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Today’s learning is dedicated to the refuah sheleima of Simcha Nosson ben Zissel.

 

Come and see the works of G-d: an amazing revelation concerning the mystery of the greatness of the godly sage, Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai.

Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai gave assurances that through him the Torah would not be forgotten from the Jewish people. As our Sages teach (Shabbat 138b): When our Rabbis entered the yeshivah in Yavneh, they said, “The Torah will one day be forgotten by the Jews.” But Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai said that it would not be forgotten, as is written (Deuteronomy 31:21), “It will not be forgotten from the mouth of his offspring.” And, as is explained in the Zohar (III, 124b): Because of this work, the Book of the Zohar, [the Jews] will be redeemed from exile.

So now come, see and understand the hidden wonders of our holy Torah. This is why Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai based himself on this verse: “It will not be forgotten from the mouth of his offspring.” For, in truth, this mystery is hinted at and concealed in this very verse. Through the offspring of Yochai, this being Rashby [Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai], the Torah will not be forgotten by the Jews. This is because the final letters of the words in this verse “kI loA tishakhaCh mipiY zar’O” are the same letters as YOChAI…

And know! The mystery of Rabbi Shimon himself is alluded to in another verse. Know that the holy sage Rabbi Shimon corresponds to (Daniel 4:10): “Ir V’kaddish Min Shemaya Nachit (An angel, a holy one, descended from heaven)” – the first letters of which are ShIMON.   —   Lekutey Moharan I, Prologue

 

In lesson 33 of Lekutey Moharan, Rebbe Nachman explains that the “inner light” of the Torah refers to Hashem’s presence. Meaning, this light is the Godliness which is found inside the Torah and its middos; the character traits taught by Torah and the specific details of each mitzvah. In the inner light of the Torah, Hashem’s presence can be felt and discovered.

The tzaddikim make it possible for each person to connect to the incredible, inner light of the Torah. This is their task and their mission. The tzaddikim help us escape the cycles of sin, and feelings of lowliness and hopelessness.  

Today is Lag Ba’Omer, the thirty-third day of counting the omer. It is considered one of the most special days on the Jewish calendar. Lag Ba’Omer marks the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the author of the Holy Zohar. This is a day of great celebration, marked with bonfires, music, and dancing.

As a student of Rabbi Akiva, Rebbe Shimon was one of the great sages of the period of the Mishna. The Romans had put a price on his head, and he was forced to hide in a cave for thirteen years, together with his son Rabbi Elazar. They emerged from the cave as the greatest teachers of their time.

But why do we celebrate on the day of Rebbe Shimon’s passing? Would it not be more appropriate to mourn the loss of such a great Tzadik? 

There are certain tzaddikim who are so great that any person can connect to them. They are attached to every soul. They understand each person’s nature and can see what their special purpose is in the world. They are compared the root of the tree, while we are the branches.

One of these exalted tzaddikim was Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai. He revealed the inner, hidden light of the Torah that was concealed since it was first given to Moshe at Har Sinai. On Lag Ba’Omer, we are celebrating the awesome light of the Holy Zohar that was revealed in the world. Reb Shimon’s work, the Zohar HaKadosh, is a powerful revelation of true knowledge and true faith in Hashem. Rebbe Shimon said that through the Zohar, the Jewish people would leave the exile with mercy. The light of the Zohar heals the souls from the suffering of exile and helps us hold on strong until the final redemption.

(It’s no coincidence that as we draw nearer to the end of this exile, there has been tremendous increase in the thirst for Rebbe Shimon’s teachings and Kabbalah in general.)

At the beginning of Rebbe Nachman’s magnum opus, Lekutey Moharan, there is short teaching about the greatness of Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai (quoted above). This teaching explains that through the light of Rebbe Shimon, the Torah will never be forgotten from the Jewish people. Through the light of the Zohar, the Jewish people will leave the exile. Therefore, we celebrate today, the day we received this awesome light.

As Reb Noson explains, “This is the celebration of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai that we do on Lag B’Omer, the day he passed away, because the main joy is what we merited, that he left us with such a holy treasure, the holy sefer of Zohar, through which we can merit a perception of Godliness… And therefore through this holy sefer of Zohar we will leave the exile, and the prophecy will become a reality: ‘As in the days that you left Egypt, I will show you wondrous miracles’, meaning that just as when Moshe Rabbeinu took us out of the exile in Egypt by revealing Godly perceptions in wonderful new ways, in the same matter now in the final exile, which is much harder and heavier, we will be able to get out of it, through all the hidden secrets of the Torah that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his friends revealed to us, which are essentially tools and vessels for perception of Godliness… Therefore, we make a grand celebration on Lag Ba’Omer which is the day of the passing of Rabbi Shimon, for we merited that he left us such a great treasure, that will remain for generations and generations, through which we’ll be able to perceive Hashem blessed is He.”

Rebbe Nachman draws an inference to Rabbi Shimon from the verse, “Ir V’kaddish Min Shemaya Nachit (An angel, a holy one, descended from heaven).” The commentaries (Rashi, Metzudat David, etc.) point out that the word “Ir”, here translated as “angel,” literally means “awake.” This is because an angel is always awake – always conscious of G-d. The word “V’kaddish” (a holy one) also applies to an angel, whose holiness can never be defiled. Rebbe Nachman taught that being spiritually “awake” is a condition for heightened awareness and holiness. Thus, it was befitting that this verse be used to described Rabbi Shimon; his heightened awareness made him especially sensitive to the suffering of those exiled, just as it gave him the ability to remedy their plight through the revelation of the Hidden Torah.

After Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai revealed these great and powerful secrets, the Arizal added tremendous depth and insight to these teachings. Then the Baal Shem Tov made this mystical and lofty light accessible to all the great Chassidic leaders, teaching them how to apply these concepts to their daily lives. The Baal Shem Tov’s great-grand son, Rebbe Nachman, made these concepts available to all in the form of practical advice.

After revealing this teaching about Rabbi Shimon, Rebbe Nachman concluded: “But now, there is `nachal novea mekor chokhmah (נחל נובע מקור חכמה; a flowing brook, a wellspring of wisdom)’ (Proverbs 18:4), so that even `a holy one descended from heaven’ must also receive from this brook.”

Rebbe Nachman’s reference to this verse is an allusion to himself. After showing how the names of Rabbi Yochai and Rabbi Shimon are alluded to in Scripture, Rebbe Nachman quotes a verse whose first letters spell NaChMaN (נחמן).

In these words, Rebbe Nachman revealed that he came into the world to continue unveiling the light of Rebbe Shimon in a new way. He came to shine the light of the Zohar for our generation and show every person how precious and holy we are. He offers guidance and practical advice that emerges from the teachings of the Zohar and other kabbalistic works. 

Rebbe Nachman, just like his great-grandfather the holy Baal Shem Tov, is revealing the inner light of the Torah to every single person on their level.

As Rebbe Nachman explains, because Rabbi Shimon is alluded to in the verse, “It will not be forgotten…,” he was able to stand up, regardless of the eminence of the Rabbis gathered, and proclaim that the Torah will not be forgotten. What would guarantee this?

While Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai was able to probe the depths of the Torah and its secrets, he also learned not to judge the world negatively from his elevated level. He could see the true potential in every person. He understood that no matter how distant we may be, no matter how corrupt the world around us grows, we will never forget Hashem and the Torah. Rabbi Shimon knew that the Torah and its flame will burn bright for all eternity.

As Rabbi Yossi Katz writes, “Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was able to reveal that the essence of Torah is sourced in the unity and bond between Hashem and each person. The greatest Torah secrets teach us that we can always connect and discover the Godliness within every place and every person. This is the essence of the Zohar and the life of Rebbe Shimon.”

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai also understood the love Hashem has for His children. As Rabbi Shimon taught, “See how beloved Israel is to the Holy One, blessed be He, for wherever they went into exile, the Divine Presence (Shechinah) went with them: they were exiled to Egypt, and the Shechinah went with them; they were exiled to Babylon, and again the Shechinah went with them. And when Israel will be redeemed in the future, the Shechinah will be redeemed with them, as it is written, ‘And Gd, your Gd, will return (with) your exile.’ “

Lag Ba’Omer is a day to reignite our flame and passion for Hashem. Just as Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai revealed the hidden light to the world, Lag Ba’Omer is a time to find the hidden light that shines within ourselves and others.

 

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Yevamos 69
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Today’s learning is dedicated to the refuah sheleima of Simcha Nosson ben Zissel.

 

Fear leads to mistakes.   —   Sefer HaMidos, Fear # 2

Fear saps a person’s strength.   —   Sefer HaMidos, Fear # 8

Worry and fear clog the heart.   —   Sefer HaMidos, Fear # 31

Trust in G-d and you will be saved from fear.   —   Sefer HaMidos, Fear # 3

And know! A person must cross a very, very narrow bridge. The main rule is: Do not be frightened at all!   —   Likutey Moharan II, 48:2

 

Rebbe Nachman teaches that fear and anxiety can affect a person, both physically and emotionally. The evil inclination understands the crippling effect, and therefore places these ideas and thoughts at the forefront of our mind.

At times, the evil inclination can convince us to fixate on minor worries; he makes the insignificant seem insurmountable.

Rebbe Nachman compares this to a small coin held directly in front of the eye. At first, it can block the view of an entire mountain, but when we take a step back, we see that it is truly minuscule.

Rebbe Nachman teaches that if we only knew our true strength, we would pay no attention to these worrisome thoughts. 

But as we see throughout the Torah, there are times when the fear itself can create a frightening reality.

Before the Jews went out to war, the soldiers were asked if any of them were afraid. If a soldier was indeed fearful, they were instructed to return home. This was not a punishment; this was protecting them from any harm. As the Maharal explains, the fear itself would have led to their downfall on the battlefield.

Similarly, we see that Hashem warned Yirmiyah, “Do not be frightened of them, lest it cause you to be broken before them.” The fear would have caused his defeat.

The verse in Iyov states, “What I feared will come upon me.” The commentators explain that fear is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Rebbe Nachman teaches that fear and anxiety cloud our vision. We become incapable of thinking calmly and collected. This lack of clarity leads to mistakes.

The Maharal offers a very practical example displaying how fear can weaken us and increase the likelihood of failure. Suppose there is a thick tree branch lying on the floor. Most people would be able to walk across the branch with ease. Now, say that branch was lifted four or five feet off the ground. Less people would successfully cross. Take that branch and raise it forty or fifty feet in the air. Very few people would even dare to attempt such a challenge. Absolutely nothing has physically changed with the branch, but as the level of risk increases, so does the chance of failure. The fear compromises our capabilities. The fear causes us to fall.

As we mentioned, certain fears are natural. And in truth, life is filled with endless reasons for concern. But what really matters, is how we react when faced with these justified stresses and anxieties.

We live in world filled with uncertainties. But there is a reason for that…

Rebbe Nachman teaches that Hashem sends us these worries and concerns as opportunities. It is a chance to sincerely turn to Hashem for help. Hashem’s greatest pleasure comes when those in need rely on Him for relief.

The evil inclination wants us to quiver in fear; he wants the doubts to consume us, leaving us debilitated. But as Rebbe Nachman teaches, we are stronger than him. We can elevate that fear and build a deeper bond and connection to Hashem.

Through faith we can be courageous. And with trust in Hashem, we can conquer all fears.

 

If you’d like to receive these messages via Whatsapp, please message me at 845-641-2648.

As always, comments are more than welcomed!

Fear and Anxiety – Part 2
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Birchas 17
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Today’s learning is dedicated to the refuah sheleima of Simcha Nosson ben Zissel.

 

Regarding anxiety and fear, most things – and people – that people fear cannot harm them at all… There is also a deeper meaning to this. It is not the person who fears, but something else within him. One may realize clearly that the thing he fears cannot harm him. Still, he cannot help but be terrified of it. This is because of that something within him that generates his fear.

We actually see many people with ridiculous phobias. They themselves realize the foolishness of their fears, but they cannot overcome them. When we shout suddenly behind a person’s back, he becomes startled. He exhibits fear even before he knows of what to be alarmed. He can have fear without it entering his conscious mind. But fear is not in the conscious mind and therefore does not have to be rational. For the fear actually stems from something else within the person.

The same is true of desire. One may realize that his desire is utter foolishness, but still it remains strong. Here again, it is not the person who desires, but someone else within him. Even when one realizes the foolishness of a desire, this something else continues to want it.

If you learn to settle your mind, you can easily rid yourself of all fears, anxieties, and desires. You must realize that what you fear or desire is really nothing and that something else within you is responsible for them. Understand this, and you can overcome everything.

For you have free will. You can easily train your mind to discard that which is inside you that causes your fears and desires.   —   Sichot HaRan # 83

 

In this lesson, Rebbe Nachman teaches us how to overcome our fears and desires. Over the next few posts, we will focus on the damaging effects of fear and how we can combat this emotion.

Firstly, it is important to note that, at times, a certain level of fear is expected; this fear can actually be beneficial. For example, fear of getting burnt teaches us to keep away from fire. Fear promotes caution. However, we want to avoid the fear that has a negative impact on our life and our happiness.

As the Steipler Gaon explains, a person is certainly not held responsible for natural fears; it only becomes detrimental when the fear is excessive or overwhelming. Fear is intrinsic, but it is also controllable.

Rebbe Nachman explains that there are times when a person is aware that their fear is misplaced but still cannot seem to overcome it. He teaches us that we are stronger than these fears, but they are rooted in our subconscious mind, or as Rebbe Nachman refers to it, the “little spirit” within each of us.

As Rabbi Zvi Aryeh Rosenfeld zt’l teaches, “A person with a fear of heights looks down from a great height and is filled with this fear that he is going to fall. The fact is that there is no way he can fall; there is a tall gate or bar across. He’s in no more danger than the next person who laughs at this. A person with claustrophobia feels that he is closed in. He’s in a crowd and everything is closing in on him, he’s going to be crushed. In truth, he’s in no danger whatsoever. What’s more important is that in the deep recesses of his mind, he’s fully aware of the fact that this phobia is foolishness. He knows factually there’s no danger, and yet he is afraid.”

Rebbe Nachman warns that, unless we proactively battle these thoughts, a person can suffer his entire life with these “fallen fears”. Until, at the very end, he realizes that nothing was gained; in fact, much was lost. He finally realizes that the only thing to fear was the fear itself.  

