Don’t mention it

depressedwomanrain_custom-ed1d4deac2037e2104c7d825a1ff2ec31387e41e-s900-c85

Exhibit A:

Studies show that depression and anxiety are more rampant than ever. Suicide, drug and alcohol abuse and divorce are at all-time highs as well. The number one cause of death in the world is heart disease and depressed people are four times as likely to have a heart attack.

Exhibit B:

We all agree that the western world is currently undergoing an information revolution. We have far superior technological capacity to store, communicate and compute information than ever before. This technology not only gives us access to scientific, behavioral and literary information that was inaccessible prior to, but it also compounds and speeds up the level of produced information in the world as well.

But more information isn’t bad, is it? Well, it depends on how the information is presented and who it’s presented to. If scientific information is presented, as it mostly is, with the intention to belittle faith and increase skepticism, it can be a dangerous medium of information. When it’s presented to people whose faith is weak, whether because they’re religious education was poor or whether they went through some traumatic events within the religious system, those recipients of that information will likely buy-in to the anti-religious peripherals that swarm around their beloved information.

Rebbe Nachman teaches that all the pain and suffering in the world is from not believing in Divine Providence (Torah 250). I believe that so much of the scientific information which we read and circulate, that is presented without the intent to glorify God’s presence in the world, has the opposite effect. Just merely reading about scientific breakthroughs that coincidentally omit the existence of our Creator infuses us with doubt as to His existence, and ultimately His Guidance. In my opinion this is a huge factor behind the increase of depression, atheism and overall hopelessness that pervades the world.

The central theme of Pesach is faith. As Reb Nosson explains (Netilas Yadayim 2), Chometz represents the atheistic scientists and Matzoh represents those who believe in Hashem’s providence. For seven days we need to rid ourselves totally of any denial or doubt of Hashem’s supremacy in our daily lives. It’s not an easy battle. We really need to topple over that doubtful side of us, just like the Egyptians had to be drowned in the sea. I’m sure many might read this article and think “Oh please! I believe in Hashem and nothing I read or see has any effect on that for me”. Let’s not lie to ourselves. At least for those seven days, let’s stop the evil inculcation and only imbue within ourselves strong teachings of faith and belief. Beware though, you might actually start to feel happy. You’ll probably be less cynical and more hopeful too. Consider yourself warned. Happy Passover!

matzah

But now…

key_single

In Tinyana 74 Rebbe Nachman explains how Purim is a preparation for Passover. But the way he ended this lesson was most unusual:

“Initially, all our beginnings were from Passover. This is why all the Mitzvos commemorate our exodus from Egypt, but now…”

The Rebbe didn’t finish the sentence,  but its completion seems obvious from the context. He probably meant to say “but now all the beginnings are from Purim”. But the fact that he didn’t finish the thought clearly indicates that there is some deeper meaning here. That deeper meaning is subject to interpretation. (There is a lot of oral Breslov tradition which points to Rebbe Nachman being a major piece of the world’s redemption from here).

I’d like to take a stab at explaining why all our beginnings are now from Purim. In a book entitled Kochvei Ohr by Rav Avraham Chazan, he describes how our initial redemption from Egypt was done in such haste and without our own efforts (אתערותא דלעילא). This quick exit left us unready for such an intimate relationship with Hashem, which of course led to mistake after mistake on our part and ultimately the destruction of our Holy Temple. On the other hand, the final redemption will have to come from our own efforts (אתערותא דלתתא).

How are we going to facilitate the redemption? Well if Rebbe Nachman indicates that the final redemption starts with Purim, let’s see if we can find our efforts in that story? The story is really a very simple one. The evil Haman, a descendant of Amalek, was an atheist. His poisonous ideas threatened our entire nation with obliteration. Mordechai the Tzaddik stood up to him with the most sincere belief in God, and aroused a great Teshuva movement among the people which led to their deliverance. Our only efforts in the Purim story was our yielding to the will of the Tzaddik, who refused to give up and infused us with belief in our own prayers even though they seemed futile in the face of our annihilation.

