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!



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.



Holiness gives


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Today is the yahrtzeit of Reb Nosson. As Rebbe Nachman himself admitted, there would be nothing left of his memory after he died, if not for Reb Nosson’s personal sacrifice on behalf of Breslover Chassidus.

It’s no coincidence that Reb Nosson left this world on Asara Bteves. (First of all, it’s so Breslov to be able to party on a fast day). But seriously, on this day we commemorate the sieging  of Jerusalem. Another name for Jerusalem is ציון (Zion). ציון has the same numerical value as יוסף (Joseph), who represents the power of tzaddik in the world. In fact, the Talmud (Rosh Hashana 18b) equates the death of tzaddikim to the burning of our Holy Temple.  Why? What’s the connection? Because a tzaddik is a human embodiment of the Temple. The Temple is the geographical place of holiness in this world, and the tzaddik is the anthropomorphic place of holiness in this world.

What’s interesting to note about Reb Nosson’s life is that before he met Rebbe Nachman, he was searching to fill a personal spiritual void that he felt. He was a genius in learning and seemingly on his way to greatness, but he felt empty. After he met Rebbe Nachman, although he obviously continued growing in his own service of Hashem, he primarily began to concern himself with other people’s service of Hashem. He became the Rebbe’s scribe and went to great lengths to bring everything the Rebbe ever said into writing for posterity. He would write up his personal prayers and distribute them to others to say. And then after our holy Rebbe left the world, his entire essence was devoted to promulgating the lessons of Rebbe Nachman so others can grow in fear of Heaven. Reb Nosson became a different person after he met Rebbe Nachman. He became the quintessential giver. That’s what the Temple is too. There are countless sayings in the Talmud about the bounties of the Temple. It brought peace to the entire world. It smelled so good throughout the city that no one needed perfume, and the lights lit up the entire city. These phenomenons were physical as well as metaphysical. Holiness is something that gives. It envelops the receiver. We even find that halachically it changes the status of that which it enters.  That’s what happens when you enter the Temple and that’s what happens when you bind yourself to the tzaddikim. You get a big hug of holiness!

Unfortunately we no longer have a Temple and we no longer have the holy tzaddikim like Rebbe Nachman and Reb Nosson. We are truly orphaned! אין לנו שיעור רק התורה הזאת. The only thing we have left is our holy Torah. It should be Hashem’s will that we should merit to see the rebuilding of the Temple soon and join in the dancing and singing of the true tzaddikim who will bask in the glory of Hashem.

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לעילוי נשמת רבינו נתן בן נפתלי הירץ זצ״ל



Joseph, the simple tzaddik

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The verse has an peculiar way of describing Joseph, the holiest of all the brothers:

“וְה֣וּא נַ֗עַר, אֶת־בְּנֵ֥י בִלְהָ֛ה וְאֶת־בְּנֵ֥י זִלְפָּ֖ה”

“Joseph was childish, and was commonly found with the maidservants’ children (Genesis 37:2)”.

The Torah is telling us two amazing things about very rare tzaddikim, such as Joseph and Rebbe Nachman, who are “the foundation of the world” (Proverbs 25).

First, in Torah 30, Rebbe Nachman taught that “the farther one is from Hashem, the greater the teacher he needs, similar to someone extremely ill who needs the best doctor to heal him”. This is the Torah’s intention when saying that Joseph ‘hung out’ with the maidservants’ children. Not that those specific children of Jacob were distant from Hashem, but ‘maidservants’ children’ is an allusion to the type of people that are forlorn and in need of help. Additionally, this is why immediately after Joseph was born, Jacob knew that he can overcome his brother Esau. Had Esau not himself strayed from Hashem, his holy task would have been to bring others who have strayed closer to Hashem. It would have been Jacob’s job to study and teach Torah, and Esau’s job to give encouragement to those who felt far from Hashem. But when Esau relinquished his position, it was Joseph who stepped in as the Kiruv Rabbi. Joseph, being the greatest type of tzaddik, was able to reach even the lowest criminals. We see this clearly in Joseph’s outreach to the prisoners in jail, and later on how he circumcised all of Egypt, the most lewd place on earth at the time. Finally, as we find throughout Hassidic literature, Joseph is intimately connected to the festival of Hanukkah. This is alluded to in our custom to light the Menorah very low to the ground, similar to Joseph was able to reach even the most hopeless and lowly people.

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What does it mean that Joseph was childish?

