What’s so funny?


At the conclusion of every yoga practice, we get into a pose called shavasana. During this pose, the practitioner lies flat on his back with his arms relaxed to his sides and his legs spread out as wide as the mat. He closes his eyes, breathes and observes his body, scanning it for any muscular tension. If he notices any tension, he will try to release it. Once he has let go of everything, the pose really begins. Although there are numerous benefits to this pose, such as relaxation and rejuvenation, my understanding is that during the practice the body worked very hard, but during shavasana, when the body is neutralized, the mind turns inward to those parts of the body that exerted themselves and gives an awareness to those body parts that didn’t exist before. It can only be understood through experience.

In the story of The Humble KingRebbe Nachman tells of a certain king who heard of another king that signs himself ‘the mighty warrior, man of truth and humble person’. Although the first king had portraits of every other king in the world, he never saw this king with the decorated signature. So he asked his wise advisor to bring him a portrait of this mysterious king, so he could determine if that king was telling the truth in his signature. The wise man traveled to the land of the hidden king and decided that in order to meet this king, and paint a portrait of him, he must first understand the essence of that land. He said, “One can understand the nature of a land by its humor. In order to understand something, one must know the jokes related to it”.


What does humor and joking have to do with anything here?

As it turns out, the commentaries to this story explain the depths of humor. I’d like to share some of them with you. Firstly, the Talmud says (Eruvin 65b) that one of the four ways to identify a person is by what he laughs about. People will often tell jokes about things they’re too inhibited to discuss openly. So their jokes may tell more about their essence than their serious speech. Furthermore, humor requires a certain objectivity. When a person can laugh at something, it indicates that he’s not too involved in it. As we often see, the butt of the joke is usually very engrossed in what he’s doing, while countering that ‘It’s not funny’!

Humor is all about incongruities. One such incongruity is in the most basic force of creation. On the one hand Hashem gives (חסדים) and on the other hand He holds back (גבורות). Ultimately, of course, even Hashem’s withholding has its roots in His giving. This is the ultimate humor, just like the Zohar (2:163a) compares the Yetzer Hara (Evil urge) to a prostitute that the king hires to seduce his son. The prostitute is working for the king, and really doesn’t want the prince to succumb, so the whole story is really funny. That’s why the Talmud says (Sotah 3a) that a person can’t sin unless a “spirit of foolishness” enters him. Ironically, it’s the jokes and foolishness of the world that give man free will, which enables him to reach higher levels of wisdom.  In a certain sense this entire world, with all of our complexities, is nothing more than a funny game. The Talmud says (Shabbas 30a) that Hashem laughs (Psalms 2:4) with the wicked in this world and with the righteous in the word to come.

“בְּשׁוּב יְהוָה אֶת שִׁיבַת צִיּוֹן…אָז יִמָּלֵא שְׂחוֹק פִּינוּ”

“When Hashem brings back the captives of Zion…our mouths will be filled with laughter” (Psalms 126:1-2)

The ultimate place of laughter is the Holy of Holies, as the Talmud relates (Yoma 69b): When the Men of Great Assembly nullified the evil urge for idolatry they saw it emerge from the Holy of Holies. Since everything ultimately comes from one place, the fact that evil appears so different from holiness is amusing.

The Rebbe explained this story with one verse (Isaiah 33:20): “See Zion, the city of our gatherings”. He said that the initial letters of the verse (חֲזֵה צִיּוֹן קִרְיַת מוֹעֲדֵנוּ) spell מְצַחֵק, which means to tell a joke.

A joke can’t be understood logically, but only with a level of consciousness that’s higher than logic. A person laughs at a joke but he doesn’t know why. (Similarly, when a person is lying in shavasana, he might access a level of consciousness and awareness of his body that is higher than logic and understanding). Therefore, it appears that jokes have their origin in Ketter, the most sublime emanation of Godliness that is incomprehensible to man. Zion is a place of our gatherings. This doesn’t only mean that we assemble in Jerusalem thrice yearly. It means that when everything comes together, all of good and evil, truth and lies, body and soul, weak and strong, and even microcosmically in the more trivial exertion of a full-body yoga practice, it comes together in one place. This central place is final and pivotal. This place is where we – physical human beings – can unite with the infinite non-corporeal God of all. This is Zion, the funniest place in the world.

