Parashat Shemini

A Little Bit More

I’m not telling you to deny all the bad that you did, I’m only asking you to search, inside all of the bad, maybe within that there is some good point?  Take a magnifying glass and scan all of your failures today, search well, dig to the depths, maybe amongst all the bad there is a very small good point?

Mishkan1

Rav Yisrael Asulin

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

Monday, 17th of Adar II, 5776

BS”D

Rosh Chodesh Nisan.[1]  One of the most exciting moments during the Jewish people’s incredible forty years in the desert, and maybe the most exciting of all.  The Tabernacle has been established and Aharon the Kohen is invited to dedicate the altar and to bring the first sacrifice, a calf, which was the symbol of complete forgiveness for the sin of the golden calf: “He said to Aaron: Take yourself a young bull for a sin-offering… and offer… Moshe said to Aaron: Come near to the Altar… and provide atonement for yourself and for the people… Aaron came near to the Altar, and slaughtered the sin-offering calf… Moshe and Aaron came to the Tent of Meeting, and they went out and they blessed the people- and the glory of Hashem appeared to the entire people!  A fire went forth from before Hashem and consumed upon the Altar… the people saw and sang glad song and fell upon their faces.” (Leviticus, 9:2-24)  Everyone felt such excitement!  Hashem is with us, shining his countenance, forgiving, he wants us and our teshuva[2] and our sacrifices.  This Tabernacle, which we invested so much in, is finally standing, shining with light and bringing us closer and connecting us to the knowledge and the truth…

And today, in the desert of the 21st century, what about us?

Where are the Tabernacle and the sacrifices and appeasement?

What do we need to do in order to build something like the aspect of the Tabernacle?  In order to feel ‘that’s it, I’ve arrived, and now I’m in the Tabernacle and I can bring a sacrifice’?

When Rebbe Natan speaks about the building of the Tabernacle in our days, he speaks about Azamra[3]: “Because the main ability to pray only comes when a person finds in himself good points, which is the aspect of ‘I will make music to my God while I exist’… and this is the aspect of the prayer service where at the beginning we read passages about the sacrifices and incense offering, which are the aspect of clarifications, that means that we find and clarify the good points… and therefore before the prayer we say the passages of the sacrifices and songs of praise, that is to say that we clarify the good points and from this songs and music are made, and afterwards we build from this the Tabernacle, and that is where the main rectification of the prayer is.” (Likutei Halachot, laws of arising in the morning, first teaching)

‘Azamra’, one of the main identification tags of Breslov teachings.

Like a type of code word, like personal prayer (hitbodedut), like happiness (simcha) and clapping hands.

Azamra is one of the main lessons in all of Rebbe Nachman’s teachings:  “Because it is brought in the teachings of the Rebbe of blessed memory (Likutei Moharan, teaching 282, first part), that when a person brings to search for himself and sees that he’s very far from Hashem, and he’s full of many sins and blemishes and it seems to him that he’s far from good, then he needs to search and request and find in himself some good… and even though he sees that also the little bit of good that he did is full of blemishes, because it’s mixed with impurities, nevertheless it’s impossible that there cannot be found there a good point.  A person should continue searching and find in himself some more good.  And even if this good is also mixed with a lot of impurities, nevertheless there is in it a good point.  And he should continue to search and find in himself some more good points.” (ibid)

I look at myself and reveal, to my shame, that I don’t have anything good inside me.  I had a terrible day.  I woke up late.  I prayed without heart.  I ate meals without boundaries and order.  I lied.  I got angry.

In short, I was bad.

Now I sit for a moment of contemplation and I’m simply disgusted by myself.  I’m so far and I don’t have any good inside me.  What a shame!  It’s simply a shame that I don’t really exist here in this world.  People invest in me, help me, bring me closer, believe in me, and want me to be good.  I’m so small and messed up and unsuccessful.  Something small doesn’t go my way or according to my plans, and I already forget everything and turn from a believer to a non-believer, to someone who is taking from the person who so much wants to give, lacking boundaries and lacking knowledge, unlike the person who had wondrous knowledge yesterday.

Phew, I’m really repulsive.

Rebbe Nachman teaches us- you feel terrible, and I understand you, however, what do you think about searching inside yourself for something good?

I’m not telling you to deny all the bad that you did, I’m only asking you to search, inside all of the bad, maybe within that there is some good point?  Take a magnifying glass and scan all of your failures today, search well, dig to the depths, maybe amongst all the bad there is a very small good point?

A point is something small, the smallest.  Without length, without width, without depth.  Nevertheless it exists.  So search my friend.  You woke up late today?  It’s true, it hurts.  God willing that will be the last time that you wake up at such an hour.  However, what about the fact that in the end you did wake up?  What do you say, isn’t that one good point?

Maybe this good point is not exactly complete.  Maybe the fact that in the end you did wake up wasn’t even in order to pray on time, rather in order to answer a phone call.  Nevertheless, search for the microscopic point inside the good point, until you reach the good nucleus.  Here, you know what, if it was only in order to answer the telephone, you could have gone back to sleep in bed, isn’t that true?  You didn’t go back to bed, instead you rushed off to pray!

Here you have a good point!

It’s true that it is small.  Tiny.  Hidden.  It’s true that you want something different, more, bigger, complete, because what is even a point?!

Nevertheless, be courageous and agree to be comforted by this point.  Agree to admit that inside all of the bad there is one good point.  A point of self-sacrifice; you got up from your bed, with all of the great difficulty involved and despite your natural tendency to make up sleep in the morning, and you forgave this pleasure in order to grow and become holier.  Praise to you!

We have a tendency to ignore these small points, because they insult us.  It’s so small, and I wanted something so big, so it’s preferable not to even see it.

However, Rebbe Nachman tells us that if we want to reach greatness, we must value what is small, these tiny good points.  “And by way of this that he judges himself favorably and still finds in himself good points, even though he’s done what he’s done and messed up, by way of this he truly leaves condemnation and enters merit, and through these he can merit to make teshuva.  And this is the aspect of ‘just a little longer and there will be no wicked one; you will contemplate his place and he will not be there’ (Psalms, 37:10) – by way of this little point where he is not wicked ‘you will contemplate his place and he will not be there’.  And through this he can make himself happy, and then he can pray.” (Likutei Halachot, ibid)

Listen well- search for the good point that you have inside of you, find it, contemplate and be happy with it.  Be happy that amongst all of the bad things you find in yourself, there is also a complete point of good!

Value this good point, the little bit of good that you find, and suddenly you won’t find yourself.  That person who was ill tempered, filled with a guilty conscience, backwards, felt like a failure, tired, disappointed in himself, despaired, committed sins, and felt not good and not okay.  That person will disappear.  You’ll search for him, look at the place where he was a moment before, and you won’t find him.  He was there and he’s gone.

How?  Where did he go?

This is the secret.  The secret of ‘just a little longer and there will be no wicked one; you will contemplate his place and he will not be there’, just search for a little bit of good.  One small point of good inside all the bad and automatically you are launched upwards.  You’re already not there.  You are somebody else.  You are in a different place.

