Redemption song

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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My man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final thought.

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

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

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

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

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A holy union

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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!

 

So high, so low

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

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

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

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

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The saddest story

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Every year on Yom Hashoah we remember the Nazi genocide of European Jewry during WWII. Much has been written about the holocaust and, although I’m writing something now as well, I feel unworthy to even discuss it. As someone who grew up with the comforts that I did, I can say with certainty that I cannot in any way fathom a millionth of the trauma that our people experienced during that dark time. I hope that anything I write doesn’t undermine or belittle the bravery of our martyrs and survivors.

In Tinyana 7 Rebbe Nachman teaches that a true leader has to be entirely merciful. Our greatest leader, Moses, was exactly that. He had compassion for Israel and sacrificed everything he had for the people. Chassidus teaches that the first time a word or idea appears in the Torah, it should be understood as its primary meaning. Maybe we can say as well that we learn about a person’s character from the first time he appears in the Torah? The opening sentence about Moses’ character says (Shemos 2,11) “[Moses] grew up, went out [of the palace] to see his brothers and identified with their suffering”. That’s a true leader. Someone empathetic, who perceives the pain of his fellow.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The Rebbe says that the leader is the most compassionate to the sinner. The one who is sullied from sin is the most deserving of mercy, and it is to him who the leader is most kind. “All the suffering in the world is considered negligible in comparison to the heavy weight of sin”. This is because whoever truly appreciates the holiness of the Jewish people understands that they are so far from sin. The Jewish soul is a part of Hashem himself. Opposing the will of Hashem is the antithesis of a Jew. So when a Jew finds himself carrying the weight of his sins, the leader has so much compassion on him. This was Moses’ life task. He was always defending the Jewish people and begging forgiveness for their sins.

When I learned this idea I was struck by the greatness of who we are. My point is not at all, God forbid, to diminish the suffering that our people went through in the Holocaust. Their pain was beyond anything I can ever imagine or describe. So much so that, incredibly, we still suffer today – generations later – from the repercussions of children who grew up in the homes of survivors. But to think that someone who steals or lies is even a bigger רחמנות (sad story) than a survivor? That’s mind blowing! I must need to re-evaluate my own worth and learn to appreciate my friend’s worth. Our souls want nothing but to do the will of God. May it be Hashem’s will that we come back to Him and glorify His holy name with our Mitzvos. And may our actions and prayers be a merit for all those Holy souls who were murdered and tortured during that dark time in our history. Amen!

לעילוי נשמת כל קדושי השואה הי״ד 

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!

[Not] blinded by the light

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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!

Holy tears

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The Talmud tells a story about Rav Ketina, who was passing by the door of a wizard when the earth shook violently. He asked the wizard, “Do you know what causes an earthquake”? The wizard replied, “When the Holy One remembers that His children are suffering among the nations, He sheds two tears into the Great Sea, and His voice is heard from one end of the world to the other (Berachos 59a).

I just came back from Leżajsk where we visited the grave of the great chassidic master, Rav Elimelech from Lizhensk, who’s yahrtzeit is today. It was a very powerful experience to be together with thousands of Jews who make the yearly pilgrimage. There is a tradition passed down from several chassidic masters that whoever visits his grave will certainly be inspired to come back to Hashem before he leaves this world. I felt that feeling of Tshuva when I was there. It was a little scary, but good-scary. I spent a lot of time talking to the tzaddik about my friends and loved ones. I felt so much unique love for many of the people whose names I brought to the Rebbe, smiling as I pictured them in my head. I had a certain clarity when characterizing their situations to the Rebbe, as well as when I discussed my own circumstances. I shed tears and felt waves of truth crashing over me. I don’t easily cry but sometimes the tears were to be expected and sometimes not.

In Torah 250 Rebbe Nachman explains the meaning of tears. He says that all the pain and suffering of this world stems from lacking the knowledge of Divine providence. If we truly appreciated that Hashem is running things behind the scenes, we wouldn’t experience any suffering. The problem is that we feel like nature is running it’s course, which causes us great anguish. When somebody cries from pain he’s lacking that understanding of Divine Providence. The tears that come out of his eyes are infused with awareness of Hashem and a clearer vision of His providence. In a certain sense, he loses his own vision and is imbued with God’s vision. (The Rebbe brings a number of sources for this). This is why after we cry, we feel better. Because crying is transformative. It’s not only an expression of the pain, but it’s also a remedy of that feeling. Not only that, but seeing someone else we love cry can arouse us to cry too. Truth is contagious. Unfortunately we go through much of life wearing an armor of defense, so we can escape the uncomfortability of feeling vulnerable. But it’s important to be real and allow ourselves to be exposed every once in awhile, so our true soul could shine and draw down all the remedies it knows it needs.

 

 

 

לעילוי נשמת הצדיק של הצדיקים רבינו אלימלך בן הרב אליעזר ליפמן זצ״ל

But now…

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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