A friend of mine sent me this quote recently, while he was listening to Joey Rosenfeld’s interview on the Meaningful People podcast. I think it is a very powerful insight which complements my last article about the beauty of a broken heart. Joey Rosenfeld is a brilliant young teacher and therapist living in St. Louis, Missouri. Shabbat Shalom, Moshe.
I think everybody is broken. But I don’t think being broken is a symptom of not being good enough. I think being broken is, the word I like to use is constitutive of being human. Meaning it’s the very birthplace of being a human being. Just as Hashem, as we’re taught, created the world with acts of concealment and then shattering, so too our experiences come about with concealment and shattering. The goal is not to be perfect. The goal is to own our brokenness, own our imperfections and find a way to serve Hashem not in spite our imperfections, but specifically through our imperfections. That way, we are bringing the world back up to G-d, so to speak. This is a pre-condition to the human experience. The question is, to what degree do we recognize our brokenness. In a clinical sense, to what degree does our brokenness interfere with our ability to function.
What does it mean to have a broken heart? Is having a broken heart the same thing as sadness? What is the difference between them? We touched on the subject of sadness in the first article in this series- Mindfulness According to Rebbe Nachman. Let us explore what Rebbe Nachman teaches us regarding these questions.
Rebbe Nachman teaches in the book Sichos HaRan (Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom) that a broken heart and sadness are not the same thing whatsoever. A broken heart is in the heart, while sadness comes from the spleen. Sadness comes from the other side (which is a reference to the evil inclination, the side of impurity), and Hashem despises it. However, a broken heart is very beloved and precious before God. Nevertheless, Rebbe Nachman says, a person is in danger of falling into sadness if they walk around all day with a broken heart. Therefore, a person needs to set aside a certain amount of time each day to have a broken heart in personal prayer, but the rest of the day, he should try to be only happy. Why is sadness so shunned in Hashem’s eyes? Hashem despises sadness because it is the evil inclination’s greatest weapon. More than the evil inclination wants us to sin against God; he wants us to be sad and downtrodden. When we are sad, we lose our willpower and our faith in ourselves. Rebbe Nachman explains that sadness comes over a person when they are angry and upset with Hashem, they have complaints over the fact that he is not doing their will. On the other hand, a broken heart is like a child who pleads before their father and cries because they have grown distant from their father. Their broken heart causes them to strive to come closer to Hashem. Rebbe Nachman also reveals how we can tell if we were able to have a broken heart: after a broken heart comes joy. That is a sign if a person had a broken heart, when they experience happiness afterwards. (Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom, teachings 41, 42 and 45)
Recently I asked a Breslov teacher, who teaches in a community I am a member of, a personal question: When someone goes through a difficult challenge, or a difficult event in life, sometimes there is a feeling of anger, why did this happen? Why did Hashem do this to me? I do not understand why it is good for me. (I asked him) How can we find healing for these questions? How can we heal this wounded place inside of us, which sometimes feels angry with Hashem? He answered: I do not know how to heal completely this place in our souls. However, someone who regularly makes time for personal prayer, they seek to live a life of faith in Hashem, and they work on thanking Hashem for all of the blessings and good things they have in life, it is harder for them to be angry with Hashem. This is because they know and feel that Hashem wants the best for them and even does for them many kindnesses. As a result, it is easier to believe that even what seems in our eyes to be against our will and not good, there is something good hidden inside this difficulty.
Life is difficult; there are many challenges. We all experience this in our lives, each person in their own way. Sometimes we feel broken by the difficulties and pain we experience in life. The Kotzker Rebbe famously said that there is nothing more complete than a broken heart. When we admit to ourselves and admit it before God- I feel so broken over this, it is so painful, I do not know what to do, please help me; we open a space in our hearts and our souls for healing. Why is there nothing more complete than a broken heart? Because this world is imperfect. This world is not our final goal; it is temporary. Our Sages describe this world as a world where the truth is hidden. The aspect of completion, I believe, is when we recognize that only Hashem can help us, only He is perfect and complete and only He can heal our broken hearts. We open ourselves to healing the broken places inside when we go beyond this imperfect and confusing world. We turn to Hashem. We have the power with our prayers to plead with a broken heart before Hashem for help and for healing. We can ask him to help us always feel that He is a loving father and our best friend, He is always by our side. There is nothing more complete (in this world) than a broken heart.
