Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"The Rebbe's Letter"


The following teaching, published as Likutey Moharan II, 48, is one of Rebbe Nachman's best-known discourses. It is unusual for its intimate, informal tone, hence it is known as "The Rebbe's Letter." As may be seen from Reb Noson's writings, this lesson has long served as the model for the characteristically Breslover style of chizuk (encouragement in Avodas Hashem).

Translated by Dovid Sears

When a person first begins to serve God in earnest, this is the way they show him: rejection. It seems to him that from above, they are keeping him at a distance, and refuse to let him enter into the service of God. However, all of this seeming rejection in reality is love in disguise.

It takes extremely great strength not to become disheartened, God forbid. You may see that many days and years have passed during which you exerted yourself greatly in serving God, and you still remain far away—you have not even entered the gates of holiness, for you can see for yourself that you are still full of coarseness, physical attachments, evil thoughts, and inner turmoil. Whatever holy task you wish to accomplish, they do not let you succeed. It seems that God pays no attention to you at all, and that He has absolutely no desire for your service, since you constantly cry out and supplicate and prostrate yourself before God, that He should help you to serve Him—and still you remain far away. Thus, it seems that God does not heed you in the least, because He does not want you.

To cope with all this requires great fortitude. You must encourage yourself greatly, and pay no mind to any of this at all—for in truth, all the rejection is only meant to draw you closer. All of this happened to all of the tzaddikim, as we heard from their lips explicitly. It seemed to them that God paid them no mind at all, since they saw that they were searching and striving and trying to serve God for so long, and still they seemed extremely far away. If they had not greatly strengthened themselves not to pay attention to any of this, they would have remained in their original place and never have attained what they attained.

The main thing, my beloved brother, is to remain strong and firm; hold on with all your might, and remain steadfast in your Divine service. Do not respond or pay heed to any of the difficulties mentioned above. And if indeed you are very far from God, and it seems that you are making matters worse all the time, nevertheless, you should know that each gesture such a spiritually coarse person makes to uproot himself from his physical attachments and turn to God—however small this effort may seem—is extremely precious. Even your slightest movement away from your innate materialism toward God causes you to traverse thousands of miles in the supernal worlds. This can be clearly understood from the story about the tzaddik who became depressed, as is well known in our circle.[1]

You must rejoice over this and strengthen yourself with gladness—for melancholy is extremely damaging. And know: as soon as a person resolves to begin to serve God, it is a cardinal sin to become depressed, God forbid, because sadness is a manifestation of the Other Side (Zohar I, 71a), and God hates it.

A person must be very stubborn in serving God, and never desert his position, i.e., the limited degree of Divine service he has already undertaken, no matter what happens. Remember well this advice, for you will need it as soon as you begin to serve God. You must demonstrate great stubbornness in order to remain strong and firm, holding on and standing your ground. Even if they cast you down, God forbid, again and again—for sometimes they cast down an individual from his level of Divine service, as is known (Avodah Zarah 4b)—nevertheless, you must fulfill that which is incumbent upon you, and continue to serve God in any way possible.

Never give up, God forbid. Of necessity, you must experience all of these spiritual descents and confusions before you may enter the gates of holiness. The true tzaddikim also endured all this.

And know: a person already might have reached the very entrance to the realm of holiness, and then turn back because of his inner conflict—or, at that moment, as he stands at the door, the Other Side and the Evil One might pit themselves against him with all their might, may the Merciful One deliver us, with the fiercest intensity, and not let him cross the threshold. And for this reason he might turn back, God forbid. This is the way of the Evil One and the Other Side: when a person comes very close to the gates of holiness and is just about to enter, they attack him with all their strength, may the Merciful One deliver us. Therefore, at that moment it is necessary to muster great resistance against them.

We once heard of a true tzaddik who declared, "If just one person, no matter who he might have been, had said to me: 'My brother, strengthen yourself and remain firm!' I would have run forth with the greatest alacrity in serving God!" All that we have described had befallen him, too, but he did not hear even a word of encouragement from anyone.

Therefore, whoever wishes to embark upon the spiritual path must remember this well: strengthen yourself, do the best you can to serve God, and rest assured that sooner or later, after many days and years, with God's help you surely will enter the gates of holiness. For God is full of compassion, and He greatly desires our service.

And know: the slightest movements, the least gestures you make, time after time, to subjugate your physical nature in order to serve God, all gather together and combine and come to your aid in an hour of need, when you find yourself in narrow straits, God forbid.

And know: a person must cross an exceedingly narrow bridge; but the main thing is not to frighten yourself at all.

And know: there is a tree with many leaves, and each leaf takes one hundred years to grow. This tree is found in the orchards of the nobility, who call it me'ah shanim, the "one hundred year tree." Since it grows for a century, without a doubt it must endure many things. Then, at the end of the hundred years, it explodes with a loud report like a cannon. Consider this parable well.

You must live with the teaching "Azamra L'Elokai B'Odi" ("I shall sing to my God with the little I have left," Likutey Moharan I, 282). That is, you should search and probe, until you discover in yourself some meritorious quality, some good point. With this little bit of good that you find, you must gladden yourself, strengthen yourself, and never give up—no matter how far you may fall, may the Merciful One deliver us. You must nevertheless strengthen yourself with the little bit of good that you still possess, until through this you are able to return to God, and "all of your transgressions are transformed to merits" (Yoma 86b).

This is what the Baal Shem Tov, may the memory of the tzaddik be a blessing, did on his sea voyage, when the Evil One began to entice him.[2] From this you should understand the power of encouraging yourself, and never yield to despair, God forbid, no matter what happens. The main thing is always to be happy, to gladden yourself in any way possible, even through foolish things—to play the clown, engage in harmless jest, turn somersaults, or dance, in order to reach a state of joy, which is a very great thing.

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[1] This is the story of “The Melancholy Tzaddik.” See Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Rabbi Nachman’s Stories (Breslov Research Institute), “Additional Stories,” p. 447; also Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum, Restore My Soul (Breslov Research Institute), pp. 123-127; Likutey Halakhos, Pesach 9:15, Chayei Moharan 593.

[2] Rebbe Nachman alludes to the tradition that when the Baal Shem Tov was en route to the Land of Israel by sea, his ship was caught in a storm, and subsequently landed on a desert island. There, the passengers who had disembarked were beset by cannibals. The Baal Shem Tov, his daughter Rebbetzin Udel, and his attendant, Reb Hersch Sofer, were among the captives. Rabbi Hersch asked the Baal Shem Tov to make use of his madreigos, his supernatural powers, in order to escape. However, his master said that all his powers had been taken away; he had forgotten his Torah learning, and could not remember even the Alef-Beis. However, instead of succumbing to despair, the Baal Shem Tov asked Rabbi Hersch to repeat the letters of the Hebrew alphabet together with him responsively. With great yearning for God, they did so. Miraculously, another ship appeared, the cannibals fled, and everyone was rescued. Having withstood this test, the Baal Shem Tov found his powers completely restored; however, from what had transpired, he knew that it was the will of Heaven that he return home to Medzhibuzh. Among Breslover Chassidim, the full version of this story (published by Toras HaNetzach in “Eretz HaKodesh/Masah HaKodesh”) customarily is told during the "Baal Shem Tov Se'udah," the last meal on Acharon Shel Pesach.

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