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.

Torah Portion

Ki Tavo 5779

ki tavoOur parsha opens with the mitzvah of bringing the first fruits to the Holy Temple.  Farmers in the land of Israel were commanded to take the first ripened fruits to the Temple and present them to the Kohen, and to thank Hashem publicly for saving us from our enemies and bringing us to the Holy Land (Artscroll commentary) “Then you shall call out and say before Hashem your God, ‘An Aramean tried to destroy my forefather.  He descended to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation- great, strong, and numerous… Then we cried out to Hashem, the God of our forefathers, and Hashem heard our voice and saw our affliction, our travail, and our oppression.’” (Chapter 26, Verses 5-7)

Reb Noson teaches that the first fruits are the aspect of renewal.  A farmer was obligated to bring the new, first ripened fruits each year, as described above.  Hashem, with his kindness and wonders saved us from our enemies.  What does renewal mean?  A person needs to renew themselves all the time, and to start again from the beginning when they’ve fallen.  Don’t be startled by your thoughts, says R’ Noson, when you think of all of the obstacles, and trials, and attacks of the evil inclination that you’ve experienced.  Rather, a person needs to remind himself of Hashem’s kindnesses and miracles which he has seen until this moment, just as the Torah teaches us in the chapter about the first fruits.  Despite everything that the Jewish people went through in the Exodus, and everything that Yaakov our forefather experienced with his brother Esav and in the house of Lavan, nevertheless Hashem helped them and saved them.  So too on a personal level, each person goes through all of the same types of trials during their lifetime.  The evil inclination pursues a person and overcomes them and tries to knock them down every day, just as Lavan and Esav pursued and even wanted to kill Yaakov.  Nevertheless, Hashem helps each individual and the Jewish people as a whole every time, just as we say in the daily prayers: ‘and for your miracles which are with us every day, and for your wonders which are with us every moment… He who is good, because His kindness is eternal…”  There is no other advice, says Reb Noson, except emunah (faith), which is the aspect of renewal.  We can renew ourselves with the faith that Hashem is always helping us.  A person should know that they truly don’t see and don’t know at all the bigger picture of their life; therefore they just need to strengthen themselves in the holy faith which we, the Jewish people, received from our forefathers.  Don’t let anything you go through confuse you and startle you!  The Sages said that even if a person transgressed the entire Torah, many times, God forbid, nevertheless there is no despair in the world, and even this person can make a new start!  Hashem has pleasure, so to speak, from even the worst person, who is very far due to his sins, when he returns and comes closer to Hashem.  Therefore, a person needs to start anew every time, which is the aspect of the first fruits. (Likutei Halachot, the Laws of Meat and Milk, 4th teaching)

This month is a powerful time to tap into the power of renewal and to contemplate how we want the new year of 5780 to be.  What do we want to change?  What do we want to improve?  The new year ahead is a totally new creation and there are so many possibilities which are open for us.  If this year has been, G-d forbid, a difficult and challenging year for you, the next year can be completely different!  Everything can turn around.  If this year was a really good year, we still need to strive to renew ourselves and to set new goals for ourselves.  Hashem is helping us prepare this month for the new year ahead by setting objectives for ourselves, as well as by helping us see the issues in our lives which we need to try to improve and rectify.  It is taught about the month of Elul that Hashem’s presence can be felt more closely and more strongly this month, the King is in the field.  Hashem comes toward us and wants us to come closer to him.  It is a time of mercy and love.

May we all merit as we prepare for the new year to renew our faith is Hashem’s loving presence and guidance, and may we seek His closeness when we pray and think about the new year ahead, amen.

(The image is courteous of Chabad.org)

Torah Portion

Ki Tetze 5779

tetzeOne of the many mitzvas taught in our parsha is the mitzvah of returning a lost item.  “You shall not see the ox of your brother or his sheep or goat cast off, and hide yourself from them; you shall surely return them to your brother.  If your brother is not near you and you do not know him, then gather it inside your house, and it shall remain with you until your brother inquires after it, and you return it to him.”  (Chapter 22, Verses 1-2)