(Rebbe Nachman teaches that the same applies to temptations and desires; a person can be chasing after the same desires his entire life, ultimately having nothing to show for it. This realization leads to feelings of despair and hopelessness.)

But Rebbe Nachman tells us that we can make a change. We are not victims of our circumstances. He compares this to a sudden loud noise. We become startled, but only because we are unprepared; we were taken by surprise. But what if we were expecting that loud noise? How would we react, knowing that it was nothing at all? Then hearing this sound wouldn’t have the slightest affect on us.

Similarly, when we train our minds and prepare ourselves to battle these thoughts, we can emerge victorious. As Rebbe Nachman teaches, with a settled mind we can overcome all fears and anxieties.

 

TO BE CONTINUED…

 

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As always, comments are more than welcomed!

Fear and Anxiety – Part 1

 

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When Peace is NOT Peace

EMOR 5782

Menucha – Emor
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(05_05_22) Guarding The Hate In Your Heart
(05_04_22) Parshas Kedoshim 5782

Today’s learning is dedicated to the refuah sheleima of Simcha Nosson ben Zissel.

 

Although tokhachah (moral guidance and reproof) is extremely important, and it is incumbent upon every Jew to reprove his fellow Jew when he sees him acting incorrectly, as it is written (Leviticus 19:17), “You shall surely reprove your fellow,” nevertheless, not everyone is fit to offer moral guidance. As Rabbi Akiva said: I doubt if there is anyone in this generation who is capable of giving reproof (Arakhin 16b). And if Rabbi Akiva said this in his era, then it is all the more so now, in this current era. —   Likutey Moharan II, 8:1

 

Previously, we discussed the importance of loving our fellow Jew. As the verse states, “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Rebbe Nachman teaches that we can accomplish this by searching for the good in each other.

The proceeding verse states, “You shall surely reprove your fellow” (הוֹכֵ֤חַ תּוֹכִ֙יחַ֙ אֶת־עֲמִיתֶ֔ךָ). When we see a person sinning, we have an obligation to rebuke them so that they don’t continue transgressing in this manner.

However, as Rebbe Nachman cautions, we must be very careful before reprimanding another person. The verse reads in its entirety, “You shall not hate your brother in heart; you shall reprove your fellow and you shall not bear a sin because of him.”

Thus, the primary purpose for rebuking another person is to remove any contempt or disdain towards our fellow Jew. It was never intended to increase friction or harsh feelings towards one another.

We must also remember that we are expected to treat everyone with respect and dignity, regardless of their spiritual standing. As the verse states, “When you see the donkey of your enemy lying under its burden and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless raise it with him.” Our Sages explain that this is referring to one who is deemed an “enemy” based on his sins. Still, the verse commands us to offer a helping hand.

Commenting on the final words of the verse, “you shall not bear a sin because of him,” Rashi explains that when offering reproach, the person must ensure that he does not cause the other party any embarrassment publicly.

This is precisely why the commandment to rebuke our fellow Jew is immediately followed by the commandment to love our fellow Jew as ourselves; we must rebuke in the same manner we would wish for ourselves.

The rebuke must be conducive towards the other persons receptiveness. Otherwise, there is no benefit in criticizing another person’s misconduct. As the Talmud teaches, “Just as there is a mitzvah to say something which will be heard, so too there is a mitzvah not to say something which will not be heard… as it is written: ‘Do not rebuke a scoffer lest he hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you’ (Proverbs 9:8)” (Yevamos 65b).

Practically speaking, it would be wise to raise the person up rather than put them down. For example, instead of calling them a bad person or lowly, one should explain how special and important they are, and how the sin is merely beneath them.

In the lesson above, Rebbe Nachman teaches that improper rebuke can have a counterproductive effect, causing more harm than good.

As Reb Noson explains, the shame and insult caused by improper rebuke can easily push the person further away from the Torah and mitzvos. Therefore, concludes Reb Noson, it is far better to allow the person to continue sinning rather than cause them embarrassment (as stated in Rashi).

The Talmud states that the Torah can be an elixir of life or a potion of death. When Torah knowledge is used improperly, it can cause tremendous damage.

Unfortunately, there are people who make a conscious effort to seek out the flaws of others. As Rebbe Nachman warns, “There are people who do not have a good word for anyone. They always look for the bad side of people. They judge their fellow man unfavorably and constantly scrutinize other people’s shortcomings.” They forget that the purpose of rebuke is to draw us closer to each other, not to push us further away.

Rebbe Nachman encourages us to simply ignore such antagonists. This can be extremely difficult, but Rebbe Nachman assures us that the effort to remain silent pays tremendous dividends. He teaches, “If you find yourself in the middle of a dispute, it is very good if you can remain silent and pay no attention to the abuse that people throw at you. When you can hear what is said against you without answering back, this is true repentance. It is a remedy for all past sins. Someone who achieves this can truly be said to be wise. He will receive a share in the glory of Hashem and a goodly portion in the World to Come.”

(Of course, we are never expected to stay in an abusive or harsh environment. Rebbe Nachman encourages us to surround ourselves with positive influences. People who will support and strengthen us.)

When we are incapable of offering proper rebuke, we should rely on love to draw the person in. As Rebbe Nachman teaches, by finding the good in each person, we can move the person away from sin and bring them towards good.

Similarly, Rebbe Shneur Zalman of Liadi said, “There is only one way to draw people closer, and that is with thick cords of love.”   

In our previous post, we quoted the Mishna in Perkei Avos that instructs us to judge every person favorably. The true Tzadikim understood how to properly offer rebuke while still judging everyone “on the scale of merit” as can be seen from the following story.

One Tishah B’Av, Reb Levi Yitchak of Berdichev came across a man who was eating. “My son, you have forgotten that today is Tishah B’Av, a fast day,” said Reb Levi Yitzchak. “No, Rebbe, I know it is Tishah B’Av,” replied the man. “Ah,” Reb Levi Yitzchak tried again, “your doctor told you that you may not fast.” To which the man responded, “Not so, Rebbe; I’m in perfect health.” Reb Levi Yitzchak turned his eyes toward Heaven. “Look, Ribbono shel Olam,” he exclaimed. “I gave this man opportunities to defend himself for eating on Tishah B’Av, but he refused to take advantage of them. He insists on being truthful. Isn’t it wonderful that Your children love the truth?”

By sincerely caring for each other, while showing proper respect and consideration, we create an everlasting and unbreakable bond between ourselves, Hashem and the Torah.

 

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Gentle Rebuke

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Today’s learning is dedicated to the refuah sheleima of Simcha Nosson ben Zissel.

 

You should always make every effort to search out whatever merit and goodness you can find within the Jewish people. Judge everyone favorably, even those who oppose you and treat you disrespectfully. If you do this, you will never be troubled by opposition and arguments. When you seek out the merit of your fellow Jew, you make a precious crown for Hashem studded with beautiful gems.   —   Lekutey Eitzos, Controversy and Strife # 2

 

In this weeks Torah portion, we are commanded “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The simple understanding of this verse is that we must literally love our fellow Jew as much as we love ourselves.

However, the Ramban writes that it would be nearly impossible to love someone else to the exact same degree and rather, the verse is instructing us to want the best for others just as we want the best for ourselves. As Rabbi Moshe Korminick explains, “Just as we only wish blessings and success for ourselves in every area of life without limitation, so too we should want this for those around us.”

