The Power of Yom Kippur & Ascending the Spiritual Ladder
Everyone has shortcomings and mistakes that require teshuva, the spiritual repair known as “repentance. The possibility of teshuva was granted to the world as a gift, and comes from profound Divine compassion. The way teshuva actually works is something that defies logic or human comprehension. Teshuva is also counted as one of the constant mitzvot that is incumbent upon everyone. King Solomon says, “For there is not a righteous man upon the earth who does good and does not sin.” (Eccles. 7:20)
Let’s say that a person completely breaks something belonging to another. According to halacha, in most cases, a replacement would need to be purchased, since the original is irreparable and lost. This is not the case with teshuva, which involves the ability to fix the actual thing broken in the first place.
According to the gemara, if one’s teshuva is based on fear of sin, then the deed is considered unintentional. However, if one does teshuva and returns out of love, the misdeed itself is transformed into merit, and actually counted as a mitzvah. How is this possible?
The possibility of such a transformation comes from HaShem’s compassion on the world. Our sages identify the great potency of teshuva as coming from the fact that it preceded the creation of the world, when everything was good and perfect. If it would have come into existence after creation, it would have been irrelevant, since when something is broken beyond repair, that should be it. Yet, regarding the damage caused by our actions, HaShem preceded the illness with the cure. He created a world dependent upon teshuva, since there is “not a righteous man upon the earth who does good and does not sin.” In order for the world to function, teshuva needed to predate creation so that the moment a person damages or destroys something, a remedy is already waiting.
TESHUVA AND YOM KIPPUR
There is also one day of the year when HaShem repairs the past and purifies us, erasing all that is undesirable. The essence of the day itself atones not only for many intentional sins, but even for certain things done by someone who is completely unaware it is Yom Kippur and does not observe the day!
Yet, according to Rebbe Nachman, teshuva is ongoing. It is usually understood that when you know you did something wrong, as long as you take upon yourself not to repeat it, the issue is considered closed. However, Rebbe Nachman explains that teshuva is not a one-time event. An even higher level of teshuva is required, despite the fact we already did teshuva on a particular action. We need to return to it again and repent on yet another level.
On Yom Kippur, there is a special mitzvah to confess, and there are ten different times we confess wrongdoing in the order of the day’s prayers. According to Jewish law, we not only verbally confess transgressions of the current year, but from the previous year as well, despite the fact that we already repented last year on Yom Kippur. This Yom Kippur there is still a mitzvah to do teshuva again by confessing anew everything that happened in the past.
Why do we have to dig up the past and confess all over again, particularly when we already did teshuva for it? Rebbe Nachman explains that when you verbally admit, “I sinned, I transgressed,” etc., it is very difficult to say these words with a completely pure heart. In other words, teshuva must be done on our first teshuva, when our hearts were less pure.
This is alluded to in the verse, “They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.” (Isa. 29:13) When you admit your wrongdoing and take upon yourself to be better, you become worthy of kavod HaShem, [a level where you are encompassed in the honor of HaShem]. Kavod HaShem is attained through nullifying your ego and being concerned solely for the honor of heaven. When teshuva is done from this place, honor is “restored” to HaShem.
Still, the rest of the verse says, “…their hearts are far from Me.” Even when you already did teshuva, repentance is still necessary for your previous teshuva, since it was done only according to your understanding of HaShem’s greatness at the time. When you ascend to a higher level afterwards, your mind becomes more purified, and you comprehend HaShem’s greatness at a completely different level. Even if you initially understood that HaShem is extremely great, your conception was still limited, since if you had understood at a higher level, you wouldn’t have transgressed in the first place. Relative to your current more spiritual level, your previous understanding is now considered “physical” because it limited the greatness of HaShem in your heart and mind.
To illustrate, say an ordinary person is sitting in synagogue and someone passes by and unintentionally trips over him. The one who tripped immediately says, “I’m so sorry! It was an accident!” Contrast this with another scenario. Instead of an ordinary person, this time he accidentally trips over an important person so forcefully that that person falls off his chair. Now, a completely different level of apology is needed, since not only is it a more distinguished person, but the force of the blow is much stronger than in the previous example.
This is similar to our situation with HaShem. To the extent we realize His greatness, we understand that every transgression has a much deeper impact than initially thought. Likewise with our example, the level of requesting forgiveness is much different between the insult of an ordinary person, or someone who is greater. Likewise, the more you understand the greatness of HaShem, the more you understand how even a seemingly small thing is an insult to His honor. The request for pardon must be commensurate with our current level of understanding. As we progressively raise ourselves up, we will experience an increased understanding of the enormity of our misdeeds. They now will require a new teshuva, demanding more of our heart and mind.
Teshuva becomes even more subtle the higher you ascend spiritually, since it will begin to involve the thought process itself. A level can be reached where the teshuva is not so much on the transgression anymore, as our actual thought and misconception that HaShem is limited in some way. We may intellectually understand the idea that HaShem’s greatness is unlimited, but our hearts are not yet sufficiently purified to feel it. We may say the words by rote, as described in the verse, “With their lips they honor Me,” but our heart doesn’t comprehend the true meaning of G-d’s limitless nature, thus, “…they are far from Me.” To the extent we are unable to understand the infinity of the Divine, we are in effect placing a limitation on the honor of HaShem in our hearts and minds. This is what requires teshuva. For this reason, according to Rebbe Nachman, in order to progress step by step up the spiritual ladder, one must constantly hold onto the attribute of teshuva.
SHABBAT AND TESHUVA
The entire dynamic of teshuva is intrinsically connected to the world to come, when it will be completely Shabbat—all teshuva. The connection between Shabbat and teshuva is alluded to in the verse, “…and you shall return to the Lord your G-d…” (Deut. 30:2) “You shall return” is v’shavta, the same Hebrew letters as the word, “Shabbat.” When will this return happen? It will occur in olam haba, the world to come, when it will be only Shabbat. Olam haba is defined as a progressive attainment of knowledge of HaShem, where each of us will perceive HaShem at our own level. And then, every time you come to a greater level of understanding, teshuva will be required on your previously more limited understanding. The nature of olam haba is the continual attainment of a greater understanding of HaShem. We will then fulfill the verse, “…and you shall return to the Lord your G-d.” Shabbat and teshuva will be one.
The profound connection between Shabbat and teshuva is quite relevant today. We rest on Shabbat, but what is our true purpose on this holy day? Any thoughts of our own wrongdoing must be brought to a state of rest so there will not be even a hint of improper deed or a damaged world on Shabbat. However, while Shabbat is a time of teshuva, it is not a time of confession. It is a time for spiritual ascent and elevation. So how is teshuva done without confessing? On Shabbat, teshuva is based on understanding rather than confession; it is accomplished when you come to a higher understanding of the greatness of HaShem and then do teshuva on your previous understanding. This is what will define our olam haba, but we can also attain this now on Shabbat. Such is the power of Shabbat, and this opportunity recurs every seven days.
