Wednesday, January 23, 2019

“Kimoni Mamash—Just Like Me”: The Seven Beggars and the Goal of Life

(c) Moreen Greenberg

By Dovid Sears 

When faced with the blandishments of olam hazeh (or sometimes just the thought of them), Breslover Chassidim typically caution each other with a one-word reminder: “Tachlis!”—meaning “Don’t forget the true goal!”  

As Rabbi Nachman observes (Likutey Moharan I, 268): “If a person doesn’t consider the tachlis, of what purpose is his life?” Life is not a cosmic accident. It has a God-given purpose, which we must not lose sight of.  

What is the nature of this tachlis? In the same lesson from Likutey Moharan, the Rebbe states what may seem to be obvious to any religious Jew: the purpose of life in this world is to serve God. But he also explains that our divine service, although surely its own reward, goes hand in hand with another dimension of the tachlis—at the level of consciousness. This is the da’as, or higher awareness, associated with the “Future World.” As the famous prophecy goes: “The knowledge (de’ah, a construct of da’as) of God will fill the earth like the water that covers the sea” (Isaiah 1:9). The da’as of the Future World will reach all beings on all levels, from the highest to the lowest, like the vastness of the water in the prophet’s metaphor (for more on this subject, see the end of Likutey Moharan I, 21). 

In Likutey Moharan II, 19, the Rebbe brings out another facet of this idea, telling us that this higher awareness is attained by performing the mitzvos and serving God with simplicity and faith, the cardinal virtues of his path. Clearly, the two dimensions of consciousness and action are inextricably connected. He similarly states at the beginning of Likutey Moharan II, 37: “The main purpose is only to labor and procede in the ways of God for the sake of His Name, in order to merit to recognize God and know Him. This is the tachlis—and this is what God desires: that we perceive Him.”  

He adds that this goal must not be approached in a materialistic way, but in keeping with the deepest will of the soul. “One person might labor all of his days and pursue worldly desires in order to fill his belly with them,” he explains,  “while another might strive to attain the World to Come—but this, too, is called ‘filling one’s belly.’ For he wishes to fill his belly and gratify his desire with the World to Come! The only difference is that he is a little wiser than the first . . . However, I don’t choose to emulate either of them. All I want is to ‘gaze upon the pleasantness of God’ (Psalms 27:4).”  

Thus, the Future World is not just a reward for good behavior. It is actually the culmination of our avodah (spiritual effort): the experience of “gazing upon the pleasantness of God.” This may be attained by the meritorious after death, as well as by the tzaddikim even in this world. The Gemara (Berakhos 17a) says as much when it cites the custom of the sages to bless each other with the words: “May you behold your Hereafter (olam habah) in this life!” 

Olam habah is more than a future realm or state of being, but a sublime perception that may be experienced here and now by the tzaddikim and by those who are attached to them. 

One way we can achieve this, the Rebbe tells us, is by conquering our anger with compassion (Likutey Moharan I, 18). In so doing, we transcend our innate selfishness and get in touch with a greater reality—the transpersonal, integrated reality that is vividly perceived by the tzaddikim.  

Another way is by heeding the guidance and advice of the tzaddikim, which not only sets our feet in the right direction, but also establishes a spiritual bond between us and the awesome sages who prescribed such holy advice (Likutey Moharan II, 39). 

Rabbi Nachman talks about the primacy of this relationship with the tzaddikim as it bears upon our reaching the true goal of life in his tale of the “Seven Beggars,” the culmination of the thirteen mystical stories for which the Rebbe is best known. The narrative is too lengthy and complex to retell here, but we can summarize a few of its key features: after a storm wind ravages the world, turning sea to dry land and dry land to sea, two little children, a boy and a girl, escape into a vast forest. There, hungry and thirsty and frightened, they encounter seven wandering beggars, who appear one after the other, and give the lost children bread and water, as well as a blessing. The nature of these blessings is that the children should become like their benefactors in a particular way. For each beggar possesses a physical disability—one is blind, one is deaf, etc.—but the seeming disability masks an awesome holy power. These blessings are assurances that the children will one day acquire the same lofty spiritual levels. Eventually, the homeless boy and girl find their way back to civilization and join a band of wandering hoboes, who adopt them and look after them.  

These beggars represent the great tzaddikim throughout history, who sustained the Jewish people again and again during our long and bitter exile; the lost children represent the male and female aspects of the Jewish people (or maybe the Jewish people, represented as the groom, and the Shekhinah/Divine Presence, represented as the bride). The seven blessings, and subsequently, seven gifts, are that the children should become “just like” their nameless benefactors. This echoes the Rebbe’s declaration, “I can make you tzaddikim kimoni mamash, just like me!” (Chayey Moharan 269). 