You have fulfilled ‘Azamra’.

[1] The first day of the new Jewish month of Nisan

[2] Repentance

[3] From a verse in Psalms which means ‘I will make music’

Parashat Tzav

More Complete with a Broken Heart

People tend to be frightened by tears because they relate the tears only to sadness, but truly tears because of a broken heart go together with happiness.  Pain which we feel without opposing it is life, but sadness is not pain, it is escaping from responsibility to a place of disconnection and separation. 

cry

Rav Yisrael Asulin

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

Monday, 11th of Adar II, 5776

BS”D

When the Torah speaks about the sacrifices, amongst the many technical instructions there is one word which is repeated over and over again, ‘soul’ (nefesh).

“When a person (nefesh) offers…” (Leviticus, 2:1), “A person who eats…” (Leviticus, 7:20), “If a person touches…” (Leviticus, 7:21).  Nefesh…

It is not written ‘when a man offers’, ‘a man who eats’, ‘if a man touches’.  No!  When speaking about the sacrifices the Torah speaks about the soul.

Why?

Because truly the whole matter of the sacrifices is not the technical act, it is the soul which is behind the act.  If this was so in the time period of the Temple, all the more so in our time, only our soul remains for us to offer it and with it ourselves.

So how do we offer our souls?  How do we bring them closer to Hashem?

How can we raise up the soul to a holier, loftier and more illuminated place without offering an actual elevation offering[1]?

Rebbe Nachman explains: “’The sacrifices God desires are a broken spirit’ (Psalms, 52:19), it is known that a person needs to bring an elevation offering because of the stirrings of the heart, as it is written ‘As for what enters your minds.’ (Ezekiel, 20:32)  That means that the elevation offering comes from the thoughts of the heart, which is the dwelling place of the spirit.  The aspect of the elevation offering is that a person has a broken spirit inside, and he is embarrassed and thinks to himself ‘how did I fall and I was thrown from the heaven to the earth.’  I was in such a high place, and now, I’ve fallen and turned away from Hashem, and I find myself left behind.  This person needs to have mercy on himself, because there is no mercy which is greater than this.  And this is the aspect of the elevation offering… which is a broken spirit…” (Likutei Moharan I, 108)

So what is the work we need to do in our soul, which takes the place of the elevation offering?

A broken heart.

Seriously?!  Rebbe Nachman encourages people to reach a broken heart?!  Rebbe Nachman, who spoke so much against despair, sadness and depression, he himself encourages people to have a broken heart.  How can this be?!  Is this not a contradiction?

Yes, this is surely two concepts which contradict each other.  We are speaking about two concepts which are completely separate from each other, and the evil inclination, who invests so much to confuse us, joins them together: “A broken heart and sadness are not the same thing whatsoever.  Because a broken heart is found in the heart, but sadness comes from the spleen and it is from the evil inclination and Hashem hates it.  However, a broken heart is beloved before Hashem and very precious in his eyes… therefore a person needs to set aside an hour a day to have a broken heart, that is to say to be alone in personal prayer and break his heart before Hashem, but all the rest of the day he should only be happy.” (Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom, 41)

There is something which is called ‘sadness’, and it is negative and comes from the evil inclination and Hashem hates it!  In contrast, there is something which is called a ‘broken heart’ and it is beloved and very precious in Hashem’s eyes.

It’s true, on the outside it might seem to be the same thing.  People see someone crying, what immediately goes through their head?  ‘Why is he sad?’  But who says that he’s even sad, maybe he actually has a broken heart?  It can come with the same tears, the same size, the same color and the same saltiness.  It can sound like the same sighs or with the same variety of screams.  Nevertheless, it is completely different.  Because one Hashem hates, and the other is holy before Hashem.

So, if they are so similar, how can I know if I’m sad or if I have a broken heart?

Rebbe Nachman has a way of identifying: “And this is the sign if he has a broken heart, when he is happy afterwards” (Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom, 45), in contrast: “The desire for physical relations and the desire for money come only from sadness and from there all kinds of sorrow come, God forbid.” (Likutei Halachot, the laws of thankfulness, 6th teaching)

A broken heart brings a person to connection, to vitality, and to happiness.  Sadness brings someone to disconnection, to despair and to sin.

If you meet the pain, cry over it, scream because of it, feel it to the deepest depths without fear, and you leave the personal prayer with a feeling of relief and even with a smile, then you are going in the right direction.

However, if you feel despaired and angry, don’t believe in anything, don’t hope for anything, you’re sunken in depression and escape to different types of addictions, then you should know that this is not a broken heart, it is sadness.

When we want to work on ourselves and grow, we must know how to differentiate between the two of them.

People tend to be frightened by tears because they relate the tears only to sadness, but truly tears because of a broken heart go together with happiness.  Pain which we feel without opposing it is life, but sadness is not pain, it is escaping from responsibility to a place of disconnection and separation.  There are those who think that to come to therapy, to engage in personal development work or personal prayer means to sink in sadness in order to awaken mercy and to concentrate on being miserable.

This is not true.

It is permitted to feel pain.  We need to feel pain.  It is even a mitzvah to feel pain.  If you escape from the pain you are not truly living.  However, together with this, we don’t want to be sad.  If you are sad, don’t think that now you are working on personal growth.  Because personal growth work is supposed to come with happiness, with light and with lightning in the eyes.

Nevertheless it is not simple.  How is it possible on the one hand to deal with the pain, to look it in the eyes without escaping, to feel the pain and be broken, and on the other hand not fall into sadness?  They are so close, a broken heart and sadness!  Where is the boundary?  Where is the dividing line between them?  How do we walk in this path?

The answer is faith.  Faith is our signpost.

If you feel pain with faith, faith that everything comes from Divine providence, also the pain that you’ve gone through and also the pain of people close to you.  Also the pain which others caused you to feel and also the pain that you cause others to feel.  Faith that Hashem is here, in the past, present and future.  Faith that everything has meaning.  Faith that everything is good; even if things seem bad, everything is actually good.  Faith that you are good, even if you feel like a villain, you are good!

If you feel pain with faith, you have a broken heart.

In contrast, if you feel pain without faith and you’re sure that you are guilty and bad and not okay, that you have no chance, that the world is collapsing and that everything is chaos, my precious friend, pay attention, if you reached this place, you made a mistake.  Stop.  You are falling into sadness.  Go in reverse.  Put the lights on and return to the boundaries of faith.

In faith.

[1] A type of offering which was completely burned on the altar

Parashat Vayikra

My Place

This is the place to find yourself… ‘Here’, it is written with letters of fire on the door of personal prayer, ‘here you will find yourself and everything that you lost!’  So, if personal prayer is so amazing, why can’t many of us succeed in doing it?  Why do we receive upon ourselves to do personal prayer and then stop, or forget, or we just don’t feel like it, or we really want to but we don’t get to it?

hitbodedut

Rav Yisrael Asulin

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

Monday, 4th of Adar II, 5776

BS”D

One of the things which the Torah details in very fine detail is the sacrifices.

