Monday, April 29, 2013

Rabbi Tanchum Burton: Parshas Emor

Ben Zoma says, “who is wise? He who learns from each person, as it says, ‘from all of my teachers, I have learned’ (Psalms 119:99). Who is mighty? He who subdues his urge, as it says, “better is one who is slow to anger than a man of physical strength.’ (Proverbs 16:32) Who is wealthy? He who rejoices in his portion, as it says, ‘when you consume the fruit of your own labor, you will rejoice and it will be good for you’ (Psalms 128:2). ‘Rejoice’in this world; ‘it will be good for you’in the world to come. Who is honored? He who honors the creations, as it is says, ‘all those who honor Me shall be honored’ (I Samuel 2:30). (Avos 4:1)

This mishna reveals to us a simple formula for attaining the attributes sought by most of humanity. If there is something “out there” that you want, recognize that in order to attain it, you have to begin by changing yourself.

One would have thought that wisdom is signified by twentyfive years in kollel, an Ivy League diploma, or eighty years of life experience on Earth. According to Ben Zoma, wisdom is an orientation one has, and an ongoing process. Note that the mishna says, “one who learns” in the present tense. One who is wise is not one who has learned, but who is no longer involved in learning. Rather it is one who learns, now. There are people who would like to be become scholars, to become talmidei chachamim. But, what does it mean to “be” a talmid chacham? It means to learnnot to reach a certain plateau and stop there. After all, though the term is reserved for those who have mastered Torah, it literally means, “a wise student”. Furthermore, a wise person is one who learns from everyone, not only the elite, the lettered, or the renowned. Wisdom is to be found everywhere, within everyone.

The word for might in Hebrew is gevurah, which actually means “restraint”. Generally, when we hear the word “might”, we think of physical prowess, a demonstration of power. Here, however, might is defined as the ability to hold back, or, in psychological terms, to delay gratification. One who restrains his yetzer, or his evil urge, is the one who is mighty. As the supporting verse indicates, the yetzer hara most frequently manifests itself as the impulse to anger, and therefore, since we all face the challenge of life’s vicissitudes on a daily basis, we have ample opportunity to exercise our might.

Glancing at the stock charts, one can be overwhelmed at the thought of how much 1 money is out there to be had, and how wide the gulf is between one’s own assets and the massive amount of wealth that is possible. According to our mishna, that is missing the point entirely. Do you desire wealth? Rejoice in what you have. There are people who own mansions of elephantine size, but who do not have joy to fill them with. A palace of twenty rooms of which the residents use at most four is an asset of which only twenty five per cent is enjoyed. On the other hand, you can have someone who has very little, but who regards everything that he or she has as an invaluable gift from G-d, and sees every little bit as a cause for jubilation. Enjoy one hundred per cent of what G-d gives you, and you will be wealthy.

One who wants honor should bestow honor upon others. The conventional wisdom concerning honor is that it is an arrow pointing towards oneself. But our mishna informs us that the opposite is true, as the verse states, “all those who honor Me shall be honored”. Honorability is a disposition, an attitude that enables a person to look upon the world and all of its inhabitants with esteem and reverence. According to Ben Zoma, this is a fulfilment of the verse, “all who honor Me”; honoring the creations is akin to honoring He Who created them. When we take this position, we set in motion a process in which others begin to see the value and meaning of existence, and our own honor is assured. Honorability begets honor. This is particularly relevant to the upcoming celebration of Lag BaOmer, on which we stress the mitzvah of “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, known as the Ba’al HaSulam after his commentary on the Zohar, states that there is a specific reason why Rabbi Akiva identified this mitzvah as “the main rule of the Torah” (Sifra, Kedoshim 45). If every one of us would stop thinking (solely) about ourselves and involved ourselves entirely in the needs of others, we would be taken care of as well. May we be blessed to experience the abundant love, caring and compassion that has yet to be set free in this world.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Secret of Wisdom, Strength, Wealth and Honor

From the Breslov Pirkey Avot (Breslov Research Institute), Chapter 4, Mishnah 1

בֶּן זוֹמָא אוֹמֵר, אֵיזֶהוּ חָכָם, הַלּוֹמֵד מִכָּל אָדָם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (תהלים קי”ט), מִכָּל מְלַמְּדַי הִשְׂכַּלְתִּי כִּי עֵדְוֹתֶיךָ שִׂיחָה לִּי.
אֵיזֶהוּ גִבּוֹר, הַכּוֹבֵשׁ אֶת יִצְרוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (משלי ט”ז), טוֹב אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם מִגִּבּוֹר וּמשֵׁל בְּרוּחוֹ מִלֹּכֵד עִיר.
אֵיזֶהוּ עָשִׁיר הַשָּׂמֵחַ בְּחֶלְקוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (תהלים קכ”ח), יְגִיעַ כַּפֶּיךָ כִּי תֹאכֵל אַשְׁרֶיךָ וְטוֹב לָךְ. אַשְׁרֶיךָ, בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה. וטוֹב לָךְ, לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא.
אֵיזֶהוּ מְכֻבָּד, הַמְכַבֵּד אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמואל א' ב'), כִּי מְכַבְּדַי אֲכַבֵּד וּבֹזַי יֵקָלוּ:

Ben Zoma said, “Who is wise? He who learns from everyone, as it is written, ‘From all my teachers, I have gained wisdom’ (Psalms 119:99).