On the one hand, this sounds pretty democratic: it means that we can all get there. On the other, it indicates that everything essentially depends on the tzaddik, who confers his attainments upon those who follow his guidance.  Let’s take a closer look at the nature of those blessings and gifts. 

  1. The Blind Beggar

The blessing of the Blind Beggar is: “You should be old like me; that is, you should have a long life, like mine. You think that I’m blind, but actually, I’m not blind at all. It is just that for me, the entire duration of the world’s existence doesn’t amount to even the blink of an eye . . . I am extremely old, but I am extremely young. In fact, I have not yet begun to live—but nevertheless, I am very old.” He goes on to describe a contest with other sages about whose memory is the greatest. The Blind Beggar alone remembers the primal Nothingness (Yiddish: “Ich gedenk gohr-nisht!”) that altogether precedes creation. (He is therefore the “Elder on the Side of Holiness” and the “Elder of Elders”; see Chayey Moharan 123 and 272, citing an expression of the Zohar.) And this sublime realization is his gift to the newlyweds—and to us all, when we reach the hour of “finding” or spiritual discovery, the unification that is comparable to a wedding. (In Likutey Moharan I, 65, the tachlis is related to the paradigm of closed eyes, which can gaze upon the transcendental reality and not be distracted by worldly illusion.) 

  1. The Deaf Beggar

The blessing of the Deaf Beggar is: “You should be like me; that is, you should live a good life, like mine. You think that I’m deaf, but actually, I’m not deaf at all. It is just that the entire world does not amount to anything to me, that I should listen to its deficiencies. All sounds come from deficiencies, since everyone cries out about what he is lacking. Even the world’s joys are due to deficiencies, since one only rejoices when his lack is filled . . . However, I have a good life in which nothing is lacking.” In the story he tells as proof of his claim, he alone is capable of saving a mythical Land of Wealth, once perfect in its delights, but now corrupted by an evil king and his emissaries. The Deaf Beggar guides the populace to purify themselves of the three poisons of profane speech, which had ruined the sense of taste; bribery, which had ruined the sense of sight; and sexual immorality, which had ruined the sense of smell. Purged of these evils, the ill-tended garden in the midst of the land reverts to its former Eden-like state, and the lost gardener, who had been taken for a madman, is discovered and restored to his former position. Implicit in this sub-plot is the idea that the “good life,” which is the spiritual life, may be experienced through our very senses, if only we would purify ourselves of these toxins.   

  1. The Beggar With a Speech Defect

The blessing of the Beggar With a Speech Defect is: “You should be like me. You think that I have a speech defect. I don’t have a speech defect at all. Rather, all the words in the world that do not praise God lack perfection. [Therefore, I seem to have a speech defect, since I cannot speak such imperfect words.] But actually, I don’t have a speech impediment at all. Quite the contrary, I am a wonderful orator and speaker. I can speak in parables and verses that are so wonderful that no created thing in the world doesn’t want to hear me. For the parables and lyrics that I know contain all wisdom.” In the course of the tale he tells to “prove” his claims, the Beggar With A Speech Defect indicates that his parables and verses sustain the entire universe – and they reflect the animating wisdom of all seven days of creation, which were created through the divine speech. (In Likutey Moharan I, 65, the tachlis is also related to the perfection of speech, in the Rebbe’s description of “making echad / unity of the words of prayer” in the course of davenning.)  

  1. The Beggar With a Crooked Neck

The blessing of the Beggar With a Crooked Neck is: “You should be like me. You think I have a crooked neck, but actually, my neck isn’t crooked at all. Quite the contrary, it is very straight. I have a most beautiful neck. However, there are vapors in the world, and I don’t want to exhale and add to these vain vapors. [This is why my neck seems to be crooked: I twisted my neck to avoid exhaling into the atmosphere of the world.] But in fact, I have a most beautiful, wonderful neck, since I have a wonderful voice. There are many sounds in the world that are unrelated to speech. I have such a wonderful neck and voice that I can mimic any of these sounds.” In the extremely obscure tale that the Beggar With a Crooked Neck goes on to relate, this power seems to be the root of all music and prophecy. This is suggested by the symbolism of the two estranged birds that the Beggar With a Crooked Neck reunites, which allude to the two K’ruvim, or winged angelic forms that hovered over the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy Temple and, according to Chazal, served as the channel for prophecy. The Rebbe also implies that this power brings about the spiritual unification associated with the Messianic Redemption.   