Maybe that’s what the Rebbe was alluding to? Atheism has taken over the world. I know the word ‘atheism’ sounds strong. You might think, “Nobody is really an atheist anymore. They just don’t know whether to believe or not”. But that uncertain ideology which is everywhere poisons all of our belief. Those doubts and cynicism ruin our simple faith in Hashem. All that we read and hear from people who don’t consider faith to be primary infiltrates our minds and leaves us bored in synagogue and lackadaisical in our performance of Mitzvos, because deep down we now also doubt whether they make much of a difference. This is Amalek’s battle in our times. It’s not the Germans of WWII or the Neo-Nazis of today. It’s in our minds. It’s our lack of conviction and our weak faith. We need to heed the advice of the tzaddikim and pray with sincerity. We must forget all the pessimism/sarcasm and start believing in our redemption. It’s gonna happen. We were never in as dire a position as we were in Shushan. When the King’s signet ring is removed, there’s no hope for survival. And our sages said that it was Hashem’s signet ring that was removed as well. Everything pointed to our extinction. But prayer brakes all the laws and creates new realities. Even our inconsequential, pathetic prayers make worlds of a difference. The Jews in Persia were just as forgone as we are today. As far as I know most people reading this blog haven’t spent the past 180 days in a mass drunken orgy, as they did. So how could their prayers be that great? But those prayers pierced the Heavens. I myself also doubt whether I can pray effectively or whether Hashem really listens to me, so I know what you’re thinking. But this is exactly what Purim is teaching us. Our prayers are as effective as ever. Not only are they effective, but we can pray those effective prayers. Even us. That’s the great joy of Purim and that’s why everything starts from Purim. Because this time it’s up to us, and purim shows us that even we can do it.

 בזכות רפואה שלימה לאלימלך דוד בן חיה ביילע בתוך שאר חולי ישראל

One of those days

charlie-brown-sigh

It’s one of those days. The מוחין דקטנות, small mindedness, is so strong. I couldn’t bring myself to go to shul after carpool, so I went out to the field instead, hoping that I would open up a little.  I could always daven alone later. Thank God it was a healing experience. I sat there a bit in silence and listened to the sounds of nature, instead of my thoughts. After awhile I allowed myself to focus on something that was bothering me and I asked Hashem many times, in many ways, to help me. Then I felt a little grateful and expressed some appreciation. After leaving I felt more ready to daven. I went to my study and I couldn’t bear the weight. I sat there a bit. Finally I started. Sitting wasn’t working. I couldn’t concentrate when standing or pacing either. Eventually I got through it with many ups and downs. Thankfully, I had some very focused moments while others were dreamy. I was pretty ok with it. I can only work with what I have.

Then it was time to learn a bit. The nagging feeling was back again. I don’t want to. What do I want to do? I start to feel like it’s just one of those days when nothing is working for me. It’s a petty day. I can’t get out of my smallness. I just want to space out…check out…

I decided to open up Shivchei Haran, a small book written by Reb Nosson about the greatness of Rebbe Nachman. I remember that in the beginning it talks about the Rebbe’s struggles in serving Hashem. This is what I found:

“He would start every day fresh. Meaning, sometimes when he fell from his [earlier] levels, he wouldn’t give up. He just said, ‘I’ll start now as if I never served Hashem before in my life. I’m just starting now to serve Him for the first time’. So it was every time. He always started over. He was accustomed to starting anew many times a day! (אות ו)

There’s no such thing as ‘one of those days’. Nothing is random. If it’s not working out today, that’s ok. There’s no reason to give up. The falls, the numbness, the laziness, the lack of drive is all part of the plan. Hashem isn’t interested in that perfect image you imagine you ‘could have been’ today. He wants you, in your slumpy fatigued mood, to pick yourself up and do something. Just do something. You could do it. If you can’t do it right now, so relax and try again a little later. Or do something less. But don’t just throw in the towel. The day isn’t over yet. It only started. Today is not just one of those days that you shouldn’t have gotten out of bed. Today is the day where you need to battle through your smallness and forget about what should’ve and could’ve been. In fact, in a funny way, today is really your day.

