To fear or not to fear


Fear is a dirty word these days. Fear holds us back and inhibits us. We wish we weren’t afraid of anything. The human race aspires for the inner courage to act as they wish, even if it might bring with it some shame. We are inundated by the media with slogans such as ‘just do it!’, ‘go for it’ and ‘have no fear’. Even Rebbe Nachman famously said that, “A person must pass over a very narrow bridge [in life] and the main thing is not at all to be afraid.” (Tinyana 48)

There’s more.

Our enemies wish to instill fear in us. ‘Terrorism’ is a term that really only started some forty years ago. Western civilization wants nothing more than to eradicate it and live free of fear. In fact, one of the major keywords of democracy, which most of the world views as the correct and fairest governmental body, is freedom. Of course in democracy, for the safety of civilization we must obey the law, but what’s imperative is the freedom to practice whatever it is we want, without fear of punishment. A major drawback of democracy’s goal for freedom has been liberalism, with its skewed views of truth and blurry boundary lines.

In Bechor Beheima 4 Reb Nosson brings from the Rebbe that our ultimate perfection in this world comes through fear, (that is fear of Heaven). As Moses said to Israel before he passed (Deuteronomy 10), “What does Hashem want from you but to fear Him”? And as King Solomon ends his mysterious Ecclesiastes, “After all is said, fear God”.

Reb Nosson explains that the main point of life is to find and recognize Hashem in this world. The only way to truly acknowledge and identify Hashem in our lives is by negating our ego in acceptance of His will. In an amazing line he says, “the nullification of our will is greater than any contemplation we could ever have of God, כי ביטול הוא למעלה מהמחשבה”. After someone authentically experiences this negation, he’s left with an imprint of Hashem’s infinite light. That imprint is the fear of God. That fear is the purpose of creation. The Tikkunei Zohar scrambles the letters of the first word in the Torah, בראשית, to read as ירא בשת, fear and shame, because Hashem’s desire in this world is to be the King. His ultimate ambition is to have His kingdom of kindness spread throughout the world, bar-none. Those who are familiar with basic Kabbalah understand that Malchus (Hashem’s Kingship) is the final of the 10 emanations and symbolizes the doing and action of all the other emanations.

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I think this is why in our time fear is so detested. Christianity basically stole all the lovey-doveyness of Judaism and deleted all the fear of Heaven. The same is true with Reform Judaism and all the new-age religions. Nobody wants to be told what to do anymore. Everyone thinks they know best now, and it’s not fashionable anymore to bear the yoke of Heaven. I struggle with this too. I am a cool guy. Being cool means to have no cares. It means you don’t have to answer to anybody because you think for yourself. When I learn the laws of Halacha, I’m overcome with feelings of ‘don’t tell me what to do’. I don’t want a boss. I even find that when I associate with more secular Jews, even those thirsty for more inspiration, I too much shy away from teaching fear of God. I am afraid to admit that I fear. And it makes sense that this is a struggle in these last minutes before Moshiach. Amazingly, Moshiach is the one with the task to make the whole world fear God. Sounds impossible but ‘והריחו ביראת ה (Isaiah 11), his fear of God will be phenomenally contagious. We need to pray for fear of Heaven. We need to pray to allow ourselves to negate our own ego and accept His dominion. Don’t be afraid to fear!

כי ביטול הוא למעלה מהמחשבה



נ נח נחמ נחמן מאומן

nanach plder man dancing

Today is the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Yisrael Dov Ber Odesser z”l, known as Sabba Yisrael. He was the leader of the Na Nach movement who died in 1994. Late last night I went to the hilula of this Tzaddik, by his burial site on Har Hamenuchos. Here’s a short clip of the festivities:

I don’t use this blog as a political user-face and won’t defend or criticize the ‘Nanach-ers’. That being said, I’m not a Na-Nacher. I don’t believe in the note that Sabba claimed to receive from heaven and I disagree with some of his followers who think that he was mashiach. So why did I go last night to dance and say the Tikkun Haklali by his grave?

In Rebbe Nachman’s most famous lesson, entitled ‘Azamra‘, he taught about the importance of finding the good points in others. Sabba Yisrael spent his entire life serving Hashem with great intensity. At the end of his life, when he was well over 100, he collected close to a million dollars from his wheelchair and started a publishing house where Breslov books are still distributed at subsidized prices. He brought back so many unaffiliated Jews to Hashem. His merits are literally innumerable. Of course I can focus on the graffiti that some of his followers do and the craziness that surrounds them, but my job is to find the good and celebrate it.

One more thought:

As you might know, Rebbe Nachman waged a war against depression.  In Tinyana 48 he said “The most important thing is to always be happy. One should arouse his happiness in any way  that he possibly can, even with utter silliness. He should even act like an idiot and do silly things, with jumping and dancing, to come to joy. Because joy is a tremendous thing”. I credit the Na-Nachers with living by this lesson. I sometimes feel like they hijacked all the joy from the more mainstream Breslovers, but as long as I’m around I’ll make sure that’s not the case 🙂 “Because joy is a tremendous thing”!


לעילוי נשמת הרב ישראל דב בער אודסר ז״ל

Barely Moving


Rebbe Nachman tells a story of a certain tzaddik who became so depressed that he couldn’t get out of bed. He tried whatever possible to bring himself joy but everything intensified his depression. Finally, he reminded himself that at least he could be happy that he was created a Jew and it started to work. Because in reality it’s the one thing that we can’t mess up. God made us a Jew and we had nothing to do with it! So he kept meditating on this idea and his joy increased “until he was as happy as Moses was when receiving the tablets”. He started to fly! He was flying millions of miles in higher worlds until it was time to land. When he landed, he realized that although he advanced to unbelievable heights in the other worlds, in this world he only moved a hair’s breadth.

Sometimes we feel impossibly far away from God, and that everything we do just pushes God away more. The Rebbe teaches (תנינא מ״ח) that we need to remember in this low state, that every little movement we make towards God is exceedingly precious to Him. Every ‘insignificant’ movement we make, shoots our soul in the hidden worlds farther than we can ever imagine!

I’m sure we’ve all heard similar words of encouragement before. But let me explain why this lesson is so comforting.

There are two types of people, or better yet there are two types of struggles we all go through. Sometimes we feel so defeated because nothing we do makes a difference at all. And sometimes we feel frustrated that although we do so much and our actions should be ‘changing us’, we end up accomplishing very little.

These negative perceptions couldn’t be farther from the truth. We don’t appreciate the small things we do but God does. Many times we look at our ‘results’ and feel disappointment, but let’s remember that we’re not seeing the whole picture. Nothing goes unnoticed and we’ll be surprised how much we’re truly appreciated!