Jigsaw Pieces Being Joined Showing Teamwork And Togetherness

They say ‘it takes two to tango’. Reb Nosson says this is true in prayer as well. In order for our prayer to reach its potential we need to have faith. Without complete faith, our prayer isn’t a proper receptacle and can’t be filled with the bounty of Hashem’s blessing.

What constitutes complete faith?

In Nachalos 4 Reb Nosson writes that “just as much as we need to believe that Hashem is the creator of everything, who can change nature at will and bestow endless bounty, so too we need to believe in ourselves – that Hashem listens and pays attention to every word that we pray to Him, even the lowest person on earth. Anybody can have his prayer heard if he sincerely prays”.

Even me? He listens to me? I don’t even listen to myself! How many times have I stood before Hashem in prayer without believing that my prayer is being heard?

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Reb Nosson emphasizes that this is an integral component of faith. It’s not enough to believe in a great God, we also need to believe in our ability to make a difference. So many people judge themselves by their historical track record and just resign themselves to mediocrity. They assume that because they have been uninspired for ‘such and such’ time, this is how it will always be for them and everything they do is lifeless and pointless. The believers imagine there to be somebody out there who ‘has it together’ and his prayers are the ones that matter. But little ole me? What am I good for?

And it’s not just them. Even the more inspired people might acknowledge that they’re good at some things, maybe learning Torah, but praying is just something they’ll never be good at, and they don’t believe in their prayers.

So it turns out that everyone says in the Amidah prayer “Blessed are you Hashem, who listens to prayer” but everyone thinks it’s somebody else’s prayer that Hashem listens to.

Faith means believing not only in Hashem but in our relationship with Hashem. When Rebbe Nachman cried out on a Friday night in Uman more than 200 years ago “Don’t ever give up”, he was talking about this point. Don’t give up on your relationship with Hashem. No matter how much you’ve ignored Hashem until now, your soul is very much alive. Those who believe in a God that has no relationship with us, don’t believe in the God that we believe in. We have a relationship with a God that wants to hear from us. No sin or time away from home can quiet that thirst He has for connection to us. He’s always waiting for us to call home. Nobody can call for us. Each one of us have a special unique phone number to Him.

We need to rid ourselves of the notion that our relationship with Hashem is a product of our Mitzvah performance. It’s true that messing up makes it more difficult to find Hashem, but he’s no further away. He wants to find you just as much even when you’ve endlessly betrayed Him and no one person is more important in His eyes than you. Everyone has something totally unique and beautiful to bring to the table. But it all starts with אמונה בעצמו, believing in yourself.

Look in the mirror, catch hold of your eyes and say “I count. My prayers count. My life counts”. Then get moving!


Joseph, the simple tzaddik

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The verse has an peculiar way of describing Joseph, the holiest of all the brothers:

“וְה֣וּא נַ֗עַר, אֶת־בְּנֵ֥י בִלְהָ֛ה וְאֶת־בְּנֵ֥י זִלְפָּ֖ה”

“Joseph was childish, and was commonly found with the maidservants’ children (Genesis 37:2)”.

The Torah is telling us two amazing things about very rare tzaddikim, such as Joseph and Rebbe Nachman, who are “the foundation of the world” (Proverbs 25).

First, in Torah 30, Rebbe Nachman taught that “the farther one is from Hashem, the greater the teacher he needs, similar to someone extremely ill who needs the best doctor to heal him”. This is the Torah’s intention when saying that Joseph ‘hung out’ with the maidservants’ children. Not that those specific children of Jacob were distant from Hashem, but ‘maidservants’ children’ is an allusion to the type of people that are forlorn and in need of help. Additionally, this is why immediately after Joseph was born, Jacob knew that he can overcome his brother Esau. Had Esau not himself strayed from Hashem, his holy task would have been to bring others who have strayed closer to Hashem. It would have been Jacob’s job to study and teach Torah, and Esau’s job to give encouragement to those who felt far from Hashem. But when Esau relinquished his position, it was Joseph who stepped in as the Kiruv Rabbi. Joseph, being the greatest type of tzaddik, was able to reach even the lowest criminals. We see this clearly in Joseph’s outreach to the prisoners in jail, and later on how he circumcised all of Egypt, the most lewd place on earth at the time. Finally, as we find throughout Hassidic literature, Joseph is intimately connected to the festival of Hanukkah. This is alluded to in our custom to light the Menorah very low to the ground, similar to Joseph was able to reach even the most hopeless and lowly people.

