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)

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.

 

Personal Development

The Healing Power of Prayer Today

downloadWhen we have a bit of time to take a step back and contemplate our lives today and the world at large, it’s not hard to see that everything is sped up.  Our lives are busy.  Things move at a dizzying pace.  People want everything to be done as quickly and as easily as possible.  Instant.  A person is consistently bombarded with messages, advertisements, images, clips, etc.  YouTube, WhatsApp, Facebook…  It’s hard to find inner peace and composure.  It’s hard to find time to hear our own voice amongst all of the noise from the outside.  Rebbe Nachman calls this power which influences our world today so strongly ‘a stormy wind’, ‘a spirit of impurity’. (Likutei Moharan I, 8th teaching)  We are so used to being fed information and images from the outside.  Today people are expected to multi-task, instead of focusing calmly on one task at a time.  Personally this affects me also.  When I’m working and I get a new message on my phone, I feel like I need to check it right away.  We are always being distracted and drawn to different temptations and diversions.

How can we possibly find the composure and strength to stay connected to ourselves and to Hashem in such an intense reality?  Rebbe Nachman gave us a powerful weapon and remedy which everyone can fulfill- hitbodedut, personal prayer.  Personal prayer is setting aside time each day to breathe calmly, to reflect, to listen to myself, and to try to speak with Hashem in my words, in my own language.  Just being able to calm down, take a breath and have some quiet can be very healing in this day and age.  Personal prayer, says Rebbe Nachman is the main advice in our day and age, and something which anyone can fulfill.  It does not require any special talent or spiritual level, just the will to set aside time each day to connect to ourselves and to Hashem.  We want to hear our own voice, the voice of our soul.

Rebbe Nachman teaches in Likutei Moharan regarding personal prayer: “Hitbodedut is a very great level, greater than any other.  This means that a person should set for himself a time every day to be alone in a room or out in the field, and to speak out his words before Hashem… asking and pleading before Hashem that He should bring him closer to truly serving Him… This practice is a very great level, and it is a very good way and very good advice to come closer to Hashem, because this is a general advice which includes everything…” (Likutei Moharan II, 25th teaching)  Personal prayer is the main advice for coming closer to Hashem, because anything which we are lacking, in any area of our life, we can tell Hashem about it and ask Him to please help us.  Prayer is the answer to any problem or anything which we are lacking in our life.

In the book Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom (Sichot HaRan), Reb Noson says that Rebbe Nachman would give each person special advice that would help them achieve a rectification for whatever they needed to rectify in their lives, according to their unique soul.  However, there were two things which he guided everyone to fulfill, every day of their life- learning halacha (Jewish law), and making time for personal prayer.  Reb Noson quotes later on in the same lesson that Rebbe Nachman said in general, regarding all of the different pieces of advice which he gave people about serving Hashem: “He said in this language: every practice which I advise people to fulfill is a special remedy, a rectification, and is effective for what a person did in the past, as well as for the future, and even after a person passes away from this world.” (Teaching 185)  Rebbe Nachman’s advice to make time for personal prayer is a healing remedy for the mistakes of the past, as well as for our lives today, and even for our future.  Sometimes we feel healing by singing a song, sometimes when we converse with Hashem, or cry or scream or ask Him questions… they are all expressions of deepening our relationship with G-d.

Rebbe Nachman once told a parable about a king who sent his son off to distant places to learn different wisdoms such as science and math, etc.   After some time, the prince returned home as a very wise person.  Once, the king commanded his son to take a very large stone and to lift it up to the roof of the palace.  The prince was unable of course to lift the stone and he was very upset that he was not able to fulfill his father’s will.  The king then told his son, when saw that he was unable to lift the great stone at all, ‘I didn’t intend for you to lift such a great stone in one piece, could you even do that with all of your great knowledge?  Rather my intention was that you should take a strong hammer and hit and break the stone into small pieces, and then you could lift them up to the roof.’  Rebbe Nachman then said to the student he told this parable to: ‘so too, Hashem commanded us to lift our hearts up to G-d in Heaven (Eicha, Chapter 3, Verse 41), and our heart is a heart of stone, a very great and heavy stone.  It’s impossible to lift it up whatsoever.  Only by way of taking a hammer, which is our speech, can we break and smash this heart of stone and lift it up to Hashem.’ (Chayei Moharan, Teaching 441) Our prayers break away slowly the stone, the layers which are covering our good, pure hearts.

In every prayer we recognize Hashem, we express our faith that He loves us and provides for us.  We increase our faith and connection with Hashem when we turn to Him in prayer.  This is the healing which our souls so desperately seek.

(Inspired by a class on personal prayer by Rav Erez Moshe Doron which I heard recently)

The image is courteous of myjewishlearning.com

Personal Development, Torah Portion

Nitzavim- Rosh Hashana 5779

vidui rk

 

During this time of the year, at the end of the month of Elul, we say Selichot, special prayers said before the regular morning prayers, asking Hashem for forgiveness for our transgressions and for mercy.  Part of the Selichot prayers is a confession of our transgressions.  The above ‘confession’ is actually a ‘confession’ of the good deeds which we have also done this year, based upon a teaching by Rav Kook, the Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel before the founding of the State of Israel.  He taught that just as there is great benefit to the soul when we confess our sins, so too when we remember our mitzvot.  This helps us to appreciate them and strengthen our happiness and commitment to the path of serving Hashem.

The following is a rough translation: ‘We loved, we cried, we gave, we spoke beautiful words.  We believed and we tried, we remembered, we hugged, we tasted a sefer (book). We created, we wanted, we fought for justice, we tried to do our best, we turned to see, we did what we were commanded.  We explained, we were correct sometimes, we called out in Your name.  We wanted, we rejoiced, we gave support.’

Blessings to all of our family, friends and readers for a Shana Tovah u’Metukah, 5780!  May you be signed and sealed with only good things in the Book of Life.