Out of this world

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The Arizal taught that before creation, there was only the light of einsof. Hashem wanted to unveil his glory and needed to create humans with which to reveal His greatness. So He constricted His light, so to speak, and created an empty space in which He created all the worlds, synonymous with His attributes. Of course, without the constant connection and life force of the Creator, these worlds cannot exist. Therefore, even though, Hashem created an empty space, there must still be a trace connecting the worlds to Him. That trace is called a קו, a line, or רשימו, the imprint.

In Birkas Hashachar 5, Reb Nosson reveals that the verse Shema Yisraelשְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל, יְהֹוָה אֱלהֵינוּ, יְהֹוָה אֶחָד, has 25 letters in it, whereas the verse Baruch Shem בָּרוּךְ, שֵׁם כְּבוד מַלְכוּתו, לְעולָם וָעֶד, has 24 letters in it. I’d like to say that this is symbolic of the above teaching from the Arizal. What is Shema Yisrael? It’s affirming the oneness of God. It’s admission of nothing other than the Creator. That’s an aspect of einsof before the creation; total unity. Baruch Shem is more relevant to us. It talks about Hashem’s glory in the worlds, which is our avoda to reveal. The difference between the 24 letters in Baruch Shem and the 25 letters in Shema Yisrael is, of course, only one. This one represents the trace of einsof in this world that gives it vitality. I think that we express these two phenomenons in prayer often. First in Kaddish. The Kaddish starts off with יִתְגַּדַּל וְיִתְקַדַּשׁ שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא (His great name should be glorified and sanctified). This is an exclamation of His greatness and oneness, even before creation. Then we praise Him by saying יְהֵא שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא מְבָרַךְ לְעָלַם וּלְעָלְמֵי עָלְמַיָּא, (His great name should be blessed in all the worlds). Here we’re talking about His greatness after creation, in relation to the worlds. The same is true in the Kedusha prayer. The first proclamation we make is קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ ה’ צְבָאוֹת מְלֹא כָל הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ, this is saying that Hashem is greater than any world can fathom. Then we say בָּרוּךְ כְּבוֹד ה’ מִמְּקוֹמוֹ, this means that Hashem is great from His place, meaning He, so to speak, has a place in the worlds.

What does this mean to us? The fact that we have a connection to einsof is why there can never be reason to despair. This is the source of all Teshuva. We humans, even when we’re dirtied from sin in the lowest of all worlds, are always connected to something out of this world. We might have to hush the Baruch Shem in silence most of the time, but we still must say it. We recognize that the Creator is beyond any comprehension, but we must also admit that we have a direct line to the highest places unimaginable.

Take it easy

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It’s no secret how much of an emphasis Rebbe Nachman puts on guarding the bris. So many of his lessons talk about the importance of sexual purity. Our reproductive organs are the physical representations of the sefira Yesod. Yesod means foundation, because just as when the base isn’t solid, a building is in danger of falling, so too sullying the bris creates a major obstruction in the face of all physical and spiritual flow. But more importantly, guarding the bris opens all the channels of Divine influence and creates vessels to receive the flow of abundance from His majesty.  The Zohar teaches that Joseph is the embodiment of Yesod in this world, as we see that he supported the entire known world with sustenance in a time of famine. Also, a tzaddik, says the Zohar, is simply someone who guards his bris.

I noticed today, while reviewing this week’s Torah reading, that the targum for the word ברית (bris), is קְיָם, which literally means ‘to endure, or exist for a length of time’. Anyone who has struggled with this type of purity knows too well that dishonoring the bris results in an immediate sense of pleasure that doesn’t endure. Continuous pleasure can only result from protecting the covenant with our Creator in devotion, selflessness and loyalty.

