Out of this world

lost_in_the_flow_by_art_by_doc-d51matq

The Arizal taught that before creation, there was only the light of einsof. Hashem wanted to unveil his glory and needed to create humans with which to reveal His greatness. So He constricted His light, so to speak, and created an empty space in which He created all the worlds, synonymous with His attributes. Of course, without the constant connection and life force of the Creator, these worlds cannot exist. Therefore, even though, Hashem created an empty space, there must still be a trace connecting the worlds to Him. That trace is called a קו, a line, or רשימו, the imprint.

In Birkas Hashachar 5, Reb Nosson reveals that the verse Shema Yisraelשְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל, יְהֹוָה אֱלהֵינוּ, יְהֹוָה אֶחָד, has 25 letters in it, whereas the verse Baruch Shem בָּרוּךְ, שֵׁם כְּבוד מַלְכוּתו, לְעולָם וָעֶד, has 24 letters in it. I’d like to say that this is symbolic of the above teaching from the Arizal. What is Shema Yisrael? It’s affirming the oneness of God. It’s admission of nothing other than the Creator. That’s an aspect of einsof before the creation; total unity. Baruch Shem is more relevant to us. It talks about Hashem’s glory in the worlds, which is our avoda to reveal. The difference between the 24 letters in Baruch Shem and the 25 letters in Shema Yisrael is, of course, only one. This one represents the trace of einsof in this world that gives it vitality. I think that we express these two phenomenons in prayer often. First in Kaddish. The Kaddish starts off with יִתְגַּדַּל וְיִתְקַדַּשׁ שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא (His great name should be glorified and sanctified). This is an exclamation of His greatness and oneness, even before creation. Then we praise Him by saying יְהֵא שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא מְבָרַךְ לְעָלַם וּלְעָלְמֵי עָלְמַיָּא, (His great name should be blessed in all the worlds). Here we’re talking about His greatness after creation, in relation to the worlds. The same is true in the Kedusha prayer. The first proclamation we make is קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ ה’ צְבָאוֹת מְלֹא כָל הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ, this is saying that Hashem is greater than any world can fathom. Then we say בָּרוּךְ כְּבוֹד ה’ מִמְּקוֹמוֹ, this means that Hashem is great from His place, meaning He, so to speak, has a place in the worlds.

What does this mean to us? The fact that we have a connection to einsof is why there can never be reason to despair. This is the source of all Teshuva. We humans, even when we’re dirtied from sin in the lowest of all worlds, are always connected to something out of this world. We might have to hush the Baruch Shem in silence most of the time, but we still must say it. We recognize that the Creator is beyond any comprehension, but we must also admit that we have a direct line to the highest places unimaginable.

The sweet moments count

WhatsApp Image 2018-06-28 at 7.20.49 AM

I was sitting alone in the field earlier today when the sweetest thing happened. In  finishing a private conversation with Hashem, I said the following: “Ribbono Shel Olam, (Master of the World), I don’t know if this was a good session or not, but I want You to know that the main reason I come out here all the time is because I love You and I want this relationship. I hope You feel the same way about me and that these sessions are making a difference in our relationship”. As I’m about to get up, all of a sudden, a red, heart-shaped helium balloon rushes into the field and starts flying up over the trees behind me. I tried to snap a picture of it, but I couldn’t get out my phone in time. (The above pic is just a symbolic memory). I sat back down elated, with a grin from ear to ear.

In Torah 2Rebbe Nachman says that Joseph merited the right of the firstborn because he embodies a certain aspect of prayer. The Rebbe never explained the connection between prayer and the firstborn. In Nachalos 4, Reb Nosson says that just like the first born legally inherits a double portion from his father, so too there is a double aspect of prayer, first praising Hashem and then asking Him for our needs.

But then Reb Nosson adds something special. He says the reason why the firstborn gets a double portion is since they were the first, in a certain sense, they enabled the parents to give birth to more children. The first is the hardest and once the parents get over that hump and have their first child, any future children owe the oldest child a debt of gratitude for ‘breaking the ice’. So too it is, says Reb Nosson, with prayer. When a person recognizes for the first time that his prayers are being answered, it enables him the next time to pray again with more enthusiasm and belief in his prayers. We all have had our prayers openly answered in the past, and those moments of clarity help us develop our prayers over time. That little red balloon was no small thing. It’s reason for me to go back out next time believing – even more – that my prayers truly make a difference.

Kids-(www.booloor.com)-23

Inside, outside and the purim story

inside__outside_by_ereya

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…

dancer

Love needs no words

baby-623417_1920-2-810x602

Sometimes I go out to pray in the fields and I can’t find the words. Anybody who practices personal prayer will have experienced this phenomenon. You might have a lot on your mind or you might even be at ease, but there are no words. Even if you try to talk, after sometime you’ll realize that you’re just rambling but you’re not expressing your true feelings because right now you just can’t. There are no words.

