Friday, January 31, 2014

Rabbi Tanchum Burton: Parshas Terumah

by Rabbi Tanchum Burton

This dvar torah is dedicated to the refuah sheleimah of Ita Shulamit bat Chaya Leah שתחיה Refoel Yitzchak Eizik ben Michal שיחיה, Chaim Michoel Shlomo ben Michal שיחיה, and Shlomo Eliyahu ben Livia שיחיה

And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. (Exodus 25:8)

While the English translation renders the last two words of the verse as “among them”, (which actually follows Onkelos’s translation, loc. cit.), the actual Hebrew word is besocham, “within them”. Between the literal and free translations, we can derive that the building of a mikdash, a sanctuary, somehow brings G-d between us and within us.  But how is it possible for an Infinite Being to dwell in a finite dimension?

The answer is, there is a qualitative difference between size and infinity.  That which is large has more of a relationship to other things that are large.  If we envision G-d to be the Largest Being, we would erroneously reason that He would then have more interest in larger things, such as a sequoia tree or a supergiant star, then in a human being.  But G-d is infinite, which means that He to be found everywhere, even at the most infinitesimal level.  “There is no place devoid of Him” (Tikkunei Zohar 57).  

Yet, in that case, why does G-d require a sanctuary, since He dwells everywhere already?

In the Midrash, we learn that G-d has desired, so to speak, a dwelling place in the lower worlds since the beginning of Creation, but would not allow His Presence to descend here until certain preconditions were met, namely, the acceptance of the yoke of Torah by the Jewish people.  Once His Will was revealed to humankind regarding how He wants us to relate to Him, and to each other, He assented to dwell amongst us.  Our verse alludes to a positive commandment to actually build a structure which serves as a focal point for us, a place to make offerings, to celebrate Him, and to experience closeness to Him (Rambam, Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 1:1). In English, the word “sanctuary” has several meanings, including “a holy place or shrine” and “a place of refuge and safety”.  Both are descriptive of what the Tabernacle represents.  We invoke a consciousness of G-d by building the building and utilizing it as a point of contact, and, once there is a focal point, we are able to run to G-d as it were, and take refuge in Him.  

Let’s not forget that the verse says, “and I shall dwell amongst them/within them” and not “within it”.  In the tale of the Seven Beggars, Rebbe Nachman z”l describes a tree that stands beyond space, meaning that, not being fettered by the dimension of space, it can accommodate every creature; there is a place for everyone there.  We can all take shelter in its shade.  G-d Himself is referred to as HaMakom, “the Place”, because “He is the Place of the world but the world is not His place” (Bereishis Rabbah 68:10).  Reb Noson Sternhartz z”l relates the idea of transcending space to the complaint of the moon at the outset of Creation, when the moon, which was at that time equal in size to the sun, protested, “two kings cannot wear one crown!”.  G-d punished the moon by reducing its size, forcing it to wax and wane, and restricting its dominance to the night hours.  Because the moon failed to recognize that with G-d, there is room for everyone and everything, it had to exist within the bounds of spatiality (Likutei Halachos, Hilchos Tzitzis 3).   

How can G-d, Who is Infinite, dwell amongst us?  There’s no room!  Here is the deeper meaning of the mikdash.  We have to make a place for Him.  When we build communities, we have to invite Him to join us; even the most enlightened, peaceful human gathering is constricting until G-d is invited in.  At that point, we can partake of His Infiniteness, and realize that there is room for everyone.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

New Life

Sichos HaRan
Translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom (Breslov Research Institute), pp. 227-229.

In memory of Dr. Lewis Sears
Leib ben Yitzchok Yaakov, a”h
Yahrtzeit: 30 Shevat, Rosh Chodesh Adar

When you say the Psalms it is as great as if King David himself were saying them.

King David wrote the Psalms with divine inspiration—the Holy Breath.[1] This Holy Breath is still in the words of the Psalms. When you recite the Psalms, your own breath arouses, the Holy Breath in these words. When you say the Psalms, it is therefore as if King David himself were chanting them.

