Who’s that?

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Why is it so hard for us to believe in the Tzaddik’s ability to fix our souls?

I think there are a number of reasons:

First, it sounds like Christianity. Secondly, because we’re all so fooled by our shortcomings and barely believe in our own capabilities, it seems nearly impossible to believe that a human being can reach such an elevated plain. Also, why should we need the Tzaddik? Can’t we just have a direct relationship with God? These questions can be reconciled but I think the real issue is deeper.

We don’t want to feel vulnerable. It’s hard enough to accept that God is our master, but at least we don’t have to look Him in the eyes. But to need another person and attach ourselves to them is humiliating. The primary mitzvah to love your friend as yourself requires us to root for our friend’s success and mourn his loss. Unfortunately we’re so far from that. When we see someone succeed our insecurities make us jealous and we might even try to mock their achievements. But it’s so critical to remember that our friends’ success is great for us. We’re one entity! We’re a big family! When one Jew does a mitzvah he brings merit to all of Israel. Our ascent from level to level raises other Jews above us to even higher levels (Torah 25), and similarly we each affect one another and can bring each other back to God. Sure it’s hard to believe that there’s a person out there so devoted to serving God that he utilizes his every breath to enrich the world, while we have a hard time doing the bare minimum. But we don’t doubt that there are a number people who’ve made superhuman achievements physically or financially. The difference is that we see those achievements with our own eyes. There’s no denying that. But it stings to admit that someone is exalted spiritually, when we know deep down that we too can be more uplifted.

Rebbe Nachman teaches to free ourselves from of our cleverness (“זרוק את השכל” Torah 123). We have so many tricks to believe our own stories. But it won’t hurt as much as we think if we just let go and believe that we’re all interconnected and essential to one another.  1 + 1 = 1!

 

The Beauty of Israel

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What is it about the Holy Temple that was so great? What are we missing and why are we mourning over something that’s been gone for so long?

Our great prophets described the Holy Temple as ‘the Beauty of Israel’. Of course the Temple was a beautiful edifice but was it the most exquisite structure ever built? I highly doubt it. It’s hard to imagine that a building destroyed more than 2000 years ago was the most beautiful to ever exist, especially with today’s technology. So why don’t we just build a new Temple somewhere else that’s even more gorgeous?

Reb Nosson understood ‘the Beauty of Israel’ quite literally (‘הלכות ראשית הגז ד). “It was shining from all the holy colors of the good deeds of Israel”. What holy colors is he talking about? Well, in Torah 25, Rebbe Nachman says from the Zohar that “when we reveal the greatness of God in the world, the colors of His 10 features glow”. Unfortunately, because our Temple was destroyed we don’t see those colors now. But when we had a Temple, the colors were manifest in the building itself. The beauty of the Temple was literally a mirror of His glorious features that we revealed through our good deeds.

The Torah describes how the Jews dedicated Gold, Silver, Copper, Turquoise, Purple and Crimson Wool for the building of the Mishkan. Aside from the physical fabrics and metals that the Israelites donated, they metaphysically gave of themselves to the dwelling-place of God. Each of their unique qualities was a fabric of the structure.

So what are we missing now that we don’t have our Holy Temple?

Our individuality! Our uniqueness isn’t evident anymore.

Do you ever go to synagogue and feel like the service is the same old thing? Even when we see someone praying excitedly, it’s nothing novel. What about your Shabbos table compared to my Shabbos table? Is it at all distinctive? With the loss of our Holy Temple we’ve lost our personality as Jews! Now we’re stuck in monotony and identicalness. We each have tremendous originality in our service of God. Each one of us can illuminate a brilliance of God in this world that no one else can. But it’s so hard to notice the difference our contribution makes now. And we’re bored of just being plain. So please God! bring us back to Jerusalem and build our third Temple so we can serve You with our true character and radiant colors! Amen!

 

Intellect vs. Imagery

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If there’s a mitzvah to judge our fellow favorably (Lev. 19:15), that means it doesn’t come naturally. Our instinctual reaction is to criticize and condemn our peers. But why should it be so hard to see the good in others?

Because we believe what we see! If we don’t use our power of logic and reason, then we naturally believe our imagination, which is triggered by what we see.

Rebbe Nachman urges us in Torah 25 to disengage ourselves from the influence of our illusions and elevate ourselves by using our intellect.

People seemingly do things wrong all the time because we don’t know the whole story. It’s like we snapped a picture of them in the act, but it was completely out of context. It’s only rational to take a step back and admit that we likely don’t know what’s really going on with them. And so too when we interact with others directly and they rub us the wrong way. It’s so much easier to just write them off! But if we understood better why they say the things they say and do the things they do, we’d probably give them the benefit of the doubt. As we know, many times our loved ones make mistakes and we overlook it lovingly because we know how hard they tried or what they’ve been going through. If we were to have that familiarity with other people as well, we could find reasons why they are lovable too.

Every Jew has a magnificent soul! We get fooled too often by all the exterior trappings. But that’s what the surface is, just ‘trappings’. They trap you!

