Hold on or let go?


At times we might find ourselves in very dark places. We feel miles away from Hashem, like we reached the point of no return. We harbor strong doubts, we feel confused and we can’t believe that we’ve sunk this low.

What can we do in those trying times?

Rebbe Nachman says (Tinyana 12) that some questions are unanswerable. He explains that even the klippos, or the forces of evil which cause this doubt and confusion, only exist because Hashem wills it. Without getting in to the depths of his lesson, he teaches that this darkness gets its life-force from a place that is utterly unknowable to us. We can’t possibly understand it. It’s a locked door;  the apex of hiddenness.

So Reb Nosson (Tchumin 6:8) explains that since the answers are incomprehensible, our only solution is to believe – with the simplest purest faith – that Hashem can even be found in such a dark place. Although we’re accustomed to using our cleverness and guise to find answers, this time it will lead us to greater darkness. The only way to survive these times is with simple faith, by saying, “Master of the World! I believe you’re here. I can’t see you at all and it’s inconceivable to me that you’re here with me. But you must be here. Where are you?”

Why is this so hard to do? Shouldn’t it, in a sense, be easier to simply believe than to constantly contrive sophisticated justifications? What is it about the human psyche that stubbornly attempts to rationalize, expound and hypothesize the cause of everything?

I think it’s just so hard to let go. We don’t want to give up control. We’re afraid what the future will bring, if we’re not ‘calling the shots’. So we refuse to admit that we can’t know the answer. Sometimes this characteristic is very beneficial. It helps us hold on in trying times and not fall into despair. But in harder times, we’re ‘shooting ourselves in the foot’ with this futile cleverness. We need to simply let go and admit that we can’t control the outcomes. We need to confess that although we don’t understand how, Hashem is running the show behind the scenes.

The Rebbe says that the small admission of ‘maybe Hashem could be here with me’ is usually the first step to climb out of this misery. Here we were looking for every ‘tool in the book’ to help ourselves and we just kept on falling into deeper water. Then, with a small admission of faith in something other than ourselves, we’re already on our way back up. It’s not as hard as you think. In fact, sometimes it’s hard because you think.



Keep it simple


This blog is making me a little crazy! On the one hand I really enjoy putting my thoughts into writing and sharing Rebbe Nachman’s remarkable ideas with the readers. But on the other hand I question how much of this undertaking is just to get positive feedback from my readers and bloat my ego?

I think I play these mind games more often than I’d like to admit. I could be a little hard on myself. In speaking to some people who I respect about it, they all encouraged me to keep blogging. Their different opinions and suggestions were very good too. But then I remembered a lesson from the Rebbe that really hit home for me.

Let me paraphrase the beginning of his famous lesson entitled איה : When someone follows their own cleverness, they can make many bad mistakes…The essence of Judaism is to serve God in simplicity and innocence, without any sophistication. We should simply examine everything we do and determine the following: Will it reveal the Glory of God? It if will, then do it. If it won’t, then don’t.

Serving God in simplicity and innocence (פשיטות ותמימות) is something Rebbe Nachman spoke about a lot. One of his famous stories was about this idea as well. Only after the Rebbe’s younger years of self abnegation did he come to understand that the ultimate devotion is that of complete simplicity.

What does it mean to serve God without sophistication?

When someone once asked the Rebbe what devotions he should have while reciting the Shma Yisroel, the Rebbe answered, “Isn’t it enough to have in mind that Hashem is our God and Hashem is one”? You see sometimes when we want to connect and have a ‘real’ prayer, we’ll close our eyes tightly, shuckle a lot and try to force ourselves to think of the most lofty things. That’s sophistication! The Rebbe taught straightforwardness. “Just try to think about the simple meaning of the words” (השתפכות הנפש י״ג).

So what does this have to do with my mind games?

Well, part of the sophistication that the Rebbe detested is ‘overthinking’ things. People who overthink things are slow to achieve their goals because they get side-tracked debating insignificant details. Let’s say it’s true that my ego inflates when someone tells me that my article changed their perspective. So what? Why should I stop writing? I have to stop worrying about having impeccable intentions and producing ‘the perfect product’. Will it reveal the Glory of God? It if will, then do it. If it won’t, then don’t.

P.S. The world has it all wrong! Everyone thinks their life is so simple now because we can do everything on our phones. It’s true that now we can accomplish so much in one place. But at the same time we’ve let ourselves become inundated with new tasks and tools that have made our lives super-sophisticated. Keep it simple!





Think to do


Buddhism teaches that ones goal is to reach Nirvana, where you’re no longer serving your insatiable cravings. I find that sometimes I also set my goals to be liberated from my own thought enslavement.

I once heard that “Judaism starts where Buddhism ends”.

Rabbenu Bachya writes (חובות הלבבות שער חשבון הנפש) that from the following verse the Torah requires us to do a self-inventory :

“וידעת היום והשבות אל לבבך, כי ד’ הוא האלוקים בשמים ממעל, ועל הארץ מתחת, אין עוד”

“And today you know, and will take into your heart, that God is the ruler in the heavens above and on the land below. There is no other”

Rav Kook asks (מוסר אביך פ״ד), How does this verse obligate us to consider our actions? It seems only to necessitate our firm belief in the oneness of God? He answers that “in the heavens above” suggests our thoughts and “on the land below” alludes to our actions. So the verse requires us to contemplate if our thoughts and actions demonstrate the oneness of God.

That’s a charming allusion, but is the verse really saying that?

Here’s the idea: If we know in our minds and adopt in our hearts that God is everywhere, above and below, then we should feel compelled to act in unison with that knowledge. It’s simply foolish to believe that God created the world and doesn’t expect something from us in return. Real belief in God behooves commensurate action from us; duties of the heart and aligned performance. It’s not enough to feel God in our lives, we need to serve God.

One of Rebbe Nachman’s most essential themes is to serve God without sophistication (תנינא י״ב). We must simply clarify to ourselves in every situation, “Will this action bring out the glory of God? If it does, then do it. If it doesn’t, then don’t”.

Our goals shouldn’t be to achieve feelings or to detach from inferior feelings. Those landmarks are merely a means to our greater goal of performance and ultimate unity.