In Tinyana 78 the Rebbe teaches something very mysterious. He says that sometimes the true tzaddik becomes a simpleton. The idea is as follows: The Torah is literally our lifeline (Deuteronomy 30:20). So how do we survive when we’re not learning torah? We only survive because the tzaddik gives us life. But how does the tzaddik survive when he’s not actually learning Torah? He receives life from the אוצר מתנת חינם, the store-house of free-gifts. (Consequently, this is also how the world survived for twenty six generations before the Jews received the Torah). So sometimes the tzaddik legitimately becomes a simple ignoramus, so that he can give life to the other simple people in the world, Jews and non-Jews alike. This is what it means that Joseph was childish. He was literally doing silly things, and with those foolish behaviors, he was giving life to the world.

In the same lesson, the Rebbe teaches that this ‘simplicity’ that a tzaddik experiences is also called דרך ארץ ישראל, the way to the land of Israel. In fact, Reb Nosson writes the when the Rebbe made his pilgrimage to Israel, his behavior was extremely bizarre. At times he was found not wearing a hat or jacket and running around with little kids playing silly games. Other times, on his voyage, he met great scholars. When they asked him to speak, he would talk gibberish! We truly can’t understand the ways of a tzaddik, especially one of Rebbe Nachman’s caliber. His every move was mysterious, as he connected heaven and earth with his every move. All we can do is feel fortunate that Hashem sends us these great people who, with their deep love, reach even the lowest of the low.

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Ordinary holiness

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Jacob’s ladder defines how we Jews view holiness in this world. Our greatest level of holiness is when the ladder stands firm on the ground but has its peak in the clouds. If the ladder isn’t planted strongly into the dirt, we know the ladder is bound to fall. We’re not looking to sever ourselves from physical matter, but instead use it as a means to attain more recognition of God.


Many of us want to feel spiritual! We want to escape to the forest, close our eyes, meditate and fly away to untold destinations where we can experience true holiness. That’s beautiful, and at times very necessary, but it’s not the goal. Our objective isn’t to feel spiritual, but to recognize that spirituality is everywhere. Although we might merit inspiration from time to time, the sensation isn’t what we’re searching for. We’re looking to uplift everything we do by giving it Divine significance.

It could be that after the Holidays are over we experience low states of consciousness and minor depression. Here we were just a few days ago dancing and singing and now we’re back to real life. But we need to take the inspiration that we felt and spread it into everything we do. All of our interactions with people, places and things should now be infused with the experiences we had. That’s real holiness.

This is the secret of Eretz Yisroel. In ‘דברים הנוהגים בסעודה ד, Reb Nosson illustrates how the entire celebration of Tishrei’s Holidays is only to reveal the Holiness of Eretz Yisroel. Everything from the Shofar’s blast to the beating of the aravos is about bringing us to Eretz Yisroel. But Rebbe Nachman said that the land’s holiness is simply the houses and the apartments? So which is it that makes Israel holy? Is it the Holidays or the dirt on the roads? So many of us shell-out thousands of dollars to come to Israel and experience the holy sites. The Western Wall, Rachel’s Tomb, the Cave of the Patriarchs and so on. Why did the Rebbe stress that the holiness of the land is its sticks and stones? Because we’re humans, not angels. We’re not looking to throw away our bodies and bask in the eternal light. Holiness is found everywhere we look. It’s not passion or emotion, although it could be. Holiness is deep deep in the mud and high high in the sky!

Speak to the rock


“Let me tell you what I saw and you can tell it to your children:

A man was lying on the ground and people were sitting around him in a circle. Around that circle were many other circles of people. Even beyond those circles were many other people sitting in no particular order.  The man in the middle was moving his lips and all the people around him were moving their lips too. And then I looked and he was gone. And everyone in the circles stopped moving their lips. I asked, ‘what’s going on?’ They answered me that he cooled down and passed away. When he stopped talking, they stopped talking.

Afterwards everybody began to run and I ran after them. I saw two palaces; beautiful structures. In front were sitting two very powerful men and everyone ran over and argued with them saying, ‘why did you trick us?’ The people wanted to kill the men. The men managed to escape. I saw their essence and I was very impressed with them. I ran after them and I saw from afar a beautiful tent. They were calling out from the tent to the two men, ‘Turn around, ask for all your merits and take them. Then go to the candle that’s hanging there. From there you can do everything you need’! So they turned around and took all their merits. There were bundles and bundles of merits. They ran to the candle and I ran after them. I saw a flame burning in midair. These two powerhouses came to the candle and threw their merits at the candle. Sparks fell out of the candle into their mouths and the candle became a river and they drank from the river. The river-water became creatures inside of them and when they started to speak the creatures came out of them. I saw the creatures going back and forth. They weren’t human or animal-like. They were just creatures.