‘It is very good when a person can pour out their words and their heart before Hashem, pleading for compassion like a son who is longing for their father… How good is it when someone awakens their heart with supplications until they cry and shed tears before their Father in Heaven.’ (Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom, 7th teaching)
Every week we have an opportunity to connect to a space in time that is unique, special and different from the other days of the week, Shabbat. Every week on Shabbat, we can return to our essential selves and to our eternal connection with God. We can leave behind the struggles of the week, the pain and the anxiety of the week and enter a space of healing. We have the space and the time to connect with family and friends, and reflect upon what truly matters in life. Shabbat is an incredible opportunity to be more conscious of spirituality. There is nowhere to run to, nothing to chase. A feeling of peace descends upon the world. Let us explore a little bit what makes Shabbat such a special day.
Shabbat gives us true freedom. Rebbe Nachman teaches that a person needs to be very careful to be happy and good hearted on Shabbat, because the spiritual levels and the holiness of Shabbat are very great and precious. By being happy on Shabbat our fear and awe of Heaven is completed, meaning that our awareness of God is elevated and connected to true knowledge. During the six days of the week, it is possible to have all kinds of fears that are foolish. The feeling of servitude that we sometimes experience during the week causes this foolishness. When a person feels enslaved, their mind is not free. Their mind is confused. However, on Shabbat we become free of this servitude. When a person is free and not in the exiled state of servitude, then their mind and knowledge are complete. The main aspect of this freedom that we experience on Shabbat is through delighting and being happy on Shabbat. Through this state of happiness, someone can leave their exile. By rejoicing on Shabbat, we are able to rectify all of our fallen fears as well, because when we have true knowledge we see that there is really no reason to be afraid of this thing or this person. Being happy on Shabbat gives us true knowledge, and this enables us to be truly free. (Likutei Moharan, 17th teaching, Part Two)
Shabbat is also the aspect of teshuva, returning to Hashem, as the verse says “and you will return to Hashem, your God.” (Devarim, Chapter 30, Verse 2) In the future, when we merit the final redemption, we will merit a day that is completely like Shabbat, a day of complete teshuva. We will reach higher and higher levels of the knowledge of Hashem. We will repent on our previous levels of spiritual knowledge and perceptions, because we will know that there are so many new levels we still have not obtained. The sages call Shabbat a taste of the World to Come, because every Shabbat we connect in a deeper way to holiness, to Hashem and His Torah. Reb Noson adds that from this we see Hashem’s tremendous love for His people. In His mercy, He gave us this amazing gift, which was hidden away in secrecy, Shabbat. Therefore, we need to try to receive this wonderful gift with love and great joy, because through the gift of Shabbat we can all merit to return to Hashem, no matter what we have been through during the week. For many people it is hard for them to return to Hashem due to the battles they have with the evil inclination. Every day the evil inclination tries again to knock us down. This causes people to become dejected and to stop trying to come closer to God and to their true essence. The main help and salvation that we have is the power of the holiness of Shabbat, which is so awesome. Therefore, we need to connect ourselves to the holiness of Shabbat every day of the week; we need to carry it into the six days of the week. (Likutei Halachot, Laws of Shabbat, 7th teaching)
Rebbe Nachman also teaches that Shabbat is so holy and elevated that even our eating on Shabbat is different. He says that the main way that we honor Shabbat is through our eating, because eating on Shabbat is very precious and it is actually only spiritual. Therefore, it is a great mitzvah to eat well on Shabbat, to eat special meals and special foods that we enjoy. Our service of eating on Shabbat also helps us to rectify any aspect of desecrating the Shabbat we might have done mistakenly. (Likutei Moharan, Teaching 277, Part One)
The holiness of Shabbat gives life and meaning to the six, mundane days of the week. All of the challenges, pain, and anxieties of the week fade away as we light the candles and accept Shabbat with the special prayers of Kabbalat Shabbat. The holy Arizal (Rav Yitzhak Luria ztz” l) and his students in the city of Tzfat introduced these prayers, about 500 years ago. Many times I have thought to myself at some point during the day of Shabbat, ‘Thank God, I feel so far away from where I was on Erev Shabbat!’ In those moments, I feel so much more connected. Connected to Hashem, myself and to my family. I feel a feeling of happiness and peace inside. Shabbat heals us with true faith. God’s kingship over the world is revealed on Shabbat and we feel the healing of His presence in our lives. We can merit to obtain this faith, knowledge and consciousness every week on the awesome day of Shabbat.
“By keeping Shabbat a person draws upon themselves the light of Mashiach; also by doing teshuvah (a person draws upon themselves the light of Mashiach).” Sefer HaMidot, the Book of Traits, Mashiach, 5th teaching
(The inspiration for this article came from Chapter 2 of TheStory of Our Lives, by Yaakov Klein, and from a series of classes on Shabbat by Joey Rosenfeld)
There is a lot of interest today in a part of the Torah which is becoming more and more revealed in our time, Penimiut HaTorah, the inner light of the Torah. What does the inner light of the Torah mean? What does it mean to learn the inner light? Is this part of the Torah for everyone?