“Who is mighty? He who conquers his passions, as it is written, ‘He who is slow to anger is better than a mighty warrior, and he who rules his spirit is better than one who conquers a city’ (Proverbs 16:32).

“Who is wealthy? He who rejoices in his lot, as it is written, ‘When you eat the labor of your hands, you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you’ (Psalms 128:2). 'You shall be happy' – in this world – 'and it shall be well with you' – in the World to Come.

“Who is honored? He who honors others, as it is written, ‘For those who honor Me, I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be accursed’” (I Samuel 2:30).

Digest of Commentaries:

Who is wise? He who learns from everyone. Since he does not stand on his honor but learns from his inferiors, it shows that his desire for knowledge is for the sake of Heaven and not merely a pretext for inflating his self-esteem. Such a person deserves to be called “wise” (Bartenura).

Who is mighty? He who conquers his passions, as it is written, “He who is slow to anger is better than a mighty warrior, and he who rules his spirit is better than one who conquers a city.” The virtue of being “slow to anger” comes from the same inner power needed to wage war against one's natural inclinations and passions. The virtue of “ruling one’s spirit” must be adopted by one who is victorious – such as a king who conquers a city – so that he can overcome his emotions and deal magnanimously with those who rebelled against him (Bartenura).

“When you eat the labor of your hands” – that is, you do not seek to amass wealth in devious ways – “you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you.” Indeed, “you shall be happy in this world,” being independent of other people, “and it shall be well with you in the World to Come,” for you will not have succumbed to dishonesty and injustice.

Who is honored? He who honors others. When a person honors others because they too are created in the Divine image, he is essentially honoring God. Therefore God will bestow honor upon him in turn, and the Godly light at the core of his being will shine forth like a bright torch to all (Tiferet Yisrael).


Who is wise? He who learns from everyone

Reb Noson: A true sage can receive wisdom and hints as to how to draw close to God wherever he may be — even in a place of unholiness. In every place some hidden good may be found, in keeping with the verse, “From the rising of the sun to its setting, My Name is great among the nations, and in every place, incense is burned and offered in My Name” (Malachi 1:11).[i] Ordinary individuals are forbidden to endanger themselves by entering these places lest they become trapped, but a tzaddik can find wisdom even there, as Pirkey Avot states, “Who is wise? He who learns from everyone (Likutey Halakhot, Shabbat 6:8).


Reb Noson: Each person’s way of thinking differs from that of his friend, since his character traits and attitudes vary according to the balance of elements that make up his nature. If a certain element is dominant, he will be distinguished by a certain character trait and incline toward a certain point of view, while his friend may possess the opposite trait and opposite point of view.

In holy matters, a person who strives for truth must remain strong in the point of view, good trait or righteous path that he believes to be correct, not allowing others to sway him. He must be “bold as a leopard in serving God (Pirkey Avot 5:20). Nevertheless, he must never be so adamant that he comes to hate or despise his friend, or anyone else who does not share his views. Rather, he should look upon his friend with a good eye and strive to find some virtue in him.

Relating to all people in this way, he will then be able to receive beneficial insights into Divine service from everyone he encounters, as Pirkey Avot states, “Who is wise? He who learns from everyone.” He will not fear that his friend might cause him to lose touch with the truth in his heart. He will remain strong in his conviction and his good path, as is proper, but at the same time he will avoid looking at his friend with disfavor. Rather, his love for his friend who differs with him will remain undiminished. For who knows? Perhaps his friend was compelled to take the point of view that he espoused due to the root of his soul.[ii]

Even if a person sees that his friend has departed from the right path, he must judge him favorably and seek to find in him some good point, as Rebbe Nachman repeatedly urged us to do.

If it is possible to speak with that friend in truth and simplicity, without any egotistic desire to win arguments, but only to guide him to recognize the truth and return to the straight path — how good and pleasant that would be! If not, at least he should not hate him. He should still love him and strive to find the other’s good points, so that he will be able to maintain amiable relations with him. This is what allows the world to endure (Likutey Halakhot, Birkhot HaRe’iyah VeSha’ar Berakhot Pratiyot 5:6).


Who is mighty? He who conquers his passions

Rebbe Nachman: Strength depends primarily on the heart, for one whose heart is strong will not be daunted by anyone or anything. Such a person can accomplish amazing feats, winning battles through the fortitude and might of his heart, fearlessly running into the heat of conflict. This is the meaning of “Who is mighty? He who conquers his passions.” [That is, true strength is primarily an expression of inner resolve rather than physical power.]

This was the case with the strength of Samson, of whom it is written, “The spirit of God began to resound in him in the camp of Dan, between Tzorah and Eshtaol” (Judges 13:25). In those places, God's spirit rested upon Samson and he garbed himself in might. That is, spiritual fortitude and superhuman strength of heart came to him, and he was able to perform deeds of awesome power (Likutey Moharan I, 249).


Reb Noson: Although the arousal for marital relations comes from the aspect of Gevurah, which is the source of all fiery passion, nevertheless, the Other Side need not have any connection to this at all (Zohar I, 186b). On the contrary, for those who have sanctified themselves, marital relations become a form of prayer. All the holiness and higher consciousness that formerly were imprisoned by unholiness become liberated, and the sin of Adam is rectified (Likutey Halakhot, Devarim HaYotzi’im Min HaChai 2:2, abridged).


