When HaShem examines a soul before it is born and sees that it can make converts to Judaism and influence mankind to return to God.1 He sees to it that this soul is surrounded by controversy. Looking at the world today, we see examples of people who possess this quality and are, in fact, successful in arousing people to do teshuva, and even making converts. HaShem Himself ensures that there is a certain stormwind encircling such a person.2
This stormwind exists before the soul is born, as well as after it enters the world. It is a tumult that manifests itself in many different ways, coming from any direction. We are witness to how all types of controversy are played out in the world. The controversy surrounding a greater person is expressed at a higher level. For instance, certain people may say he/she is acting improperly according to the Kabbalah, or that he/she is out of line according to a particular subtle religious issue. Someone of lesser stature may be maligned via more material issues, such as financial matters. Or for example, in the case of a simple Jew who has the quality to bring people back to God, others on a similar simple level might say, “Who do they think they are? You know what? They’re not so great! After all, we are simple people!” All kinds of lashon hara surround this soul. Even further, although it is for the good, God sees to it that this type of slander is readily accepted as fact.
I’m using these examples because we’ve already experienced them, especially during the time of the Baal Shem Tov. At that time, God directed the controversy in a way that the lashon hara was accepted. In other words, it wasn’t slander that just hung in the air without adhering to the person. It caught on and was accepted as fact. This is what is meant by controversy.
Why must this soul be surrounded by controversy? Rebbe Nachman answers the question by quoting the Talmud, “Converts are not accepted in the time of Mashiach or in the days of King Solomon.”3 For a significant period during Solomon’s reign, the Jewish nation, “sat each under their grapevine, each under their fig tree,” meaning that it was a time of tremendous goodness and peace. It is difficult for us to imagine a world without war, political strife, or raging conflict, but during this specific period of Solomon’s reign, everything was quiet and tranquil. A Jew would arise in the morning amidst a sea of tranquility, having enough time for all of his devotions—to immerse in the mikveh and then pray properly with a settled mind. Afterwards, he would eat breakfast and go out to work. Tremendous blessing rested on everything at the material and spiritual level, and was the embodiment of “each under their grapevine, each under their fig tree.”
It was also a time when King Solomon sat upon what is called God’s Throne, Kisey HaShem. It is also known as the heavenly Throne of Glory. According to the Talmud, Solomon ruled over the inhabitants of the upper and lower worlds. By associating the term, Kisei HaShem with King Solomon, it indicated that he ruled not only over the entire earth, but over additional worlds as well. For this reason, the angels were frightened of him. They knew that when God commissioned them to bring shefa (bounty) into the world, they were obligated to fulfill their function. No opposing forces hindered the abundant blessing, because they were afraid of Solomon. The shefa itself was one of spiritual and physical calm.
According to all the holy sources, the same conditions will exist during the days of Mashiach, when the unique beauty of the Jewish people will be revealed to the nations of the world. This revelation is one of the reasons we look forward to the time of Mashiach. Obviously, during a time of such magnificence, there will be those from the nations of the world who will desire to be a part of the same honor. However, they won’t be accepted, since converts to Judaism are accepted only before Mashiach’s arrival, when the Jewish people have a lowly standing in the world. It is written that during the time of Mashiach, everything will be set out like a king’s table, which will attract those desiring to convert. However, their motives will not be based upon love for G-d and His Torah, or the belief that Am Yisrael are the chosen people, which obeys a higher calling. Rather, their motives will be driven solely by the greatness of Israel which will then be apparent to all. The essence of choice for a true convert is when they convert when Israel is poor and downtrodden; this is the only time converts can be accepted. Under these conditions, if someone nonetheless says, “Be that as it may, I still want to be part of this chosen people,” they are accepted.4 Thus, it is written, “Converts are not accepted in the days of Solomon or in the days of Mashiach” when the Jews are at the apex of their glory.
This is why, according to Rebbe Nachman, a soul which has a strong ability to positively arouse others to good and cause converts, by definition, enjoys no peace. It must be surrounded by controversy. This ensures sincere motives on the part of those who come close or convert through the influence of this soul. The situation of unrest applies both to this influential soul as well as to those who are influenced. If there was no turbulence, it would be considered in the category of “not accepting converts in the times of Mashiach” when motives for conversion are not genuine. It is now clear why a commotion must surround this soul. It is simply another test for those who desire to come closer to God. Someone will whisper in their ear, “You are associated with this individual? Stay far away!” They are tested at every step. They have no quiet, which serves to check if their love is authentic. If they prevail nonetheless, it will be clear that their motives are proper and genuine, and they will be allowed to draw near.
You may encounter someone who is gifted with the ability to speak in such a convincing manner that there is no room for argument, since you know they are right. In this case, it seems you have little choice but to draw near. Nonetheless, if you know in advance that this same person will be bombarded by all sorts of things said about them, you can come to the proper conclusion and draw near nonetheless. When you overcome the challenge, it proves the purity of your motives. That is how it works. The world is like a gold refinery that purifies us to the extent we allow. This is our work here and the purpose of our lives.