Afterwards the creatures decided to go back to their place. But they said, ‘How could we go back to our place?’ One of them answered, ‘Let’s ask the one who stands there (in our place) with a outstretched sword from heaven to earth’. But they said, ‘Who should we send?’ It was decided to send the creatures. The creatures went there and I ran after them. I saw him standing there instilling fear with a sword that reached from the heavens to the earth. The sword had many sides. One side was designated for death, one was for poverty and one was for weakness. As well, there were many other mouths of the sword with other retribution.

The creatures asked him, ‘It’s been so long that you’re punishing us. Please help us and bring us back to our place’. And he said, ‘I can’t help you’. They implored of him, ‘Give us the blade of death and we’ll kill the powerful men’, but he didn’t agree. They asked for another blade and he refused. So they returned. While they were returning, a decree was passed to kill the two men and their heads were removed.

Then it was exactly as before. Someone was lying on the ground surrounded by circles of people etc. Again they ran to the powerful men, exactly as before. But this time the men didn’t throw their merits at the candle. Instead they took their merits and came to the candle, pouring out their hearts in supplication before it. Sparks fell from the candle into their mouths. They cried out more and the candle became a river, which became creatures. I was told that these two men would live. The earlier men were sentenced to death because they threw their merits at the candle and didn’t appeal to it in prayer.

I didn’t understand what I was seeing. They said to me, ‘Go to so-and-so room and they will explain it to you’. I went there and saw an old man and asked him about it. He took his beard in his hand and said ‘my beard is the explanation of the story’. I said, ‘I still don’t understand’. He said to me, ‘Go to so-and-so room and there you will find the answer’. I went there and I saw an infinitely long and wide room that was completely filled with scrolls. With every scroll that I opened I saw the expression of this story.”

Rebbe Nachman described this awesome vision to his students before he taught them Torah 20 on Rosh Hashana of 1805. He said that the lesson was an explanation of the dream and that, indeed, all his lessons are related to the dream. Every word of the Rebbe’s vision is layered with the holiest of holy meaning. I just want to give a glimpse of how this vision was alluded to in his lesson that amazing Rosh Hashana.

In Torah 20 the Rebbe taught that the downfall of Moses and Aaron was that they didn’t bond themselves in prayer with the people at the time Moses hit the rock. Instead they used their merits to bring forth the water. This is hinted to in the vision by the powerful men who threw their merits at the candle. The lesson stresses that the teacher must strip his ego and pray in allegiance to his students before teaching them Torah. If not, then the Torah he teaches is weak, the soul that explains all of Torah in the world is removed and all teachers are inundated with argument and strife, God forbid.

This dream appears in Chaye Moharan 83. I also was told this dream in Uman this past Rosh Hashana. I was very moved by its other-worldliness and I strongly wanted to understand it and internalize it. Maybe some of us were lucky enough over the past holiday-filled month to have some super-natural spiritual feelings? Those feelings are real. Life isn’t just a day of work, a couple of bathrooms runs and some traffic on the way home! We might not have these shake-ups often but they’re some of the most authentic experiences we have. We aren’t Rebbe Nachman from Breslov, whose every breath was flowing with holiness and meaning, but we have vision too. We have vision too…

לעילוי נשמת רבי לוי יצחק בן שרה סאשא זי״עא


Going up?


I remember, shortly after we moved to Israel, commenting that it seems we need to play a different role in serving God here than outside of Israel. Soon it became clear to me that in NY I was primarily focused on rejecting the negative influences. There’s so much distraction and lure there that the main objective was to keep everything out. Even the daily apparel catalogues mailed to our house were a major disturbance. I felt like I was in a boxing match, in the corner of the ring, with my gloves covering my face in defense. But in Israel, living with our brothers, the task wasn’t to shun the outside anymore. This forced me to look deep inside myself and question what am I really all about? It wasn’t sufficient anymore to play the guardian role – סור מרע. I needed to further develop my productive side – עשה טוב.  After learning Torah 20 I see that I was on to something.

Rebbe Nachman’s love for the Land of Israel was unparalleled. Not only did he risk his life in the late 18th Century and make the courageous pilgrimage to our homeland, but his writings and teachings are brimming with lessons on the Holy Land’s powers and spiritual benefits.