  1. The Beggar With a Hunchback

The blessing of the Beggar With a Hunchback is: “You should be like me. I am not a hunchback at all. Quite the contrary, I have broad shoulders (Yiddish: breiter pleitzes, which also means the ability bear difficult responsibilities). My shoulders are an example of the ‘little that holds much’ (a concept found in the Midrash).“ Reb Noson later adds: “The hunchback was on the level of the intermediate zone between space and that which is beyond space. He possessed the highest possible concept of the ‘little that holds much,’ at the very end of space, beyond which the term ‘space’ no longer applies . . . Therefore, he could carry his companions from the limitations of space to a dimension that transcends space.” In the tale the Beggar With a Hunchback tells to prove his point, this dimension is symbolized by the wondrous “Tree That Stands Beyond Space,” evocative of the biblical Tree of Life, in the branches of which all beings find repose and peace. (However, to reach this tree one must possess the qualities it represents: its three roots are faith, awe and humility, while its trunk is truth. Thus, this section of the story emphasises the spiritual work of the individual more than the rest.) 

  1. The Beggar Without Hands

The blessing of the Beggar Without Hands is: “[You think there is something wrong with my hands.] Actually, there is nothing wrong with my hands. I have vast power in my hands—but I do not use the power of my hands in this physical world, since I need it for something else.” In the course of the story he tells, this other purpose turns out to be the healing of the Queen’s Daughter—another symbol of the collectivity of souls. This healing is accomplished through the Ten Types of Song, corresponding to the Ten Types of Charity, Ten Types of Pulse (mentioned in the Tikuney Zohar—which seem to be a little different than those used in Chinese medicine), and the beggar’s ten invisible fingers. Then he tells the newlyweds, “And I am giving this power to you as a wedding present.”  

  1. The Beggar Without Feet

The blessing of the Beggar Without Feet remains a mystery. This final section of the story remains untold until the Mashiach—who symbolically is associated with the feet—arrives and reveals it to us, may it be speedily in our days!  

To sum everything up, the gifts of the Seven Beggars are: long life / transcendence of time (eyes); good life / transcendence of need and desire (ears); oratory that contains all wisdom / transcendent speech (mouth); wondrous voice that can produce all sounds / transcendent sound or cosmic music (neck); “the small that contains the great” / transcendence of space (shoulders); miraculous healing power / transcendence of mortality and sadness (hands); and presumably either perfect faith, or kingship, or joy (all of which are aspects of Malkhus / Kingship), corresponding to transcendence of self, or ego (feet). They make up one structure, just as the parts of the human anatomy to which they correspond form one structure. Acquiring these sublime powers through the grace of the tzaddikim enables us to reach the tachlis individually and collectively.

This is supported by a few more descriptions of the ultimate goal in the Rebbe’s teachings. In Likutey Moharan I, 18, the tachlis equals the “primordial thought,” or divine intention that underlies all of creation. This primordial thought is revealed only at end of the process it sets into motion, and is the aspect of “ayin lo ra’asah / no eye has seen it” (another hint to the symbolism of the Blind Beggar in our story). (Compare Likutey Moharan I, 8, citing Berakhot 34b, where this phrase indicates Chokhmah and the non-dualistic level. This is supported by the principle that “He and what He enlivens are one, He and what He causes are one—in the ten sefiros of Atzilus / World of Emanation” [Tikuney Zohar, Introduction, 3b], the realm which corresponds to Chokhmah; see the explanation of this in Tanya, Iggeres HaKodesh 20). 

In Likutey Moharan II, 83, the tachlis is related to the paradigm of “Mekomo shel Olam / Place of the World“—the ohr makkif (encompassing light) or “supra-domain” of creation altogether.  

And in Likutey Moharan II, 39, the tachlis is related to Shabbos, the “olam ha-neshamos / world of souls,” and at the experiential level, the lucid perception of God. This may correspond to the “Tree That Stands Beyond Space” in the tale of the Beggar With a Hunchback.  

The qualities that the Seven Beggars confer upon the bride and groom are various expressions of being rooted in the “whole”—the transcendent Divine Unity—and not being stranded in the “part,” the illusion of creation as something autonomous, hopelessly conflicted, separate from God. The preeminent tzaddikim represented by the beggars in the Rebbe’s story are those who have fully attained this wholeness and seen through worldly illusion. Therefore, they are uniquely capable of correcting our confusions and elevating us from the spiritual quagmire, so that we, too, may reach the luminous goal for which we were created.

“Avodas Atzmo—Doing Your Own Work”

In Likutey Moharan, the Rebbe teaches that we must engage in the avodah of Torah study, performance of the mitzvos, prayer (especially hitbodedus) and self-improvement in order to reach the tachlis. However, in the story of the Seven Beggars, the main factor seems to be the tzaddikim who bestow their wondrous gifts upon the newlyweds. Is there a correspondence between what the Rebbe is saying in each body of work, or not?  

