Personal Development

Mindfulness According to Rebbe Nachman 1

Mindfulness has become one of the most popular topics in the world of psychology, therapy and meditation.  What is mindfulness?  What does it mean to be mindful?  What does the Torah teach us about mindfulness, specifically the teachings of Chasidut? Mindfulness is defined in Wikipedia as ‘the practice of purposely bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment without judgement, a skill one develops through meditation or other training.’

Rebbe Nachman teaches in the tenth teaching in Likutei Moharan II that the reason people are far from G-d and are not seeking to come closer to Him is only that they do not have clarity (yishuv ha’dat in Hebrew).  They do not try to contemplate life and settle their mind.  The main thing that a person needs to contemplate very well is what is the purpose of all of the desires and matters of this world?  If someone will contemplate this question, both regarding physical pleasures and emotional pleasures such as seeking honor, surely they will return to Hashem.  They will hear the voice of their soul calling them to return to Hashem.

What blocks a person from having clarity about their life and their purpose in this world?  Sadness Rebbe Nachman says.  It is impossible for someone to control and guide their mind as they would like if they are in a state of sadness.  Only through simcha (happiness) can a person focus their mind, contemplate and obtain clarity.  Why?  Because happiness is the world of freedom.  Through true happiness somebody can become truly free and leave their state of exile.  When a person is happy their mind is then free to contemplate and have clarity.  When our mind is in a state of exile we can’t contemplate important questions: who are we? What is our true purpose in the world?  What are our positive life’s goals?

How can a person get out of this state of sadness and exile and become happy?  By searching for and finding their good points, Rebbe Nachman says, by looking at their good deeds and mitzvoth.  We need to appreciate and rejoice in the good that we are able to do, despite our difficulties!  When we really appreciate and feel happy about our good points then our mind too will be influenced by this, Rebbe Nachman teaches.  Our mind will have clarity to understand and contemplate our true purpose.  Happiness and being able to reflect allow us to enter a state of mindfulness.

As I write these words, we are reading the Torah portions that teach us about the life of Avraham our patriarch.  How did Avraham become such a spiritual giant and the first patriarch of the Jewish people?  From a young age he contemplated the reality around him and let himself ask questions.  In the laws of idol worship in the Mishnah Torah, the Rambam describes how the world was stumbling in darkness and sin until Avraham was born.  When he was still a very young child, three years old, he began to search and to contemplate, day and night: how is it possible that this planet and all of creation work so harmoniously with no leader?  Who is turning the planet?  It is impossible that it turns by itself!  He had no teacher or any to answer his questions; he was surrounded by a culture of idol worship.  Nevertheless, the Rambam says, his heart and mind never stopped searching and contemplating, until he found the truth.  He so badly desired the truth and sought faith.  (Mishnah Torah, Laws of Idol Worship, Chapter One)  Avraham caused a revolution of faith in Hashem in the world because he had the courage and determination to seek the truth.  He prayed, meditated, and searched until Hashem revealed Himself to Avraham.  He spent many years in his search.  I heard recently in a class that Avraham is our role model for everything: faith, kindness, and relationships with others.  I believe it possible to say from the Rambam’s description of Avraham’s search and journey that he is also a role model for mindfulness, for contemplating the meaning of life and seeking to find Godliness in every moment of life.

(The image is courteous of the University of Michigan, University Health Service)

Torah Portion

Ha’azinu 5781

“Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; and may the earth hear the words of my mouth.  May my teaching drop like the rain, may my utterance flow like the dew… When I call out the Name of Hashem, ascribe greatness to our God.” (Chapter 32, Verses 1-3)  This is how Moshe begins the powerful song of Ha’azinu, as part of his final words to the Jewish people. 