Rebbe Nachman describes how a kernel of grain turns into a field of wheat. Only after it completely decomposes beneath the ground and becomes nothing, does it begin to develop into something. A blade of grass sprouts, and what happens? It gets drenched by rain and then battered back and forth by the wind. Such is the growth process.
It is commonly known in the world of sports that the biggest star athletes don’t usually come from tranquil backgrounds. Davka they come out of poverty-stricken neighborhoods. Growing up in the midst of dire need taught them how to deal with life and prove themselves. This is not a new phenomenon, it is how the world is set up. Fortunately, this was revealed to us in advance by the tzaddikim, which opens our eyes to the challenges ahead. Sometimes, we want to take off in a certain direction, but suddenly all sorts of unexpected disturbances crop up and hold us back. If you know in advance that the world is a place of constant adaptation and adjustment, it is easier to navigate. It simply doesn’t go any other way in life.
Someone who faces no challenges should know they are receiving their olam haba in this world. In other words, HaShem is paying their reward to them here in this world—and woe unto us if this is the case. The Talmud writes that whoever God doesn’t want to see in olam haba, the next world, he compensates in this world for whatever good they may have done. King David refers to this phenomenon in Psalm 73. He laments how the wicked seem to have a good life, since they don’t work or sweat for their livelihood. They appear to have everything, and even more than they want. “My feet almost slipped, I nearly lost my foothold, for I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”
According to the Gemara, witnessing this paradox can cause a crisis in faith. At the end of the same chapter, King David says, “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” We understand this to be an issue of emunah (faith), and see how his heart was straightened out after he received insight into how the world really works.
God acts out of love, not because He wants to cause suffering. He wants to bring us to the true good, the abundant good hidden away for us in the future. In order to get there, we must traverse a path wrought with challenges, because without it, we will get nowhere.
The Talmud relates a story about a sage who became anxious if thirty days passed without some misfortune, even as small as a glass breaking. He feared a portion of his olam haba was being taken away if he experienced no trouble. We see from this that at least the tzaddikim, if not the Jewish people themselves, knew very well that there is no such thing as a trouble-free life. It is something only for the tzaddikim in the world to come, where they will “sit with crowns [on] their heads, basking in the light of the Shechina.”5 This can only occur in the future world. In this world, we must be prepared to work hard.
Don’t say to yourself, “So what? What is the worst that could happen? So I won’t work so hard—I just won’t have such an olam haba…” With these thoughts, you think now you’ll have some quiet here? You still won’t have tranquility, because we are all born with a fixed amount of difficulty that we need to undergo in our lives.
“Happy is one who trusts in HaShem.” Sometimes a sleepless night is decreed upon a person. Although it can’t be known in advance, if it happens, someone with a little intelligence will get up, take a holy book and learn something, thus passing the decree of the sleepless night. Someone else however, can have a toothache decreed and be kept awake all night. Both situations are from heaven. In other words, everyone is given a prescribed measure of suffering in the world that can’t be avoided. Someone who doesn’t suffer here should know that it waits for him in the future world—and they need the most compassion of all.
It is absolutely vital to realize we now live in a period well after the terrible conflicts that plagued the time of the Baal Shem Tov, and then afterwards with his students and their students. Yet today, unfortunately, fierce arguments and conflicts still occur between various groups and we sometimes think, “HaShem, until when? How much longer is it possible to suffer?” However, if we know about the challenges of drawing nearer to God in advance, it is much easier to navigate through them without wallowing in the pain or being drawn too deeply into the experience. Whether it is external difficulties or internal issues of satisfaction in life, children, or health, etc., it is important not to get overly caught up with the difficulties. Rather be thankful and know that they are directly from heaven.
Tzaddikim who are on a high level don’t experience life’s difficulties as suffering, because they know everything is for the best. They are able to say, “This too is for the good.”6 They don’t just believe in the concept; they clearly see and feel the good. In time, maybe we will also feel how everything we go through is for the best, that it is mamash for the good. In the final analysis, this is how we divest ourselves of the bad within us. When we recognize the good in everything, then it is all actually transformed into good. There will be no tragedies or evil in the world. We must deeply instill within ourselves faith in the tzaddikim; such faith certainly exists in the world today, Baruch HaShem. However, there is still the need to strengthen ourselves even more with it.
When we want to truly draw a little closer to Judaism or Chassidut, barriers will be experienced. The obstacles aren’t necessarily only on the outside. There are also the internal doubts which sprout up and seem overwhelming, God forbid. It helps a great deal to remember that this world is a place of purification and tikkun, meant to refine us. Happy is the person who realizes and accepts this as the true nature of how the world operates.
May we be blessed with progressively higher levels of awareness of how everything is for the good, and the knowledge of how to successfully navigate through life’s sea of challenges. May God grant us the ability to draw close to Him along with the strength and courage to weather any storm surrounding the truth. May we merit the complete redemption speedily in our days. Amen.
Translated and adapted from a talk given in Tsfat to a group in Sydney, Australia.
- As Abraham and Sarah did while in Haran; see Genesis 12:5.
- Based on Likutei Moharan 228
- Yevamot 47a
- Berakhot 17a
- Taanit 21a