is sunk into feelings of distance from Hashem and sadness, it’s very hard to find joy with the good which he has. But if he will go out of himself a little and will begin to think about Hashem’s Shechinah dwelling by other people, he can then bring himself in together with them.

It may be for this reason that the Rebbe began the Torah of “Nekudos Tovos”, known as “Azamra” (Likutei Moharan I 282) with seeing merit by others, before looking for merit by oneself. If a person will conduct himself in such a way, he certainly won’t be able to fall into pride, because everyone else is also as good as he is …

Don’t wonder whether your thoughts about other people make a difference. In truth, through every such thought of finding a “Nekudah Tovah”, whether about another Jew or about oneself, a person brings the Shechinah into this world, awakens Hashem’s great mercy and compassion, and builds a dwelling for Hashem in this lower world.

The thoughts of a Jew have great potency. He must therefore be strong to bring the Shechinah everywhere he goes by accustoming himself to find some good in everyone he sees and to think about it until he will strengthen his Emunah that “Hashem is here and I am walking through the Mishkan of Hashem”.

Thus we can achieve the first paragraph of Shulchan Aruch- the paragraph which most people have given up on – “’I place Hashem before me constantly’ is a great principle in Torah, that a person should place before his eyes…”.  This paragraph is relevant for everyone on whatever level he is on, by thinking about the kindness of Hashem and to see how Hashem dwells upon him in merit of his good and the good of others. (Likutei Halachos Hashkamas HaBoker 1)

 

 

 

“Azamra”

When a person begins to look at himself and sees how far he is from being good, and how he is full of sin, he’s liable to fall as a result. He won’t be able to pray afterwards at all.

He is therefore obligated to search, seek, and find within himself, some good. How is it possible that he never did any Mitzvah in his life, or any good thing? And even if when he starts to look at that good which he found, and he sees that that good itself is in bad shape, not having been done correctly and mixed with selfish motivations, it’s still impossible that there won’t be some small good point, a Nekudah Tovah, somewhere in that little bit of good.

And so he must also continue to look and seek until he finds within himself another good thing. And even if this good is also mixed with a lot of garbage, still, there is some good point in it. And so he must continue to search and seek, until he finds more good points.

Through finding within oneself good points, one stops being judged negatively and begins to be judged favorably. He can then do Teshuvah, revive himself and achieve happiness, whatever his situation may be. He can then pray, sing, and thank Hashem.

Meshivas Nefesh #26, based on Likutei Moharan 282

“Azamra”

In this passage we come across one of the foundations of Hischazkus, which Reb Nosson discusses a great deal. Many people have merited beginning life anew in light of this wondrous idea which is referred to as “Azamra”- I will sing, from the verse, “I will sing to my G-d with what I have left.” אזמרה לאלקי בעודי,  – To sing to Hashem with the עודי – the little bit within me that is still good.

Many people wonder about why we should search for good points in the good things that we’ve done. Doesn’t the Rebbe provide many ways for a person to encourage himself without concentrating on what he’s done? On the contrary, it would seem better to look beyond actions, and to realize the pride which Hashem takes just from someone being a Jew, or for someone to begin anew and put the past out of his mind, or to focus only on the ultimate purpose, etc. And why must we probe our actions?

Also, shouldn’t we be concerned that by only seeing the good we might come to whitewash evil?

The truth is, however, that in this awesome piece of advice the Rebbe descends to the people entrapped in darkness, to reveal for them a path how ‘there’ (in the darkness) to find points of light.

The reality is that people fall under a powerful delusion, that because of their actions and poor character, they have an inner feeling of remoteness and lack of relationship with Hashem. People get so used to living with this feeling that even when it doesn’t cause them sadness, their souls lay asleep. Proof of this is that they don’t feel any enjoyment from a Mitzvah or Avodah, and they can’t sing to Hashem in their prayer.

“Dwelling of the Shechinah”

We must realize that any such feelings of distance, is of utmost gravity. These feelings cause the Shechinah not to dwell between us. The main dwelling of the Shechinah is in a person’s mind when he illuminates himself with thoughts of the intimacy he has with Hashem. When a person views himself as distant as a result of his deeds and habits which aren’t good, he separates himself from the Shechinah.

It is therefore necessary to descend to seemingly distant places, and to cause the Shechinah to dwell ‘there’, through a person discovering how through his own free will, he has already merited to bring down the Shechinah. He undoubtedly has a Nekudah Tovah which he accomplished one time, and when he reminds himself about it, and revives himself with faith that this Mitzvah is very dear in Hashem’s eyes, he thereby brings the Shechinah down.  With this thought he performs the first paragraph in the Shulchan Aruch – to always place Hashem before us.

“To Judge Others Favorably”

From where does a person draw the energy at times of sadness to encourage himself with the little bit of good which he has?

The Rebbe prefaces ‘Azamra’ by teaching us that we must judge ‘others’ favorably. For example, when entering a Shul, look at all the congregants, and try to find in them any positive trait, in a way that you will start realizing how Hashem rests upon this Jew who merits laying Tefillin, and on that Jew who is crowned with a beard and payos, and so on. Eventually, you will start to think, “I’m not different from them and I certainly also have some good through which Hashem rests upon me.”

The story is told that once Reb Nosson asked R’ Meir of Teplik about somebody from Teplik, and he answered him indifferently, as if he’s no one to talk about. Reb Nosson told him, “If you will regard people in such a way, then the entire world could be found blameworthy. Try and look at everyone who lives in your town. Start from the first house, and you’ll for sure find fault in them. Go on from house to house, until you reach your own. Are you the most upright person in the town?”

Reb Meir answered, “I’m also not a good person.”

Reb Nosson then told him, “You’re also not a good person? Who is, then? When you will look at everyone and find some good in them, then you will be able to find good in yourself also.”

“To Separate the Good from the Bad”

Of course, the intention isn’t to judge everyone favorably and thereby “kasher” wrong actions. On the contrary, a person is obligated to be able to differentiate and know the difference between good and evil, and from what sort of behavior to keep away from.

For this, ‘judgment’ is necessary, but the judgment must be ‘favorable’ – meaning, to be careful to allow the Shechinah to continue to dwell here. In other words, we must make a distinction between the good and the bad, but to bring down the Shechinah through knowing that every Jew has a Nekudah Tovah and a Mitzvah which he did with his own free will, including himself.

When a person thinks constantly in such a way, he will awaken from his sleep, from his feelings of distance and lack of relationship with Hashem, and he will then be able to open himself up to sing and thank Hashem.

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