Rebbe Nachman explains, in lesson 33 in part one of Likutei Moharan that the inner light of the Torah is Hashem’s presence. Hashem put his light inside the Torah. It is the Godliness which is found inside the Torah and it’s middot, the character traits taught by Torah and the specific details of each mitzvah. In the inner light of the Torah Hashem’s presence can be felt and discovered.
Rebbe Nachman also teaches in Likutei Moharan, in the 7th teaching, part two, that a true tsaddik, a true leader like Moshe Rabeinu has mercy on the Jewish people. He is always trying to help them correct their ways and return to Hashem. The heaviest burden that a person can carry is the burden of sin. The Jewish soul, due to its special holiness, cannot bear this burden. The tsaddik helps the Jewish people have true knowledge and awe of Heaven, and this helps them leave behind their sins. The only reason a person falls into sin is due to foolishness, they lack knowledge that Hashem is the King and He rules over everything. They do not feel, experience His presence in that moment of sin. The tsaddik reveals to the Jewish people the true knowledge of Gd. He is also able to reach each person, on whatever low level they might find themselves on, and show them that no matter what, Hashem is still with them and close to them. He strengthens them not to despair, in any situation.
Yaakov Klein explains this concept in his incredible new book, The Story of Our Lives, an elucidation of Rebbe Nachman’s famous tale- The Lost Princess. The tsaddikim make it possible for every Jew to connect to the awesome, inner light of the Torah. That is their task and their mission. The tsaddik’s entire mission is to help Jews escape the cycles of lowliness and sin mentioned above, by granting them access to the inner wisdom of the Torah. (The Story of Our Lives, pages 239-240)
During this month of Iyar, we have one of the most special days on the Jewish calendar, Lag B’Omer, the celebration of the yahrzeit of Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai. It is such an incredible experience to be there on Lag BOmer. Rebbe Shimon was one of the great sages of the period of the Mishna, and the author of the Holy Zohar. Why do we celebrate the passing of this great Tsaddik? Why does his celebration drawn so many thousands of Jews, of every different type you could imagine, to the small town of Meron in Northern Israel? There are certain tsaddikim who are so great that any Jew can connect to them, because these tsaddikim are connected to the souls of all of the Jewish people. They are like the root of the tree, while we are like the branches. They see every single person’s soul, and they see what their special purpose is in the world. One of these exalted tsaddikim was Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai. He reveled the inner, hidden light of the Torah that was hidden away since it was given to Moshe at Mt. Sinai. We are celebrating the awesome light of the Holy Zohar that he revealed in the world. His book, the Zohar, is a powerful revelation of true knowledge and true faith in Hashem. Rebbe Shimon said that through his work, the Zohar, the Jewish people would leave the exile. The light of his book, the Zohar, heals the Jewish souls from the suffering of exile and helps them hold on strong until the final redemption.
At the beginning of Rebbe Nachman’s magnum opus, Likutei Moharan, before the first teaching, after the introduction, there is short teaching about the greatness of Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai. The teaching explains that through the light of Rebbe Shimon the Torah will not be forgotten from the Jewish people. Through the light of the Zohar the Jewish people will leave the exile. Why did Rebbe Nachman choose to begin his book with this teaching? In the book the Life of Rebbe Nachman (teaching 189) the connection between these two great tsaddikim is explained further. Rebbe Nachman on his way from Breslov to Uman at the end of his life, after revealing this teaching about Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai, stated “and now there is ‘the source of wisdom… a flowing stream.’”(Proverbs, Chapter 18, Verse 4) Rebbe Nachman revealed that he came into the world to continue the light of Rebbe Shimon in a new way. He came to shine the light of the Zohar for our generation and show every Jew how much they are precious and holy. He wants to help every one of us rectify what we need to rectify in our lifetime. He revealed the practical advice that comes out of the teachings of the Zohar and other kabbalistic works. Rebbe Nachman, just like his great-grandfather the holy Baal Shem Tov, is revealing the inner light of the Torah to every single person on their level. This is the greatness of the true tsaddikim. There is no person, not matter what they might have done, whom they cannot help return to Hashem. Rebbe Nachman famously said, “my fire will burn until the coming of Mashiach’. His fire warms our souls in the darkness of the exile that we still find ourselves in. His fire also illuminates our eyes to understand how to serve Hashem even in these challenging times.
