Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
From The Breslov Pirkey Avot (Breslov Research Institute), translated and annotated and with introductory essays by Dovid Sears; edited by Avraham Sutton
The Kabbalists teach that the human form reflects the inner order of creation.[i] This inner order animates a series of four parallel spiritual structures called “worlds,” extending from the Infinite Light of God (Ohr Ein Sof) to the physical reality of our experience. These worlds are: Atzilut (“Emanation”), Beri'ah (“Creation”), Yetzirah (“Formation”) and Asiyah (“Action”). The point of origin of all the worlds is Adam Kadmon (literally, “Primordial Man” or “Primordial Adam”); however, this term must not be misunderstood as referring to any corporeal entity, even of the subtlest nature. Rather, it is a symbol of the very root of creation, so sublime that we cannot speak of its true essence. Adam Kadmon represents the Divine will to create the universe at the very “moment” it issued forth from the Infinite One. In terms of the Ten Sefirot, this point of origin corresponds to Keter, the Divine “Crown.”[ii] More precisely, Adam Kadmon is the partzuf (“persona”) that represents the root of Keter.
Why do we refer to the sefirah of Keter as a “crown?”
This must be understood as part of a larger anthropomorphism. Given the parallelism between the human form and the metaphysical order, the various limbs and parts of the body have specific correspondences to the Ten Sefirot of each “world.” The skull and the beard in particular are associated with different aspects of Keter. Just as the physical beard flows from the face down toward the torso, the “beard” of Keter represents that sefirah’s influence on the other nine sefirot.
According to Jewish law, the beard has five “corners” which one is forbidden to destroy.[iii] Kabbalistically, however, the beard is understood as a thirteen-fold structure. These thirteen aspects of the supernal beard—called tikkunim (“rectifications”)[iv]—are related to the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy which God revealed to Moses, and which Moses invoked when he interceded for the Jewish people after the sin of the Golden Calf (Exodus 34:6-7). Therefore the beard symbolizes the absolute mercy of Keter.[v]
The number thirteen is significant. It is the numerical value (gematria) of echad (“one”)—for on the plane of Keter, everything is one, beyond all dualism. Thirteen is also the numerical value of ahavah (“love”)—for in Keter, there is only compassion and love, with no admixture of harsh judgment. These concepts are implicit in the following teaching by Reb Noson.
Furthermore, in Kabbalistic thought, hairs are conceived as conduits. Reb Noson invokes the idea that hairs represent tzimtzumim, or constrictions of the Divine light. As such, the hairs are associated with the forces of harsh judgment, which are an inevitable by-product of constricting the light. But this is not true of the hairs of the beard,[vi] which represent tzimtzumim for the sake of a subsequent illumination. These tzimtzumim cause the light to be reduced in intensity so that it can be transmitted to the lower levels.
Reb Noson’s teaching mentions the term shev ve-al ta’aseh, derived from the Talmudic phrase shev ve-al ta’aseh adif, “sitting and not acting is better” (Eruvin 100a). In its primary context, this term applies to situations of legal uncertainty in which it is better not to act than to risk error. In his teachings on the laws of Shabbat, however, Reb Noson discusses the concept of shev ve-al ta’aseh be-machshavah, or “sitting and not acting in thought.”[vii] In this context, the term refers to a method of stilling the activity of the mind.
Transcendence of thought, too, is a quality of Keter. It is the “ultimate knowledge that is ‘not-knowing’”[viii] and the intuition of a unity that is beyond process or change. This intuition may even reach the most sublime Divine will; it is associated with the Shabbat because, in the Zohar’s phrase, “On Shabbat, the ‘will of wills’ is manifest” (Zohar II, 88b).
Polishing the Mind
There are four types among those who sit before the Sages: a “sponge,” a “funnel,” a “strainer” and a “sieve” … A “strainer” is one who lets out the wine but retains the dregs. And a “sieve” is one who lets out the coarse flour but retains the fine flour (Avot 5:15).
Reb Noson: The Omer offering of barley was sifted thirteen times, to show that it is necessary to purify the mind with many refinements until it is well-polished.
This polishing of the mind is called “sifting.” As the Mishnah states: “There are four types among those who sit before the Sages: a ‘sponge,’ a ‘funnel,’ a ‘strainer’ and a ‘sieve’ … A ‘sieve’ is one who lets out the coarse flour but retains the fine flour.” Rashi and other commentators explain that the sieve is the most excellent of the four because its main purpose is to retain in the mind the good and the pure—which is the “fine flour”—and to expel the rest.
