Take it easy

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It’s no secret how much of an emphasis Rebbe Nachman puts on guarding the bris. So many of his lessons talk about the importance of sexual purity. Our reproductive organs are the physical representations of the sefira Yesod. Yesod means foundation, because just as when the base isn’t solid, a building is in danger of falling, so too sullying the bris creates a major obstruction in the face of all physical and spiritual flow. But more importantly, guarding the bris opens all the channels of Divine influence and creates vessels to receive the flow of abundance from His majesty.  The Zohar teaches that Joseph is the embodiment of Yesod in this world, as we see that he supported the entire known world with sustenance in a time of famine. Also, a tzaddik, says the Zohar, is simply someone who guards his bris.

I noticed today, while reviewing this week’s Torah reading, that the targum for the word ברית (bris), is קְיָם, which literally means ‘to endure, or exist for a length of time’. Anyone who has struggled with this type of purity knows too well that dishonoring the bris results in an immediate sense of pleasure that doesn’t endure. Continuous pleasure can only result from protecting the covenant with our Creator in devotion, selflessness and loyalty.

My question is, don’t we see many successful people who are promiscuous and licentious? How can they be a receptacle of Divine bounty, if they don’t guard their bris?  And, of course, why aren’t all of His devoted defenders (assuming there are still some out there) doing better financially? The answer, says the Rebbe, is a subtlety.  “A bitter and cumbersome livelihood is a result of breaking ones bris” (Torah 11). And in Torah 29 – “Improving ones bris results in livelihood without anxiety, like the manna“. So, as we see every day, it’s definitely possible for the immoral to be well-off, but they’re likely to be worried about their fortune. It’s only those who work on their purity that enjoy and appreciate their income. It might not be much $, but it comes with a calm and serenity that is priceless.

Secrets and deep secrets

 

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“There is an upper unification, שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל ה’ אֱלֹהֵינוּ ה’ אֶחָדand a lower unification, בָּרוּךְ שֵׁם כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתוֹ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד. Every Jew should make certain to engender these unifications”. (Torah 11)

How can we make it happen? Says Rebbe Nachman, through our speech we can come back to Hashem in all areas of our life. Coming back to Hashem, Teshuva, is the process of connecting to our own life force.

“For [the words of Torah] give life לְמֹצְאֵיהֶם (to those who find them)” – Proverbs 4. “Read it, ‘למוציאיהם בפה’ (to those who express them verbally)” – Eruvin 54a.

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No situation is too bleak for teshuva, if we can use our speech to enlighten us. But for the words to shine, they must bring out the glory of Hashem. To reveal Hashem’s glory we must embrace humility and minimize our own glory (see also Torah 6).

Later in the lesson, the Rebbe talks about a false humility that is the ultimate degree of conceit. This is when “people act humbly in order to gain honor and prominence. Because they know just how despicable haughtiness is, they act humbly”. But what’s so bad about that? Why is it considered haughty to practice humility from the recognition of how base the ego is? Isn’t it praiseworthy to distance oneself from such an undesirable quality, embracing humility as a valuable characteristic? The truth is that it is indeed admirable to disassociate oneself from arrogance by seeing how awful it is, but that isn’t at all true humility.

Let’s go back to the upper and lower unifications. The upper unification, שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל, is believing and knowing clearly that Hashem is the Lord and there is none other. The lower unification, בָּרוּךְ שֵׁם, is comprehending that the ultimate purpose of everything in all the worlds is to serve as the vehicle to reveal Hashem as the one and only. The world only has value when the beings of creation are acting as tools through which the awareness of Hashem as the exclusive one is proclaimed. Consequently, when Hashem benevolently provides man with benefits such as wisdom, power, beauty or wealth, it is only so he should come to understand God’s greatness and his own inconsequentiality. Because, in essence, all wisdom, power, beauty and wealth are manifestations of Hashem clothing Himself in this world. He is the most wise, powerful and beautiful. Recognizing that fact from experiencing ones own virtues is what the lower unification is. It’s appreciating that everything in this world, including oneself, is merely a garment of Hashem and an instrument to bring out His glory. As a result, any virtue that a person does have is only so that he might achieve true humility from it. That is its sole purpose. But if a person prides himself in the special qualities with which Hashem has graced him, then he has completely perverted the intent of this Divine benevolence.