TESHUVA AND HAPPINESS
Generally, when a person senses the seriousness of their situation after doing something wrong, teshuva is done with a broken heart. But there is another aspect to teshuva not commonly discussed. We witness on Yom Kippur how some people appear sad and may even weep in their efforts to do teshuva. They find it difficult to greet others during the course of the day, since they think it will detract from the seriousness of the holy day. However, truthfully, Yom Kippur should be the happiest day of the year, since it is a day of total forgiveness. We confess, and HaShem forgives and erases all of our undesirable deeds. We can dance from joy the entire day that such a thing is occurring. This positive attitude should also be conveyed at home to our families every year. Who needs to eat on such a day? We are like people in olam haba who have no need to eat or drink. This joyful attitude has practical relevance as to how to experience Shabbat as well, since teshuva and Shabbat are deeply connected.
RUNNING & RETURNING
Rebbe Nachman gives further definition to teshuva. When you want to embark on the path of teshuva, you need to be expert in the “going.” Two types of expertise are needed here: One in the running (ratzo) and one in the return (shov). This concept is alluded to in the vision of the prophet Ezekiel [1:14] where he describes how the angels were “running and returning,” as they served and praised HaShem.
The same concept applies to us. In the evening prayer, we say the blessing of hashkiveinu, where we ask, “…and remove the satan from before us and from behind us.” Sometimes when you begin something new in your quest for holiness, you experience such great enthusiasm together with expectations far beyond your actual capabilities. This is merely another strategy of the yetzer hara to set you up for a big fall when you don’t meet your unrealistic expectations. This is what is referred to in the verse, “Remove the satan from before us and from after us.” “Before us”—before we charge ahead to accomplish our goal. “Behind us”—afterwards when we fail to meet our expectations, and everything comes tumbling down where we are unable to do the things even within our power. A person needs tremendous Divine compassion at this point.
Failure to achieve a desired result after unrealistic expectations (or even realistic ones), should be your signal to guard yourself against becoming weak or falling. When you start something with good intentions and desires, be happy with whatever you accomplish; don’t fall into frustration or despair. It helps to know this in advance, when you are “running.” Then afterwards, during the return, you will be able to protect yourself from falling into a low place, and you’ll be able to renew your strength once again. If it didn’t go this time, so try again with more realistic expectations.
KING DAVID ON RUNNING & RETURNING
There is yet another aspect to the concept of “running and returning.” Rebbe Nachman explains that it is a zechut when you are able to both enter and exit an endeavor in the right way. King David describes running and returning in the verse, “If I ascend to the heavens, You are there; if I go down to the depths, You are there.” (Psa. 139:8)
The first section of the verse refers to when you undergo a spiritual ascent and feel as if you were in heaven, close to HaShem. This can happen after teshuva or when you see how much HaShem helped you beyond your wildest expectations. Yet King David sharpens the idea further as if to say, “Listen well, if you go to heaven, You are there.” There meaning not here. In other words, HaShem is still far from you. You need to come yet closer to HaShem, since He is “over there,” far away, so don’t bask in the feeling that you have already arrived at the ultimate level. Even if you ascend to heaven, know that it is still far from you. Strengthen yourself and your good aspirations to strive even higher, since you haven’t yet “made it.” There is still much more work ahead to come closer to HaShem.
The second part of the verse refers to when you experience a fall so great that you feel as though you’ve fallen into a pit—into sheol—a place much deeper in the earth from where people normally walk. You can become saddened even without a specific reason. The yetzer hara works overtime to give you a feeling of worthlessness. He can convince you that you’ve completely fallen into the lowest of depths, with no ability to pick yourself up. King David writes that this is where HaShem says, “Here I am. I am here in the deepest pit together with you. Let’s ascend together.”
You can say, “Ribono shel Olam! I made a mistake, but You are here with me wherever I have fallen. I want to raise myself up.” HaShem will immediately give you the strength to ascend. You can feel HaShem in this way, and derive strength to get up again. This is the way of teshuva.
Don’t let the temptations of the yetzer hara drag you into feelings of worthlessness and despair. The yetzer hara will give you a good feeling at first, only to trip you up later by making you feel like nothing, draining you of the strength to stand up. Rampant thoughts fill your mind: “You really messed up this time. Don’t you know yourself already? You’ll never change, so who do you think you are to try to get up again…” Don’t become overly emotional or despair out of proportion, since if despair doesn’t exist, according to Rebbe Nachman, then it doesn’t exist regarding any fall or failure.
Now it can be understood why expertise in “running and returning” is needed. Progress must be made step by step. While you are running and ascending, appeal for Divine compassion that you shouldn’t fall, but if you do, that you have the strength to get up immediately again and again. This is the wondrous expertise that Rebbe Nachman is teaching us.
The secret of teshuva was created before the creation of the world out of Divine compassion. Because of this, we have the ability to strive continually to come closer to HaShem. Know that HaShem is always waiting for our teshuva.
Hashem should help each of us to return in teshuva shleima. We should merit to feel Hashem’s closeness throughout the entire year, and draw all good influences upon ourselves, the Jewish people, and the entire world. For this will be how we will bring the complete redemption and the beit hamikdash very soon, in our days. Amen. ♦
Translated and adapted from a talk given from Tsfat to a group in Sydney, Australia. Lesson based on Likutey Moharan 6.
HOW DO WE WIPE OUT AMALEK TODAY?
ON PURIM, we are commanded to “remember what Amalek did to you” and to “erase the memory of Amalek.” How is this relevant to us today? The account of the war with Amalek is not merely a historical chronicle of a one-time event, but rather a description of an ongoing war from generation to generation. It is a conflict that exists in creation until the coming of Mashiach, when the name of Amalek will be completely and utterly erased. However, until then we have the job of fighting this arch-enemy.
The war with Amalek is mentioned twice in the Torah. It occurs once in Parshat B’shalach and another time in Parshat Ki Teitzei, which is read in synagogue on Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat before Purim. Within these two sections, we infer two ways of how to deal with Amalek.
Parshat Ki Teitzei begins with the Hebrew word zachor—“Remember what Amalek did to you” (Deut. 25:17). It ends with the words al tishkach—“don’t forget” (ibid. 25:19). We thus have a double warning: remember and don’t forget, indicating a strong directive to do our part in erasing Amalek from under the heavens. Elsewhere we see that G-d, too, has a part in the war with Amalek. In Parshat Zachor, G-d says to Moses “I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek.” We see how the war is fought from two directions, one from our side, and the other from G-d, as it were.