It is best for the sick to trust only in G-d. They should trust that saying the Psalms will help them.

Faith is a support and staff.

One leans and depends on G-d just as one leans on a staff or cane. King David said (Ps. 18:19), “G-d has been my staff.” He could lean on G-d like on a physical support.

It is written (Ex. 21:19), “ If he rises and walks about outside on his staff, then he shall be cleared.” One is healed through the staff of faith.

It is also written (Isa. 11:1), “And a staff shall come forth out of the stock of Jesse.” This verse speaks of the Messiah who will emanate from David. (He will hold the healing staff of faith.)

It is also written (Lam. 4:20), “The breath of our nostrils, G-d’s Messiah.” (The staff of healing will arise through the Holy Breath that King David placed in the Psalms.)

Regarding the Messianic age it is written (Zech. 8:4), “There shall yet sit old men and women in the broad places of Jerusalem for many days, every man with his staff in his hand.”

From this verse the Talmud learns that Tzaddikim will resurrect the dead in the Messianic age.[2] The staff that they hold will be that of Elisha, used to resurrect the son of the Shunammite. Thus it is written (2 Ki. 4:31), “And you shall place the staff on the boy’s face.” (This is the healing staff of faith.)

[Reb Noson adds: This is not recorded completely or perfectly. Despite the fact that the major portion is no longer available, the little that was understood and recalled is included here.]

Winter is pregnancy and summer is birth.[3]

The Rebbe then spoke wondrous words, but they were mostly forgotten. He spoke of the summer which was then approaching. This took place in Nissan, shortly before Pesach, on the third day after the Bris (circumcision) of the Rebbe’s son, Shlomo Ephriam, of blessed memory.[4]

The Rebbe then said that in the winter all plants and grasses die. Their strength is dissipated and they are like the dead. But when the summer comes, they awaken and return to life.

It is written (Gen. 24:63), “And Isaac went out to meditate in the field.” The Talmud teaches us that this meditation was prayer.[5]

When summer begins to approach, it is very good to meditate in the fields. This is a time when you can pray to G-d with longing and yearning.

Meditation and prayer is SIChah. A bush of the field is a SlaCh. When every bush (SlaCh) of the field begins to return to life and grow, they all yearn to be included in prayer and meditation (SIChah).

[1] Cf. Likutey Moharan 156.
[2] Pesachim 68a; Zohar I, 114b, 135a.
[3] Chayay Moharan 17a (#13).
[4] The child was born shortly before Rosh Chodesh Nissan 5565 (March 1805). Yemey Moharnat 7b; Chayay Moharan 9a (#27).
[5] Berakhos 26b.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Rebbe Nachman’s Youthful Hisbodedus

(Picture by Kate Day)

In memory of Dr. Bernard Sears
Dov Ber ben Yitzchok Yaakov, a"h
Yahrtzeit: 28 Shevat

Sichos HaRan 117
Translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom (Breslov Research Institute), pp. 245-246
Footnotes have been omitted for this online version.

The Rebbe spent most of his youth in the village of Ossatin near Medvedevka, where his father-in-law lived. This was near a large river with many reeds and rushes growing on its banks. The Rebbe often took a small boat and by himself rowed along the river. He could not control the boat very well, but would still take it beyond the rushes where he could not be seen. It was here that he secluded himself in prayer before G-d. The Rebbe himself writes that it was here that he attained what he did.

Although he could not control his boat very well, the Rebbe often took it to the very middle of the river, straying far from the shore. The boat would rock violently in the heavy current and seem ready to sink. The Rebbe had no idea how to remedy the situation, and would lift his hands and cry out to G-d with true devotion.

The same thing happened later when he was in Tiberias. Attempting to escape the plague, he found himself on a narrow wall, hanging by his fingertips. When he felt that he would surely fall, he also cried out to G-d.

The Rebbe constantly repeated these stories. They were a lesson that he wanted to impress on our hearts and minds. Imagine that you are in the middle of the sea, with a storm raging to the very heart of the heavens. You are hanging on by a hairbreadth, not knowing what to do. You do not even have time to cry out. You can only lift your eyes and heart to G-d.

