Thank you

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This is my one hundredth post on this blog! King David called his hundredth Psalm “A song of thanks”, so I’d like to also take this opportunity and express my gratitude. I’m forever grateful to Hashem for giving me this platform to share my thoughts and ideas with some very special readers. I’m grateful to Rebbe Nachman for inspiring me and guiding me since last May, when I started writing. I’m so thankful to my family who always encourages my blogging and I’m most grateful to my followers and readers, who although I don’t usually hear too much from, whenever they drop me a line, it helps me keep going and believing this little notebook is making a cosmic difference.

In Tinyana 2, the Rebbe says that the main pleasure of the next world is to glorify Hashem with thanks and praise, because by recognizing His good, one begins to unify with his Creator. It’s truly been a ‘next-worldly pleasure’ to author this blog and I hope that we share many more beautiful ideas together, connecting to the burning heart and soul of this great Tzaddik, Rebbe Nachman Ben Feige, until the coming of Mashaich soon in our days. Amen!

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א  מִזְמוֹר לְתוֹדָה: הָרִיעוּ לַיהוָה, כָּל-הָאָרֶץ.
ב  עִבְדוּ אֶת-יְהוָה בְּשִׂמְחָה; בֹּאוּ לְפָנָיו, בִּרְנָנָה.
ג  דְּעוּ כִּי יְהוָה, הוּא אֱלֹהִים: הוּא-עָשָׂנוּ, ולא (וְלוֹ) אֲנַחְנוּ עַמּוֹ, וְצֹאן מַרְעִיתוֹ.
ד  בֹּאוּ שְׁעָרָיו, בְּתוֹדָה--חֲצֵרֹתָיו בִּתְהִלָּה; הוֹדוּ-לוֹ, בָּרְכוּ שְׁמוֹ.
ה  כִּי-טוֹב יְהוָה, לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ; וְעַד-דֹּר וָדֹר, אֱמוּנָתוֹ.

The joy of mindfulness

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

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

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

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

בתוך שאר חולי ישראל Lippe Minya bat Rose רפואה שלימה 

You’re worth it

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Why do we replay old uncomfortable episodes in our heads time and again? Granted, we’re not that happy with how we acted or reacted, but what’s the point in tormenting ourselves? Innate health professionals might say that we’re even coercing ourselves to feel negative by taking our thoughts so seriously, when naturally we could let go of those thoughts and move on.

Listen to the words of Reb Nosson:

When some people learn mussar books, which talk in detail about the bitterness of punishment in Hell, they get very scared. When that happens, ‘the evil one‘ trips them up and makes them fall into a deeper depression until sometimes, God forbid, it could actually lead them to heresy” (בכור בהמה ד’ אות י״ז).

I think that when we obsess about fixing our past, we are living in that narrow-minded world Reb Nosson is describing called ‘fear of punishment’. Our souls know where we came from and where we’re going, so we want to improve. But one of the unhealthy ways of expressing desire to change could be perfectionism, nit-picking and an infatuation with our past mistakes.

This leads us to the following question: Although the Holy Zohar is critical of someone who’s fear of Heaven is only from ‘fear of punishment’, Rebbe Nachman said unequivocally that our main עבודה (service of God) is via ‘fear of punishment’. He said it’s impossible to start without it. Even the Tzaddikim need it, because there are “very very few” who serve Hashem out of love (Sichos Haran 5).

So is fear of punishment a bad thing or a good thing?

Back to Reb Nosson:

In Hashem’s mercy He send us Tzaddikim, who teach us that even the lowest most despicable person has hope, because Hashem’s compassion is very very great. This celestial insight helps us not only avoid the depression associated with fear of punishment, but actually bring us so much joy” (ibid).

What joy is Reb Nosson talking about? Why would I be happy to be punished for my wrongdoings? Because it shows that I count. My actions count. I am significant. Even a person as dirty as me is important to Hashem. Even punishment itself isn’t some imaginary crane lowering me into an erupting volcano. It’s simply the exact actions I did with all the knowledge of it’s repercussions. When the veil is removed from this world and the truth shines, we’ll fully appreciate our actions. If they were good, we will experience their bliss. If they weren’t…

The fact that our actions count is reason enough never to give up hope and never to fall into the clutches of the other side, who wants to bury us when we mess up. Because if you believe that you can mess up, you have to believe that you can fix yourself too.

You are important reminder note

Self encouragement

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“Greatness isn’t about accomplishing more, but about fully appreciating what you already accomplish.”

