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Rebbe Nachman explains the difference between Moshiach ben Yosef and Moshiach ben David

Over Shabbat, I was reading one of Rebbe Nachman’s stories, which I realized is describing the difference between Moshiach ben Yosef and Moshiach ben David. I’m bringing an abridged version of it below, together with the commentary that goes together with it from Rav Natan, and from Likutey Moharan I:20 [in bold, square brackets]. My own comments will be underlined.

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New Stories: #209 in Tzaddik, by the Breslov Research Institute

 

The beginning of the Summer, 5564 (1804). The Rebbe said: I will tell you what I saw. And you tell your children.

There was someone lying on the ground and around him people were sitting in a circle.

This is Moshiach ben Yosef.

Around this circle was another circle. And around that circle was another circle, and so on – many circles. Then around them were sitting more people in no particular order. The circles contain Moshiach ben Yosef’s followers.

The one who was sitting in the middle – he was leaning on his side – was moving his lips and all those around him were moving their lips after him.

[This refers to teaching / learning Torah – this soul is the source of all Torah explanations.]

After this, I looked and he was not sitting there – the one in the middle, that is. And all those sitting around stopping moving their lips. I asked, “What is this?” They answered me that he had become cold and had expired and he had stopped speaking.

After this, they started to run, and I ran after them. I saw two palaces – very fine, beautiful buildings. Sitting there were two commanders. They all ran to these two commanders and started arguing with them.

[This refers to the concept of machloket and controversy – the opposition which is aroused against the Tzaddikim when the power to draw forth Torah explanations is withdrawn.]

“Why did you deceive us?” They wanted to kill them.

The followers of the original Moshiach ben Yosef are very unhappy that they didn’t actually get Moshiach / geula, in the end. Rebbe Nachman now explains the spiritual reasons for this, by way of a parable.

The commanders fled outside. I saw them, and their nature was very good in my eyes. I ran after them and I saw in the distance a beautiful tent. From there they cried out to the commanders: “Turn back and seek out all the merits you have and take them in your hands and go to the light which is hanging there. There you will accomplish everything you want.”

They turned back and took their merits – i.e. all their mitzvahs – there were bundles of merits there – and they ran to the light. I ran after them and saw a gleaming light suspended in the air. The commanders came and threw their merits to the light.

[They mentioned their merits and good deeds, and tried to get the geula that way.]

From the light, sparks fell into their mouths. Then the NoR, lamp, turned into a NahaR, river, and everybody drank from the river, and creatures were formed inside them. When they started to speak the creatures came out of them and I saw them running and returning. They were neighed men nor any kind of animal – just creatures.

[These creatures are angels, who get their strength from Edom, who has been appointed over all the punishments of the wicked.]

After this they decided to back to their place.

This is referring to Eretz Yisrael / Beit HaMikdash / the state of spiritual purity that existed at the time of the Garden of Eden, and which will exist again in the world-to-come.

But they said: “How can we go back to our place?” Somebody said: “We should sent to the one who stands there holding a sword which reaches from heaven to earth.”

[This is a reference to the angel of Edom, Esav’s angel, aka the Samech Mem himself.]

Edom, i.e. the West / Christianity is what’s stopping the Jews from returning to Israel en masse and rebuilding the Bet HaMikdash, and also has the ‘power’ the Jewish people requires to punish and subdue the wicked.

They said: “Who should we send?” They thought they should send for the creatures, and the creatures went there. I ran after them and I saw him. He was terrifying. His stature reached from the heaven to the earth. In his hand was a sword reaching from heaven to earth. It had many blades.

One of them was sharp – this was for killing. One of them was for poverty, one of them for weakness. There were also many other blades for other punishments.

They started pleading: “All this long time we have been suffering at your hands. Now help us and bring us to our place.” He said: “I cannot help you.” They pleaded: “Give us the blade for death and we’ll kill them.” But he didn’t want to. They asked for a different blade, but he did not want to give them a single blade.

[He didn’t want to help them to subdue the wicked people, because of the mistake they made by trying to ‘force’ the geula via good deeds etc, instead of breaking their hearts, begging and entreating Hashem to bring it.]

They went back.

Either back to ‘normal’ life and forgot about Moshiach / geula, or back to their bad habits before they made teshuva as a result of learning the Moshiach ben Yosef’s Torah teachings.

In the meantime, there was an order to kill the commanders, and they cut off their heads.

[The ‘head’ can refer to daat, internalized spiritual knowledge, as well as the more obvious connotation as the ‘head’ of a particular movement or group.]

Meanwhile, the sequence of event returned to what it had been before – namely that someone was lying in the ground surrounded by circles of people, and so on.

This is now referring to Moshiach ben David, and his followers.

They ran to the commanders – everything happened as described before – except that now I saw that the commanders did not throw their merits to the light. They simply took their merits and went to the light and broke their hearts i.e. did some hitbodedut, which Rebbe Nachman frequently characterizes as spending an hour being broken-hearted before Hashem, while you do a cheshbon hanefesh and acknowledge your faults, flaws and errors.

And they began to beg and make entreaties before the light-  another reference to praying – and sparks fell from the light into their mouths. They entreated more and the light turned into a river, and the creatures were formed etc.

They told me, “These ones will live” – i.e. Moshiach ben David and his followers will actually make it through to geula and the world to come – because the first ones deserved to be killed for throwing their merits to the light and not making entreaties like these latter ones. I didn’t know what this meant.

They said to me: “Go into that room and they will tell you the explanation of this.” I went and there sat an old man. I asked him about the matter. He took his beard in his hand and said to me: “My beard is the explanation of what happened.” I still don’t know,” I said. “Go to that room,” he replied, “and there you will find the explanation.”

I went there and saw a room infinitely long and broad, entirely filled with writings. Wherever I opened I saw the explanation of the story.

[This vision is connected to Lesson 20 in Likutey Moharan Part 1.]

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HERE IS SOME OF WHAT REBBE NACHMAN WRITES IN 1:20:

“When one prays before giving over a [Torah] lecture, one must pray with supplication, begging God for gratis instead of asking for one’s due….

“But Moses [i.e. the redeemer / Moshiach ben Yosef] did not do this. He rather cited his own goodness and righteousness…as one who grabs something forcefully and without consent, for he sought in the power of his good deeds….

“…whoever tries to ‘force the moment’ (literally, ‘pressures time’) – the ‘time’ pressures him, causing one to die before one’s time. [This is why Moshiach ben Yosef died ‘prematurely’, before the job of bringing the geula was completed.] For this reason, one should never pressure oneself for anything, but beg with supplication. If God grants it, good, and if not, not.”

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Next, Rabbenu turns to the subject of attaining the Land of Israel.

“[T]he land of Israel is one of the three things that can only be attained through suffering (Brachot 5a) and the main suffering is the obstacles of the wicked, who slander the land. These wicked must first be subdued with a sword and death, and only then can one enter the Land of Israel.