You should always lift your heart to G-d like this. Seclude yourself and cry out to G-d. The danger is more than imaginary. As you know deep down in your soul, every man is in great danger in this world.

Understand these words well.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Other Side of the Talmud

An Aggadata Chaburah:
Exploring “Layers of Meaning”

Traditionally the emphasis in studying the Gemara is on the debates of Chazal related to the clarification of legal issues – Halakhah. However, Ravina and Rav Ashi, in redacting the Gemara, also including many stories and non-legalistic material – the Aggadata. Many Gedoley Yisrael have stated that the mystical "secrets" of the Torah are hidden in the Aggadata. Moreover, scholars have shown that there is an intimate connection between the Aggadic teachings of Chazal and their legalistic thinking.

Rabbi Nachman Levine is uniquely able to open the doors to this dimension of the Torah. A renaissance man –accomplished scholar, artist and musician – with decades of experience in teaching Torah, he will explore the Aggadata from the standpoint of the classic meforshim, Chassidus and Kabbalah, modern literary theory and archeology. These various disciplines will enable the chaburah to explore the many layers of meaning in this respository of the deep wisdom of Chazal.

Time: Every Wednesday night, 8:00-9:00 PM (followed by Maariv)

First class: Wednesday night, Feb. 5 (Adar 6), 8:00-9:00

Location: Congregation Sheves Achim (Rabbi Fund's Shul)  
1517 Ave. H, off East 16th (across from Q Train) 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Heart of the Matter

Parshas Mishpatim
5758 / 1998
Dovid Sears

“And [upon] the nobles of the Children of Israel He did not send forth His hand, and they beheld G-d, and they ate and drank” (Exodus 24:1).

Moshe and Aharon, Nadav and Avihu and the seventy elders of Israel ascended Mount Sinai and experienced a divine vision. However, something went wrong. Picking up on the mention that G-d “did not stretch forth His hand” in the verse above, Rashi cites the Midrash Tanchuma that all present besides Moshe and Aharon deserved divine punishment— which they later received.

What did they do wrong? Again, Rashi cites the Tanchuma that they “gazed at the Shekhinah (Divine Presence) with a lev gass”—which may be translated as a “coarse heart” or an “insensitive heart”—“while eating and drinking.” What was the nature of this coarseness or insensitivity that they should be so severely judged?

This elite group ascended Mount Sinai on the day before the Giving of the Torah. Moshe had just taught the people the Torah from Genesis until that point historically, and they all declared “naaseh vi-nishma,” “we will do and we will hear” (Rashi on Exodus 24:7). What was the purpose of this ascent? Wasn’t the entire Torah about to be revealed to the entire nation on the very next day? Why was it necessary for the leaders, particularly and exclusively, to have this “preview”?

A possible answer is that the hispashtus ha-nevua, the proliferation of prophecy, had to come about through hiskashrus, through the creation of a spiritual bond between the other leaders and Moshe Rabbenu. This is borne out by what happened the next day. Chazal state that the Children of Israel, overwhelmed by the Divine Voice, heard the last eight of the Ten Commandments through Moshe’s voice (Rashi, citing Mekhilta on Exodus 19:19). They were forced to demure, for only Moshe was capable of a direct prophetic relationship with G-d,  “panim el panim (face to face),” as the Torah attests. Therefore, only through Moshe could the rest of the nation share this most lofty experience.

“There is an extension of Moshe to every generation and every tzaddik” (Tikkuney Zohar, Tikkun 69, 112a). Just as the Jewish people, as a whole and throughout all of time, must receive from Moshe, so the hamone am, the “masses,” must receive from the leaders of each generation, who to some degree are an “extension of Moshe.” Therefore, the other leaders were invited to ascend Mount Sinai along with Moshe prior to the Giving of the Torah; they were destined to serve an extension of Moshe. At the same time, this was a nisayon, a grave test for them. They too needed to realize their unworthiness to gaze upon the Shekhinah, but rather that they had to connect themselves to Moshe. Only Aharon succeeded in passing this test.

