The real you


This obstinate diaspora that we’re still suffering from began more than 2000 years ago when Rome destroyed our Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Although the Zohar considers Rome, Edom, EsauAmalek, Satan and the Angel of Death to be synonymous, they can be distinguished as different features of the same negative energy.

As Hassidic literature explains, in these last days before Moshiach arrives, we’re bothered primarily by the spiritual energy of Amalek. That’s why Purim, the day where we defeat Amalek, is the happiest day of the year and the only festival that won’t be canceled in the days of Moshiach.

Reb Nosson writes (‘הל’ ברכת הריח ד) that what makes Amalek such a tricky opponent is that we don’t even realize that we’re capable of fighting the battle. From the onset we believe it’s a lost cause to even try. In the Purim story the king’s signet ring was given over to Haman and the edict was delivered to wipe out the Jewish people. That means there was no chance of surviving. We were doomed! But of course the prayers of the Tzaddikim, Mordechai and Esther created new realities. This is the capacity of Amalek’s influence. We’re led to believe that there’s no hope of change.

How does this translate into today’s struggles?


I know many readers will disagree, but I’m not alone in believing that the addict’s mentality reinforces him to believe that he’s powerless. I don’t question that the compulsive behavior of the addict is a powerful dependence and freeing oneself from addiction takes iron-will, but it’s done all the time. It can be done! Addicts are not forever powerless. Amalek sells us that there’s no hope! The recovering addict believes that he has a disease and can always slip back into feeding his addiction. There’s no disease. He’s well conditioned to follow his obsessive desires and if he let’s his guard down, as he’s done so many times, he will be swallowed up again. That’s not a disease, it’s just reality. But he has hope!

I think homosexuals and transgender people are also victims of Amalek’s spell, believing wholeheartedly that they can’t change.

Reb Nosson writes here that “every Jew is a master of strength. But unfortunately not everyone merits to know their own strength”. If the Torah demands something of us, we can do it. Everyone of us can do it without exception. We don’t know our capabilities. I’m not just referring to beating drugs, illicit sex and alcohol but also our smaller challenges such as waking up early, controlling our temper and being patient.

Those two high school students in the 1930s who created Superman were onto something. Clark Kent is a nerd. He has an introverted personality with conservative mannerisms and a slight slouch. But underneath that disguise he’s Superman, possessing extraordinary powers. But we aren’t fiction. This is real! On Purim we wear costumes to symbolize how Amalek blankets us with layer upon layer of camouflage. The disguise is so convincing. But it’s just a smokescreen. Hiding under all that cover-up is the real us, a powerful Godly being with unimaginable potential to be great!



Warning: Choking Hazard!


Remember these images from the film Jaws? Oh the nightmares I had from that scary little flick! In case you never saw it, the last scene has the police chief trapped on the sinking boat. In his last effort to survive and save Amity Island’s beaches from the killing-machine-shark, he manages to stuff a pressurized scuba tank into the shark’s mouth, and, climbing the post, shoots the tank with a rifle. The resulting explosion obliterates the shark and they all live happily ever after (until the sequel of course)!

Rebbe Nachman’s description of the Tzaddik’s prayer in Tinyana 8 brings these frightening memories back into my mind.

Here we go…

Rabbe Shimon in Avos 2:3 warns us not to make our prayers routine, but rather an entreaty of ‘compassion and supplication’.  Although the mishna doesn’t discuss what happens when we pray monotonously and by rote, Rebbe Nachman does discuss it.

He teaches that when our prayers aren’t prayers of compassion, they’re prayers of judgement. Prayers of compassion can be answered even if we’re not worthy. But judgement-prayers can only be answered if we’re worthy. Since we’re not worthy, they get swallowed up by the side of evil. These prayers actually give life to the side of evil. (For more detail, see here).

This begs the obvious question: When we know we can’t pray compassionately, why pray at all? We know it won’t be answered and it will be swallowed up by the other side?

The solution, of course, is the Tzaddik’s prayer. In this lesson the Rebbe calls the tzaddik “a master of strength”. Although most of the time tzaddikim don’t choose to pray in their own merits (see first Rashi in Parshas Vaeschanan), they are capable of having their judgement prayers answered. King David sings in Psalms (106) “Pinchas stood up and judged”. The Talmud teaches from this verse that Pinchas prayed and argued with God to save His people. Now the other side also feeds on the judgment prayers of the Tzaddikim but it can’t swallow those prayers. The evil one chokes on it and ends up regurgitating all the previous prayers that it swallowed. But not only that, it also throws up it’s guts of holiness, which leads wayward Jews back to God and gentiles to convert.

As he typically does, Reb Nosson takes this concept to the next level (‘ברכת הריח ד).  (His words are so sweet that it’s worth seeing their translation here). He writes that not only is the Tzaddik a ‘master of strength’. But every single Jew, even the lowest of the low, can be his own master of strength and defeat his evil side. He just has to want it badly enough. Hashem isn’t trying to defeat us. We have the strength within us. We can do it with enough desire. So aim your rifle Officer Brody and fire!