Rebbe Natan explains that the tsaddikim only reached their great levels by way of personal prayer.  They prayed and pleaded a lot before Hashem that they should merit to fulfill the Torah.  The main way to defeat the evil inclination completely is only through prayer and Torah learning together.  Why?  Because if a person only learns Torah, without investing in prayer, he could be influenced by the evil inclination, who convinces him to learn with improper motivations, such as seeking honor for himself.  This is also the case if a person only prays; the evil inclination can also have a negative influence by telling a person only to pray for his physical needs.  However, when somebody joins Torah and tefilah (prayer) together, and his main prayer is to be able to fulfill the words of the Torah, then Torah and prayer join together as one.  This has the power to push away any possible bad influences of the evil inclination.  When I will call out and pray to Hashem and make prayers out of the Torah I learn, then surely ‘my teaching (will) drop like the rain’, my words will enter into my heart, just as rainwater influences the earth.  The main way for a person to fulfill the Torah and live by its words, is by praying over what they learn.  Moshe said all of the song of Ha’azinu for our time period, so that even our generation will be able to fulfill the Torah at the end of exile.  The song Ha’azinu is the aspect of prayer and song, the aspect of the ten types of song by which King David authored the prayers of Tehillim (Psalms).  In Ha’azinu Moshe included all of the Torah into the aspect of song, which is prayer.  He gave us the gift, even today, of discovering this path of making a prayer out of our learning. (Likutei Halachot, Laws of Rosh Chodesh, 5th teaching)

Rebbe Nachman teaches in Likutei Moharan (73rd teaching, Part Two) that the words of Tehillim have tremendous power to awaken a person’s heart and soul to return to Hashem.  Many people try to say more chapters of Tehillim during the last month of the year, Elul, and during the 10 days of teshuva, which begin with Rosh Hashana.  There are five books of Tehillim, which correspond to the five books of the Torah.  There are many, many verses in the psalms where King David prays to come close to Hashem and be able to fulfill the Torah.  He made the teachings of the Torah into prayers.  In the lesson above, Rebbe Natan is teaching us that we too have the power to write our own book of Tehillim!

To make the Torah into a prayer.  To truly bring the words of faith and Torah into our hearts we need to pray over our learning, and to make a prayer out of what we learn.  This is the service of the heart.  I was familiar with this advice from Rebbe Nachman’s teachings, but only after hearing a few teachers who I like to listen to speak about this and encourage it, did I start to try to write my own prayers to different teachings.  Even if I only write down a few sentences of my own words, it is a very powerful experience to pray and read your own words before Hashem.  I am able to express how I connect to this teaching, and how I want it to make a positive impact in my life.  It gives me a special feeling of bringing the teaching into my life, and really living with the teaching day to day.  ‘Hashem, please help me find my special point of light.  Please heal my broken heart, with the light of Your love.  Please help me feel the light of Your love in my life.’  These are some prayers that I wrote down recently based on a teaching in Likutei Moharan that I have been learning the past few months.  The teaching talks in general about healing our broken hearts through the light of Hashem, which is revealed by the Tsaddik.

“From all my teachers I grew wise, for Your testimonies are a conversation for me.” (Psalms 119: 99) May we all merit during these days of teshuvah to bring the words of the Torah into our heart through our own prayers, and may we all merit to be sealed in the Book of Life for a good, blessed year.  Amen.

Torah Portion

Nitzavim 5780

This week’s parsha begins with Moshe’s powerful words on the last day of his life, regarding the renewal of the nation’s Covenant with Hashem.  “You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem, your God: the heads of the tribes, your elders, and your officers- all the men of Israel.” (Chapter 29, Verse 9, Artscroll commentary)  Rebbe Natan explains in Likutei Halachot why we always read this parsha before the holiday of Rosh Hashana.  The Torah is telling us that all of the souls of the Jewish people, from the greatest to the lowest, need to gather and be united in love in the exalted holiness of the great tsaddik, who is the aspect of Moshe.  The true tsaddik.  They all need to try to travel to be by the tsaddik for Rosh Hashana.  By way of gathering by the tsaddik and connecting to his awesome knowledge, each person there merits to renew his own intellect and knowledge.  This renewal of knowledge allows them to sweeten and rectify all kinds of judgments and constrictions, each person according to their level and situation.  The tsaddik helps each person know every day, in every place and in every situation that in that very moment they can find Hashem and bind themselves to Him.  All of our sins, blemishes and mental confusion can also be nullified by connecting to the true tsaddik.  This is what the first verse of the parsha is referring to: “You”, each individual and the aspect of all of the Jewish souls together; “are standing”, the place each person finds themselves in; “today”, the aspect of time.  “All of you, before Hashem…” Moshe is saying that you all need to know that you are standing firmly before Hashem, by way of connecting yourselves to the true tsaddik.  The tsaddik helps each one of us overcome our obstacles and start anew to serve Hashem every moment, because in truth a person only has this day and this moment of their life.  He helps us to renew our faith and knowledge, and begin again.  (Likutei Halachot, Laws of a Deposited Item and Guards, 5th teaching)