This lack of bittul (self-nullification) to Moshe produced the lev gass, the “coarse heart” to which Rashi attributes their guilt. If the other leaders had bound themselves to Moshe, whom the Torah deems “the humblest of all men on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:13), they would have acquired a lev basar, a sensitive heart. They would have experienced the Shekhinah with the same humility and lack of ego as their teacher. The inner core of the nation would have attained its tikkun, and as a result, the rest of the nation would have remained “ki-ish echad bi-lev echad,” in a state of perfect unity, even after the Giving of the Torah. Bound to Moshe Rabbeinu, the would have been spared all the trials of their subsequent forty-two journeys in the desert.

This idea is supported by the nature of the incidents through which the leaders were punished after their spiritual failure on Mount Sinai: Nadav and Avihu were punished during the dedication of the Mishkan because (according to one view) they made a legal ruling in the presence of their teacher. This indicated a lack of hiskashrus to Moshe. And the original seventy elders were destroyed by fire along with those who had complained against Moshe (Rashi citing Tanchuma on Exodus 24:10).

This flaw in our collective emunas chakhomim persisted for nearly one thousand years until Purim, when the nation accepted and upheld the Torah anew, and Mordechai, the Nasi of the Sanhedrin and Moshe Rabbeinu-figure of his day, was “ratzui le-rov echav,” “favored by the majority of his brothers” (Megillas Esther, end). However, to this verse, Chazal add “vi-lo le-khol echav,” “but not by all of his brothers.”

In truth, this tikkun is still incomplete. As Rebbe Nachman teaches in Likutey Moharan I, 61, If we would attain emunas chakhomim in the true tzaddikim, those who are in the category of Moshe, all the reversals of our exile would be turned around to the good, and Moshiach would surely come.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Just Published by BRI: The Water Castle

By Dovid Sears
Edited by Ozer Bergman and Yaacov David Shulman

Breslov Research Institute has published another “first”: an in-depth study of three sections of Reb Noson’s Likutey Halakhos with original Hebrew text and elucidated English translation, on facing pages. The text is extensively annotated, with a wide range of source references for further study.

The focal point of Reb Noson’s profound discourses is Rebbe Nachman’s story of “The Water Castle” – which is a section of a larger story, “The Seven Beggars.” This portion of the story is told by the Beggar With No Hands, whose hands turn out to be his greatest power.

His story about the wondrous “Water Castle” corresponds to the fifth day of the wedding festivities of a nameless young couple, who have been adopted by a group of wandering beggars. Their “wedding hall” is a pit covered by sticks and refuse, and the food consists of leftovers from a royal banquet. But the guests of honor are seven awesome tzaddikim, who bless the couple with the awesome powers they possess – which are seven facets of the spiritual goal of all creation.

These discourses are among Reb Noson’s masterpieces, and include many intricate and profound kabbalistic references. This  English translation’s original commentary and myriad source references, painstakingly compiled by the Breslov Center’s Rabbi Dovid Sears, do much to explicate Reb Noson’s teachings.

The paradox of duality and nonduality, the role of the tzaddik, the healing power of music and joy, and many central themes of Breslov Chassidism are presented here. “The Water Castle” is particularly addressed to the student who has read introductory works, but now wishes to delve into the core teachings of Breslov, without those texts being “watered down” (no pun intended).

Amazon is selling this ground-breaking (or water-breaking) work for $13.46. Amazon Prime can deliver it to your door in two days. But since shipment from Israel usually takes three weeks, the book won’t be in the Judaica shops until February.  

Thursday, January 16, 2014

New Site Announcement:

Texas Breslov

Texas Breslov was established in 2012 as a central, authentic resource for information on Breslov Chassidus in Texas and neighboring states.

As Torah study and observance has grown in the southwest, so has interest in the teachings of the Holy Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, z”l.  Until 2008, though,  there was very 
little information available locally for those thirsting for authentic Breslov thought and Torah.