“However, the power to punish the wicked can only be acquired from the power of Edom, for that is his power, as in: “You will live by your sword” (Genesis 27:40), and he draws sustenance from the astrological sign of Mars. [Which is related to bloodshed and war, and the Jewish month of Nisan – the month of redemption.]”

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Rebbe Nachman now explains that the Angels which can defeat and kill the wicked are formed from the original Torah insights of the Tzaddik / Moshiach ben Yosef / Moshiach ben David.

But, when the Tzaddik’s followers don’t put an emphasis on personal holiness – i.e. guarding the brit, guarding the eyes, modest behavior and dress – these Angels then lack the power to actually destroy the wicked people who are slandering the Land of Israel.

Depending on how ‘weak’ these angels become, in descending order:

They can’t kill them; then they can’t punish and intimidate them; then they can’t rouse the nations of the world against them; then they can’t even silence them from speaking evil in our presence “so that their words do not enter the ears of the masses. And sometimes even this power they lack – all according to the degree of holiness that is lacking.”

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Rabbenu then goes on to explain that the lack of personal holiness amongst the Jews is the main thing empowering the wicked people who are slandering the land, and preventing the Jews from returning to the Land of Israel.

Moshiach ben David succeeds where Moshiach ben Yosef failed, because he prays before he gives over his Torah lessons, and he focuses on increasing personal holiness amongst his followers, not just doing more good deeds and mitzvahs.

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Rebbe Nachman then explains the nine rectifications of the beard, and how they lead to the Land of Israel, as follows:

  • Take the staff – this refers to the Tzaddik’s Torah lectures that he gives over to his followers. This Torah has to be drawn with prayer, not with ‘force’, in order for the rest of the process to work.
  • Gather the people together’ – to subdue the evil elements the community contains.
  • Speak to the rock with supplications’ and prayers – this refers to the need to have yirat shemayim, or Fear of Hashem.
  • ‘In their presence’, to bond with them – the Tzaddik’s soul has to become ‘bound up’ with his followers / the Jewish people.
  • To draw fiery words – actually an allusion to drawing down Divine mercy on the Jewish people.
  • To draw Torah – the Tzaddikim are judged to a hairsbreadth, and if they are blemished in some way, they can no longer draw the Torah required to bring geula.
  • To create angels.
  • To receive power from Edom to subdue the enemies / wicked who are slandering the Land of Israel.
  • To enter the Land of Israel.

If any of these steps are missing, we can’t ‘enter the Land of Israel’ / truly get to the geula shleima.

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Ad Kan.

There is so much more to say about all this, and it seems to me that so much of what we’ve been discussing here on the blog is alluded to in this lesson in quite an awesome way.

(If you want more insights into the very deep concepts being brought in this story, take a look at Day 3 of Rebbe Nachman’s tale of the Seven Beggars. The ‘heart of the world’ also refers to Moshiach ben Yosef and his followers.)

Moshiach ben Yosef failed to bring geula, because the emphasis was on stressing how many mitzvoth and good deeds were going on, as opposed to praying heartbroken prayers that God should bring the geula, as a free gift. Trying to force the issue just led to the Moshiach ben Yosef dying prematurely, leaving his movement without a ‘head’, i.e. a real direction, or daat, internalized spiritual knowledge of what to do next.

Hopefully, Moshiach ben David will have more success.

These things are so awesomely deep, there are so many spiritual rectifications going on. It’s totally beyond us to understand what’s really happening by ourselves, and only our true Torah sources and real rabbis can tell guide us in the right direction.

I wrote this post two weeks before the shooting in the Poway shul in San Diego, but didn’t get a chance to put it up.

Violent anti-semitism is shooting through the roof all over the world at the moment, and the question we have to ask is why?

Sure, we can point fingers at radical Islam, and at fanatical right-wingers, and at all the very many other sources of anti-semitism out there, but when all is said and done, God is the one causing the problem.

If we’re looking at this from the place of emuna, we have to ask why?

Why is God making it more and more uncomfortable for Jews to live in chutz l’aretz? Why is He piling the pressure on Jewish communities all over the world, from NYC to London to Paris to San Diego and back again?

Why is God doing that?

Maybe, we can find some answers in Rebbe Nachman’s Torah:

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As you know, I like to quote authentic Torah sources wherever possible, to support any opinions on this blog, to counteract the growing tide of daas me. Personal opinions certainly have their place, but not when we’re discussing something as important as whether living in Israel is a mitzvah for a Jew, or not.

In line with that, I thought I’d take a look at what Rebbe Nachman of Breslov has to say about Eretz Yisrael, and whaddya know, he has a lot to say on the subject. The following is excerpted from Likutey Etzot, that was translated into English as ‘Advice’ by the Breslov Research Institute:

  • With truth emuna (faith), prayer comes into its own. Prayer is bound up with the concept of bringing about miracles. To attain this level of emuna is only possible in the Land of Israel, for it is there that prayer ascends to the worlds above….
  • If we abuse Eretz Yisrael we go down into exile.
  • Every upward movement we have to make towards holiness can only be accomplished through Eretz Yisrael.
  • It is impossible to come to the Land of Israel without difficulties and suffering. The root of all the difficulties and suffering lies in the slanderous image of Israel, which is put about by the wicked.
  • Through the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael, the true guide and leader of our age will be revealed.
  • The mitzvah of the succah is a segulah for coming to Eretz Yisrael.
  • The motive for making the journey to Eretz Yisrael should be purely spiritual: to draw closer to God. A person who goes there with this as his aim will certainly benefit….On the other hand, if a person’s motive has nothing to do with devotion to God and cleansing himself of his evil, then what help will Israel be to him? The land will vomit him out…
  • Through the holiness of Eretz Yisrael, one can attain pure faith.
  • Pray to God, to ask Him to give you the desire and yearning for Eretz Yisrael. Then you will succeed in reaching there.
  • God repays man ‘measure for measure’. Nowhere is the repayment more exacting than in Eretz Yisrael.
  • The holiness of Eretz Yisrael is the epitome of holiness, encompassing all other levels of holiness. It is there that we can free ourselves completely of the materialistic viewpoint which claims that events take place naturally. We can come to know and believe that everything comes about only through the hand of God.
  • Genuine enlightenment and wisdom come only in Eretz Yisrael.

Rabbenu says a great deal more, these are only snippets, but I think you get the idea.

This morning, I cracked open ‘Advice’ (the English translation of the kitzur Likutey Moharan) and I got to this, from the chapter entitled:

Alien philosophies and ideologies:

The only true wisdom is the wisdom of the Tzaddikim. [Their wisdom] enables them to form a lofty perception of God, and gives them the power to communicate this perception to those who follow them. Compared with this wisdom, all other ideological systems are utter foolishness.”

