Parashat Beshalach

Follow Moshe

Like the first rain which comes after long years of drought, Moshe’s whispers are still trickling… bringing water slowly to this tired and thirsty generation, revealing to anyone who is willing to hear: “Precious friend, I am the messenger of Hashem to redeem you.  I am the healer of the souls, this is my role.  I can help you.  I can lift you up even from the lowest depths.  Just follow me.”

leaving egypt

Harav Israel Asulin

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

Monday, 8th of Shevat, 5776

BS”D

The internal journey which the Jewish people went through in the Exodus from Egypt tells us the exciting story of our faith, which has no comparison in the world: “and they had faith in Hashem and in Moshe, His servant.” (Exodus, Chapter 14, Verse 31)

The Jewish people went through generations upon generations of slavery in Egypt, years upon years of servitude and difficulty and loss of awareness; it was almost erased from their memories the ancient, distant and sweet promise, which said: the day of redemption will come…

Amidst this situation, one clear day, Moshe arrives from Midian, walks between all of the depressed prisoners and declares: “Beloved brothers, I am God’s messenger, and in his name I say to you that the redemption is at hand.  Soon he will free you and redeem you and take you out from this terrible place and take you to another place, which is good and nearby, and he will choose you to be for him a special people and give you the Torah as a gift…”

And they believed him!!!

For two hundred and ten years they were amongst the filth of Egypt!  Not only were they slaves to Pharaoh, so too their father, grandfather, and the grandfather of their grandfather… generations of slavery.  A tradition of slavery… suddenly one day someone named Moshe comes and says to them:  “It’s over”, and they believe him!

From the strength of that faith they merited to see with their eyes how Hashem brought the ten plagues upon Egypt, with great miracles, and how Pharaoh expelled them from being his slaves, pleading with them to leave Egypt already to go and serve their God, and how in the end the surprising freedom came… and all along the way they continued to believe- a entire people stands at the gates of Egypt, disconnects from hundreds of years of slavery and servitude, and goes out a new path.  Men, women and children, with possessions of great wealth and dough which did not have time to rise, in their hearts they are departing for ever from Pharaoh and his slave masters, in their eyes they see a picture of the dreamed for and promised land… but how?  And where are they going from here???

Moshe says to them, “Come after me”, and they believe.

Apparently there were all types of Rabbis and learned people in that generation.  Surely there were also all kinds of wise men, who were experts in geography and the maps of the world, and they were familiar with international politics and foreign relations, and experts in weaponry and war strategy… each person in that generation could have said: “Okay, let’s say that Moshe is a tremendous Tsaddik and he showed us great miracles, but why walk after him specifically?  What if I know a shorter route to the land of Israel?!  I myself am from the Jewish people, a descendant of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, correct?!  And behold Hashem said that he will redeem the Jewish people, so that’s it, why do we need Moshe?  Why do I have to walk after him specifically?  I am smart enough and know how to walk!  Why can’t I do it by myself?  Maybe he’s completely mistaken about the route??”

A great level of faith and submission was needed in order to walk after Moshe!

And they?  They walked after Moshe!

They continued walking after Moshe, and continued, even when seemingly because of him they were entering a terrible, threatening and terminal death trap- Pharaoh and his 600 soldiers on horseback closing in behind them, and the sea was in front of them like a wall, deadly animals were threatening to swallow them alive in every direction, and the Jewish people were like “a dove which escaped from the hawk and hid in the cracks of the rocks, and there was a snake hiding there; the dove wanted to leave- behold the hawk was waiting at the entrance.  This is how the Jews were- the sea was raging before them and the tyrant was pursuing after them and so to the animals of the desert… they were surrounded in four directions…” (Midrash Tanchuma, Parshat Shoftim, 13)

Also in this difficult and impossible situation the people continued to believe and walk after Moshe.  Hashem says to Moshe: “Why do you cry out to me?  Speak to the Children of Israel and let them journey forth!” (Exodus, Chapter 14, Verse 15)  This is exactly what they do, they enter into the sea!  Somebody needs so much courage to do something like this!  It takes so much faith in order to enter the sea!  Because Moshe said…they believed.  “And they had faith in Hashem and in Moshe, His servant.”

