Over shabbat, I went to look up Lesson 44 in Likutey Moharan to see a bit more about what Rebbe Nachman teaches us about what’s really important in life, and particularly, in frum Jewish life.
It was such a great lesson that I’m bringing the whole thing, here:
Emuna is dependent upon a person’s mouth, as in: “I will declare Your emuna with my mouth” (Psalms 89:2), meaning that by expressing emuna with the mouth, this itself is emuna, and it engenders more emuna.
On account of this, one must be extremely cautious to avoid saying even a word or heresy or skepticism, even if one is not saying them from the heart. That is, even if one has emuna and is not a heretic, but is only quoting some skeptical thought that he has heard from others who are skeptics, and is actually mocking them, nevertheless, we must be very cautious to avoid this too.
This is because such heretical speech is very damaging to emuna, and furthermore, it’s absolutely forbidden, for regarding anything relating to God, it’s forbidden to quip, even in jest.
It’s brought in the holy books and our own works in many places about distancing ourselves as much as possible from even glancing at the works of the philosophers. Even the philosophical works composed by the gedolim of our own people should be avoided, for they are very damaging to emuna.
We have all we need from the emuna that we received from our holy ancestors, and the most important, fundamental and essential rule in the service of God is to be simple and upright, and to serve Him sincerely, without any chachmot, sophistication, or philosophical discussions at all.
And we must also stay far away from the chachmot related to the service of God itself, for all these ‘sophisticated’ ways of the world that people engage in when they first start to serve God a little bit is not ‘wisdom’ at all, but only fantasies, nonsense and great confusion.
This chachmot, sophistication [chumras….] are extremely detrimental to a person’s service of God, especially the obsessive thinking, analyzing and scrutinizing oneself to see if our actions have properly fulfilled our obligations. A human being can’t possibly fulfill his obligation perfectly, and ‘God doesn’t make impossible demands’ (Avoda Zara 3a), and ‘The Torah wasn’t given to the angels’ (Kiddushin 54a).
Regarding those who are so obsessively meticulous and excessively stringent the verse says, ‘You shall live on account of them’ (Leviticus 18:5) and ‘not die on account of them’ (Yoma 85b), for they have no life at all. They are constantly depressed since they feel that they are not fulfilling their obligations with the commandments that they perform.
The commandments don’t vitalize their spirits at all, on account of all their meticulousness and depression. (The Rebbe himself didn’t keep any chumra (religious stringency) at all).
And truthfully, after all the chachmot – even one who really knows wisdom – after all is said and done, one must cast aside all wisdoms and serve God with utter sincerity and simplicity, without any wisdoms at all.
This is the greatest wisdom of all wisdoms – to not be ‘wise’ at all, for no-one in the world can truly be wise, for, ‘There is no wisdom or understanding before God’ (Proverbs 21:30). So the main things is ‘God seeks the heart’ (Sanhedrin 106b).
There is a ‘path’ in the world that teaches us that we’re never good enough, can never do enough, can never serve Hashem properly – and as Rebbe Nachman explains here, the reason so many of us fall for this line is because on some level, it’s true!
The ‘luminaries of fire’ excel in pushing this harshly judgmental line in their shiurim and communications – they see the ‘bad’, and the spiritual ‘lack’, and the ‘flaw’ in everyone and everything.
But that’s why the true Tzaddikim came to sweeten this. Rebbe Nachman tells us – you can’t be an angel, and you can’t serve God perfectly – but don’t let that get you down! Don’t get more and more stern, judgmental and machmir, expecting unattainable perfection from yourself and your fellow Jews, because you can’t be perfect!
(Maybe someone should tell the autistics this….)
Rabbenu tells us instead, just do the best you can do with simplicity – every mitzvah you manage to do, celebrate it, and don’t worry too much about accidentally eating gebrochts on Pesach, or that your teenager’s skirt has gone seriously North. Cut everyone – including yourself – some spiritual slack, and serve Hashem happily.
None of us are perfect, but the key is to strive to keep improving, and to not get caught up in chumrot and harsh judgment calls against people (including ourselves…) for not being perfect.
If that chumra is making you feel so darned happy, and fills you up with joy every time you do it, then by all means continue. But if it doesn’t? And it’s adding to a sense of burden and depression? It may well be time to ditch the chumra, and to return to serving Hashem with simplicity and joy.
God wants the heart.
Trying to give it to Him, sincerely, is more than enough work to fill up 120 years, for most of us.