Rebbe Nachman explains in Likutei Moharan one of the deeper reasons for the custom to travel to tsaddikim for the holiday of Rosh Hashana.  The main way to sweeten judgements is only by way of purifying and making holier a person’s thoughts, because the source of judgements against a person is in the thoughts.  The Zohar teaches: everything will be clarified in the world of thought.  It is only possible to obtain a pure mind by binding oneself to the tsaddikim, as the verse states: “Moshe took the bones of Yosef.” (Exodus, Chapter 13, Verse 19)  Moshe is the aspect of knowledge, and Yosef is the aspect of the tsaddik.  This teaches us that there can only be complete knowledge by binding oneself to the true tsaddikim.  Rosh Hashana is the source of all of the decrees and judgements for the entire year, and a person needs to purify his thoughts in order to rectify them and sweeten the judgements.  Therefore, the Jewish people have a custom to travel to the tsaddikim for Rosh Hashana, in order to merit the holiness of thought. (Likutei Moharan, 211th teaching, Part One)

Rebbe Nachman said about being by him for Rosh Hashana that, “my Rosh Hashana is something great and new, and Hashem knows that I did not receive it as an inheritance from my ancestors, rather Hashem gave it to me as a gift, because I know what Rosh Hashana is.” (The Life of Rebbe Nachman, 405)

I know it is hard for many to understand going all the way to Uman in the middle of the Ukraine for Rosh Hashana.  It was also hard for me to understand before I went for the first time seven years ago. The past few years I have seen a sign hung by the side of roads and highways here in Israel: Uman Rosh Hashana- come, experience, understand.  There are some experiences that are hard to put into words, and being in Uman for Rosh Hashana is definitely one of them.  I will deeply miss going to Uman this year to be a part of the gathering and prayers by Rebbe Nachman.  To be by my Rebbe.  The teachings that I shared here might shed a little bit of light on what attracts so many to travel there, but there are many deep, spiritual aspects, which remain hidden from many of us.  However, we believe that Rebbe Nachman is helping each one of us in our own journey of returning to Hashem; and we believe that the power of teshuva and the prayers that happen in Uman by the grave of the tsaddik have a much wider influence in the world.  The Sages teach that the tsaddikim, after their physical passing from the world, have even more of an influence spiritually, they are still alive spiritually and present in our world.  A well-known Israeli Chassidic singer, Yosef Karduner, made a song on one of his recent albums- ‘what happens in Uman, is unbelievable’ (it rhymes in Hebrew).  Another singer and teacher, R’ Shlomo Katz, also wrote recently in describing his new song called Uman, ‘what happens in Uman… stays in your heart forever.’

May we all merit a sweet, happy and healthy new year in the merit of the true tsaddikim!

(The image is courteous of Chabad.org)

Torah Portion

Reeh 5780

reehThis week’s parsha begins with Moshe mentioning the blessing and curse that would be given later on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, near Shechem.  Moshe begins his recitation in this parsha of most of the mitzvoth found in the book of Devarim by putting the commandments into perspective, saying that the choice of whether or not to accept the Torah is the choice between blessing and curse. (Artscroll commentary)

Rebbe Nachman explains in Likutei Moharan, Teaching 36 (Part 1) that the blessing and the curse come to a person according to the vessel, which he has to receive them.  What does this mean?  The blessing and the curse are before you, Rebbe Nachman explains, because from Hashem there is only emanating simple (spiritual) light.  The letters of the Torah contain in them God’s light.  According to each person’s actions, whether he is trying to choose good and do good or the opposite, the letters are joined together to receive a blessing or a curse.  This is why the verse says I place the blessing and the curse before you specifically, because the light coming from Hashem does not have a specific form yet.  Spiritual light and blessing are always coming down from above, but our ability to receive this light depends upon the vessel we are able to create.  Are there other ways that we can enlarge our vessel to receive all of the blessings that Hashem wants to bestow upon us?