This also means that we must afford everyone the benefit of the doubt. As the Mishna is Perkei Avos states, “Judge every person favorably.” Nobody is perfect. We each have our own shortcomings. But the Torah commands us to look for the good that we also abundantly possess, and to see the best in everyone.

Throughout life, we encounter many different personalities, as the Talmud in Berachos states regarding the Jewish Nation, “Whose minds are unlike each other and whose faces are unlike each other.” The Rebbe of Kotzk explained, “Just as you can tolerate that people look different than you, so you should tolerate that they think differently than you.”

Rebbe Nachman teaches that true peace is attained when we accept each other despite our differences. He writes, “The real meaning of peace is to fit together two opposites. So you should not be disturbed when you come across someone whose thinking is the exact opposite of yours. Don’t assume that you will never be able to live amicably with him… Perfect peace is achieved through the effort to make peace between two opposites, just as Hashem makes peace in His heights between fire and water, which are two opposites.”

This is not always an easy task, to say the least. But the Mesillas Yesharim assures us, the more we work on ourselves to love our fellow Jew, the more Hashem’s love for us grows.

Yesterday, we received the tragic word of the passing of Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein zt’l. He understood the importance of this mitzvah and followed it scrupulously. The verse of loving one’s neighbor concludes with the words, “I am Hashem.” Rabbi Wallerstein zt’l explained that when we love a fellow human, who was created “in the image of Hashem”, we can grasp to some degree what it means to ‘love’ Hashem.

Rebbe Nachman teaches that we must actively search for the good in each person. As he writes, “Know that it is necessary to judge every person favorably [literally, on the scale of merit]. Even if you encounter a complete sinner, you must search until you find some element of good in him… He may be evil, but even so, is it really possible that not even a small remnant of good still exists in him? Could it be that he never once carried out some mitzvah, or did anything good throughout his entire life?”

Of course, the prerequisite to loving our neighbor as much as we love ourselves, is actually loving ourselves. As Rebbe Nachman teaches, “There are two kinds of peace. There is the ‘peace in one’s bones’ – in oneself. This is the first priority, because at times a person has no peace within himself, as it written, ‘There is no peace in my bones because of my sin’ (Psalms 38:4)…”

Therefore, Rebbe Nachman teaches that we must also search for the good in ourselves. He writes, “You must find this good point within yourself, as well. It is a known principle that one must be very sure to be happy always and to avoid depression. It may be that when you start to examine yourself, you will think you have nothing good in you at all. You may see that you are full of sin, and the evil inclination wants to push you into depression and sadness as a result. Even so, you must not allow yourself to fall – not on any account. What you should do is search until you find that little bit of good within yourself… Next, you should search further until you have found another good point – despite any deficiencies it may have – and continue on and on, until you can collect all of the good points and make them into a song. You will then be able to pray and sing and give thanks to Hashem.”

Similarly, Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein zt’l writes, “When I look at the Kotel wall, it’s a magical feeling I cannot explain or experience anywhere else in the world. Even when I take my mind back to the most emotional moments in my life, nothing has the same hope and rejuvenation as the Kotel wall. Yet when you take a closer look at the wall, it’s full of cracks, plants growing in all directions, birds chirping all around. The most perfect place carries what seems like numerous imperfect qualities. In fact, the Kotel was the most ‘unimportant’ wall of the whole Beis Hamikdash. And yet Hashem saved only what seemed to be unimportant, the imperfection. All those qualities is Hashem showing us that His love is for the one who is not perfect. Hashem has a special place in His heart for the person who struggles and therefore, His wall that He saved is exactly what it’s supposed to looks like! So remember, you may feel like you’re full of imperfections, but to Hashem you are the Kotel – the light in the darkness, the one thing worth saving under all circumstances. Your imperfection is the beauty. Your wounds and scars are the beauty. Your beauty is a reflection of all you have become.”   

TO BE CONTINUED…

 

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Today’s learning is dedicated to the refuah sheleima of Simcha Nosson ben Zissel.

 

The forty-nine days of the omer period correspond to the forty-nine gates of repentance, and these in turn correspond to the forty-nine letters in the Hebrew names of the Twelve Tribes. Through these letters and gates, we must make our return to Hashem. The festival of Shavuos is the fiftieth gate… when Hashem returns to us in compassion.   —   Lekutey Eitzos, Sefirah # 3

 

As we discussed in the previous post, the omer period is a time for engaging in specific character-building exercises based on the sefirah of the day. Each day of the omer, we are expected to rectify and refine our thoughts and behaviors. As the Arizal writes, “It is good for a person to have intention during these forty-nine days to repair every sin within each of the seven sefiros.”

As the prayer states, “May it be Your will, Hashem… that in the merit of the Omer Count that I have counted today, may there be corrected whatever blemish I have caused in the sefirah (insert the appropriate sefirah; e.g. Netzach she’BeGevurah).”

The Ramban compares the omer period to a Chol HaMoed (intermediary days) between Pesach and Shavuos. The sefirah process guides us through Pesach and prepares us for Shavuos.

Pesach represents our Exodus from Egypt. At that time, the Jewish people were at their lowest spiritual level; the 49th gate of impurity. We were spared, not because of our merits but rather, because of Hashem’s infinite mercy.  

The purpose of the Exodus was for us to receive the Torah. But before we were worthy of receiving the Torah, we journeyed through the desert experiencing incredible tests and challenges along the way. There were many ups and downs, many highs and lows. We were not always successful but ultimately, we merited to witness incredible wonders when we received the Torah at Sinai.

Each year, we receive the Torah on Shavuos. But first, we must prepare ourselves. Throughout the year, we may stumble, but during the forty-nine days of sefirah, we begin to return to Hashem, rising one level at a time, one day at a time. At the end of this process, we are prepared to receive the Torah on Shavuos.

As the Sefer HaChinuch explains, these days of counting demonstrate our enthusiasm to reach this special day.

The days of the omer were given to the Jewish nation as a gift, an opportunity. The Chiddushei HaRim teaches that each day of the omer comes with Divine assistance to assist us in reaching new heights, levels that would otherwise remain unattainable. 

Typically, when we look forward to an event, we count down towards it. But for the omer, we increase our count each day. Rabbi Moshe Korminick teaches that this is to demonstrate how each day is precious and each day is an accomplishment. Each day is something to be proud of.

This can be compared to overcoming an addiction. Each passing day without a relapse is another achievement, another milestone; one that deserves to be recognized and cherished.

Counting the omer provides us with a systematic approach for improving our thoughts and actions. We’ve previously quoted Rebbe Nachman who teaches that self-improvement should never be rushed, lest one become overwhelmed. As Rabbi Shlomo ibn Gabirol (1021-1058) said, “The fruit of haste is regret.” By focusing on one item each day, our goals become realistic and manageable.

Rebbe Nachman teaches that it is best to serve Hashem with complete simplicity, without any sophistication. Similarly, when asked what thoughts one should have when counting the omer, Rav Moshe Sternbuch answered simply, “How am I better today than I was yesterday?”