G-d’s part in the war is articulated through the verse, “The hand is on HaShem’s Throne: G-d wages war with Amalek for all generations” (Exod. 17:16). Rashi points out that the Hebrew word for throne as written here (כס) should actually be written with an aleph at the end (כסא). Quoting the Midrash, he explains that it is written with only the first two letters, since G-d says, “My Throne is not complete…”
When G-d says, “My throne is not complete…” it means that His Kingship is not complete. The Hebrew term, “HaShem” literally means “the Name.” More specifically it refers to the four-letter Holy Name of God (yud-hey-vav-hey). In the beginning of the verse, “The hand upon the Throne of HaShem,” only the first two letters (yud-hey) are written. Rashi explains that HaShem is indicating that His name will not be whole (i.e., indicated by only the first two letters yud-hey, instead of the full four-letter name) nor His throne complete (signified by כס instead of כסא) until the name of Amalek is utterly blotted out. In other words, as long as Amalek exists, the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people is considered imperfect.
Quoting the Zohar, Rebbe Nachman teaches that when the Jewish people perfect themselves through their deeds, this perfects their relationship with G-d. More specifically, it perfects emunah (faith) in G-d.
This point is illustrated through the war with Amalek during the time of Moses. When Moses would raise his hands, Israel would dominate. When he lowered them to rest, Amalek would dominate. When his hands became too heavy, Aharon and Chur supported them from each side, as it is written, “And his hands were emunah (lit.,”faith”) until the setting of the sun” (Exod. 17:10-13).
When Joshua was sent to wage physical war against Amalek, Moses was immersed in spiritual battle. His hands were outstretched in prayer until the “setting of the sun.” This was one of the times in history when the sun actually stood still in the heavens. In this instance, G-d brought this about to weaken Israel’s arch-enemy. Amalek was a skilled sorcerer who knew how to calculate the exact hour most conducive to prevail against the Jews. Through the power of faith and prayer, Moses influenced the Divine Will, causing the heavenly spheres to make the sun stand still, thus rendering Amalek’s calculations futile. Although Moses actually possessed the power to defeat and annihilate Amalek completely, he prophetically saw it wasn’t yet time. This being the case, he would raise his hands and Israel would dominate; when he rested them, Amalek would dominate. This only weakened Amalek temporarily in order to give him a measure of existence in the world until the time came to erase his memory completely.
“And his hands were emunah” refers to prayer. Rebbe Nachman teaches that this phrase indicates a level of faith attainable by anyone. Even deeper, it highlights a specific strategy in the war against Amalek that is relevant to us today. He points out that there are different kinds of faith. For instance, there is a type of faith confined to the heart. Outside, you might observe people you wouldn’t even suspect as having religious faith. However, upon speaking with them, it is apparent that they do indeed believe in G-d. Developing the conversation further, they might even say that they have faith in their hearts. This is actually true, and they are satisfied with this level. However, they possess nothing more than this degree of faith, since their faith has not yet spread to every limb of the body. For example, in the case of a male, it hasn’t yet reached his hands to the extent where it obligates him to put on tefillin every day. In other words, perhaps he understands the basic concept of faith, but it simply hasn’t spread to his limbs enough to feel the urgency of the Divine command where the arm itself compels them, “Put tefillin on me! This is why you have an arm!” This is the meaning of faith extending to all the limbs.
Of the 613 mitzvot, 248 are positive commandments. There are also 248 limbs in the human body, each corresponding to a particular mitzvah. A Jew is built in a way that faith should extend throughout the entire human body, from head to toe. If every mitzvah corresponds to a certain limb, it gives us confidence in our ability to fulfill every mitzvah in the Torah because of the compelling force of faith contained in that limb.
There are a number of ways to reach such a level of faith. Based on the teachings of the Arizal, Rebbe Nachman gives one practical example. After netilat yadayim, the ritual washing of the hands in the morning upon awakening, or before eating bread, we should raise our hands to head level, palms opposite the face while slightly to each side, in order to receive the holiness brought about through this deed. However, in order to do this, we need faith in our hands. We must believe that through raising our hands in this manner, we receive holiness, since without faith, nothing will happen. This is alluded to by King David in the Book of Psalms, “all of Your mitzvot are faith” (Psa. 119:86).
King David says to G-d: “Whatever I do or refrain from doing is because You commanded me. I have faith that You commanded me with 248 positive and 365 negative mitzvot. Despite never having seen You, I believe You exist and commanded us regarding the mitzvot in the Torah via Moses Your servant, and this obligates me.”
When the Arizal says that we should raise our hands in order to receive the holiness, we don’t necessarily feel anything, since it is something spiritual, not material. If we want to receive this holiness, we raise our hands only because of our faith. We simply believe in the words of the Arizal when he says that we receive holiness when we raise our hands after netilat yadayim.
This is important to point out since there are many types of educated people, irrespective of belief, who attempt to analyze various reasons for the mitzvot according to human reason. For example, one with a philosophical mindset who has analyzed tefillin might say, “The tefillin placed on the head is simply a box with four cells, containing a small parchment in each one. You ask him, “So why don’t you put on tefillin?” To which he would say, “What do you know about tefillin? It is the concept of the mind, and I am well aware that the human brain has four lobes. So when the Torah speaks about tefillin, it is obviously referring to the intellect and the structure of the human brain. Thus it says to make this box and put it on one’s head, etc., but this is not the essence of tefillin. How can you think that such a sublime concept as tefillin could be expressed through something as primitive as animal skin?! I have already attained its inner essence intellectually. I don’t need to actually do it!”
Unfortunately, there are countless people who have made an intellectual exercise out of the Torah, which reduces it to nothing. They are convinced they have comprehended the true greatness and significance of the Torah, but it remains only an abstract wisdom lacking any practical expression. This way of thinking is the biggest heresy—which is exactly the Amalek of our generation we are discussing.
If the Torah tells us to do a mitzvah in a particular way, we need to do it exactly that way. It is perfectly acceptable to search for the meaning of the mitzvot, but it must be after one is already bound to the deed itself. When we are immersed in the actual doing, then G-d helps afterward by bestowing an intellectual understanding of the mitzvah. Thus, through the actual performance of the mitzvah, we are able to arrive at the higher levels of intellect and understanding.
According to Rebbe Nachman, faith allows us to ascend intellectually. To the extent we have faith, we are able to attain progressively higher levels of understanding. As understanding reaches our intellect through faith, we begin to grasp what at first we only needed to believe. Increased attachment to the actual doing of the mitzvah, after initially accepting it with faith, brings us to comprehend the mitzvah intellectually. We then rise to the next level of faith higher than our current understanding. It is a process without limit.
“And his hands were emunah.” This was how Moses rose to unlimited heights through perfect faith, which permeated every limb of his body. Here, Moses teaches us a critical element in fighting the war with Amalek. Success in the war depends on faith radiating throughout our entire body, which will compel us to actively serve G-d. It is not enough to have faith only in our heart. By perfecting faith more and more, we give the war with Amalek over to G-d. Amalek symbolizes the refusal to allow G-dliness to penetrate and sanctify the world. Until Amalek is destroyed, G-d remains concealed. Neither His Name or throne is complete.
According to the Holy Zohar, when the Jewish people perfect their deeds through faith, it causes a unification of G-d’s name. This is expressed through the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people. When this happens, they ascend so high that G-d’s Throne is considered complete, together with Hashem’s full four-letter name—the essence of fighting the war with Amalek. G-d’s declaration, “I will utterly erase the memory of Amalek from under the heavens,” is a level achieved only with the coming of the Mashiach, when it will be revealed to every eye.