Rebbe Nachman explains in another powerful lesson in Likutei Moharan, Teaching 34 (Part 1), why we need to pray and what happens when we pray before God.  Before discussing prayer, he explains that when our hearts are sunken in shame, when false forms of love, bad desires, consume our hearts; this causes our hearts to become broken.  Great tsaddikim, like Moshe, Yosef, and other tsaddikim who came after them have the power, the governance so to speak, to heal our broken hearts.  They received this power from Hashem.  This is the meaning of the verse in the prophet Shmuel (Samuel), “…A righteous one, who rules through the fear of God.” (Shmuel II, Chapter 23, Verse 3) The main aspect of this power is to illuminate and to awaken the hearts of the Jewish people to serve Hashem.  Rebbe Nachman asks in this teaching, it seems like a difficulty: why do we need to pray, behold Hashem knows our thoughts?  He answers that speech creates the vessel that allows us to receive God’s abundance.  Through prayer we build our receptacle in order to receive all of the good Hashem wants to give us.  If our speech is rectified and purified by Torah, prayer and good speech, then we have a vessel that is able to receive Hashem’s blessings.  How is this connected to a Tsaddik who has the power to heal our broken hearts?  The words and the prayers of the Tsaddik are rectified and complete, and therefore he is able to help others too receive Hashem’s abundance of good.

Prayer increases our ability to receive blessing.  It increases our faith.  The more that we are able to deepen our prayers and connect to being in a state of prayer, our faith that our prayers are heard also deepens.  Our connection to Hashem deepens.  Rebbe Nachman also reveals in this lesson that every person has in them something precious, an aspect of a Tsaddik, which is completely unique to them.  A beautiful part of their soul that they need to reveal in the world.  When we speak and share with family and friends, we need to know that we have something unique and special that only we can share with them.  The opposite is also true, they have something very special and unique to share with us.  Our precious, unique point can awaken and illuminate our friend’s heart, just as the Tsaddik has the ability to do this for everyone.  How can I discover and know what is special and unique about me?  Rebbe Nachman says further that each person needs to speak with God in personal prayer in order to discover his or her special point and allow it to shine.  This unique point of their soul has the power to heal their broken heart.  When we know and feel that we too are special, and when we discover the deep connection and love that exists between us and Hashem, then all of the false imitations of true love fade away.

The faith that we merit to reveal and increase inside ourselves by discovering our special light needs to be shared with those around us.  We can help others in a deep way by connecting to our unique point of light and sharing it with others!

(The image is courteous of chabad.org)

Torah Portion

Ekev 5780

Rabbi_Nahman_Tomb_(Uman,_Ukraine)In this week’s parsha we continue to learn Moshe’s final departing words to the Jewish people before they enter the Land of Israel.  “You shall remember the entire road on which Hashem, your God, led you these forty years in the Wilderness so as to afflict you, to test you, to know what is in your heart, whether you would observe His commandments or not.  He afflicted you and let you hunger, then He fed you the manna that you did not know, nor did your forefathers know, in order to make you know that not by bread alone does man live, rather by everything that emanates from the mouth of God does man live.” (Chapter 8, Verses 2-3)  We live by the mouth of Hashem.  Our lives are a gift that He gave us in His kindness and goodwill.  We say every morning in our prayers, ‘Blessed is He who spoke and the world came to be.’

What is Moshe teaching us in these verses?  What is the main source of our life and vitality? Rabbi Natan explains that the main source of our vitality is not from the food itself, but rather Hashem’s words are the main source of life.  The deeper reason that we receive sustenance and vitality from food is because Hashem placed in the food this influence of holiness, which has the power to give vitality to a person.  Food too has a spiritual source and influence that come from Hashem.  Therefore, the main source of vitality comes from the Torah, which is the word of Hashem.  The Sages teach that Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world.  Just as in every other aspect of life, the Torah teaches us how to eat with holiness.  Everything in creation is composed of four fundamental elements- earth, water, fire and air (spirit).  Through the laws and the teachings of the Torah we are able to clarify these essential elements and live with them in harmony.  We have the ability to separate the good in them from the bad.   When these elements are not in balance, they can have a negative influence that causes us to behave with bad character traits or to desire pleasures that are unhealthy for us.  When we are able to work with these four essential elements in balance and harmony, we merit to connect to our source of vitality and holiness- the Master of the World. (Likutei Halachot, the Laws of Pesach, 3rd teaching)