holy of holies



Manning up


At least twice in my life I got super-inspired spiritually and strengthened my Avodas Hashem with intense focus. The first time was in my junior year of high school. I attended a modern-orthodox yeshiva and was feeling extremely unfulfilled. By the grace of God things turned around very quickly for me and I found myself in a Beis Medrash yeshiva, where I became enthralled with learning the Talmud day and night. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I went from lax mitzvah observance to strong mitzvah observance in a matter of a few weeks. A second time was more recently. My learning and prayers felt forced and one-dimensional. The void was consuming me. Again, Hashem led me to Uman for Rosh Hashana. After that experience in 2016, I felt totally reborn and passionately re-dedicated myself to my mitzvah observance.

The common denominator of those two stages in my life is that both times the enlightenment surfaced after reeling from a severe lack.

Having sort-of an extreme personality, I often experience acute highs and lows. In fact, some people who know me define me that way. “Davy’s being Davy again. What’s he up to now?”

After coming back from that first Rosh Hashana experience I was so intrigued, and determined to uncover what Breslov is all about. I hit the books full-force and jetted forward from that moment, connecting my mind and soul to the Rebbe’s, for (at least) a year without flinching. It was one of the greatest years of my life. But as Newton said, what goes up must come down. So I eventually came back down. But something about my descent changed. The low wasn’t that low. I also noticed that, while feeling low, I didn’t have a strong desire to shake things up, like I’ve done in the past. I was much more comfortable feeling low than ever before. It didn’t phase me as much, and eventually I got another burst of inspiration that helped me glide forward. This pattern repeated itself.

It’s likely that I’m simply more mature than I was in the past, and not willing to turn my life upside down from a mood slump. But I think it’s more than that. To tell you the truth, I think it’s because I consistently do hisbodedus. I take time every day to talk to Hashem in my own personal words. I like to think of it as manning-up. Every day, no matter what, I come clean, express myself and ask Hashem for help. I always have to show my face and I always talk real. Of course, just like anything else, some sessions are better than others but I’ve never had a day where I didn’t say at least a few real words. Maybe you’re the type of guy who can experience this relationship within the organized daily prayers at synagogue? Unfortunately for me, I can’t relate to Hashem in my own unique way often enough within that structure. (In fact, I find the structured prayers somewhat more fulfilling now that I pray outside of communal prayers, because the pressure of connecting creatively is off. If I can connect that day, then great, but if not, I understand that it’s service, similar to the service in the Temple. There are technicals and obligations I meet – many times happily – in the organized prayer, but it’s a different type of prayer entirely).

Consistent personal prayer is an equalizer. I’m always noticing new benefits to this practice. But one thing that I’m experiencing recently is the equilibrium that it brings. You can’t lose your sense of balance the same way when you have to show your face and explain yourself everyday. It kind of always brings you back to reality.



Ants marching


Do you ever feel like you’re losing your individuality? Sometimes my yiddishkeit can morph into a mindless zombie march. I feel like shul is a jail and I’m unenthusiastic about my learning and mitzvah observance. I don’t know about you, but when this happens to me, it swallows me alive. I lose my passion and I feel stuck in my negative thinking.

In Hilchos Geneiva 5, Reb Nosson discusses Hashem’s first instructions to our patriarch Abraham. Hashem told him to leave his homeland, לך לך. The words literally mean “go to yourself”, or maybe “go for yourself”.  The commentaries are bothered by the unusual language in this directive. What did Hashem mean when he said ‘go to yourself’? Since Abraham was the first to popularize monotheism in a generation of paganism, Reb Nosson sees him as the one who discovered the truth. Hashem was telling him to go to yourself, enter your truest place. We have bodies and souls, but, as Rebbe Nachman taught in Torah 22, only the soul can truly be considered our true self. So Abraham was commanded to leave his land, because as Reb Nosson writes, in every neighborhood no matter how good it is, there’s always phoniness and lies that hide the truth. He was also told to leave his place of birth – This is a reference to the hangups and lies we tell ourselves about our childhood. We too often limit ourselves and distort the truth based on our adolescence. Finally Abraham was urged to leave his father’s house – This is an indication of the silliness and absurdities that we convince ourselves about our families.