Who is wealthy? He who rejoices in his lot

Rebbe Nachman: People who are preoccupied in the pursuit of money often die as debtors, with nothing to show for their efforts. Even if they do not die in monetary debt, they live as debtors to their desires. All their days they rush about and exhaust themselves, even risking great danger, just to satisfy their craving for wealth. They are like debtors who never can pay back what they owe, since “no one dies having fulfilled even half of his desire” (Kohelet Rabbah 1:34).

The wealth of such people is not wealth at all, because they derive no pleasure from it. It is impossible for them to elicit Heavenly bounty and sustenance, or to acquire money that may be called wealth – namely, holy wealth, by means of which they could be happy with their lot.

Indeed, this is the essence of wealth, as our Sages state, “Who is wealthy? He who rejoices in his lot.” Only by breaking the desire for money is it possible to experience true happiness (Likutey Moharan I, 23:8, abridged).


Reb Noson: By giving charity, we transform the craving for wealth. We can then cleave to God, the Source of all bounty, and receive sustenance from the source of holiness. Having been freed from a life of constant anxiety due to the pursuit of money, we will rejoice in our lot. We will be content with whatever God has given us and trust in Him always. Just as God blessed us with livelihood or wealth until now, so will He continue to do so into our old age, providing for all our needs in His kindness (Likutey Halakhot, Kiddushin 3:1).


Reb Noson: Poverty is the tikkun for wealth. That is, we rectify our desire for money when we consider ourselves as humble paupers, whatever our circumstances – whether we are actually poor or middle-class or extremely wealthy. This attitude follows the example of King David, who at the height of his power and affluence would constantly say, “Poor and needy am I” (Psalms 109:22).

We all need to understand the profound depths of our poverty in this world. Even a tzaddik cannot fulfill his obligations to God in this world entirely, as it is written, “There is no tzaddik on earth who is so righteous that he does only good and does not sin” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). How much more is this true of the rest of humanity? Our deeds have not earned us even the most meager portion of bread and water. We eat only because God sustains the world in His kindness, as we say in the Grace after Meals, “He gives bread to all flesh, for His kindness is everlasting.” Therefore we are as poor as can be, for we eat what is not ours.

Ironically, when a person takes this truth to heart and understands it clearly, suddenly everything is revealed to be good and he acquires true wealth. As our Sages state, “Who is wealthy? He who rejoices in his lot.” The Sages are speaking about one who rejoices in his portion constantly, knowing that God has given him everything with the greatest kindness, even if it amounts only to the most meager portion of bread and water.

When we live according to this teaching, we can attain true wealth – indeed, all the wealth in the world (cf. Likutey Moharan I, 60:1). This reflects the principle, “He who is small, is great” (Zohar I, 122b [Tosefta]). A person who is small in his own eyes and therefore content with his lot, accepting everything with love and joy, ultimately will merit to attain wealth and greatness. As it is written, “One may appear to be poor, but possess abundant wealth” (Proverbs 13:7), and “He raises up the needy from the dust … to seat them with nobles” (Psalms 113:7-8). Even if he is later granted silver, gold and numerous possessions, he will not succumb to the craving for that which does not belong to him. Even at the height of affluence, he will think of himself as a pauper and rejoice in his lot (Likutey Halakhot, Purim 6:11, abridged).

True Wealth

Reb Noson: When we trust in God and do not worry about what we will eat tomorrow, this is true wealth. As it states, “Who is wealthy? He who rejoices in his lot” (Likutey Halakhot, Har’sha’ah 3:2).


Rebbe Nachman: Money and wealth shorten and consume a person’s days and life. This is the meaning of, “Dust you shall eat all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:14). “Dust” corresponds to money, as in, “Its dust is gold” (Job 28:6). That is, money and wealth will eat away all the days of your life. For money consumes all of a person’s days (Likutey Moharan 23:6).

Furthermore, anger causes a person to lose his wealth. Thus a cycle is initiated: One chases wealth, which leads to anger, and then anger causes him to lose more wealth (Likutey Moharan I, 68).


Reb Noson: One loses the precious days of his life primarily due to the desire for wealth and the burden of earning a living, as we can plainly see, and as Rebbe Nachman states in connection with the verse, “Dust you shall eat all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:14).

Anger causes this lack of sufficient livelihood and the resultant bitter suffering that everyone experiences.[iii] Anger has its origin in the sin of Adam when he ate from the Tree of Knowledge, of which it is written, “The fool’s anger will become known on that very day” (Proverbs 12:16). According to the Midrash, this refers to the moment at which the Divine curse was uttered: “By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread.”[iv]

But one who overcomes his anger attains true prosperity, since he rejoices in his lot constantly, without always craving more and more. Thus [having overcome the spiritual deficiency responsible for Adam’s curse,] he is granted actual wealth (Likutey Halakhot, Purim 6:18).


Reb Noson: All lacks come from a deficiency of wisdom. As our Sages observe, “If you have acquired wisdom, what can you lack? And if you lack wisdom, what can you acquire?” (Nedarim 41a). Therefore, it befits those who esteem wisdom to be happy with their lot and find contentment in whatever God has bestowed upon them (based on Likutey Halakhot, Chezkat Metaltelin 3:2).