These thirteen siftings correspond to the thirteen principles of Rabbi Yishmael by which the Torah is expounded. They represent the entire Torah, which we receive anew every year on the festival of Shavuot through the mitzvah of counting seven weeks from the day of the annual Omer offering in the Holy Temple [or nowadays, through the mitzvah of commemorating the Omer offering by counting the corresponding days and weeks].
The thirteen principles by which the Torah is expounded apply to every person at every time. For the main point of the Torah is deed, as the Mishnah states: “Study is not the main thing, but action” (Avot 1:17). Therefore, to fulfill the Torah, we need to fulfill all thirteen principles. That is, we need all sorts of advice in order to stand up to the challenges that we must confront in our lives. And all true and complete advice that may be derived from the words of the true tzaddikim is included in the thirteen principles by which the Torah is expounded.
These thirteen principles are elicited from the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy, which correspond to the thirteen points of the beard, as Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai revealed. They are the “holy hairs” of the supernal beard, where everything is pure compassion and kindness, and they suppress and subjugate all harsh judgments associated with the other “hairs.”
God’s true tzaddikim personify the holy beard (ZaKaN), for each embodies the “elder (ZaKeN) full of compassion.”[ix] Through the tzaddikim, God confers upon us wondrous and holy instructions elicited from the supernal holy hairs of the beard, in which these instructions are bound up with the thirteen principles by which the Torah is expounded.
In this way, we may overcome all harsh judgments that derive from the rest of the “hairs.” We can banish and destroy all evil thoughts and guide the mind back to pure thoughts through the power of the holy hairs of the supernal beard. From there, all true advice is elicited, enabling us to cope with all negative thoughts by cultivating a mentality of inner tranquility (Likutey Halakhot, Tefilin 6:34).
[i] See Zohar II, 75b and III, 141b; Zohar Chadash, Shir HaShirim 90b; Rabbi Chaim Vital, Etz Chaim II, Heikhal A-B-Y-A (Hakdamah, Sha’ar Tziyur Olamot); Sha’arei Kedushah 3:2, s.v. Ve-od yesh chiluk, and 3:5 (beginning); Rabbi Avraham Azulai, Chesed LeAvraham 4:1; Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polonoye, Toldot Yaakov Yosef, Kedoshim; Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudylkov, Degel Machaneh Ephraim, Bereshit; et al. Thus the Ten Sefirot are depicted as corresponding to the human form in Tikkuney Zohar, Hakdamah: “Patach Eliyahu.”
[ii] In certain contexts, Keter is not counted as one of the Ten Sefirot because it transcends the rest. When Da’at (“Knowledge”) is counted, Keter is not; see Rabbi Chaim Vital, Etz Chaim 23:5, 8, passim.
[iii] Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh Dei’ah 181:11. If one removes the beard by other means than shaving with a razor—for example, by using a depilatory cream or certain electric shavers with a scissors-like action—there are halakhic leniencies. Kabbalistic sources prohibit removing the beard by any means (e.g., see Zohar III, 48b; Zohar Chadash 42b).
[iv] Rabbi Chaim Vital, Etz Chaim, Heikhal HaKetarim, Sha’ar Arikh Anpin 5; Mevo She’arim 3:2:11; passim.
[v] Accordingly, from a Kabbalistic point of view, removing the beard is comparable to cutting off the flow of Divine mercy and compassion into the world.
[vi] The peyot ("sidelocks") are also free of this negative association. Thus the Torah forbids a man to shave the peyot, just as it forbids shaving the beard (see Yoreh Dei’ah 181). Again, there is a discrepancy between the halakhic definition of the peyot and the Kabbalistic definition. The former amounts to a small area near the upper corner of the ear, while according to the Siddur HaAri (Hanhagot Erev Pesach), the peyot should be the same width as the forehead. In practice, the length of the peyot is a matter of custom, ranging from the least discernable amount of hair to the long, flowing peyot worn by many Chassidim and Yemenite Jews.
[vii] Rebbe Nachman mentions “sitting and not acting in thought” in Likutey Moharan II, 49. Reb Noson explains the term in a broader sense in Likutey Halakhot, Shabbat 6:5-8; also cf. ibid., . The latter teaching contemplates the mystery of how the true son of the king rectified the haunted garden in Rebbe Nachman’s "Tale of the Exchanged Children," op cit.