Maybe we can read avodas atzmo, personal spiritual work, into two elements of the story. First, the children must attain maturity before their companions escort them to the chuppah and beg leftovers from the royal banquest in order to put together a wedding feast. Maybe this maturation process equals personal avodah, which elevates one from a lower level to a higher level. Second, the bride and groom express their yearning for each beggar to join them before the desired guest miraculously appears. This yearning is a key factor, too. We must make what the Zohar calls an “awakening from below” before we can experience a reciprocal “awakening from above.” The longing for the beggars on the part of the bride and groom indicates hiskashrus le-tzaddikim, creating a spiritual bond, which is up to us, as well. These two factors are the prerequisites for our ability to receive the greatest gifts of the tzaddikim: to become “just like them.” 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Letter from Jerusalem: My dance routine

From Letter from Jerusalem:

Dear Subscriber,
I am happy to be able to let you know that with praise and thanks to the Faithful Healer, I am continuing to recuperate well from my recent operation. I am now in the latter stages of a course of “precautionary” chemotherapy which though tiring and debilitating, has not had the harshest feared side-effects! The latest scans and tests indicate that my body is healthy and free of malignancy.

It is crystal clear to me that G-d has sent me this experience in His endless love, kindness and mercy as a powerful “Wake-Up Call”. It has been a steep learning curve and a truly life-changing experience. I’ve been through my share of life-changing experiences from the age of 25, when I started my reconnection with my Jewish roots and married soon afterwards, followed by a “midlife crisis” during my 40’s involving much re-evaluation of my goals and life-style.

I’ve had brushes with medical issues in the past, but nothing like a major operation to remove an infected growth deemed to be malignant. A bite of the dreaded cancer was once considered a near-certain death-sentence and even today, despite all the medical advances in combating the disease, it certainly leaves one twice-shy! At some of my hardest moments lying practically immobilized on my hospital bed, I felt death staring me in the face, and I realized that Teshuvah repentance must be complete. It’s either now or never.

I have sought to clarify my goals and mission in this world, I have made some undertakings that I am trying to carry through with His help, and I have made some major life-style changes, radically reviewing and improving my diet and taking regular exercise.

For nearly three months before, during and after my operation I could barely take a few paces. How I would ever again be able to climb the 40 steps up to our third-floor Jerusalem apartment with no elevator in the building?

After my operation, when I started trying to walk again, I felt wobbly and giddy and constantly fearful of tripping and falling. I felt I had been catapulted into advanced old age! My exercises and walking over the last few weeks have most certainly improved my balance and self-confidence. But what has helped more than anything is a practice I have long believed in but am only now striving to implement on a daily basis – Chassidic Dance!

“Praise Him with… dance” (Psalms 150:4)

Every weekday I play recordings of lively Chassidic music and in the privacy of my home, dance, march, twerk and swirl about freestyle for up to 15 minutes wearing a huge smile of delight, my heart filled with gratitude, love and a sense of connection to G-d Almighty. I aim at graceful flowing movement, taking care not to jerk my body or subject my legs and feet to harsh impact.

As a child I loved ballet and would improvise to records of “Swan Lake”. Now, sixty years later, dance has taken on a whole new meaning for me.

I find it to be a most wonderful form of aerobic exercise, creating a sublime feeling of exhilaration, energy flow and inner warmth. But it is so much more. One can use one’s arms and legs, one’s trots and marches forwards and backwards, one’s turns and swirls in all directions in joyous praise and outreach to G-d. The physical becomes spiritual; everyday regular domestic space turns into sacred space, a veritable sanctuary.

“So says the Lord HaShem: from the four directions (ruchot) come, O spirit (ru’ach)” (Ezekiel 37:9; the Hebrew word ru’ach means both a “direction” and a “wind” or “spirit”). In Chassidic dance one reaches out in all directions, feeling His presence in all directions, drawing down His blessed influences and spreading them in all directions.

Mitigating harsh decrees

Of all the outstanding rabbinical sages, it was Rabbi Nachman of Breslov who spoke more than anyone about devotional dance. Those who saw him dance said he did so with consummate grace. And he urged his followers to dance as a way to sweeten harsh judgements against the people of Israel. In the year 1802, when the Czarist Russian government announced a series of punitive decrees against the Jews under their rule, Rabbi Nachman taught that the Jews must literally dance, and this would help push them off and nullify the decrees.