Lastly, we will inevitably face setbacks along the way and it’s important that we never compare our success to the success of others. Regarding the omer, the verse states, “And you should count for yourself…” Reb Noson points out that the verse specifically says, “for yourself” because no two people are alike, and no two people can be compared.

We must remember that every effort is precious, every small action in the right direction is treasured by Hashem. As the Chovos HaLevavos writes, “Nothing that you do for Hashem should seem inconsequential in your eyes. Even a single word, or a look, which seems insignificant to you is worth plenty in the eyes of Hashem.”

 

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The Omer and The Sefiros – Part 2

Today’s learning is dedicated to the refuah sheleima of Simcha Nosson ben Zissel

 

Each day of the omer period is associated with a different aspect of the sefirot. And on that day, everything that everyone in the whole world is talking about is purely an expression of the particular aspect associated with that day. A person with understanding can hear and recognize this if he pays attention to what people are saying.   —   Likutey Moharan I, 182

 

The sefiros represent Hashem’s “behaviors,” so to speak. Of course, Hashem is beyond comprehension, but the sefiros reveal to us the aspects of Hashem’s “personality” as we perceive Him in this world. As Rabbi Yaacov Haber explains, “The sefiros represent our finite understanding of the infinite.”

There are ten sefiros with which Hashem created and interacts with the world. They are Chochma (wisdom), Bina (understanding), Daas (knowledge), Chesed (lovingkindness), Gevurah (strength), Tiferes (glory / beauty), Netzach (victory), Hod (splendor), Yesod (foundation) and Malchus (kingship). These are divided into two categories – the upper three sefiros (Chochma, Bina and Daas) and the lower seven.  

The qualities of all that exist in this world, including people, places, things, events, etc. are derived from these divine emanations. As Rabbi Chaim Kramer explains, “Coffee’s bitter taste relates to Gevurah (Strength); sugars sweetness to Chesed (Lovingkindness); an inspiring sunset to Tiferet (Beauty); a sports team winning the championship to Netzach (Victory); a magazine’s issue on the spring collection to Hod (Splendor), etc.”

The Torah instructs us to count the omer, the forty-nine days from the second day of Pesach until Shavuos. Each week of the omer corresponds to one of the seven lower sefiros. The first week is Chesed, the second week is Gevurah, etc. Additionally, each day of the week corresponds to one of the seven lower sub-sefiros. For example, the first day of the first week corresponds to Chesed of Chesed, the second day of the first week refers to Gevurah of Chesed, and so on. The first day of the second week corresponds to Chesed of Gevurah, the second day of that week is Gevurah of Gevurah, and so on.

We were created in the image of Hashem and are expected to emulate His ways. As the verse states, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: Be holy, because I, the Lord your G-d, am Holy.”

When we analyze the various sefiros or “characteristics,” we increase our knowledge and understanding of Hashem. Then, we are better equipped to walk in His ways.

These 49 days are an auspicious time to show respect for one another and to rid ourselves of any character traits that may lead us to contempt. The Talmud relates that, because they did not honor each other, all 24,000 students of Rebbi Akiva perished between Pesach and Shavuos. Rebbi Akiva’s students were very learned, but they failed to apply their knowledge in practice.

As Rebbe Nachman teaches, “To achieve complete fulfillment a person must be developed in his character and learned in Torah at once and the same time. Our Sages said, ‘An unlearned person cannot be pious.’ On the other hand, to be learned by itself is useless. It is possible to be learned and completely wicked… But when a person is both learned in Torah and pious in his actions, he is like an angel of G-d. He shapes the letters of the Torah for good and brings life and goodness into the world. One who mistakenly believes that the main thing is just to be learned is like Acher (Rabbi Elisha ben Abuyah, the notorious scholar-turned-nonbeliever in the Talmud).” (Lekutey Eitzot, Talmud Torah # 32)

As Rabbi Dovid Feinstein zt’l said, “When Yidden get up after learning Torah, they should be more compassionate, kinder, with more room in their heart for others. If that doesn’t happen, then they didn’t really learn it, and should sit down and learn it again.”

Placing great emphasis on this, Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin said, “This is the entirety of man; not for himself was man created, but instead to help others to the extent of his ability to do so.”

We refer to Hashem as “Our Father, our King.” Hashem treats us as a Father, so long as we treat one another as brothers and sisters. 

Lastly, by scrutinizing and developing our character traits, we begin to have a better understanding of our own strengths and weaknesses. As Rabbi Yisrael of Salant said, “A person lives with himself for seventy years, and after it is all over, he still does not know himself.”

Similarly, Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz said, “Woe to a man who is unaware of his faults – he is not attentive to what needs repair. But double woe to he who is unaware of his virtues – he is unskilled in the tools of his trade!”

These days of introspection provide clarity, they provide an awareness that enables us to truly reach our full potential.

 

TO BE CONTINUED…

 

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Today’s learning is dedicated to the refuah sheleima of Simcha Nosson ben Zissel.

 

Through honoring the three festivals properly with food, drink, and nice clothing according to one’s means, and with holiness and purity of the mind, and with joy and a good mood, as well as honoring other aspects of holiness and joy of Yom Tov, one merits to know Hashem and to draw wisdom into their heart…   —   Likutei Eitzos, Holidays, Three Festivals, 7

 

Pesach is the anniversary between Hashem and the Jewish people. The time when Hashem made us into nation, as His children. As the verse states, “You [the Jewish people] are children to Hashem your G-d.” (Devarim 14:1)

It’s a time to reflect on the difficulties and struggles of the past, and the countless times Hashem has saved us from distress.

We refer to the festival as Chas Hapesach, whereas the Torah calls it Chag Hamatzos. Rabbi Twersky quotes Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev who interprets these different names as signs of affection. He notes that our tefillin contain a verse referring to the Oneness of Hashem. The Talmud says that Hashem also has tefillin, but Hashem’s tefillin contain the verse, “Who is like Your people, Israel, a unique nation on earth.” Thus, we praise Hashem, and Hashem praises us.

Pesach (literally, “passing over”) refers to Hashem’s mercy in passing over the dwellings of the Jewish people when He smote the first-born of the Egyptians; while the matzah refers to the haste in which the Jewish people left Egypt, heading into the barren desert without any provisions, because of their faith that Hashem would provide for them. Therefore, we refer to the festival as Chag Hapesach, in praise of Hashem’s mercy; but Hashem refers to it as Chag Hamatzos, in praise of the Jewish people’s faith.

Throughout the year, we may stumble, but Pesach is the opportune time to renew our trust and commitment to Hashem. When the Bobover Rebbe was in Frankfurt, a wealthy man took him to his “Pesach house” and said proudly, “This house is not lived in all year round, except for Pesach. It is absolutely chametz free.” The Bobover Rebbe replied, “Your intentions are good, but you’re missing the point. Angels are totally free of the evil inclination. We humans have an evil inclination, and we are supposed to subdue it. Chametz is like the evil inclination. We have it and we must rid ourselves of it. To have a house in which there was never any chametz misses the point.”

The Seder begins with kadesh (making kiddush) followed by u’rechatz (washing the hands). The Chassidic Rebbeim asked: Kadesh mean holy, and it is necessary to cleanse oneself of one’s sins to be holy, so shouldn’t rechatz proceed kadesh? They answer that although in Mitzrayim, the Jewish people had fallen to the depths of sin, still they merited to be saved on Pesach evening. This shows that on Pesach night, we can achieve holiness before we have cleansed ourselves of our sins.