My question is, don’t we see many successful people who are promiscuous and licentious? How can they be a receptacle of Divine bounty, if they don’t guard their bris?  And, of course, why aren’t all of His devoted defenders (assuming there are still some out there) doing better financially? The answer, says the Rebbe, is a subtlety.  “A bitter and cumbersome livelihood is a result of breaking ones bris” (Torah 11). And in Torah 29 – “Improving ones bris results in livelihood without anxiety, like the manna“. So, as we see every day, it’s definitely possible for the immoral to be well-off, but they’re likely to be worried about their fortune. It’s only those who work on their purity that enjoy and appreciate their income. It might not be much $, but it comes with a calm and serenity that is priceless.

Letting go

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So how was my Tisha Bav? you ask. Well, not great. Aside from the natural gloominess of the day coupled with fasting, I was suffering from something else too: My own mind games.

I guess I felt some pressure to feel bad and cry about the state of our exiled people, how we miss our Temple and our communal and individual suffering, which I do admit stems from the shechina’s absence in our life. But I didn’t cry. I had a hard time connecting to the pain of any of those things. I hosted a meaningful get-together in my home where we read Eicha and hauntingly hushed songs about Jerusalem. I got up the next morning and went to hear my dear friend Rabbi Shlomo Katz of Efrat elucidate the Kinnos very beautifully. I mean, it seemed that I had all the right ingredients to awaken my sleepy soul, but in-a-sense that just mounted the pressure. “What’s wrong with me?” I was thinking. Can’t I cry, for God’s sake? Am I serious about my Judaism or not?

I started talking to Hashem and I remembered Rebbe Nachman’s timeless advice to be a תם, a simpleton. In Tinyana 44, the Rebbe says that we should “stay far away from the sophisticated ideas that we entertain, even in our avodas Hashem. Like those times when we over-think and over-analyze if we fulfilled our obligations correctly. That type of sophistication is just disconcerting, illusionary nonsense that trips us up in our avoda [and brings us farther from our goal]. Those scrutinizing thoughts lead us to sadness”.

It’s so important to step back and recognize when our thoughts are wreaking havoc on our equilibrium. They’re just silly thoughts; here now and gone later. Serving Hashem with תמימות, simplicity, empowers us to let go of those heavy, pressure-packed, hogwash thoughts and just follow our healthy state of mind in pursuit of our ambitions.

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There you are

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There’s a chassidishe torah that says, Everyone of us is from God and the soul He gave us is pure. The question is, what does it mean that my soul is pure? So, imagine I’m in New York and I want to go to London but by mistake I go all the way to San Francisco. I get to San Francisco and I think I’m in London. But they tell me, No, you’re crazy! You have to go east, not west. So I go all the way back to New York and start my journey again. But with the soul it’s different. If a person, God forbid, makes a wrong turn and he finds out he went the wrong way, his soul is so pure that he’s always right there. The moment I find out I went the wrong way, I’m already there. You see it’s really both; on the one hand we’re absolutely there and on the other hand, we have to get there. (Adapted from Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach)

But am I there already or do I still have somewhere to go?

Reb Nosson (Birkas Hashachar 5) parallels matzah and chometz respectively to Divine Providence and the natural order. Matzah symbolizes a bread that is made with almost no human intervention. It’s baked quickly and doesn’t have time to rise. There’s no preservatives or spices in it. It’s analogous to complete trust in the Creator’s ordinance, without relying on our own efforts. Chometz, on the other hand is an aspect of running nature’s course. Chometz is created by expending human effort into the creative process, with bake times recipes and seasoning. This is likened to putting in long days at work and feeling all the pressure of success on our own shoulders.

The events of our lives are dependent on our perspective. When one lives his life with trust, acting as a pipeline of Divine Providence, every sequence of his life is another scene of Hashem’s loving-kindness, the name יהוה. But when one lives the lonely life of random natural acts, he is subject to דינים, judgements, because nature, הטבע, has the same numerical value as the word אלהים, the Divine name of judgement.