“Those who honor Me, I will honor”

Reb Noson: Each person possesses a “portion” of the glory that derives from the side of holiness, which is God’s glory.[v] Therefore it is forbidden to disparage anyone; rather, it is necessary to honor everyone. Those who do so are honored by God, as it is written, “Those who honor Me, I will honor.” In this way God’s glory becomes complete (Likutey Halakhot, Orlah 4:19).


[i] Even idol-worshippers recognize God’s ultimate sovereignty; thus, in a sense, their sacrifices are also offered to His name (Rashi, Metzudot, ad loc.). The Sages state that idolaters nevertheless recognize the existence of the Creator, Whom they conceive as the “God of gods” (Menachot 110a). In this vein, the Baal Shem Tov is said to have remarked, “An idol-worshipper has a better chance of eventually receiving a tikkun than an atheist” – evidently because the idol-worshipper errs due to his nature and circumstances but still possesses a degree of faith; this error may be corrected. In rejecting faith altogether, the atheist places himself in a far worse spiritual predicament (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (Tzemach Tzedek), Ohr HaTorah, “NaCH,” Part II, p. 782).
[ii] Different souls are rooted in different “root-souls” or “soul-groups,” which reflect the influence of various combinations of the Ten Sefirot, as discussed in the writings of the Ari. Reb Noson alludes to this concept at the beginning of the present teaching.
[iii] One of the reasons why our souls are sent to this world is for Tikkun HaMidot (character refinement). Many of us have an inclination toward anger and become irritated when things don’t go our way. We even feel justified in getting angry. But if we knew that our anger is the root cause of our suffering, and that Heaven is purposely setting things up in our lives so that we should learn to overcome our anger, we would view all these life circumstances as opportunities to refine ourselves, rather than becoming irate.
[iv] Genesis 3:19; Rashi on Proverbs, loc. cit.
[v] The Hebrew word kavod can mean either “glory” or “honor.” This teaching reflects the concept that God’s glory is the root of creation, in line with the verse, “Everything that I have called by My Name, I have created for My glory” (Isaiah 43:7). Rebbe Nachman discusses this subject in Likutey Moharan II, 12 (“Ayeh”) and elsewhere. Here Reb Noson makes the additional point that by showing honor to another Jew, one affirms the unique purpose for which the entire Jewish people were created: to perceive God’s glory and reveal it to the world. By honoring another person, one actually honors God, for the human being is but a vehicle of God’s glory. The individual who confers honor also becomes a vehicle for God’s glory by facilitating its revelation, in fulfillment of the verse, “Those who honor Me, I will honor.” All other manifestations of honor or glory in the world are “fallen” aspects of the Divine glory, impressed into the service of various confused imaginings rooted in the ego. Showing honor is a tikkun for these fallen aspects of kavod. This leads to the ultimate goal that all humanity and all living creatures will attain this illumination, as it is written, “God’s glory will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together” (Isaiah 40:5).

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Kestenbaum & Company Auction - May 2

Kestenbaum & Company will conduct an auction of Fine Judaica on May 2 at 3:00 pm at their New York City gallery located at 242 West 30th Street. Viewing will be held from April 28 through May 1.

An online catalog can be viewed here

Monday, April 22, 2013

New Flatbush Shiur - Rav David Nahem

Rav David Nahem, Mara de-Asra of Shaare Ezra, Long Branch, NJ, has started a weekly shiur in Flatbush on "Practical Advice" -- in everyday life and avodas Hashem -- based on Breslov teachings. 

The shiur begins at 8:15, every Wednesday night, at Congregation Yam HaTorah, 1573 East 10th St. (between Aves. O-P).

Rav Nahem has had a close kesher for many years with various Breslov leaders, including Rabbi Michel Dorfman, z"l.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

All for the Sake of Faith

Sichos HaRan 222
Translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom (Breslov Research Institute),  p. 159

I heard that the Rebbe was once encouraging a man who was greatly confused about his beliefs. The Rebbe told him, “It is written that all creation only came into being because of people like you. G-d saw that there would be people who would cling to our holy faith, suffering greatly because of the confusion and doubts that constantly plague them. He perceived that they would overcome these doubts and remain strong in their beliefs. It was because of this that G-d brought forth all creation.”

This man was then greatly strengthened and unperturbed whenever he had these confusing thoughts.

The Rebbe said many times that the creation was mainly for the sake of faith. Thus it is written (Psalms 33:4), “All His works are through faith.” 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Three Messengers

Shivachey HaRan 36
Translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom (Breslov Research Institute) pp. 101-102

Once a king sent three of his servants to deliver a secret message to another king in a distant land. On the way, they had to pass through lands that were at war with their king.

            The first messenger was clever enough to conceal his purpose completely. He passed through the hostile land without them ever realizing that he was carrying a secret message.

            The second messenger started through the unfriendly country and was discovered. The people realized that he was carrying a secret message and were going to force him to reveal it. But through his wisdom and endurance, he too was able to escape without revealing the message.

            The third messenger was also discovered. Realizing that he too was bearing a secret message, they imprisoned him, and subjected him to all kinds of torture. They tortured him in the cruelest ways possible, but despite his great agony, he refused to tell them anything. He withstood the test without yielding his secret. They finally realized that their tortures were to no avail, and assumed that they were mistaken and he actually had no secret. They let him go, and he passed through their land, delivering his message to the king.