The coming of Mashiach brings a general and total redemption. Certain tzaddikim achieved the level where, from their vantage point, Mashiach had already come. In other words, they had perfected their faith to the extent that, as far as they were concerned, they were already living in the time of Mashiach. There was no difference between their current behavior and how they would act in the messianic age.
It is good to know from Rebbe Nachman that such a level exists and is accessible to us all. My blessing to everyone is that we rededicate ourselves to carrying out the mitzvot with deep faith and a whole heart. This will certainly establish the strong foundation needed to ascend progressively higher until understanding will enlighten our minds enough to illuminate the entire world. Hashem yimloch l’olam va’ed—“God will reign forever and ever.” Amen.♦
Translated and adapted from a talk given from Tsfat to a group in Sydney, Australia. Lesson based on Likutey Moharan 91.
1. Midrash Tanchuma, Ki Teitzei
2. Etz Chaim, Sha’ar HaKelalim
3. The ancient sorcerers used celestial configurations to determine astrological influences in the physical world and thereby predict the future of natural occurrences such as success or failure of nations and individuals. They also used methods of channeling celestial energies to influence things here in the physical world. Thus halting the sun frustrated their tactics based on a standard process of nature.
4. Targum Onkelos (ad loc.).
5. Rabbi Chaim Vital, Etz Chaim, Sha’ar 31, chap. 2; Sha’ar HaMitzvot, Eikev, Inyan “Netilat Yadayim.”
“Every lack a person experiences, whether children, livelihood, or health, comes from oneself.” ~ Rebbe Nachman of Breslev
There is an old saying, “The One Who gives life will also provide for it.” In other words, since God created the world, He most certainly provides whatever we need to exist, whether livelihood, children, health, etc. As discussed in the writings of the Arizal and many other holy books, He created the universe to bestow good on it, not so it should be lacking.
If this is true, then why do we need to exert ourselves so much in order to subsist? An animal usually has everything it needs nearby in its local environment. Why would it be different for a human being, who is considered the choice of creation?
This is Rebbe Nachman’s point. The lack is not inherent in creation—it comes from oneself. The human being was created perfect and complete, but something happened that created lack and deficiency. For example, when a baby is born, the parents hover over the infant to ensure that it is warm, well-fed, and has everything it needs. As the child grows and begins to develop its own ideas and direction in life, the parents still desire to bestow good on the child. Sometimes, the child goes out on their own and acts foolishly without realizing the damage caused to themselves and others. The parents still worry, and do their best to warn the child of the various dangers, even when he or she stubbornly persists in pursuing their own ideas.
Likewise with HaShem. As mature as we consider ourselves, we still possess only a child-like understanding of the greatness of G-d. We don’t fully grasp the extent to which He wants to benefit us, and instead, we act like immature children who make trouble. Divine light, called shefa, constantly flows to us. Descending through all of the upper worlds into this world, it arrives to fill any need we may have. Shefa is very subtle in the heavens, and once it comes into the world, it manifests as a beneficial influence. Just as parents desire good for their child, G-d’s love likewise directs the appropriate shefa to reach us in a ready-made fashion, like children, money, a home, etc. The only thing that can stop it is the shadow created by our own actions. The shefa is then experienced as a deficiency.
How do our actions create a shadow? The first thing to understand is that the nature of a shadow is relative, since a shadow is created from something more physical in relation to something more spiritual. For example, a tree will create a shadow when put up against the light of the sun or moon. The earth will also cause a shadow in the form of an eclipse, as will the moon itself. Even the sun will create a shadow in relation to something higher than it. In this case, the sun would be considered physical in relation to what is above it. Anything more physical obstructs light in relation to something more spiritual. Similarly, a person’s physicality and undesirable deeds form a shadow that obstructs the flow of shefa, since something physical will block something more spiritual.
There is a way, according to Rebbe Nachman, to circumvent this problem. If you nullify yourself by minimizing your connection to the world, no shadow is created and shefa is received unhindered. It is normal to want to fill a place in the world, or to feel you possess something. You enjoy the respect accorded to you by others, you consume, eat, drink and buy, all of which amounts to experiencing some sort of “somethingness” that defines your material existence. The more physical you are, the more it prevents you from receiving the constantly flowing divine light called shefa.
A basic understanding of human character traits can help a person move towards minimizing their connection to the world. Let’s examine the trait of humility. Everyone is born with a specific predisposition and nature, with varying levels of coarseness or arrogance at one end of the spectrum, and qualities such as humility at the other end. Each quality, though, needs to be expressed in the proper way and proportion. For example, it is a natural and positive reaction to a feel a sense of nullification or insignificance next to a greater person, not the opposite.
Likewise, we should feel our smallness in relation to Heaven. Our only desire should be to fulfill whatever role G-d gave us with self-nullification, which will naturally bring a tiny perception of God’s greatness. Even if we are not currently on this level, it is something that needs to be deeply contemplated, since it is the true reality.
As creations of G-d, we belong to Him. To the extent we comprehend this message and internalize it, our entire existence and relationship to the world will change. As we go about our daily business, we will begin to understand that we are nothing more than messengers on a mission given to us by HaShem. We will also be much less exacting of our own honor and care less about what others say or think about us. These concerns are exactly what make us more material. Freed of these concerns, we are less physical. More shefa reaches us and we experience less deficiency and lack.
The world was created with such compassion, in a way that is truly good for us in this world and the next. Consider the generation of Noah and the Flood. How did this generation come to such depravity that it had to be completely wiped out? The Midrash explains that this was actually caused by the abundant and awesome shefa they enjoyed on a constant basis. They had everything they wanted, immediately, with incredible opulence, which is what brought them to such coarseness and vulgarity. They believed the shefa came from their efforts and the strength of their own hands. They knew very well G-d was sending this goodness, but they didn’t believe He was the ultimate power behind sending it, or had the ability to halt it. When Noah repeatedly warned them about the impending flood, they taunted, “Where will the flood come from, Heaven?” since they felt they could stop the Heavenly wellsprings themselves. Although the good was indeed meant for them to enjoy, their way of thinking was a serious error because it overturned everything to the opposite.
WHERE ARE YOU HOLDING?
You can actually sense where you stand before HaShem through evaluating your current situation, whatever it may be. The very deficiency you experience is a gauge to how physical you are, since the perceived lack is a result of divine light that has been blocked. It is now expressed as a specific shortcoming, which indicates a lesser level of self-nullification to what HaShem desires.
How do we know what HaShem wants from us? According to Rebbe Nachman, it is all related to kavod—glory and honor. He writes, “The essence of the light of HaShem is kavod, since whatever HaShem created, He created only for the sake of His glory.” The entire world was created only to reveal His kavod, as written throughout the holy writings. Since HaShem’s glory fills the world, when you don’t take up space in the world, you receive the light of HaShem unhindered.