In 2008, at the urging of several leading Breslov scholars and sages, Rabbi Avraham Chaim Bloomenstiel, Breslov shaliach, relocated from Baltimore, MD to Dallas, TX, bringing with him a wealth of experience in teaching and explaining Breslov thought.

In addition to this website, Rabbi Bloomenstiel also teaches regular classes in Likutey Moharan and Likutey Halachos, sponsors numerous annual events, and arranges Rosh HaShanah trips to Uman for those in Texas and nearby states.

Dovid Sears: The "Ten Sayings" of Creation: Unity, Multiplicity, and Ecology

(Terrance Malik)

The "Ten Sayings" of Creation: Unity, Multiplicity, and Ecology

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Family Weekend in Uman

(Click on the image above)

The Name “Yisro”

Shvat 5758 / 1998
Dovid Sears

The Midrash states that Yisro (also pronounced “Yitro,” or “Jethro”) had seven names. He was called “Yisro” because he “added (she-yiter)” a section (parshah) to the Torah” (Rashi citing Mekhilta, Yisro 1:1). 

What parshah did he add to the Torah?

The most prominent event recorded in the Torah portion that bears Yisro’s name is the Giving of the Torah, and in particular the Aseres ha-Dibros, the Ten Commandments. One surely can’t say that this is what Yisro added to the Torah! Moreover, Yisro was not even present at this event.

Rather, the “parshah” to which the Mekhilta refers is the advice that Yisro gave his son-in-law, Moshe Rabbenu, to set up a hierarchy of judges: “lords of thousands, lords of hundreds, lords of fifties, lords of tens.” The Ohr ha-Chaim Ha-kadosh (Exodus 18:21) comments that this teaches us that the nations of the world also have great thinkers. The Jewish people were not chosen for their intellectual ability but because of Hashem’s love, and because of His promise to the Patriarchs.

However, this itself needs to be understood. Ultimately all wisdom comes from the Torah, which the Midrash describes as the “blueprint of creation” (Bereishis Rabbah 1:2). And it is one of the RaMBaM’s foundations of faith that Moshe Rabbenu was the highest of the prophets, who personified the wisdom of the Torah (Mishneh Torah, Yesodey ha-Torah 7:6; Hil. Teshuvah 9:2). How could Moshe need advice from anyone else? And how could the Torah have a “parshah” added to itself? “Toras Hashem temimah … the Torah of Hashem is perfect” (Psalms 19:8). It is axiomatic that the Torah is intrinsically complete.

The answer to all this is bound up with the mystery of geirim, or converts.  Moshe is the epitome of tov, goodness (hence one of his ten names was “Tuvya,” as mentioned in Vayikra Rabbah 1:3). He embodies the goodness and holiness of the entire Jewish people. Yisro, by contrast, was the “priest of Midian” and the world’s foremost authority on avodah zarah (idolatry) (see Zohar II, 69a). Conceptually, what could Yisro add to the Torah?

Perhaps Yisro’s addition to the Torah was the transformation of that which exists outside the bounds of holiness. In knowing and then renouncing every form of avodah zarah, Yisro “negated the negative” (to use a favorite phrase of my teacher and friend Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Gottlieb). And this is related to his advice for Moshe to establish a hierarchy, as we shall see.

According to a rather amazing Midrash, when Moshe asked Yisro for his daughter Tziporah’s hand in marriage, his future father-in-law agreed on one condition: that Moshe’s firstborn son would be dedicated to idolatry, while the rest of the children would be dedicated to Hashem (Mekhilta, Yisro 1:1). And Moshe agreed! Indeed, for this reason, Gershom was not circumcised (Targum Yonasan on Exodus 6:25).

The truth is that Yisro wanted all of his descendants to serve Hashem. But he felt that the highest purpose is attained only when one has fallen into error and then comes to the truth. This is the “negation of the negative.”