But in the deepest most truest place, even the judgements are sweetened. Even the natural order is all part of the most exact Divine Providence. When the דינים are sweetened, then everything is compassion and loving-kindness. This is what Reb Shlomo meant, that the soul is always at its destination. Yes, it still has to go somewhere but it’s already there. When the light shines so bright from behind the curtain, like when Elijah the prophet embarrassed the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel, then it’s crystal clear that יהוה הוא האלהים! We then see that everything is oneness. All judgments are really kindness and all effort is necessary to move to where we already are.

 

Redemption song

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When Rebbe Nachman was living in Zlatipolia, a woman known for her kindness, in a nearby village fell deathly ill. None of the doctors were able to cure her and her condition worsened. It was suggested to her husband that he bring a pidyon to the Rebbe (a sum of money to effect a redemption on behalf of the giver). The man went with the pidyon to the Rebbe, who took the coin in his hand and rejected it because it was lacking in weight. The man tried with another coin, which the Rebbe rejected as well because of its weight. This happened several times until the man brought many coins and placed them all before the Rebbe. Rebbe Nachman sifted through the coins, weighing each one carefully. Finally he selected a coin and told the man he can go back home because his wife has completely recovered. When the man came home, they figured out that exactly at the time that the Rebbe told the man the good news, his wife came back to consciousness. She related that while she was dying, she saw herself in front of the heavenly court and they were weighing her good deeds against her sins. The verdict came back that she was sentenced to death, when a young man (that she described to look like the Rebbe, of whom she had never met) came into the court room and threw a coin on the scale to tip it in her favor. (Kochvei Ohr page 63)

In Torah 215, the Rebbe teaches that there are 24 different pidyonos, types of redemption, because in heaven there are 24 different courts. All judgments are executed through the sefira of malchus, which is associated with the Divine name אדני (Adonoy). That four-letter name has 24 possible permutations, paralleling the twenty four courts of judgment. A tzaddik must know to which court to bring the pidyon, lest it be presented to the wrong court and prove ineffective. But, of course, there is one trick. There is one pidyon that can mitigate the judgements of any court. Only one tzaddik in every generation knows this pidyon. Even so, the pidyon can still fail if it’s not invoked at a time of favor, such as Shabbos afternoon.

So what’s this all about? Why are the tzaddikim the ones to intervene for us? The Midrash (Sifrei Deuteronomy 13:18) says that “as long as there is idolatry in the world, there is Divine anger in the world”. The Talmud is replete with other sins that are likened to idolatry, such as haughtiness, immorality and dishonesty in business. In fact, as the Rebbe taught (Tinyana 62) in the name of the Baal Shem Tov, “וְסַרְתֶּם וַעֲבַדְתֶּם אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים”, any ‘turning away’ from Hashem is an aspect of idolatry. The true tzaddikim, such as Moses, are the antithesis of idolatry. Meaning, their essence is to turn Jews back to Hashem, which Rebbe Nachman often calls ‘creating converts’. Moses’ entire life, and after-life, is about turning people back to Hashem. This is why he authorized the conversion of the Erev Rav when leaving Egypt and that’s why his father-in-law, a popular idol worshipper converted too. The Megaleh Amukos cites that the numerical value of חרון אף (Divine anger) is equal to the value of משה (Moses), 345. This is because Moses’ existence mitigates the Divine judgement. Another novel idea the Rebbe brings is that the numerical value of משה is 345, which is one more than the word שמ״ד, which means to abandon one’s religion and it’s also one less than the value of the word רצון (Divine favor). Symbolically, this means that Moses stands in between losing one’s religion (and losing favor in Hashem’s eyes) and turning back to Hashem, thereby finding favor in the  eyes of God. That’s what the great tzaddikim do. They stand in the way of Divine anger and mitigate judgements. We see this clearly in the Torah, when Moses requested to be erased from the Torah if Hashem were to destroy His people. And this is also the secret of why Moses is buried opposite of the idol Pe’or. Tosfos (Sotah 14a) teach that whenever the Jews are subject to harsh decrees because of their sin with that idol, Moses comes forward from his resting place, opposite the idol, and nullifies the decree. And when did Moses pass away? On Shabbos afternoon. Moses knew the one pidyon that can nullify the judgements of all the courts.