            When they returned, everyone had an opinion as to which of the three deserved the greatest reward. Some said that the first was most deserving, for he acted cleverly enough to hide his secret completely. Others gave the most credit to the second, for he had already been discovered, and still was smart enough to escape. But the king said that the third messenger deserved the greatest reward of them all. He had already been caught in their net. He certainly also wanted to hide his purpose, but he was not successful. After being captured, he underwent every possible torture and torment. If he would have revealed even one secret, he would have received the greatest honors. Still, he withstood the test, revealing nothing. Therefore, his reward is above all the rest.


Rebbe Nachman does not explain his parable. But it seems likely that with it, he means to describe three types of people who confront the Yetzer Hara. Unlike the first two, the third messenger represents the Jew who does not manage to evade or be spared evil desires and confusions, but who must contend with them at great length. He experiences neither the bliss of the great tzaddikim nor the “sweet success” of those who scale the heights the heights in Torah and avodah—yet he remains faithful to the “king” who sent him on his mission. Thus, according to Rebbe Nachman, the simple, religious Jew is the true hero of creation (Dovid Sears).

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Humble King

Translated by Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum from “Sipurey Ma’asiyot”

There was a certain king who had a wise man. The king said to the wise man: “There is one king who signs himself as being ‘mighty, great and a man of truth and humility’. As for his being mighty, I know he is mighty because his kingdom is surrounded by the sea and in the sea stands a fleet of warships with cannons, which will not allow anyone to draw near. Inland from the sea is a deep moat that goes around the whole kingdom. To get in, there is only one tiny pathway wide enough for only one man, and there too stand cannons. If someone comes to make war, they fire with the cannons. It is impossible to get near.

“However, as for his signing himself ‘a man of truth and humility’, I don’t know. I therefore want you to bring me a portrait of that king.”

This was because this king had portraits of all the kings, but there was no portrait of that king in any king’s collection. The reason was that he was hidden from everybody. He sat behind a veil, remote from the people of his country.

The wise man went to the country. He realized that he needed to find out the nature of the country. How do you find out the nature of a country? You find it out through the people’s humor. When you want to know something, you should find out how people laugh and joke about it.

There are different kinds of jokes. Sometimes a person may really want to hurt another with words, but when the other takes exception to his words, he says, “I only meant it as a joke”. “Like one who exerts himself to cast firebrands and arrows. and then says, “I am only joking” (Proverbs 26:18-19). There are other times when a person may say something that is truly intended as a lighthearted joke, yet his friend is hurt by his words. Thus there are various different kinds of jokes and humor.

And among all the different kingdoms there is one kingdom that includes all kingdoms. In that kingdom is one city that includes all the cities of the entire kingdom that includes all kingdoms. In that city is one house which includes all the houses of the whole city that includes all the cities of the kingdom that includes all kingdoms. And there is one man who includes everything in that entire house. And there is also someone who produces all the mockery and joking of the kingdom.

The wise man took with him a large sum of money and went there and saw how they were mocking and joking in various ways. From the humor, he understood that the entire kingdom was full of lies from beginning to end. He saw the way they would joke about how people defrauded and deceived others in business, and how the injured party would sue in the lower courts where everything was lies and bribery. He would then go to a higher court, where everything was also lies. They used to put on comedies about all these kinds of things.

Through their humor the sage understood that the entire kingdom was filled with lies and deceptions and that there was no truth anywhere. He did some business in the kingdom, allowing himself to be defrauded in the transaction. He took the case to court, but the court was all lies and bribes. One day he would give them a bribe but the next day they would not recognize him. He went to a higher court, and there too it was all lies. Eventually he came before the Supreme Court, but they too were full of lies and bribery. Finally he came to the king himself.

When he came to the king, he said, “Who are you king over? The whole kingdom is full of lies from beginning to end and there’s no truth in it.”

He began enumerating all the lies in the kingdom. When the king heard his words, he turned his ear to the veil to hear what he was saying. The king was surprised that there was anyone who knew about all the lies in the kingdom.

The ministers of state who heard what he was saying were very angry with him. Yet he went on telling about all the lies in the kingdom.

“It would be proper to say,” declared the wise man, “that the king too is like them—that he loves falsehood just as his kingdom does. But from this I see that you are a man of truth: you are far from them because you cannot stand the falsehood of the country.”

The wise man began to praise the king greatly. But the king was very humble, and “in the place of His greatness, there is His humility” (Megilah 31a). Such is the way of the humble person. The more he is praised and magnified, the smaller and humbler he becomes. Because of the sage’s great praise, extolling and magnifying him, the king reached the utmost humility and smallness until he became literally nothing. He could not contain himself, and he threw aside the veil to see who this wise man was that knew and understood all this.

