Personal Development

Mindfulness According to Rebbe Nachman 6

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.

Personal Development

Mindfulness According to Rebbe Nachman 5

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. 

Personal Development

Mindfulness According to Rebbe Nachman 4

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.”

Personal Development

Mindfulness According to Rebbe Nachman 3

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.

Personal Development

Mindfulness According to Rebbe Nachman 2

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.

Personal Development

Chanukah 5781

2Everyone 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.

(The image is courteous of Chabad.org)

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)