Translated by Moshe Neveloff
Edited by Gershon Weissman
I want to begin from the end. But just before the end, a few words: We are good, really good. I don’t mean to say “successful”- success is the measure that is usually used- rather I’m speaking about our internal essence. We are good in such a way that we can’t even imagine. The world which we live in hides this good. The true good has been forgotten and in today’s reality we sometimes identify with the good, but most of the time we identify more with the bad. We think that evil is completely real and there’s nothing we can do about it.
About 200 years ago Rebbe Nachman said that inside something that seems to you to be completely bad- there is hidden goodness, and if you’ll deepen your look at this good (point) you’ll find more and more good. Not just inside you there is a lot of good, but also inside of your neighbor and your friend and your wife and your child and the falafel man, who never gives you your change and wants to give you bazooka gum instead! Also inside of them there is so much goodness. Even the annoying driver, who took your parking place on your way to an important meeting and threw his cigarette butt out the window, has a lot of good. Maybe it’s really hidden, but there is so much good inside. Rebbe Nachman also revealed that if we’ll pay attention to the good point and nurture it, something great will happen.
I wanted to write a book about this. I called the book “The Secret of the Good Point”, because even though Rebbe Nachman already revealed this secret and called it ‘Azamra’ (Likutei Moharan, Torah 282), it is still a secret. It is said that a secret is similar to the taste of something. If you haven’t tasted it you won’t understand what people are talking about. Therefore, even though Rebbe Nachman told us the secret of the good point we need to bring this secret into our lives, to live it, to search for it and to strive to make it part of our life.
During the process of writing I revealed that this idea is interesting and complicated and that I would need a lot of time to internalize the ideas I’ve written (inspired by Rebbe Nachman). I was happy that these ideas would be written and I knew that at least one person would benefit from this book, myself.
One moment- I suspect that you want to know, as I wrote above in the title of this chapter, what was the final word? What was my intention when I said that I would begin from the end? Before I answer this question I want to tell how everything began so that you’ll have some more background.
I began writing the book during a time when there was a great amount of tension between different groups of Jews- mainly between extremist secular Jews and extremist hareidi Jews. The media gave the impression that the positions of each side were reaching a dangerous level of extremism. While eating a Shabbat meal at our friend’s house we spoke about Rebbe Nachman’s teaching ‘Azamra’, about the secret of the good point and how every person can see the good in himself and in another person. During the conversation I was reminded of a story that is brought in one of the books about a student of Rebbe Natan, Rebbe Nachman’s disciple. The student (of Rebbe Natan) sat and listened to Rebbe Natan teach the secret of the good point, and repeated to himself Rebbe Natan’s words. Rebbe Natan looked at him and said: “You think that you already understand ‘Azamra’? If we truly understood ‘Azamra’ and we were truly fulfilling it, the whole world would already return to God. Because in ‘Azamra’ Rebbe Nachman says that if you can see the good of another person you can raise him up from the level of judgment to the level of merit and from there he can return to God.”
What is the meaning of the expression ‘to return to God’? In addition to the simple meaning- correcting the sins and mistakes that a person makes, clinging to absolute good and the possibility to start anew- on the spiritual and emotional level the meaning of the expression is that a person has free choice. As long as someone feels that he’s bad and he’s not connected to himself, he feels he has no free choice. He continues to act automatically, as he’s done in the past, and he finds ways to justify his behavior.
Rebbe Nachman did not direct the message of ‘Azamra’ to religious people or secular people. He spoke to every person who wants to improve his life, to make them into a good and happy life and to connect truly to the good. Whether you define yourself as religious or secular, the ability to see the good inside of you and the good of another person- whether that person is your spouse or your children, your colleagues at work or people from another sector, whose lifestyle and beliefs are completely different than yours- this ability can completely change your life.
Rebbe Nachman further teaches that if you can see the good in yourself, you’ll succeed in seeing the good in another person. If you can see that even inside a person who seems bad there is good- that will help you to accept yourself and find also the good inside yourself.
