Emunah Based on the Teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

Posts tagged ‘Mishkan’

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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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.

 

 

Acquiring Perfection

We started so many times – where are all those beginnings?  Is there any way to assemble the pieces into something whole?

The palace is getting ready for the big day of the coronation.  Kingdom bigwigs come and go as ministers and countless laborers fill the halls with bustle.  Inside, in a private chamber, sits the king and with him is his trusted advisor.  Before them is a detailed design of the royal crown.  The greatest artisans in the world are toiling on the creation of the magnificent symbol of the kingdom’s might and glory. The king is asking his trusted advisor to choose for him the appropriate jewel that will adorn the very top of the crown.  The advisor suggested a rare diamond that can be found only in a far away land.  A special, loyal man is chosen for the difficult quest of fetching the precious stone.   The man himself cannot understand how he’ll ever be able to accomplish the feat.  How can he travel that far, all alone on a road fraught so with dangers, to the place where the stone can be found?  But the king just says, ‘Go to the house of my advisor.  Stay with him at his house.  There you will find what you need for your quest.’

Sure enough, a few days later, after spending time with the monarch’s friend, the loyal man has absorbed the necessary survival skills.  Now the stone is within reach.  Keeping to a few rules, he’ll be able to traverse the great distances, overcome the trials along the way, and bring the crown jewel to the king.

♦♦♦

We started many times (and we intended to start even more times …) but we still came to a screeching halt every single time.  Some new beginnings were truly spectacular, full of zest and enthusiasm … only to fizzle out before we even took the first step.  Those beginnings just dispersed like dust in the wind, lost in space, drowning into a void of depression and lethargy.  Is there a way to turn this dust powder into something whole?  Can we even hope to stick to a new start and reach completion – dare we say perfection?

The answer is in parshat Tetzaveh.  In last week’s parsha we were ordered to bring a donation of half a shekel.  Whatever ‘semi-goodness’ we possessed was warmly received and became a part of the Mishkan, enabling the divine inspiration of the people of Israel.  Now, however, the Mishkan is already standing and in it we are to perform services with ‘temple-class’ sanctity.  From the preparation of the Menorah through the sacrifices, the toil of the Mishkan demands uncompromising perfection.

The Menorah was fed oil that was the best and purest.  After all, if you wish to set the souls and hearts of the people of Israel aflame, you must feed them the purest of fuels.  Mediocre oils are plentiful, but the very best are few and far between.  ‘Perfect deeds’ are Mitzvos that are filled with love and awe.  They are performed with punctiliousness, wholehearted, and inspired excitement.  And above all, they are infused by the purest thought in heart and mind.

This is about as rare as the crown Jewels of England.

The secret of survival

When a Jew sets out to bring the crowning jewel for the King’s crown, parshat Tetzaveh orders him to adhere to the Tzaddik.  The Tzaddik is the only truly loyal friend the King has.  He is the only one who can instruct a Jew how to survive the adventurous trip to the perfect deed.

The problem is that one may lose perfection just because of his very ambition for it.  The tremendous thirst to do something whole, complete with pure mind and heart, can make us despair even before we begin.  Perfection is far, and the only way we can get to it is if we stick together.  Obtaining ‘pure oil’, says the Parsha, can only be acquired through togetherness with Tzaddikim.

Tzaddikim teach us the principle that ‘nothing good ever gets lost’ – no matter how compelling the evidence to the contrary.  The tiny shards of goodness we perform are forever kept in the vaults of Hashem.  Tzaddikim teach us that the reason why we don’t reach perfection is because we lose all our new beginnings along the way.  The Tzaddikim, who are Hashem’s loyal emissaries, are collecting every good deed and every holy thought a Jew has and ‘brings them home’.   Together, all the little pieces make a perfect whole.  This is why the secret to perfection is adhering to those Tzaddikim.