Reb Noson explains that the Tsaddik is the main person who can return all of the lost items of each and every person.  He exerts himself in his service of Hashem until he is able to find the lost items of each individual.  The Tsaddik constantly yearns to return to each person their lost items, their special light, the light of their soul, which is lost and hidden from them.  Therefore, Rebbe Nachman explains in Torah 188, in the first part of Likutei Moharan that a person needs to go to the Tsaddik in order to seek what he has lost.  These souls who come to the Tsaddik are coming to him to request their lost items.  The Tsaddik takes these souls and lifts them up and renews them with new Torah revelations and insights.  By way of this he returns to them their lost items, because the main thing which they have lost is the Torah which they forgot when they were born.  Each and every time that a person comes to pray by the Tsaddik, the Tsaddik raises up their soul and renews it.  He reveals to them more of the light of the Torah which they’ve lost.  In addition, Reb Noson explains, the Tsaddik illuminates their soul in such a powerful way through the Torah that he reveals to them, that they themselves receive the strength to begin looking for the lost items which they still haven’t found.  This process happens slowly over time.  However, the light of the Torah which is revealed to them by the Tsaddik is now like a candle for them, illuminating the way for them in the darkness.  (Likutei Halachot, the Laws of Lost and Found Objects, 3rd teaching)

The Tsaddik returns to us our lost items.  After reading this teaching I thought about the annual Rosh Hashanah gathering in Uman.  What draws so many people to travel to Uman for Rosh Hashanah from all different parts of the world?  If you go to the annual gathering you will see every different type of Jew you could imagine, and they are all there because something powerful draws them to travel to this small city in the middle of Ukraine.  I think that this is one of the main things which pulls people to come.  Even if a person might not consciously be aware of it, their soul is telling them- I’m lost, I feel lost, I need help to find the way.  I want to remember who I really am.  I want to find my way home to Hashem and to the Torah.  I lost the light of the Torah.  The Tsaddik, Rebbe Nachman, is helping each person who comes to pray by him to find their own way back to Hashem.  He helps them find again the special path which they saw clearly when they were still in the womb.

Elul is a time of remembering- remembering our connection with Hashem, and wanting to remember who we really are.  A time of remembering- what am I doing here in the world?  Before we were born we knew the entire Torah, and we knew our own personal, unique purpose and what we need to rectify during our lifetime.  Then everything was forgotten.  The Tsaddik wants to help us remember and re-discover the Torah that we’ve lost, and he wants to show us our soul’s special mission in life.  This month of Elul is a powerful time to search for our lost items.  We should all merit this month to find what we’ve lost along the way, and to shine the light of our soul more and more!

(The image is courteous of Chabad.org)

Torah Portion

Shoftim 5779

shoftimIt’s good to be back, Baruch Hashem!

Our parsha begins with the command to establish courts in every city in the land of Israel to settle disputes between people: “Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your cities- which Hashem, your G-d, gives you- for your tribes; and they shall judge the people with righteous judgement.” (Chapter 16, Verse 18 and Artscroll commentary)

Reb Noson teaches that when the judges and the rabbis make a fair judgement between two people who have a dispute, this is the aspect of teshuva (repentance).  The judges help to return the stolen item, for example, to its proper place and to its root.  The person who tried to steal from someone else wanted to uproot the object from its root and bring it to a foreign, external place.  When the judges decree a ruling which is true and just by clarifying the truth of the case, then the money or the object is returned to its proper place and to its root.  This is the aspect of teshuva.  Therefore judgement is called a judgement of peace, as it is written, “Speak the truth with one another; and in your gates judge with truth, justice and peace.” (Zechariah 8, 16)  The main aspect of judgement is making peace between the quarreling parties. (Likutei Halachot, Laws of Authorization, 2nd teaching)

Teshuva.  We have now entered the final month of the year- Elul.  When people hear the name Elul, they think about teshuva and about preparing for the days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.  Many times we feel excited for this special time of the year, and at the same time apprehension for the High Holy Days which are approaching.  How can we all connect to teshuva in a deeper way; in a way which awakes our ratzon (will) and not unnecessary fear?  What does teshuva mean beyond the important aspect of confessing our sins before Hashem and asking Him to help us change our ways?  Teshuva is returning something to its root.  When we pursue a life of teshuva, we return to our true place.  Slowly we feel inside more peace and more happiness that we are returning to ourselves and living a life of purpose.

Rebbe Nachman begins his collection of stories with the story of the Lost Princess, which contains an amazing message about the power of teshuva and our longing to return to our souls and to Hashem.  It’s about never giving up and longing to find the Lost Princess, who represents our souls.  The story begins: ‘On the way I told a story, and anyone who heard it would have a thought of teshuva.’  What does it mean to have a thought of teshuva?  A thought of teshuva is when we think to ourselves that I still have hope, hope to return to Hashem and to correct my ways, despite everything I’ve done and everything I’ve gone through in my life.  From this point I can choose a new path, I can change.  Even if I still haven’t done any actual steps of teshuva, this thought of teshuva, that I have hope and I can change, means that I’m changing my mistaken internal perspective which tells me that I have no chance.  When someone decides to lose weight, for example, it could very well be that it will take more time (or a lot more time) before they actually lose the weight they want to.  However, the decision to change, the internal desire that things will be different and the faith that it’s possible to live differently are the most important principles, when we begin the path of teshuva.  Rebbe Nachman teaches in Likutei Moharan, in the 35th teaching in Part One, that teshuva means to return something to the place where it was taken from.  The beginning of the process of returning to our root, to our true selves and to a deep connection with Hashem, begins with these thoughts of teshuva. (Based upon a section from Ran Weber’s new book, Surely There is Love, page 36)