SELF-NULLIFICATION & HUMILTY
The Jewish people have an inherent power of self-nullification, which is epitomized by Moses. He brought us the Torah in such a way to show anyone, in any situation, that they are connected to the Torah and mitzvot, and what they need to uphold. Moses was considered to be the most humble human being. Although our own perception of humility is very far from its true nature, we still have some conception of it, since Jews possess a natural point of humility, which is developed when contemplating the greatness of HaShem.
Whatever we have or not, comes from HaShem because of His compassion. Internalizing this message more and more will generate full divine consciousness, which is the purpose of our existence. Our entire life experience is meant to bring us to an awareness of the One Who brought the world into existence. When this is deeply integrated into our daily outlook, we will feel no lack whatsoever in life.
This will be the experience many years after Mashiach will have already arrived, as well as in the Next World, when we will see the world in its perfection. There will be no “somethingness” that demands honor and recognition. It will be clear that you are alive only because G-d wants you to fulfill your function in the world, so you will lack nothing required to fulfill your mission. If you need money, He will give it to you. If you need health or anything else, you will receive it.
This is actually the level of the tzaddikim. They already achieved their tikkun, and see the perfection in this world now. Their pain comes only from looking at the Jewish people and seeing how far they are from their true life’s purpose. They are completely given over to bringing each Jew closer to G-d, one after another, by revealing another point of awareness in what it means to serve HaShem. These tzaddikim, with all of their perfection, are already experiencing the World to Come in this world. Rebbe Nachman insists this is not only something for spiritual giants, but for us as well. When we pray for Mashiach and the Temple, we are asking for this level—it is something we must all attain, since it is our purpose.
LEVELS OF TZADDIKIM
The world is divided into groups. Tzaddikim are also divided into different groups. There are tzaddikim in the category of Yesod Olam, foundation of the world, and there are tzaddikim on a lower level, yet the world’s existence completely depends upon all of them. The holy Zohar explicitly states that the highest level in each generation is that of Moses. Afterwards, there are the thirty-six tzaddikim called the “lamed vav” tzaddikim. According to the Zohar, there are thirty-six in the Land of Israel and thirty-six outside of Israel. The entire world stands in their merit, since without them, the world could not exist. The Zohar mentions other examples, such as a category of 10,000 tzaddikim, who are on a lower level. Nonetheless, the world requires all of these tzaddikim to exist.
We also need to place ourselves in some sort of category of tzaddikim. You may ask yourself, “Why do I need to call myself a tzaddik?” Don’t forget that we were born to carry out a specific mission, so it is not a matter of what we want or not. It is not merely a one-time task like when someone says to you, “Go bring this envelope to someone,” rather it is a mission involving your entire being and everything connected to you. Your entire life is no more that a simple shlichut—mission. For example, someone says to you, “Get on a plane, travel to a certain place and do this particular thing.” You will be well aware of why you are in that particular place, since it is part of your mission. You’ll also take care not to damage anything in the process of carrying it out. Nonetheless, at the same time, you still feel “something” from yourself since, despite being on a mission, you still need to eat, sleep, travel, accomplish, etc.
In other words, whatever you do in the world, whether sleep, eat, make money, pray, put on tefillin, or any of the other mitzvot, it is all one big mission. This is the most truthful way to think about ourselves since we have no other function in the world besides our divinely-given mission.
You may ask, “What is my mission?!” The answer lies in knowing that everything is connected to the kavod of HaShem, since He created the world to reveal His glory. Before the world came into being, there was no one to reveal His kavod. After creation, it is our mission to reveal it.
When you feel some deficiency, it is a signal that there is some sort of “shortcoming” in the revelation of G-d’s kavod. The more we reveal His kavod, the less lack we will feel. HaShem created us with all of our materiality to serve as a foundation in this world for Him, and to elevate our divine awareness until we clearly realize that we have no other function than to see the divine in every detail of life. Everything should bring us closer to the knowledge that there is a Creator of the World Who desires something from us. If it is against the Torah, it is not the desire of HaShem. Every step we take in life should bring us closer to a mindset that nothing exists beyond our appointed function in the world. Bringing children into the world, working in whatever area HaShem has brought us, or any other life situation, is all part of our mission to reveal what Hashem desires.
Delving deeper, we will sense how limited our understanding is. This is when to pour out our hearts, “Ribbono shel Olam! Heal us so we can reveal Your kavod. Give us livelihood so we can magnify Your kavod in the world. Redeem us from the oppression of outside influences, so we can carry out our mission.” The emphasis should be in this direction, rather than driven by the desire to shed the discomfort of exile. Thinking this way makes us more complete and less demanding of space and self-importance. When we achieve such a level, Rebbe Nachman promises that we will experience no lack. Obviously this is a process, but we must begin.
This is all connected to Rebbe Nachman’s concept of a self-generated shadow that blocks our own shefa. Every day, the ability to prevent its creation can be drawn from the power of Moses and his humility, since he is the primary soul in which we are all rooted. Rebbe Nachman describes how the influence of Moses is found within every limb of our body, reminding us to perform the mitzvah associated with that particular limb. His point of humility is also there, waiting to be developed. It is this point that will help us better understand how to remove our sense of “somethingness” and feel much more authentic. Most think that kavod and happiness are found by taking up more space in the world, as if this is the purpose of life. However, this point of humility will save us from being distracted or thrown off by the attractions of the world.
May HaShem help us be encompassed in the humility of Moses, so we will be able to receive an abundant influx of everything good in this world, as well as all the other worlds we will witness in the future. This blessing very much depends upon us. When we repair ourselves, we repair the entire universe. By drawing divine awareness into the world so everyone will know there is only HaShem, we will experience the good of the World to Come in this world as well. ♦
Translated and adapted from a lessed based on Likutey Moharan 172.
 Likutey Moharan 172.
 King Solomon wrote, “Elokim made Man straight, but they pursued many intrigues.” (Ecclesiastes 7:29)
 “For My glory I created…” (Isaiah 43:7); “The earth is filled with His glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)
Imagine someone giving you the private cell number of the most powerful person in the world, or granting you a daily audience with the leader of your country. In the case of hitbodedut, you can speak directly to no other than G-d Himself, during any time or place you choose.
The subject of hitbodedut is extremely broad. The idea of speaking directly to G-d from the heart in your native language was a concept championed by the holy Baal Shem Tov, and developed further by his great grandson, Rebbe Nachman of Breslev. G-d yearns for us to speak to Him in our own words. He waits for us to go over the entire list of our needs with Him, saying, “Abba, thank you. Abba, I lack this or that. Abba, please give me what I need.” This brings tremendous satisfaction and enjoyment to G-d.