[viii] Bechinat Olam 33:13, cited in Likutey Moharan I, 24:8; ibid., II, 7:6; ibid., II, 83; Tzaddik #282.
[ix] Rashi on Exodus 20:2, citing the Mekhilta that at the Red Sea, God appeared as a “mighty warrior,” whereas at Mount Sinai, He appeared as an “elder full of compassion.” All such anthropomorphisms allude to the various Divine attributes. For example, Keter, being the highest sefirah, may be symbolized as an “elder.” Because it transcends the sefirot associated with strict judgment, Keter is also the locus of the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy mentioned above.
Monday, May 19, 2014
Translated by Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum
From The Essential RabbiNachman (Azamra)
It’s not hard to push a person away. The real work is to draw him close and uplift him.
Netiv Tzaddik 31 (Rabbi Noson of Tiveria, student of Reb Noson of Breslov)
* * *
With happiness you can give another person life!
There are people who suffer terrible pain but cannot express what is in their heart. They would like to speak about their suffering but they have no- one to whom they can explain what is really in their heart. This leaves them full of pain and anguish.
When you come to such a person with a smiling face, you can literally give that person life. To give a person life is not an empty gesture. It is something very great.
Sichot Haran #43
* * *
Feeling others’ pain
You should be able to feel another person’s pain in your heart - all the more so when many people are suffering. It is possible to know another person’s pain and suffering yet still not feel them in your heart.
When many people are suffering, you should certainly feel their pain in your heart.
And if you do not feel it, you should knock your head against the wall: you should strike your head - your mind and intelligence - against the walls of your heart!
This is the meaning of the words: “Know this day and realize it in your heart .” (Deuteronomy 4:39) . You must bring the realization from your mind into your heart. Understand this well.
Sichot Haran #39
* * *
How are you?
When someone asks his friend how he is and the friend says, “Not good”, this can be an opening for trouble. Because God says: “You call this not good? I’ll show you what not good is!”
But if when his friend asks how he is, he answers brightly, “Good, thank God!” even though things really are not so good, God says: “This you call good? I’ll show you what good is!”
Siach Sarfey Kodesh 1-32
* * *
Receiving from one another
Talk over spiritual matters with your friends. Each Jew has his own unique good point. Thus when two friends have a discussion, each can benefit from the other’s good point. Sometimes your friend’s good point may shine to you during a conversation that is outwardly about mundane topics - because at times even mundane conversations may give rise to new ideas and inspire you spiritually. At times a person’s good point may be veiled - and the words of the conversation become a kind of clothing for it.
By discussing spiritual matters regularly with your friends you will all be able to benefit from each other’s good points. This will enable you to break the “foreskin of the heart” - the lusts and desires that break a person’s heart - so that you are filled with holy desire for God.
Likutey Moharan I, 34
* * *
People should make it their business to talk to others about the purpose of life. For “He did not create (the world) to be desolate, He formed it to be inhabited” (Isaiah 45:18) . We all have an obligation to try to make this world a civilized place - a world filled with people who are true humans, Children of Adam, as the Torah says: “And fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). The world is a civilized place only when filled with true Children of Adam, people who possess awareness and knowledge of God. A world without people who know God is a world of desolation and emptiness. Those who do not have this awareness cannot be called Children of Adam.
Just as it is a commandment to have children in order for the world to survive, so it is a commandment to instill awareness and knowledge of God in our children and anyone else whom we are in a position to influence. Teaching our children to know God is the essence of the commandment to have children. It is vital to ensure that future generations will be true Children of Adam and not wild animals who merely look human on the outside. Those who have no knowledge of God and do not feel His power cannot be called Children of Adam, because the ability to know God is the defining feature of the Children of Adam.
Everyone should make an effort to bring his friends to greater knowledge of God and fear of heaven, thereby making his friends his “students.” This way, when his days are complete and his time comes to leave the world, he will be clothed in the words he spoke to his friends, and it will be as if he himself is literally still in this world.
Likutey Moharan II, 7
* * *
Direct and Returning Light
When a person discusses devotion with a friend, it creates “direct light” and “returning light.”
Sometimes the “returning light” comes before the “direct light,” as when the recipient has certain mental limits that prevent him from accepting his friend’s words. Even before the recipient receives the “direct light” from his friend, the friend already receives “returning light.”