His face was revealed, and the sage saw it and brought his portrait back to the king.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Breslov Insights on Pirkey Avot, Chapter 2

From “The Breslov Pirkey Avot,” Chapter 2, Mishnah 4

הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, עֲשֵׂה רְצוֹנוֹ כִּרְצוֹנֶךָ, כְּדֵי שֶׁיַּעֲשֶׂה רְצוֹנְךָ כִּרְצוֹנוֹ. בַּטֵּל רְצוֹנְךָ מִפְּנֵי רְצוֹנוֹ, כְּדֵי שֶׁיְּבַטֵּל רְצוֹן אֲחֵרִים מִפְּנֵי רְצוֹנֶךָ.
הִלֵּל אוֹמֵר, אַל תִּפְרוֹשׁ מִן הַצִּבּוּר, וְאַל תַּאֲמֵן בְּעַצְמָךְ עַד יוֹם מוֹתָךְ, וְאַל תָּדִין אֶת חֲבֵרָךְ עַד שֶׁתַּגִּיעַ לִמְקוֹמוֹ, וְאַל תֹּאמַר דָּבָר שֶׁאִי אֶפְשָׁר לִשְׁמוֹעַ שֶׁסּוֹפוֹ לְהִשָּׁמַע. וְאַל תֹּאמַר לִכְשֶׁאֶפָּנֶה אֶשְׁנֶה, שֶׁמָּא לֹא תִפָּנֶה:

He [Rabban Gamliel] used to say, “Do His will as if it were your own will, so that He may do your will as if it were His will. Nullify your will before His will, so that He may nullify the will of others before your will.”

Hillel said, “Do not separate from the community; do not trust yourself until the day of your death; do not judge your friend until you have reached his place; do not say something that cannot be understood, assuming that eventually it will be understood; and do not say, ‘When I have spare time I will study,’ for you may never have spare time.”

Digest of Commentaries:

This teaching continues with sayings of Rabban Gamliel and then turns to Hillel the Elder, from whom Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai received the tradition (Tosefot Yom Tov).

Do His will as if it were your own will – that is, fulfill God’s will with eagerness and devotion – so that He may do your will as if it were His will, in fulfillment of His true desire to benefit His creatures. Another interpretation: Meiri translates this teaching as, "So that He may render your will as if it were His will" - and thus enable you to create harmony between the Divine will and your will (Bet HaBechirah, ad loc.). The reward for doing God's will as if it were your own is a profound spiritual transformation: You will be transformed from an ego-centered person to a God-centered person.

Nullify your will before His will, so that He may nullify the will of others before your will. The previous statement refers to the positive commandments, whereas this statement refers to the negative commandments (Tosefot Yom Tov).

Do not separate from the community. Rather, share in the sorrows of the community. As the Sages say, “When the community dwells in sorrow, let no one say, ‘I shall go home and eat and drink … and all will be well with me.’ Instead, he should should grieve with the community. … For whoever shares the sorrows of others will be privileged to witness their consolation” (Ta’anit 11a).

Do not trust yourself until the day of your death. Do not rely on your righteousness and think that you cannot stumble, for Yochanan the High Priest served for eighty years, yet in the end he became a Sadducee who denied the Oral Law (Berakhot 29a).

Do not say something that cannot be understood, assuming that eventually it will be understood. Rather, strive to express your thoughts clearly so your words need no further clarification.

Do not say, “When I have spare time I will study,” for you may never have spare time. As Shammai taught (Pirkey Avot 1:15), you must set aside fixed times for Torah study or else you may come to the end of your life without having studied the Torah (Rambam; Rabbenu Yonah). Even communal leaders and busy people who can spare only fifteen minutes here and there in the course of their day should know that such modest efforts are meaningful and add up to something of worth; for the optimal time for Torah study may never arrive (Tiferet Yisrael).


Nullify your will before His will

Reb Noson: The Torah and its commandments collectively embody the Divine will.[i] By actively fulfilling the mitzvot of the Torah, we bind all our wills (that is, our desires) to the source of will, which is God’s will. This is the paradigm of “Nullify your will before His will,” which is the underlying principle behind our fulfillment of all the commandments.

For example, we might wish to eat right away in the morning, but we nullify our will before the Divine will and wait until we complete our prayers. Some people might even prolong their hunger by studying Torah and reciting Psalms after they pray. Similarly, when we sit down to eat, we do not partake of foods which the Torah prohibits, and we wait until we have washed our hands before reciting the blessing over bread.

This restraint applies to all the commandments of the Torah. In this way all who are God-fearing continually sanctify themselves, even in matters which are permissible.[ii] The underlying principle of the Torah calls for us to bind all our wills (desires) to God’s will (Likutey Halakhot, Birkhot HaShachar 5:28).


Reb Noson: The foundation of the entire Torah is that we follow the pathways of our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Moses our teacher, as well as the pathways of all the tzaddikim who came after them. Even if we do not succeed in overcoming all our physical desires as they did, we can attain the ultimate spiritual goal by yearning to draw close to them and emulating their holy ways. Thus, over the course of time, we can use our free will for its highest purpose, aligning it with God’s will.

The power of the true tzaddikim is so great that by virtue of the tremendous holiness they attain, they can nullify the laws of nature through their prayers. In this way they reveal that everything is determined by God’s will. For they nullify their will to God’s will to such an extent that God nullifies His will to theirs.

This is exceedingly wondrous. By truly wanting only what God wants, the tzaddikim cause God’s will to shine forth so everyone can see that God rules His world according to His will. Then, when they pray and God answers their prayer, they demonstrate that their will conforms to – and is none other than – His will (Likutey Halakhot, Birkhot HaShachar 5:75, abridged).