He explained that in the Kabbalistic schema, where all the “worlds” that make up the Universe are arranged in the form of Adam, the essential human spiritual form, our lowly material world of action – where darkness and spiritual concealment grip so tightly – corresponds to the “legs” of the system. The hold of the evil forces can be broken only by raising the “legs” towards the level of the heart, which is the sanctuary of BinahUnderstanding, through which the darkness and concealment are connected with their exalted spiritual root and thereby mitigated (Likutey Moharan Part 1 Teaching 41).

What distinguishes dance from other kinds of celebration, such as singing and handclapping, is precisely that through our leaps and jumps we raise our legs from the ground towards the place of the heart! The physical action of dancing, when accompanied by the inner mental kavanah (“intent”) to “sweeten the harsh judgments”, sets off joyous reverberations in all the worlds!!!

When we move our arms and legs in dance to the holy melodies revealed by the true Tzaddikim, we fill the limbs of our bodies and our very souls with the Ru’ach, spirit of the Tzaddik (Likutey Moharan Part 1 Teaching 10).

Rabbi Nachman pointed out that the Hebrew word for a sick person, Choleh, is also the word for a "dance circle". The great dance circle of the Tzaddikim in time to come will mark the ultimate triumph over illness (Likutey Moharan Part 2 Teaching 24). 

Dance every day!

Chassidic dance is a most powerful weapon in our spiritual and physical healthcare armory. Rabbi Nachman’s closest disciple, Rabbi Nathan of Breslov, said to one of his students, "I'll give you a pathway to repentance: dance every day!" (Avanehah Barzelp.62 #29).

What better way of combining physical and spiritual exercise than to make it a regular practice, six days a week, to play tapes of your favorite nigunim and to dance free-style for a time?

“And He said: 'If you will diligently listen to the voice of HaShem your G-d, and do that which is right in His eyes and give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, none of the diseases that I put upon the Egyptians shall I put upon you, for I am HaShemWho heals you” (Exodus 15:26).

May you be blessed with good health, strength and joy in the Light of HaShem!

Shalom from Yerushalayim

Avraham ben Yaakov

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

In Memory of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan

The 14th of Shevat is the yahrtzeit of the modern pioneer of Jewish mystical wisdom and practice, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, of blessed memory. In honor of the yahrtzeit we are posting three video clips about this towering sage and his legacy from a lecture by Rabbi Avraham Sutton, who is one of the foremost contemporary teachers carrying on Rabbi Kaplan's work. Rabbi Sutton edited Rabbi Kaplan's classic introduction to Kabbalah, "Inner Space." And his wife was a student of Rabbi Kaplan, who attended their wedding and recited one of the sheva berakhot.

The Breslov community is particularly indebted to Rabbi Kaplan, whose first translation was "Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom," under the guidance of Rabbi Zvi Aryeh Rosenfeld. He also translated and annotated "Rabbi Nachman's Stories," "Outpouring of the Soul" on meditation and personal prayer, and "Until the Mashiach," which is a biography of the Rebbe in the form of a dateline. All are published by the Breslov Research Institute.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Turning Suffering into Simcha

Remembering Rabbi Elazar Mordechai Kenig, zatzal
L’ilui nishmas Rachel bas Binyamin (Rose Sears), yahrtzeit: 4 Shevat
u-l’ilui nishmas Chaim ben Binyamin (Charles Righter) yahrtzeit: 8 Shvat
Dovid Sears

Rebbe Nachman’s “The Tale of the Seven Beggars,” begins with a remark the Rebbe made before he began telling this thirteenth and last of his “stories from primordial times.” In the standard printed editions of Sippurey Maasiyos, this remark is: “I will tell you how they once rejoiced…”

However, Rabbi Avraham b’Reb Nachman, in his collected writings on Sippurey Maasiyos, published as “Chokhmah u-Tevunah,” states that this is an imprecise rendering of what the Rebbe actually said. He possessed a tradition from his father, Rabbi Nachman of Tulchin, that Reb Noson had told him personally that he had abridged the Rebbe’s words. What the Rebbe actually said was: “I will tell you how once from sadness (morah shechorah), they became joyous” (sec. 15:1, p. 116).

This nuance puts a slightly different spin on the saying. In Reb Avraham b’Reb Nachman’s version, the Rebbe is emphasizing a transformation of sadness to happiness, analogous to the transformation of darkness to light.

My teacher Reb Elazar Kenig, zatzal, once taught me something about this transformation, which is so necessary for us all.  Many years ago, in the late 1980s or early 1990s, I called him about a certain “rut in the road” I had hit, which in my mind was like falling off Mt. Everest. After listening to my tale of woe, he gave me his advice (and it was astute advice). Then he added, “Reb Dovid, zeit freilach—be happy!”

I answered, “Reb Elazar, I don’t mean to sound chutzpadik, but I’m lost! I don’t remember how to be happy. I have forgotten everything I ever knew about simchah!”