Spiritually, the root of all error is avodah zarah. The RaMBaM describes the origin of avodah zarah as the honor accorded by the early generations to the angels that preside over the heavenly constellations, whom the ancients recognized as Hashem’s agents in determining all that transpires here on earth (Mishneh Torah, Avodas Kokhavim 1:1). These angels are emtza’im—intermediaries between the Creator and creation. They also constitute a hierarchy. Therefore, the root of avodah zarah is taking an intermediary (or hierarchy of power) to be an autonomous entity, a power unto itself, that demands one’s submission.

This was the underlying assumption of Yisro’s previous erroneous path. However, he felt that only through falling into error and then seeing through it could one truly declare, “Atah yaditi ki gadol Hashem mi-kol ha-elohim … Now I see that Hashem is greater than all gods” (Exodus 18:1). This is the reason for the creation of time and the spiritual goal that stands at the end of the process of history. It is also the reason why teshuvah is said to “precede” creation—for teshuvah is the underlying divine intent in creation.

Therefore, Yisro advised Moshe to set up a hierarchy of judges and thus introduce the potential for error. Although this would be a great nisayon, a spiritual test, only in this way would Klal Yisrael come to appreciate the uniqueness of Moshe Rabbenu and to accept upon themselves the “yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven” in truth. (This too is why Chazal said that Klal Yisrael should have disregarded Yisro’s advice and insisted on relating to Moshe directly. The entire suggestion was a test.)

This is what constitutes “adding a parshah to the Torah”—not because the Torah was in any way lacking without it, but because it represents the ultimate tikkun of everything contrary to the Torah. This was the unique contribution of Yisro that even Moshe could not make. As Chazal state, “In the place that penitents stand, perfect tzaddikim cannot stand” (Berakhos 34b). And to this, Moshe readily agreed.

The Torah is not only a body of laws and religious doctrines, but a living path. As Chazal state, “The tzaddikim will walk in them….” Perhaps it is within the implications of the phrase “he added a parshah to the Torah” to say that Yisro not only contributed his advice, but paved a path for those who would have no choice but to follow in his footsteps, gerim and baaley teshuvah in particular. This is supported by the fact that he did not remain with Moshe and the Children of Israel, but “returned to his people.” Yisro remained a teacher for those who were chutz la-machaneh, “beyond the pale.” He added a parshah to the Torah in the sense that now others too would be able to “negate the negative.”

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Breslov Research Institute: New Likutey Halachot Weekly Video Class



The Breslov Research Institute is excited to announce a new weekly class given by Rav Elchonon Tauber of LA in Likutey Halachot. Likutey Halachot was written by Reb Noson of Breslov and is an incredible work which explains the depth of Code of Jewish Law and reveals its spiritual life advice. It is based on the teachings of Rebbe Nachman’s Likutey Moharan. Rav Elchonon Tauber is a senior Dayan in Los Angeles, as well as a Breslover Chassid. We invite you to attend in-person or to watch the video recordings that will be posted on our site. Take advantage of this special opportunity!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Rabbi Fleer's New Website

Rabbi Gedaliah Fleer - Jerusalem, Israel

We are pleased to announce that Rabbi Gedaliah Fleer's new website is up and running. It features audio files of his classes, current lecture tours, books and contact information to bring Rabbi Fleer to your community. 

Rabbi Fleer is a deep and innovative teacher and story-teller, who has presented Rebbe Nachman's teachings to spiritual seekers of all backgrounds for over forty years. He presently lives in Jerusalem.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Parshas Bo - Rabbi Tanchum Burton

Dedicated to the complete recovery of Ita Shulamit bat Chaya Leah, שתחי

And the LORD said unto Moses: 'Stretch out thy hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt (Exodus 10:21)

In this verse, there is a clear distinction between darkness and darkness that may be felt. What was the nature of the darkness that could be felt?  Rav Advdimi Bar Abba describes the darkness as being “doubled and redoubled” to the point where, if one was standing, he could not sit, and if one were sitting, he could not stand (Tanchuma, Parshas Va’eira 14).