Through the powerful inner light that these great tsaddikim make accessible to us, we are able to live with more emunah (faith) and more mindfulness. They reveal to every person on their level a deeper knowledge, that Hashem loves us deeply and He is right with us!
Fear. Fear is something I believe that we all struggle with on one level or another. Fear prevents us from being composed, from being in the moment, and from making good decisions. It clouds our mind and our judgment. When we are afraid and anxious, we are certainly not mindful. We are not able to be our best selves; we are not true to who we really are. How can we find healing from our fears, how can they be rectified? Is it even possible to correct them and elevate them?
Rebbe Nachman teaches in Likutei Moharan that personal prayer heals us from our fears, specifically by trying to make a daily accounting of our actions. How do we elevate fear to its lofty source, to the fear of Heaven? By judgement. When a person speaks out their heart before Hashem and judges their own actions, in every area of life, they are able to elevate all of their fears and rectify them from their fallen state. We naturally have an attribute of fear inside of our souls. However, when we are afraid of other people or of something that might happen to us, then our natural, healthy fear and awe of Heaven has fallen. Rebbe Nachman explains that when we do not try to account for our actions and ask for forgiveness, from Hashem or from another person, we are judged from Heaven. The judgement is ‘clothed’ in something that happens to us or in an interaction we have with someone. It could be someone yelling at you at the store, at the bank, etc. In everything that happens to us, there is a message. However, when people judge themselves, they make an internal accounting, in a loving manner, then the judgement is sweeten and removed. We do not need to be awakened by Hashem to look at our actions. Then, says Rebbe Nachman, we do not need to fear anything, because the judgement has been nullified. This is how we can rectify fear and elevate it. (Abridged Likutei Moharan, 15th teaching, part one)
In personal prayer we find healing from our fallen fears. We see from this teaching that the healing is simple in a way, but it takes time and dedication. Little by little, we elevate the fear inside of us to true knowledge, to knowing that Hashem sees us, and He is lovingly helping us to improve and correct ourselves. We can begin this avodah (work) of elevating our fallen fears back to Hashem by simply telling him each day, in personal prayer, what we are afraid of and why. This I believe is part of the internal accounting that Rebbe Nachman is teaching us. Being honest with Hashem what we are afraid of. We can ask Him for help in whatever matter troubles us, and ask Him in general to heal us from our varied fears and anxieties.
Another tool that Rebbe Natan reveals in a letter to his son, in the book Healing Leaves, is to not let ourselves think too much about our fears! We have the power to focus on something more positive. “Do not be drawn after sorrow too much. Teach yourself to not focus on your sorrow, remove it from your heart. Especially the unnecessary fears and sadness that you have from what you are going through, everything is foolishness! The main thing is remove them from your heart. Put on a happy face and pretend as if you are happy. Through this advice, you will actually become happy in the end. Try as much as possible not to spend time thinking thoughts of sadness and fear. A person has the free choice to distract himself from these types of thoughts. When you distract yourself from them, they will go away.” (Letter 121)
As we approach the amazing holiday of Pesach (Passover), the light of freedom and deep faith shines again in the world and illuminates our souls on a personal level. Rebbe Nachman teaches in the book of Advice that just like the Jewish month of Tishrei is a time of returning to Hashem (teshuva), so too the month of Nisan, the month of Pesach, is a time of teshuva. The Sages teach that just as we were redeemed from Eygpt in the month of Nisan, we will also merit our final redemption in the month of Nisan. Therefore, Rebbe Nachman teaches, that the redemption will only come from our teshuva, from our sincere return to Hashem. (Advice, Teshuva, 19th teaching) An aspect of teshuva that we can work on during this month of redemption is trying to set aside a daily time to introspect and take an accounting of our actions and feelings, especially our fears. This is a special time of year where there is a spiritual awakening from above, and it is an opportune time to work on this advice.
May we all merit the light of true freedom this Pesach, and may we all find healing from the fears that cloud our lives and hold us back bringing our unique light into the world.
Being in the moment. I think it is one of the hardest things to accomplish these days and in our generation. There are so many worries and so many distractions. How is it possible in our reality today to be mindful and live in the present?