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What does it mean that Joseph was childish?

In Tinyana 78 the Rebbe teaches something very mysterious. He says that sometimes the true tzaddik becomes a simpleton. The idea is as follows: The Torah is literally our lifeline (Deuteronomy 30:20). So how do we survive when we’re not learning torah? We only survive because the tzaddik gives us life. But how does the tzaddik survive when he’s not actually learning Torah? He receives life from the אוצר מתנת חינם, the store-house of free-gifts. (Consequently, this is also how the world survived for twenty six generations before the Jews received the Torah). So sometimes the tzaddik legitimately becomes a simple ignoramus, so that he can give life to the other simple people in the world, Jews and non-Jews alike. This is what it means that Joseph was childish. He was literally doing silly things, and with those foolish behaviors, he was giving life to the world.

In the same lesson, the Rebbe teaches that this ‘simplicity’ that a tzaddik experiences is also called דרך ארץ ישראל, the way to the land of Israel. In fact, Reb Nosson writes the when the Rebbe made his pilgrimage to Israel, his behavior was extremely bizarre. At times he was found not wearing a hat or jacket and running around with little kids playing silly games. Other times, on his voyage, he met great scholars. When they asked him to speak, he would talk gibberish! We truly can’t understand the ways of a tzaddik, especially one of Rebbe Nachman’s caliber. His every move was mysterious, as he connected heaven and earth with his every move. All we can do is feel fortunate that Hashem sends us these great people who, with their deep love, reach even the lowest of the low.

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We can do it!


It’s so hard not to give up! We try countless times to succeed but when the door seems shut we just want to ‘call it quits’! It’s far easier to accept defeat than to encourage ourselves to keep trying unsuccessfully. “So what?” we say. “I’ll be ok without it”! But what we’re not realizing is that by surrendering we are relinquishing who we truly are and selling ourselves short!

What do I mean? Well, I’m always hearing people say things like “I’m not good at math”, “I don’t like playing sports”, “I can’t do puzzles”, “I don’t dance”, “I can’t sit still”,  “I have terrible balance”. But it gets worse! Sometimes we say things like “I’m short-tempered”, “I’m in a bad mood”, “I’m too spaced out” and “I’m a bad parent”.

Most of the time the reason why we say these things is because we’re so frustrated and/or ashamed by our failure to succeed that we subconsciously rather stop trying than make another attempt and suffer defeat. You know the kid who gets embarrassed in school by his friends? He comes home, slams the door and yells “I’M NEVER GOING TO SCHOOL AGAIN!!” That’s pretty much what we’re doing when we file away (for life) our talents, in fear that somebody (not sure who?) will laugh at us if we fall down in the process.

On Rebbi Nachman’s last Shabbos Nachamu in Uman, about two months before he passed away, many chassidim gathered at his meal on Friday night to hear him speak. Although he would usually go to his private room right after kiddish and prepare himself for the meal, instead he sat at the table quietly. Appearing weak and tired he said, “Why did you come to me? I don’t know anything at all! If I had something to say then I understand why you would come here. But I’m a simple peasant. I don’t know anything at all”! He kept on repeating these types of things for awhile until he finally said, “The only thing that’s keeping me alive now is that I was in the Land of Israel”. Slowly he began to expound on that idea until he delivered a long lesson on it (תנינא ע״ח). After the lesson it’s said over that he was ecstatic and instructed the chassidim to sing zemiros and he sang with them, even though he hadn’t sang in recent months due to his illness. Then he spoke to the chassidim the entire meal with tremendous sweetness and encouraged them greatly. Finally, he yelled out from the depths of his heart “Gevalt! Don’t give up on yourselves! There is no reason to ever give up!״

We might not understand the Rebbe’s mysterious simplicity at that time. But in some concealed way, although his mastery of Torah was unparalleled, at that moment in his mind, he really knew nothing at all! But he didn’t give up. He found some way to open himself up and succeeded in saying over beautiful Torah with awesome joy! In doing so, in his greatness he saw that there is never ever a reason to quit. The chassidim describe how he cried out and lengthened the words “Don’t give up”, like he was charging every Jew eternally never to despair!

This story happened more than 200 years ago in a small house in the Ukraine but it couldn’t be more true and relevant today. We have so much potential. Hashem, the Jewish people and the world at large needs us. Let’s not write ourselves off because of some past difficulties. We have too much to offer! “Gevalt! Don’t give up”!