One of the reasons hitbodedut is so powerful is that regular prayers need special merit to be accepted properly. This is because the prayer of a Jew must ascend to an extremely exalted level, to a place far beyond the angelic realm, directly to what is called the “crown” of G-d. Many heavenly forces, led by the yetzer hara, seek to stop our prayers by bringing all sorts of accusations against a person, who they consider to be a “lowly human”. They say, “Let’s check out exactly who this one is,” and proceed to investigate a person in an effort to block their prayers from being accepted.
Hitbodedut on the other hand, is completely different. The yetzer hara can’t figure out how to touch the words of hitbodedut because it is unable to fathom the chutzpa of a Jew, who, despite all of his or her deficiencies, has the gumption to stand before G-d and speak directly to Him. It doesn’t understand how it is possible that G-d simply accepts the prayer exactly as articulated during hitbodedut.
Although the yetzer hara is aware that hitbodedut possesses some sort of secret, it doesn’t know exactly what. Once the words are uttered during hitbodedut, they ascend unhindered, directly to G-d. For this reason, it tries to weaken the resolve of anyone trying to practice hitbodedut. Therefore, it is important to overcome any obstacles that may arise, whether mental or otherwise, and strengthen ourselves to speak freely to G-d in our own words on a daily basis.While it is impossible to measure the actual greatness of hitbodedut, one who truly applies themselves to it will discover a priceless treasure of eternal value.
Based on a lesson given by Rav Ephraim Kenig, shlita, in Tsfat.
- There are stories of the holy Baal Shem Tov where he would enter a synagogue and release communal prayers caught between heaven and earth for generations because they lacked merit.
- Don’t get angry or irritated at anything!!! That means when a child (or anyone else) spills something, don’t lose control, give a big blessing instead. Sit calmly at the table–it helps to make sure everyone has a place in advance! Conduct yourself with joy and goodness of heart. Seder night is an awesome event filled with tremendous shefa. Maintain a peaceful and relaxed atmosphere, since all the blessing of the evening flows from this point. The Yetzer Hara would LOVE to steal it away from us if we get angry.
- Minimize your speech. Prepare yourself in advance and say only what is necessary and directly related to the seder. If it is unrelated to the seder or unnecessary words, don’t say it.
- Be simple. Be 100% confident that simply sitting down to eat matza and maror with the intention that this is what the Torah commands us to do, includes all possible mystical intentions and fulfils the mitzvah completely. This CERTAINLY brings the geula closer.
May we all be blessed with exactly what we need for the Pesach seder, including the right frame of mind.
Rebbe Nachman taught, “It is a great mitzvah to always be joyful.” Not only does he say that it is a mitzvah, but a great mitzvah, as well. The question is, since when is it a mitzvah to be joyful all the time? There are certain times during the year when we are commanded to be joyful. For example, we are told to rejoice on the holiday of Sukkot, particularly during simchat beit ha-sho’eva, a ceremony dating back to when the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem. Those who rejoice on Sukkot can actually begin to sense the joy that existed during the days of the Holy Temple.
Another time in the year when joy is mandatory is during the Hebrew month of Adar, of which our sages instructed us, Mi-shenichnas Adar marbin bi-simchah—“When Adar enters, we increase joy.” The mere fact that there is a special mitzvah to increase joy during this month proves there is indeed a mitzvah to be joyful the rest of the year. Only during Adar, our role is to be even more joyful than usual. At the other end of the spectrum, there is the mourning period known as the “Three Weeks” which falls between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av [Tisha B’Av—a day of fasting and mourning over the destruction of both the first and second Temples and other calamities in Jewish history]. Other times of diminished joy include sitting shiva for seven days and the subsequent mourning period following the passing of a close family member. Nonetheless, this too is included within the framework of the mitzvah Rebbe Nachman refers to, “It is a great mitzvah to always be joyful.”
The reason these two extremes are considered part of the same mitzvah is because “always joyful” may be defined as a broad and functioning mind, i.e., a mind in its proper place. This is an essential concept in Judaism which is mentioned in the Torah itself. To clarify this idea, let’s look at when the mind works in a dysfunctional way. This occurs when one gets angry, which can happen anywhere. For instance, while waiting in line at the post office someone suddenly loses their temper. If you were to ask the individual at that very moment to explain what the problem is exactly, they would probably be unable to give a logical answer. This is because in the moment of anger, a person’s mind falls from the optimal state needed to function properly. Likewise with one who is distressed, for example, by a bank overdraft or bounced check, or even larger financial problems. He might be in such a state of mind that if someone were to call at that very moment, he would have no patience. If the caller is someone he has problems with anyway, he is likely to lose his temper when normally he would be able to control his emotions, possessing a more balanced outlook. A state of constant joy means guarding the mind at the minimum level required to act as a human being with free choice. When the mind is rendered dysfunctional, free choice disappears.
The definitive characteristic of a human being is having balanced choice. When a person is removed from this context, he or she is effectively transformed into an animal, since free choice is what distinguishes a human being from an animal. Guarding the mind’s equilibrium is directly related to happiness and joy in general, which includes the joy discussed by our sages in the context of the annual cycle of holidays, as well as Rebbe Nachman’s concept of joy. Beyond conceptual understanding, attaining this type of joy is simply a matter of accustoming ourselves to the proper definition of what constitutes true joy, since in the heat of the moment there is no time to think rationally.
It is during good moments that we can repeatedly remind ourselves to be aware and on guard when those inevitable times come that can cause us to literally lose our minds. This awareness can help us catch ourselves in time to remain balanced when a test suddenly hits out of nowhere. How many times a day are we faced with such challenges? This is exactly why Rebbe Nachman says it is a great mitzvah to always be joyful. In other words, develop a constant daily awareness that we are human beings who require a certain level of proper mind function in order to think correctly. This is something that demands reflection, prayer, and effort but the payoff is great. May G-d have compassion upon us and grant us what it takes to be a human being—a true ben adam.
- Taanit 29a 2. See Likutey Moharan I, 21
FLOODING THE WORLD WITH COMPASSION
With everything we already know about Chanukah, the 8th night of Chanukah—called Zot Chanukah—represents an utterly new concept.
Chanukah is a holiday that touches everyone since it encompasses all ages. Everyone easily relates to it and feels part of this special time. But what are the deeper dimensions of Chanukah?
The very fact that Chanukah lasts for eight days, already distinguishes it as an unusual holiday. Other holidays such as Pesach and Sukkot are seven days long. (Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah,which falls at the end of Sukkot, is considered by the Talmud to be a holiday unto itself.)
Chanukah, however, is different. It lasts eight days rather than seven. What is the significance of the number eight? Chanukah reaches just beyond the seven-day structure, which signifies the creation of the world. The seven-day week is universally accepted—beginning with Sunday and ending with Saturday—the cycle then repeats itself.