Rebbe Nachman explains in one of his main teachings about teshuva, in the 6th teaching in the first part of Likutei Moharan that when we want to change and correct our mistakes and return to ourselves, then we begin to have a true experience of life in this world.  Teshuva is the aspect of the name of Hashem, “I will be” אהיה (with this name Hashem revealed Himself to Moshe at the beginning of the book of Shemot).  This means that we are saying before Hashem and to ourselves ‘I am ready to be’.  I am ready for the journey of teshuva.

Teshuva is embarking on the journey to being who we truly are.  We are beautiful souls, created and brought into the world by Hashem in His infinite love.  I am ready to be who I truly am.  Teshuva is returning something to its root, to its home.

(The image is courteous of Chabad.org)

Torah Portion

Devarim 5779

imageWe have now begun the 5th and final book of the Torah, Devarim.  We also find ourselves in the final week of the three week mourning period before the fast of Tisha B’Av.  As I mentioned previously, Rebbe Nachman teaches in the 7th lesson of Likutei Moharan, Part One, that the main expression of exile and the main reason we are still in exile is a lack of faith.  When we don’t feel in any given moment that Hashem is with us, that everything we are going through is for our good, and that everything which happens has a purpose and reason, then we are in a state of exile and distant from our faith.

What are some different aspects of the exile?  How does the exile express itself in our lives?

Reb Noson teaches that the exile of the Jewish people, the fact that we were exiled from our land and that we were treated in exile as second class citizens and much worse, stems from the aspect of being exchanged.  What does this mean?  That the true children of the king were exchanged with the children of the maidservant, as Rebbe Nachman describes in his story the Exchanged Children.  The Jewish people are the true sons and daughters of Hashem.  The main expression of our state of exile is the exile of our soul, which means that our souls are far from G-d and that we don’t feel that we are the children of the King.  This state of exile, not truly knowing and living as the children of Hashem, causes all of the sins and physicality and negative desires which people fall into.  Truthfully however, the main expression of kingship in this world belongs to the Jewish people, as we saw during the time of King David and King Solomon, and which we will see again with the coming of the Moshiach.  (Likutei Halachot, Laws of the Morning Blessings, 3rd teaching, according to Otsar HaYirya)

Reb Noson says in another teaching that the main reason for the exile of the Jewish people in Egypt was due to strife (מחלוקת).  Yosef’s brothers argued with him and disagreed with him and eventually he was sold into slavery in Egypt.  Afterwards, Ya’akov and his family all needed to descend to Egypt, which is the opposite of the holiness of the land of Israel.  So too today in our times, the main aspect of exile stems from arguments and baseless hatred.  Strife and hatred distances the Jewish people from the holiness of Eretz Yisrael, which is the aspect of peace and pleasantness.  Therefore, concludes Reb Noson, before the final redemption Eliyahu the prophet will come to make peace in the world and amongst the Jewish people, because the redemption and the ingathering of the exiles depends upon peace.  (Likutei Halachot, Laws of Blessings on Fruits, 4th teaching, according to Otsar HaYirya)

Reb Noson also teaches that the bitterness of the exile is due to sadness and that they influence each other.  When the experience of exile gets heavier and heavier, then sadness increases; and when sadness increases, this causes the exile to get worse.  If so, how can we find help?  Reb Noson answers, that our strength to withstand the exile and our hope to reach the redemption comes from the true tsaddikim.  They shine to us hope and faith that the redemption will come.  They know how to dust off of us (so to speak) the dust, the sadness which overcomes our hearts, and help our hearts be ignited again to return to Hashem.  They help us turn the sadness and depression into joy, and through this the redemption will come. (Likutei Halachot, Laws of Giving Thanks, 6th teaching, according to Otsar HaYirya)

These teachings describe different aspects of how a lack of faith expresses itself in our lives and makes us feel distant from Hashem.  Not living as the children of the King, not feeling like His beloved children is an aspect of exile.  Arguments and hatred stem from jealousy and other negative emotions and are caused by not seeing the other person with the light of faith.  So too, sadness overtakes a person when they feel upset at what is happening to them, they don’t see Hashem in their situation and in their lives.  Sadness also causes us to feel disconnected from God.  Therefore, I think one of the main things we should be longing for this week and on the fast of Tisha B’Av is faith.  Longing and praying to feel Hashem’s presence, to feel and to know that He loves us and is truly close to us, even though we are still in a state of exile.  Praying to live our lives with more faith, more faith in Hashem and more faith in ourselves.