Rebbe Nachman teaches, “It is necessary to have knowledge together with faith. One who has only faith is likely to fall from his level. He must combine his faith with knowledge.” (Lekutey Moharan I, 255) In the lesson above, Rebbe Nachman teaches that by honoring the festivals, we merit to gain knowledge and understanding. This wisdom strengthens our faith.  

As Rabbi Moshe Kormornick writes, “Pesach is the night where we develop and increase our faith and trust in Hashem as we recall the miracles He performed for our ancestors and the ones He will do for us to bring our ultimate redemption. Since the Seder night is the pinnacle night to develop our trust in Hashem, it is strange that it involves so many questions (e.g. the Mah Nishtana must be asked in question form). Surely it would be more appropriate not to ask a single question and certainly not to encourage them?!”

“Unlike other religions, our faith in Hashem is not a “blind faith.” The Torah commands us to “know” there is a G-d, not to merely “believe” in His existence. The Rambam considers this the “foundation of foundations and the pillar of wisdom.” For this reason, questions are absolutely essential to facilitate any honest quest for knowledge, and Pesach – the night we enrich ourselves with deeper faith and understanding – is therefore the perfect time to ask them. However, we can still ask: If the foundation of foundations is “knowing” Hashem, what role does “faith” play?”

“With all the research in the world, no one can possibly understand Hashem. However, if we take a parable of a father and son, we will see that a child is confident to jump into his father’s arms because he has faith that his father will catch him. The child does not understand the complexities of his father, yet he knows enough to be sure that his father is someone who is capable of catching him and who has the desire to do so. Trust, based on the understanding he has of his father, allows him to jump, confident that he will be caught.”

“The same is true of our relationship with Hashem. Through the miracles of Pesach, when Hashem chose us to become His Nation, we gained enough understanding to know that He is capable and committed to save us. Based on this knowledge, we have full faith, confidence, and trust in Hashem. This is the role of our Pesach Seder. Through recounting everything that Hashem did for us then, as well as the countless times Hashem has spared us during our lifetime, we widen our knowledge and reinforce our faith, leading to a deeper relationship with the Creator of the World.”

Similarly, commenting on the telling over of the Exodus, the Ramban says, “From the great miracles, a person will ultimately acknowledge the hidden miracles of everyday life.”

Lastly, we shouldn’t be discouraged if the Seder doesn’t unfold as expected. Considering the late hour and all the work leading up to Pesach evening, it’s natural to be exhausted by the end of the Seder. Knowing that the Seder has the potential to be a steppingstone towards great spiritual advancements, the evil inclination tries to convince us that we have accomplished nothing. But we should know that the tzadikim describe a great light that descends on Pesach and touches each soul. It’s very common to go through the festival without noticing any changes. We must remind ourselves that the light is there, whether we recognize it or not.

Rabbi Twersky zt’l tells over the following story. The Chozeh of Lublin had a follower, Reb Shmuel of Karov, who lived in abject poverty and had no means with which to buy provisions for Pesach. The Chozeh arranged to have the all the necessities sent to Reb Shmuel for the festival. Reb Shmuel was thrilled and conducted the first Seder with all the kabbalistic trimmings. He felt he was soaring in heaven in the company of the angels. The next afternoon, Reb Shmuel took a nap and overslept; when he awoke it was already dark outside. He started the second Seder but was forced to rush through the Haggadah so that he can eat the afikomen before midnight. He said the words but had no time for deep meaning and intentions. He was heartbroken at the missed opportunity. After Pesach, he visited the Chozeh. “Reb Shmuel” the Chozeh told him, “Soaring in Heaven in the company of angels is not a great sacrifice. But your second Seder? Now, that was something special.”

The final step of the Seder is Nirtzah, which stems from the word Ratzon (will). By following the steps of the Seder, we should feel confident that we have pleased Hashem by fulfilling His will, a truly great accomplishment.

As Reb Noson writes, “Our thorough search for chametz should call our attention to the reality that every drop of spiritual effort we make is truly cherished and embraced by Hashem.”

It may feel as we’re simply going through the motions, but in truth, we are initiating heavenly praises. Perek Shirah lists how every creation – animal, vegetable, and mineral – expresses praise of Hashem. Reb Shabsi of Rashkov explained that Hashem has assigned a guardian angel for everything in creation. The Talmud says that the angels may not sing the praises of Hashem in heaven until the Jewish people first sing His praises on earth. We may not realize it, but every blessing we make, every paragraph we read, causes the angels in heaven to sing Hashem’s praises.

The Zohar states that when Hashem hears His children retelling the story of the Exodus, He gathers all the heavenly bodies and tells them, “Go and listen to My children praising Me and delighting in the story of how I redeemed them!” The Zohar therefore concludes, one who relates the story of Exodus of Mitzrayim with joy and delight is sure to delight with the Shechina in the World to Come.

 

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Today’s learning is dedicated to the refuah sheleima of Simcha Nosson ben Zissel.

 

One of the six questions put to a person by the Heavenly Court is: Did you hope for the Redemption? (Shabbat 31a). Reb Nachman of Tulchin said that this refers not only to the redemption of the Jewish people as a whole, but also to each individual’s personal redemption. “Did you hope for Hashem’s salvation to bring you out of your troubles? Or did you lose hope and give up?”   —   Aveneha Barzel, p. 80

 

When reading the Haggadah, it’s important to remember that we are doing more than simply retelling a story from the past. We are experiencing our very own Exodus. As we are taught, “In each and every generation a person must see himself as if he personally left Egypt.”

Rabbi Ozer Bergman explains, “The Pharaoh who rules us, the Mitzrayim (Egypt) that confines us, can be an emotion, an idea, or an experience.”

Throughout the year, we encounter countless stresses and worries. This is our Mitzrayim, our Maror. But Pesach is an opportunity to go free from our personal exile. As Reb Noson points out, as we read the Haggadah, we are telling of our Exodus from Mitzrayim (Egypt), as well as the Exodus from Meitzarim, the pangs of the struggles we face.

We each experience our own struggles, our own Mitzrayim. And proportionate to the experience of pain, is the experience of redemption.

The matzah represents freedom and salvation. But it’s also known as the poor man’s bread (in Aramaic, the word Matzutzah is defined as strife). One can only truly appreciate the light after experiencing the dark.

On Pesach we are liberated. But to truly experience this newly found freedom, we must put in the effort. During the Exodus from Mitzrayim, the Jews witnessed incredible miracles and wonders. Nowadays our vision is limited, and we must focus our eyes to see clearly.

The Rebbe Reb Aharon of Chernobyl cited the Midrash that at Sinai all the sick were healed, and all the lame could walk again. Furthermore, the Jewish people accumulated great wealth from the spoils of Egypt. At that point, Hashem personally revealed Himself to them, and they declared, “Naaseh v’nishma” (we will do, and we will listen). “Master of the world! Replicate those conditions,” Reb Aharon pleaded, “Heal all the sick and give everyone abundant wealth. Then reveal Yourself to them as You did at Sinai, and You will see how diligently Jews will observe Your Torah!”