The fact that Chanukah extends beyond these seven days and lasts for eight indicates that Chanukah originates in an extremely high and exalted place. It wasn’t taken from this world at all, but rather from the future perfected world. From there, G-d drew down a type of light to give us a certain momentum—a yearning and hope—to exit from this long exile. This is the essential message of Chanukah, and it is a completely new concept having nothing to do with what transpires during the regular annual cycle. Chanukah draws its power from a place far beyond our conception, infusing us with such great hope, despite our inability to see the “light at the end of the tunnel.” This gives us a point of faith from which to draw, infusing us with a spirit of life. The light of Chanukah is a completely different type of light, since its source is higher than the seven days of creation. It is an eternal and everlasting light beyond any familiar concept of light where darkness inevitably follows. This special light, and its hope, is what Chanukah imparts to us, especially on Zot Chanukah, the eighth day of Chanukah which is the culmination of the festival.
CHANUKAH & THE 13 ATTRIBUTES OF MERCY
According to the Arizal, the eight days of Chanukah correspond to the thirteen Attributes of Mercy. How does this work if Chanukah is only eight days? The first seven days each correspond to the first seven attributes: Keil rachum v’chanun erech apayaim v’rav chesed v’emet. “ God,  merciful,  compassionate,  slow  to anger,  abundant in kindness and  truth.”
Zot Chanukah, however, encompasses the remaining six attributes in a single day: notzer chesed la’alafim nosei avon va’pesha vi’chata’a vi’nakeh. “ Preserver of kindness  for thousands of generations,  forgiver of iniquity,  [forgiver of] transgression,  [forgiver of] sin, and  Who cleanses.” It is written that these last six attributes of mercy hold the mazal, the heavenly influence, of Israel. The Gemara states, “Israel has no mazal,” meaning that Israel is not subject to the regular zodiac influences like the rest of the world, but is influenced from a much higher plane, specifically from these six attributes of mercy.
To understand this conceptually, the thirteen attributes of mercy are the spiritual channels G-d uses to direct abundant mercy into the world. This includes not only the mercy He bestows upon us Himself, but also the ability we possess ourselves to have compassion on others both individually and collectively. The truth is that if we could succeed in arousing even a single attribute of mercy, it would trigger such an abundant influx of shefa into the world that it would flood the entire planet with mercy and compassion. Only goodness and chesed would exist without any admixture of harsh judgment or tragedy.
If this is true of only one attribute, the power of all thirteen attributes is astounding. The intensity of Zot Chanukah can now be understood in proper context, since on the last day of Chanukah, six attributes of mercy are activated simultaneously to govern over us. If only we had the ability to contemplate this properly, or perhaps even the desire to grasp it correctly, it would bring such an influx of light and divine mercy into the world that we would immediately exit from exile into the wide open space of redemption, geula. However, this very much depends on us and the extent to which we think and pray about these attributes, while realizing that they operate in the world despite our inability to comprehend them. Even the greatest tzaddikim, who discuss these attributes extensively, admit to their own fundamental limitations in understanding G-d’s unlimited attributes.
It is up to us to be aware and joyful on Zot Chanukah that our mazal is bound up with and dependent upon these six attributes of mercy. Here the beauty, strength, and redemption of the Jewish people must be found.
We should never give up or become tired! Instead, we must awaken ourselves more and more. The name “Chanukah” is from the Hebrew word chinuch, education. Chinuch denotes instilling a brand new idea, introducing it for the first time. This is exactly how we should educate not only ourselves, but our children and family, as well as everyone around us: we should constantly begin anew, as if for the first time. Chanukah, Chinuch. Experience Chanukah with a renewed perspective, with hope and anticipation. Don’t catch yourself saying, “How long have I been praying over and over again for the same thing?!” Whatever happened in the past is over. Begin from this moment with refreshed strength. Say, “HaShem, we have absolutely no complaints against You. Everything is undeserved chesed. You promised redemption. Please bring us the complete redemption!”
With the sheer number of prayers, there can be no doubt that G-d will be left with “no choice,” as it were, except to bring the redemption. He will be “compelled” to redeem us because, the truth is, this is exactly what He desires. He only wants us to show how serious and ready we are for the redemption. Our prayers for redemption should not be from a place of force and demanding the end, but rather with chesed (kindness), rachamim (mercy), and much pleading. G-d will most certainly help us. He won’t leave us much longer in exile. He will hasten the redemption, soon speedily in our days, mamash, Amen. Chanukah Sameach.
He [Rabbi Akiva] used to say,“Everything is given on pledge and a net is spread out over all the living. The shop is open, the merchant extends credit, the ledger is open and the hand records therein. All who wish to borrow may come and borrow. But the collectors make their regular daily rounds and take payment from a person with or without their knowledge…” Pirkey Avot 3:16
A person usually goes about their daily life thinking that whatever they do is basically okay. Even if this is not the case, they figure if no one knows, then it’s not the end of the world; they’ll just fix it afterwards. They may even realize that God knows about their indiscretions, but since the person considers them to be only temporary, everything will somehow straighten out in the end. These are the type of thoughts that Rabbi Akiva is addressing in his statement in Pirkey Avot. He reminds us that whatever we take from this world must be left behind when we leave; nothing can be taken with us when we die.
PAYING BACK WHAT YOU EAT
One way to understand this is found in the book “Chesed L’Avraham,” written by the grandfather of the Chida, Rabbi Chaim David Azulai, a”h. He writes that when a person dies, the chevra kadisha comes to attend to the body before the levaya, or funeral. They cover the body in the place where it was when the soul departed, and everyone returns home. The deceased remains alone with himself. When the body is put into the grave, if the person enjoyed a lot from this world, the first thing that happens is that the worms come to demand their portion. In other words, they must now return whatever they took from this world, whatever they ate simply to fill their stomach. Yet if they ate only in holiness and purity, i.e., only kosher food and only in quantities necessary to sustain a healthy and strong body to serve God, then there is nothing to take back. This is one understanding of “they take payment”.
WITH OR WITHOUT HIS KNOWLEDGE
Since there are specific times during the year conducive to repentance and forgiveness, a person may think that everything automatically works out. For example, there is the month of Elul, [the Hebrew month set aside for teshuva, intensive introspection and repentance] which is followed by Rosh HaShanah and the atonement of Yom Kippur. But the reality is that God is not obligated to wait until these specific times and can send messengers to collect what is due at any point. Sometimes, one may even be aware of their situation and upon a little soul searching, may even realize they might need to go through something unpleasant. But usually, this level of self-awareness is rare and one has no realization that anything is amiss or in need of change. But God operates in His ways. It is here the idea “with or without his knowledge” comes into play.
YOU ARE YOUR OWN JUDGE
Rebbe Nachman transmits the following idea in the name of the holy Baal Shem Tov. Before any decree is issued in the world, God forbid, the entire world is assembled to give their agreement. In this instance, the “entire world” encompasses the inanimate, plant, animal, and human levels. They are all notified and asked if there is any opposition to the decree. This even includes the person who has the negative decree hanging over them. When everyone reaches agreement, the judgment is passed.