The more I dip my toe in the murky waters of ‘intellectual debate’, including all this ortho-fem rubbish, and all this ‘anti-Tzaddikim / anti-rabbis’ rubbish, the more I see this is true. Rebbe Nachman then continues:

“Because of our many sins, it can sometimes happen that this genuine wisdom falls into the hands of the heathens, and the Sitra Achra. Their new-found wisdom gives them power and dominion, and then the heathens gain the upper hand, God forbid.”

That’s why the ‘heathens’ like learning Gemara, and Kabbalah. They pick out the bits of ‘genuine wisdom’ that appeals to them, and then create some Frankenstein-Faith with it. Some of these ideologies are ‘religious’ – like xtianity – and some of them – like feminism – are not. Rabbenu continues:

Who can bear the sound of the great and terrible cry when this wisdom falls into their hands and fools pretend to be wise?

“They try to adapt this genuine wisdom to their own purposes, as if it could be made a part of their own ideologies – as if their own foolishness has anything to do with the knowledge of God!

“They start claiming that they alone are the wise ones and that there is no wisdom greater than their own mistaken speculation, which is simply ‘parasiting’ off the fallen, genuine wisdom.”

It’s well known that the most successful ‘lies’ always contain a tiny grain of truth. That’s what attracts us in, that’s what initially fools us. It’s easy to think that it’s no big deal, when people start trying to twist Torah to their own ends and goals, with all their ‘tikkun olam’ codewords and other warped ideas. To counter that impression, Rabbenu then tells us:

“God Himself cries out because of this!”

It’s a big deal! It’s a really big deal! We can’t just twist the Torah and its wisdom to our own ends, and try to get a PhD thesis out of it, or a reputation for being a ‘deep’ philosophical thinker, or intellectual. This brings us back to the idea I wrote about here about doing things for God, instead of just trying to serve ourselves.

So now we know all this, how should we try to respond? Back to Rebbe Nachman:

“Every Jew has a part to play in the task of identifying how this wisdom that has fallen into their hands can be separated from them, and elevated, in order to return to its source.

The way to achieve this is through acts of charity and kindness, under the guidance and inspiration of the Tzaddikim.”

To sum up: we need to be closely attached to our True Tzaddikim, who are the only people who really possess genuine wisdom in this lowly world, and being inspired by them to give charity and do kind deeds. The more we do that, the easier we’ll find it to spot all this fake, fallen ‘wisdom’ and to call it out.

And doing that will give God a lot of nachas.

Everything you need to know about Pidyon Nefesh – Part 1

The whole idea of giving a pidyon nefesh to a real Tzaddik has to be one of the most misunderstood, confusing and murky concepts in Jewish thought.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to deal with this subject via email, or a phone call, so I think the time has come to try to sort it all out in a methodical fashion, and bring as many of the sources and explanations as I can into one post.

(Now that I’ve actually written this, I’m going to split it up into two posts, one after the other.)

But before we can get to the basic idea behind a pidyon nefesh (which is not just a Breslov idea, btw, and not even just a Chassidic idea. Many Sephardi kabbalists also hold by the idea of doing pidyon nefesh) – we first have to talk a bit about the idea of the True Tzaddik.

Which is probably the second most misunderstood, confusing and murky concepts in Jewish thought, so this is going to be one heck of a long post!

After some consideration, I thought the easiest way to dive into the topic is to just bring some of what Rebbe Nachman explains about the Tzaddik, and true tzaddikim, in his book, Sefer HaMiddot.

QUOTES FROM SEFER HAMIDDOT (Taken from the chapter called Tzaddik):

#12 Putting in effort to draw close to tzaddikim is beneficial for serving God.

#20 Don’t be disturbed by the fact that the tzaddikim accept financial support from others in order to run their households with wealth and honor – would it be better for them not to take from others, and not to lead? For the more delight and expansion the Tzaddik has, the more his soul expands, and then there is a resting place in which the Divine Presence may dwell. Therefore, one should not come to the house [of a Tzaddik] empty-handed.

#40 In the merit of serving a great man, one is saved from death.

#46 Giving money to benefit a tzaddik is like serving in the Holy Temple.

#82 Sometimes, a tzaddik elevates someone and then humiliates them, and this is for the person’s benefit.

#107 Sometimes, through giving one bit of satisfaction to the Tzaddik, and through the little action one does for him, one merits the World to Come.

#122 The blessing of a Tzaddik is a pidyon.

#127 One who puts the Tzaddik to the test, it’s as if he put God to the test.

#130 Through faith in Tzaddikim judgments are sweetened.

#136 There is no Tzaddik who does not endure attackers and investigators.

#150 God gives parnassa to a tzaddik through the community, in order that he will have some connection with them, and so that when God remembers the Tzaddik, he remembers them as well.

#151 The coming of Moshiach depends on drawing close to the Tzaddik.

#153 Someone who draws close to the Tzaddik, but who doesn’t do it innocently, will eventually become an opposer.

#172 Through the gifts that one brings to tzaddikim, a person can subdue their enemies, and neutralize the evil spirit that hovers over themselves.

#182 One who benefits the Tzaddik from his belongings, it is as if he benefited all the Jewish people, and he is saved from death.

#196 Connection to the Tzaddik is a great healing.

#209 Through the livelihood people provide for the Tzaddik, all their sins are forgiven, just as the Cohen’s eating of the sacrifices atoned for those who offered them.

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Ad kan, from Sefer HaMiddot. As always, it’s highly recommended to look up the quotes yourself, as I just picked out a few, and there’s much more that could be said.

What I wanted to try to bring out with these quotes are two key points:

  • Giving money / help / gifts / support to tzaddikim is always very beneficial to a person, and goes a long way to cancelling out our sins and helping us to overcome our yetzer haras and negative character traits. And this is without us even getting into the specific discussion about a pidyon nefesh, which we’ll come to shortly.
  • All of the things described above only apply to True Tzaddikim – and not ordinary rabbis and rabbanits, nice as they might be. Even more so, these benefits don’t apply to giving money to ‘pretend’ holy people.

From my own experience, I know it’s very, very hard to really know who is ‘real’ and who isn’t today, let alone who is a ‘true tzaddik’ and who isn’t.

There is only one way to really know this with certainty, and that is:

To pray on it, and to ask God to show you who is a real tzaddik.

Yes, we’re talking about doing regular hitbodedut again, because without it, you’ll trip up. Even with it, you’ll probably still trip up, especially at the beginning. Why? Because we are drawn to the rabbis and rabbanits that most mirror and reflect our own views and beliefs back at us.

If we are angry, judgmental, arrogant hypocrites who think we’re perfect and all the problems in the world are simply everyone else’s fault – that’s the sort of people we’ll be drawn to, those are the types of Torah classes and ideas and ‘proofs’ we’ll want to hear. It takes a lot of time to start clearing all those bad middot out of the way, but when that starts to happen, we’ll find ourselves open to hearing about judging others favorably, and about taking responsibility for our own issues, and about working more on our own bad middot.

