This week we start reading the third book of the Torah, Vayikra, or Leviticus in English. The beginning of this book has several parshas about the laws of offering sacrifices in the Tabernacle and the Holy Temple. What can we learn from these laws today, when we don’t have the Temple and we don’t have sacrifices? Regarding the Mincha offering, the meal offering, the Torah states: “When a person offers a meal-offering to Hashem, his offering shall be of fine flour; he shall pour oil upon it and place frankincense upon it.” (Chapter 2, Verse 1)
Rebbe Noson teaches us, based on this verse about meal offerings, an important lesson about teshuva, returning to Hashem. He says that the main aspect of teshuva is the aspect of the mincha offering. The meal offerings were brought by poor people who could not afford to offer an animal, and because of this these offerings were precious before God. The same is true regarding returning to Hashem. A person needs to pray with the knowledge that he is poor and lacking spiritually. This means that on the one hand we should know and feel our meekness and impoverishment before God, but on the other hand our mistakes and sins should not cause us to become even more distant from Hashem; rather we need to trust in Hashem’s kindness, that we too have hope to merit to return to God from whatever situation we find ourselves in. The mincha offering teaches us that God’s mercy is never depleted, his attribute of mercy is boundless. Even if a person can’t return and correct his mistakes as he should according to the scope of his actions, nevertheless this should not prevent him from doing what he can to correct his ways. Even one aspect of teshuva is very precious in the eyes of God, just like the mincha offering, which was offered by a poor person. The Sages teach that our prayers are in place of sacrifices today. Therefore, Rebbe Noson adds that the main aspect of teshuva is prayer, and the most important kind of prayer in God’s eyes is the prayer of a poor person. The main principle which we learn from the mincha offering is to never cause yourself to despair, even when things feel really hard, just to try to overcome the situation you find yourself in and do what you can. (Likutei Halachot, Laws of the Mincha Prayer, 7th teaching)
Rebbe Noson writes in Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom: “He (Rebbe Nachman) also strongly emphasized the greatness of teshuva, even when a person falls very greatly, God forbid… nevertheless it’s forbidden for him to let himself despair, because teshuva is very lofty, even loftier than the Torah; therefore there is no reason to despair, because if a person returns to Hashem, his sins will be rectified and be turned into merits… The main principle is: from any fall and decline which somebody goes through, they can return to Hashem easily, because His greatness can’t be comprehended; and the main thing which everything depends on is not to let himself despair from screaming and praying to Hashem always.” (3rd teaching) Rebbe Noson writes in another teaching in Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom regarding having faith in ourselves: “And the general principle which is understood from his words is that a person needs to have faith in himself, that he too is beloved to Hashem. Since Hashem’s goodness is so boundless, he too is great and important in God’s eyes.” (140th teaching)
Do whatever (good) you can, keep trying, keep going, keep praying, there’s no reason to despair! How much do we need to hear these words every day! This message you will find in many places in Rebbe Nachman’s teachings, and there is even an entire book called Restore My Soul, a compilation of Rebbe Nachman’s teachings about finding strength and encouragement in any situation. Why does a person despair from trying to return to Hashem and to who they truly are?
We give up because we don’t believe in how much God loves us and how full of mercy he is. We also despair because we don’t believe in ourselves, we don’t believe that we are beloved and still wanted by God and that we have the strength inside, in our souls, to keep trying. We don’t value the mitzvahs and good deeds which we are doing. I have been listening recently to an amazing series of classes by Rav Moshe Weinberger about Rebbe Nachman’s first story in the Thirteen Tales, the Lost Princess. He says that one of the main expressions in our life of the fact that we have lost the Princess, meaning that we are far from our souls and therefore far from God, is that we don’t believe in ourselves. We don’t believe in the power of our souls, we don’t believe in our talents and abilities, and we don’t believe that Hashem is with us and helping us in every situation. We don’t believe that we have something special to share with the world. We lost the feeling that Hashem is our loving father, and not only that, He’s the King of Kings, who can help us always and in any situation. We don’t believe how much our lives could be completely different and change for the better if we try, on our level, to improve our ways and live a life of returning to Hashem. Rebbe Nachman teaches us that the opposite is true. Every prayer, every effort, every aspect of teshuva is very great and precious before Hashem, and He is with us every step of the way!
(The image is courteous of Chabad.org)