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.

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.

 

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…

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Ants marching

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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

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A holy union

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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.

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Happy first birthday אהלל דבר!

 

Maniac Moshiach move

 

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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!

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It’s alive!

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I recently attended an event where a quantum physicist from Los Angeles named Klee Irwin, who’s led a team of 20 scientists for the past nine years, discussed how science now believes that the smallest measure of reality produces a geometric code that has some syntactical freedom. That freedom requires some notion of a chooser to choose the free steps in this language. He is convinced that there is a universal collective consciousness that is choosing those steps.

So why did I attend this event? Well, Mr. Irwin came to Jerusalem to collaborate with the Kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Schatz, who was also on the event panel, and investigate the sentiment he has that the Kabbalah might have the answers to crack the consciousness code.

“The quintessential life-force of everything is its spirit (ruach)”. Hashem’s breath (which is the ruach of life), created the world, renews the world and is the vital force of human life.  [Torah 8]  

How do we access this ruach? Says Rebbe Nachman, that the Torah is the source of this ruach, as it says “The ruach of Hashem hovers over the water” (Genesis 1:2), and the water is the Torah. (In this lesson the Rebbe teaches how when we bind ourselves to the Tzaddik of the generation, “a man in whom there is ruach [איש אשר רוח בו]”, we can draw that ruach from the Torah).

In fact, the Rebbe goes on to teach something very deep, yet practical. He says that the krechtz of a Jew, (his sighing and groaning), is very precious. When a person feels a lack or void and prays to Hashem for his needs, sighing deeply, those deficiencies will be removed. Because the existence of that lack is the void of ruach, so when he sighs – which is an extension of breath – the lack can be filled.

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It seems hard to believe that a silly groan could make a difference. But then again so much of our service of God, such as praying, reciting the Psalms or studying the Torah might also seem irrelevant. What strikes me though is that this scientist, who defined himself when starting his research as a “materialistic atheist”, is coming to understand that there’s something more than what can be measured. The world is alive and is being vivified by something beyond what can be calculated. The code of consciousness was given to us by Moses at Sinai. All the wisdom of the universe is in the Torah. And as the Rebbe explains from the Tikkunei Zohar (#14, 29b), “The Torah is a garden and the Jewish souls that learn it are like the grass of the garden. The garden is watered from the fountain, which is all of wisdom. But where does the fountain come from?  It comes from prayer, as it says, (Joel 4) “A fountain will flow from the House of God”. And this House of God is prayer, as it says,  (Isaiah 56) “My house is a house of prayer”. So from here we may conclude that from a real sigh and deep groan all of our needs will be filled. Amen!

Existential hope

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“הַלְלוּ אֶת יְהוָה כָּל גּוֹיִם שַׁבְּחוּהוּ כָּל הָאֻמִּים, כִּי גָבַר עָלֵינוּ חַסְדּוֹ

“Praise Hashem all the nations…because He has been exceedingly kind
to us”.  (Psalms 117)

Many of the commentaries ask on the above verse: Why should the nations praise God for His kindness in dealing with us? They answer that since the nations are constantly planning to attack us with their plans being foiled, only they can fully appreciate Hashem’s kindness to us.

“Prayer is an aspect of miracle-working, because many times nature requires a certain outcome and prayer changes the natural order. The central place of miracles and prayer is in the Land of Israel”. (Torah 9)

I think we too often associate the word miracle with spectacular events such as the parting of the Red sea, when in reality so many of us have experienced personal miracles through prayer. It usually doesn’t happen immediately, because Hashem still disguises His messengers, but most of us can think back to the many times in our lives that we really prayed for something. Back then the odds of attaining that elusive something seemed insurmountable, but now it’s already so commonplace in our lives that we barely appreciate it.

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In the Land of Israel the miracles are remarkable.

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The well-known national miracles, such as the Israeli Air Force wiping out the Egyptian Air Force in the first few hours of the six-day war are exceptional, but even the individual accounts of that war, with inexperienced mine-sweepers passing through mine-loaded fields unscathed, leaves us scratching our head.

Those of us who live here joke how common it is to merely think of someone in the morning and bump into them that afternoon. I once participated in a Friday Night gathering where the participants, who all made aliyah, shared their stories of how they managed to get here. The simultaneous events that had to happen in order for them to pull it off were just uncanny. My point is that we experience miracles all the time, but we see them as everyday occurrences.