But at the same time, we should know that because of this great concealment and distance, small moves in the right direction leave great impacts. (We have previously quoted Rebbe Nachman who compares this to the spokes of a wheel or to a ripple in the water, the further from the center point, the wider the spokes or ripples reach.)

The words matzah (מצה) and chametz (חמץ‎‎‎‎) share the same letters except for one small difference. Matzah has a heh and chametz has a ches. And the only difference between the letters heh and ches is a small line. Rabbi Elimelech Biderman quotes Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler zt’l who explains that this slight distinction indicates that small steps in the right direction can make a great impact and can be the difference between matzah and chametz, between holiness and impurity. “What seems minor, can generate incredible spiritual growth.” 

This point can be drawn from the wording of the Haggadah in which it states that the Jewish People expanded to a vast nation while confined in Egypt. The Haggadah refers to the people as “metzuyanim,” which the Chasam Sofer translates as “distinct” as it refers to the people’s commitment to remain steadfast in keeping their unique language and mode of dress. Rabbi Moshe Kormornick quotes Rabbi Yaakov Galinsky who notes an additional understanding of the word “metzuyanim” as “those who excel” (based on modern Hebrew). Accordingly, Rabbi Galinsky asks whether the Jewish nation at that time could genuinely be considered metzuyanim. For, despite being distinct from the Egyptians in certain ways, the Jewish nation were idol worshippers, they stopped performing circumcision, and overall, they had reached the lowest level of sin. Can they actually be considered “those who excel”? Rabbi Kormornick writes, “Perhaps we can simply answer, yes! Indeed, when someone is immersed in a difficult environment and surrounded by harmful influences, merely hanging onto a Jewish identity is enough to warrant great praise.”

“The same can be said today. Whether it is the access to technology, the breakdown of certain social structures, or a plethora of other challenges that threaten to harm our spiritual growth, the Jewish people are facing immense spiritual obstacles on many fronts, Of course, we must push ourselves against these spiritual dangers, but we should know that in these times, every positive step we take – however small – is treasured by Hashem.”

 

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Today’s learning is dedicated to the refuah sheleima of Simcha Nosson ben Zissel.

Haman corresponds to idol worship, as our Sages taught, “Haman made himself an object of worship” (Megillah 10b). This is why the lottery he cast was in the month Moshe died (Megillah 13b). For Moshe is the one who counters idolatry… But Mordechai and Esther had the power to counter Haman’s idolatry. This is why in their day, the Jews received the Torah anew. As our Sages taught, “[The Jews] fulfilled that which they had previously taken upon themselves.” (Shabbat 88a)   —    Lekutey Moharan I, 10:8

Purim is preparation for Pesach. Through the mitzvah of Purim we are protected from chametz on Pesach.   —   Lekutey Moharan II, 74

Megillahs Esther recounts the events that led to the Jewish people’s salvation in the times of Mordechai and Esther. The Megillah begins by describing Achashverosh’s incredible wealth and details the grand banquet he prepared. The Sages explain that Achashverosh and his people were under the impression that Hashem had forsaken the Jewish people, something they wished to celebrate.

The future seemed dark for the Jewish people. Haman, may his name be blotted out, thought that it was the opportune time to bring an end the Jewish nation.

Clearly, Achashverosh and Haman didn’t learn Rebbe Nachman’s teachings…

Haman’s first order was to annihilate the Jews. Yet surprisingly, the Talmud reveals that when Achashverosh gave over his ring to Haman (signifying his new role as viceroy), it did more for the Jewish people than all the prophets…

The Ksav Sofer explains that it was this moment that caused the Jewish people to turn back to Hashem for help and mercy, which ultimately led to their salvation. Despite all appearances, Haman’s rising to power was the best thing for the Jewish people.

The name “Megillahs Esther” alludes to the ultimate revelation. Megillah connotes “Megallah” (to reveal), and Esther connotes “Aster” (hidden). Similarly, Hashem’s name is not mentioned in the Megillah, hinting to His hidden presence. Purim is a time to witness Divine Providence.

The story of Purim is the prime example of never losing hope. The story is filled with twists and turns, but at the very end, with the benefit of looking back, we see how everything had purpose and meaning. Everything was for the benefit of the Jewish people.

At times, it can be difficult to make sense of this world. But from the story of Purim, we see that Hashem always has our best interest in mind, even if it may be difficult to see in the moment.

As a descendant of Amalek, Haman represents darkness and sadness. The Megillah tells how Haman had everything he could dream of, but one man, Mordechai, would not bow down to him. (Our Sages explain that Haman wore an idol at the time and Mordechai would not succumb to his falsehoods.) Haman fixated on this until his ego and pride led to his demise. Similarly, he wants us to view our difficult moments as never ending and all encompassing.

On Purim, we conquer Haman. We eat and drink, we sing and dance. We are determined to stay positive and happy. In this way, Purim prepares us for Pesach, as it removes the “chametz” from our lives.

Rebbe Nachman points out that in the Jewish calendar, the night is the beginning of the day. Night represents darkness, sadness and confusion. Day represents light, happiness and clarity. We must always remember that the darker it gets outside, the closer the light approaches.

Rabbi Maimon points out how the person reading Megillah begins reading in a lower voice, but changes his tone after “On that night, the king’s sleep was disturbed…” At that point, Achashverosh reads from the book of chronicles and remembers how Mordechai previously saved his life. It was specifically at nighttime that this pivotal moment took place. In this moment, everything changed.

Lastly, it’s important to note that Haman attacked us when we were, “dispersed among the peoples.” We lacked unity. Therefore Esther said, “Go assemble all the Jews” to fast and pray. She knew the salvation required a united front.

We wear costumes to commemorate the hidden miracle of Purim. But it also serves another purpose. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained, “On Purim you see many people dressed in different costumes, one is a clown, one is an animal, and one you don’t even know what he’s wearing. Do you get angry or upset with them? No, because you know it’s just a costume. In life, we meet many people. One is impatient, one is angry, one is apathetic… This is not who they really are. This is just a “costume.” Deep in their heart, they are all warm Jews, full of purity and beauty. We just need to interact with them with kindness and tenderness and take off their “costumes” to reveal the pure soul inside each one.”

Rabbi Moshe Bamberger relates, “The concept of unity was so precious to the Klausenberger Rebbe, that when describing the terrors that he faced in the Holocaust, he related that there was one thing he actually missed from those years: ‘When we went on the death march, we were all clean shaven and our hair was shaved off too. We marched side by side, and no one knew if the person next to them was a Chasid or Litvak, and no one knew I was a Rebbe. We all just held our arms around each other and tried to keep ourselves and our fellow Jews warm.’”

The costumes we wear remind us that no matter how we dress, no matter how we may differ, we are all in this together. We are one.

We may face difficult times in life, but when we band together and when we trust in Hashem’s love and Divine Providence, we can rest assured that we will see the light waiting for us at the end this windy tunnel.

 

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Purim with Rebbe Nachman

Today’s learning is dedicated to the refuah sheleima of Simcha Nosson ben Zissel.