Thousands of years afterwards, the same exciting situation of unexplainable faith is taking place.  Only this time we are the heroes; Jews of the 2000s, sunken to our necks in the filth of Egypt, serving Pharoah with dedication and trying to remember: “What was that, that promise?  They said that one day the Moshiach[1] would come and there will be redemption… did they really mean it or was it just a parable?  Is this something that will ever happen?  It’s a bit difficult to believe… it sounds so unrealistic and impractical…”

Like the first rain which comes after long years of drought, Moshe’s whispers are still trickling… bringing water slowly to this tired and thirsty generation, revealing to anyone who is willing to hear: “Precious friend, I am the messenger of Hashem coming to redeem you.  I am the healer of the souls, this is my role.  I can help you.  I can lift you up even from the lowest depths.  Just follow me.”

“The night before he passed away, Rebbe Nachman said to his students: ‘What do you need to worry about, for I am going before you?  What about the souls who did not know me at all and are waiting for my rectifications, even more so for you.” (The Life of Rebbe Nachman, Paragraph 225)  “Even after he has passed away, someone who will come to his gravesite, and say there these ten chapters of Psalms[2], and give a small amount of money to charity in his (Rebbe Nachman) memory, even if his sins were very great, God forbid, then I will try (Rebbe Nachman) and make a great effort to save him and rectify him…” (Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom, Paragraph 141)

It sounds a bit crazy.  It really contradicts all of our regular viewpoints.  What, from saying ten chapters of Psalms it is possible to have a salvation?  How can we leave Gehinnom[3] by visiting the gravesite of a Tsaddik?  Why be happy if I’m sad?  Who says that it’s permitted for me to make myself happy after I have sinned?  Why do I need to do it specifically his way?  It’s not possible by myself?  Who said that this is the path, maybe there are shortcuts?  We don’t understand anything!  However, we are all waiting for the sea to be split for us so that we can pass through it and receive the Torah; the same faith is waiting for us, that we will see it and believe in it… because “by way of faith by itself we can merit the aspect of the Splitting of the Sea.  The main aspect of the Splitting of the Sea for the Jewish people was through faith… because by way of faith in Hashem and the true Tsaddik (Rebbe Nachman) we can merit.” (Likutei Halachot, Laws of Torah learning, 3rd Halachah, 8th paragraph)

We have it, and we can do it, like our ancestors in Egypt- without asking questions.  Without arguing, without understanding.  Just walk after him, with closed eyes and with burning love which doesn’t expire; to see and to believe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Messiah

[2] A special rectification of ten chapters of Psalms that Rebbe Nachman revealed, called Tikun HaKlali

[3] The opposite of Heaven

Parashat Bo

Embracing the Problem

Things can change!  Yes, there is such a thing!  Prisoners can leave their jail cell, slaves can be freed and every Jew can leave behind what is holding him back.  Healing is something which happens instantly.  It can happen.

darkness

Harav Israel Asulin

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

Monday, 1st of Shevat, 5776

BS”D

The scent of the redemption already fills the air, the news of freedom is spreading from person to person, the slavery is becoming weaker and weaker, the kingdom of Pharaoh is falling apart; shortly the Jewish people are leaving Egypt.

Who is a candidate for redemption?

However, a little bit before the good ending, comes the plague of darkness and with it four out of every five Jews died, who until then were slaves to Pharaoh…

Why?  Why did this happen to them?  How did this terrible tragedy happen, that eighty percent of the Jews died close to becoming free, while they were still in the work camps, without meriting to feel the taste of freedom?