The different types of sacrifices receive preference in the Torah, and there are tens of positive and negative commandments connected to the sacrifices which appear in the Torah with detailed and exact descriptions, including those which seem to be technical and seemingly un-important.

Why does the Torah do this?

Because the sacrifice is not a cow or a lamb.  A sacrifice, like its name (korban), is a way of coming closer, to bring the Jewish people closer to Hashem: “When a man among you brings an offering to Hashem.” (Leviticus, 1:2)  How can the Jewish people come closer to Hashem since the Temple was destroyed and we were exiled?  “And let our lips substitute for bulls.” (Hoshea, 14:3)  Rebbe Natan teaches: “Because the main aspect of the offering in this time is prayer.” (Likutei Halachot, Laws of the mincha prayer, 7th teaching)

Beyond the daily prayer order which the Sages instituted for us, there is importance in praying to Hashem in your own words, as the Rambam[1] teaches: “It is a positive commandment to pray every day… the obligation of this mitzvah is the following: a person should supplicate and say the praises of the Holy One, blessed be he, and afterwards ask his needs with request and supplication and afterwards say a praise, each person according to his ability.” (Mishneh Torah, Book of Ahava, Laws of Prayer, first chapter)  What prayer is more fitting to the expression ‘each person according to his ability’ more than personal prayer…?

Personal prayer, a world in and of itself…

This is the place to find yourself… ‘Here’, it is written with letters of fire on the door of personal prayer, ‘here you will find yourself and everything that you lost!’

Every day you go through millions of things.  At work, at home, with your spouse, with your children, with the neighbors (they are renovating now, what noise… terrible!), on the crowded road, in the synagogue, at the bank, at the market, in the city, in the village… every place, all the time.

You go through an endless amount of things.  Something annoys you, or makes you angry.  Someone causes you pain, or hurts you, or makes you happy, or makes you worry or causes you tension…

To some of them you don’t even pay attention because you’re rushing so much on the expressway of life, swallowing kilometers with a speed which doesn’t register on the speedometer, galloping forward, trampling underneath yourself tiny buds of feelings.  How can you even try to feel what you’re going through when you’re rushing so much in order to get everything done; to run, to bring, to take, to return, to succeed, to understand?!

Until… you come to personal prayer, your personal space.  You give a place to your feelings and everything you’re going through, inside yourself.

Here you are not rushing anywhere.  Here you don’t need to get anything done.  Here you sit, breathe your first breath of the day (because breathing from shortness of breath is not called to breath!), exhale in reaction, and ask yourself quietly ‘So how are you?  How do you feel today?’

Here you can say everything, also what is not polite or accepted or what sounds strange.  Here you can do everything, to jump or dance.  To sing, even if you’re faking it.  To shout or roar.  To cry outload, or laugh freely… here you can get off the highway which is stealing your life, and to be for an hour yourself…

So, if personal prayer is so amazing, why can’t many of us succeed in doing it?  Why do we receive upon ourselves to do personal prayer and then stop, or forget, or we just don’t feel like it, or we really want to but we don’t get to it?

Because we are afraid.

Afraid to meet ourselves.

Why are we afraid to meet ourselves?

Because we have a basic outlook regarding ourselves which says that we are bad, or crazy or both of them together.  All our lives we are trying to hide this.  From ourselves and from the whole world.  Because if someone will reveal this, I’m lost!  Please save me, so that no one in the world, including myself, will know that that’s who I am!

There are those who are busy all their life creating something artificial, because they are certain that they are deathly boring, and if they will enter a room without distractions, someone will surely be appalled by the boredom.

There are others who always carry with them a feeling of guilt.  They don’t exactly know what exactly they are guilty of, but it is clear to them that they did something terrible, and immediately someone will come and reveal that they are guilty.  Therefore they are busy pleasing others, and being okay, as much as possible, much more that the accepted norm.  As long as no one is suspicious… for them to enter a room is to meet possibly, God forbid, this guilty and accused person.  The one who it’s impossible to forgive, because his sin is too great a burden.

There is also the emptiness; I have nothing, everything is empty, and I don’t want to meet this.  Fill my day and the empty space with sights and voices!  Just don’t let me have quiet and be by myself!

In this basic outlook, to meet ourselves is to meet all the bad that I did and that was done to me, all the places where I made a mistake, and how much I’m not okay and not normal and not… so enough.  We don’t have strength and we prefer to escape.

But there is waiting for us there inside the level which is higher and greater than anything!!!  We do want to merit this level!!

How is it possible?

There are many pieces of advice.  There is one advice which is greater than any other, and that is to prayer about the personal prayer.

If I understand that I want to have personal prayer and at the same time I’m suspicious and I push it off and escape to all kinds of other obligations, it’s come time to stop, to enter into a room and say: ‘Abba, a true good friend, I want to speak with you about the personal prayer.  They told me this is the greatest level which is above any other.  They told that this is the way to obtain all the good.  Not just any person told me this, this is the instruction of the healer of souls!  Abba, I want to do personal prayer!  But look at me, a day goes by and another.  I come one day and run away for a week.  I want to do personal prayer and at the same time I’m afraid and prevent myself.  Come let’s speak about my personal prayer, Abba.’

The best advice for you is the advice you’ll find yourself.  When you speak with Hashem about your difficulty to do personal prayer, you’ll find the phrase which is the most exact, the realest and the most focused for you, how to do personal prayer.

Because after everything, it won’t be another article that you read or a class that you heard.  This will be your direct and very close speech with Hashem.

[1] Maimonides

Parashat Pekudei

This is My Movie

We have so many theories and conclusions and opinions and criticism and blame about the world outside. There are so many things which seem to us to be true about the outside world, and we even have colorful proofs, flickering on a white screen.  However, truly, we are just projecting!  We are actually receiving a reflection… Our reaction is not connected to the factual reality, rather to our personal outlook on the reality.  Our outlook depends upon the makeup of our soul.

film projection

Harav Israel Asulin

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

Monday, 27th of Adar I, 5776

BS”D

“What can I do?  That’s the reality!”  Do you recognize this statement?

“Reality, that I was born to parents like these… and siblings like these… and I have neighbors like these… and also my children are like this… that’s the reality and how can you argue with reality?!”

How?  Is it true that it’s impossible to argue with reality?  Behold I see it with my eyes and it’s not a mirage, and I’m not hallucinating and not imaging and I’m not in the middle of a dream.  That’s the reality…

Is it really?!  Who actually creates the reality?

In this week’s Torah portion, Pekudei, Moshe Rabbenu[1] sits and conducts an exact accounting of the amounts of donations which were donated to the Tabernacle and what has been used: “These are the reckonings of the Tabernacle, the Tabernacle of Testimony, which were reckoned at Moshe’s bidding. (Exodus, 38:21)  “In this Parsha all of the weights of the donations to the Tabernacle of silver, gold and copper are enumerated.” (Rashi’s[2] commentary on the same verse)  For what purpose does he do this reckoning, and who is he reporting it to?