He was quiet a moment and then said, “Kol de-avid rachmana le-tav avid (whatever the Merciful One does, He does for the good).” Then he added, “When the Rebbe said, ‘Mitzvah gedolah l’hiyos b’simchah tamid (It is a great mitzvah to be happy always),’ he didn’t mean when everything is wonderful. He meant that it is a ‘mitzvah gedolah’ at times like this, when things are difficult!”

That’s when we have to see through the appearance of evil, and find the hidden good (Likutey Moharan I, 33).  We have to know that whatever we are going through is part of a greater good, and in fact, contains hidden goodness. And we have to search for a simchah that doesn’t depend on our outer circumstances, but transcends those circumstances—a simchah that is intrinsic to life itself.

The verse states: “Oz v’chedva bimkomo… Strength and gladness are in His Place” (Divrey HaYamim I, 16:27). (We say this in “Hodu” every morning at the beginning of davening.) Reb Elazar used to say, “The closer you are to Hashem’s ‘Place,’ the closer you are to strength and gladness!” And as the saying goes, he practiced what he preached. Reb Elazar lived with that strength and gladness, because he constantly sought to be in Hashem’s “Place.”

Friday, January 11, 2019

Memories of Rabbi Yaakov Kalmanovitch (“Reb Yankel Melamed”)

Yahrtzeit: 9 Shevat
By Dovid Sears

Rabbi Yaakov Kalmanovitch, better known as “Reb Yankel Melamed,” zatzal, was a well-known Breslover Chassid in Yerushalayim who passed away during the 1990s at an advanced age. He earned his nickname because for much of his life he worked as a teacher (melamed) of young boys, especially at the Eitz Chaim Yeshiva. One of his pupils was my teacher, Rav Elazar Mordechai Kenig, zatzal, leader of the Breslov kehillah in Tsfat. In his old age, Reb Yankel would spend the months of Elul and Tishrei in the Kenig home, where he slept on a day-bed in the one room that served as dining room, living room and library. He was the Baal Shacharis in the Breslover kibbutz in nearby Meron on Rosh Hashanah for many years, and also led part of the Yom Kippur service in the Breslov shul on Rechov Yud-Alef in Tsfas. I was zokheh to meet him during that period. Reb Yankel was a “chassidisher yid” to his bones, with a crusty Yerushalayim personality, a razor-sharp sense of humor, and the yirah one saw on his face while he was davening was something I will never forget.  

He’aras ha-Ratzon
In 1990, I went to Uman for Rosh Hashanah (my third trip and second Rosh Hashanah there), and continued on to Tzefat for Yom Kippur. Among other things, I wanted to confer with Rav Elazar Kenig (hereafter “Reb Elazar”) in Tzefat about a crisis (which B”H fulfilled the saying, “Gam zeh ya’avor… This too shall pass”). I remember pacing the cobblestone streets of Tzefat in the orange lamplight with Reb Elazar and my friend Reb Shlomo Aharon Gottlieb (yibadel bein chaim li-chaim) for over an hour, discussing the problem from various angles. Reb Shlomo Aharon eventually departed, and Reb Elazar and I slowly made our way to his house on Rechov Chasam Sofer.

As we entered the dining room, I saw an elderly Chassid lying on a stained sheet on the day-bed beside the table. Reb Elazar greeted him warmly, calling him “Rebbe.” The old man responded in turn, somewhat mischievously calling Reb Elazar “Rebbe,” and with effort sat up and adjusted his clothing. I recognized him as Reb Elazar’s childhood teacher, Reb Yankel Melamed, who had led the Rosh Hashanah shacharis prayer in Meron the one year I had been present (1988). Reb Elazar helped him to the table, while Rebbetzin Kenig served the honored guest supper.

“Reb Yankel,” my teacher continued, “here is a Jew who just came from Uman, and he has a problem. I can’t do anything with him. Maybe you can make him bi-simchah!” With these words, Reb Elazar departed, leaving me alone with Reb Yankel Melamed.
“Reb Elazar is a groiser tzaddik (a great holy man)” Reb Yankel commented, preparing to eat his repast. Then he looked at me fixedly. “Obber zein rebbetzin is gohr gresser . . . But his wife is much greater!”

Deliberately, the elderly Chassid lifted a spoonful of what we Americans call “Israeli salad” to his lips, spilling half of it on his clothes, closed his deeply lined, bloodshot eyes, and fervently recited a brochah. Then he slowly placed the food in his mouth, chewed it and swallowed, as I watched in silence. The next few spoonfuls were consumed with equal deliberation and mindfulness, until at some point he took notice of me again. Perhaps just to make conversation, he commented, “The Rebbe says that when one eats he can experience a he’aras ha-ratzon (an awakening of the deepest inner will of the soul)…”
“I know,” I replied. “But I’m a plain person. What does the Rebbe mean by ‘he’aras ha-ratzon?’ “
Reb Yankel looked at me in undisguised contempt (at least, that’s how I interpreted it).

