Are we there yet?


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.


Dancing with depression


How do we define ourselves? What makes us special?

Rebbe Nachman, a major promoter of happiness, gave advice how to be truly joyous. In תנינא כ״ג he gives a parable. “Sometimes when people are dancing happily in a circle, they grab someone from outside the circle who’s not dancing, because he’s sad, and they force him to dance and be happy with them”.

You see there are two ways of making ourselves happy. Most people try the first way; To forget about the things that make them sad. But sometimes it’s not so easy to do. There could be a lot of things we’re depressed about. (This is why so many people use drugs and alcohol. They truly want to be happy but they can’t put aside their sadness. So they induce their happiness by using). Never the less, this first way of making ourselves happy can be compared to the circle in which people are dancing and the sadness is standing on the side. This way makes us happy but it isn’t ideal because we haven’t overcome our sadness, we just denied it temporarily.

The Rebbe teaches a novel way of inducing happiness. We need to “Grab the sadness and drag it into the circle to dance against its will” until the sadness also turns into happiness because happiness is healing.

How do we do that? Rebbe Nosson explains (‘הלכות פריה ורביה ג) that we are sad because we feel far from God. But we need to say “Even though I’m so so far from God, I’m still a Jew! I still do some mitzvos! Maybe I put on tefillin or I gave charity or I visited someone in the hospital? In all truth the greatest reason to be happy is that a person as far away from God as me is still lucky enough to be a Jew and do a few mitzvos”. Do we realize how special each mitzvah is? Do we appreciate how fortunate we are to light candles on Friday night? Even us, who can’t concentrate for the six words of Shema Yisrael still do some mitzvos! There is no greater joy in the world than that!

This is such a fresh idea because we tend to define ourselves by how much we’ve accomplished. Sometimes when I talk to people, it seems like they’re reading me their resume! “I finished this and then I went here and accomplished that”. We think that what makes us special is our titles and accomplishments. Rebbe Nachman is saying that our greatness and worth is not about what we accomplished but about who we are! We are Jews. We have a special relationship with God and with the world. That’s our essence, unrelated to our accomplishments. And in a funny way, the less we’ve achieved until now, the happier our Jewishness should make us!