“היום אם בקולו תשמעון”

 

 

 

Queen Esther 2018

WhatsApp Image 2018-02-13 at 5.21.14 AM

“How does Amalek (Haman) conceal Godliness?  At the very end of the exile, when the redemption is ready to be revealed and we need just a few more prayers to arouse Hashem’s mercy, he reminds the Jew how long it’s been and how many prayers have gone unanswered. This slander weakens the heart of a Jew to believe that his prayers are useless” (Nachalos 4)

This happened in the Purim story too. As the Talmud describes (Megilla 11b) even Daniel miscalculated the seventy years of Jeremiah’s prophecy. We were just about to leave Babylon and return to Israel, but there was doubt and hope seemed lost. Enter our arch-rival: Amalek.

But in the Purim story we learn about Queen Esther. Reb Nosson says that Esther is analogous to the Jewish people, but specifically the many weak people among us.

weak

The name Esther is from the root word hester (הסתר), which means hidden. This is because Hashem seems so hidden from us weaklings, and also because our own inner strength is hidden from us. But Esther never stopped praying. When she was taken into the palace of the wicked Persian King Achashverosh, she cried out “My Lord, my Lord, why did you leave me?” (Psalms 22). She learned this tool from Mordechai the Tzaddik.  Mordechai raised Esther in his home. The tzaddik supports the Jewish people, helping them develop the skills they need to defeat Amalek. “She didnt have a father and mother”, this means, on a deeper level, that she didn’t have the capability to succeed on her own. She needed the Tzaddik to provide for her, as we do too. But even though she was orphaned, with poor chances of success, Mordechai developed her into a sweet smelling myrtle branch, as her other name Hadas (הדס) connotes. (See here for the connection between smell and prayer. The name Mordechai too, the Talmud says, is a reference to one of the fragrances used in the Temple’s Incense [Megilla 10b]).

But really the most amazing quality of Esther was how she didn’t give up. “Whatever Mordechai said, Esther did” (Esther 2,20). The Talmud teaches something astonishing on this verse: “מלמד שהיתה עומדת בחיקו של אחשורוש וטובלת ויושבת בחיקו של מרדכי” (Megilla 13b). Poor Esther was subjected to be intimate with the dirtiest most haughty King in the world, and then she would immerse herself in the Mikveh and have intimacy with Mordechai. Of course even the simplest understanding of this verse shows great inner courage on the part of Queen Esther. But on a deeper level this means that although she fell into the darkest places of depression, where she literally was swallowed up by Amalek and gave up hope, she got up and encouraged herself to go back to the Tzaddik and hear more words of encouragement. She didn’t give up, even after she was involved in the most heinous monstrous behavior.

This is us. We are in the palace of the evil king. We are inundated with the cynicism of Amalek all day long. The hardest thing in the world to believe in is Moshiach. So many of us are numb from the pessimism and sarcasm of the internet and others have fallen prey to the unspeakable. It seems like there’s really no hope. But we need to learn from our precious Queen Esther who had it just as bad, but she never gave up hope. She always got up and went back to the Tzaddik, who told her to keep praying because nothing stands in the way of sincere prayer. She prayed and prayed to what seemed like deaf ears to be free. And then in one minute, ‘ונהפוך הוא’, everything changed. Her prayers were answered, the redemption came and we’ll celebrate it till the end of time. We are Esther! Our hands are also forced by the vulgarity and obnoxiousness of today. But just like our beloved queen, we too can pick ourselves up and believe. We can find encouragement, we can pray and we can be free!

orange

Me?

