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 

Absorbing our surroundings

Divine connection

Did you ever have a conversation with someone where you intended to teach them something but in the end you ended up learning something deeper about the idea yourself? As the words are leaving your mouth, you’re surprised at how clear it is to you and you notice how the other person feels deeply connected to what your saying. Or sometimes you discuss a certain challenge with a friend and come to a profound insight simply by speaking out the issue. (They might start responding with their advice but now you’re engulfed in your own thoughts, ignoring what they’re telling you).

Rebbe Nachman calls this the internalization of surrounding perceptions, אורות המקיפים.

In Tinyana 7 he says that when we speak with our friends and students about the fear of Heaven, we’re able to reach levels of knowledge that just before were unattainable to us. The Kabbalah speaks of two forms of perceptions, or spiritual lights. The first is called פנימי, or internal perception. The other is called מקיף, a peripheral perception. Whatever a person knows already is his internal perception. But there is always greater insights that he has yet to comprehend.  These peripheral perceptions are said to hover around his mind. The Rebbe teaches that when we engage ourselves in the loving act of teaching another human being, we empty our mind of our internal perceptions. This now allows the peripheral and transcendent perceptions to penetrate our mind.  Now we can understand that which was previously unattainable to us.

King David sings “מכל מלמדי השכלתי, I learned from all my teachers” (Psalms 119). What did David mean by saying that he learned from all his teachers? This could be answered by what the Talmud says in the name of Judah Hanasi, “I learned a lot of Torah from my teachers, and from my friends even more, but from my students the most” (Makkos 10a). How could it be that this great tanna learned the most from his students? But now we understand that when we give over our knowledge to others, we make space for new knowledge. When Judah Hanasi taught his students, he learned the most because the peripheral perceptions that he couldn’t grasp now became part of his internal knowledge.

Another thing that is crucial to learn from this teaching is the importance of communicating. So many of us feel too much pride to share. We feel too uncomfortable to make ourselves vulnerable, unburdening ourselves before others. But there’s deeper insight surrounding us, waiting to enter and illuminate our minds. Open your mouth, teach and let the light shine in.

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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!

The truth is in your head

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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)

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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.

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Existential hope

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“הַלְלוּ אֶת יְהוָה כָּל גּוֹיִם שַׁבְּחוּהוּ כָּל הָאֻמִּים, כִּי גָבַר עָלֵינוּ חַסְדּוֹ

“Praise Hashem all the nations…because He has been exceedingly kind
to us”.  (Psalms 117)

Many of the commentaries ask on the above verse: Why should the nations praise God for His kindness in dealing with us? They answer that since the nations are constantly planning to attack us with their plans being foiled, only they can fully appreciate Hashem’s kindness to us.

“Prayer is an aspect of miracle-working, because many times nature requires a certain outcome and prayer changes the natural order. The central place of miracles and prayer is in the Land of Israel”. (Torah 9)

I think we too often associate the word miracle with spectacular events such as the parting of the Red sea, when in reality so many of us have experienced personal miracles through prayer. It usually doesn’t happen immediately, because Hashem still disguises His messengers, but most of us can think back to the many times in our lives that we really prayed for something. Back then the odds of attaining that elusive something seemed insurmountable, but now it’s already so commonplace in our lives that we barely appreciate it.

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In the Land of Israel the miracles are remarkable.

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The well-known national miracles, such as the Israeli Air Force wiping out the Egyptian Air Force in the first few hours of the six-day war are exceptional, but even the individual accounts of that war, with inexperienced mine-sweepers passing through mine-loaded fields unscathed, leaves us scratching our head.

Those of us who live here joke how common it is to merely think of someone in the morning and bump into them that afternoon. I once participated in a Friday Night gathering where the participants, who all made aliyah, shared their stories of how they managed to get here. The simultaneous events that had to happen in order for them to pull it off were just uncanny. My point is that we experience miracles all the time, but we see them as everyday occurrences.