We also find, in the Midrash, that this tangible darkness was precisely the darkness mentioned in Genesis, “and there was darkness upon the face of the deep” (Shemos Rabbah, Parshas Bo 14:1).  [In fact, the entire set of ten plagues corresponds to the Ten Utterances through which our universe was called into existence].  What is unique about this darkness is that it was not an absence of light, but a removal of the natural darkness of night and its replacement by a thick blackness that obscured light even during the day. T

his darkness was, in the words of our Sages (ibid.) like a dinar (coin).  Although the intention of the Sages in bringing the analogy was a description of the unusual corporeality of the darkness, we can ponder exactly why they chose to use the image of a coin in their description as opposed to any other physical item.  Like all other things, money has a “redeemed” and a “fallen” state; it can sustain life, facilitate goodness, and represent the flow of Divine influx that endows our world with bounty and abundance.  It can also become a tool of greed and vice, oppressing some while elevating others; it can even become an object of worship, like an idol. And like an idol, it can come to represent the perceived absence of G-­dliness in the world.  The one who possesses the money may begin to believe in his own power to cause things to come to be in the world, instead of G-­d’s, or in the power of the money.  This “fallen” state is signified by the transformation of flowing Divine sustenance into hard, unchanging objects.  There are many examples in the Torah where the coin is rectified, re­elevated to its spiritual state, such as Avraham Avinu’s exchange of 400 shekels for the Cave of Machpelah, or Yaakov Avinu’s minting of a coin for the town of Shechem.

In bringing upon the Egyptians darkness that was physical like a coin, G-­d was enabling them to feel the true ramifications of their idolatry and wealth.  Their investment of power in natural forces, statues and astrology, coupled with their enslavement and oppression of others resulted in their own subjugation by hard darkness, “like a coin”, the sum total of slave wages owed to an oppressed population for 210 years of free labor.

By contrast, the Jews had light, as the verse states, “but the children of Israel had light in all their dwellings” (Exodus 10:23).  Amidst all of this isolating, crushing darkness, the Jews had light.  Here there is a parallel to the hidden light of Creation alluded to by the verse, “and G­-d said, ‘let there be light”­­precisely at the moment when darkness hovered over the face of the deep. The world was, in effect, being created again.

When a room is illuminated, we can see what is there; we can see each other.  One of the by­products of the oneness of G-­d is the unification of all Creation.  When we look elsewhere for salvation, we lose our ability to see the interconnectedness of things, because it is only G-­d Who unifies all.  The Egyptians looked elsewhere, and not only did they lose the benefit of light, they also lost each other in the process.  But the Jews, who believed in G-­d, had light in their dwellings.  May we be blessed to bask in this light.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Every Effort Counts

Sichos ha-Ran 12
Translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom (Breslov Research Institute) pp. 116-117 

When people want to become truly religious and serve G-d, they seem to be overwhelmed with confusion and frustrations. They find great barriers in their path and cannot decide what to do. The more they want to serve G-d, the more difficulty they encounter.

All the enthusiasm that such people have when trying to do good is very precious, even if their goal is not achieved. All their effort is counted like a sacrifice, in the category of (Ps. 44:23), "For Your sake, we are killed each day, we are counted like sheep for the slaughter." The Tikuney Zohar states that this verse speaks of both prayer and sacrifice.[1]

When a person wants to pray, he encounters many distractions. But still, he gives himself over entirely to the task, exerting every effort to pray properly. Even if his prayer is not perfect, his very effort is like bringing a sacrifice, in the category of “For your sake we are killed each day."

The same is true of everything else in religion. You may wish to perfect yourself, but find yourself unable to do so completely. Still, the effort and suffering involved in the frustrated attempt are not in vain. They are all an offering to G-d, included in the verse. "For your sake we are killed each day, we are counted like sheep for the slaughter."

Therefore, always do your part, making every effort to serve G-d to the best of your ability. Whatever task lies in your hand, do it with all your might  (Eccl. 9:10).

Keep it up, even when all your efforts seem to be frustrated and all your attempts in vain. Do everything in your ability, and G-d will do what is good in His eyes (1 Sam. 3:18).

[1] Tikuney Zohar 21 (59a). Cf. Likutey Moharan B 46, Sichos Moharan 36a (#138), Alim LeTerufah 15.