The mistake seekers of Hashem make far too often is that they think that perfection is achieved through perfect steps along the way.  Our righteous guides teach us that perfection is built, just like the Mishkan, with half-deeds and semi-precious points of light.  The secret is for someone to collect all the pieces, put them together, and build perfection out of them all.

Team work

Togetherness has a tremendous power. Imagine a person sitting by himself, studying a certain Torah sugiya.  He is tying one bit of understanding to another, weaving the pieces together into a coherent vista.  The next day he looks at it again and finds, to his horror, that the subject is more confusing than it ever was!  Forgetfulness untied the tenuous links between the pieces of comprehension, turning answers into questions, and reasonable assumptions into perplexing mysteries.   But if two people sit together on the issue, they will easily remind one another of all the forgotten details.  And whatever these two forget, a third person can remind them both!  Togetherness can maintain the missing pieces and put them all together.

The road to pure olive oil cannot be traversed by a single person, traveling on his own.  He has to join the Tzaddikim who collect everyone’s pieces of achievement.  Oil is produced by breaking down the olives.  Perfection is achieved by putting the pieces together following the breaking down process.

We must remember that all deeds, even those who seem lacking, have in them an undeniable point of perfection.  Any Torah study, as imperfect as it may seem, is blemished only here, in this passing, transient world.  Hashem considers it perfect if it is performed with the wish is to serve Hashem with it in mind.  If this is the reason behind the study, His will was already accomplished.

Since perfection is, per definition, impossible, every step towards it is perfection itself.


Building the Shechina a Dwelling place in your heart

Everyone longs for the sacred joy that can tear away the cobwebs of tiredness and defeat from one’s soul … We had it in the Beis Hamikdash, but where is it today?

Everything in creation sings the praise of Hashem, Blessed be He.  The heaven and the earth, countless stars and planets.  Untold millions of living creatures, plants and inanimate objects.  “For my honor I have created it, formed it, and also did it,” says the prophet Yishaya (chapter 42).  Everything is recreated every single day for the glory of Hashem.

When Hashem’s glory rests upon a person, that person feels an influx of indescribable pleasure and joy.  This is what the world was created for.  When the supernal pleasure flows in, it sets the heart aflame with longing to serve Hashem.  This is the residence of the holy Shechina inside the soul.  One can taste this pleasure during special times of grace.  And when the gates are thus open, this joy can be tasted in sweetness of the words of Torah, and in the fiery utterance of prayer.  When a person is so fortunate as to taste but a morsel of Hashem’s honor residing within him, he knows without any doubt why he was created.  This is what gives people the power to toil tirelessly in the service of Hashem.  When you feel the King, you have no trouble withstanding the temptations of the evil inclination.  Before the King there is no sadness, nor does one need seek succor and relief in the pleasures of this world.

Fortunate are those who have the strength to “stand in the palace of the King”.  Their good deeds purify their souls, enabling them to see the revelation of Hashem as a matter of course.  In their hearts they feel how the honor of Hashem permeates the world.  But then there are others whose hearts are blocked from any feeling of Hashem’s presence.  Their entire being is wrapped around calculations, thoughts of if’s and but’s, worries, and plans to no end.  In their hearts you cannot find joy or freedom of any kind, only a black hole of forgetfulness and emptiness. When such a person approaches Torah or prayer, every word seems to weigh a ton.  The trials and tribulation of time and place seem impassable.  This is because when the deeds are corrupt, divinity cannot rest there – and when the presence of Hashem is missing, everything is difficult to the point of being practically impossible.

One Small Chamber

In our parsha Hashem is asking Am Yisroel to prepare a place for the Shechina to dwell amongst them.  “Let them take for me a donation and I shall dwell among them.”

The medrash explains it with a parable:

Once there was a king who had a single daughter.  One day a prince came and he married her.  When the prince wished to return to his country with his new wife, the king said to him:  “The daughter you married is my only daughter.  I cannot separate from her at all – nor can I tell you not to take her away, since she is your wife.  So I ask you this favor.  Wherever you go, make me a small chamber so that I can reside with you, since separating from my daughter isn’t an option for me.”