And that’s when God will start to draw us closer to the really holy people, the true tzaddikim in our midst.

So, the first part of the equation is that giving money and gifts to true tzaddikim is always beneficial to a person, at least in the spiritual realm, but that it’s not so easy to know who a true tzaddik is, and there are a lot of ‘pseudo-tzaddikim’ out there.

Now, let’s talk more about the concept of the Pidyon Nefesh itself.

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REBBE NACHMAN EXPLANS WHY WE SHOULD DO A PIDYON NEFESH:

In the Kitzur Likutey Moharan (translated into English as ‘Advice’, by the Breslov Research Institute), it says the following about Pidyon Nefesh:

  • When a person is sick, a pidyon nefesh (monetary redemption) is the pre-requisite of any cure. Only after the redemption has been made does the Torah give the doctor permission to cure (See Likutey Moharan, II:3)

  • When a person fills the mouths of the Sages with wine, it is accounted for him like a redemption (LM 1:41)

  • Getting up for Tikkun Chatzot (the midnight prayer for rectification) has the same power as a redemption.

  • It is a good practice to always give money for a pidyon nefesh. This is the way to sweeten the power of harsh judgments at all times, and to be saved from them. Even when nobody in the house is sick and you have no particular problems, it is still good to present money for a pidyon nefesh, in order to prevent any problems or sickness, God forbid (Chayey Moharan Section on Serving Hashem, 92).

This isn’t just anyone telling us this, it’s Rebbe Nachman, one of the biggest rabbis in Jewish history.

And he’s spelling it out clearly, that if you want the best chance of avoiding harsh sicknesses and other big difficulties, you should regularly pay a pidyon nefesh, even if you’re not currently experiencing any problems!

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HOW DOES A PIDYON NEFESH WORK?

To understand this, we first have to state something obvious, but which is often so hidden from so many of us, in our ‘pretend perfect’ world:

Nobody is perfect, and every single one of us is constantly transgressing Torah commandments and hurting other people every minute of every day.

The best way to minimize the judgements against us is by going over the past 24 hours in hitbodedut, to try to figure out if that angry outburst, that slanderous email, that nasty behavior, that spiteful comment, was really as justified and ‘holy’ as it seemed at the time.

This is a crucial part of the teshuva process, and if we’re doing regular teshuva, that’s the main way how we can keep these harsh heavenly decrees that are building up against us every single day in check.

But, even if we are regularly doing that (and especially if we’re not…) we all have our blind spots, we all have our flaws and issues, particularly in the area of man and his fellow man. And if those sins aren’t properly atoned for, they can cause harsh judgments to be sent down to us by the Heavenly Court.

Those harsh spiritual judgments manifest in all sorts of ways, including financial problems, health problems, shalom bayit problems, mental health issues where we just feel sad and depressed all the time, problems with the kids etc etc etc.

Now, the suffering itself atones for our sins.

This is a well-known concept, that when we’re going through harsh experiences, that is ‘paying down our debt’, spiritually. That suffering cleans off the spiritual stains we have on our souls, as a result of all the stuff we’re doing wrong (constantly….) that we aren’t acknowledging, or making teshuva about.

ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, THE SPIRITUAL DEBT WE’VE RUN UP HAS TO BE PAID OFF.

There are three main ways we can do this:

  • Clean it off with daily hitbodedut / cheshbon hanefesh / teshuva (but remember, we all have blind spots, which means that we’re for sure not catching everything we’re doing wrong and need to fix.)
  • Experience the suffering we brought down on ourselves as a result of our own behavior and flaws.
  • Pay a pidyon nefesh, a sum of money for a redemption, to a true tzaddik, which is a different sort of ‘suffering’, because parting with our cash is very hard for most of us to do.

The Tanach makes regular reference to money as damim, ‘bloods’.  Why is it called this?

Because we literally sweat and spill our own blood in order to earn that money, to get it together. It’s very dear to us, we’ve sacrificed so much time, effort, energy, whatever to attain it.

And there’s another factor to toss in here, which is that some of our suffering – especially in this generation, the last before Moshiach finally comes – is because of sins that we committed in past lives.

When that’s the case, we can’t even get to it via a daily teshuva process, however much we try. So then we’re really left with just the last 2 options on the list.

And sometimes, even a pidyon nefesh can’t get us out of the harsh decree, because that is our tikkun for a previous life, and it can’t be avoided.

In the next post, let’s take a look at how the pidyon nefesh process actually works, in Shemayim.

Yesterday, I went back to Hevron, to go and so some hitbodedut at the Mearat HaMachpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

So often, when I’m struggling with big decisions, big confusions, big inner turmoil, I’ve gone back to sit at a holy place – like Hevron, like Kever Rochel, like the Baba Sali, like Uman – and the clouds start to part, and a light starts to shine on a way out of the madness.

Like everyone else, I have a lot going on.

So, I was in Hevron yesterday, pondering on a lot of different things, when I happened to pick up a little booklet of Rav Shalom Arush’s ‘pearls of emuna’, that someone had left next to the grille overlooking the tomb of Avraham.

I picked it up, opened it up randomly, and got to a passage that (from memory) said something like this:

Rebbe Nachman writes in Likutey Moharan that the whole point of life is to keep giving the honor, the kavod, back to Hashem. And human beings are very bad at this, and they just want to keep trying to wrestle the honor that’s due to God back to themselves, in all types of different ways.

He brought direct quotes from Likutey Moharan, but I can’t remember the reference. But that was the gist.

And as always, it dealt so precisely with so many of the things I’m wrestling with, right now.

Like, why I am so terribly bothered and disturbed by all the rampant ‘self-promotion’ that’s going on all over the place, where even the yearning for geula seems to have been harnessed to a Paypal account.

And like, why I’m so terribly bothered by all these ‘rockstar rabbis’ and ‘rockstar rabbanits’ who speak so very eloquently, and who plaster themselves all over Youtube, and who seem to pop up like a rash on colorful glossy posters on lampposts and walls all over the Holy City of Jerusalem (and elsewhere…)

And like, why it upsets me so much that so very many of our ‘leaders’ – religious and otherwise – are clearly just ‘leading’ because of what’s in it for them, and their egos, and their bank accounts, and their social media following.

God is out the picture, fundamentally, even in the orthodox Jewish world.

So few people today are doing their Torah classes lishma, in order to give the honor due to God.

That’s strong language, I know, so let me try to explain what I’m talking about with some real-life examples.

A few years’ back, one of my neighbors strong-armed me into attending a ‘self-development / emuna’ workshop, by a well-known ‘rockstar rabbanit’ type in her home, because the rabbanit wanted a guarantee that at least 10 people would commit, “to make it worth her while”.

I baulked when my neighbor told me the cost was 50 shekels a class, and that I’d have to pay 400 shekels up front, to cover the whole 8 weeks.

Why so expensive?! I wanted to know.