Reb Nosson writes that when the Rebbe said over Torah 20 on Rosh Hashana of 1804, he made the following declaration: “It’s not possible to be a Jew, meaning to go from level to level, without the Land of Israel”. After the lesson Reb Nosson thought that the Rebbe was alluding to some lofty concept, so he asked him, “What are you specifically referring to when you say that the Land of Israel is so great”? The Rebbe answered him chidingly, “I’m referring simply to the Land of Israel, with its’ houses and apartments”.

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So what is it about the streets, stones and buildings of Israel that separates it from everywhere else? I don’t claim to have that answer. But in the same superficial way that we can regard Shabbos as simply Saturday or view a Tzaddik as a plain human being, we can mistakenly see the Holy Land as just the same old dirt and rock. But it’s much more than that.

Israel is potentially perfect for holiness. There are a number of mitzvos that are only a possibility in the Land of Israel, such as the first fruit offering. What this means is that mundane activity has potential for Holiness in this Land more than anywhere else. In fact, on some level, what the 12 spies failed to understand was how we can work the land for sustenance and attain greater spiritual connection than in the desert where God was taking care of all our needs without our efforts. It’s specifically in Israel, amongst our people that we can produce corporeally and become the unique individuals and nation that we’re destined to become. Outside of Israel we can only hold on for dear life and shelter ourselves from the storm of assimilation. But in Israel we’re free to explore who we truly are. Like the Rebbe said, we need the Land of Israel to go ‘from level to level’.



The Beauty of Israel

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What is it about the Holy Temple that was so great? What are we missing and why are we mourning over something that’s been gone for so long?

Our great prophets described the Holy Temple as ‘the Beauty of Israel’. Of course the Temple was a beautiful edifice but was it the most exquisite structure ever built? I highly doubt it. It’s hard to imagine that a building destroyed more than 2000 years ago was the most beautiful to ever exist, especially with today’s technology. So why don’t we just build a new Temple somewhere else that’s even more gorgeous?

Reb Nosson understood ‘the Beauty of Israel’ quite literally (‘הלכות ראשית הגז ד). “It was shining from all the holy colors of the good deeds of Israel”. What holy colors is he talking about? Well, in Torah 25, Rebbe Nachman says from the Zohar that “when we reveal the greatness of God in the world, the colors of His 10 features glow”. Unfortunately, because our Temple was destroyed we don’t see those colors now. But when we had a Temple, the colors were manifest in the building itself. The beauty of the Temple was literally a mirror of His glorious features that we revealed through our good deeds.

The Torah describes how the Jews dedicated Gold, Silver, Copper, Turquoise, Purple and Crimson Wool for the building of the Mishkan. Aside from the physical fabrics and metals that the Israelites donated, they metaphysically gave of themselves to the dwelling-place of God. Each of their unique qualities was a fabric of the structure.

So what are we missing now that we don’t have our Holy Temple?

Our individuality! Our uniqueness isn’t evident anymore.

Do you ever go to synagogue and feel like the service is the same old thing? Even when we see someone praying excitedly, it’s nothing novel. What about your Shabbos table compared to my Shabbos table? Is it at all distinctive? With the loss of our Holy Temple we’ve lost our personality as Jews! Now we’re stuck in monotony and identicalness. We each have tremendous originality in our service of God. Each one of us can illuminate a brilliance of God in this world that no one else can. But it’s so hard to notice the difference our contribution makes now. And we’re bored of just being plain. So please God! bring us back to Jerusalem and build our third Temple so we can serve You with our true character and radiant colors! Amen!


Just an ounce!


As we’re approaching the Nine Days it feels an appropriate time to discuss Rebbe Nachman’s famous lesson entitled אזמרה.

The Rebbe teaches that we need to judge everyone favorably. And even if someone is totally corrupt, we should seek to find the little measure of good in him. (It can’t be, says the Rebbe, that he has no good qualities at all, ([for even Esau honored his father greatly]). And when we find that small measure of good in this foul person, we can recognize his kindness and literally bring him back to God. And as Reb Nosson adds later in the piece, the Rebbe cautioned his Chassidim to live with this lesson. Search and hunt for the good points in others and bring everyone back to God.

I’m embarrassed to admit it but personally I struggle with this lesson. Being a competitive person I naturally want to be better than everyone. Instead of suffering from jealousy I prefer to find other people’s faults so I don’t have to worry that they’re ‘better than me’. This makes it very difficult for me to see the good points in others.