Rebbe Nachman continues: “There are people who deny all miracles, saying that everything comes about naturally. Even if they witness a miracle, they’ll cover it up, attributing it to the natural course of things. By doing so, not only do they blemish prayer, which corresponds to miracles. But they also blemish faith by not believing in Divine providence, and they blemish the Land of Israel, the place of miracles.”

What does the Rebbe mean when saying that these naturalists blemish prayer, faith and the Land of Israel? In Nachalos 4Reb Nosson teaches that a fundamental part of faith is believing in ones own prayers. It’s not enough to believe in all powerful God, it’s crucial to believe that we have a personal relationship with Him and that He listens to our prayers. When we hear these Amalekite-rationalists justify miraculous phenomenons as if they’re no big deal, it makes us doubt that our prayers are effective and that Divine providence is the natural order in Israel. When that happens, we become subject to the small-mindedness of exile. In Ancient Egypt, the paradigm for Jewish exile, Moses needed to leave the city when praying to Hashem to remove each plague. A prayer in Egypt symbolizes a blemished prayer, a prayer that isn’t as effective because the one who prays doubts his prayer’s effectiveness, due to the influences of his surroundings.

When we pray the silent Amidah prayer, we close our eyes. Simply speaking this allows us to concentrate more intently on the words, but in a deeper sense we’re trying to shut out the world. We’re acknowledging that this world, with all its information and ingenuity, is too much of a rationalistic one. By closing our eyes, we are entering the real world, one of faith and opportunities. In the beautiful world of prayer, longing is the cause of world order and hope is reality.

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Royal qualities

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Hashem runs this world and all the higher worlds via the Ten Divine features, (sefiros). The last and final of these features is called Royalty (Malchus).

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As you can see in the above chart, Malchus is the lowest of all the sefiros. This is because Malchus is the ultimate realization of the other sefiros. All the flow that emanates from the higher sefiros are experienced in Malchus.

One might envision Royalty to have a presumptuous character, as portrayed below in Western society, but this depiction couldn’t be further from the truth.

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As discussed in an earlier blog, humility is the key feature of Royalty. In Torah 30 Rebbe Nachman teaches that the higher perceptions of Godliness (שכל עליון) need to be masked in the many filters of, what he calls, lower intellect (שכל תחתון). This lower intellect is an aspect of Malchus, because it’s the experience of the higher intellect. In order to understand this lower intellect, the student has to despise monetary gain (שונא בצע). (It must be pointed out here that in Torah 60 the Rebbe spoke of lofty Torah levels that are unattainable without wealth, so he clearly didn’t recommend not having money, or disposing of ones wealth). So why is hating monetary gain an aspect of Malchus?

The expression שונא בצע is one of the four attributes that Jethro listed when he advised Moses to choose men who will judge the people (Shemos 18:21). The Shadal explains that the root of the word בצע, which is translated as gain, always connotes dividing gain between two or more parties. We also find that breaking bread is called בציעת הפת, so the one who hates gain really hates to divide. This is why it’s a key ingredient of Malchus, because Malchus can’t be at all divided from Hashem. The Zohar says that just like the moon doesn’t have its own light, Malchus has nothing of its own (Zohar I 249a). It’s totally a receiver, without any of its own influence. To fully shine the light of the upper sefiros, the king has to be an empty vessel. If any part of the vessel is full, or divided for that matter, it can’t shine the light of the true king. (In fact, in this lesson the Rebbe teaches that Malchus needs to draw life-force from Or Hapanim, [a very lofty light that shines from Arich Anpin, which is outside the scope of this article]. But we clearly see that Malchus draws its life-force from somewhere else.)