The Midrash explains:  “This is what is said ‘they looked behind Moshe’, and what were they saying?  Rebbe Chama taught that they were saying: ‘Look at the fat neck of the son of Amram (Moshe), and another person answered: ‘Someone who controlled all of the work of the tabernacle, you don’t want him to be rich?!” (That is to say that Moshe stole from the donations to the Tabernacle!!)  “When Moshe heard this, he said to them: ‘your life (a language of taking an oath), we’ve finished the Tabernacle and I’ll give you the bill.’  That is what is written: ‘These are the reckonings of the Tabernacle, the Tabernacle of Testimony’.” (Midrash Raba on the book of Exodus, 51:4)

This sounds a little shocking!  Behold who are we talking about here?  About Moshe Rabbenu, the leader of the nation, the chosen one of Hashem, the one who received the Torah.  Who is speaking about him?  The Jewish people, who were a generation with knowledge, who saw eye to eye that Moshe is truth and the Torah he received is true, ‘and they believed in Hashem and Moshe his servant’!

So how is it possible to suspect that Moshe is a thief???  And how did the Jewish people let a thought like this enter their minds???

A fundamental question, and in order to answer it we need to have a deep understanding of a hidden phenomenon of the soul, which Rav Wolbe[3] called ‘a magical flashlight’.

The magical flashlight is an internal process of projecting shortcomings, feelings and experiences on our surroundings.

We all walk around here in the world with a portable projector close to the scalp, a hard drive filled to the point of bursting with raw, secretive, hidden films, with a microphone which is hermetically connected to our minds and hearts, and an emergency button which wails hysterically… and all of the people in the world, and all the events, and situations, and episodes and places, everyone and everything is seen on giant split screens.

And we are the ones playing the film…

It seems to us that that’s who he is and that’s who they and the same is true for everyone in the world.

It seems to us that the reason for our angry mood is because of someone or something else around us.  It seems to us that he’s a thief and he’s an exploiter; this person has no tact and the other person is lacking manners in a terrible way; he’s ridiculous and lacking self-respect; they are lacking awareness and selfish; she’s too sensitive and spineless and melts like butter…

We have so many theories and conclusions and opinions and criticism and blame about the world outside us, beginning with ‘corrupt’ ‘greedy’ and ‘lying’ politicians and ending with the neighbors, behold he’s an insignificant person lacking education and intelligence…

There are so many things which seem to us to be true about the outside world, and we even have colorful proofs, flickering on a white screen.

However, truly, we are just projecting!  We are actually receiving a reflection…

Our reaction is not connected to the factual reality, rather to our personal outlook on the reality.  Our outlook depends upon the makeup of our soul.

Rebbe Natan says: “Because it’s impossible to clarify and prove the truth with proofs by any means.  Because anyone can make a contradiction based upon argumentation and say against your word false stories and false proofs, contradict and hide the truth, God forbid.  However, the main way of discerning the truth is in the heart, every person according to what he understands in his heart.” (Likutei Halachot, Laws of the morning blessings, 3rd teaching, 11th paragraph)

We know so little about ourselves.  We project so much onto other people.  We blame, get angry, are suspicious, scared… when really, it’s just what I experience!

Rav Wolbe explains how this magic in the soul works inside everyone, also regarding the generation that lived in the desert: “In the Torah itself we find this internal process: ‘You slandered in your tents and said, Because of Hashem’s hatred for us did He take us out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorite to destroy us.’ (Deuteronomy, 1:27)  Rashi explains: ‘Because of Hashem’s hatred for us’- and He loved you, but you hated Him.  There is a parable which says ‘what is in your heart regarding the one you love is what is in their heart for you.’

A subtle hatred built up in the hearts of the people of the generation of the desert against Hashem, despite their tremendous holiness.  They never admitted this to themselves, because they weren’t aware of this at all.  Behold, the magical internal flashlight showed them the opposite of what was in their hearts, and they said that Hashem hates them.  They believed in this and suffered because of this a terrible sorrow.  It seemed to them that they loved Hashem and aspired to come close to him with all their hearts, however for some reason Hashem didn’t desire them anymore…

This concept is brought as halacha[4] by the Rambam (Maimonides): ‘Someone who always disqualifies others, for example he says about families or individuals that they are illegitimate- we suspect him, that maybe he is an illegitimate child.  If he says about them that they are slaves, we suspect that maybe he is a slave.  Anyone who disqualifies, he disqualifies his own blemish.’

Certainly this person who disqualifies doesn’t know about his blemish, because if he would recognize it and remember it, he would prevent himself from saying it about others, so that his own lacking would not be revealed… but in the hidden chambers of the heart, in the deep layers of his soul the blemish has not been forgotten- and the magical internal flashlight projects his own blemish on to others, to disqualify other people.” (Alei Shor, pages 162-165)

Incredible! Incredible and shocking!

This also explains the wondrous and foolish suspicion of Moshe Rabbenu.  You don’t need to be crazy in order to suspect Moshe of stealing, it’s enough to be a person with a desire for money, to see Moshe deal with so much silver for building the Tabernacle, and to make a simple calculation in the sub layers of the subconscious: ‘If I had been there, I would have pocketed at least a million shekels; Moshe is more of a Tsaddik than me, so it’s almost certain that he took a half a million’… and from there, it is a short path to speak behind Moshe’s back and to spread assumptions, which the irony of them screams to the Heaven: ‘Look at the fat neck of the son of Amram’; ‘Someone who controlled all of the work of the tabernacle, you don’t want him to be rich?’

This causes shivers!  We are really people like this?!

However, it also opens for us an opening to enter the very holy and lofty work of taking responsibility for our experiences.  To contemplate inside, close my eyes to the ‘reality’ on the screens on the outside, to get to know the internal software, and to remember that everything begins with me!  Everything that I absorb from the outside is only my light reflecting back into me.  In the end it’s all my movie!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Our Rabbi

[2] A major Rabbi of the Middle Ages, wrote a commentary on all of the Bible and Talmud

[3] An important Rabbi from Jerusalem, lived from 1914-2005

[4] Jewish law

Parashat Vayakhel

On Shabbat We Rest

shabbat

Harav Israel Asulin

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

Sunday, 19th of Adar I, 5776

BS”D

When, in the recent past, did you go on a vacation?

Vacation.  This phenomenon, which is an inseparable part of our routine in this generation, already has a culture and jargon and rules of its own.  It is rated as one of the most influential branches of the economy, which educational institutions set aside for it two months of the year. There are people who work hard all year just in order to be able to ‘go on vacation’ at the end of the year.  This idea of vacation, which people try so hard to obtain and invest in and look forward to; is it found only in bed and breakfasts, hotels, attractions and tourist sites?  Or can you also find it inside yourself?