So what do you do? Are you really praying at all?

Sit there quietly. Listen. Breath. Just bringing yourself to that place and experiencing that quiet is such a deep prayer. And don’t think that it’s an inferior prayer, oh no! It might be a superior prayer. It’s a prayer that can’t be bound to words. Even if you think it’s laziness that’s holding you back, I wouldn’t be so sure about that. You’ve been sluggish before and you were able to speak your mind. It’s deeper than that. It’s a quiet prayer. We don’t always have the answers. Let your eyes pray, let your breath pray. By coming out and sitting quietly with Hashem, it’s asserting that you want to be there. It’s affirming that you believe in Hashem and that you believe in Divine Providence. You might be busy all day surrounded by people wherever you go, but now you’re alone with Him. There are no people here. Now you’re part of Him. You might not know how to add to that experience with words but that’s ok. Words are for next time. But for now you’re professing His oneness by just being with Him. If you’re lucky enough to be out in nature, you might feel it more acutely, sitting quietly, maybe watching the butterflies chase each other up in a swirl. But even if you’re standing in Amida or lying in bed with the lights out, you could pray in silence. Now you’re experiencing the relationship, a love so real that there are no words.

WhatsApp Image 2018-04-26 at 9.44.41 AM

לעילוי נשמת הרב הקדוש מרופשיץ ר’ נפתלי צבי ב״ה מנחם מנדל הורוויץ זצ״ל

It’s alive!

WhatsApp Image 2018-03-22 at 8.00.03 AM

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.

WhatsApp Image 2018-03-22 at 9.06.06 AM

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!

The truth is in your head

idf praying

I’ve noticed that when I go out and pray in the fields, maybe the most common adjective I use is the word real. I pray to be real. I ask myself if I’m being real? Is this what I really want? Is that what I really think? Conversely, something I scorn is the word fake, and I hope that I’m not being fake.

 

“When someone stands in prayer, he is surrounded with foreign thoughts. He is left in the dark and can’t pray, as it says ‘You’ve enveloped Yourself in a cloud, so that no prayer can pass through’ (Lamentations 3)…There are many ways to exit this darkness but man is blind and can’t find the exit. You should know that [by seeking] the truth, one can find the exit, as it says (Psalms 27), ‘Hashem is my light and my savior'”. (Torah 9)

seek-truth2

קָרוֹב יְהוָה לְכָל קֹרְאָיו לְכֹל אֲשֶׁר יִקְרָאֻהוּ בֶאֱמֶת
Hashem is close to those who call out in truth (Psalms 145)

So Rebbe Nachman‘s saying that by accessing our truth, we can see the light and pray properly. How do we do that? How do we know if we’re being true to ourselves?

In Torah 38 the Rebbe says that “Elevating speech begins from its head. This is the truest part of the spoken word, as it says, “ראש דברך אמת, the head of Your word is truth” (Psalms 119).

I think that everyone has their own truth that’s accessible to them. We get very caught up in our thoughts and many times they lead us away from our essential truth. (When we pray especially, the other side will do anything possible to disturb us, because a true prayer can overturn anything and bring personal or national salvation). The way to connect to our truth is to find its head. The head means the primary but also means the first. Many times we’re able to trace back our thoughts to their core. We need to simply ask ourselves a few ‘why’ questions to probe deeper and access our primary feelings. Some might say our healthy thoughts are most accessible by just letting the thoughts pass and allowing new thoughts to flow in, others might promote mindfulness and meditation. There are different opinions but what’s clear is that we have the capability of accessing our own truth. It takes a bit of practice and patience but, as the verse says, Hashem is close to those who call out in truth. That means that it’s closer than we think. The Talmud says that “Hashem’s stamp is truth” (Shabbat 55a). What’s interesting about a stamp is that even after the stamping action, the impression lasts. This means that when we see truth, it’s a sign that Hashem is there. These impressions are the insights that we get when we merit praying sincerely. We might wonder, “Why should I keep on talking and praying, when I’m never being answered”? But when we speak the truth, Hashem is right there and we can see the impression of His stamp almost as if He’s talking back.

true-stamp-rubber-grunge-vector-12416504.jpg

Existential hope

WhatsApp Image 2018-03-19 at 9.54.15 AM

“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.

WhatsApp Image 2018-03-19 at 10.39.36 AM

 

In the Land of Israel the miracles are remarkable.

WhatsApp Image 2018-03-19 at 10.36.17 AM

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.

planes

 

But now…

key_single

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of those days

charlie-brown-sigh

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

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

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

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

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

“היום אם בקולו תשמעון”

 

 

 

Queen Esther 2018

WhatsApp Image 2018-02-13 at 5.21.14 AM

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

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

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

weak

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

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

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

orange