King David embodied the attribute of Royalty. Of course he was a king, but his humility was astonishing. When the Prophet Shmuel shocked David’s family and anointed him to be the next King of Israel, the Midrash teaches that all of his family called out in song “Long live the king, long live the king”! Can you imagine the feeling of validation that David had after he was vilified by his family all his life as an illegitimate child? The verse says (Shmuel I 16:13) that after the anointing, Shmuel got up and went [back to his town] Ramah. What did David do then? The Midrash says that he went back to his sheep, with his stick and backpack! Not only that, but he took out his flute and composed a song (Psalms 131). Here are the words:

:שִׁ֥יר הַֽמַּֽעֲל֗וֹת לְדָ֫וִ֥ד, יְהֹוָ֚ה  לֹֽא־גָבַ֣הּ לִ֖בִּי ,וְלֹֽא־רָ֣מוּ עֵינַ֑י וְלֹֽא־הִלַּ֓כְתִּי בִּגְדֹל֖וֹת וּבְנִפְלָא֣וֹת מִמֶּֽנִּי

“A song of ascent by David: Hashem, my heart isn’t haughty and I didn’t lift up my eyes. I also didn’t pursue things that are greater than me”. 

Could you believe the humility? This is the song that he sings to Hashem (who knows the truth) after “the stone that the builders rejected became the cornerstone”? But as we all know kingship radiates a certain splendor and the same can be said about someone who is truly humble. It’s a magnificent trait to possess.

One final thought on Malchus. In the last paragraph of the lesson, the Rebbe says something very deep. “From a person’s voice, his measure of Malchus is discernible”. In one of the most amazing moments in Jewish history, as the kingship was passing from Saul to David and Saul was trying to kill David to prevent him from usurping the kingdom, David had a chance to kill Saul but declined to do so, instead cutting off the corner of Saul’s robe. When Saul was at a safe distance, David called out to him and gave him great honor but rebuked him for chasing an innocent person. To show his innocence, David held up the ripped corner of Saul’s robe, proving his good intentions. The verse then says, “When David finished these words, Saul said ‘Is that your voice, David my son’? And Saul lifted up his voice and wept”. The Rebbe teaches that from hearing David’s voice, Saul recognized that David would be King. So he wanted to lift up his own voice and attain that measure of Malchus himself, but the sound that emerged was a sob.

Why is the voice an indicator of someone’s capacity for Malchus? I think it’s the same idea. The blessing we make on the Shofar is “to hear the voice of the Shofar”. We don’t bless the sound of the shofar, but its voice. This is because the sound of the shofar is totally unadulterated. It’s a pure sound straight from the belly of the blower. That’s what a voice is too. Every person’s voice is unique and indicative, on a deeper level, of who he is. Not necessarily his ability to sing on tune, but the essence of his voice. When hearing David’s voice, Saul recognized David’s oneness with Hashem and his humility. Here he was giving rebuke to the King of Israel, but it was in total humility, he had no ego in the moment.

When we yearn for Hashem’s kingship to spread across the world, we are hoping that every creature will know God’s humility. Namely, how He is the most powerful being, yet He makes Himself available to even the lowest creature alive. May we know it speedily in our days. Amen!

 

מִי כַּֽיהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֵ֑ינוּ הַמַּגְבִּיהִ֥י לָשָֽׁבֶת, הַמַּשְׁפִּילִ֥י לִרְא֑וֹת בַּשָּׁמַ֥יִם וּבָאָֽרֶץ

“Who is like you Hashem our God, who dwells in the highest places, yet lowers Himself to look to the heavens and the earth.” (Psalms 113:5-6)

 

[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!

Don’t mention it

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Exhibit A:

Studies show that depression and anxiety are more rampant than ever. Suicide, drug and alcohol abuse and divorce are at all-time highs as well. The number one cause of death in the world is heart disease and depressed people are four times as likely to have a heart attack.

Exhibit B:

We all agree that the western world is currently undergoing an information revolution. We have far superior technological capacity to store, communicate and compute information than ever before. This technology not only gives us access to scientific, behavioral and literary information that was inaccessible prior to, but it also compounds and speeds up the level of produced information in the world as well.

But more information isn’t bad, is it? Well, it depends on how the information is presented and who it’s presented to. If scientific information is presented, as it mostly is, with the intention to belittle faith and increase skepticism, it can be a dangerous medium of information. When it’s presented to people whose faith is weak, whether because they’re religious education was poor or whether they went through some traumatic events within the religious system, those recipients of that information will likely buy-in to the anti-religious peripherals that swarm around their beloved information.