Jigsaw Pieces Being Joined Showing Teamwork And Togetherness

They say ‘it takes two to tango’. Reb Nosson says this is true in prayer as well. In order for our prayer to reach its potential we need to have faith. Without complete faith, our prayer isn’t a proper receptacle and can’t be filled with the bounty of Hashem’s blessing.

What constitutes complete faith?

In Nachalos 4 Reb Nosson writes that “just as much as we need to believe that Hashem is the creator of everything, who can change nature at will and bestow endless bounty, so too we need to believe in ourselves – that Hashem listens and pays attention to every word that we pray to Him, even the lowest person on earth. Anybody can have his prayer heard if he sincerely prays”.

Even me? He listens to me? I don’t even listen to myself! How many times have I stood before Hashem in prayer without believing that my prayer is being heard?

WhatsApp Image 2018-02-11 at 8.35.53 AM

Reb Nosson emphasizes that this is an integral component of faith. It’s not enough to believe in a great God, we also need to believe in our ability to make a difference. So many people judge themselves by their historical track record and just resign themselves to mediocrity. They assume that because they have been uninspired for ‘such and such’ time, this is how it will always be for them and everything they do is lifeless and pointless. The believers imagine there to be somebody out there who ‘has it together’ and his prayers are the ones that matter. But little ole me? What am I good for?

And it’s not just them. Even the more inspired people might acknowledge that they’re good at some things, maybe learning Torah, but praying is just something they’ll never be good at, and they don’t believe in their prayers.

So it turns out that everyone says in the Amidah prayer “Blessed are you Hashem, who listens to prayer” but everyone thinks it’s somebody else’s prayer that Hashem listens to.

Faith means believing not only in Hashem but in our relationship with Hashem. When Rebbe Nachman cried out on a Friday night in Uman more than 200 years ago “Don’t ever give up”, he was talking about this point. Don’t give up on your relationship with Hashem. No matter how much you’ve ignored Hashem until now, your soul is very much alive. Those who believe in a God that has no relationship with us, don’t believe in the God that we believe in. We have a relationship with a God that wants to hear from us. No sin or time away from home can quiet that thirst He has for connection to us. He’s always waiting for us to call home. Nobody can call for us. Each one of us have a special unique phone number to Him.

We need to rid ourselves of the notion that our relationship with Hashem is a product of our Mitzvah performance. It’s true that messing up makes it more difficult to find Hashem, but he’s no further away. He wants to find you just as much even when you’ve endlessly betrayed Him and no one person is more important in His eyes than you. Everyone has something totally unique and beautiful to bring to the table. But it all starts with אמונה בעצמו, believing in yourself.

Look in the mirror, catch hold of your eyes and say “I count. My prayers count. My life counts”. Then get moving!

No doubt

Lost-Child

“[Hashem says] I am always among you, and [I am] always ready to provide your necessities. But then you ask, ‘Is Hashem in our midst or not’? [I swear] by your life that the dog will come and bite you and you will cry out to Me. [Then] you will know where I am. This can be compared to a man who put his son on his shoulder and set out on the road. Whenever his son saw something, he would say, “Daddy, give me that,” and the father would always give it to him. Then they met a man and the son said to the man, “Do you know where my Daddy is?” The father answered his son, “[After all I’ve done for you] you don’t know where I am?” He threw his son down to the ground and a dog came and bit the son.” (Shemos Rabbah 26:2)

The above Medrash is an analogy of our relationship to Amalek (the dog). But as our Chassidic Masters explain, it’s because of Amalek that the child can’t find his father. Amalek’s bold battle with Israel in the desert wasn’t a punishment for questioning the existence of Divine providence, but rather when a person denies or even questions Divine providence, it’s a sign that he’s been smitten by Amalek, the power to deny God.