But there’s more to the lesson! The Rebbe continues: Not only do we need to look for the good points in others, we need to seek out and find the good points in ourselves too. At first when I learned this lesson I thought “That’s not my problem! If anything I delude myself to only see my good points”. But after meditating on it some more I realize that I’m not being honest enough with myself. If I’m not able to see enough good in others, it’s because I don’t see the good in myself either. If I appreciated myself more, I would have no problem allowing others to succeed as well. It’s mostly because of my own insecurities that I’m competitive and critical of others.

On the verse “Don’t insult the convert, because you were also converts in Egypt”, the Talmud teaches (ב״מ נ״ט): “If you have a flaw, don’t point it out in another”. The Baal Shem Tov notes beautifully, “When you see imperfections in others, it’s because you have those same flaws in yourself. Hashem is showing it to you in others, like a mirror, so you can fix it in yourself”.

We all know that the Second Temple was destroyed because of the Jews’ unwarranted hatred of one another. And if the Temple is not rebuilt in our generation it’s because we’re still hating each other unjustifiably. Maybe this is what Rebbe Nachman meant when he said that his fire will burn until Mashiach comes? He meant that his primary lesson will be the one that brings Mashiach. If we can put down our gloves and find the good points in ourselves and in our friends, then we will stop the slandering, strife, defamation and internal animosity that we’re suffering from.

It’s not easy to do these days with our insecurities but the Rebbe encouraged the Chassidim greatly to search and seek for just an ounce of good. That’s all we need to start. Just an ounce!

We can do it!


It’s so hard not to give up! We try countless times to succeed but when the door seems shut we just want to ‘call it quits’! It’s far easier to accept defeat than to encourage ourselves to keep trying unsuccessfully. “So what?” we say. “I’ll be ok without it”! But what we’re not realizing is that by surrendering we are relinquishing who we truly are and selling ourselves short!

What do I mean? Well, I’m always hearing people say things like “I’m not good at math”, “I don’t like playing sports”, “I can’t do puzzles”, “I don’t dance”, “I can’t sit still”,  “I have terrible balance”. But it gets worse! Sometimes we say things like “I’m short-tempered”, “I’m in a bad mood”, “I’m too spaced out” and “I’m a bad parent”.

Most of the time the reason why we say these things is because we’re so frustrated and/or ashamed by our failure to succeed that we subconsciously rather stop trying than make another attempt and suffer defeat. You know the kid who gets embarrassed in school by his friends? He comes home, slams the door and yells “I’M NEVER GOING TO SCHOOL AGAIN!!” That’s pretty much what we’re doing when we file away (for life) our talents, in fear that somebody (not sure who?) will laugh at us if we fall down in the process.

On Rebbi Nachman’s last Shabbos Nachamu in Uman, about two months before he passed away, many chassidim gathered at his meal on Friday night to hear him speak. Although he would usually go to his private room right after kiddish and prepare himself for the meal, instead he sat at the table quietly. Appearing weak and tired he said, “Why did you come to me? I don’t know anything at all! If I had something to say then I understand why you would come here. But I’m a simple peasant. I don’t know anything at all”! He kept on repeating these types of things for awhile until he finally said, “The only thing that’s keeping me alive now is that I was in the Land of Israel”. Slowly he began to expound on that idea until he delivered a long lesson on it (תנינא ע״ח). After the lesson it’s said over that he was ecstatic and instructed the chassidim to sing zemiros and he sang with them, even though he hadn’t sang in recent months due to his illness. Then he spoke to the chassidim the entire meal with tremendous sweetness and encouraged them greatly. Finally, he yelled out from the depths of his heart “Gevalt! Don’t give up on yourselves! There is no reason to ever give up!״

We might not understand the Rebbe’s mysterious simplicity at that time. But in some concealed way, although his mastery of Torah was unparalleled, at that moment in his mind, he really knew nothing at all! But he didn’t give up. He found some way to open himself up and succeeded in saying over beautiful Torah with awesome joy! In doing so, in his greatness he saw that there is never ever a reason to quit. The chassidim describe how he cried out and lengthened the words “Don’t give up”, like he was charging every Jew eternally never to despair!

This story happened more than 200 years ago in a small house in the Ukraine but it couldn’t be more true and relevant today. We have so much potential. Hashem, the Jewish people and the world at large needs us. Let’s not write ourselves off because of some past difficulties. We have too much to offer! “Gevalt! Don’t give up”!