Even if the intended recipient cannot accept his friend’s words, the friend can be inspired by what he himself is saying. When his words come forth from his mouth and strike the other, the light is reflected back to the speaker just as when something thrown against a wall bounces back to the thrower. In the same way, when you speak to a friend, you can be inspired by the words that bounce off him even though he himself is unable to accept them.
Had you told yourself exactly the same thing, it may be that you would not have been aroused in the least. But by addressing them to your friend, you yourself are inspired even if he is not, because your words are reflected back to you from your friend.
Likutey Moharan I, 184
* * *
Paying back our debts
There was once a very rich man who possessed countless wealth. He announced that anyone who needed to borrow money should come to him and he would give him a loan. Needless to say , large numbers of people were only too eager to take up his offer, and they came and borrowed money. The rich man had a notebook in which he kept a record of all the loans he gave.
One day, glancing through his notebook, he noticed that he had given out enormous sums of money in loans yet not a single person had bothered to pay back their debts. Naturally, he was very upset.
Among the people who had taken a loan was a certain man who had lost his money in an unsuccessful business venture. He had nothing with which to repay his debt. It troubled him greatly that he was unable to pay, and he decided that the least he could do would be to go in person to the rich man and explain the whole problem and say that it was not his fault. The debtor came to the rich man and started explaining how he had received a loan from him but when the time came to repay the debt he was unable to do so because he had lost his money, and he had no idea what to do.
“What do I care about the money you owe me?” replied the rich man. “Of what significance is the tiny sum you owe me, whether you pay it or not, compared with the total sum of all the loans, which runs into tens of thousands? What I want you to do is to go to all the people who borrowed from me and ask them for the money. Remind them how much they owe me and ask them why they don’t settle with me. Even if they don’t pay everything, if each one would just pay back a small part of his debt, that alone would come to thousands of times more than the entire sum you yourself owe.”
It is clear from this story why, having received so much kindness from God, we all have an obligation to encourage others to turn to Him too.
Chayey Moharan #447
* * *
Wanting the best for my friend
I still want and long for my friend to be a pure Jew and a Tzaddik even if I myself feel unable to achieve the same. Even when I find myself unable to serve God, I am happy when another Jew serves Him.
I want, long and yearn for all Jews to be pure, true Tzaddikim. Perhaps I feel unworthy in myself, but still, I am happy when my dear friends and associates and all other Jews are true Tzaddikim. Our greatest expression of love and kindness to our friends and all other Jews is to want them to attain their true purpose as ordained by God’s good will, because this is the true good for Israel .
People can easily cease serving God, especially if they become trapped in some evil craving or sin. Many such people hate those who are still trying to serve God and want to see them give up . They discourage and disparage them, telling them that they too will give up .
There are numerous people who were once highly devoted but have since lapsed in various ways. On the other hand, many of today’s younger generation have a great longing for God and have started praying with earnest intensity and studying zealously. When those fallen Chassidim see these young people, they ridicule and abuse them. They do everything they can to discourage them, telling them that their service is not genuine. All this is out of jealousy - because they themselves have fallen and want everyone else to be like them.
However, the truth is that one should want the opposite. Even when a person feels unable to serve God, he should be happy when others are making an effort.
Sichot HaRan #119
* * *
Other people have tremendous power to influence a person and deter him from serving God and from drawing close to the true Tzaddik. The power of other people is greater even than the power of a person’s own evil urge.
The power of a particular individual’s evil urge reaches only as far as the specific world in which it is rooted. Man, however, includes all the worlds. For this reason the obstacles caused by other people can be greater than those of the evil urge itself.
If you were all alone with nobody else to stand in your way, you would always direct yourself to the path of life. You might still suffer inner turmoil, anxiety and other obstacles, but you would eventually reach the right path. Even if you were to commit a sin, you would certainly come to regret it and remain on the true path.
The worst of all obstacles is the confusion caused by other people. You yourself may personally know certain individuals who act as self-appointed experts in philosophy or use science to mock at everything holy. Such sophistry can be extremely confusing to others as it teaches that all values are relative and therefore everything is permitted. Such ideas deter people from the path of life.
There are others who may appear to be observant yet display a certain sophisticated cynicism that can be quite as harmful as philosophy , if not worse. Most Jews are aware of the dangers of philosophy and avoid it, knowing that it can pull them down into the deepest pit. However there are many who are not on their guard against the kind of sophisticated cynicism that emanates from the mouths of people who seem to be observant and disguise their message in the language of truth, as if they are in possession of the absolute truth. These are the ones who can cause the most harm, confusing a person and holding him back from true service of God.