This incredible parable reveals Hashem’s amazing love for us to the point he cannot separate from us even for a single second.

The medrash also reveals to us something else: it tells us that to get the Shechina to dwell in us all we need to do is to build for it a ‘little chamber’.  Before the sin of the golden calf, the people of Israel lived inside the palace of the King.  Their entire reality was bathing in the supernal delight of Hashem’s glory.  The sin took it all away.  Now it is no longer possible to feel Hashem’s presence in every place.  But just when things are the lowest, Hashem is giving a new way to connect with Him; “Make me a Temple”.  The Mishkan is that ‘small chamber’ we talked about.  It is a small room, full of sacred tools that make the dwelling of the Shechina in our midst possible.

With the Beis Hamikdash, like the Tabernacle in the desert, we could experience the revelation of Hashem’s glory.  When we performed the sacred pilgrimage of Aliya Laregel three times a year, we merited to have our souls purified.  We were able to receive an illumination which made it possible for us to actually intellectually understand the glory of Hashem and be fully cognizant of the presence of the Shechina in our midst.  It is the loss of this lucidity that we lament when we recite the Tikkun Chatzos.  The Beis Hamikdash is the first thing we miss.  Our very existence has become dark, as if someone dimmed down the sun.

So where can we find such a chamber that can contain the glory of Hashem today?

The advice for doing just that is also here, in Parshas Terumah.  The Torah invites every single Jew to be a part of building the Mishkan and the dwelling place of the holy Shechina.  We can make the Shechina reside within us with doing a Mitzvah and every single holy spark of goodness.  This is the chamber where the Shechina and Hashem’s glory dwell.

Rebbe Nachman warned us to be joyful at all times and adhere to Hashem through every single point of goodness within us (teaching # 282).  The Torah reveals this secret with the account of building the Mishkan.  The people of Israel were told to bring a gift from whatever they happen to have.  Some brought gold, others brought silver and some, who had no gold or silver, brought painted wool yarn.  These gifts allude to the Mitzvos we perform – big and small – at times without even realizing we are doing them … this is the chamber Hashem asked us to build for Him.

Each and every one of our days is filled with thousands of points of light.  Good thoughts … intentions to do teshuvah … overcoming temptations … each one of these can be an incredible donation to the building of the Mishkan.  The donations should be brought with the intent to reveal the Shechina and make a chamber for the divine providence to dwell among us.  When your mind aims towards that goal with every good deed you perform, it builds your own Mishkan and Hashem resides within you.

 

Skip over the sins and build

The minute our lives revolve around building a dwelling place for Hashem, we are forbidden to look backwards and judge ourselves, “What have I done? How could I be so stupid? How will I ever correct this or that? Whatever will become of me?”  The Torah tells us this secret by switching the order of events:  The sin of golden calf actually took place before the building of the Mishkan – yet the Torah disregards the proper order and ‘skips’ to the construction of the Tabernacle first just to tell you that Hashem’s love for us is without parallel.

The Torah is telling you: Don’t deal with sins now.  Stay away from any thought that may cause you to become discouraged.   We’ll get to rectifying the sin of the golden calf when the time comes.  But right now, run along. Keep moving.  Prepare a Mishkan for Hashem in your heart.  Bring a donation out of anything you can.  Any good point in your life can be a tool for inserting the Shechina into your life.

The donation creates a tool that enables the dwelling of Hashem amongst us.  Every single crumb of goodness we donate to the honor of Hashem builds this chamber.  The last letters of “לחזות בנעםה ולבקר בהיכלו” spell  “ת’ר’ו’מ’ה” to tell us that if we want to gaze upon the glory of Hashem we must bring this individual donation of personal goodness we can find within us.  All we have to do is mean it.


 

 

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