Rebbe Nachman teaches based on the verse in Tehillim, “today if you will hear His voice” (Tehillim, Chapter 95); this is truly a great principle in serving Hashem. A person should focus only on the day they have in front of them, only focus on today. This is also true in matters of work and taking care of errands and different tasks. This same is true, as Rebbe Nachman stated, in matters of serving God and connecting to God. When a person wants to truly enter the service of Hashem, it can seem to them that it is a heavy burden, and that it is impossible to carry something so large. However, when someone thinks to himself or herself that they only have this day, then it will not be such a large burden. This will also help a person not to procrastinate and push things off, saying, ‘tomorrow I’ll start, tomorrow I am going to pray with intention’. This is true with every mitzvah. A person only really has this day of life and this moment that they find themselves in, because tomorrow is a completely different world. “Today if you will hear His voice”, today specifically. Understand this very well. (Likutei Moharan I, Teaching 272)
We also find in the letters of Rebbe Nachman’s main student, Reb Nosson z”l, that he encouraged his students to fulfill this teaching every single day. “Be strong and courageous, my beloved student, throw upon Hashem all of your burdens and He will provide for you. Do not worry the worry of tomorrow. These words that I write to you should be new every day- do not think ahead from one day to another, rather everything that you find you have strength to do each day- do it! Be careful from now on to walk with what Rebbe Nachman z”l taught: ‘Today if you will hear His voice’, today specifically.” (Reb Nosson’s letters, Healing Leaves, Letter 42)
The advice we learn here is trying to be focused on the day that we have in front of us, both in physical and spiritual matters. What are my goals for today? What is my priority right now? What can I do right now that is good and productive? This does not negate the need to make time for reflection, as I have written in previous articles, thinking about the day that has passed. Reflecting and praying about the issues we face in life. It also does not negate the need for recreation or taking a trip.
A powerful example I believe of someone who was blessed with many talents and skills, but was not able to live in the present and use his talents for a good purpose, is the sophisticate in Rebbe Nachman’s powerful story of the Sophisticate and the Simpleton (the Chacham and the Tam). Despite the incredible depth of Rebbe Nachman’s Stories, which are considered an even higher revelation than his teachings in Likutei Moharan, they also contain in them many understandable hints and important lessons for life and serving Hashem. The sophisticate and the simpleton grow up together in a small town, both the only sons to their fathers. Their fathers were both wealthy. As children, they loved each other and were good friends. As they grew up their fathers both ran into financial troubles until they became destitute. Due to their difficult situation, the fathers told their sons that they do not have the means anymore to support them, and that they need to learn to work and care for themselves. The simpleton learned to be a shoemaker. The sophisticate felt that this type of work was too simple for him, and he decided to travel the world and spend time figuring out what profession he would like to learn. After working as a servant in a few simple jobs and traveling to Warsaw, the sophisticate says to himself, ‘I’m still not ready to choose a profession and get married; I’ll have time for that in the years to come. Right now I prefer to wander from country to country, and to satiate my desire to see the world.’ The sophisticate goes on to learn to be a goldsmith, as well as a jeweler, and a doctor (all in a record amount of time). However, his accomplishments only increase his arrogance. Everyone he looks at is below him. It is as if nobody else exists. The sophisticate used the blessing of his wisdom and sharp mind to wander the world. He used his amazing intelligence for no true purpose. He disconnected his knowledge from trying to be a better person, help others, and grow closer to God. He was never happy with what he had accomplished; he was a perfectionist. He was never able to be happy and in the moment. He was not focused on today! His accomplishments and the blessings of each day were never good enough for him. He was completely the opposite of the simpleton, who was always full of joy, appreciative, and happy with his lot in life, despite being very poor. The simpleton was always happy and in the moment, even though the quality of his work was not the best and incomplete.
In a class I heard recently about this story, Rav Ofer Gisin, a Breslov teacher, said that we could all learn an important lesson from the story of the sophisticate. We all need to try to limit as much as possible those moments of ‘surfing’, wandering the world like the sophisticate, in whatever form that might be. We lose today when we use our time and our talents for something that has no true purpose. This is really a big challenge in today’s world, when there is so much media and information at our finger tips every moment. It is so easy to get lost. However many times, it completely takes us out of today, and all that we truly have are the blessings of today.
Something that I find really healing during personal prayer is singing, singing a song or just a nigun, a song without words. A song of faith, of longing, or a happy song to lift me up. Music can take us out of all of the pressures and negative emotions we might be experiencing and bring us to a powerful, deep connection with Hashem and with our souls. What is so powerful about music? What is so healing about it? How is it able to express the deepest places in our soul?