Happy is the man who walks the path of truth without any kind of sophistication - a person who is “simple and upright, fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:1).
Sichot HaRan #80-81
* * *
The seeming love and friendship that exist among the non-observant and the common mass of people are really empty: this is not true love. Each one is interested only in himself. Any expressions of love and friendship are purely in order to impress for some ulterior purpose, but in reality everyone is jealous of everyone else.
However, the love amongst those who are honest, sincere and God-fearing, and particularly the love between the Tzaddik and his followers, is priceless. This is true love, the very essence of love. The love of the Tzaddik for his followers is very, very great: he desires their true good.
If he could, he would give them all the good of all the worlds. He would like them to have even the good of this world, despite the fact that the good of this world is really not necessary since the main good is the enduring good of the world to come. Even so, the Tzaddik seeks the good of his followers even in this world, and wants them to have all the good things of this world - beautifully decorated homes, gardens and the like, if only to vex the wicked, who have all these things. How much more does the Tzaddik desire his followers’ spiritual good! If he knew that they recited their prayers with the proper devotion and that God had joy from them he would certainly be very gratified.
And the love which his followers have for the Tzaddik is also very great. Their love for him is strong and intense, and it too is true love.
Amongst the rest of the world - the common masses, the wicked and the gentiles - it may be that love and friendship are perceived as being more important than anything else. Yet the truth is that they never experience genuine love. Only those who are honest and God-fearing and privileged to be close to the true Tzaddik know the meaning of true love.
Chayey Moharan #471
* * *
Why we should pray for our friends
We should pray for our friends when they are in trouble. Why our prayers for friends are effective can be understood from the story of a certain king who was angry with his son and sent him away. The prince came and placated his father, who agreed to have him back, but afterwards the prince again offended his father, who sent him away again. The prince again placated his father and the same thing happened several times.
Once the prince did something that made his father extremely angry. The king thought to himself: “What point is there in sending him away if later on, when my anger subsides, he comes and placates me again? This time when I send him away, I will so arrange things that he will not even have access to me so as not to be able to placate me.”
The king appointed one of his ministers as an intermediary between himself and the prince, instructing the minister that when the prince came seeking to placate him, he was not to allow him entry. The prince came several times asking to be admitted to his father in order to placate him. However, the minister would not let him enter, for those were the instructions the king had given him. This happened again and again.
Eventually the minister saw the prince’s great longing for his father and saw how much he was suffering because of not being able to gain entry to his father in order to placate him. The minister thought to himself: “If this is how much the prince misses his father, presumably the king is also suffering a great deal because his son cannot come to him. For the greater the desire of he who desires, the greater the desire aroused in the object of his desire.” The minister felt extremely sorry for both the king and his son, and he himself also suffered, because he said to himself: “Surely I am the cause of all this, since I am the barrier that keeps them apart: I am the one causing both the king and the prince to suffer.”
The minister thought to himself: “There must be some way to bring about a reconciliation. Surely the king does not want his son to suffer forever without being able to reach him, and the king himself must be suffering as a result.” The minister realized that it was all up to him. “I myself will go to the king to plead for the prince. I will ask the king to forgive him and allow him back.”
This is exactly what the minister did. He went to the king and told him how much the prince was longing for him, begging the king to forgive him. The king immediately agreed and restored the prince to his place.
The meaning of the story is obvious. Whenever one of our friends is suffering, physically, mentally or spiritually, we should say, “Without doubt I am the cause of this. Because of my sins, I myself am the barrier between the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, and the world. For the Holy One, blessed be He, constantly desires to bestow blessings of goodness upon His children. But because of my sins, I am the barrier that is holding all this back. The solution is for me myself to plead with the King on behalf of my friend.”
When a person does this, he will certainly not succumb to arrogance. The root of arrogance is when a person prides himself on having qualities which his friend lacks. But when a person believes that the only cause of his friend’s deficiency, spiritual or material, is the barrier that he himself has erected between his friend and the Holy One, blessed be He, Who wants to bestow blessings at all times, he will certainly not become arrogant. On the contrary, his pride will be broken and he will achieve genuine humility.