This isn’t an old story from the Bible. מִלְחָמָה לַיהוָה בַּעֲמָלֵק מִדֹּר דֹּר. Amalek’s war with God is in every generation. It’s happening to you and me right now. Rebbe Nachman says that when we see how we’re crying out and yet the exile keeps dragging on forever, we might  mistakenly feel that all our prayers are meaningless (Torah 2). Reb Nosson writes that this is Amalek’s weapon (Nachalos 4). Amalek wants us to give up hope. The cynicism and mockery of Amalek pervades the world today. All over social media and even in the purest of mouths we find despair and cynicism. Walk into a synagogue and see how Amalek has us in a headlock. The laziness and fatigue in how we pray…וְאַתָּה עָיֵף וְיָגֵעַ…is testament to our doubts in a God that hears our prayers. This is how Haman (a descendant of Amalek) slandered the Jews to Achashverosh. He said ‘their God is sleeping’ (Megilla 11b). Just like the deists of today who believe in a power that created the world some billion years ago, but deny any Divine providence.

So how do we save ourselves from this cynicism? How do we fight off despair?

WhatsApp Image 2018-02-06 at 9.18.44 AM

By seeking out the Tzaddikim and following their advice we can instill in ourselves Emunah in Hashem and wholeheartedly believe in Divine providence. The Rebbe wrote often that we see this idea in the Torah, when Israel fought Amalek. Moses climbed a mountain and when he lifted his hands, Israel would overcome Amalek. The Torah says that ‘[Moses’] hands were faith’ (וַיְהִי יָדָיו אֱמוּנָה). The Targum translates this to mean that his hands were spread in prayer. Moses’ prayer inspired Israel to believe in Hashem, which is the weapon to defeat Amalek. We see this narrative in the Purim story too. Mordechai the Tzaddik and Esther made prayer rallies to defeat Haman. The tzaddikim infuse us with faith in a living, omnipresent, loyal and loving God.

 לעילוי נשמת רבי יחיאל יהושע בן ירחמיאל צבי רבינוביץ זצ״ל, בעל מחבר ספר חלקת יהושע

WhatsApp Image 2018-02-06 at 9.32.20 AM

You, and no one but you

WhatsApp Image 2018-01-08 at 9.21.10 PM

It’s commonplace to question what our personal role is in this world? Of course we’re all here to serve Hashem and perform his mitzvos, but that’s a communal approach. We must believe very strongly that each one of us has something unique to contribute to the world, as the Talmud says (Sanhedrin 37a) “Everyone is obligated to say, this world was created just for me”. Or as I recently heard from Rabbi Yehoshua Gerzi, “the creative God created a world with creations who create”. But for many of us it’s hard to know what our specific task is.

Confusing the issue even more is when we notice others excelling in certain areas with ease. We might think to ourselves, ‘I wish things would come easier for me? Why can’t I naturally be good at anything? Why do I need to fight so hard just to do something so small’?

I saw something very encouraging in Tinyana 4 about this. The Rebbe says, “When someone who is naturally compassionate gives charity, due to his loving nature, it isn’t an act of devotion [to Hashem. In fact,] there are even animals that have compassionate instincts. Rather, the essential devotion is transforming ones cruelty into compassion”.

Let’s first clarify this statement. The loving person who gives charity surely performed a mitzvah. No one is taking that away from him. Every mitzvah brings us closer to Hashem, and this ‘easy’ mitzvah for Mr. Generosity is no different. But the point here is that he didn’t do an act of devotion (עבודה). Meaning, he didn’t work on himself. He didn’t move himself with this act to the next station. In a certain sense, he didn’t improve himself or become his ideal-self through this charitable act.  Whereas the cheapskate who groans in pain with every penny that leaves his hands is molding himself into a new person with his act of charity. Similarly, it might seem that some people have strong faith, but maybe they’re just naturally optimistic? Or what about the people who have a table full of guests every Shabbos? Maybe they just love the action? Or maybe they’re afraid to be alone with their families? On the other hand, other families are more than content to spend Shabbos alone, yet they push themselves to invite guests and share their space.