Rebbe Nachman continues: “There are people who deny all miracles, saying that everything comes about naturally. Even if they witness a miracle, they’ll cover it up, attributing it to the natural course of things. By doing so, not only do they blemish prayer, which corresponds to miracles. But they also blemish faith by not believing in Divine providence, and they blemish the Land of Israel, the place of miracles.”

What does the Rebbe mean when saying that these naturalists blemish prayer, faith and the Land of Israel? In Nachalos 4Reb Nosson teaches that a fundamental part of faith is believing in ones own prayers. It’s not enough to believe in all powerful God, it’s crucial to believe that we have a personal relationship with Him and that He listens to our prayers. When we hear these Amalekite-rationalists justify miraculous phenomenons as if they’re no big deal, it makes us doubt that our prayers are effective and that Divine providence is the natural order in Israel. When that happens, we become subject to the small-mindedness of exile. In Ancient Egypt, the paradigm for Jewish exile, Moses needed to leave the city when praying to Hashem to remove each plague. A prayer in Egypt symbolizes a blemished prayer, a prayer that isn’t as effective because the one who prays doubts his prayer’s effectiveness, due to the influences of his surroundings.

When we pray the silent Amidah prayer, we close our eyes. Simply speaking this allows us to concentrate more intently on the words, but in a deeper sense we’re trying to shut out the world. We’re acknowledging that this world, with all its information and ingenuity, is too much of a rationalistic one. By closing our eyes, we are entering the real world, one of faith and opportunities. In the beautiful world of prayer, longing is the cause of world order and hope is reality.

planes

 

[Not] blinded by the light

reaching higher

Every now and then I wonder where I’m going with my Avodas Hashem? I take my job seriously, spending most of my personal time learning, going to synagogue or secluding myself in personal prayer. But sometimes when I learn the hidden parts of the Torah, about pure devotions, the names of God, His features and the sublime character of the righteous, I feel like I’m off the mark. Yes, I go out to the fields and pray, I’m finishing Tractates of the Talmud, I’m staying far away from impurities but where is the missing illumination? Why isn’t the Divine Spirit resting on me? Is it just a question of time? Will another couple hundred trips to the Mikva do it? I wonder…

Perceptions of Godliness can only be grasped through many contractions, צמצומים רבים.

(Torah 30)

The light of God’s awesome wisdom needs many channels and filters so that man can partake and benefit from it. The lower the light descends, the more cloaks and veils it needs, or else it will destroy us. The truth is that the letters of the Torah are powerful diffusers of the Divine light, as the highest possible levels of Divine perception (at least as much as finite man can reach) are buried in those holy letters. You can tell how strong the filters are because, as I mentioned earlier, we can learn Torah just like another book and still not experience spirituality.

Rebbe Nachman says (ibid) that the great Tzaddikim know how to enclothe the most profound wisdom in order for the laymen to understand it. They start with introductions and lower insights which first take the student around the material before they almost slip-in the lofty insights to the mind of their student. He recommends that every person seek out a suitable teacher who can adequately drape the higher intellect to give it over to their student. And contrary to what you might think, the lower a person is, the greater his teacher needs to be. Similar to a sick patient who can only be healed with the best doctor.

In Hilchos Nezikin 4, Reb Nosson writes that even though we don’t understand at all the secrets of the Torah that Rabbe Shimon Bar Yochai revealed in the Zohar Hakadosh, he did a great thing for our souls. Through his self sacrifice and holiness, he dug deep wells and created strong vessels for us. Because of the many filters and channels in which he hid the great light of Divine intellect, we can more easily attain Divine perception now. This is what the great Tzaddikim do for us. They spend their life working on remedies, so that we can benefit from what remains.

So how does this help someone like me who wonders whether they’re making any headway? It helps for a few reasons: Firstly, so much of what we do is only possible because of the revelations that the Tzaddikim left for us. We might not think about it too much, but by reciting the prayer of unification before a mitzvah, לשם יחוד, we are actively fulfilling the main purpose of our mitzvos. This deeper level, which is now an accepted part of our mitzvah, was only made possible by the holy Reishis Chochma, who instituted that little prayer, filtering a bit more of the exalted light. Secondly, although we might not feel like prophets when we pray, the Tzaddikim revealed to us that even the smallest steps in Avodas Hashem have great implications. By believing in the Tzaddikim, drinking their words of encouragement and following their advice, we will be successful. Maybe we will feel more spiritual soon, or more often, but even if God forbid not, we can rest assured that more is going on than we know. The small things that we do with great effort, even though we might not pat ourselves on the back now for doing them, will one day be unwrapped before our holy eyes glowing with the most brilliant light that we could ever have imagined. Please God. Amen!