When we see the length of the exile and how much each day we cry out to Him and yet are not saved, there are those of our people, the Children of Yisrael, who err in their heart, G-d forbid. [They say] that all their prayers are for naught. But in truth, it is not so. The tzadikim of each generation raise all the prayers and erect them, as in “Moshe erected the Tabernacle.” They raise each and every part to its place and build the structure of the Shechinah bit by bit, until the full measure of its structure is realized. Then Mashiach, who is Moshe, will come and consummate it, by erecting it perfectly. — Likutey Moharan I, 2

It can be disheartening when our prayers seemingly go unanswered. And it’s natural to question the effectiveness of our prayers when we don’t see any change in circumstances. We begin to wonder if the time and emotion invested, had any effect at all.

In this lesson, Rebbe Nachman teaches that we must never lose faith in the strength of our prayers. We may not see it, but every word is heard and has a lasting impact.

The Talmud states, “If a person says, ‘I have worked hard but have not found success,’ don’t believe him. If he says, ‘I have not worked hard, and I have found success,’ don’t believe him. If he says, ‘I have worked hard and I have found success,’ believe him.” Regarding the latter statement, Reb Noson asks why would we need to believe him; shouldn’t we be able to see the success?

Reb Noson answers that many times, when a person is succeeding in life, they don’t necessarily see or recognize the success. And Hashem specifically designed it this way. For if a person saw the incredible effect of each good deed (e.g. each dollar to charity, each act of kindness, etc.), then there would be no free will; doing good would be the only option. Our test is to continue pushing forward even when we don’t immediately see the fruits of our labor.

Rabbi Maimon explains that the same applies to our prayers. If we were answered immediately or if we were able to see the tremendous effect of each prayer, there would be no test. And as we’ve previously discussed, the greater the test and effort put forth, the greater the reward.

On a related note, Rebbe Nachman explains that it’s extremely difficult to have the proper concentration when praying. Understanding the power of prayer, the Evil Inclination attacks from all sides attempting to distract us. Suddenly we are bombarded with extraneous thoughts.

Rebbe Nachman advises, “The best remedy for this is to make sure the words emerge from your lips in truth. Every word that comes from your mouth in truth and sincerity will provide you with an exit from the darkness that is trapping you, and then you will be able to pray properly. This is the fundamental principle whenever you are praying or meditating. You may feel unable to say a single word because of the intense darkness and confusion that hedge you in on every side. But see that whatever you do say, you say truthfully as much as you possibly can. For example, you could at least say the words, “G-d, send help” truthfully. You may not be able to put much enthusiasm into the words, but you can still make yourself say them sincerely and mean what you say quite literally. The very truth of your words will send you light and you will be able to pray with the help of Hashem. When you do this, it sustains and perfects all the worlds.”

Rebbe Nachman assures us that while praying with the proper mindset and focus is invaluable, still the battle itself and the frustrated attempts are also cherished by Hashem. Every bit of energy is considered significant.

As Rebbe Nachman teaches, “Even if sometimes you cannot pray at all, the effort you put into forcing yourself to pray is also very precious to Hashem, even if you don’t actually succeed in praying as you should.” (Likutey Eitzos, Tefillah # 90)

As the Baal Shem Tov said, “When a Jew comes from work in the late afternoon and says, ‘Oy! There are just a few minutes to sunset!’ and hurriedly davens Minchah, the angels in Heaven tremble before his davening.”

Of course, we must always strive to perfect our prayers, but at the same time, we should remember that every bit of effort is precious and beloved by Hashem.

 

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Today’s learning is dedicated to the refuah sheleima of Simcha Nosson ben Zissel and Gedalia Getzel Eliezer ben Faiga Tzipporah.

When one begins to attach himself to a great Tzadik and truly serve G-d, he is often filled with great confusion and evil thoughts. The evil was always there, but only now it is surfacing. A pot of water may seem perfectly clear. But when it is placed on a fire and begins to boil, all its impurities are brought to the surface. One must stand by and constantly remove these impurities. The original purity is merely an illusion. With a little heat the impurity surfaces. But when these impurities are removed, the water is truly pure and clear.

The same is true of a person. Before he begins serving G-d, good and evil are completely mixed together within him. The impurities are so closely united with the good that they cannot be recognized. But then this person comes close to a true Tzadik and begins to burn with great feeling toward G-d. He is touched with the heat of purification, and all the evil and impurities come to the surface. Here again one must stand by and constantly remove the dirt and impurities as they appear. In the end the person is truly pure and clear. — Sichot HaRan # 79

In this lesson, Rebbe Nachman warns us that the Evil Inclination tries to demoralize us by making us feel unworthy and hopeless. This is especially true when we begin to work on our closeness to Hashem.

As soon as we decide to make a positive change, the Evil Inclination tries to overwhelm us with various obstacles and doubts. Suddenly, all our shortcomings and inadequacies seem to resurface.

When this happens, we must remind ourselves that the insecurities we feel are merely the Evil Inclination’s attempt to dissuade us. He tries to make us believe that we are no good; he tries to make us believe lies.

Rebbe Nachman teaches that even when a person feels distant from Hashem, this itself should bring him comfort. “We have already discussed how there is absolutely no despair in the world at all. And this itself, that he views himself as very far from G-d, as far as he can be; through this itself it is fitting that he revives himself, since at any rate, he knows that he is distant. For it would have been possible for him to be so very distant, to the extent that he did not know at all that he is distant. And since he at least knows about his great distance; despite that this is true; nevertheless, this itself is important to Hashem Yisborach, that at least he knows that he is distant. Through this itself, it befits that he revives himself and strengthen himself in every way that he can.” (Meshivas Nefesh # 40)

It states in the introduction to Perkei Avot, “All of Israel have a share in the World to Come, as it says (Isaiah 60:21), ‘Your people are all Tzadikim; they will inherit the Land forever; they are the branch of My planting, the work of My hands in which I take pride.’ (Sanhedrin 11:1).“ The Maharal explains that regardless of our fulfillment of mitzvos of lack thereof, every Jew is considered a Tzadik.

But how can that be? Considering all our “flaws” and “failings”, can we really consider ourselves tzadikim?

Clearly, our actions do not define us. We each have an intrinsic beauty and pureness that can never be tainted.

As Rebbe Nachman teaches, “Every single Jew is a part of G-d above. The essence of G-dliness is to be found in the heart. The G-dliness in the heart of the Jew is infinite. There is no end to the light of the flame that burns there.”

Therefore, the verse describes our share in the World to Come as an inheritance… An inheritance does not require any action on the part of the inheritor. Similarly, all of Klal Yisrael, by virtue of their very being, are inheritors of the land forever (i.e. the World to Come and eternal life).

(The Bartenura explains that while every Jew has a share in the World to Come, the quality of that share is dependent on one’s actions.)

Regarding the joy Hashem derives from our nation, the verse states, “I get nachas (pride) from you and from what you do.” Rabbi Shais Taub points out that “from you” comes before “what you do”. He explains, “The action is not what gives the person value; the person is what gives the action value.” Who we are will never change, and therefore the pride Hashem gets from us will never change.

Similarly, it states in Perkei Avot (3:14), “Beloved are the people of Israel, for they are called ‘G-d’s children.’” As the Talmud states, even when they sin, Klal Yisroel is still the children of Hashem. (Kiddushin 36a)

In closing, we may make bad decisions, but that does not make us bad people. When we strengthen our sense of self, when we conquer feelings of unworthiness, we begin to recognize Hashem’s love for us. Only then can we truly appreciate and reach our full potential.

 

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