Parashat Yitro

Amidst the Fog

To look the thick cloud in the eyes and say: it’s true, I’m terribly confused right now and I don’t know what I need to do.  That is my situation right now, a situation of doubt and uncertainty.  It’s okay that I don’t know.


Harav Israel Asulin

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

Tuesday, 16th of Shevat, 5776


This world is called ‘olam’ from the language of concealment, because there are more things that are hidden to us than are revealed.  Since the world conceals and hides things from us, we feel fear because of this lack of knowledge, afraid of the lack of certainty, we shake from every confusion, and we pay good money in order to make a living with a sense of certainty.

Life brings us many uncertainties, on the practical level and also on the emotional level, beginning from technical and small things and ending with big and meaningful questions: Should I move to this apartment?  Do I need to take a mortgage for the rest of my life?  Should I rent for the rest of my life?  Should I close the business?  Should I invest all of my savings in this stock or not?  Should I open an independent business or remain a salaried worker the rest of my life?  Should I continue the studies or stop them?  Should I begin this new job?  Should I stop working?  Should I choose this person to be my spouse?  To which educational institution should I send my child?  Should my child skip a grade?  Should I leave my child for another year in kindergarten?  Should I continue to devote and invest myself in this faltering marriage or go to the rabbinical court (to file for divorce)?

How many uncertainties fill our life, how many questions, and how many issues at every step…?

How do we live with them?  How do we relate to them?  With calmness?  With love?  With happiness?  Or do we relate to them as temporary discomforts which need to be solved quickly?

In most cases we experience the dilemmas in our life as real crises.

The big question is why?  Why do we make a big deal about it?  Seemingly, okay, we have difficult decisions, there are considerations to both sides, in the end the issue will be decided in favor of one of the options; so what’s the story?  Why is it so hard for us to be in doubt, to remain with a question?

We can’t suffer the feeling of not knowing.  This doubt causes us to feel in distress, because we can’t breathe for such a long time without knowing!

Enough, just make a decision already!

And if you don’t know what to decide?

Just decide!!!  Be decisive!  Flow with it!  The main thing is to do something!  Press on the gas and get going already!  Don’t remain trapped in this fog, don’t even enter it, go around it!  Understand me, I can’t find air in this darkness!  In the darkness there are monsters, when we got lost we find wolves, I remember this from when I was still small… so do me a favor, let’s escape from here to the light.  Just don’t remain here!  I’m choking and terribly afraid!!!

We get married without knowledge, get divorced without thinking, and manage meaningful relationships superficially.  We make mistaken decisions because of the fear to be unsure, make quick choices and go through life with choking pressure, terrified.  We slow down for any piece of information and find in it support and comfort… and the main thing is- to decide, to take a side, to solve the question.  Not to be in doubt, G-d forbid.  Not to remain ‘in midair’…

Regarding the verse, “The people stood from afar and Moshe approached the thick cloud where God was” (Exodus, Chapter 20, Verse 18), Rebbe Nachman teaches:

“A person who lives a life of physicality all his days, and then becomes intrigued and wants to walk in the ways of Hashem- the attribute of judgement brings judgments upon him and doesn’t allow him to walk in the ways of Hashem and brings upon him obstacles and hides himself in this obstacle.  Someone who has knowledge- he looks in the obstacle and finds there the Creator, blessed be he… and someone who does not have knowledge- when he sees the obstacle he immediately goes backwards.

And the obstacle is the aspect of a cloud and fog, because clouds and fog, that is to say darkness, (darkness) is the language of obstacle… and this is the meaning of the verse: “The people stood from afar”- because when they see the fog, that is to say the obstacle mentioned above, they stand afar.  ‘And Moshe’, who is the aspect of the knowledge of all of the Jewish people, ‘approached the thick cloud where God was’- that is to stay to the obstacle, that in the obstacle itself Hashem is hidden… and one who has knowledge can find Hashem inside the obstacles themselves, because truly there is no obstacle in the world at all, because in the midst of the obstacles themselves Hashem is hidden, and by way of the obstacles specifically someone can come close to Hashem.” (Likutei Moharan, Torah 115)

It is now clear that our hysterical inclination to hold on to what is clear and known is strongly inside of us and it negatively affects our service of Hashem.  We want to do good, we want to come closer to Hashem, but then a chunk of darkness falls upon us, of lack of certainty, and all that is left for us is to say: “Oh, sorry, that is not what I intended”, to go in reverse or bypass the uncertainty, and to keep going, standing far from Hashem, as far as possible, in the certain and known comfort zone.

That is how we are.

However the Tsaddikim, in contrast, who know the secret of the world, are not scared by the darkness.  They don’t escape.  They don’t distance themselves.  They enter the thick cloud, because they know that there, and specifically there, Hashem is found.

And this secret they reveal to us and teach us to enter the darkness, without fear, in order to meet Hashem there.

What does it mean to enter into the fog?

It means to agree to be uncertain.  To look the thick cloud in the eyes and say: it’s true, I’m terribly confused right now and I don’t know what I need to do.  Here there is darkness which silences and conceals, and against it I feel helpless and scared of the unknown.  That is my situation right now, a situation of doubt and uncertainty.  It’s okay that I don’t know.  I don’t have to know everything.  It’s also permitted for me to not know anything.  I’m not running to light an imaginary light with hasty and quick decisions; I’m remaining inside the darkness with submission and acceptance.

It’s true, I don’t know what will be and where I’m going.  I don’t know the way and can’t see anything in the darkness.  However, I’m not sitting in the driver’s seat, rather my father is, and I’m his small child, seated in the car seat in the back, I don’t need to do anything or see anything.  My father knows the way and he’s caring for my needs and driving me, also amongst the darkness.

Helplessness is a very big gift- if we are not scared of it, because then faith enters the picture.  When somebody isn’t afraid of the unknown and allows himself to be in this experience of helplessness, of weakness, of being in doubt, suddenly this experience turns the person into the most relaxed and calm and connected person, because there Hashem is found.

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