Rashi[1] explains: “There were wicked people in that generation and they did not want to leave and they died during the three days of darkness.” (Exodus, Chapter 10, Verse 22)  It’s not that they couldn’t leave, they simply did not want to leave.

This sounds crazy!  How could this be?  Who doesn’t want to leave after the difficult slavery and terrible suffering?!  Who?

Someone who believes that it has to be bad, someone who thinks that suffering and sorrow are an inseparable part of life, someone who is certain that only through endless difficult labor we will justify our existence, someone who is convinced by the darkness around him, someone who hugs what is constricting him- how is it possible to redeem a person like this?!

Despite the fact that this test was a long time ago and we are descents of those who merited to be redeemed, also in today’s reality the plague of darkness syndrome is still in control: a “problematic” external image which becomes an inseparable and silencing identity.

A problematic identity- is there such a thing?

A Jew comes to receive emotional help, it’s difficult for him, he has a lot of problems, sometimes he diagnoses himself and comes with a few ‘professional’ diagnoses for his difficult situation… sometimes he simply feels unsuccessful and weak, miserable and very problematic, the whole world is against him and nothing goes right for him, not in marriage and not in growing as a person and not in Judaism and not in self-realization… in any case, he wants to receive help.  He wants help with all of his being.  One of his hands is really outstretched with a request for help.

However, the second, hidden, hand is grasping tightly his bundle of problems, which nobody should dare to come close and rob from him his most precious possession.  This is how he is, problematic.  Like this and not something else.  Nobody should dare to take this from him.

Ask a person like this:  “But why?  Behold, you want help?  You know and feel that you need a change.  So why are you not willing to let go?”

The answer will be:  “About myself!  You don’t understand?!  That is who I am!  You can’t take me away from myself and leave me with nothing!  What, you want me to die?!  This is my identity, without it I don’t have anything!!”

He only knows this way of being and thinking to the point that he feels threatened by the idea of separating from it.  He is convinced that if someone will take away from him his “problematic” identity, they will remove from him his very self.

The problem of the slavery- something essential or external?

According to the truth, defining a person as ‘problematic’ is so incorrect!  Our problems are just external, and we don’t begin or end with our external identity.  Clothing (the external image) is just clothing, you can wear them and remove them according to the need and in an instant.  However what we really are is deep, internal and eternal.

The problem is not a part of your identity!  The problem is external and it is possible to be rid of it, and it is fitting to do this as soon as possible.

Things can change!  Yes, there is such a thing!  Prisoners can leave their jail cell, slaves can be freed and every Jew can leave behind what is holding him back.  Interpersonal relationships which are stuck can be pushed forward.  The victim doesn’t have to remain a victim his whole life.  A controlling person doesn’t have to always remain controlling.  A depressed person can begin to be happy, a suspicious person can trust, a person under pressure can be released from it, and an overweight person can lose weight… healing is something which happens instantly.  It can happen.  However, how will it happen to a person who holds his sicknesses close to him like an oxygen mask and is sure that without them he will die?!

The most fundamental feeling in the soul is the feeling of “I”.  Our whole lives surround around ourselves.  What is the “I” composed of?

The “I” is made up of character attributes, desires, aspirations, dreams and opinions.  A person sees his opinions and viewpoints as part of himself.  Therefore, a fundamental change in one’s view means changing himself, foregoing the old self for the good of the new self.  This concession seems to us to be so difficult that it is impossible…

The Torah comes and tells every Jew: you can leave this!  You have a soul which can leave all the constraints.  Your problem is that you think your power is limited, and therefore you already don’t have a chance to leave this.  The splitting of the Red Sea exactly battles against this outlook.  Its purpose was to tear through the ‘sea’ of the finality, to tear apart the ‘sea’ of these terminal thoughts, because truly your strengths have no limit!  All of those who thought that their strengths had an end and it was decreed upon them eternal darkness- stayed in Egypt; they listened to Pharaoh, to his bad mouth.  However, the twenty percent who continued to believe in good also amongst the complete darkness, also amongst the forty nine levels of impurity, amongst the dirtiest place in the world, amongst the falsehood- they succeeded in leaving this reality and entering the forty nine levels of purity.

