Being in the moment. I think it is one of the hardest things to accomplish these days and in our generation. There are so many worries and so many distractions. How is it possible in our reality today to be mindful and live in the present?
Rebbe Nachman teaches based on the verse in Tehillim, “today if you will hear His voice” (Tehillim, Chapter 95); this is truly a great principle in serving Hashem. A person should focus only on the day they have in front of them, only focus on today. This is also true in matters of work and taking care of errands and different tasks. This same is true, as Rebbe Nachman stated, in matters of serving God and connecting to God. When a person wants to truly enter the service of Hashem, it can seem to them that it is a heavy burden, and that it is impossible to carry something so large. However, when someone thinks to himself or herself that they only have this day, then it will not be such a large burden. This will also help a person not to procrastinate and push things off, saying, ‘tomorrow I’ll start, tomorrow I am going to pray with intention’. This is true with every mitzvah. A person only really has this day of life and this moment that they find themselves in, because tomorrow is a completely different world. “Today if you will hear His voice”, today specifically. Understand this very well. (Likutei Moharan I, Teaching 272)
We also find in the letters of Rebbe Nachman’s main student, Reb Nosson z”l, that he encouraged his students to fulfill this teaching every single day. “Be strong and courageous, my beloved student, throw upon Hashem all of your burdens and He will provide for you. Do not worry the worry of tomorrow. These words that I write to you should be new every day- do not think ahead from one day to another, rather everything that you find you have strength to do each day- do it! Be careful from now on to walk with what Rebbe Nachman z”l taught: ‘Today if you will hear His voice’, today specifically.” (Reb Nosson’s letters, Healing Leaves, Letter 42)
The advice we learn here is trying to be focused on the day that we have in front of us, both in physical and spiritual matters. What are my goals for today? What is my priority right now? What can I do right now that is good and productive? This does not negate the need to make time for reflection, as I have written in previous articles, thinking about the day that has passed. Reflecting and praying about the issues we face in life. It also does not negate the need for recreation or taking a trip.
A powerful example I believe of someone who was blessed with many talents and skills, but was not able to live in the present and use his talents for a good purpose, is the sophisticate in Rebbe Nachman’s powerful story of the Sophisticate and the Simpleton (the Chacham and the Tam). Despite the incredible depth of Rebbe Nachman’s Stories, which are considered an even higher revelation than his teachings in Likutei Moharan, they also contain in them many understandable hints and important lessons for life and serving Hashem. The sophisticate and the simpleton grow up together in a small town, both the only sons to their fathers. Their fathers were both wealthy. As children, they loved each other and were good friends. As they grew up their fathers both ran into financial troubles until they became destitute. Due to their difficult situation, the fathers told their sons that they do not have the means anymore to support them, and that they need to learn to work and care for themselves. The simpleton learned to be a shoemaker. The sophisticate felt that this type of work was too simple for him, and he decided to travel the world and spend time figuring out what profession he would like to learn. After working as a servant in a few simple jobs and traveling to Warsaw, the sophisticate says to himself, ‘I’m still not ready to choose a profession and get married; I’ll have time for that in the years to come. Right now I prefer to wander from country to country, and to satiate my desire to see the world.’ The sophisticate goes on to learn to be a goldsmith, as well as a jeweler, and a doctor (all in a record amount of time). However, his accomplishments only increase his arrogance. Everyone he looks at is below him. It is as if nobody else exists. The sophisticate used the blessing of his wisdom and sharp mind to wander the world. He used his amazing intelligence for no true purpose. He disconnected his knowledge from trying to be a better person, help others, and grow closer to God. He was never happy with what he had accomplished; he was a perfectionist. He was never able to be happy and in the moment. He was not focused on today! His accomplishments and the blessings of each day were never good enough for him. He was completely the opposite of the simpleton, who was always full of joy, appreciative, and happy with his lot in life, despite being very poor. The simpleton was always happy and in the moment, even though the quality of his work was not the best and incomplete.
In a class I heard recently about this story, Rav Ofer Gisin, a Breslov teacher, said that we could all learn an important lesson from the story of the sophisticate. We all need to try to limit as much as possible those moments of ‘surfing’, wandering the world like the sophisticate, in whatever form that might be. We lose today when we use our time and our talents for something that has no true purpose. This is really a big challenge in today’s world, when there is so much media and information at our finger tips every moment. It is so easy to get lost. However many times, it completely takes us out of today, and all that we truly have are the blessings of today.