I found this lesson so validating. It’s another example of how comparing ourselves to others breeds jealousy and is ultimately a fruitless undertaking. Every person is so different and only Hashem knows what’s considered an act of devotion and what was done from a person’s natural instinct. We’re lucky to be in a relationship with an infinitely great God who knows us so intimately. He wants us for who we are, whether we could compete with others or not. In His perfection, He has a 100% unique expectation of us. He wants nothing more from us and nothing less of us. The things that come naturally to us aren’t even necessarily the things that we’re here to accomplish. Those natural talents are useful assets for us, but it’s not absurd to think that by exerting ourselves, even in something totally unfamiliar to us, we can uncover a new part of ourselves that will lead us to our true personal perfection.

The real truth

slave

Rebbe Nachman tells a story about a prince and the son of a maid who were exchanged at birth. The maid’s son becomes king and finds out about the switch. In order to secure his rulership of the kingdom, he eventually expels the true prince from the land. The dejected and exiled prince loses his way and falls into sin, excessive drinking and despair. Eventually, in the end, he does become king. As with all of the Rebbe’s stories, even the simple understanding makes for an amazing story. (If you haven’t read the story, you can read it in old-fashioned english here or buy a nice english book with some of the deeper secrets of the story here).

In Birchas Hashachar 3Reb Nosson shows how this story, of course, is analogous to the history of the Jewish people. Although we Jews are the true princes of Hashem, we’ve been exiled numerous times and sold into slavery. For two thousand years, we’ve been on the receiving end of ceaseless persecution and genocide. Throughout the diaspora of our people, we’ve certainly lost our way. As you might know, the assimilation statistics are frightening. Most Jews don’t identify as such at all anymore, and of the few who still do, even less are observant.

Then comes Hannukah. The candles of Hannukah shine a light of truth into the world. As King David sings, “Send your light and truth to lead me” (Psalms 43:3). This light of truth that we draw down with our measly little flames affects us. It pierces our soul so she no longer identifies as a slave, but as the princess she truly is. This is why we always read about Joseph being sold into slavery and then rising to the throne around Hannukah time. We need to be reminded that we’re truly great, even though we’re seen in the world as filthy slaves. The eight candles that we light represent the eight times we say the word אמת, or truth, after unifying Hashem’s name every morning in prayers (see here). This is because the name of Hashem is truth and every one of the eight Hannukah lights shines more truth in to the world and into our souls.

WhatsApp Image 2017-12-11 at 1.47.45 PM

What’s a miracle if not a moment of undeniable truth? A miracle and a flag have the same hebrew word, נס. This is because when Hashem performs a miracle, it’s akin to Him sticking a flag in the ground saying “Here I am. I’m true and you can no longer deny Me”. The main mitzvah of Hannukah is to give thanks to Hashem for the miracles in our lives. Gratitude means recognizing the truth and admitting to it. This is why the Rebbe taught (Tinyana 2) that thanksgiving is the pleasure of the world to come. That world is a world of absolute truth. When we give thanks, we’re connecting to that world. This is also why the Talmud calls one who learns halacha a member of the world to come, בן עולם הבא. Because halacha is about defining the truth of the matter.

Do we believe in miracles? Not just national miracles, but do we believe that Hashem performs miracles for us individually? Miracles! Do we believe that we’re true princes and princesses? Sadly, the darkness of winter and the confusion of our lives, (a.k.a. the true maid’s son who’s now king), overwhelms us. We can barely catch our breath, let alone ponder our true worth. But those lights, those little puny lights, are real. Isn’t it odd how many Jews come out of the woodworks to light Hannukah candles, a rabbinically derived mitzvah? There’s something special happening when we light those candles. There’s something real and true about them. Let’s stare at them. Let’s gaze at them and hope for more meaning and truth in our lives. Let’s let them light us up and burn away everything fake that we believe in. That’s the real Hanukkah, a glimmer of the world to come.

act-hanukkah-in-jerusalem-1

 

 

Moshiach now!