The Arizal teaches (Likutei Torah, P’ V’eschanan) that Moses is present in every generation. This means that in every generation there is a tzaddik who stands in the way of Divine anger and effects a redemption to mitigate judgements. But this also means that Moses’ influence is relevant in each generation. The true tzaddikim don’t die. Their bodies are buried but their souls live on with us in an even stronger way. And we need them, because we are a part of them, as the Midrash teaches (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 1:3) Moses was equal to all 600,000 souls. This was true with Moses and it’s true with today’s Moses too.

Of course, Rebbe Nachman too knew the special pidyon. Is it no wonder why more and more people flock to him every year to benefit from his redemptions? The Rebbe originally wanted to be buried in Israel, but later decided to be buried in Uman, among the 30,000 Jewish martyrs who were murdered there in 1768. They needed his fixing. He assured his followers that he would continue even after his death to sacrifice for them, as he lovingly said, “I want to remain among you”.

Hashem, please bind our souls with the souls of all the true tzaddikim in this generation and the tzaddikim of all previous generations. Help us find this generation’s true tzaddik. Help us connect with him and learn from him. Of course he’s helping us, whether we know him or not. But it’s so much easier to believe in him, when we know him. Make him stand in the way of Your judgements against us. Help us find favor in Your eyes through his pidyonos. We’re almost ready for the final tzaddik, Moshiach himself, the true tzaddik of the future. Help us prepare ourselves for him by knowing, believing and basking in the light of all the true tzaddikim. Amen! 

The sweet moments count

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I was sitting alone in the field earlier today when the sweetest thing happened. In  finishing a private conversation with Hashem, I said the following: “Ribbono Shel Olam, (Master of the World), I don’t know if this was a good session or not, but I want You to know that the main reason I come out here all the time is because I love You and I want this relationship. I hope You feel the same way about me and that these sessions are making a difference in our relationship”. As I’m about to get up, all of a sudden, a red, heart-shaped helium balloon rushes into the field and starts flying up over the trees behind me. I tried to snap a picture of it, but I couldn’t get out my phone in time. (The above pic is just a symbolic memory). I sat back down elated, with a grin from ear to ear.

In Torah 2Rebbe Nachman says that Joseph merited the right of the firstborn because he embodies a certain aspect of prayer. The Rebbe never explained the connection between prayer and the firstborn. In Nachalos 4, Reb Nosson says that just like the first born legally inherits a double portion from his father, so too there is a double aspect of prayer, first praising Hashem and then asking Him for our needs.

But then Reb Nosson adds something special. He says the reason why the firstborn gets a double portion is since they were the first, in a certain sense, they enabled the parents to give birth to more children. The first is the hardest and once the parents get over that hump and have their first child, any future children owe the oldest child a debt of gratitude for ‘breaking the ice’. So too it is, says Reb Nosson, with prayer. When a person recognizes for the first time that his prayers are being answered, it enables him the next time to pray again with more enthusiasm and belief in his prayers. We all have had our prayers openly answered in the past, and those moments of clarity help us develop our prayers over time. That little red balloon was no small thing. It’s reason for me to go back out next time believing – even more – that my prayers truly make a difference.

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Thank you

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This is my one hundredth post on this blog! King David called his hundredth Psalm “A song of thanks”, so I’d like to also take this opportunity and express my gratitude. I’m forever grateful to Hashem for giving me this platform to share my thoughts and ideas with some very special readers. I’m grateful to Rebbe Nachman for inspiring me and guiding me since last May, when I started writing. I’m so thankful to my family who always encourages my blogging and I’m most grateful to my followers and readers, who although I don’t usually hear too much from, whenever they drop me a line, it helps me keep going and believing this little notebook is making a cosmic difference.