The Rebbe says in אזמרה that we need to investigate thoroughly (לחפש) for the beauty in our peers. We can’t just expect to see their good without a comprehensive examination and detailed scrutiny. It’s a serious undertaking! But we must do it because the benefits are tremendous. Not only will we see more positivity and feel more love, but we’ll actually bring others closer to God and bring Moshiach. Amen!

 

Conscious contentment

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It’s really very simple. We all want the same thing. We just want to be happy. In fact, even our limited understanding of the next world is associated with happiness and pleasure.

But why is it that so many of us aren’t happy if it’s the one thing we all want? And even those of us who are often happy, why can’t we sustain that feeling, at least more often?

Because our power of imagination deceives us all the time. Maybe we’ll see a juicy hamburger and fantasize about how good it would taste, even though we ate dinner already (twice)! Or sometimes a teenager might try drinking when he sees how much fun his friends are having, despite his parents’ specific instructions to abstain and his near certain chances of being disciplined harshly. The power of illusion is so strong and it tricks us to pursue instant gratification as we forfeit our ability to reason.

So how do we fight back?

Rebbe Nachman says in Torah 25 that we need to fight fire with fire! Just like the power of illusion fools us to think we’ll be happy if we follow our fantasies, so too we need to awaken real joy in our devotions to Hashem. We all go through the motions anyways! Whether we’re very religious or not so religious, there are certainly many mitzvos we can do with more joy. Don’t we all call our parents, dress our kids in the morning and work to support our families? If we would arouse ourselves to be more joyous when we perform these mitzvos, we would weaken the illusions that lure us to grief. (Note that the Rebbe says we need to ‘awaken’ the joy, which means the joy is there already).

How do we excite ourselves in our devotions?

By using our brains! We need to think about what we’re doing. How many of us put on Tefillin every morning but never stop to think what it’s all about? If we would take a second to remember that we’re binding ourselves to the All-Powerful Creator it could bring us joy. How about when we make (or buy) dinner for the family? We’re so used to these things that they don’t bring us joy anymore. But can you think of a greater act of loving-kindness than nourishing children who can’t take care of themselves? And they don’t appreciate it either, so we’re doing it without an ounce of gratitude. That’s truly emulating our Creator and reason to be joyous.

I’m not saying it’s easy. It takes dedication and time. But unfortunately we don’t try hard enough because our fantasies just seem more enticing. Here’s my problem: We’re doing these things anyways and because we don’t concentrate, we end up unhappy and unfulfilled. If we would only invest a little thinking in what we’re already doing, we would be happier. Isn’t it worth it? After all, happiness is all we want!

Are we there yet?

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A few years ago I spent two years diligently studying how to day trade. I analyzed thousands of charts and watched the market for hours on-end looking for the winning setups that I learned. Over that time I met a number of profitable traders who took an interest in my sincerity and mentored me. Although I had some good runs, I never became a consistently profitable trader because I always imagined that ‘I was there already’. If I would see some success, my ego convinced me to trade more aggressively. If I suffered a few losses in a row, I’d deviate from my system to ‘make up the losses’ and I had a hard time seeing things without bias. It’s interesting to note that all the traders I befriended who were successful started with at least 10 years of poor trading. Success isn’t something you can learn and apply without failure. In life we must fail to gain experience and have success.

Sometimes we think ‘we’re there already’! The truth is that we can reach great heights intellectually quite fast and in a way we get ahead of ourselves. Rebbe Nachman says in Torah 25 that at first we need to learn many pre-requisites before we can understand something. But after we get it we don’t need all the previous steps and we can understand it in just one grasp. The challenge is that our bodies and actions have a hard time following suit to the quickness of our minds.

Reb Nosson taught (הל פריה ורביה ג, טו) that this was King Solomon’s mistake as well. The Torah forbade a king from marrying too many women because they will turn his heart away from God. Solomon reasoned that because of his great wisdom and purity he can marry many women and he wouldn’t deviate. Not only that, he felt that with his pure intentions, of marrying many gentile women, he would be able to subdue the side of evil and change the spiritual world as we know it. This was his motive for marrying the daughter of Pharaoh on the day the Temple was consecrated. On his highest day, he wanted to uplift and rectify the lowest place of impurity.

We find this idea over and over in Tanach. Korach saw that Samuel the Prophet will descend from him and reasoned that he should have a more esteemed leadership role. Samson marries Delila, (which means to raise up), thinking he can raise the sparks from the dark side. But, as we know, she ultimately caused his downfall. And finally, in this week’s portion, Zimri, the Prince of the Tribe Simeon, saw that Cozbi, the Midianite princess, was his soul’s destined partner and was defiantly intimate with her causing a plague that, had not Phinehas ended, nearly killed-out all of Israel in the desert.

One of the lessons the Rebbe taught often was the need to be simple in our devotions and not pursue sophistication. He even said over an amazing story about this idea. (See here). We all have great yearning and deep spiritual potential. We often have glimpses of awakening and revelation in worldly and spiritual matters. But we can’t get caught up in our thinking and imagination. We have to be honest with ourselves and love who we are now and appreciate where we are holding. If we seek sophistication, we’ll cause ourselves unwanted anguish. But if we can be patient and consistently progress at our own pace, we will definitely look back and see the big mountain we climbed over time.