This teaching by Rabbi Natan about the true spirit of life is based upon Rebbe Nachman’s eighth teaching in the first part of Likutei Moharan.  He explains in that teaching that the sighs and groans of a person are very precious and important, because they help them fulfill whatever they are missing.  How?  When a person lacks something- health, happiness, livelihood etc.; when he sighs over what he is lacking, this brings completion to his lacking.  When something is lacking, such as health, it is because there is something lacking spiritually.  There is a lack of harmony in our being.  Everything that a person is missing in his life, it is only possible to fulfill these deficiencies and find completion by connecting to a true Tsaddik.  Why?  Because the spiritual aspect that a person needs to fulfill what he is missing can only be received from the influence of a great Tsaddik.  This Tsaddik is always clinging to the light and the wisdom of the Torah, which contains in it the spiritual vitality that our souls need. (Based on the Abridged Likutei Moharan)

On a practical level, many people want to live with more vitality, more holiness, they want a more meaningful and happy life.  However, many also wonder: how can I obtain these wonderful desires?  Sometimes they seem so far away.  In this teaching, Rebbe Nachman reveals that breathing is a way to connect more to the spirit of vitality and holiness that can be found in all of God’s creation, all the time.  Specifically with deep breaths and sighs.  Yes, through the simple act of taking time to slow down, breathe deeply, and allowing yourself to sigh over things that you might be lacking in your life, you can connect in a deeper way to Hashem.  When we think of something that we are lacking or a difficulty that we have and let out a deep sigh, we are asking Hashem in our hearts and souls- I don’t know the answer, but I really need your help!  I want to find better work to be able to support my family.  I want to have a better relationship with my child.  I want to wake up and feel happy for the gift of a new day of life!  In addition, just by simply thinking to ourselves (or verbalizing) before taking a deep breath, ‘You are giving me this breath of life,’ we are expressing faith and bringing more holiness and light inside ourselves.  We are connecting to our Creator and recognizing that He gives us the gift of life.  He can help us fulfill all of our good desires and heal our pain and difficulties.  He can bring completion to everything that we are missing in our lives.

(The image is from Wikipedia.org)

Torah Portion

Va’etchanan 5780

av5780At the beginning of our Parsha Moshe pleads before Hashem to be allowed to enter the land of Israel.  Hashem had told Moshe that he would not lead the people into the Land, but Moshe loved Eretz Yisrael so much so that he continued to pray to annul the decree (Artscroll Commentary).  “I implored Hashem at that time, saying… Let me now cross and see the good Land that is on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the Lebanon.” (Chapter 3, Verses 23-25)

Rebbe Natan explains in Likutei Halachot a deeper reason why Moshe pleaded with Hashem to enter the Land of Israel.  Rebbe Nachman explains in the 54th teaching in Likutei Moharan (Part 1), that a person needs to guard his memory very well so that he will not fall into forgetfulness.  He needs to remember every day that the true purpose of life is preparing for the World to Come (Heaven).  When we pass away, our souls will return to Heaven.  The Heavenly Court will ask us questions about how we lived our lives in this world.  Afterwards, a person needs to use their power of memory on a more personal level.  This means that they need to contemplate well and to examine their thoughts, words, actions and experiences- what are the hints and the messages that Hashem is sending me in order to bring me closer to Him?  Every single day God has prepared special hints just for me, through the thoughts, words and actions that I experience.  However, in order to connect to this powerful aspect of memory, people need to guard themselves from having a bad eye.  Jealousy, hatred, and lust are examples of an evil eye.  Having an evil eye when we look at other people causes us forgetfulness.  Our heart is dulled and we are not able to contemplate God’s messages.  Therefore, Rebbe Natan explains, Moshe pleaded and prayed so many times before Hashem to be allowed to enter the Land of Israel.  This is because the main aspect of this holy memory and deeper understanding can only be attained in the Land of Israel.  (Likutei Halachot, the Laws of Judges, 5th teaching)

Rebbe Nachman also teaches in another lesson in Likutei Moharan, 217 (Part One), that the month of Tamuz, when we begin the Three Weeks, is alluded to in the verse at the end of the prophet Malachi, “זכרו תורת משה”, ‘remember the Torah of Moshe.’  Forgetting the Torah and forgetting our relationship with Hashem happened in the month of Tamuz, when Moshe broke the first set of Tablets.  Therefore, on a deeper level, connecting to the power of memory means to search for and contemplate what Hashem might be teaching us, everyday.  We want to rectify the aspect of memory which was blemished during the Three Weeks.