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Abraham was told to move away from his hangups and follow his own truth. He was asked to march to the beat of his own drum. We too often believe our own lies. We think that the community limits us or our childhood inhibits us. Now more than ever we have names for life long excuses. I’m ADD, so I can’t learn or I’m claustrophobic so I can’t visit that place. We need to let go, take a stand and trust our own truth. Don’t be scared to be different and creative. Stop following everyone else because it’s the safer thing to do.

Reb Nosson himself risked everything to follow the Rebbe. He had major opposition from his own family and even more from his wife’s family. After the Rebbe died, Reb Nosson was exiled, ridiculed and even nearly assassinated. But what would we have left from the Rebbe today, if not for the dedication and creativity of Reb Nosson? He writes, “It’s known from the Rebbe’s words that people pose a greater obstacle in Avodas Hashem than the evil inclination. And I’m not only referring to evil people, scoffers and naysayers. But even people who fear Hashem can many times confuse someone with their poor advice [and prevent him from] his proper path; And this has unlimited implications.”

Nobody knows you better than yourself. Don’t be afraid to hear your own voice and take action. Everyone has something unique to contribute, but if we just follow the guy next door’s lead, then not only will we be an inferior version of him but we’re denying the potential stardom of who we really are.

כִּי כְּבָר מְבֹאָר בִּדְבָרָיו זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה שֶׁבְּנֵי אָדָם הֵם מוֹנְעִים גְּדוֹלִים יוֹתֵר מֵהַיֵּצֶר הָרָע, כַּמְבֹאָר שִֹיחוֹתָיו הַקְּדוֹשׁוֹת בָּזֶה, עַיֵּן שָׁם. וְלֹא מִבָּעְיָא שֶׁיֵּשׁ מוֹנְעִים רְשָׁעִים אוֹ קַלֵּי עוֹלָם וְלֵצָנִים וְכוּ’ הַמּוֹנְעִים בְּדִבְרֵיהֶם מִן הָאֱמֶת אַף גַּם יִרְאֵי ה’ יְכוֹלִים  לִפְעָמִים לְבַלְבֵּל אֶת הָאָדָם בַּעֲצָתָם שֶׁאֵינָהּ טוֹבָה לְפָנָיו לְפִי דַּרְכּוֹ וְיֵשׁ בָּזֶה כַּמָּה בְּחִינוֹת בְּלִי שִׁעוּר

 ליקוטי הלכות – הלכות גניבה ה:ח


My man


Even though I went to yeshiva growing up, I never learned about the role the tzaddik plays in my life. I enjoyed reading biographies about gedolim and I was taught to respect and admire Torah Scholars, but in contrast to what I’m learning now in the writings of Rebbe Nachman, it seems that I didn’t even scratch the surface. In fact, I would venture to say that it was purposely omitted from our education in fear of deifying another human being.

Breslov explains that there can be many tzaddikim but, in every generation, there is only one tzaddik haemes, the true tzaddik. As the verse says (Mishlei 10), “צדיק יסוד עולם”. This unique tzaddik is literally the foundation of the world. All the flow of the world runs through him (Torah 63). All the other tzaddikim are nurtured via him (Torah 56). Anyone familiar with the ten sefiros knows that all the earlier emanations flow into the world through the attribute of yesod, the aspect of the tzaddik. If this sounds like heresy to you, then you’ll also have a problem explaining the following statements in the talmud from Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai (Sukkah 45b). “I’ve seen that there aren’t that many great people, said Rebbe Shimon. If there are a thousand, then my son and I are one of them. If there are a hundred, then my son and I are one of them. If there are [only] two, then my son and I are the two”. Also on that page Rebbe Shimon claims “I can exempt the entire world from punishment”. These ideas are found repeatedly throughout the Oral Torah, as the Talmud relates in Eruvin 54b, (famously brought in Rashi on Chumash),  Moses learned straight from Hashem, then taught it to Aaron, then to Aaron’s two sons etc. Everything first comes down through the tzaddik emes.


The Rebbe also brings in Torah 71 and 63 that the tzaddik accepts suffering upon himself for the sake of the people. Sounds Christian you say? Well the Talmud says (Baba Metzia 85a) that during the entire time Rabbi Elazar Ben R’ Shimon accepted suffering upon himself, no Jew died an untimely death. And the entire thirteen years that Judah Hanasi accepted suffering, the land yielded its produce without any rain.