Reb Noson: The Torah teaches us how to fulfill God’s will and thereby bind all our desires to God’s will. The tzaddikim exemplify this principle. When a tzaddik overcomes his physical desires and nullifies his will before the will of God, he is able to draw down a life force from the highest source. He can do this by overcoming all discord within himself (between his soul and his body), which enables him to binds himself to the Divine Oneness that transcends all distinctions. By connecting to the Divine Oneness, he is able to perform miracles and wonders. Because he has overcome his own physical nature, he is able to overturn the laws of nature (Likutey Halakhot, Birkhot HaRe’iyah VeSha’ar Berakhot Pratiyot 4:3, abridged).

Reb Noson: You can nullify all conflict by fasting– be it actual conflict caused by your adversaries and enemies, or inner conflict caused by your evil inclination.[iii] By definition, conflict is that which contradicts your will. You desire a certain thing but your enemies desire something else, and therefore they oppose you. According to the Zohar, fasting subjugates the will of the heart (i.e., all desires) to God.[iv] In this way you can nullify all conflict, as Pirkey Avot states, "Nullify your will before His will, so that He may nullify the will of others before your will" (Likutey Halakhot, Birkhot HaRe’iyah VeSha’ar Berakhot Pratiyot 4, Introduction).


The Tireless Foe

Reb Noson: A person never knows what will become of him in life, for the evil inclination lies in wait every day and at every moment. This is what our Sages meant when they said, “Do not trust yourself until the day of your death” (Likutey Halakhot, Shabbat 6:12).


Do not trust yourself until the day of your death

Reb Noson: The incident of the Golden Calf is a great enigma. How could the Jewish people commit such a sin after receiving the Torah? Having collectively attained such a high spiritual level, experiencing prophecy “face to face” with God, how could they fall so low?

The answer lies in Rebbe Nachman’s explanation (see Likutey Moharan I, 25) that whenever we strive to ascend from one level to the next, the power of delusion – which is an instrument of the kelipot that trap and conceal the good – attacks anew. When we fail to destroy all the delusions on one level, we become particularly vulnerable when we attempt to ascend to the next level, and then we may fall. Pirkey Avot refers to this when it states, "Do not trust yourself until the day of your death." This is why the Jewish people came to misfortune at the end of the forty-day period [v] in which they sought to ascend to a lofty plane. They did not exert themselves sufficiently to rectify their imagination and consequently, they fell into sin.

When, through the intercession of Moses, God forgave them, God ordered the construction of the Tabernacle (Mishkan). In doing so, He revealed to Moses the secret of how to destroy the kelipot and rectify their delusions on every level: through building the Tabernacle, which is an embodiment of charity and a giving heart. Charity and the spirit of giving destroy the kelipot at every turn.

For the same reason, the Tabernacle had to be taken apart and rebuilt again and again throughout the journeys of the Jewish people in the desert. The supernal lights that shone from the Tabernacle, created by acts of charity and altruism, drove away the kelipot surrounding every spiritual level that the people aspired to attain (Likutey Halakhot, Geviyat Chov MeKarkaot VeHilkhot Apotoki 3:6, abridged).


Reb Noson: The word emet (“truth”) contains the first, middle and final letters of the Hebrew alphabet (aleph, mem, tav). This teaches us that truth attains perfection when it is consistent from beginning to end.[vi] For example, someone might begin a discussion by stating a certain truth, but in the end this very point may lead him to a completely false conclusion. The small amount of truth with which he began makes the false conclusion possible. As our Sages state, “Any lie that does not begin with the truth cannot endure.”[vii] Something is really true only when it is completely consistent from beginning to end.

This rule applies to individuals as well. A person may be upright at the beginning, but this doesn’t insure that the evil inclination won’t trick him and cause him to stumble and fall into falsehood.

This is why our Sages state, "Do not trust yourself until the day of your death." The truth that is bound up with the end of things is the truth that matters most. This corresponds to the aspect of the "feet," corresponding to “the feet of the Mashiach” through whom the entire world will be rectified. As it is written, “On that day, his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives” (Zechariah 14:4). According to the Zohar and the writings of the Ari, this involves the mystery of the descent of the Shekhinah down into the "feet" [i.e., the deepest depths] of the kelipot in order to retrieve holy souls.[viii]

This is why the truth that will be revealed through the Mashiach is described as “the truth [that] shall sprout from the earth” (Psalms 85:12). [Earth represents the lowest level, and is closest to the feet.] Through the Mashiach, truth will attain perfection, for it will incorporate all levels from beginning to end in one encompassing whole. This is the ultimate tikkun (Likutey Halakhot, Ribit 5:15).


Do not judge your friend until you have reached his place

Rebbe Nachman: Conflict can arise if your friend is more advanced than you and, because you have not attained his spiritual level, you oppose him. In such a case, you must strive to achieve his level so that the two of you can be equal.

However, at times the roles reverse. You may be more advanced than your friend. Strife arises because he is jealous of you, since he has not attained your spiritual level. In such a case, you should judge him favorably. By doing so, you elevate him onto the scale of merit, and you can both stand in the same place.

Conflict exists only because people are different. Either your friend is more advanced than you, or you are more advanced than your friend. But if you could both stand in one place and occupy the same level, there certainly would be no strife. For when there is unity, there is no conflict.[iv]

This is the meaning of, "Do not judge your friend until you have reached his place." That is, you should strive to be with him in one place. If he is greater than you, strive to reach his level; and if you are greater than him, judge him favorably and soon he will catch up to you. Then surely there will be no conflict (Likutey Moharan I, 136).