WhatsApp Image 2017-11-28 at 8.45.50 AM

The pain is too great! The suffering is too long! Who can say they’re not deteriorating from stress or despair? So many of us need a miracle, whether we’re floundering financially or we have illness close to home. Many marriages have been falling apart and yet too many singles are waiting, for what seems like eternity, to meet their precious soulmate. Then there’s the global threats that constantly linger and flare up. It’s truly heartbreaking. “When, O’ when, will this galus end”?

Listen to Jeremiah the Prophet:

(31:21) “עַד־מָתַי֙ תִּתְחַמָּקִ֔ין הַבַּ֖ת הַשּֽׁוֹבֵבָ֑ה כִּֽי־בָרָ֨א יְהֹוָ֚ה חֲדָשָׁה֙ בָּאָ֔רֶץ נְקֵבָ֖ה תְּס֥וֹבֵֽב גָּֽבֶר”

“Come out of hiding, you naughty girl! Hashem created something new on earth. Now the woman will chase the man”.

woman chasing man

Rashi explains that the verse is referring to Teshuva, coming back to Hashem. We’re embarrassed to come back home because of our disgusting ways. So what does Hashem do to aid us in the times before Moshiach? And why now, all of a sudden, should we be willing to come back to him? Because now the woman will pursue the man to marry her, whereas it always used to be the man pursuing the woman.

What does it mean that the woman will chase the man? And how does that enable us to overcome our humiliation and return to Hashem?

In Rosh Chodesh 5, Reb Nosson describes how we often see people feeling stuck in their lives. Even though they wanna make a change, they’re just so brokenhearted that they fall into despair. They try to break out, but then they fall again deeper, with one more bridge burned on the way.  They’re just too embarrassed, and sometimes too angry or depressed, to make a change. They believe beyond the shadow of a doubt that there’s no use in fighting it. This is their life sentence.  This happens with addicts and it also happens when people feel stuck in a marriage or in a bad job. The ‘other side‘ overwhelms them and they slowly give up.

But then ‘Hashem creates something new on earth’. This is the Rebbe’s advice of turning your Torah into prayer. With this prayer, there’s no more shame in the sins that led us astray. Because with this type of prayer, no matter what situation we find ourselves in, we can be confident in our prayers. Because we’re begging Hashem to pull us out of the lion’s jaws. Imagine, the other day, we went on an anger rampage. The next morning we’re learning some Torah about how anger is like worshipping idols. That makes us feel ashamed. So we crawl up into a hole and discount the power of our prayers. But turning Torah into prayer says, “Hashem! I’m a wild animal! Help me! I’m enraged. I’m so out of control that I’m compared to an idolator. I don’t want to be an idolator. I only want to worship You. Help me escape this place of constriction”! Or what about someone who got fired from another job and he honestly can’t pick his head up anymore? He might hear a line from Rebbe Nachman that “with simple trust in God, one makes himself into a receptacle for Hashem’s bounty of financial security” (Torah 76). That teaching could make him cynical. “Oh Please! I trusted and trusted and nothing happened. There’s no point in me praying anymore. Hashem is just punishing me for something”. But by turning Torah into prayer, he might say, “I don’t know how to trust you! You spank me left and right! It’s been so long since I had a dollar to spend. How can I trust you? How? I’m so far from trusting you! I actually think you must hate me!”

Reb Nosson says these prayers make the soul of Moshiach sprout. These are the highest prayers. We might think they’re so pathetic, because as sinners and non-believers, we feel so pathetic. But it’s not true. Hashem doesn’t expect us to be perfect; far from it. He wants us to call out to him when we’re not perfect. This is what King David started. His Psalms are all about turning Torah into prayer. There are five books of Psalms, just like there are five books of the Torah. The essence of Psalms is David begging Hashem to help him do Teshuva and uphold the Torah sincerely.