Again, he lifted a spoonful of Israeli salad to his lips, stopped for a moment, rolled his eyes heavenward, and suddenly emitted a deafening Breslever krechtz: “O-O-O-Y-Y-Y-Y-Y-Y!!!!!!

So that was he’aras ha-ratzon!

I was surprised the plaster ceiling didn’t fall down.

I hastily thanked him, left the room, and hurried out of the house and down the dark alley into the street. As I entered the yellowish lamplight, I saw Reb Elazar waiting for me in the shadows of a nearby doorway.

“Reb Elazar, what did you do that to me for?” I exclaimed.

“What did Reb Yankel Melamed tell you?” he asked.

“He gave me a lesson in he’aras ha-ratzon!”

Reb Elazar couldn’t help chuckling. Then he became silent. So did I. In the distance, a baby was crying; otherwise the streets were still.

“Do you hear that baby crying?” Reb Elazar mused. “That’s how you have to cry to Hashem…

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

A Tale of Trust

We are pleased to present a booklet of some of Rav Kenig zatzal's teachings, translated by  Mrs Talya Lipschutz of Tsfat, on Rebbe Nachman's "A Tale of Trust." Please click here for the pdf file.

Baruch Dayan HaEmes

The Work of Giving : Transforming Cruelty into Compassion

From Nachal Novea Mekor Chochma:

by HaRav Elazar Mordechai Kenig

There is an aspect of charity that is virtually unknown in the world. Aside from the actual deed of giving charity (tzedakah) there is a mandatory stage through which everyone must pass. God tells Elijah the Prophet, “I commanded the ravens to sustain you…” (I Kings 17:4) Rebbe Nachman relates this to the idea of tzedakah, since when we begin to give charity, it is very difficult. But just as God commanded the ravens, which are considered to be cruel, to feed Elijah, we must undergo a phase of breaking whatever innate cruelty we possess in our nature and transform it to compassion. This is fundamental principle in the “work” of tzedakah.
It is written: “And the deed of tzedakah shall be peace, and the work of tzedakah shall be tranquility and security forever.” (Isaiah 32:17) The first part of this verse alludes to the actual deed of tzedakah. Any time a person gives to another in need, this fulfills the mitzvah of tzedakah. However, there is another aspect to the mitzvah, called the “work” of tzedakah.
Rebbe Nachman highlights this concept through the second part of the verse, “…and the work of tzedakah shall be tranquility and security forever.” Beyond the actual giving itself, the work of tzedakah consists of breaking any inherent cruel tendency in our personalities, and converting it into compassion.
If one gives charity because of their compassionate nature, where is the work? Even among animals, certain ones have a more compassionate nature than others. There are also some that are less compassionate, like the raven. (Tikkuney Zohar, Tikkun 70 (129b); R’ Chaim Vital, Pri Etz Chaim, Chazarat HaAmidah, Chap. 7; Likutey Torah (Arizal), Vayeshev. Thus God said to Elijah, “And I commanded the ravens to sustain you.” Even though the raven’s nature is cruel, it was transformed into compassion in order to sustain the Prophet Elijah. Likewise, anyone who gives any amount of charity out of inborn generosity must pass through this preliminary stage of breaking whatever point of cruelty, or lack of kindness and sympathy, they have within themselves and turn it into compassion.
Our compassion is certainly aroused when we see someone starving. In this case, it is clearly a mitzvah to offer assistance, and we are required to help. However, there is a higher level involved in giving tzedakah. Even a naturally generous heart must go through a stage of pushing beyond its inherently compassionate nature. This is accomplished by understanding where the compassionate tendency ends and the cruel one begins. Everyone has a limit where they say “ad kahn–until here, and no more!” This point of cruelty is what requires effort to change. Precisely here is where effort is needed to break this selfishness and transform it into compassion through giving tzedakah. Without going through this stage, one hasn’t really done the work of tzedakah.
True tzedakah doesn’t only involve money. Tzedakah and doing kindness has many forms. For example, offering good advice can also help another person. We are all limited in certain situations and have different points where our compassion ends. The work of tzedakah is to push beyond our inborn tendencies, something which involves a deeper understanding of  the nature of giving. Tzedakah is not solely dependent upon the compassion we feel at the moment. Rather, it is also connected to breaking through our personal limitations to give of ourselves more than our natural inclination dictates. In the final analysis, this is what we are bidden to do by our Creator.
[Based on Likutey Moharan Tinyana 4. Excerpted from the original article first published in Tzaddik Magazine, Winter 2013.]