Rebbe Nachman teaches that all the pain and suffering in the world is from not believing in Divine Providence (Torah 250). I believe that so much of the scientific information which we read and circulate, that is presented without the intent to glorify God’s presence in the world, has the opposite effect. Just merely reading about scientific breakthroughs that coincidentally omit the existence of our Creator infuses us with doubt as to His existence, and ultimately His Guidance. In my opinion this is a huge factor behind the increase of depression, atheism and overall hopelessness that pervades the world.

The central theme of Pesach is faith. As Reb Nosson explains (Netilas Yadayim 2), Chometz represents the atheistic scientists and Matzoh represents those who believe in Hashem’s providence. For seven days we need to rid ourselves totally of any denial or doubt of Hashem’s supremacy in our daily lives. It’s not an easy battle. We really need to topple over that doubtful side of us, just like the Egyptians had to be drowned in the sea. I’m sure many might read this article and think “Oh please! I believe in Hashem and nothing I read or see has any effect on that for me”. Let’s not lie to ourselves. At least for those seven days, let’s stop the evil inculcation and only imbue within ourselves strong teachings of faith and belief. Beware though, you might actually start to feel happy. You’ll probably be less cynical and more hopeful too. Consider yourself warned. Happy Passover!

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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

Purim afterthought

 

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You know what’s so unique about Purim? Everyone is misbehaving. Kids are eating tons of junk food. Grown men are prancing around and yelling. In general, the level of tzniyus dramatically declines for some reason. Even in shul there’s much more freedom of expression, with those wild noises during the Megilla reading. And I’m not only talking about the less observant Jews. I think it’s fair to say that the B’nei Torah, those who are very particular about their mitzvah observance and spend time studying the Talmud and its relevant laws, are the ones who get the most wild. It’s commonplace for these guys, who never drink alcohol, to over-drink, destroy property, get wasted, throw up and pass-out.

You might sarcastically say it’s the alcohol that makes Purim different, but I think this behavior change is because it’s a day that we can really get in touch with ourselves. During the year we are too inhibited by our self-image. We’re afraid to admit that we’re not perfect. Everyone goes around dressing the same and following suit. There’s no space for self expression, especially if it implies that you might not be successful. לב יודע מרת נפשו, everyone knows their own shortcomings. But it’s just unacceptable during the year to speak truthfully, to share real feelings and to admit our weaknesses. But on Purim we mostly do what we want to do. Firstly, we’re not coerced to spend too much time in shul. Even the time we do spend in shul is more fun. We don’t have to fast, or partake in mitzvos that most of us don’t understand too well, such as shaking a lulav. Instead, the mitzvos of the day allow for great self expression. Giving mishloach manos engenders a meaningful bond between two people, which brings out authenticity. Especially because we can choose who we want to give it to and what we want to give. The same is true with the gifts we give to the poor.

Giving is Good

Then we have a festive meal together with the people we love. We drink an inordinate amount of wine because as we all know “When wine goes in, the secrets come out” (Sanhedrin 38). What do we do at the meal? Shmooze and shmooze some more, hopefully baring some de-oxygenated soul and maybe a few tears. The point of purim is to be real. People get dressed up in one of two types of costumes: Either they wear something they deeply relate to, but are ashamed to wear (many times for good reason), or they wear something they totally don’t relate with, symbolizing that their outside says nothing about their inside.

The miracle of Purim happened when Esther came clean about who she was. As Reb Nosson says (‘בכור בהמה ד), Esther represent us, the downtrodden weakling Jews who don’t always do everything right. I don’t get why we all walk around wearing costumes all year long? Why are we so afraid to be real about who we are? If we need help, we should get help. If we want to change course, we should. Speak up and get in touch with the real you! Who are we faking but ourselves? A great person once told me, “There’s no point in posing to make people like you; If you get them to believe you, they only like the person you’re pretending to be, not you. And if you be yourself and they don’t like you, then you won’t want to be their friend anyways”. This is why Purim is the only holiday that will never cease, even in Messianic times. Because when Moshiach comes the whole world will be filled with truth, which is exactly what Purim is all about: Learning to be the true you.

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