Rebbe Nachman teaches in the book Advice (Likutei Eitzot) that by singing a song of holiness, a song that expresses faith and connection to Hashem, a person can obtain the aspect of prophecy. That is how powerful song and music can be. The main way to cling to Hashem is through song. He also teaches in the same chapter about music, that hearing a song from a singer or musician who is singing for the sake of Heaven is very great. Through listening to this type of music a person’s bad perceptions and impure desires are subdued and purified. They are able to distance themselves from sadness and merit happiness. Furthermore, their mind and their memory are protected, and they are able to understand the hints that God is sending them every day to come closer to Him. (Advice, Song, 3rd teaching and 8th teachings)
We see that real music is something very spiritual. It has a strong influence on our soul. Reb Noson, the Rebbe’s main student, expands upon Rebbe Nachman’s teachings about the transformative power of music in his book, Likutei Halachot. He teaches that the main way to connect two things that are far from each other, so much so that they are like two opposites is through music. Being here in the physical world in a body can create a great distance from Hashem. Therefore, the main way to cling to Hashem and connect to Him from this lowly, physical world is by way of song and music. Reb Noson says that we can see this clearly. Even a person who is sunken in a very low place spiritually, through holy music his soul can be awakened to return to Hashem. All of the songs that we sing to praise Hashem, in the prayer book, in our own words or in the book of Psalms are an essential way of truly connecting to Hashem. King David’s book of Psalms contains within it all of the ten types of song. Reb Noson also teaches that the main way to draw down the spirit of life, of holiness, is through singing and playing music about our faith in Hashem. (Otsar HaYirah, Likutei Halachot, Music, teachings 1 and 3)
There are singers who are able to channel through their music faith in Hashem and longing for Hashem. They stir our souls and awaken the holiness that we have inside of us. After hearing their songs and music we just cannot ignore our own souls. One of them was Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach z”l. I heard recently in one of the growing number of yahrzeit events marking his passing that once he said he did not write his own songs. He never said down to write a song. Reb Shlomo said that he received them from above; they are songs that come from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. He was drawing them down from a high place. The service in the Holy Temple was accompanied by music, by the songs of the Levites. In the past year or so, I have ‘rediscovered’ Reb Shlomo’s teachings and music. I feel that I am able to appreciate much more their amazing depth after having become connected to Chassidut. His songs seem very simple, just a few chords, but they express the deepest longings of the soul. I have been singing his songs a lot to myself recently in personal prayer. They are really helping me get through this challenging time of lockdown and quarantine. They help my soul feel more at peace. They help me remember what is important in life. Sometimes it is hard for me to listen to a class online or to open a book to learn something, but I always find a song that I want to listen to. A song that speaks to me at that moment.
There is certainly a lot more which we can learn and discuss about this topic, but for now, I want to end by sharing the lyrics of a beautiful song written by Michael Shapiro, a teacher and musician living in Arizona. The Aish Kodesh community in New York and Rabbi Shlomo Katz released a compilation of his songs, sung by different artists, about two years ago. This song touches me so deeply. It expresses our desire to return home and be close to our Creator. Returning home to serve Hashem. Do not be afraid of the journey!
“Don’t feel so far from your home, it’s not such a long journey. The path is inside of you; it waits, but don’t wait too long. The mind’s so far from the heart, they think and act as strangers. Make peace and be as one; love and serve the One King.
Refrain: Don’t be afraid, His love surrounds you, though you may feel alone. And within, a soft voice calls you: ‘Return Home.’
And on the way back home, the soul rejoices deeply. Creation sings in joy as she returns to harmony. When light is revealed, the most precious treasure, then sorrow has no place and joy abounds forever.”
In a teaching by Rebbe Nachman that I learned this week with some friends, the concept of waiting really struck me. Sometimes there is a great value in waiting for something. Sometimes you are forced into a situation where all you can do is wait and be patient. The Covid pandemic has brought all of us into a new reality. Our family is currently in isolation because my daughter was in class with a teacher who tested positive for Corona virus. A week later, our daughter’s second Corona test came back positive, even though she had no symptoms. We are about to finish our second week together in isolation. We are so used to being able to go out and do things; we are used to being on the run and pursuing different desires. Sometimes though, Hashem says that we need to be in a state of waiting. The Corona virus is teaching this lesson to all of us.
Rebbe Nachman teaches in the 24th lesson in Likutei Moharan, part one, that there is a spiritual light called the infinite light, which is above all of the different levels of a person’s soul. The infinite light of Hashem. We try to obtain it, but we really cannot. We can touch it so to speak, but then it slips away. A light that is above our souls and our perception. However, through two actions a person is able to build the proper vessels to contain some of this awesome light- pursuit and waiting. Part of the process is being able to wait. Our mind is always trying to reach higher, to pursue this Godly light, and to get closer. However, there is a part of our soul which holds us back from this pursuit, so that we will not try to reach too high. If we reach too high, it can actually damage us. In order to build the right vessels to contain the spiritual light and bounty that Hashem wants to give us, sometimes we need to wait and be patient. Slowing down and feeling stuck can feel difficult, but that is part of the process.