In Torah 70 the Rebbe actually compares the tzaddik to the force of gravity. Just like gravity on earth draws things to the earth’s core, so too – צדיק יסוד עולם – he is literally the core of the earth. The tzaddik possesses a force of attraction by which he draws the entire world to himself, and ultimately closer to Hashem and the Torah.

There’s so many more details and aspects of how the true tzaddik is an integral part of our spiritual and material bounty, but that’s enough for now.

I don’t want to get into why this crucial understanding and relationship has been stripped from our education. But we need this person. So how do we find him? Is there someone alive today with these capabilities? Can a tzaddik who is no longer living be the tzaddik? These are all good questions.

The Rebbe (Torah 2, Torah 55) teaches that we should bind ourselves to the tzaddik in our prayers. Reb Nosson (הל’ העושה שליח לגבות חובו 2:4) added that it’s proper to connect ones self to the tzaddik in every mitzvah he does. This is one way to start. You might want to verbalize it, as follows: “I am hereby binding myself to all the truly righteous people in our generation.” If this sounds too weird for you, the least you could do is pray often to find the tzaddik emes. We need him.

Final thought.

Why? Why did Hashem create the world in this way, where everything comes by way of another greater human being? The truth is that Hashem only created this world for those tzaddikim. The word tzaddik actually means to justify. They justify the creation of the world and, unfortunately, we don’t justify its creation nearly as much. Because the tzaddikim emulate Hashem, they can justify our existence. They see the good in us and in their merit – because we’re in with them, so to speak –  we can exist.

But that’s from Hashem’s side. Why do we need the tzaddik from our side?

Let’s not forget that the Torah calls Hashem (Deuteronomy 4:24) “a consuming fire, a zealous God”. Yet, we are commanded to cling to Him like glue. That’s a dangerous proposition, as Rashi points out (Eikev). So we need to bind ourselves to the tzaddikim. Not just by doing business with them and marrying our children to them but by tying our souls to their souls. That’s the only way we can sustain a relationship with Hashem.

Maybe this is why Rebbe Nachman said that his fire will burn until mashiach comes? Maybe he meant that by his teaching about the tzaddik’s role, the world will become familiar with the critical need to connect to the tzaddik. So when mashiach finally does arrive, במהרה בימינו, we’ll be ready and willing to unify our souls to his holy soul and lift up the world once and for all. אמן!

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A holy union


In Rebbe Nachman‘s vernacular there are four synonymous terms: Faith, prayer, miracles and the Land of Israel. Prayer is an action of faith. Prayer is also miraculous because by way of prayer a person can effect the natural order of things. Finally, in fitting fashion with today’s celebrations of Yom Yerushalayim, the quintessence of faith, prayer and miracles is in the Land of Israel, as it says (Psalms 37:3) “Dwell in the land and cultivate faith.”

In Torah 7, the Rebbe takes it further. “The only way to acquire faith is with truth. And the only way to come to truth is by attaching ourselves to tzaddikim and following their advice”.

Then he says that following the advice of tzaddikim is an aspect of a holy marriage, נשואין. (On the other hand, following the advice of the wicked [a.k.a. the media] is like an unholy marriage, or an affair. As Eve said, after eating the fruit, הנחש השיאני, the serpent deceived me. The word השיאני has the same root as the hebrew word for marriage, נשואין).

Why is advice likened to marriage? The Rebbe answers, quoting the Talmud (Berachos 61a), that the kidneys give us advice, as it says (Psalms 16:7) “even at night my kidneys admonish me”. According to the Holy Zohar (III, 235a) the kidneys are reproductive organs and producers of sperm. So just like a marriage is a union made for reproducing, so too receiving someone’s advice, like the kidneys, is similar to receiving his seed.