When Hashem commands the Jewish people to keep the Shabbat, he speaks about it as if he was speaking about vacation: “For six days work may be done and the seventh day is a day of complete rest, it is sacred to Hashem… Between Me and the Children of Israel it is a sign forever that in a six-day period Hashem made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.” (Exodus, 31:15-17)

The Holy Shabbat.  This is a time of completely stopping the marathon of life with its never ending nuisances and noise, and entering a time of release and calm and holiness, moments of “He rested and was refreshed.”

Not long ago everything was on fire here.  Telephones rang, keyboards clicked, messages danced, screens flickered, pots boiled, the washing machine and the iron and the dishwasher and the oven and the bucket and mop were all active… buses blowing exhaust and trucks with their deliveries and shopping centers were alive and bustling…

And in one moment everything is silenced.  Everyone went on vacation.  All of the devices and  the transportation and the engines… it doesn’t matter what I was in the middle of, everything goes silent and disappears, because the Holy Shabbat has come down to the world, with a white table cloth spread on the table and quiet and calmness and love which are like the World to Come.

Shabbat.

How many songs have been written about it.  How many gave their lives for it over the generations.  How many hidden emotions it awakens in every Jew, who just agrees to feel them.  How much atmosphere and how much warmth…

What is the secret formula of the tranquility of Shabbat?  How does this Shabbat rest happen?

Accepting the reality.

During the entire week we are just trying to change and improve and make the reality better, and progress and climb and continue and take flight… on Shabbat we stop in our tracks.  We don’t move.  Don’t try.  Just rest.  We are happy and enjoying where we are.

Rebbe Natan explains: “Because the six days of work are lacking and they only have completion by way of Shabbat, which is the purpose of the creation of heaven and earth… the six days of the week only have life from Shabbat… and therefore they are the aspect of groaning over a lacking, because the main grasp of the groaning is during the six days of the week that are lacking the spirit of life.  Then we need to moan, in order to bring the spirit of life, and to complete the lacking of the six days of the week with Shabbat, which is the main life… because Shabbat is the aspect of completion.” (Likutei Halachot, Laws of Passover, 3rd teaching)

Shabbat is the reality of completion, of fulfillment, and the days of the week are the aspect of groaning and lacking.  It’s impossible without Shabbat, because without it we are also lacking the six days of the week!

Incredible!

The great Chassidic Rabbis say that just like we have Shabbat in actuality, here in the world of action, there is also “Shabbat in the soul”, inside every one of us.

What does the expression “Shabbat in the soul” mean?

Shabbat in the soul means receiving my internal reality as it is: ‘This is me, this is what is happening to me now.  I don’t criticize myself.  I accept my reality as it is.’

At first glance, this teaching seems to us to contradict a little bit the obligation to progress and the holy will to reach higher and be uplifted.  But truly it does not contradict, it builds you!

A person who comes to fix himself has to have in his soul a place of Shabbat.  Not all the time.  Not always.  Not only this.  This is not to say that we’ll continue to embrace all our nonsense and mistakes and failures and addictions and falls with extra affection: ‘I don’t criticize myself.  That’s the way I am, and I accept the reality as it is.’  No!

Rather what is the correct approach?

We work on ourselves.  We want to make progress and aspire with all our strengths to get there.  We check ourselves, we know our weaknesses and groan over them, we search where we made a mistake and try to correct it.  We are aware where we fell to and we begin again.  We educate our children.  We ourselves are being educated.  We don’t give up!  We want Hashem in our life.  We want our true selves in our lives.  We are not ready to live this life like an empty and hollow covering which doesn’t contain anything.  We want content in our life and truth and connection and giving and doing and overcoming.  We want, and we try with all our strength and without discounts!

However, at the same time, we must have the attribute of Shabbat in our soul.  It’s forbidden for us to be criticizing all the time where we are, rejecting ourselves, opposing ourselves.  We must have in our souls a place where we accept who we are and enjoy how we are and we love what we are.  A relaxed place, accepting, thankful, happy.  A place which from it we say: ‘Master of the world, it’s true that that’s who I am right now, but nevertheless, I’m yours!  And I’m always good, because I’m part of you!’

Like Shabbat, which blows a spirit of life into all the days of the week, so to regarding our personal growth: without this trait of Shabbat in the soul, of seeing the good without a speck of criticism, then, God forbid, there is no life in all of the feverish work and in all the beating ourselves up in the journey of coming closer!

You want to make progress?

Okay, wonderful, praise to you!

Go forward, all of the creation is waiting for your work!

However, before you go on the way, on the path of the six days of the week, don’t forget to equip yourself with a vacation package, the aspect of “He rested and was refreshed!”

Parashat Ki Tisa

Respecting Boundaries

boundaries

Harav Israel Asulin

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

Monday, 13th of Adar I, 5776

BS”D

This week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa, opens with Hashem’s special request to Moshe Rabbeinu[1]: “When you take a census of the Children of Israel according to their numbers, every man shall give Hashem atonement for his soul when counting them, so that there will not be a plague among them… This shall they give- everyone who passes through the census- a half shekel of the sacred shekel… as a portion to Hashem.” (Exodus 30:12-13)  Hashem wants to count the children of Israel, but not by way of a regular counting, in order to keep away the evil eye; rather Hashem wants the count to be done in a secondary way through collecting from every person a half shekel and then counting the coins which have been gathered.

However, if counting the people is so dangerous, Rebbe Natan asks, why do they need to be counted at all?  What is the point of this count?  Behold Hashem knows his people and how many people there are!   What was so urgent in counting the Jewish people to the point that a secondary was was needed in order to do this?

“They were commanded to count them specifically, so that each one would be counted privately… so that they would not be mixed together, which would cause one person to enter the boundary of his friend… because even though all of the Jews are considered like one being- nevertheless, each and every Jew has his own limit and boundary by himself.  Every one’s opinion is different from his friends… and also each person serves Hashem according to his good character traits… and even though every Jew needs to receive from his friends’ good point, which is special to him… nevertheless it is forbidden to destroy the boundary… to enter his friends border, because sometimes even a good person can cause his friend to fall because of their differing opinions…” (Likutei Halachot, the Mincha prayer, 7th teaching)

It’s true that we are one people, like one person with one heart and one soul, and it’s also true that every Jew needs to receive from his friend from his special good point, and it’s true that there are in the world deep interpersonal relationships filled with closeness, but even so there needs to be a clear boundary which cannot be destroyed!

Every one of us is not only a part, he is also very much separate, with separate opinions, different traits, a special role, a specific way of serving Hashem, and in the same way that we are commanded to love friends, we are also commanded to respect a person’s boundaries and not to enter his space.

What does it mean ‘to enter the boundary of another person’?  What does it look like when people cross boundaries and enter the boundary of the other person?

When I’m controlling or I’m too dependent, this is called that I’ve broken a boundary and entered the space of someone else.  Because when I’m controlling or dependent I’m like someone who forces the person near me to behave in the way that I expect him to behave.