Then I went to check out the slick website, the slick promo video, and I saw I’m dealing with a serious business person here, who is packaging their ‘Torah’ in a very commercially-sensible way. And I could see how making it financially ‘worth her while’ was actually the goal, the focus, of everything she was doing.

And then I baulked even more, because we’re warned away from people who turn their Torah learning into a ‘hammer’ with which to build up their own personality cults, and bank accounts.

But my neighbor wouldn’t relent, so I agreed to come and try one class (for 50 shekels…) and then to decide if I wanted to continue. I sat there, listening to some very warped ideas about how we can ‘force’ God to do what we want, and to give us what we want, and I came away extremely disturbed.

Because that’s total baloney. The real definition of emuna is accepting God’s will happily, while trying to work on the bad middot that are ‘blocking’ all the good stuff that God wants to send down to us.

But I guess that’s not such a commercially-viable message, and that no-one would want to pay 50 shekels a class just to be told their own bad middot are causing them all the problems.

Another time, a different ‘rockstar rabbnit’ rolled into town, and again it was an-singing, all-dancing event that was so expensive to attend, it actually provoked a storm of outrage in the village.

Why so expensive?! Everyone wanted to know.

But then, when you saw the fancy venue that was hired, and the expensive light and sound crew, and you counted the number of dancers, and comedians, and singers and performers who were the ‘warm up’ for that rockstar rabbanit, it all made perfect sense.

It was slick entertainment being packaged as Torah, and it was totally focused on the ‘feel-good’ factor, instead of the ‘actually becoming good’ factor – which again, is a much harder sell, commercially.

Again, I came away with a very uncomfortable feeling about it all, especially when I saw the queue of women lining up to get a ‘blessing’ and advice from the rabbanit after the show. I know firsthand how much damage bad advice can do to people who have been fooled into believing they’re dealing with a bona fide tzaddik.

You throw away your own critical thinking, you override your own gut feelings – and ultimately, the person isn’t really a tzaddik, doesn’t have any more of a connection to God than you do, and is really just dressing their own opinions and biases up as ‘ruach hakodesh’, or some sort of prophetic spirit.

In a nutshell: it’s extremely dangerous.

Another time, I was strong-armed into attending yet another Torah class given by yet another ‘rockstar rabbanit’, this time in Jerusalem. Again, I was left underwhelmed by the quality of the Torah being taught, and the character of the person giving it over, and overwhelmed by the insistence of the helper who waved her ‘donation cannister’ in the face of everyone who entered the room, and demanded a 30 shekel ‘donation’ before she’d let you sit down.

Ah, Torah lishma! Torah teaching for its own sake! Torah learning for God!

Not.

Not at all, actually.

I know rabbis and rabbanits need to eat, I really do. I know they need to put food on the table.

But as soon as the financial consideration becomes the imperative, all that person’s Torah, all that person’s wisdom, all that person’s ‘advice’ and insight, it’s all being harnessed to power their own honor and bank account, and God is out of the picture.

Even Rebbe Nachman tells us (in Sefer HaMiddot, Tzaddik, #18):

There is a tzaddik whose fame is reknown, who later falls through lust for money.

I.e., even a bona fide tzaddik can fall into a very bad place when financial considerations becomes the main engine driving their activities.

Also in Sefer HaMiddot (Tzaddik #57), Rabbenu tells us:

There are those that expound on the Torah with eloquence, yet their words lack truth.

But man, do they make for some good entertainment!

The rabbis and rabbanits who are truly serving God lishma, truly teaching Torah lishma, often do so at such an enormous cost to themselves, and their own comfort zone, and their own finances and ego.

That’s one of the ways you can tell who is ‘real’ and who isn’t, in our confused, upside-down, back-to-front world.

I prefer to learn Torah from people who I know from firsthand knowledge often lack the funds to pay their own electricity bills. And who often go into enormous debt putting out Torah teachings, or building new kollels and yeshivas, as Rav Natan did on behalf of Rebbe Nachman, and Breslov chassidut. And who literally go through a ‘fire and water’ of disgrace and humiliation, because they want all the honor to go to God, and not to become some ‘big name’ on the Torah circuit.

Personally, I’m not on that level, no-where near it. While I’m clearly not writing to earn money (haha!) I still write to feel good about myself, to feel as though I’m doing something useful in the world. It’s not 100% lishma, it’s not totally for God

And that’s why it’s so humbling for me to watch and experience how it looks when Torah is truly being learned and taught – and lived – lishma.

This Torah isn’t light entertainment, this Torah doesn’t make for pretty Youtube videos, the people teaching this Torah aren’t showing up on the roster of speakers at the Dead Sea for Pesach.

This Torah is challenging the listeners – continually – to put their hand up and admit they aren’t perfect, and that they need to knuckle down and work on their own characters and relationships.

And that’s just not something anyone wants to pay good money to hear, is it?

But this Torah makes it blindingly clear that the honor belongs to God.

And no-one else.

And that’s how I know it’s real.

=======

UPDATE: I had a question about how paying a tzaddik a pidyon nefesh relates to what I’ve described above. BH, I will collate a bunch of sources, and answer that with some daas Torah next week some time.

It’s a complicated subject, so I can understand the confusion, and with God’s help, I will try to clarify the difference.

There’s a French saying, plus ca change.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I couldn’t help thinking of that when I was trying to get over the massive spiritual fall-out from reading that awful book a couple of weeks’ ago that was mamash slandering the land of Israel, and so many of the Jews who live here, and which made out that it’s a bigger ‘mitzvah’ to stay in galut than to make aliya.

It’s amazing how any discussion of the sin of the spies always seems to be missing from so many of these ‘controversial’ discussions about moving to Israel, at least, in English. Or at least, from the pulpits of so many of the English-speaking ‘rabbis’ who live outside of Israel.

All week, I was trying to weigh up how best to tackle the subject, and if I should tackle the subject at all, even, because God forbid we should have more pointless machloket and sinat chinam floating around, more pointless divisiveness, more pointless ‘opinion’.

As often happens, Rabbenu gave me a clear way to proceed on Shabbat.

I started reading Lesson 20 in Part 1 of Likutey Moharan, and this is part of what I read:

“In the merit of the Torah that is drawn, one attains the Land of Israel, as in, ‘He gave them the lands of nations’ (Psalms 105:44). But the land of Israel is one of the three things that can only be attained through suffering (Brachot 5a), and the main suffering is the obstacles of the wicked, who slander the land.

“These wicked must first be subdued and punished with a sword and death, and only then can one enter the Land of Israel. However, the power to punish the wicked can only be acquired from the power of Edom, for that is his power, as in, ‘You will live by your sword’ (Bereishit 27:40), and he draws sustenance from the astrological sign of Mars.”

SLANDERING THE LAND OF ISRAEL IS STILL A HUGE SIN

Rabbenu wasn’t writing before the destruction of the Second Temple; he was writing 200 years ago, for our generation.