Rebbe Nachman also teaches in the book Tsaddik, the life of Rebbe Nachman, an important practical advice for all areas of life. For example, he says that someone who wants to sleep, but he cannot fall asleep, the advice is not to force himself to sleep. If a person tries to force himself to fall asleep, the opposite will happen; the obstacles will just become stronger. This is true, Rebbe Nachman says, in every matter in life- a person should not force himself to do something. The same advice is true in the service of Hashem, not to force himself too much. Even though a person needs to be very quick to purify himself and to merit true service of Hashem, and it is forbidden to push things off from one day to the next… nevertheless sometimes, when someone sees that the obstacles are too great and he is not able to accomplish his goal, he needs to wait. He should not become confused or dejected when he does not merit accomplishing his goal; he just needs to wait until the right time will come. Reb Noson continues and says that Rebbe Nachman himself was amazing also in this aspect. He was very fast in everything he needed to do, also in physical matters, yet nevertheless he was very balanced and moderate. When he saw that something was not happening, he was very moderate and patient. Reb Noson adds one more point that is important – a person needs to keep longing and wanting to fulfill their good will, despite the obstacles. We should never let ourselves despair, and immediately when things open up, we need to fulfill the mitzvah or good deed we desire to fulfill. (Tsaddik, teaching 431)
Many times when we slow down, we might realize wait a second- why was I so pressured about this thing. What is the rush? Right now, our family finds ourselves waiting for our isolation period to end. As much as it will be nice to be able to go out and get a few errands done, or to be able to exercise, I don’t want to just be waiting to get out of isolation. To just pass the time. I want to be able to appreciate and discover the good in this period of waiting at home. Every single day we can learn important lessons, every day is new and comes with its blessings. Every day when can give to those around us, especially our family. Even when we are stuck at home. As we learned in the first teaching above from Rebbe Nachman, part of the journey and the process of connecting to amazing spiritual light is holding back and waiting. For me personally, many times when I feel healthy and free to go where I want, my good desires turn into pressures, so this time of being at home is helping me I hope to let go of the pressure. I want to be able to do the same things, but without the pressure.
May we all merit during these challenging days, weeks, and months of Corona to discover the gifts that Hashem wants to give us specifically when things are closed and we are stuck at home.
Another piece of advice that can help a person achieve mindfulness and composure is breathing. Breathing with the intention of getting to know our Creator, thanking Him for each breath, and giving ourselves the quiet to hear ourselves, to try to hear our own true voice. Some might be surprised by the power of it and its positive effect on our emotional as well as spiritual state, but I have personally found, as well as friends whom I have learned the subject with, that just a few minutes a day of quiet breathing meditation really makes a difference to our emotional and spiritual state!
A special Breslov rabbi and teacher here in Israel, Rabbi Yisrael Yitchak Bezenson, may he be healthy and well, published a short booklet two years ago called Neshama Nishima- literally Soul Breathing. I bought a copy in Uman not really knowing what it was about, and began learning it with a friend. In this short book, he explains the spiritual aspects of breathing and how they are brought to light in the Chassidic teachings, specifically in Rebbe Nachman’s teachings. He explains that what prevents a person from actualizing the talents and abilities that they were blessed with is simply a lack of self-knowledge. Most people do not truly know how special they are. We are foreigners to ourselves because we do not know our essence, our souls; we only know the external clothing (so to speak) we are dressed in. Hashem gives us life from the very first breath we take in this world, however immediately after we are born our souls are swallowed up (in most cases) by our physical strengths and desires. What becomes the ruling force over a person? Their external self, who is turned outwards to the outside world. Our external self is how we learn to act and survive in a competitive world in order to find favor with others, whether for personal goals or for friendships. These external forces rule over us so much so that we identify them as ‘us’. That is who I am and it is impossible to change, people think to themselves. However, deep inside, our Godly soul is buried and hidden. How do we reveal our true self, the beautiful soul that God brought into the world?