In Tinyana 2, the Rebbe says that the main pleasure of the next world is to glorify Hashem with thanks and praise, because by recognizing His good, one begins to unify with his Creator. It’s truly been a ‘next-worldly pleasure’ to author this blog and I hope that we share many more beautiful ideas together, connecting to the burning heart and soul of this great Tzaddik, Rebbe Nachman Ben Feige, until the coming of Mashaich soon in our days. Amen!

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א  מִזְמוֹר לְתוֹדָה: הָרִיעוּ לַיהוָה, כָּל-הָאָרֶץ.
ב  עִבְדוּ אֶת-יְהוָה בְּשִׂמְחָה; בֹּאוּ לְפָנָיו, בִּרְנָנָה.
ג  דְּעוּ כִּי יְהוָה, הוּא אֱלֹהִים: הוּא-עָשָׂנוּ, ולא (וְלוֹ) אֲנַחְנוּ עַמּוֹ, וְצֹאן מַרְעִיתוֹ.
ד  בֹּאוּ שְׁעָרָיו, בְּתוֹדָה--חֲצֵרֹתָיו בִּתְהִלָּה; הוֹדוּ-לוֹ, בָּרְכוּ שְׁמוֹ.
ה  כִּי-טוֹב יְהוָה, לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ; וְעַד-דֹּר וָדֹר, אֱמוּנָתוֹ.

Return to who you are

 

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Growing up I didn’t like the word teshuva (repentance), as it engendered images of selichos and fasting into my mind. It basically meant that I had to promise I won’t have a good time anymore and also regret the times when I did have some fun. Upon exposure to Rebbe Nachman’s understanding of teshuva, or for that matter Rav Kook’s world of teshuva (see here), I understood that my perception of teshuva was exactly the opposite of what teshuva really is.

“Before teshuva, a person can’t really sustain himself. It’s almost as if he doesn’t exist in the world…[But] when a person purifies himself through teshuva, then he is preparing his birth into the world, so that he may exist. That’s why teshuva is an aspect of the Divine name אהי-ה, which means I am ready to be”. (Torah 6)

I always thought that the process of teshuva was trying to become a different person, as the Midrash Tehillim (120) says, through teshuva we become new creatures. But with the Rebbe’s lessons, like the one above, I now understand that becoming a new creature doesn’t mean something new was created. It also doesn’t mean that a new me was created. It means that I finally have a right to exist. I don’t need to become anybody else, in fact I can’t be anybody else. Teshuva introduces me to the world. It cuts away all my fraudulence and highlights who I really am. I can’t speak for anybody else but that sounds attractive to me. I don’t want to be you anymore. I’m tired of being you! When I try to be you, I’m not good at it and I’m left feeling unsettled. The only way that I feel satisfaction and pride is when I’m being myself.

Teshuva brings out who we really are, not who we can be. We are each remarkably distinct and delightfully unique. The world doesn’t need another one of him. The world needs just one of you. Each one of us has something creative to contribute and teshuva is the process that accentuates our exceptional creative features. How fasting and reciting penitential poems uncovers the real us is for another discussion, but seeing teshuva as the process of readying myself to fully exist sounds healthy and exciting, not burdensome and depressing.

 

Secrets and deep secrets

 

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“There is an upper unification, שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל ה’ אֱלֹהֵינוּ ה’ אֶחָדand a lower unification, בָּרוּךְ שֵׁם כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתוֹ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד. Every Jew should make certain to engender these unifications”. (Torah 11)

How can we make it happen? Says Rebbe Nachman, through our speech we can come back to Hashem in all areas of our life. Coming back to Hashem, Teshuva, is the process of connecting to our own life force.

“For [the words of Torah] give life לְמֹצְאֵיהֶם (to those who find them)” – Proverbs 4. “Read it, ‘למוציאיהם בפה’ (to those who express them verbally)” – Eruvin 54a.