So what do we do?

Sentences like “that is my luck”, “that’s how I was born”, “I already tried everything”- they are a lie in the soul and display an incorrect connection to the problem, like a bear’s hug.  What is the truth?  That the whole horizon is open before you- from one end to the other.  Just hold out both of your hands and chose anew.

If we will rely on the desires of our heart, on our incorrect interpretations of reality, surely we will stay in Egypt.  The only way to leave is to believe in someone who was never enslaved, someone who was standing completely on the outside.  To believe and to follow him to the desert of miracles and wonders which awaits us outside of Egypt.  Moshe also asks us:  Why are you rolling around in the filth?  Why are you torn apart?  What holds you captive in the ‘bad’?  Stop being miserable while building “storage cities” for Pharaoh.  Nobody needs this.  Every morning a Jew blesses “who did not make me a slave.”  The slavery which you find yourself in is not a decree from heaven, it is just a deception of Pharaoh.  You are not really a slave.  Simply stop believing in it.  Leave Egypt!

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

Don’t Oppose

All of the defense mechanisms which we developed when we were children were in order to survive.  We were small and lacking strength and dependent on grown-ups who didn’t always see us and who many times didn’t understand and requested and pressured and got angry.  We didn’t have a choice, we were forced build for ourselves walls of defense of resistance in order to survive.

traffic

HaRav Israel Asulin

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

Tuesday, 28th of Cheshvan 5776

What is the connection between boredom, disconnection, aggression, anger, cynicism, vulnerability, forcefulness, argumentativeness, tiredness, appeasement and being too polite?

The connection is that all of the above come from opposition.

What is opposition?

Every one of us wants other people to fulfill our will.  To honor us, listen to us, consider us… and in general, that everything will flow well and pleasantly according to our dreams.

What happens when the opposite happens?

When our will clashes with the opposing will of someone else or with a reality which ruins the flow of our plans, opposition is awakened inside of us.

The simplest example of this can be found on a crowded road, where there are annoyed drivers who honk at the traffic light with all of their strength and swear at the roads and those who paved them.

What is actually happening here?

There is a driver and he has a will- that the road will be open, that the traffic will flow and that he will arrive as soon as possible to his destination.  This traffic jam clashes with his will and ruins his plans.  The automatic reaction is opposition, here comes to expression his anger and nerves.

To whom is the opposition intended?  To the traffic lights?  To the police officers?  To the drivers in front of me and behind me and to the sides?  To the wife who is waiting for me impatiently with a baby in her arms?

On the surface that seems to be correct.

However, deep down, the opposition is to the feelings which threaten to overcome me when I’m stuck in a traffic jam.  The opposition is to something much deeper that the traffic light, it is to the fact that my plans did not progress as I expected.  I wanted something.  I planned something, and they’re bothering me!  A power stronger than me is blocking my path and messing up my plans!  I can’t feel the helplessness which spreads over me, when I am trapped, feeling small in the middle of a giant and busy and stuck road, and I can’t do anything to be rescued from it and take off already to the baby who is waiting for me at home with a tired mother and an ear infection… I’m not able to feel myself so helpless!  So I honk with all my strength and get annoyed in a loud voice… I’m feeling opposition.

Rebbe Nachman teaches us: “And the main part of teshuva[1] is when he hears his ridicule and he is silent and quiet…” (Likutei Moharan, 6th Torah)

Listen, sweet friend, don’t object.  Not to others who ridicule you and not to the internal feelings which are awakened inside of you as a result.  Don’t oppose!  I know it’s difficult; it’s not for no reason that you escape from the feeling of opposition.  It’s not simple for you to experience the pain, like for example the pain of losing control which you felt in the traffic jam, and you have justified reasons.  But understand, if you want to be healed, you have to stop opposing the pain!  Be with it, experience it.  Don’t oppose!