When a person controls someone else and makes him obey his opinion and his will, he causes tremendous damage!  Do you understand?  There is a pure soul here, with a specific mission, strengths and talents, and you move him from his path.  This soul needs to be an artist, what are you doing sending it to work in plumbing?  Have mercy!   Have mercy on this soul and upon its role which is waiting for it in vain by the paintbrushes.  Have mercy on it because instead of being in its place and carrying out its role, you are busy whipping imaginary horses that will continue to run on the paths you have drawn for him.

Okay, I understood that to control the other person is terrible, but what is the problem with the fact that I’m terribly dependent on somebody else?

Also when I enter the mold of being completely dependent on someone else I make him against his will play for me the role of a certain character, who will fulfill for me the expectations I have of him: be the mother for me that I didn’t have; be the father who I always wanted; and you, forget all together that you are my daughter, because we waited all these years for a son, so let’s see you be like a boy…

However, hello, I’m your wife, I’m not your mother!  We need to relate to each other as mutual partners, I need your support, I need you to be mature with me and not like a small child who’s looking for his mother!  Yes, we can have quiet time in the evenings and have a deep conversation relating to the small child who terribly misses his mother.  But right now we need to face the educational problem our child is having and the overdraft we have in the bank, you can’t disappear on me and put on a bib like a child, whose whole existence depends on his mother!

In a deep way, both control and dependence lead to exactly the same point, crossing the boundary of your friend or spouse!

Whether you control and force your wife or your children or your workers to think like you and submit to your desires or whether you are dependent upon her or him or them to the point of fear and you place upon them your expectations and your own feelings of neglect and neediness; in both of these cases you are crossing the line, you are entering a place which is not yours, you are making someone else behave according to what you dictate and not according to his internal will, you cross the boundary!  This crossing the boundary contains in it a lot of pain, anger and frustration, because “each and every Jew has a limit and boundary by himself” and “it is forbidden to destroy the boundary!” (Likutei Halachot, ibid)

So what can be done? Doesn’t ‘don’t be controlling and don’t be dependent’ mean in other words to be socially isolated?

No!  It’s possible to live a life of full, close and good interpersonal relationships, without control and without dependence!

You need to understand that blurring the boundaries between us happened in a hidden way, unconsciously and without bad intention; underneath the surface, like secret notes which were passed under the table, without anyone speaking about them out loud, everyone was forced to act according to them quietly.  Therefore, first I need to identify where I destroy my boundaries and those of someone else, which roles I place upon my wife and what expectations I burden upon my miserable children… and then, to place anew and in a clear way the roles and exact boundaries of each person in the family.  Here I’m a spouse, there I’m a child, and here I’m a parent.  There are times when I’m a friend, places where I’m a neighbor and times where I’m a worker or a boss…

These renewed boundaries in my connection with my wife, my children and with those who surround me will give me much more than what I obtained when I entered their boundary and acted dependent or controlling.  They will open for each of us a place of respect, which is defined and stands by itself.

[1] Our Rabbi, Our Teacher

Parashat Tetzaveh

Connection

So many Jews spend years upon years in treatment after treatment, go from one method to another, from coaching to meditation, from a psychologist to a psychiatrist, from CBT to DBT to NLP, from Prozac to Prozac plus Clonex…

But the soul will not become fulfilled.  It’s true, there is a little bit of relief.  For sure.  But in the big picture- the feeling is that that’s not it and the lacking continues to eat away at us.

holy temple

Harav Israel Asulin

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

Monday, 6th of Adar I, 5776

BS”D

Once, maybe not so long ago, there were people who felt healthy.  People who learned in order to become wiser and not in order to find themselves; they searched for money in order to become wealthy and not in order to quiet the angry tiger inside of them; they searched for food in order to enjoy it and not in order to escape the pain which is making them go crazy… and if we would quote for them Rebbe Nachman’s words that “the main aspect of exile is in the soul”, they wouldn’t understand what we are saying.

Today the situation has changed.  We all feel this exile, which from moment to moment deepens our feeling of lacking, of longing, of searching, and it doesn’t leave us with a lot of choices, except to feel the pain and to search for a cure…

This is the reason that in this generation we are all searching to be healed.  Some of us, indeed, are searching for the healing in an unhealthy way: in money, food, alcohol, drugs, and movies.  However internally, this is what we want the most and what we are all running after- to be healed!

And we don’t understand why every type of treatment doesn’t fully succeed in helping us.

So many Jews spend years upon years in treatment after treatment, go from one method to another, from coaching to meditation, from a psychologist to a psychiatrist, from CBT to DBT to NLP, from Prozac to Prozac plus Clonex…

But the soul will not become fulfilled.  It’s true, there is a little bit of relief.  For sure.  There is also a little bit of improvement.  But in the big picture- the feeling is that that’s not it and the lacking continues to eat away at us.

Why is this?

“Now you shall command the Children of Israel” (Exodus 27:20) – with these words the Torah opens the portion which talks about the service of the Temple, and seemingly, it sounds like a simple command, Hashem tells Moshe to command the Jewish people.  Is there special meaning to these words?

“Command”, says Rebbe Natan, is not just the language of an order.  “And this is what it means: ‘Now you shall command the Children of Israel’- ‘command’ is the language of connection.” (Likutei Halachot, Laws of breaking bread, 5th law) Command also means to team together, to connect.

What did they connect in the Tabernacle and the Holy Temple?

The Temple was the place where worlds connected, heaven and earth, upper worlds and lower worlds, holiness and secular.  The Temple included everything, surrounded everything and was a very exceptional place.

Imagine for a moment that remnants of authentic videos were found at an ancient site from inside the Temple, and now they are being shown to you.  The camera lens hovers over from above, scanning this great place from a distant view, and then the zoom goes into action, everything grows, comes closer, and you are inside the Temple.

What do you see?  The Temple, which we are longing for already for thousands of years, the place from where knowledge went out to the world, the place that without it we are so compressed, squashed, restricted in the chains of the exile of knowledge and the soul.  This Temple is presented before you, and what do you see there, in the ancient film the archaeologists found?

Flesh and blood.  Kohanim up to their knees in puddles of blood, throwing blood upon the altar and eating a large amount of meat in one meal…

What is this?  How is possible to understand something like this?  What is the connection between the place where God’s presence dwells to these physical effects?  “You shall command”, that is the connection.  That is the deepest essence of the Temple, to connect the extremities into one complete experience, comprehensive and united.  To make God’s presence dwell in this world and to send out knowledge to the whole world amongst flesh and blood.

However it doesn’t just remain there.  Hashem comes and requests from us: “They shall make a Sanctuary for Me- so that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8) – this connection in the Temple shows you the connection which is supposed be made inside every one of you.  “That is to say that you should command and connect and unify the Jewish people…” (Likutei Halachot, ibid)

What are we required to connect?