Every day Hashem is sending us special hints and messages to bring us closer to Him and to who we truly are.  However, many times, we do not understand what Hashem is teaching us.  Many things are hidden from us.  This causes us pain and confusion.  Why did I go through this?  What is this coming to teach me?  On the other hand, there are also times when we are granted the insight to understand the special message which God wants to teach us.

I was just speaking this week with the Rabbi and counselor I meet with on a weekly basis about a certain recent incident which was difficult for me with a neighbor.  We discussed what happened.  The facts of the case, so to speak.  Then we discussed what my feelings were about the matter and what my interpretation of the incident was.  I felt mostly fear about my next interaction with this neighbor.  In the moment, when this neighbor expressed negativity towards me, I was startled and did not know how to react.  I was surprised and did not have any insight.  Now however, thanks to my discussion with the Rabbi, I started to see the matter with more clarity.  I understood an important message which Hashem was trying to teach me.  Usually the pain or negative emotions that we feel about something that happens to us or in a certain relationship are related to our interpretation, our perspective and previous experiences.  Only about two weeks after my difficult interaction with the neighbor was I able to gain some insight and understand that my interpretation of what had happened was negative.  I was only able to realize this after contemplating, with the help of the Rabbi, what had happened a few weeks before.

During this time of year, after experiencing the Three Weeks of mourning over the destruction of the Temple and the Fast of Tisha B’Av, we begin to read the seven special haftaroth of consolation until Rosh Hashanah.  This Shabbat is also called Shabbat Nachamu, which are the first words of this week’s haftarah.  We are reminded that despite the difficulties we might experience, there are also moments of clarity and consolation.  May Hashem grant us and bless us with the ability to know and to remember that everything we go through in life contains within it a special message filled with love from Hashem.

(The image is courteous of chabad.org)

Personal Development

Pesach 5780

pesach

Shalom! I’m re-posting some short ideas about the holiday of Pesach which I wrote last year at this time.

Everyone should have a Chag Kasher v’Sameach! We should merit very soon to hear and share good news and to see the final Redemption speedily in our days, amen!

As a follow-up to what I wrote two weeks ago in Parshat Tazria about the attribute of humility, I found in a booklet of Breslov teachings about Pesach a diary entry by Rebbe Noson.  He writes there that being able to combine greatness and submissiveness is the main aspect of complete humility.  When can we obtain this attribute on a higher level?  He says that expanded consciousness and constricted consciousness come together and are included together on the night of the Pesach Seder, which is one of the most special and inspirational nights of the year as we read the haggada together and celebrate Pesach.  This is the main aspect of completion which a person can obtain, true humility.  Meaning that on the one hand a person needs to know their strength, knowing that their soul has tremendous light and strength to overcome and abstain from sins and negative influences; yet on the other hand they are able to be truly humble and know their own meekness compared to the greatness of Hashem.  When Rebbe Nachman said that regarding humility many people are mistaken, he also said during the same discussion that a person needs to know his own strength. (Reb Noson’s diary, 57)

Pesach, and especially the Seder night, has the power to awaken us from our spiritual sleep.  Rebbe Noson teaches that the exile is the aspect of sleep and the redemption is the aspect of awakening from our slumber.  Therefore, the main aspect of the exodus from the Egyptian exile, which is the source of all the types of exile which the Jewish people have experienced, is awakening from our sleep.  What awakens us from our spiritual sleep?  What helps us to seek a true, close connection with Hashem?  Ancient Stories, meaning the stories told by the true tsaddikim which contain within them the deeper, hidden aspects of the Torah.  An example of this is Rebbe Nachman’s stories.  One of the main mitzvahs which we fulfill on the Seder night as we gather with family and friends to celebrate our freedom is telling the story of the exodus and Hashem’s miracles.  The main part of the story which we emphasize is Hashem’s kindnesses as He took us out of the Egyptian slavery.  Reading the haggada and discussing the Exodus has the power to awaken people from their sleep, every person on their level.  This night has the power to awaken us and help us come closer to Hashem, to remember his miracles which are always with us.  This will in turn awaken G-d’s mercy to bring us the final redemption, may it come speedily in our time. (Otsar HaYira on Pesach, 119; Adapted from Likutei Halachot, Laws of Vows, 5th teaching)

Once a student of Reb Noson was complaining to him shortly before Pesach, ‘how am I going to buy everything I need for the holiday?  There are so many expenses and I just can’t afford it!’  Reb Noson replied to him, ‘you’ll have what you need for Pesach, you don’t need to worry, Hashem will provide for you.  What you really need to focus on and be concerned about is how to take the Pesach (referring to the Pesach sacrifice which was brought at the time of the Temple).’  Meaning that we need to focus on bringing the spiritual light of Pesach inside of us, which should be our main concern. (Paraphrased from a story I heard on a Breslov Research Institute video)

We should be blessed this year through our physical and spiritual preparations for the holiday and our celebration of the holiday to true, personal freedom as individuals and as a people.