“May it be favorable before You, Hashem our God, that You have mercy on us and all of the House of Israel your people, to plant Your faith in our hearts, and we will merit to believe in You and in Your true tsaddikim with complete faith; and our faith will be pure and correct without any blemish and without any confusion at all, God forbid; and we will merit in Your great mercy that our faith will be so strong, that it will be as if we see with our eyes Your Godliness and Providence and Your Glory, which fills all of the world…” (Likutei Tefilot, 7th prayer, Part One)

(The image is courteous of Chabad.org)

Torah Portion

Masei 5779

masei“These are the journeys of the Children of Israel, who went forth from the land of Egypt according to their legions, under the hand of Moshe and Aharon.” (Chapter 33, Verse 1)  In this opening verse of the final chapter of the book of Bamidbar the Torah begins to summarize the entire path of the Jewish people since they left Egypt until this point, poised to cross the Jordan and enter the land of Israel (Artscroll commentary).  What can the journeys of the Jewish people on their path to Eretz Yisrael teach us about our lives today, about our own special journey in life?

Rebbe Nachman teaches in Likutei Moharan, based on the opening verse in our parsha and a Midrash, that the journeys of the Jewish people throughout the generations bring atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf.  They atone for the sin of idol worship which part of the Jewish people fell into when they thought that Moshe would not return from Mount Sinai.  However, even when a Jewish person isn’t actually doing some sort of idol worship, nevertheless there is an aspect of the sin of idol worship when a person’s emunah (faith) is lacking and damaged.  The Baal Shem Tov teaches regarding the verse in the book of Devarim, “lest your heart be seduced and you turn astray and serve gods of others…” (Chapter 11, Verse 16), that when a person turns away from Hashem this is the aspect of idol worship.  This sin of idol worship is rectified by the journeys of the Jewish people. (Likutei Moharan, 62nd teaching, Part Two)

How do our journeys rectify the sin of idol worship?  In Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom, Rebbe Nachman talks about the importance of our travels and journeys in life.  ‘A person asked him regarding the matter of travelling to a certain place, if he should go there or not.  Rebbe Nachman answered him: when a person sees that he has a trip in front of him he shouldn’t be stubborn and just sit at home.  He should go, because every trip which a person makes to different places he is able to rectify something.  Certainly in every place which a person travels to he performs there some act of holiness, such as praying and saying blessings.  Therefore this person needs to travel specifically to this place in order to rectify something which only he can correct.’ (Teaching 85)

It seems that in his answer Rebbe Nachman was referring to the teaching which I brought above about rectifying the sin of idol worship.  In every journey which we undertake, we too can help repair and atone for the sin of idol worship and rectify our faith.  When we travel we are out of the comfort zone of our homes.  Despite this change and possible discomfort, if we are also able to connect to Hashem and to serve Hashem wherever we might find ourselves, we merit to be part of atoning for the sin of idol worship.  This is especially true I think when we are searching for ourselves, for the pure soul inside which we might have forgotten along the way, due to the trials of life and the confusion of being in this physical world, as Rebbe Nachman teaches in a different source.

‘Before a child comes into the world he is taught and shown everything that he needs to do and to accomplish during his lifetime.  When he enters the world immediately everything is forgotten… and therefore a person needs to search and request what he has lost.  His lost item is by the Tsaddik, because the Tsaddik searches after his lost item until he finds it.  The Tsaddik then goes looking for the lost items of others too until he finds them, until he finds the lost items of the entire world.’ (Likutei Moharan, 188th teaching, Part One)  The Midrash says that before a person is born, while they are in their mother’s womb, they learn all of the Torah with an angel, there is a candle lit above their heads and they can see from one end of the world to the other.  Right before they are born, the angel taps them on their top lip and they forget everything that they saw and understood.  The baby cries when they are born over the spiritual world they just lost.  In reality, all of the answers are inside of us, we’ve just forgotten what we need to do and what are special role is.  Only an impression remains.  Our life’s work is to remember, to remember the place of endless good where we really came from.  The main thing which we’ve lost is our special, internal point of connection to our true essence- to our souls.  This is what we need to be searching for in our journeys in life. (Adapted from a chapter in Ron Weber’s new book about marriage- Surely there is Love, 2019)

Just as the Jewish people journeyed forty years in the desert on their path to the land of Israel, on the path to their true destiny; so to for us today, every trip which we undertake can be an opportunity to discover more of the true good which we lost when we came into the world.