I’d like to elucidate this idea a bit. But first of all, how weird is it to compare marriage, kidneys and advice to one another?

meThe Torah says that man should “cleave to his wife and become as one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). One of the main ingredients in a good marriage is mutual respect. I feel badly when I hear someone disparage their spouse because not only are they suffering in their relationship, but they’re also missing out on the benefit of personal growth that comes along with a good marriage. נשואין literally means to raise up. When a couple is working together in tandem they lift up one another. So often one spouse is down and, with God’s help, the other is there to help them up. And it’s no coincidence that people marry their exact opposites. It happens that way so each spouse can help build the part of the other that’s lacking. The main function of the kidneys is to process and purify the polluted blood in the body. It’s a filter. The Maharsha (op. cit) says the fact that we have two kidneys alludes to our ability to choose right from wrong; to filter good advice from bad advice.

Marriage is about intimacy. Not just sexually but all facets of the relationship require intimacy. It’s about taking two people and making them one. That amazing unity can only happen with trust, vulnerability and tremendous humility. This is what attaching to a tzaddik is as well (and why it’s of utmost importance who that tzaddik is). It’s letting go of your ego, aborting your sophistication and trusting his advice implicitly. This oneness is likened to the mitzvah of cleaving to Hashem Himself (Kesuvos 111b), because it’s such a passionate union. And just like the holy joining of man and wife, for which the world was ultimately created, this union too shares the common goal of giving birth and producing something new.

Adam and Eve One Flesh

Happy first birthday אהלל דבר!


Maniac Moshiach move



In the story of the Burgher and the Pauper, Rebbe Nachman alludes to the series of obstacles the soul of Moshiach undertakes before our redemption. The story tells of a poor man’s wife who was kidnapped by the general of a far-away land. The pauper lamented over her greatly because now not only did he lack any possessions or children, but he didn’t even have a wife. The heart of his wealthy merchant-friend, who was also childless, melted when seeing his poor friend’s bitterness. He then risked his life and saved the wife of the pauper. During the rescue, both the merchant and the pauper’s wife resisted temptation, so they merited to have children. The merchant had a boy and the pauper had the most magnificent girl. The boy suggests the soul of Moshiach and the girl hints to the Shechina, or Hashem’s holy manifestation in this world.  The rest of the story (read here) describes the difficulties Moshiach has before uniting with the Shechina and redeeming the world.

It all starts when the wealthy merchant (known as the burgher) had pity on the pauper and decided to save his wife. Listen how Rebbe Nachman describes the scene: “Then [the burgher] did something reckless (א ווילדע זאך). It was really utter madness. He made an inquiry as to where the general lived, and went there. When he got there, he again did something highly reckless. He marched right into the general’s house. There were guards around but he was behaving so recklessly that he was oblivious to them…When they saw a person approaching them in such a wild manner, the guards were also confused and frightened. Almost in panic, they didn’t challenge him”.

The commentators write that this scene is analogous to Abraham‘s brave rescue of his nephew, Lot, from Sodom. Attacking so many armies with just 318 trained servants (or maybe only his primary servant Eliezer, according to Rashi) was a wild act on the part of Abraham. But through that crazy act, Lot was saved and the soul of Moshiach was born into Moab (and later in Ruth). We also find that the soul of Moshiach was transferred in the rash act of Judah hiring a ‘prostitute’, who was really his daughter-in-law Tamar.

Why is the soul of Moshiach born out of a wild act?

We need Moshiach to save us. Upon his arrival things certainly won’t be the same. There might be wars and we will come back to Israel. Our status will drastically improve amongst the nations. But one thing is for certain: He will make changes. He is our savior. He is the liberator of the Jewish people.

A number of times in the life of a person they realize they’re stuck. It could be in a bad job or a harmful relationship. Most of the time they’re afraid to do anything about it. Fear of change is a tremendous impediment to success. People are more likely to remain stuck in their bad situations than to take a risk for something better. Even when things are dangerously bad, such as domestic abuse, the comfortability of knowing what’s next might seem easier than making a change for the better. But we see from our Patriarch Abraham and from the burgher that sometimes we need to be reckless. Sometimes we need to be brave and change the channel in our lives.

Why do we shake the Lulav in Hallel when we read the verse אנא ה’ הושיעא נא (Please God – Save us!) and not when we read אנא ה’ הצליחה נא (Please God – Make us successful)? Says Rav Hutner zt”l that when you want success, you can find it anywhere. You don’t have to look anywhere else. But when you want to be saved, you need to shake up the situation. You might need to look somewhere totally different to be saved.