Moses’s First Vision

(C) Dovid Sears

Moses’s First Vision

By Dovid Sears

Moses exemplified the person who feels that he or she doesn’t belong in this world. Thus, he named his firstborn son “Gershom,” explaining “Because I was a stranger (Hebrew: ger) in a strange land” (Exodus 2:22). Moses was an adopted child from a persecuted foreign nation, raised in the house of Pharaoh, who had become the arch-enemy of his people. At the same time, he was rejected by his fellow Israelites, the contentious Dathan and Aviram at the top of the list. In any case, he was unable to live together with his family and nation, both before and after killing the Egyptian taskmaster whom he saw whipping a Hebrew slave to the brink of death. So he fled until he came upon the house of Jethro, the renegade High Priest of Egypt gone into hiding in Midian. Initially, Moses was rejected by his future father-in-law, too. Thrown into a pit, he was secretly sustained for seven years by Jethro’s daughter, Zipporah. Ultimately, he married his compassionate benefactor, and spent what, in the normal course of events, would have been the rest of his life as a shepherd in the desert. Thus, Moses’s perpetual outsider status struck a chord with the collective exile of Israel.

While tending Jethro’s sheep, Moses reached the age of which the Mishnah states, “At eighty, one attains strength.” At eighty, even one who formerly had been deceived by the illusion of this world sees life as a “fleeting shadow” (Psalms 144:4). All of this seems to have been a prerequisite for Moses’s first prophetic vision.

The vehicle that God chose to summon Moses was the “burning bush that is not consumed” (Exodus 3:2). Seeing the conflagration in the distance, Moses called it “this great sight.” What was so great about it? What did God wish to communicate through this symbol?

The Torah states that God is revealed through fire, as the verse states, “He is a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24). This accounts for one aspect of Moses’s vision. The desert bush itself is a symbol of humility. As the Talmudic Sages taught, “Wherever you find the greatness of the Holy One, blessed be He, there you find His humility.” True greatness is revealed through humility. Therefore, the vision of the burning bush teaches that God reveals Himself only to one who is humble, like Moses.

This interpretation is instructive for us. But why did Moses need to witness this? Didn’t the very fact that he was granted this vision show that he had already attained this level? We must try to consider the meaning of the desert vision from Moses’s point of view.

The fire of the burning bush represents the impermanence of this world. However, the fact that the bush was not consumed suggests that there is something indestructible and enduring within the transitory and ephemeral. Thus, the vision is a symbol of the very paradox of reality: that impermanence and immutability, time and eternity, are one.

At the same time, this may be understood as a vision of Moses himself, a mirror of enlightened being: within the historical “self,” represented by fire, resides the Divine, represented by the unconsumed bush. As the kabbalist Rabbi Shabsai Sheftel Horowitz of Prague (1565-1619) states: “The soul is a portion of God Above.” Thus, it endures forever.

This vision is the gist of the Redemption: the realization of the Divine Oneness that surpasses all change and decay, in which dualism and conflict dissolve, peace reigns, and “death is swallowed up forever” (Isaiah 25:8). Thus the fire of the burning bush may be compared to the tekhelet – the blue thread in the ritual fringes that Jewish men are biblically required to wear on their four-cornered garments. Chassidic master Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810) relates the word tekhelet to takhlit, meaning the ultimate goal of creation. Of this, the Zohar (“Book of Splendor”) states that the spiritual power of the blue thread “consumes and destroys.” It is the aspect of holiness that destroys all evil, while giving life to the righteous.

A final question: Why was Moses shown this vision immediately prior to the Exodus? As the Redeemer of Israel, his task was to transmit this perception to the rest of the people. As Moses declared during the incident of Eldad and Medad, “Would that all of God’s people were prophets, if God would but place His spirit upon them!” (Numbers 11:29)

This depended on Moses in particular, because “Moses is Israel, and Israel is Moses.” All souls are incorporated within the collective souls of the righteous, such as Moses, bound to one another in unity.

This unity, too, is represented by fire. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov observes, “The soul is like a candle, as it is written, ‘The soul of man is the candle of God’ (Proverbs 20:27). When many souls converge, this produces light, which in turn produces joy. This is the paradigm of ‘the light of the righteous brings joy’ (Proverbs 13:9).”

Light shines when the inner unity of all separate minds and all being becomes manifest. This is one aspect of the Redemption. And joy is an aspect of the Redemption, as it is written: “For you shall go forth in joy” (Isaiah 55:12)