Chayey Moharan #447
Friday, May 16, 2014
Invites You To An Evening of Inspiration in Preparation for Shavuot
Avreichim Breslov Shul
1334 43 St. (front basement)
Light Seudah (meat)
Joy Is Our Spiritual Task, Mrs. C.R. Zwolinski, Breslover Chasidiste, Author and Speaker
Breslov Chassidus’s Powerful Gifts for Women Special Guest Speaker, Rabbi Eliezer Trenk, shlita, Rabbi and Torah Vodaas Educator
An Open Discussion and Personal Insights Mrs. Sarah Fried, Devout veteran Breslover Chasidiste
Please R.S.V.P to Mrs. Malky Bergstien 347.446.2357.
(Painting by Dina Zylberberg)
From The Breslov Pirkey Avot (Breslov Research Institute), Chapter 5, Mishnah 10
שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלָּךְ וְשֶׁלְּךָ שֶׁלִּי, עַם הָאָרֶץ. שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלָּךְ וְשֶׁלְּךָ שֶׁלָּךְ, חָסִיד. שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלִּי וְשֶׁלְּךָ שֶׁלִּי, רָשָׁע:
There are four types of people. The one who says, “What is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours” – this is the average character type, although some say that this is a trait of Sodom. The one who says, “What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine” – this is an unlearned man. The one who says, “What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours” – this is a pious person. The one who says, “What is yours is mine, and what is mine is mine” – this is a wicked person.
Digest of Commentaries:
The one who says, “What is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours” - this is the average character type, although some say that this is a trait of Sodom. The citizens of Sodom were notorious for their selfishness, spurning the needy even when they had ample resources to spare (Sanhedrin 109a). Thus the Talmud considers one who is unwilling to benefit others, even at no cost to himself, as akin to a native of Sodom (Eruvin 49a). This view does not compete with the concept of private property; rather, it maintains that the ethic of self-sufficiency can easily lead to disregard for the unfortunate, even when it is well within one’s means to extend a helping hand (Bartenura).
Alternately: This characterization applies to a person who gives charity only out of a sense of religious duty, as opposed to one who gives in a spirit of true compassion. Insensitivity to another’s plight invites the comparison to Sodom (Rabbenu Yonah).
The one who says, “What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine” - this is an unlearned man. Some commentators explain the term am ha-aretz (“unlearned man”) in the familiar sense, as one ignorant of Torah, who is therefore incapable of making proper judgments that would lead to the improvement of civilization (Rashi; Bartenura). Others interpret it differently. One opinion says that am ha’aretz refers to a person who takes what belongs to others without shame (Rashi). Still another opinion understands this term as referring to the average member of society who wishes to promote reciprocity and goodwill, but fails to appreciate that the Torah holds up a higher ideal – namely, that of “a pious person” (Meiri; Rabbenu Yonah; Tiferet Yisrael).
The one who says, “What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours” - this is a pious person. He does not wish to benefit from others, but willingly lets others profit from what is his and acts benevolently toward all.
The one who says, “What is yours is mine, and what is mine is mine” - this is a wicked person. He is completely caught up in self-serving desires.
The Fur Peltz
Once there was a poor Chassid who used to stand in the open marketplace all day long selling salted fish from a barrel. Naturally, during the long, bitterly cold Ukrainian winters, he needed a warm overcoat. But all he owned was an old fur peltz so tattered and worn that it was virtually useless. Without a winter coat, he would not be able to earn even his customarily meager living. Therefore he approached one of the elder Chassidim for advice.
“Go to the village of Terhovitza,” the equally impoverished sage told him, “and look for a Breslover Chassid named Reb Sender. He will help you.”
The man found a ride to the nearby village and soon met Reb Sender. A cloth merchant in his youth, Reb Sender had been introduced to Rebbe Nachman’s teachings through several of Reb Noson’s followers while visiting Uman on business many years earlier. Now he was the Rav of the Breslov shul in Terhovitza. After warmly receiving his guest, Reb Sender asked what prompted his visit. With great emotion, the unhappy fellow poured forth his plight.
“Don’t worry,” Reb Sender said encouragingly. “Everything will be taken care of tonight.”
In the early evening, the Breslov shul filled with men who regularly studied together before reciting the evening prayer. To judge by appearances, they were men of all ages and from all walks of life. But the visitor immediately sensed the comradeship that existed between both seasoned scholars and simple tradesmen as they sat down to their studies.