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No situation is too bleak for teshuva, if we can use our speech to enlighten us. But for the words to shine, they must bring out the glory of Hashem. To reveal Hashem’s glory we must embrace humility and minimize our own glory (see also Torah 6).

Later in the lesson, the Rebbe talks about a false humility that is the ultimate degree of conceit. This is when “people act humbly in order to gain honor and prominence. Because they know just how despicable haughtiness is, they act humbly”. But what’s so bad about that? Why is it considered haughty to practice humility from the recognition of how base the ego is? Isn’t it praiseworthy to distance oneself from such an undesirable quality, embracing humility as a valuable characteristic? The truth is that it is indeed admirable to disassociate oneself from arrogance by seeing how awful it is, but that isn’t at all true humility.

Let’s go back to the upper and lower unifications. The upper unification, שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל, is believing and knowing clearly that Hashem is the Lord and there is none other. The lower unification, בָּרוּךְ שֵׁם, is comprehending that the ultimate purpose of everything in all the worlds is to serve as the vehicle to reveal Hashem as the one and only. The world only has value when the beings of creation are acting as tools through which the awareness of Hashem as the exclusive one is proclaimed. Consequently, when Hashem benevolently provides man with benefits such as wisdom, power, beauty or wealth, it is only so he should come to understand God’s greatness and his own inconsequentiality. Because, in essence, all wisdom, power, beauty and wealth are manifestations of Hashem clothing Himself in this world. He is the most wise, powerful and beautiful. Recognizing that fact from experiencing ones own virtues is what the lower unification is. It’s appreciating that everything in this world, including oneself, is merely a garment of Hashem and an instrument to bring out His glory. As a result, any virtue that a person does have is only so that he might achieve true humility from it. That is its sole purpose. But if a person prides himself in the special qualities with which Hashem has graced him, then he has completely perverted the intent of this Divine benevolence.

 

How does one attain this humility? By guarding his brit. The Jewish people’s covenant with God is centered on sexual purity. As is easily understood, when we selfishly blemish our brit, we’re attempting to increase our own glory and belittle His glory. It might be that our intentions aren’t so bad, but the result is never-the-less a reality. Joseph, the personification of one who guarded his brit, attained complete humility. I always marvel at how Joseph was released from jail and placed before Pharaoh, who says, “They say you interpret dreams”. He answers, “It is not me, the Lord will bring Pharaoh’s tranquility”. And of course, when someone perpetuates the glory of God to such a degree, he is the garment of that glory, as it says, “Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him (Genesis 42:6)”.

Finally, a bit deeper, the Rebbe teaches that there are two forms of guarding ones brit. They relate to the lower and upper unifications. The lower unification is likened to someone whose relations are during the week. He guards his brit as the Torah requires and thereby reveals the glory of Hashem in his actions, especially in a crucial procreative action such as intimacy. But then, as the Talmud teaches, the Torah scholar only has marital relations on Shabbos. This is likened to the upper unification, the idea being that his intimacy is complete holiness, because there is none other than Hashem.

Ultra Orthodox students gesture as they pray during a reading class at the Kehilot Yaacov Torah School for boys in Ramot

 

 

Inside, outside and the purim story

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There’s been some debate recently in a magazine (see 1, 2, 3 & 4 ) regarding the unprecedented resurgence of chassidus in all walks of Orthodox Jewish life. The original article, which praised the renaissance, was subject to criticism by some that the movement is something new, dangerously looking to replace the old methods of strict Talmud learning. Of course, the proponents of this revival, led by Rav Moshe Weinberger, feel that learning chassidic works only enhance the old ways, giving them relevance in today’s day and age.

As an obvious supporter of learning chassidus, I’d like to present a unique angle in this discussion. In Torah 10, Rebbe Nachman explains how Jacob revealed more godliness in the world than his patriarch predecessors. While Abraham likened prayer to a mountain, Isaac saw it as a field. But only Jacob understood it to be close to home. Was Abraham wrong by seeing prayer as a mountain? Surely not. But Jacob revealed that prayer is more relatable. Prayer is not only for the courageous ascetics who can scale the mountain peaks, but it can be found right in one’s own home.