Many of us aren’t proactive enough in our lives. We’re looking for jobs that are safe. We pick the schools that will educate our children just like everybody else. We just want to fit in, even at the expense of our potential talents. We might even feel unfulfilled in our lives, but we rather shut off that voice that wants to change than deal with it. We wish we could just be satisfied with less, rather than acknowledge our dormant capabilities.

Don’t let your life pass you by! Don’t be a spectator.

Everyone has their own unique and creative spirit that needs to shine. That’s what will save you. But it’s not easy to access it. You need to be bold, and sometimes seen as crazy, to bring out that special flair. It’s ok to be wild. Joseph had some crazy dreams. He suffered from revealing them, but in the end he supported the whole world because he wasn’t afraid to be who he had to be.

Better safe than sorry does make sense but sometimes we need to unshackle ourselves and be a little bananas!


The joy of mindfulness


The Holy Arizal said that he merited his exalted levels of Divine spirit from all of his toil to find joy in performing mitzvos. How does one enoy performing mitzvos? Mitzvah observance seems demanding. We’re often doing mitzvos for reasons we don’t fully understand and some of the mitzvos we do seem so irrelevant in our times. Even mitzvos whose significance we can appreciate, such as prayer, become so robotic over time. How can we find joy in mitzvos?

People have one of two motivations in observing the mitzvos, says Rebbe Nachman. Most people want the reward in the world to come, but some people actually enjoy the mitzvah itself.  The Rebbe compares this to the difference between Moses’ ability to prophesy and the prophetic skills of our other profits. All of the other prophets were said to have seen their visions through an opaque mirror, whereas Moses saw his visions through a translucent one. This means that the other prophets were describing their interpretation of the vision, which was a subjective one seen from a distance. But Moses’ prophecy was the absolute word of God. He wasn’t speculating or interpreting the vision subjectively, but rather his humility allowed the word of God to reach the listener in its authentic form. This is the difference between doing a mitzvah for some reward in the future and doing a mitzvah for the mitzvah itself. When someone does a mitzvah for something in the future, he isn’t having pleasure now. But someone who only wants the mitzvah, experiences sheer joy from the mitzvah.  The Rebbe says (Torah 5) that the Joy of Hashem is enclothed in the mitzvos. It’s His connection to us and when we are in it for its own sake we are like Moses, whose perceptions are exact. We’re able to tap into the essence of what the mitzvah is, which is joy – the joy of the Creator.

Ok, but seriously, how does this relate to me? Am I all of a sudden going to run to do a mitzvah for its purest sake? How am I, who generally performs mitzvos in cruise control, going to enjoy the mitzvah?

I think we need to read between the lines of what Rebbe Nachman is teaching here. Where are you when you’re doing a mitzvah? Are you present or are you checking it off your list? Are you mindful of what you’re doing or are you just putting one step in front of the other, because that’s what you did yesterday? Is your head focused on the mitzvah or are you concerned to present a certain way? Are you conscientious of it or are you dreaming of something else? The Rebbe is saying something very simple. To experience the joy of the mitzvah, you need to want only the mitzvah. But what if I don’t want the mitzvah? Well, no wonder you don’t find joy from it. Maybe you have ulterior motives for your mitzvah performance? Those considerations are interfering with the pleasure that’s inherent in the mitzvah itself. Mitzvos are משמחי לב, they make us happy (Psalms 19:9). Some might find that happiness from being associated with the observant community. Others might be meticulously observant for the pleasure they get when receiving honor. In the long-term those things don’t do it for me. If I’m doing this mitzvah-thing, I’m doing it because I believe in what the mitzvah itself has to offer me. But if I’m not present when I’m carrying it out, then I’m not enjoying it. If I’m not enjoying it, doing it annoys me. So my avodah is to be as mindful as I can when I’m doing it. If I’m spending the time on it anyways, it’s worth the extra effort to shut out everything else and reap the joy it has to offer.

בתוך שאר חולי ישראל Lippe Minya bat Rose רפואה שלימה 

Love needs no words


Sometimes I go out to pray in the fields and I can’t find the words. Anybody who practices personal prayer will have experienced this phenomenon. You might have a lot on your mind or you might even be at ease, but there are no words. Even if you try to talk, after sometime you’ll realize that you’re just rambling but you’re not expressing your true feelings because right now you just can’t. There are no words.