–  Davy Dombrowsky

It’s hard to be mindful these days. We have so much on our plate that even when we’re taking care of one job, our minds are already worrying about the next task at hand. For example, when we pray with the congregation, it’s common to space out. When we refocus, we might start thinking about some important things we need to pray for but we’re still not paying attention to the words of the liturgy. Maybe some of us have assumed a large daily regimen of learning, such as the daf yomi or being maavir sedra. I’m sure you might find that too often you’re catching up or keeping pace and you’re not relaxed in the learning process.

The yetzer hara has so many ways of fooling us. One of his successful tools is to make us figuratively ‘look out the window’. Whether we’re comparing ourselves to others or continuously adding to our workload to make ourselves feel worthy, we might be totally ignoring the special things that we’re already busy with. What’s the point in reciting the korbanos liturgy before prayer if it makes us hurry through psukei dzimra?

Rebbe Nachman teaches that we need to focus on our good points. I’d like to say this also means that we should appreciate the things we’re doing while we’re doing them. It’s definitely valuable to want to achieve, but it’s not always beneficial to be yearning for more. Sometimes it’s important to just enjoy the now. Every now and then we need to stop planning, worrying and dreaming and start appreciating the things we currently do.

Too much of what we do is ho-hum and then, in search of inspiration, we add on a new thing. It’s really a bad idea. If we feel like a sinking boat, we need to stuff up the leaks and stop dumping more water on deck. A better idea would be to pray often to Hashem to help us find more meaning and more patience in the services we’re already engaged in.

In Sichos Haran 239 the Rebbe points out a difference between us and Hashem. The nature of a person is that the older his possessions get, the less he likes them. The first time he wore his new shirt, he felt great. But as time goes on, those garments become less and less important to him. Hashem is the opposite. He created the world in sort of a damaged state. In every generation new tzaddikim come and fix the world up more and more until in the end the world is completely fixed at the times of Moshiach. So the older the world gets, the more Hashem appreciates it.

We need to emulate this characteristic of Hashem. It’s important to get chizuk, but we’re spending too much time looking for it on the outside. How many tear-jerking social media videos do we need to watch to feel inspired? Maybe the goal isn’t to learn ‘just one more mishna‘? Maybe sometimes it’s more important to smile after we learn the mishna? Or to remember the mishna again later on that day and feel honored to have learned it?

We need to look inside ourselves and appreciate what we have already become!

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Be happy!

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In Tinyana 24 the Rebbe lit up the world with the famous words that we can’t live without:

“מצוה גדולה להיות בשמחה תמיד”

“It’s a great mitzvah to be constantly happy.”

I’ve heard some people question this teaching as follows: Is it really a mitzvah to be happy? Maybe what Rebbe Nachman meant was שמחה גדולה להיות במצוה תמיד; it’s a great joy to constantly be performing mitzvos. But what’s the big mitzvah of being happy?

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In the same lesson the Rebbe teaches that ‘everyone is full of suffering’. It’s not easy to be happy, let alone ‘constantly’ happy. But he says we need to arouse this inner joy ‘with all of our might’. We should even do silly things to arouse it, if that’s what it takes.

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Hashem knows how difficult it is to push ourselves to be happy. He’s well aware of how much we need to overcome to put a smile on our face. But when we do, Hashem sees it as the greatest possible thing we can do for Him. The word מצוה comes from the root-word צֶוֶת, which means crew or staff. We unite with Hashem, like a team, when we perform mitzvos. Ask any boss and he’ll tell you, there’s no better staff than a happy staff. They’re united with their leader. They’re ready and willing to go out of their way for the team. When we’re happy, we open ourselves to the entire world. Happiness is boundless and expansive. It frees our hearts from worry, so we can materialize the many opportunities that are presented us. I’m not sure if it’s one of the 613 mitzvos to be happy, but it’s certainly the greatest tool to performing mitzvos. Nothing stands in the way of the happy person. The entire world is the happy man’s playing field.

We all know how hard it is. We know how easily we feel down and how it feels like too much for us to stimulate our own happiness. We need to pray hard and often to be happy. It’s ok to pray for that, it’s even recommended. We have to try as hard as we can with any possible (permissible) method to spark those smiles. Whether it’s by dancing, singing, creative outlets, joking around or shmoozing. Whatever it takes, do it! It’s the key to success, the prerequisite to healthy living and the essential drive of mitzvah performance.