The weekday evening service in the Terhovitza shul was prayed with such intensity as one might have expected only on Yom Kippur. And the dance that followed lifted its participants far beyond all earthly concerns as their voices joined together in song.
Reb Sender and his fellow Chassidim had a most unusual custom. Before the dance, they would put their wallets on the table in the middle of the room. Reb Sender, being in charge of the congregation’s charity fund, was expected to take whatever was needed for any holy cause that might have been brought to his attention.
This time Reb Sender took enough money to buy their needy guest a new winter coat and a pair of boots, plus enough cash to help him invest in a more profitable line of merchandise.
After the grateful Chassid returned home, Reb Sender remarked, “A fur coat has thousands of hairs. But if only one hair from this fellow’s peltz accompanies me when I stand before the Heavenly court, my entire life on earth will have been worthwhile!”
How much humility was expressed in Reb Sender’s words! Here was a Chassid who could recite Likutey Tefilot (Reb Noson’s prayers) for six hours at a stretch with a broken heart, and who denied himself all worldly comforts. Yet only for an act of kindness to a fellow Jew did he consider himself the least bit meritorious! (based on a story preserved by Rabbi Yaakov Dov, Oneg Shabbat, appendix).
Thursday, May 15, 2014
(Painting by Charnine)
From Rabbi Chaim Kramer’s Crossing the Narrow Bridge (Breslov Research Institute 1989), Chapter 11 (“Day and Night”), pp. 198-202
[O]ur thoughts are our closest companions. The better part of any day we spend inside our own heads ‑ in our ideas, images and impressions, in our designs and recollections, and so on. One of the concepts which Rebbe Nachman discusses in connection with our thought processes is what he calls the medameh. The root of this Hebrew word is damah, which means to be like or resemble, and connotes the comparison of one thing to another. Therefore, the Rebbe’s use of the word medameh might best be translated as the mind’s imaginative faculty. Yet this would not give us a complete picture, because, depending on the context, Rebbe Nachman uses the word to mean either creative visualization, or as what is generally termed illusion. Medameh as creative visualization is a quality we associate with Light and Day; medameh as illusion, however, we associate with Darkness and Night.
Imagination as illusion
Who hasn’t, at some time in life, let his imagination run wild? When we allow this to happen, our thoughts become subject to all sorts of confusion and chaos, our minds see everything as Night. Take, for example, what happens when we let our imaginations focus on something we fear. Rebbe Nachman teaches: Most things that people fear cannot harm them. We may even clearly realize that what we fear cannot harm us, yet, we have these phobias which we cannot overcome (Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom #83). How many of us spend our time fretting over and fearing imagined danger? We say things like, “My entire world is black,” and we really think it is, just because we’ve imagined the worst possible scenario and convinced ourselves of its reality. The Darkness of illusion has shut out the Light, it has closed our minds to the wisdom and understanding which would normally help us see past the situation and even resolve it. We must do everything we can to avoid such anxiety and the ensuing depression, because it is the worst mental state possible.
And it’s not only through fears and phobias that illusion plays havoc with our lives. Rebbe Nachman, after delivering a lesson in which he referred to one’s desires and evil inclination as illusory and dreamlike, said, “We should give the Evil One a new name. From now on he should be called Imagination” (Likutey Moharan I, 25:end).
We imagine ourselves different than we really are: we might think we are indispensable and this leads to arrogance and strife; we might imagine our family life as okay when it is sometimes falling apart right in front of our eyes; we delude ourselves into thinking that we have, or can achieve, financial security, something which is virtually impossible. And sometimes, we even create illusions about our spiritual achievements and religious commitments. Are we really as devoted to God and to being a good person, as we tell ourselves and would have others believe? When we do the things we do, are we really being true to Judaism? Our forefathers offered the supreme sacrifice, their very lives, to remain true to our faith. If called upon to do so, would we do the same?
This is the illusory side of our imagination that Rebbe Nachman calls the Evil One. It is the medameh from which we must flee. As Rebbe Nachman said: “The world deceives you. Accept this from me. Do not let yourselves be fooled!” (Rabbi Nachmans Wisdom #51).
Imagination as creative visualization
There is, however, another side to imagination which, rather than deceiving us into Darkness, brings Light, wisdom and understanding into our minds. This is the quality of imagination through which we can turn even our darkest Nights into the brightest Days; it is medameh as creative visualization. Our Sages tell us that when Yosef was a servant in Egypt and his master’s wife attempted to seduce him, he had a vision of his father’s image and this saved him (Sotah 36b). Rebbe Nachman commented on this: “How it happens that an image appears to a person is a very hidden mystery” (Likutey Moharan I, 150).