Edom is identified with the church / the West – i.e. all those countries that love their missiles and bombs and massive warships, and which are constantly developing new ways to try to ‘live by their sword’.

(Just look at what’s going on right now in Venezuela, and what’s been going on for decades in so many countries around the world, where the West ‘mixed in’ to ensure that its economic interests would be given first priority by any incoming governments – often to the detriment of that nation’s own citizens.)

Elsewhere, Rabbenu tells us that we’re in exile amongst the nations still, because there are 70 negative character traits, one for each of the 70 main nations of the world. And when we Jews continue to display the negative character traits of a particular nation, then we empower that nation in the world, and give them the ability to keep us in exile.

In other words, geula really is just dependent on Jews working on our own individual bad middot, wherever we happen to live in the world.

So now, Rabbenu told us that Edom / the West ‘draws sustenance from the astrological sign of Mars’, let’s see what that actually means, in terms of what we need to specifically work on.

According to a Baraisa written by Shmuel HaKatan, the planet Mars is related to the following character traits (btw, they happen to all be bad – this is not the case for most of the other planets / celestial bodies.)

THE TRAITS ASSOCIATED WITH MARS:

  • Bloodshed
  • Wickedness
  • Strife
  • External injury
  • War
  • Hatred
  • Jealousy

Doesn’t this list give you the shudders?

Doesn’t it describe so much of what is ‘wrong’ in the Jewish world, and the world generally?

We have our work cut out for us!

This is basically the checklist for sinat chinam, or the hatred that a Jew feels for another Jew, that caused the destruction of the Second Temple in the first place, and our long, horrible exile to begin, 2000 years ago.

I know so many of us feel powerless to bring the geula any closer, or any faster, or any sweeter, but that’s so not true. If each Jew would take it upon themselves to really make a serious effort to uproot these seven traits from our lives totally, we’d have geula in the blink of an eye.

And we can do this regardless of where we happen to live.

If we are exhibiting these seven negative characteristics in our own lives – ‘warring’ with people in the comments section online, arguing with people all the time, sending yucky emails, feeling jealous over ‘that one’s’ big house, or bigger bank balance, or thinner thighs, or bigger family, or hating people for holding different opinions, or believing different things, or resorting to guns to deal with our enemies, instead of resorting to prayer and turning to God – then WE are continuing the exile of Edom.

And WE will be held to account for that, by God.

That’s why Breslov emphasizes the personal aspect of geula, or redemption. Breslov teaches:

Get out of your own bad middot, work on rectifying your own negative characteristics, and you’ll experience both personal redemption – and the geula of Am Yisrael.

This is our work. This is our responsibility.

So please, let’s stop wasting time arguing with crazy people, and let’s just got on with doing the work of identifying these ‘Edomite’ characteristics in ourselves, and finally uprooting them.

So Moshiach can come soon, the sweet way.

AKA, Serving God on the Down

“[T]he terms ‘running’ and ‘returning’ are used in Ezekiel (1:14) and describe the chayot. They refer to two different facets of phases of divine service. They apply to everyone, no matter how low his level.

“There are times when everyone feels inspired in his devotions. This happens especially when a person is praying. He suddenly feels a burst of enthusiasm and says the words with tremendous fervor. This is the phase of ‘running’.

“But then, the inspiration and the fervor pass, and all that is left is a trace. This is the phase of “returning”.

“For most people, the main effort and work come in trying to achieve the ‘running’ – the moment when the heart ‘runs’, so to speak, in fervent devotion.  ‘Returning’ is something easy for them, because that is their nature….

“Both ‘running’ and ‘returning’ are necessary parts of serving God.”

#252 from Tzaddik, by the Breslov Research Institute. Also see Likutey Moharan I 6:4

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m a period of ‘returning’ at the moment.

Elsewhere, I call this ‘serving God on the down’ – you know, when you can’t really be bothered to listen to more Torah classes, or to take on more observances, and also when you’re finding it hard to get your act together to do even the basic stuff you know you should be doing.

Like making supper. Or hanging the washing. Or even, just stringing more than a couple of monosyllables together to talk to your husband and kids.

When this stage hits, it can often feel like we’re falling far away from Hashem, God forbid, but that’s where Rabbenu comes in to tell us don’t make that mistake!

Don’t start telling yourself that you’re ‘bad’, or ‘worthless’, or that God doesn’t love you, or that He doesn’t see all your efforts.

It’s just we can’t always be serving God on the ‘up’. We also have to serve Him on the down.

And it’s much easier to do that than you might think.

All it really means is that you turn around, and you search for God in the low place that you currently find yourself in, and connect it all back to Him.

God, I still want to serve You even though I got a little too caught up recently in dumb music videos on Youtube.

God, I still want to serve You even though I don’t feel like saying a Tikkun Haklali today, or going to hear a shiur.

God, I still want to serve You even though I seem to have completely run out of energy and ideas again.

That’s all we have to do to serve God on the down.

These are heavy days, hard times. The last couple of days, I’ve really been feeling like the ‘spiritual molasses’ has returned again, after a few days’ break, and it’s hard to do anything again.

But I can still serve God from this dark, unproductive place.

How?

Just by wanting to, even if the effort itself, the act itself, the improvement itself, is beyond me right now.

All I have is my wanting to do better, but I’m sending all that back up to Hashem, and this is all I need to do stay connected.

I’m heading down again right now, God, but wherever I land, You’re coming with me. BH, I’ll be back on the up, and ‘running’ and spiritually inspired again soon.

But right now, I’m serving You on the down.

And when we tell God that, we make Him very happy.

Continuing the discussion, I had a couple more questions on hitbodedut which I’m going to answer below as part of a Frequently Asked Questions post, that I’ll add to as and when I get more questions on the subject that are not ‘big’ enough to merit their own post.

Q: What about Reb Noson’s famous saying, “If I see a lack somewhere, I know that either people didn’t pray about it, or they didn’t pray about it enough”? I think Rav Arush quotes it somewhere in “The Garden of Emuna”. How do you understand it now, in light of your experiences?

In Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom (the English translation of Shevachay HaRan and Sichos HaRan, by the Breslov Research Institute), pg 368, it says the following:

[The Rebbe said]: “You must pray for everything. If your garment is torn and must be replaced, pray to God for a new one. Do this for everything. Make it a habit to pray for all your needs, large or small.

Your main prayers should be for fundamentals, that God should help you with your devotions, that you should be worthy of coming closer to Him.

Still, you should also pray for even trivial things. God may give you food and clothing and everything else you need, even though you do not ask for them. But then you are like an animal.

“God gives every living thing its bread without being asked. He can also give it to you this way. But if you do not draw your life through prayer, then it’s like living like an animal. A man has to draw all of his necessities from God via his prayers.”