Turning Torah into prayer is the woman chasing the man. Before, the woman, hinted to in prayer, is embarrassed to come back to Hashem. The Man, hinted to as the Torah, makes her feel ashamed, like she is unworthy of praying because of her inability to uphold the Torah. But then Hashem creates something new, (the Rebbe said of himself, “there was never a novelty in the world as new as me”), and it’s no longer shameful to pray in our hideous state. Now we take the Torah itself and turn it into prayer. So the woman – the prayer – is the perfection of the Torah. It’s a necessity of Torah. The Torah – the man – now needs the woman, so she isn’t bashful to pursue him.

Please Hashem! We’re so ashamed to knock on your door. We can’t walk in a straight line anymore! Everything is falling apart. Our lives are upside down and we have no confidence left. We don’t believe that you’re bringing Moshiach. We don’t really believe in anything. We do and do, for whatever reasons we do, but we don’t believe that we’re doing anything worthy at all. The only thing we know for sure is that our constant sins are creating more and more barriers between us! We wanna give up already! We’re so ashamed from the holy Torah. It makes us feel unworthy and lowly. It sends shivers down our spines, as our souls weep from isolation. Please, in your endless mercy, create something new in our hearts! Give us the gall to call out to you in the name of the Torah, that we want to keep, deep deep inside. Help us find you in this dark place. Help us find the words to admit how we’re so far from where we want to be, and express our desire to change. We want Moshiach! We want some sense of purpose. Help us overcome our despair. Help us believe in ourselves and in your boundless compassion. It’s taking way too long! Make it end. Make it end!

WhatsApp Image 2017-11-30 at 2.40.42 PM

Hold on or let go?

i-dont-know

At times we might find ourselves in very dark places. We feel miles away from Hashem, like we reached the point of no return. We harbor strong doubts, we feel confused and we can’t believe that we’ve sunk this low.

What can we do in those trying times?

Rebbe Nachman says (Tinyana 12) that some questions are unanswerable. He explains that even the klippos, or the forces of evil which cause this doubt and confusion, only exist because Hashem wills it. Without getting in to the depths of his lesson, he teaches that this darkness gets its life-force from a place that is utterly unknowable to us. We can’t possibly understand it. It’s a locked door;  the apex of hiddenness.

So Reb Nosson (Tchumin 6:8) explains that since the answers are incomprehensible, our only solution is to believe – with the simplest purest faith – that Hashem can even be found in such a dark place. Although we’re accustomed to using our cleverness and guise to find answers, this time it will lead us to greater darkness. The only way to survive these times is with simple faith, by saying, “Master of the World! I believe you’re here. I can’t see you at all and it’s inconceivable to me that you’re here with me. But you must be here. Where are you?”

Why is this so hard to do? Shouldn’t it, in a sense, be easier to simply believe than to constantly contrive sophisticated justifications? What is it about the human psyche that stubbornly attempts to rationalize, expound and hypothesize the cause of everything?

I think it’s just so hard to let go. We don’t want to give up control. We’re afraid what the future will bring, if we’re not ‘calling the shots’. So we refuse to admit that we can’t know the answer. Sometimes this characteristic is very beneficial. It helps us hold on in trying times and not fall into despair. But in harder times, we’re ‘shooting ourselves in the foot’ with this futile cleverness. We need to simply let go and admit that we can’t control the outcomes. We need to confess that although we don’t understand how, Hashem is running the show behind the scenes.

The Rebbe says that the small admission of ‘maybe Hashem could be here with me’ is usually the first step to climb out of this misery. Here we were looking for every ‘tool in the book’ to help ourselves and we just kept on falling into deeper water. Then, with a small admission of faith in something other than ourselves, we’re already on our way back up. It’s not as hard as you think. In fact, sometimes it’s hard because you think.

איה