(The image is courteous of Chabad.org)

Torah Portion

Matot 5779

matot2The beginning of our parsha talks about the laws of vows and oaths.  “Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes of the Children of Israel, saying: This is the thing that Hashem has commanded:  If a man takes a vow to Hashem or swears an oath to establish a prohibition upon himself, he shall not desecrate his word; according to whatever comes from his mouth he shall do.” (Chapter 30, Verses 2-3)    What can we learn from this parsha for our lives today?

Reb Noson teaches that we can learn from this parsha the incredible power of speech, because immediately when a person expresses a vow or an oath he is obligated to fulfill what he just said.  This mitzvah of making a vow is something lofty and wondrous.  We learn from this parsha the great power that a person has to create new mitzvahs which he was not commanded to do!  For example, a person can prohibit himself from eating or doing something which is permitted by the Torah, and immediately this object is prohibited to him as a Torah prohibition (until he nullifies his vow).  This is amazing.  Reb Noson emphasizes that we see from this special mitzvah of vows and oaths the power of a person’s choice, and the main aspect of his power of choice is through his speech and his heart.  When someone desires in their heart to make themselves holier or to distance themselves from something negative and they express their desire with their words, this expression becomes a law of the Torah (vows).  He forbids himself from something and it becomes a Torah prohibition.  The main aspect of vows and oaths is helping oneself become holier and to distance a person from negative desires, as the sages taught in Pirkei Avot- vows are a protection for abstinence.  The vow is fulfilled when a person expresses it with their mouths.   (Likutei Halachot, Laws of the Morning Blessings, 5th teaching)

We have begun this week a three week time period of mourning over the destruction of the Temple, culminating with the fast of Tisha B’Av.  Rebbe Nachman teaches in the 7th teaching of Likutei Moharan, Part One, that the main reason for our being in a state of galut (exile) is a lack of emuna (faith).  Therefore the redemption, the coming of the Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Temple will come when true faith spreads in the world.  What is a practical way that we can work on increasing our faith during this special time period of the Three Weeks?  Prayer.  Prayer is the most powerful expression of our faith in Hashem.  I can’t see Hashem, I can’t hear Him speaking to me, yet I turn to Him in prayer and converse with Him, because I believe that He hears and answers my prayers.  Rebbe Nachman teaches in another lesson, the 44th teaching in Part Two that our faith depends on our mouths.  When we speak words of faith with our mouths, this in itself is faith, and also through the words of prayer and faith which we express, we will merit to increase our faith.

He teaches as well regarding the custom of saying a special order of prayers called Tikun Chatzot, which are psalms and lamentations about the exile and the destruction of the Temple, that a person can express themselves and whatever difficulties they might be going through currently through the words of Tikun Chatzot, as if they were their own words.  Rebbe Nachman says further in this teaching that the main advice and the most fundamental advice to come closer to Hashem is only through reading psalms and other supplications, and speaking to Hashem in our own words in personal prayer.  Only by way of prayer can a person win the battle with the yetzer hara (evil inclination).  Don’t rest and don’t give up until you see that Hashem answers your prayers!  Reb Noson adds that prayer is something which the Sages said always needs strengthening, as it says in Tehillim (Psalms): “Hope to Hashem; strengthen yourself and He will give you courage, and hope to Hashem.” (Chapter 27, Verse 14)  Reb Noson concludes that even though we have spoken about prayer several times before in our teachings, nevertheless we need to speak about it again and again, to remember it every day, in order to strengthen ourselves against all the different types of confusion and weakness which try to stop us from praying. (Likutei Moharan, Torah 101, Part Two)

When I read the teaching above on the parsha above about the power of speech, I asked myself maybe I shouldn’t write again about prayer and the power of speech, since I’ve already written about the same subject recently in these articles.  Look for something else to share, I heard a voice inside saying.  Nevertheless, as Reb Noson emphasized, prayer is something which we always need to strengthen, and these three weeks of mourning are a special time of prayer, longing and reflection.  Even though this is a spiritually and emotionally difficult time of the year when many tragedies happened to the Jewish people, it is also a very powerful time for connecting in a deeper way to our faith and to longing for what we are still lacking as individuals and as a people.  When we lament what we are lacking during this time of the year, we will also merit the joy of the redemption to come, speedily in our days.

(The image is courteous of Chabad.org)