The Vilna Gaon explains in his commentary to Proverbs: “Heaven and earth, and man who connects them” (Proverbs 1:2) – a person is meant to make the same connection of extremities between heaven and earth.  Heaven refers to the higher part of the pure soul inside every one of us, with all of the knowledge and truth it contains; the earth is our lower, pained, soul, with all of the small and childish needs it contains; and we came to this world to engage in this amazing work, which is called ‘man who connects them.’  The purpose of the creation is to create man.  To make the proper connection between heaven and earth inside ourselves.  To be in a continuous and balanced movement between the higher and lower soul.

Why is this considered something so important?  Why is this the purpose of creation?  What is the problem in making this connection?

Because the painful longing and the burning lacking cause almost everyone today to look for change.  Where?  In one of these extremities- to receive emotional help of any type or to come close to Hashem and the Torah, but only one of them; the lower soul or the higher soul.  To deal with only the emotional needs of our lower soul or to fill only the spiritual needs of the higher soul, and when you catch one end and get stuck on it- you’re still missing something.  There is still not a connection, there is no Temple and not God’s presence.

Indeed, it’s true, a soul in pain prevents a Jew from being present in the world and from fulfilling his special purpose in it, but emotional help is not the only thing he needs.  In parallel he needs also precise spiritual guidance, to get to know the Creator, to receive upon himself the yoke of Heaven, and an inclusive service of Hashem which will connect all of his parts; the lower soul, the spirit and the higher soul.

This is the reason that no psychological method will be sufficient and it will not fulfill you- because a Jew needs “You shall command”, because in the process of healing a Jew, who is unique, the focus is not just on his lower soul, rather to the entire Jewish experience.

We are Jews and our soul needs the boundaries of the holy Torah, not as an addition, but as an essential part of the healing.  These boundaries will protect the soul and help it heal, and furthermore without it the soul will remain exposed to continuous injury which will delay its healing.  In order to truly heal we need emotional help and also personal prayer, dealing with internal blocks and also making progress with keeping the mitzvahs, coming closer to our internal self and also coming closer to Hashem, and mainly- to finding the proper balance between these two parts.

In order to feel that our feeling of lacking receives an answer, it’s necessary for us to receive help which includes all of these aspects, which connects the blocked depths of the lower soul with the light of the higher soul and turns our pained and chained imagination into pure truth, which is clarified and free.

Until with God’s help, slowly, there will be developed inside of us the lofty creation which is called ‘man’.

Parshat Terumah

To Illuminate

Hashem loves your new beginnings, the tremendous amount of times you overcome the ego and the embarrassment, when you get up and say: “It doesn’t matter what was, it doesn’t matter how much I’ve fallen, I’m starting anew!”

menorah

Harav Israel Asulin

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

Monday, 29th of Shevat, 5776

BS”D

Light.  An abstract concept, elusive, impossible to define; spiritual light.

What is this concept?  Does it have a chance in our lives?  We, who were born in frozen fields of darkness, in the most remote and dim depths, amongst giant shopping centers which numb our senses, far from any little bit of sanity and rest, deep in the depths of the exile of the soul and knowledge, we can be enlightened?  What does it mean to be enlightened?  It sounds a little bit mystical or like a fable, those words- ‘light’ ‘holiness’; is it something which happens here, in this world, to people like us, in our regular and tiring lives?

For the sake of truth, we are not the only ones who wonder about this matter, Moshe Rabbeinu[1] himself already had difficulty with it.

When Hashem showed Moshe the structure of the Tabernacle and commanded him, “They shall make a Sanctuary for Me- so that I may dwell among them” (Exodus, Chapter 25, Verse 8), he detailed for him the specific components and the final shape of all the vessels of the Tabernacle, however, regarding the Menorah He gives him a special instruction, which sounds complicated to the point of being impossible: “You shall make a Menorah of pure gold, hammered out shall the Menorah be made, its base, its shaft, its cups, its knobs, and its blossoms shall be (hammered) from it” (Exodus, Chapter 25, Verse 31).  Rashi[2] explains regarding this verse: “It all came from one piece.”

How is it possible to create a Menorah which is made up of so many parts, when it all comes from one piece of gold?

Surely, Moshe found it difficult to make the Menorah more than the rest of the vessels of the Tabernacle.  “Because it was difficult for him, Hashem said to him: ‘Take a piece of gold and throw it into the fire and remove it.’  What did Moshe do?  He took a piece of gold and threw it into the fire and said: ‘Master of the world, behold the piece of gold is in the fire, and just as you wanted me to do this, so to make the Menorah,’ immediately the Menorah came out of the fire completely finished.” (Midrash Tanchuma)

So to regarding the light and the holiness in our lives, which the Menorah represents according to Rebbe Natan[3], because how can physical people like ourselves merit light and holiness?  Is it in our power, to create a menorah of pure gold and to illuminate through it the darkness of this world?  How do we do this?  How do we create it?  How do we pound out so many cups, knobs and flowers?  How do we make it precisely until we reach the perfect completeness?  How can we be illuminated already, pure already, for the sake of Hashem?

The answer is, that it really is not in our power, and we don’t make and create and pound and be precise in order to reach completeness…

What is correct then?  What in any case is can we do in order to kindle the light?

Our part, and the only thing that we can do, is to throw a piece of gold into the fire- to make our best effort and to pray for help from Hashem.

The rest Hashem does.

What in any case is the effort that we need to make in order to merit God’s light?

Rebbe Natan says: “hammered out shall the Menorah be made”, in order for the light to come, you need a hammered out single piece of gold, stubbornness like steel.  “Someone who has begun a little bit in the service of Hashem knows this, that it’s impossible to truly be a Jew without a great level of stubbornness.  Because there are many trials and ascents and falls which each person needs to go through without measure.  If a person will not be greatly stubborn to not let go of the small amount of his service which he has begun, it’s impossible to remain in his place.” (Likutei Halachot[4], the Laws of Bircat Hamazon, 4th halacha, 12th paragraph)

You want light?  You want a life of holiness?  You want to make inside yourself a tabernacle for Hashem and light the menorah of your life?

Be stubborn!!!

It doesn’t matter what you are going through, and even if you have tried thousands of times and failed.  Even if after years you find yourself in the same stinking garbage dump.  Even if you ascended and descended, again and again, without measure.  Even if it seems to you that Hashem doesn’t look at your service, that you are not worth anything, that you are not successful.  Because, really, how many times can a person declare “from now I’m on a diet” and finish the week increasing his weight?!  How many times can a person decide to dedicate himself completely to healing his wife, and find himself again in the same trivial argument?!  How many times can you fall asleep during personal prayer, which was supposed to be a time of loud voices and thunder and awe of Hashem?!

Also then- the Tsaddikim request of us- don’t be impressed by how much you’ve fallen!  Be stubborn!  Don’t stop!  Begin anew!  Try again!  You don’t know how much Hashem loves your new beginnings, the tremendous amount of times you overcome the ego and the embarrassment, when you get up and say: “It doesn’t matter what was, it doesn’t matter how much I’ve fallen, I’m starting anew!”