Who in the world would agree to a negative decree against oneself? Obviously, if you were to ask the person directly, they would defend themselves and oppose the judgment. For this reason, a similar situation is presented to them, and their opinion is asked without realizing it has anything to do with their own case. Someone will ask them, “What do you think about what so-and-so did?” They respond, “Whoo whoo, they deserve this or that…” In heaven they say, “Is that right? You just passed judgment on yourself…” The case is closed and the person doesn’t comprehend what just transpired. According to Rebbe Nachman, this is an example of “taking payment with or without his knowledge”.
The whole concept of how a person is asked each time about their own judgment is profoundly deep. Each word of every story we hear has lofty and exalted significance. For example, we may hear a story about two people involved in an argument that has nothing to do with us. In the rare case it does, we need to be even more careful. But most of the time, it is simply a seemingly random story where everyone takes the liberty of jumping into the fray, taking a stand on who is right or wrong, and who deserves what. The very words a person utters are then taken and applied to his own case and he will be compelled to bring his own words to fruition. This is why Rebbe Nachman advises us to be very careful about what we say. Don’t let an inadvertent word slip out in the wrong way or pass judgment on another’s behavior. If you do, you are agreeing to your own verdict, since no judgment can materialize without your agreement.
CONTROLLING YOUR THOUGHTS
King David says, Zamoti bal ya’avar pi. “My thoughts dare not pass through my mouth.” (Psalms 17:3) There are two important ways to understand this verse. Firstly, the word zamoti is related to the Hebrew word for “muzzle”—z’mam. King David alludes to this as if to say, “God! Since I don’t weigh my words seriously enough, put a muzzle on my mouth to prevent me from saying anything irresponsible or improper.”
The second explanation of how to understand this verse concerns controlling our thoughts. Sometimes a person blurts out an empty phrase, without even knowing why they said it. But the reality is that there are custodial forces appointed over a person from heaven; sometimes they are good and sometimes not. They seize upon these same words and turn them around on the one who uttered them. These ramifications ought give each of us serious pause for thought.
It is not necessary to express every thought that comes to mind. Thus King David refers here to the need for an even deeper level of restraint. He would like God to place a muzzle on his mouth to stop him from verbalizing anything that enters his head. Since according to Rebbe Nachman, it is through these very words that they “take the payment from a person with or without his knowledge”.
We witness how people suffer from a bundle of woes that they carry, whether external problems or personal health issues, God forbid. Yet the reality is that they agreed and signed off on everything. Without their agreement, these difficulties could not have materialized. One may say, “I never agreed to such a thing!” The recording is then played back for them and they are asked, “You don’t remember what you said in such and such year when someone told you a certain story? Was it any of your business to comment? You gave your commentary anyway and here are the consequences.” God should save us from ourselves!
This spiritual dynamic accompanies us every single day, hour by hour. It is written, “Whoever sits in the refuge of the Most High…” (Psalms 91). The Talmud calls this particular chapter of Psalms “a song against evil forces,” since it is recited by those who want to be saved from misfortune and accidents. For instance, when mourners attend a funeral, they recite these verses since they possess tremendous protective power against negative spiritual forces seeking to harm a person. It is further written, “His angels He will charge for you, to protect you on all your paths.” This refers to the fact that there are angels who constantly accompany a person to safeguard him from harm. According to our sages, these protective angels are more accurately called the yetzer tov and the yetzer hara, the good inclination and the evil inclination. In contrast to what most people think, they are both responsible for protecting a person from disaster, since the fundamental role of the yetzer hara is to serve a person. However, if one comes too close and is drawn after him, the yetzer hara is no longer obligated to fulfill his protective duty. One then becomes enslaved to him, and the yetzer hara does whatever he wants with the person.
FORCES CREATED FROM OUR OWN ACTIONS
Along with the yetzer tov and yetzer hara, come all sorts of other forces, God forbid, which are created when a person stumbles, for example, in eating non-kosher food or is involved with any kind of negative thoughts, speech, or actions. In this case, damaging forces are created in the world that are bound to the person who created them. These forces are called mezekei alma, “destroyers of the world.” Their whole purpose is to cause damage and they don’t even realize this is their role.
To illustrate, it is like a child who plays with matches because he thinks it is fun. An adult comes along and admonishes him, but when he sees that the child doesn’t understand, he takes the matches away by force. This is because the adult understands very well that the child is doing something dangerous. The child though, doesn’t comprehend this fact. He screams and cries, “Why did you take them away from me?!” Likewise, these “destroyers of the world,” don’t even understand they are destructive. Their actions are not intentional, but since they were created from damage, this is their fundamental essence.
It is these forces that accompany us wherever we go. They catch our every word in an attempt to interpret it according to their crooked way of thinking, because after all, they are a creation based on crookedness and damage. Since they are an undesirable creation, everything about them is undesirable. They even have the ability to compel a person to undergo judgments from the upper worlds. They facilitate a person’s undoing to such an extent that life is endangered, and the individual has no idea what is actually going on.
We don’t know. We don’t actually see these forces or perceive them with our senses, but what do we know? We know that there are tzaddikim on the highest of spiritual levels, who know about these matters with such clarity, that they simply advise us to have compassion on ourselves and acknowledge we don’t know what goes on around us on a spiritual plane. For this reason, they caution us to guard ourselves from undesirable speech, thoughts, or deeds since they bring detrimental consequences.
One may take note of the many criminals at large in the world, who say and do terrible things, but seem to have it good without any suffering. So where do these ideas fit in? The answer is that something much worse is actually going on for them. The criminal doesn’t pay for his actions in this world. It simply waits for him in the next world, where everything comes back to him in a much more penetrating way. This is what the Talmud refers to when it states, “Afflictions atone for a person.” Whatever difficulties one goes through in this world serve as a huge atonement for him. It is preferable and worthwhile to undergo it here, since in the next world, one contends with not only afflictions, but humiliation along with much more unpleasantness.
The only advice is to say to oneself, “Stop.” Just as we need to be careful about what we put in our mouth, i.e., kosher and healthy food, likewise we must be careful about what comes out of it by guarding our speech. The same caution applies to our actions. We should do nothing that the Torah or our sages forbid. Similarly with thought; we shouldn’t think that just because our thoughts are only between us and God, they can be easily fixed. It doesn’t exactly work like this, since many holy books describe the power of thought as greater than the power of deed. It is possible to do teshuva or repair an action, but it is much more difficult to do the same with a thought. You can nullify or gain control over an action, but once you think it, a thought is out of your control and possession.
Thus Rebbe Nachman’s advice to everyone is to weigh our deeds in a way that will be truly positive in this world and the next, and to live good and thoughtful lives, with proper consideration for our every thought, word, and action. Since there will be no one to pass a bad judgment, every negative decree will be opposed.
Remember that you are never asked directly about your own situation, rather only about someone else’s story. Thus, don’t rush to pass judgment either verbally or even in your thoughts as to who is right or wrong. Unless it concerns you directly and practically, just leave it without comment. You will feel profoundly satisfied, and it will be so very beneficial not only to you but to the entire Jewish people.
May God enlighten us with higher levels of self-awareness to improve our lives, as well as the entire world, every day and every moment.