==

The first thing we have to really clarify is what sort of ‘lack’ are we talking about, here? In our superficial, money-obsessed, materialistic world, the word ‘lack’ automatically conjures up a lack of stuff.

  • I lack a big, expensive house…
  • I lack a fancy car….
  • I lack the money to go on holiday…
  • I lack the ability to eat out in expensive restaurants and to buy nice clothes…

And so on, and so forth.

Clearly there are material needs – part of what Rebbe Nachman refers to as ‘trivial things’ – that are still very important for a person. If we don’t have enough food to eat, we can’t pay the rent, we can’t buy even the basic clothes we need – that’s going to impact our ability to serve Hashem in some very big, fundamental ways.

Where there is no flour, there is no Torah.

From my own experiences with my husband not working, neither he nor I could really learn Torah properly, or really work on anything spiritual except just clinging on to our sanity and trying to keep hold of some emuna, when we ran out of money.

When you can’t buy food, when you can’t buy toilet paper, when you’re worrying about the electricity getting switched off, you have zero peace of mind and very little ability to sit down and pray (unless you’re genuinely a huge tzaddik, which honestly? Most people are not.)

That’s why you need a minimum amount of ‘flour’ before you can have some Torah, and that’s why Rebbe Nachman says you should certainly be praying for your ‘trivial’ physical needs, even though they aren’t so ‘spiritual’.

There’s so much fake piety washing around the frum world that sometimes, even basic ideas like this aren’t properly understood. You can’t expect a kid to want to live and love a life of Torah learning if they live in a home where there is no food on the table, and no shoes for them to wear.

A few, extremely righteous people, can live like that, and love Torah so much they won’t feel the material lack and the physical deprivation, but most of us are no-where near that level. So, we have to have the basic stuff we need to feel sufficiently taken care of, physically and materially.

BUT – then Rebbe Nachman comes to warn us – don’t take praying for the gashmius to an extreme.

Don’t think that praying for stuff is the point, because it really isn’t.

The ‘lack’ that Rebbe Nachman is talking about is first and foremost spiritual. We lack daat, (deep spiritual understanding). We lack emuna, the real belief in God, and God’s goodness. We lack self-awareness and empathy. We lack good middot. We lack closeness to Hashem.

It’s these spiritual lacks that are really causing us all the other lacks in our life, be it ‘lacks’ in health, money, success, shalom bayit, inner peace, whatever it is.

Rebbe Nachman teaches in Likutey Moharan that all our suffering is caused by a lack of daat – a lack of spiritual understanding. When a person has daat, they don’t suffer, regardless of what’s going on in their lives, and they don’t feel that they lack anything – even if they really are objectively lacking.

How do we get more daat, and fill in more of these spiritual ‘lacks’?

By talking to God on regular basis.

The more we do that, the more we’ll start to understand how our bad middot and lack of emuna is really at the root of all the other ‘lacks’ and suffering that we’re experiencing.

Also, when you go through an experience where you have no toilet paper, you can’t put food on the table, you can’t move forward in life, no matter how hard you try, that starts to teach you to have more humility and more gratitude.

Everything is a free gift from Hashem.

God decides the outcome of everything, not our practical effort, and not even how much time we spend doing hitbodedut.

In the West, we take so much for granted, and have such high expectations. We think God owes us a whole bunch of stuff. It’s not enough we have food, it has to be expensive organic, or fancy restaurant. It’s not enough we have a roof over our head, it has to be completely renovated and massive. It’s not enough we have our own healthy teeth in our gums, they have to be totally straight and pearly white.

The Sages teach that a person dies with not even half of his desires fulfilled.

Again, the more we work on the underlying spiritual causes for our sense of ‘lacking’, the more appreciation we’ll develop for what we do have, and the easier we’ll find it to be happy with our lot – however God has decided ‘our lot’ should be.

But with the proviso that our basic physical needs have to be being met, because otherwise, the anxiety and stress of not having enough food, or money to pay rent and bills etc, will just take us out, mentally, and close down our ability to think.

And if you can’t even think straight, it’s very hard to pray, and it’s very hard to have the peace of mind, or yishuv daat required to think things through to see what you might need to be doing differently, to get things to improve.

But once these basic needs have been met – and our basic needs are far more ‘basic’ than most of us are willing to accept, in 2018 – then should focus on acknowledging our blessings, and put the emphasis on developing our relationship with God and fixing our bad middot.

Q: How can one do an hour every day without repeating oneself, being bored to death and feeling that this is not really conducive to constant growth?

This is a good question, and it really goes to the heart of what is hitbodedut really for?

We’re taught that three things are acquired through suffering:

  • Torah
  • Eretz Yisrael
  • The world to come

This teaches us that true spiritual growth is always ‘earned’ via suffering, in some way or other.

There’s an idea that we don’t keep mitzvahs because they actually give us so some tangible benefit, although clearly, they often do. Rather, there’s a higher level of keeping mitzvahs just because God said to do them, which is called lishma, for its own sake.

Yes, a person can keep Shabbat because it gives them a break from work, and it gives them quality family time, and they enjoy the socializing, or the extra time to read and learn Torah, or the Shabbos shluff on Saturday afternoon, or the great cake their wife makes for Shabbat.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying all these ‘fringe benefits’ of keeping Shabbat, and we’re meant to find ways to honor the Shabbat, and to make it more enjoyable and something to look forward to, physically.

But all that stuff is not the main point.

The main point of keeping Shabbat is because God told us to do it.

And we have to keep Shabbat even if we’re bored to tears, lonely, forgot to cook anything beforehand, or are generally really just not enjoying it so much.

(So many baal teshuvas will tell you the first time they tried to keep Shabbat, they nearly went crazy from the boredom and ‘tedium’ of the day. Beginnings are always hard, especially when it comes to spiritual matters where the results and benefits are often so intangible.)

It’s the ‘suffering’ that we’re willing to go through to acquire these mitzvahs that really make them so precious in God’s eyes, because then it’s clear that we’re only doing them because God said so. Lishma. And not because we are feeling some huge benefit ourselves.

Same with doing hitbodedut for an hour.

Why do an hour?

Because Rebbe Nachman told us to. There is no other reason for doing an hour. Why did Rebbe Nachman tell us to do an hour? Because he could see there is some massive spiritual benefit associated with talking to God for an hour a day, that you just don’t get any other way.

Do we believe Rebbe Nachman knows what he’s talking about?

(You can answer that quietly).

But, if the answer is ‘yes’, if we really do have emunat tzaddikim, and we believe that Rebbe Nachman is a big Sage, and we are relying on his much greater spiritual insight and knowledge, then we’ll take his advice to do an hour a day very seriously.

But then, what do we do if we’re not really enjoying it, if it’s just too hard?

Let’s go back to the Shabbos example.

The BT really wants to keep Shabbat, he knows it’s the right thing to do, he knows it’s what God wants, he even knows that at some point, he’ll see huge benefits from keeping Shabbat. There are some BTs that can go ‘cold turkey’ and just start keeping Shabbat fully from day one. But there are others, many others, who can’t.