Why not oppose?  Why allow the pain to overtake me without pushing it away?  What is the reason to feel the pain?  What do I receive from this?  Behold it’s not for no reason that I developed such perfected ways of opposition; they came to protect me at the times when I was the most exposed and vulnerable!  Why break through them all of the sudden?

It’s true, all the ways of defense that we developed as children had the meaning of survival for the child that we were.  We were small and helpless and dependent on adults, who didn’t always see us and who many times didn’t understand us and they requested and pressed and got angry at us.  We didn’t have a choice, we were forced to place upon ourselves defensive walls of resistance in order to survive.  We learned to feel boredom instead of rejection and tiredness instead of sadness and pressure instead of fear and anger instead of helplessness.  We covered the most exposed and sensitive parts inside of us will bullet proof vests of resistance.

We are like the same scared child who was deeply injured, and from so much fear and horror he runs to cover the injury.  The main thing is not to see it.  Time goes by and the injury bleeds and becomes infected, and with every painful stabbing like this the child adds another layer of opposition…

However, we are not children anymore, and the time has come to remove the layers of band aids and to treat with a fundamental treatment the festering wounds. “Silent and quiet”- to be silent is also to give a place for it to bleed.  There is no possibility to skip over this stage on the way to true healing.

Yes, the way to be healed from the difficult feelings which we absorbed and felt scared and closed inside goes through experiencing again all of those feelings which we repressed.  This is the entrance gate to the world of personal growth, to experience and feel again all of those feelings.  To feel the pain with them.  To cry because of them.  To understand what really happened there.  To ask for mercy.  To scream to Hashem.  To feel the pain and feel the pain and feel the pain.  Until the complete purification.

How do we stop opposing and begin to feel the pain?

The first stage is to not oppose the oppose.

What does this mean?

To admit that I feel opposition right now.  Not to deny the opposition and not to connect it to the external reality.  Yes, correct, I identify, I feel opposition now.  This is my automatic reaction to pain.  It’s true.

There is no reason to fight the opposition.  Just like the opposition itself, so to the opposition to the opposition diverts our attention from the pain, and it’s a shame.  Be courageous and receive the fact that you feel opposition.

When I receive the fact that I’m in opposition, I can try to search inside and clarify in a gentle manner- why I am opposing right now?  What feeling is inside of me and threatening me?  What am I trying to block?  From what am I afraid?  What I am going through?  Ah, I feel helpless in the midst of an arbitrary and inconsiderate occurrence.  That’s so painful, to feel helpless… ah…it hurts… it hurts!!!

This is the first and very meaningful stage in our path to removing our opposition.  The more that we work on being “silent and quiet” in the face of humiliations, Hashem will help us, and in the merit of his great mercy and with the strength of the Tsaddikim who pray for us, we will merit soon to full healing, complete teshuva and the redemption may it come speedily.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Repentance

Parashat Va’era

You can be Redeemed

This is one of the messages of Rebbe Nachman: precious Jew, you do deserve it!  You don’t need difficult work in order to live!  Everything is very simple:  you scream from so much pain, your prayer goes up to Hashem, Hashem sends you Moshe, and that’s it, you can be redeemed!

moses_and_aaron_before_pharoah_

Harav Israel Asulin

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

Monday, 23rd of Tevet, 5776

BS”D

Finally, after years upon years of bitter and long exile, suffering and slavery- Hashem turns to Moshe and tells him, the time for redemption has come: “Moreover, I have heard the groan of the Children of Israel whom Egypt enslaves and I have remembered My covenant,” and he requests of him to pass on the hoped for message to the children of Israel: “Therefore, say to the Children of Israel: ‘I am Hashem, and I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt; I shall rescue you from their service; I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.  I shall take you to Me for a people and I shall be a God to you… I shall bring you to the land about which I raised My hand to give it to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov.” (Exodus, Chapter 6, Verses 5-8)  These words are so comforting, soft and healing: “My beloved children, it’s me, Hashem, and I promise you that from now on everything will be okay!  Not just okay, everything will be incredible!  The good ending has come, and I’m coming to take you out of this suffering, to save you from the difficult slavery.  I’m coming to redeem you, to take you as the chosen nation for me and to bring you to the promised land!”