So what do you do? Are you really praying at all?

Sit there quietly. Listen. Breath. Just bringing yourself to that place and experiencing that quiet is such a deep prayer. And don’t think that it’s an inferior prayer, oh no! It might be a superior prayer. It’s a prayer that can’t be bound to words. Even if you think it’s laziness that’s holding you back, I wouldn’t be so sure about that. You’ve been sluggish before and you were able to speak your mind. It’s deeper than that. It’s a quiet prayer. We don’t always have the answers. Let your eyes pray, let your breath pray. By coming out and sitting quietly with Hashem, it’s asserting that you want to be there. It’s affirming that you believe in Hashem and that you believe in Divine Providence. You might be busy all day surrounded by people wherever you go, but now you’re alone with Him. There are no people here. Now you’re part of Him. You might not know how to add to that experience with words but that’s ok. Words are for next time. But for now you’re professing His oneness by just being with Him. If you’re lucky enough to be out in nature, you might feel it more acutely, sitting quietly, maybe watching the butterflies chase each other up in a swirl. But even if you’re standing in Amida or lying in bed with the lights out, you could pray in silence. Now you’re experiencing the relationship, a love so real that there are no words.

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לעילוי נשמת הרב הקדוש מרופשיץ ר’ נפתלי צבי ב״ה מנחם מנדל הורוויץ זצ״ל

Simply satisfied



Forrest Gump was right. Life is full of surprises. But the surprises aren’t always as conspicuous as they were in the movie. You might wake up in the morning and feel like the life was sucked out of you. For many people a grumpy morning can lead to a few bad days. For some, it might be the onset of depression. Recently I’ve been feeling very grouchy. This slump was building and I just couldn’t kick it. Because I do hisbodedus often, I had enough self-awareness to know that something was bugging me, but I was too engulfed in my own negative thinking and all the introspection wasn’t helping me. I’ve been trying to figure out what’s making me so irritable, but even with all the alone time I couldn’t crack the code. Thankfully I had the wherewithal to pray for help, and then help came in an unexpected way.

A few days ago I thought of re-reading one of Rebbe Nachman’s great stories called The Sophisticate and the Simpleton. I finally picked it up again today. If you havent read this tale yet, I recommend you do. (Click here).  It’s actually one of the Rebbe’s only stories that can also be understood straightforwardly. In short, the story tells of two childhood friends. One of them was very simple, limited in his education and abilities, while his friend, an intellectual and philosopher, was always looking to improve his situation with more education and training. The simpleton never feels he’s lacking and is always joyous, but his counterpart is perpetually miserable from his insatiable desire to increase his status. As it turns out the simpleton (like Forrest Gump) becomes very successful while the sophisticate, once a wealthy and distinguished craftsmen, loses everything in his quest to prove his shrewdness.

In reading about the simpleton’s innocence, I started to let go of my stubbornness to be the best. In thinking of his plainness, I was more forgiving of myself. I started to allow myself the space to be imperfect, easing the constant demands I place upon myself. When I read about the unfortunate sophisticate, I identified with his unrelenting drive to succeed and improve his situation, but I understood the endlessness and emptiness that more worldliness and overthinking brings with it.

I think what struck me the deepest was the following contrast: When the simpleton, a shoemaker by trade, would finish making a shoe, it was usually crooked. But he derived so much enjoyment from it that he would praise his handiwork saying, “My wife, what a beautiful, wonderful shoe this is”. Sometimes she would answer him asking, if it’s really so great, then why do other shoemakers get three coins for a shoe and you only get a coin and a half? He would answer her, “Why should I care about that? That’s his work and this is my work. Why must we speak about others”? From this we see the tremendous self-confidence of the simpleton. He believed in himself. He was totally unconcerned if other people did a better job than him. It’s precisely this belief in himself that keeps him from sophistication. He is satisfied with the way he sees things, regardless of what his colleagues achieve. The sophisticate, on the other hand, was exactly the opposite. After he became an accomplished physician, craftsman and philosopher, he decided to marry. “But he said to himself, ‘If I marry a woman here, who will know what I have accomplished? I must return home. Then they will see…[that] I left as a young lad, and now I have attained such greatness'”. Even though he had become so great, he still needed other people’s approval. In this line the Rebbe exposes the sophisticate’s deep insecurity. We’re left to assume that, to a large extent, his motivation for success was his lack of faith in himself.