מצוה גדולה להיות בשמחה תמיד = שלום מרדכי רובאשקין יוצא בח׳ בחג

 

נ נח נחמ נחמן מאומן

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Today is the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Yisrael Dov Ber Odesser z”l, known as Sabba Yisrael. He was the leader of the Na Nach movement who died in 1994. Late last night I went to the hilula of this Tzaddik, by his burial site on Har Hamenuchos. Here’s a short clip of the festivities:

I don’t use this blog as a political user-face and won’t defend or criticize the ‘Nanach-ers’. That being said, I’m not a Na-Nacher. I don’t believe in the note that Sabba claimed to receive from heaven and I disagree with some of his followers who think that he was mashiach. So why did I go last night to dance and say the Tikkun Haklali by his grave?

In Rebbe Nachman’s most famous lesson, entitled ‘Azamra‘, he taught about the importance of finding the good points in others. Sabba Yisrael spent his entire life serving Hashem with great intensity. At the end of his life, when he was well over 100, he collected close to a million dollars from his wheelchair and started a publishing house where Breslov books are still distributed at subsidized prices. He brought back so many unaffiliated Jews to Hashem. His merits are literally innumerable. Of course I can focus on the graffiti that some of his followers do and the craziness that surrounds them, but my job is to find the good and celebrate it.

One more thought:

As you might know, Rebbe Nachman waged a war against depression.  In Tinyana 48 he said “The most important thing is to always be happy. One should arouse his happiness in any way  that he possibly can, even with utter silliness. He should even act like an idiot and do silly things, with jumping and dancing, to come to joy. Because joy is a tremendous thing”. I credit the Na-Nachers with living by this lesson. I sometimes feel like they hijacked all the joy from the more mainstream Breslovers, but as long as I’m around I’ll make sure that’s not the case 🙂 “Because joy is a tremendous thing”!

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לעילוי נשמת הרב ישראל דב בער אודסר ז״ל

Soaring from song

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“You should know that every type of wisdom in the world has a unique song. In fact, it’s from that particular song, where we draw the wisdom…Faith also has a song. The song of faith is the highest of all songs. It’s from that lofty song of pure faith where all the world’s songs are drawn down” (Torah 64).

Last night we sang and danced in the streets of Jerusalem to celebrate the life of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach z”l, on the day of his yahrtzeit.

I can’t describe in words the euphoric feeling of singing and dancing together with all my ‘brothers and sisters’ last night. The energy there was other worldy. I’ve been singing publicly my entire life and from a very young age my mother wisely told me that the power of song will unlock doors for me. Shlomo was a master of song. That’s why he was so deep. His torah and his stories left you yearning. He wouldn’t finish his thoughts. It was more about what he didn’t say. Similarly, music connects us to something way above us. When we sing, we actually draw down that holiness and experience it.

Nothing in this world is higher than song. It inspires prophesy and it’s the back drop of our Holy Temple. “So this is my deepest prayer, in the name of all of us, ושם נשיר, ‘Master of the world, put a new song into our hearts'”. So we can parade together back to the Holy City, “my children, your children ושם נשיר שיר חדש”!

 לעילוי נשמת הרב שלמה בן הרב נפתלי קרליבך ז״ל

I love you Shlomo! Thank you!

Up up and…up some more

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The Talmud describes the events at Mt. Sinai. “When the Jews said they would perform the mitzvos even before they heard what the mitzvos were, also known as נעשה ונשמע, six hundred thousand ministering angels came down and tied two crowns on the head of every Jew, one crown for נעשה and one crown for נשמע. When they sinned with the golden calf, 1.2 million destructive angels came and removed their crowns…Reish Lakish said, In the future Hashem will return those crowns to us. As Isaiah prophesied “The redeemed of God will return to Zion singing, with everlasting joy on their heads” (Shabbos 88a).

From this last verse in the Talmud, Rebbe Nachman learned (Torah 22) that the idea of נעשה ונשמע is what joy is all about. The Rebbe understood that נעשה ונשמע wasn’t just a moment in time when the Jews in the desert showed tremendous loyalty, but rather it’s something that we experience constantly. Every person on his own level has the things he understands and the things he doesn’t. As he continues his service of God and ascends from level to level, things that were once hidden from him, נשמע, become known to him and doable, נעשה. But now there are new things that are hidden from him, נשמע.

Very beautifully, the Rebbe likens נעשה to performing mitzvos, whereas נשמע is likened to prayer. It’s clear why נעשה would be likened to performing mitzvos, but why is נשמע likened to prayer? Because prayer is the way we attach ourselves to what we don’t have. Prayer is hope. Hope elevates us into the ‘real world’, although we can’t see it. On an even deeper level, prayer is heartfelt and the heart is connected to the infinite (see Torah 49).