Rav Bezenson teaches that a person who begins to practice deep breathing, just in a simple way, without complicated techniques, will quickly begin to discover signs of their true self, their soul begins to reveal itself. Our soul screams from within, ‘listen, it is me! Your true self!’ We begin to recognize our true essence. We begin to hear our own voice. This is the beginning of actualizing our true selves: separating ourselves from our external perspective, the external self which society dictated to us. (pages 25-26)
Not only due to we begin to hear the voice and discover the light of our soul through deep breathing, Rebbe Nachman teaches that a person becomes like a new creation, they can renew themselves in the most powerful way! He teaches in the book Tsaddik- the life of Rebbe Nachman, that a person who wants to return to Hashem, certainly needs to make themselves into a new creation. We need to know, that by taking a deep breath, we can transform ourselves into a new creation. A person never stops breathing, every moment he is inhaling air and exhaling, this is his main source of vitality. This breath that has the power to transform a person has a spiritual source above: there is a good source of breath that is drawn down by the tsaddik, and there is a negative source of breath that is brought down by a wicked person. The tsaddik is constantly drawing down the vitality of breath from holiness, and the wicked man is drawing his breaths from impurity. Therefore, when a person wants to return to Hashem he needs to make sure that he disconnects himself from the negative source of breath of the wicked person. We find, Rebbe Nachman says, that by taking a deep breath and sighing over their sins, someone can disconnect themselves from the source of impurity and connect themselves to the source of holiness. A person then receives a new source of vitality, and even their body becomes renewed. (Tsaddik, teaching 37) We see from this teaching how powerful breathing is, when we intend to connect to Hashem in a deeper way.
How does the concept of breathing connect to mindfulness, to meditation? Firstly, when we take time to slow down and focus on our breathing, when we slow down to take some deep breaths, it helps us become calmer and allows us to observe our thoughts and feelings. We can observe them without judgement and ask ourselves questions. What do I feel right now and why? It is a gateway to our inner world. We take time from the rush of the day to give ourselves the space to breath, and to be aware that Hashem is giving us this breath of life. We can thank Him for every breath. I try to set aside time every day for breathing, usually 5 to 10 minutes per day before personal prayer. I have found that allowing myself to take deep breaths and trying to release the stress of the day and connect to a deeper place inside, helps me be more connected in personal prayer. Many times, it also helps me continue the rest of the day with a feeling of renewal and positivity.
Everyone should have a beautiful Chanukah full of light and joy!
I wanted to share a short teaching about the power of Chanukah which I connected to this week. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach z”l teaches in his book “Lev HaShamayim” on Chanukah (pages 32-34) that this special holiday is about rectifying and purifying our hearts again. All of the Chassidic Rebbes teach that the name of this month, Kislev, can also be interpreted as כיס-לב, meaning that our hearts need to be a vessel (כיס is a pocket and לב is the heart). What does our heart need to be a vessel for? For the great light which is beyond words. This means that on the deepest level, where do I light the Chanukah candles? Inside my heart.
This might be hard to hear, but Rebbe Nachman says that every sin which we do causes us to hate somebody else. Why? Because every sin ruins the holiness of our hearts, and everything depends on the heart. Not only does it cause us to feel hatred for another person, G-d forbid, it also causes us to hate ourselves. Every sin causes a person to distance themselves from their own soul and their own heart.
Hashem forgives our sins on Yom Kippur, however the heart itself, when does Hashem rectify it? When does he remove all of the evil and hatred from the heart? When do we see again the beauty and light and holiness of another person? On Chanukah. Chanukah is the time of Aharon, the High Priest. His expertise was to bring peace between people. How do we make peace between people? By removing the hatred from people’s hearts. Our special light also begins to shine again on Chanukah, we can again look in the mirror and see our own great light.
Rebbe Nachman spoke a lot about the heart. He wanted his students and followers to be called specifically Breslov Chasidim. Breslov sounds similar to the Hebrew words לב בשר, lev basar- a heart of flesh, literally. One of the goals of his teachings I think you can say is to have a feeling heart, a heart filled with knowledge and faith. His teachings are filled with incredible knowledge and advice, which he wanted us to bring into our hearts through prayer and by fulfilling his advice. Rebbe Nachman said in one of his conversations that main aspect of true knowledge of Hashem and the Torah is when knowledge is connected with our hearts. Even in our hearts we need to know Hashem and have awe of Him. Our heart can also feel and experience the truth of Hashem’s existence and our faith in Him. (Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom, teaching 217)
As I light the Chanukah candles each night and look at their beautiful light in the dark winter night, I pray as much as I can. I say different prayers that I’ve written for myself over the years. However, I realize now after learning this teaching by Reb Shlomo that the deepest thing I’m really praying for is to have a pure heart again, to be kind and loving and open to my family and to all those I meet. King David says in his prayers, “Create a pure heart for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.” (Psalms, Chapter 51, Verse 12) A pure heart, this is what I was praying for by the candles tonight on this night of Chanukah after reading this teaching. I know that this is how Hashem created me and how I was as a small child. Many, many times I feel so far from a pure, open heart. However, Chanukah has the power to shine this special light again, the healing light of faith and love in our hearts. The light of feeling and seeing Hashem’s love in our lives all throughout the year. Chanukah reminds us how deeply we want to feel this again.