This BT also wants to keep Shabbat.

But…he’s addicted to his i-Phone. He’s addicted to watching movies. He’s addicted to going to the beach with his friends on Shabbat, or going to watch football.

What do we say to this BT? Do we say ‘give up, and don’t bother! It’s just too hard!’

Nope.

Instead we say – keep aiming for small but steady improvements.

Every week, try to do a bit more to ‘remember’ the Shabbat, and a bit less to desecrate it. Do Kiddush Friday night, stay home, try to bench after the meal. Work up slowly, slowly.

We also give him strategies to make keeping Shabbat a bit easier and less onerous. Start trying to keep Shabbat in the Winter months, when it’s cosy to stay home Friday night and the day is over by 5pm.

Try to find friends to invite over, and get invited out, so you don’t get so bored and the time will pass faster. Start learning more, so you understand why keeping Shabbat is so important. Speak to other BTs who started keeping Shabbat, to see if they can give you any useful tips or encouragement, or tell you about the benefits they started to see in their own lives.

Same with hitbodedut.

It’s not perfect? It’s not a full hour? You get bored and antsy?

Don’t give up!

Keep aiming to do the full hour. Keep asking God to show you why it’s important to do it, keep building the will to eventually do a full hour.

Sooner or later, it will come, if you don’t give up on it.

There’s one more thing to add here, and that is this:

Whatever is stopping you from doing hitbodedut, that’s what is also holding you back in your real life, too.

That’s why if you can ‘fight through’ the obstacles to doing an hour of hitbodedut, you’ll also start to see a whole bunch of things start to move in other ways, as well.

In Likutey Moharan 1: 74, Rebbe Nachman gives a whole discourse about Hoshana Rabba and Simchat Torah, most of which is extremely obscure and hard to understand.

But these are the parts I picked out as speaking to me, at least, going into our next few days of chag:

“Hoshana Rabbah corresponds to unintelligent speech, for it corresponds to the willow branch leaf, which resembles the lips…So, Hoshana Rabbah which represents judgment, the aspect of the Fear of Isaac, is drawn from immature consciousness (mochin dekatnut, literally ‘small mindedness’, which is why its speech is still without intelligence (da’at).

“However, Simchat Torah corresponds to intelligent speech, which is the life-force of the soul, as stated in the Zohar, “Fortunate are those who know the paths of the Torah and toil in it in an upright way. They plant Above a tree of life of all healing.

“This corresponds to Jacob, the aspect of wisdom, of mature consciousness, which is the healing of the soul, as in, “A charitable sun with healing in its wings.” For the sun corresponds to Jacob, who corresponds to wisdom, to intelligent speech, which is an aspect of the Torah, of Simchat Torah, which corresponds to the tree of healing.”

Feel free to come up with your own ideas of what Rabbenu is trying to put across here, as Rebbe Nachman himself firmly encouraged his followers to develop novel ideas and interpretations from his teachings, as long as they stayed firmly within the bounds of Torah law.

But here’s what I think Rabbenu is teaching us about this time of Hoshana Rabba / Simchat Torah:

In a nutshell – that we need to work on our communication with the people we love, to ensure that we’re speaking openly and honestly and from a place that will ultimately result in a ‘healing of the soul’.

When the soul is happy, the emotions are balanced, and the body and physical health is also usually the best it can be.

And vice-versa.

So many of us today find it so hard to speak honestly and gently, especially to our spouses and children.

Especially to the people we most love in the world. So many of us are scared to be ‘the real us’, or to feel our real feelings, and certainly to express them in an open way.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons we take the willow branches on Hoshana Rabba and smack them into the floor a few times, because we’re trying to dislodge all the superficial, plastic ‘small minded’ speech that keeps us so far away from really connecting to our loved ones.

Today is the day for breaking down the spiritual and mental barriers that are preventing us from speaking openly about the things that really matter, and from telling out spouses and kids (and others…) how much we really love and care for them.

And then tomorrow, once we’ve freed our soul and our facility of speech from the klipot that are encasing them, we can really celebrate the giving of the Torah with full-on, deeply-felt, sincere joy and simcha.

In this generation of i-Phones and emails, so many of us are hiding behind Facebook posts and Instagram because it’s easier to feel superficially ‘connected’ like that, than to really risk a genuine soul-connection.

But today’s the day that can all change!

So take your willow branches, and smash them into the floor.

And then go tell your significant others how much you really love them, and how much they really mean to you.

Over the last decade, and particularly over the last five years or so, I’ve had so many occasions when after a lot of investment, time, effort, prayers etc, it seems I got left empty-handed.

Nothing to show for all that output. All those tefillot. All that time spent working on my middot, or trying to move forward in life.

When you get that ‘empty handed’ feeling, it can so take you down so quickly, and make it seem as though there’s really no point trying and more, or continuing any longer, or picking yourself back up.

But that’s a huge lie spread around by the yetzer.

Here’s what’s really happening, courtesy of a Rebbe Nachman parable:

Once, a man was granted the opportunity to go to the King’s treasury for hour. He was told that whatever he managed to grab hold of and carry out of the treasury would be his – riches for life!

So he showed up to the treasury at the appointed time, and started frantically running around trying to grab the most valuable and easy-to-carry stuff. He staggered back to the exit with his booty – and the guard on the gate slapped it all out of his hands.

Shocked, the man turned around and started frantically trying to amass more diamonds and gold objects. Again, he came over to the exit – and again, the guard on the gate slapped everything out of his hands.

Again, the man had to start all over again. And again. And again. And each time, the guard on the gate would slap it all away, leaving him with nothing.

At one point, the man got so dejected he slumped down on the floor and simply couldn’t find the energy or will to drag himself up again. What’s the point? The guard on the gate would slap it all out of his hands leaving him with nothing to show for himself.

Yet, in that very low place a small voice whispered to him: “Stand up! Try again! Keep going! This is all going to turn around for the best, you’ll see!”

So the man stood back up, collected more items – and had them slapped out of his hands again.

And again.

And again.

Until finally the hour was up.

As that moment approached, the guard on the gate finally let the exhausted man leave with whatever he was carrying.

Which is when he got his second massive shock of the day: all of the treasure that had been slapped out of his hands was waiting for him outside the treasury.

The guard on the gate came over and explained:

“What can one person carry, all by himself? Not so much. So the King gave me orders to keep slapping your treasure out of your arms, so you’d be free to collect even more…”

And that’s how it is with us, too.

God keeps slapping all our ‘treasure’ away, because He wants us to go and collect more mitzvahs, more brownie points, more kindnesses, more humility, more emuna.

The real diamonds.

And when the hour is up, that’s when we’ll see just how much we’ve really amassed, despite all the times we walked around feeling lost and empty.

So don’t give up.

We’re nearly there.