Reb Noson: When God commanded Abraham to bring his son, Isaac, to Mount Moriah and offer him up as a sacrifice, Abraham overcame his natural fatherly compassion and hurried to fulfill God's will. Arriving at Mount Moriah, he bound Isaac, placed him on the stone altar, and was about to place the knife to his throat when God ordered him to stop: “Do not stretch your hand forth against the lad! Do not do anything to him!” (Genesis 22:12). This may be explained as follows.

Isaac represents Gevurah (harsh judgment). Harsh judgment exists “within space” and can be mitigated only by that which is “beyond space” – God’s infinite light which surrounds and encompasses all worlds.[x] This is the basis of the saying of our Sages, “The Holy One is the Place of the World, but the world is not His place.”[xi] At that level of “beyond space,” all judgment is mitigated and sweetened.

This is why it was necessary to bring Isaac to the altar atop Mount Moriah – the future site of the Holy Temple and the Holy of Holies. Mount Moriah was the unique channel for all spiritual ascent to the dimension "beyond space," which is the paradigm of the “Place of the World.” As soon as Isaac reached the summit, God rescinded His original command, for the harsh judgment was nullified by the ascent alone.

Through the paradigm of the “Place of the World,” everyone is judged as meritorious and the root of harsh judgment, represented by Isaac, is sweetened. Pirkey Avot reflects this principle when it states, "Do not judge your friend until you have reached his place" (based on Likutey Halakhot, Shluchin 4:8)


In God's Place

Rebbe Nachman: Who can know and reach his friend’s place, but God? Since “He is the Place of the World, but the world is not His place,” everyone has a “place” with Him. Therefore only God can judge a person (Likutey Moharan II, 1:14).


Reb Noson: When we recite the third paragraph of the Shma each morning, we gather together the four corners of our tzitzit and kiss them. Through this action, we participate in bringing about the final ingathering of the exiles [including all the sparks of holiness] that are scattered to the “four corners” of the earth.

[The four corners represent the limitations of “place.”] It is often the case that a person falls because of his “place” and circumstances; his “place” has influenced him. For this reason, Pirkey Avot warns, "Do not judge your friend until you have reached his place."

God is the “Place of the World.” Being above the limitations of “place,” He understands the “place” of every individual soul and therefore can judge each one favorably. When God wishes to extend His mercies toward someone, He elevates that person from a constricted place to His Place, which is the paradigm of the "Place of the World.” At that level, all harsh judgments are sweetened and rectified [and each person finds he has another chance] (Likutey Halakhot, Tzitzit 3:9).

[i] Thus we find in numerous places throughout Tanakh that when God is pleased with an action on our part, it is described as “a fragrance that is pleasing to God” (see Genesis 8:21; Exodus 29:18, 29:41; et al.). According to the Sages, this is God’s way of saying, “I am pleased when I command that something be done and My command is fulfilled” (see Rashi on Exodus 29:18, Leviticus 1:9, Numbers 28:8; Siftey Chakhamim on Exodus 29:18, ot tet; Ramban on Leviticus 1:9; Yalkut Shimoni 1:746 on Numbers 15; ibid., 1:755 on Numbers 18; ibid., 1:781 on Numbers 28; Sifri, Shelach, 1; Sifri, Korach, 3; Sifri, Pinchas, 12). At the same time God has no true need of any service, and utterly transcends His creation.
[ii] See Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 231.
[iii] This passage is basically a summary of Likutey Moharan I, 179.
[iv] Zohar Chadash, Ruth 97b states: “A person’s fast may have many aspects, but the Holy One takes from them all only the will of the heart.” See also Zohar (Raya Mehemna) III, 101a.
[v] Reb Noson refers to the forty-day period after the Giving of the Torah, when Moses ascended to Heaven to receive the First Tablets while the Jewish people awaited his return.
[vi] This insight appears in several early Chassidic texts; e.g., Degel Machaneh Ephraim, Behar, s.v. ode yirmuz; ibid., Bechukotai, s.v. u-vi-Yaakov ketiv; Kedushat Levi, Purim: Kedushah II, s.v. nimtza ha-otiyot, et al.
[vii] Rashi on Numbers 13:27; Sotah 35a; Zohar I, 2b.
[viii] Zohar II, 258a; Rabbi Chaim Vital, Sha’ar HaGilgulim, Hakdamah 5, s.v. inyan matmiya; Etz Chaim 39:1; Mevo She’arim 2:3:8 (end).
[ix] In anything that is truly one, the concept of strife does not apply. Even where there are many parts, if they operate together in unison there is no conflict. Indeed, the only reason a person feels conflicted within himself is because the elements of his personality are not at one with each other; he is not a single unity (Likutey Moharan I, 136, note 6).
[x] Zohar (Raya Mehemna) III, 225a.
[xii] Rav Huna said in the name of Rav Ami, “Why is God called HaMakom (‘The Place’)? It is because He is the Place of the World, as opposed to the world being His place. This is clear from what God said to Moses on Mount Sinai, ‘Behold, the place is with Me’ (Exodus 33:21). Truly, the Holy One is the Place of the World, but the world is not His place!” (Bereshit Rabbah 68:9; see Shemot Rabbah 45:6; Pesikta Rabbati 21, 104b; Yalkut Shimoni 2:841; Midrash Tehilim 90; Rashi on Exodus 33:21; Nefesh HaChaim 3:1-3).