 

Torah Portion

Vayigash 5780

vayigashOur parsha begins with the powerful encounter between Yehudah and Yosef.  “Then Yehudah approached him and said, ‘If you please, my lord, may your servant speak a word in my lord’s ears and let not your anger flare up at your servant- for you are like Pharaoh.”  (Chapter 44, Verse 18)

Based on Yehudah’s words to Yosef that he is like Pharaoh, Reb Noson reveals to us an important lesson about the power of good thoughts and the battle which is going on in our mind all the time.  Reb Noson says that the evil inclination is called Pharaoh, which in Hebrew can mean the language of revelation, פרוע.  This means that he shows people all of the entrances to impurity and tries to fool them into choosing one of his entrances.  Reb Noson says therefore that the main battleground and our main test with the evil inclination is in our thoughts.  We have a choice.  A person needs to think, says Reb Noson, thoughts about the Torah and about how to serve Hashem.  Thoughts of faith.  However, immediately when a person tries to think in these matters the bad thoughts of the evil inclination stand in his way and want to pull him into impurity.  A person who is trying to serve Hashem and come closer to Hashem will turn his back to these bad thoughts and not consider them at all.  As a result, these openings to impurity will be closed to him.  On the other hand, if someone is drawn after these bad thoughts and temptations, G-d forbid, then the gates of impurity are revealed to him.  This is how a person falls into sin and impurity and distances himself from the path of serving Hashem.  This whole matter, Reb Noson emphasizes, happens in a person’s thoughts.  This is why Yehudah approached and drew near to Yosef the Tsaddik.  This is the aspect of the Jewish people connecting themselves to the true Tsaddik.  In contrast to the bad thoughts which the evil inclination uses in order to tempt a person into sin, the tsaddik has the power to shine the light of truth upon a person and to help them find openings to leave their personal darkness and return to Hashem. (Likutei Halachot, the Laws of Theft, 5th teaching)

The Holy Zohar says that everything will be clarified in our thoughts.  What advice can help us strengthen positive thoughts?  How do we fight the battle?  Rebbe Nachman spoke a lot about the importance of guarding ourselves from bad thoughts and that we always have the power to choose a different thought.  It is impossible for a person to think two thoughts at the same time.  Rebbe Nachman teaches in the book Advice that when a person enters into his mind external thoughts, bad desires or other bad thoughts, he causes spiritual damage to his soul.  Therefore it is a great rectification and the main aspect of teshuva (repentance) when someone strengthens himself to remove from his mind any kind of negative thought.  We don’t need to let our thoughts control us.  The main advice to be saved from negative thoughts is only through a lot of prayer, says Rebbe Nachman. We can pray: ‘Hashem please heal me from bad thoughts’, just like we pray for physical healing.  In addition, he teaches that when bad thoughts attack us, we can replace them with good thoughts- thoughts of faith, Torah, prayer, or even business matters.  This will push away the bad thoughts from our mind, because as we said, it is impossible to have two different thoughts at the same time. (Advice, עצות המבוארות, Thoughts, teachings 2 and 3)

I have been reading the past few months an amazing small booklet that I bought in Uman this year.  It is selected letters from Reb Noson’s books of letters, Healing Leaves.  The letters are filled with incredible faith, hope, determination, advice and love.  Most of them are letters which he wrote to one of his sons, Yitchzak.  One of the things he repeats there many times is to focus on our good thoughts.  We have the power to choose to think thoughts of faith and Torah thoughts, and to leave behind our negative, disempowering thoughts.  Reading a letter each day is helping me to fight the daily battle to find strength, happiness and composure, and to not focus so much on negativity and things which bother me.

We should all merit during this time of year when the winter nights are long and dark to strengthen our good thoughts, our thoughts of truth and faith. Amen!

(The image is courteous of Chabad.org)