 

How does one attain this humility? By guarding his brit. The Jewish people’s covenant with God is centered on sexual purity. As is easily understood, when we selfishly blemish our brit, we’re attempting to increase our own glory and belittle His glory. It might be that our intentions aren’t so bad, but the result is never-the-less a reality. Joseph, the personification of one who guarded his brit, attained complete humility. I always marvel at how Joseph was released from jail and placed before Pharaoh, who says, “They say you interpret dreams”. He answers, “It is not me, the Lord will bring Pharaoh’s tranquility”. And of course, when someone perpetuates the glory of God to such a degree, he is the garment of that glory, as it says, “Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him (Genesis 42:6)”.

Finally, a bit deeper, the Rebbe teaches that there are two forms of guarding ones brit. They relate to the lower and upper unifications. The lower unification is likened to someone whose relations are during the week. He guards his brit as the Torah requires and thereby reveals the glory of Hashem in his actions, especially in a crucial procreative action such as intimacy. But then, as the Talmud teaches, the Torah scholar only has marital relations on Shabbos. This is likened to the upper unification, the idea being that his intimacy is complete holiness, because there is none other than Hashem.

Ultra Orthodox students gesture as they pray during a reading class at the Kehilot Yaacov Torah School for boys in Ramot

 

 

Queen Esther 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

 

 

Holy chutzpah

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I.  “The Entire redemption of Israel as a people, and the redemption of each one of us as individuals, depends solely on the attribute of yesod, (our healthy expression of sexuality)”. Rabbi Moshe Weinberger

II. Because the kingdom of the other side has no crown, it uses chutzpah to coerce its subjects. The only way to fight back is with our own impudence. This self-imposed nerve is expressed when we move from level to level in our personal growth. A necessary component of our advancement in this journey are the slip-ups and extended fall-downs. These are signs of progress with which we build Jerusalem, the place from where Torah emanates (Torah 22).

Globally and within our small communities too, our society is breaking down. That addiction is more rampant than ever, whereas healthy connectivity is becoming more and more of a scarce thing. This is all the coercion of the other side. It’s ensnaring our young men with its blatant chutzpah. Every Jewish boy knows full-well that those mediums of filth are so below him. But the power and arrogance of promiscuity is unashamed in its drive to bring them down. And that’s exactly what it’s doing: It’s bringing them down. Not only has it engulfed them in self-loathing and self-doubt, but even the despondency from its after-effects have made them casual, at best, in their prayers and marriages. Throughout his writings, Rebbe Nachman teaches that breaking the holy bris brings about depression and despair. It’s not possible to have true joy without this holiness.

What can we do to save ourselves from the claws of this vile beast?

Reb Nosson says (Eiruvei Tchumin 4) that we have to start over all the time! We must revive ourselves and constantly renew our commitments to Torah and prayer. We can’t allow the feelings of self pity to seep in. Every day, no matter what, we have to forget the past and reawaken our desire to serve Hashem. This is our chutzpah! This is how we impose our will over the enemy. The side of evil has convinced us that when we fail time and again, it’s evidence of our worthlessness. But we need to get up with confidence, wipe off the dust from our falls and fight back hard! Our memories have to be super-short. The torah is called a stumbling block (Isaiah 3:6), because everyone slips up and stumbles in it’s laws. Hashem isn’t interested if we’re perfect or not. He’s more impressed by how we recover after we sink. The worst part of this plague isn’t so much the act, but that it leaves its victim with feelings of self-hatred. He believes he can’t stop, he can’t be great and that his mitzvos are tainted. Reb Nosson’s keen advice isn’t so much to stop the behavior as it is to keep going, like it never happened, and fully believe in your personal renewal.

Rebbe Nachman once said that even if, God forbid, he would have transgressed every sin in the Torah on one day, he’s confident that the next day he would serve Hashem with the same intensity. He understood about man’s ability to renew himself.

What’s even more amazing is that the darkness of these times is confirmation of our beautiful future ahead. Before every rise to the top there needs to be a big dip. Jerusalem is being built by our fearlessness and courage to keep advancing. Reb Nosson says that in the times of Purim we were put in such danger because it was time to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the second Temple. The same is true today. This difficult stage is the last in our process of redemption. The walls of Jerusalem are being built before our eyes and the word of Hashem will soon come from within those walls. Don’t look back! Keep marching strong!

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