As a result of our discussion about ‘Azamra’ I thought about the battles between the different sectors of the Jewish people, in the media and on the street, about the hatred, the anger and the pain- and then it hit me. Is it possible to do something? Can I myself do something? What influence could a book have which brings the special light of ‘Azamra’, of the good point, in a way which would be readable for everyone? Not just to dedicated Breslover Chassidim, but to every person who wants to improve his life and add more good to it. In truth, I don’t know. I can only say this: at that moment I decided to write the book to the best of my ability. For sure I won’t be the one to decide where this book will reach and who it will influence, nevertheless, I can only focus on my efforts; my effort to serve the good and to add goodness in my world and the worlds of those surrounding me.
And that is how it all began, and now fast forward to the end of the story, almost.
In the end, I had almost finished writing the book. A few final touches remained, and it was onward to the printing press. That, in any case, is what I thought. At this point I sent the draft to some friends in order to receive their feedback before we continued forward- to creating the illustrations, editing, setting the page numbers, and sending the book for binding. A few friends sent encouraging emails, wishes for success, and requested that I tell them when the book reached the shelves. Others sent their positive feedback.
Then I received a phone call from a close friend. It turns out that he read the book the night before. Not all of it, just the first 44 pages.
I heard his serious voice from the other end of the phone line. “The book is terrible.”
“Terrible?” I was sure that he was making a joke.
“Really, really bad.”
At that moment I understood that he wasn’t joking. I breathed deeply. “Really? Why?” He began to explain to me what was wrong in his opinion- the examples, the language. And then he threw the bombshell.
“I don’t find you at all in the book; it’s as if you’re not there. It’s as if you wrote the book and at the same time you sent text messages to friends. Where is your heart?!”
I felt that the blood was flowing out of my body. I breathed deeply several times. I understood that he was correct. I understood that the book is truly great, on the intellectual level, but where am I in this story? I understood that at a certain time in the process- something had been lost.
Panic crept up my back when I thought about having to explain to the book publishers that I need to stop for a moment, to invest more in the writing. Who knows if I would even succeed in improving the draft?
Where did I find the strength to listen to him? When he said the following sentence I understood.
“To tell you the truth, it’s simply not appropriate for you. I know you. You can do much better. I would expect from you something completely different. I know that you can, just jump into it. Don’t publish the book yet.”
Suddenly I was reminded of a different book I had written a few years ago. Also then I thought that the book was already good, until a friend came and said ‘that’s not it’, and I didn’t understand what he was talking about! I tried to argue and explain that I wrote a good book, a book that was compelling and tense (it was a fiction novel). My friend also thought the book was exciting and interesting. “If you want to have your book on the bookshelf of every Israeli home, it could be that you’ll succeed”, he said then, “but if you want to enter the hearts of people and not just their bookshelf, you have a lot more work ahead.” He was also correct.
I heard once that ‘Azamra’ does not mean just to see a bit of good in another person. If a friend comes to you in dirty clothes, the meaning of ‘Azamra’ is not just to tell him: “Wow! You have a small piece of your shirt by the shoulder which is not even dirty, wonderful!” ‘Azamra’ means to tell your beloved friend: “Brother, your clothes are completely dirty and it’s really not appropriate for you.”
Therefore specifically his words, “it’s really not appropriate for you”, showed me that my friend sees the true good inside of me.
‘Azamra’ means understanding that maybe I’ve fallen to forgetfulness, or made a mistake, or feel disconnected and distant- but that is not who I am. It’s about this point that I want to speak about in this book. It turned out that I needed to write the whole book in order to understand that I hadn’t even started, and then to begin again.
Therefore I’m beginning again. If this book has reached your hands- it seems that in the end I succeeded in reaching the end of the journey.
If you can see the good in yourself, you’ll succeed in seeing the good in another person. If you can see that even inside a person who seems bad there is good- that will help you to accept yourself and find also the good inside yourself.