“And this is the main pride which Hashem receives from the Jewish people.  Because Hashem has great pride from the daring and the stubbornness of a Jew, who they knock down every time and he strengthens himself all the time and he is really stubborn and doesn’t allow himself to fall in any way.” (Likutei Halachot ibid)

Hashem does not receive pride from the fact that you don’t fall!  You indeed fall, but you don’t allow yourself to fall in your spirit, to be broken from this, to leave the game!  In this you are great and in this Hashem receives pride from you!

This is our effort, this is the matter of throwing a piece of gold into the fire- from the strength of this dedication we throw ourselves again and again, whether it be life or death, embarrassment or pain, with impressive stubbornness and courage, and we begin again.

There, inside the fire of this stubbornness, the Menorah will be made by itself, with all the light, the holiness, the purity and the beauty which pours out!  Because “from its base to its flower” (Numbers, Chapter 8, Verse 4), Rebbe Natan says, until the light of the redemption will grow and shine.

[1] Our Rabbi, Teacher

[2] A major Rabbi of the Middle Ages, wrote a commentary on all of the Bible and Talmud

[3] Rebbe Nachman’s major disciple

[4] Rebbe Natan’s explanation of the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), based upon Rebbe Nachman’s teachings

Parashat Mishpatim

Everything Depends on It

Truth is the main principle which everything depends on!  All of the work of personal development depends and relies upon truth!  If you don’t have this honest will, to reach the truth, then there is no reason to begin the work.  Why?  What is so critical about being truthful or not being truthful?  What, it’s impossible to make progress and come closer while continuing to tell small or big lies?

truth

Harav Israel Asulin

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

Monday, 22nd of Shevat, 5776

BS”D

In all of the Torah- five books, 5,845 verses, 613 mitzvahs- in all of them there is only one time that the Torah asks us explicitly to distance ourselves from something:  “Distance yourself from a false word.” (Exodus, Chapter 23, Verse 7)  It’s not just that you should not lie, it’s much more than that- distance yourself from lies.  There is no parallel to this commandment in all of the Torah.

Why?  How can it be that even regarding fundamental mitzvahs like the Ten Commandments or the Seven Noachide laws, the Torah used a matter-of-fact and focused language of positive and negative commandments, and only regarding lies the Torah uses such strong language?

In order to understand this, it needs to be understood what is a lie?

We all know that a lie is anything which is not true, but what is truth?

“The main principle which everything depends upon is truth, to walk in the path of truth according to his level, because the seal of Hashem is truth, and it is the foundation of everything, because truth is the beginning middle and end…” (Likutei Moharan, Torah 112)

Truth is the main principle which everything depends on!  This matter of truth and lies is so basic and central and meaningful to the point that it meets us in all aspects of life, and all the more so when talking about personal development, when we want to come closer to ourselves and to Hashem.

When a person comes to work on himself, the main thing that needs to guide him on this journey, before everything and amongst everything, is truth.  All of the work depends and relies upon truth!  If you don’t have this honest will, to reach the truth, then there is no reason to begin the work.

Personal growth is for a person who wants the truth and agrees to meet it, and it doesn’t matter how it appears.  It’s true, I don’t know what I’m going to reveal about myself on this unknown journey inside myself, but what I’m looking for, first and foremost is truth.

Who am I really?  Not- who is my poster!  Not- what is the image that I built for myself with years of work!  Not- what do they think of me and not how do I look!  Rather, who am I truly?  What’s going on with me?  How I am doing right now?  Where am I actually?  With myself?  With my wife?  My children?  My family?  My friends?  What I am supposed to attain according to the truth?

When I strive for this deep truth, I’m happy with any revelation about myself, even if it hurts and is not polished and doesn’t look good in a picture and is not heroic like in my dreams.  Because truth, Rebbe Nachman says, is the key: “Through truth a person merits to find the opening… and through truth Hashem dwells with him (Likutei Moharan, Torah 9); and for truth I’m willing to sacrifice myself, to put myself in danger, and to examine from anew my life, even if I’m likely to reveal that all of my life is one big lie and that I need to build everything from the beginning and to separate myself forever from the external image, which has accompanied me for years, in favor of the true self.

To lie is the easiest thing to do.  Every one of us has a doctorate in lying to himself and to the whole world, however as much as the lies are destructive in all areas of life, when talking about personal development and growth- there is nothing more ironic than lying.

Why?

Because it’s impossible to make progress with lies!  Without truth you can wander around for years with imaginary attempts to help yourself, without moving a millimeter.

Without truth, you look, for example, every evening at the scale and don’t understand the number that you see.  Maybe the scale is broken?  What did you eat today?  Nothing, really nothing!

Without truth you have no chance of meeting the child inside of you, because why would he trust someone who lies to him?!  It’s enough that they lied to him all his life!  Why would he fall again into this trap?!

Without truth, in most cases you won’t feel what hurts you.  Because, it’s true, life is humdrum… but this pain, which is sharp and cutting, which causes you to scream “I’m weak and I need help”, which pushes you to stand up with courage and decide to change; pain like this is very far from you, and so to also the change.

So what can I do if I lie?  I understand that truth is the key to making progress, but I feel, that the lies are welded to me and accompany me already for many years like a true good friend- how can I separate from them?

You need to know that lying is only a matter of a bad habit: “When somebody repeats the lie twice, it becomes truth for him.” (The Life of Rebbe Nachman, paragraph 550)  Nobody is born a liar!  We were all born truthful and holy and pure!  Inside every one of us there is found the point of truth, but it functions like a muscle, that when there is a lack of use it is likely to shrink and become weak, but it is always possible to build the muscle anew, to go back and use it, to give it light and let it grow.

From this faith you will be able to reveal the roots of your lies.  You don’t lie for no reason!  You have inside of you a reason for lying.

Again you caught yourself lying a big or small lie?  Come, sit for a minute quietly and ask yourself: “Why do I lie?”  In the same breathe ask yourself too:  “What am I afraid of?”  Because this is a very great secret, that all of our lies come from fear.  The great and terrible fear of a small child in a big and pressuring world which requires an endless amount of arbitrary requests.  So clarify to yourself: “What I am so afraid of that I fall into lying?”  In this way you will reveal the fear, which controls you and causes you to beautify the reality and to ignore the pain and to shake off guilt and to close your eyes to your actions.  The fear of the small child who is sure that he is bad or guilty or mistaken or not okay or not in the right direction, and in any case, lacking any chance.

After you meet this fear, which distances you from the truth, you’ll reveal your inner child, and above this truth there is a deeper truth.

The deeper truth says that as much as you messed up and fell down and made mistakes and got dirty and were not okay, at your root you are completely good.  You are part of Hashem.  You are God’s only child.  You are beloved and important and good!  So good, that you have no idea!

Therefore the fear is unnecessary, and so to the lies.  Because what is the truth?  That everything you will reveal about yourself along the way does not take away from your value and does not cause you to appear unclean; it just helps you come closer, a bit more, to Hashem.  Truthfully.

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.

fog

Harav Israel Asulin

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

Tuesday, 16th of Shevat, 5776

BS”D

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.