Indeed, Rebbe Nachman himself made considerable use of the medameh. He told many stories, revealed numerous dreams, visions and innovative ideas—all of which display a prolific imagination and challenge even the most fertile and creative minds. And he inspired his chassidim to follow suit. There can therefore be no doubt that the Rebbe also recognized the positive features of imagination and how it is to be used to our benefit.
Throughout the Rebbe’s writings, there are references to imagination. Here are but some of his suggestions for making use of its positive aspects:
Human thought has tremendous potential. When we concentrate our thoughts on something and really imagine it to be, we can actually force the thing to happen. To accomplish this, we must visualize every step of the desired result in great detail. Diffused and generalized thought will not work. But when every faculty of the mind is intensely focused on that which we wish to see happening, we can genuinely exert great influence on all sorts of matters in the world (Rabbi Nachmans Wisdom #62).
When studying Torah, imagine and plan a schedule for your studies. Picture in your mind exactly how you will go about this course of study. Visualize yourself doing it, succeeding at it, until you actually do manage to fulfill your plans (Ibid.).
Rebbe Nachman teaches: “When we are disturbed and unhappy, we should at least imagine ourselves as being joyous. Deep down we may be depressed, but if we act happy, we will eventually come to genuine joy” (Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom #74).
Developing original insights is a most desired goal of all Torah study. To be worthy of such innovative thinking, Rebbe Nachman tells us that we must use the power of imagination— comparing item to item, thought to thought (Likutey Moharan I, 54:5,6).
We can conclude that any aspect of our power of imagination which we use to serve God and better ourselves has to be a positive quality. The imagination that Rebbe Nachman refers to as the Evil One, the imagination which needs to be repressed and stifled, is not the creative power that is an innate quality and asset in each of us. Rather, it is the illusory imagination that lets us fool ourselves and others, the delusive thinking that allows us to waste away our lives.
And it’s worth recalling once more Rebbe Nachman’s teaching: “Wherever your mind is— that’s where you are!” Thus, it all depends on what we really want. If we really desire and think about Godliness and genuine personal growth, we can attain it. If we desire something else, and that is where our mind is, then that’s what we’ll achieve. If we think Night, it is Night. But if we think Day, if we think good, positive thoughts, and continue to do so, we will find ourselves emerging into the Light.
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Likutey Halakhos Giviyas Chov me-ha-Yesomim 3:18, as abridged by the Tcheriner Rov in Otzar HaYirah, Vol. IV, Pesach-Sefirah-Shavuos #147. Translated by Dovid Sears
Pesach Sheini teaches us that nothing is hopeless –ein shum ye’ush ba-olam (as the Rebbe states in Likutey Moharan II, 48) For even if a person was tamei (ritually impure by reason of contact with the dead) or on a distant journey and thus unable to offer the Korban Pesach at its proper time, the situation was not hopeless. That is, one who does not merit to perform his divine service constantly, in its proper season and time, as every Jew should—despite this, he should not give up. Rather, [like those who the Torah describes who were prevented from bringing the Korban Pesach,] he should go to the true tzaddik, who is an aspect of Moshe, to inquire of G-d. [Like those men the Torah describes,] he should ask and implore, “Why must I be deemed so unworthy that I may not offer G-d’s sacrifice?” [That is,] “Even though I have befouled my soul, and thus estranged myself from G-d, despite all this, I beg for your advice and for a means to come closer to G-d, at least from now on. Without a doubt, their must be a way, even for someone like me, to come closer to G-d!” Then surely G-d will take pity on him, and he will merit to achieve the greatest spiritual ascent [as was the case in the generation of Moshe Rabbeinu], thus adding a new “parshah,” or teaching to the Torah.
[Rebbe Nachman teaches states that when one who feels far from G-d calls out, “Ayeh? Where is the place of Your glory?” this hearfelt cry reaches all the way to the very beginning point of creation, which is called the “hidden utterance” (ma’amar sasum); see Likutey Moharan II, 12.] For by crying out “Ayeh?” we will merit a further revelation of the Torah [as was the case with the law of Pesach Sheini. This alludes to the concept that even greater insights into G-d’s truth and His mercy may be attained by every person, even today, as long as one does not despair].