So נעשה ונשמע is about elevating ourselves to higher spiritual levels where we have new insight and new mysteries. But what’s the connection to joy?

Here’s where we might be making a mistake:

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Many of us think that we’ll attain our happiness when we reach our goals. We work hard our whole lives waiting to retire and sit on some hammock with a Pina Colada, as if that is the happiness we were always seeking. But happiness isn’t about reaching the destination. True joy is found in the journey itself. The process of growth, with its euphoric victories and emphatic falls give us the greatest satisfaction. Reaching the end-goal might leave us with uncomfortable feelings of emptiness and regret, but working hard towards our goals is where we find true pleasure. There’s something about the נשמע that gives us a glimpse of our smallness when compared to the infinity of God. That feeling makes us turn inwards and pray from the depths of our infinite hearts to reach higher levels of oneness with God and the world. That prayer is the journey with the greatest joy!

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Coming clean

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One of the basic tenets of coming back to God is confession. (Maimonides, Laws of Repentance 1:1). In Torah 178 Rebbe Nachman astutely acknowledges that there are many impediments holding us back from articulating our mistakes. Sometimes we forget them or sometimes they weigh so heavily on us that it’s hard to admit in words. So what can we do to ensure that we confess our misdeeds and be forgiven?

You’re not gonna believe this…

The Rebbe says we need to arouse in ourselves the joy of the mitzvah of confession. What joy is there in admitting fault? Am I supposed to sing and dance because I sinned? That not only sounds weird but it sounds insensitive. Here I severed a very special relationship with my actions and now I’m overjoyed in admitting it?

Here’s how I understand it. We’re not happy that we caused a breach in our relationship with God. But we should be happy that he gave us a way to come back to Him. It’s a pleasure, comfort and relief that we can be forgiven for the mistakes we made.

A little bit different from how we always picture confession.

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He goes on to say that the root of all the mitzvos is joy. What an amazing statement! A Mitzvah means to connect or join with Hashem. There is no greater joy than being attached to our God. The core of every mitzvah is joy, even the seemingly sad ones, such as confession or the prescribed mourning period. Because of Hashem’s great kindness, he guides us with tools to come close to Him in any situation. That’s reason to be very happy.

I’d like to take this one step deeper. Rav Tzadok Hakohen writes (Takanas Hashavin page 39): “The essence of returning to God is understanding that your mistakes become your merits. Meaning, that you fully recognize and understand that every one of your sins was also the will of God”. (Now clearly this statement can be misunderstood. If all my sins are the will of God, then why should I even attempt not to sin? This is a deep question with a good answer, but it’s beyond the scope of this article). But what he’s teaching is that there’s nothing else besides the will of God. Therefore, although – of course – we need to protect the mitzvos with all our might, if we disregard them it was God’s will that we neglected them. That’s real teshuva, affixing oneself to the oneness of God. This can also be what Rebbe Nachman finds joyous in confession. We wish we didn’t mess up but now that we did, we utterly accept that everything was under his direction and providence. That awareness attaches us to God and is reason to be merry!

 

Barely Moving

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Rebbe Nachman tells a story of a certain tzaddik who became so depressed that he couldn’t get out of bed. He tried whatever possible to bring himself joy but everything intensified his depression. Finally, he reminded himself that at least he could be happy that he was created a Jew and it started to work. Because in reality it’s the one thing that we can’t mess up. God made us a Jew and we had nothing to do with it! So he kept meditating on this idea and his joy increased “until he was as happy as Moses was when receiving the tablets”. He started to fly! He was flying millions of miles in higher worlds until it was time to land. When he landed, he realized that although he advanced to unbelievable heights in the other worlds, in this world he only moved a hair’s breadth.

Sometimes we feel impossibly far away from God, and that everything we do just pushes God away more. The Rebbe teaches (תנינא מ״ח) that we need to remember in this low state, that every little movement we make towards God is exceedingly precious to Him. Every ‘insignificant’ movement we make, shoots our soul in the hidden worlds farther than we can ever imagine!

I’m sure we’ve all heard similar words of encouragement before. But let me explain why this lesson is so comforting.

There are two types of people, or better yet there are two types of struggles we all go through. Sometimes we feel so defeated because nothing we do makes a difference at all. And sometimes we feel frustrated that although we do so much and our actions should be ‘changing us’, we end up accomplishing very little.

These negative perceptions couldn’t be farther from the truth. We don’t appreciate the small things we do but God does. Many times we look at our ‘results’ and feel disappointment, but let’s remember that we’re not seeing the whole picture. Nothing goes unnoticed and we’ll be surprised how much we’re truly appreciated!