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Rebbe Nachman encouraged his followers to serve Hashem with utter simplicity. In Pesach 9, Reb Nosson develops this theme and says that if a person becomes depressed because others are better than him, that isn’t humility but arrogance. He feels that it’s beneath his dignity to serve Hashem when he is so far from Him, while others are so near. Instead, we must emulate our patriarch Abraham, of whom it is written “Abraham was one” (Ezekiel 33). The Rebbe explains this to mean that he acted as if there was no one else in the world. Reb Nosson relates this concept to the counting of the Omer. The verse says, “וספרתם לכם, you must count for yourself”. No one can count for you. The Omer represents the spiritual progress that our people made when going from Egyptian slavery to the revelation at Sinai. Every person needs to make his own count, without paying any attention to his neighbor’s progress.

Nobody likes to admit that they compare themselves to others, because when we think about it, it’s a pretty shallow thing to do. But besides the comparisons we make, we over-complicate everything. We often are our own worst enemies with how we demand nothing less than perfection from ourselves. If nothing else, this type of perfectionism cheats us out of the joy in performing mitzvos. Just like the simpleton had joy from his triangular-looking shoe, we need to know that if Hashem has even some pleasure from our imperfect work, then it’s better than any treasure and worth a life time of devotion.

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So high, so low


How much should we push ourselves and how much should we give ourselves space? On the one hand we need to be accepting of our own limitations and on the other hand we need to ask more of ourselves, if we aren’t putting in the maximum effort. In a nutshell this is what the avoda of Sefiras Haomer is all about. Through the discipline of Gevura, we’re trying to focus our powerful drives, Chessed, to make the best blend of the two forces, Tiferes.

In Tinyana 7, Rebbe Nachman teaches that the greatest tzaddik has two types of students. Some of his pupils are great servants of God themselves, while his others are far from perfect. In this way, the tzaddik unites heaven and earth (the great students and the lower students). Only the greatest tzaddikim can live in both worlds, spiriting the great ones to move even higher and encouraging the lower ones not to give up. The Rebbe said that there are angels who would burn up in flames by glancing at some of his students, yet all of Hell isn’t big enough for some of his other students. In fact he told one student that if he didn’t have a fresh intention every time he recited Krias Shema, there was a problem. And to another student he said that if you didn’t do proper teshuva on Yom Kippur, you should just do it the next day. (Parenthetically, this is very much missing today in our school systems and in our Orthodox leadership. Our Ultra-Orthodox communities, hassidic and not, are mainly interested in developing their own specific communities. There is little crossover between outreach and Orthodoxy. On the other hand, Breslov [and Chabad for that matter] is very much in tune to both sides. Walk the streets of Uman on Rosh Hashana and you will see Chassidim who wake at midnight, recite Chatzos and learn 18 hours a day dancing with tattooed, Jewelry covered Israeli kids with shaved heads. The Rebbe’s writings speak to both the advanced and the beginner. The greatest tzaddik unites heaven and earth).

How does he do it? The tzaddik asks his great disciples, “What have you seen? What have you conquered”? He helps them see that, although they’ve come far in their service, there’s so much more to go. Whereas to his followers that are ready to give up hope, he encourages them, saying, “Hashem can be found everywhere, even in a place as low as you are”.

I think, in a certain sense, we need to emulate this aspect of the tzaddik in our own lives. It’s hard to know if we’re just patting ourselves on the back when we should be trying harder. And sometimes it would be more beneficial, in the long term, to take our foot off the gas and allow ourselves some space to recover. But we need to see ourselves as two sets of students. We need to care about ourselves, as much as a loving father cares about his son. He’s always taking the pulse of his beloved son, pushing him just enough. So too we need to care about ourselves. We know ourselves the best. In some aspects we need to be firm, spurring ourselves to push on. In other places, we need to appreciate and celebrate even the smallest accomplishments. It’s not a contradiction. People can be pretty complex. The same person can be very driven and very lazy in two different things. We need to understand this duality about ourselves and accept our own multiplicities. Let’s mimic the tzaddik and speak to those two personalities in a unique way that only we know how. In this way, we can be a mini-tzaddik, uniting the heavens and the earth.