Says the Rebbe, “This matter of elevating prayer from a mountain and a field to a house can only be done by the tzaddikim of the generation. They are the only ones that truly know how to pray”, like the Talmud says (Bava Basra 116a), “If someone has a sick person in his household, he should go to a wise man to beg mercy on his behalf”. This practice of turning to the sages to pray for us was common throughout our history. Whether we appealed to Moses, the Judges, Samuel, the prophets or the Sages of the Talmud, we always sought-out our real leaders to help us with their prayers. But now, warns Rebbe Nachman, there are haughty leaders who prevent their followers from traveling to the tzaddikim. They claim there’s no need to go to tzaddikim, when you could learn and pray yourself. This ignorance, and I admit it’s mostly due to ignorance, is dangerous for our people. The tzaddik is “a man of spirit” (Numbers 27), and only his unique רוח (spirit) can diminish the haughtiness of idolatry and divine judgments in the world.

The Rebbe continues: What makes a tzaddik’s רוח unique? His mastery of Torah is in the revealed and in the hidden teachings. The revealed parts of Torah are compared to the hands, which are usually uncovered, and the hidden teachings are compared to the legs, which are generally covered (see Torah 10:7 for verse-proofs). If a sage is lacking the knowledge of the hidden or revealed parts of the Torah, then, in that sense, he is a cripple. This blemish tarnishes his רוח and his prayer isn’t effective enough to subjugate the side of evil.

This script plays out perfectly in the story of Purim. Haman’s denial of Hashem made him the idol of the time. He saw the 7th of Adar as a lucky day to wipe out the Jews, because it was the day of Moses’ death. Moses signifies the tzaddik that erases idolatry in the world, as we know he’s buried across from the idol of Pe’or. But standing in the way of the evil Haman’s plot was the dynamic duo, Mordechai and Esther. Mordechai symbolizes the revealed teachings of the Torah and Esther symbolizes the hidden teachings.

(If you’re interested how Mordechai and Esther symbolize the revealed and hidden teachings, see here. Otherwise skip to after the parentheses. The Talmud (Chullin 139b) says that the aramaic words in the Targum for מר דרור, the first ingredient in the Temple’s incense (see Exodus 30:23), is מרי דכי, the letters of Mordechai (מרדכי). The word דרור means free, another word for חרות, which also means to be etched, as in the letters that were etched on the Tablets. The Tablets are the symbol of the revealed Torah. Esther means to be hidden).

Mordechai and Esther together, the hands and the feet, are the two ingredients of the exceptional spirit necessary to diminish the haughtiness of Haman, who’s energized by the other side. As the Megilla writes, “ויהי אומן את הדסה”, Mordechai’s raising of Esther was called emuna, which in Rebbe Nachman’s world is synonymous to prayer. But the hands without the feet are insufficient. In fact, it’s mainly through Esther – and through the feet – that idolatry and harsh judgments are subdued. That’s why the Megilla is called “The Book of Esther” (not Mordechai).  It’s true that the feet are closest to the side of impurity and need to be handled with care, as it says in Proverbs (5:5) “רגליה יורדות מות”, her feet go down to death – a reference to idolatry, but that’s no reason to ignore the deeper texts or, God forbid, scorn it.

The Ba’al Shem Tov revealed that it’s no longer enough to learn the revealed Torah. The hidden teachings are now essential to our redemption. To most of us it’s crystal clear how necessary those teachings are for our survival in this long exile. But anyone who attempts to discredit the role of the tzaddik, who masters the hidden and the revealed, and is essential in this battle against evil, is at best ignorant and negligent or worse, haughty and fully responsible, God forbid, for those spiritual casualties.

It’s not enough to clap our hands anymore. We need to dance with out feet. Don’t be scared to approach the dance floor. They’re playing your song…

dancer