Moshe, who was faithful to the command he received, comes to the Jewish people, who were groaning and struggling from the slavery and crying out for salvation, and tells them the good news, which they waited for for so long: “Beloved brothers, I have good news from Hashem!  Here it is!  Hashem who is great, the one who saved our forefather Avraham from the furnace and our forefather Yaakov from Esav and Lavan; Hashem who promised our holy forefathers that we will be a nation for him, Hashem says that it is happening now!  The redemption is at hand!  Your cries reached the throne of glory, and here it is, he is coming to redeem you!  All of this pain and suffering and servitude and humiliation and weakness- will immediately become history!  Soon it will be good!  There won’t be any more slave masters.  There won’t be any more blows.  The blood of babies will not be spilled.  That’s it.  Everything is going to turn into good!”

A speech full of shining hope for a good future, new, different… and how do the Jewish people react?  “So Moshe spoke accordingly to the Children of Israel; but they did not heed Moshe, because of shortness of breath and hard work.” (Exodus, Chapter 6, Verse 9)  The news of the redemption did not even enter into their ears!!!

Why?  Why didn’t they listen to Moshe?  It’s strange!  They were the ones who groaned and screamed to Hashem for him to save them, and then, when Hashem comes and says to them, “Okay, my precious children, you are free”- they don’t ever hear what he says!!!

How can we possibly understand this???

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov says: “’Because of shortness of breath and hard work’- because they were in the aspect of ‘shortness of breath’, because they were small in their level of faith as discussed above, through this a person needs to engage in difficult work and fasts… and there are several aspects of lacking faith, because there are even Tsaddikim who have a lack of faith…” (Likutei Moharan, Torah 86, Part 2)  Rebbe Natan explains: “When he said to me… that because of a lack of faith a person needs difficult work etc., I stood before him incredulous and my thoughts were in wonderment regarding this matter, because it seemed to me that I have a bit of faith, he answered me and said with a little bit of a language of rebuke: If you have faith, you don’t have faith in yourself… and he mentioned immediately the teaching of the Sages: ‘For who is scornful on the day of small things?’ (Zechariah, Chapter 4, Verse 10)  What caused the table[1] of the Tsaddikim to be disdained in the future?  The smallness that was inside of them, that they did not believe in themselves… It can be explained according to this that they did not believe in Hashem that he is good to everyone and they are important and great in Hashem’s eyes… And the general principle which can be understood from his words is that a person needs to have faith in himself that he also beloved in Hashem’s eyes… great and important in his eyes.” (Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom, Paragraph 140)

It’s true, they screamed and pleaded to Hashem to save them, but when they were answered, and the redemption was knocking on their door- it didn’t enter their hearts because of smallness of faith, and in whom did they not believe?  They did not believe in themselves.

They did not believe that their scream did something, that their prayers had the power to bring the Messiah.  They thought that in order to merit the redemption you need ‘difficult work and fasts.’  They did not believe that they, as they were, from their place and by speaking with Hashem were truly worthy of redemption!  “They did not believe in themselves!”  They did not believe in this simple truth, that they could call out to Hashem and he would answer and love them and shower upon them good.

Therefore, they allowed the news of the redemption to pass by their ears, and they continued to work hard.

What about us today?

Just as then, also today, in the Egypt of today’s generation which still dwells in the blood and tears of the exile of the soul.  It could be that the news of the redemption is already here, truly, in our hands.  It could be that Moshe stands at our side and whispers to us in the ear: “Listen, beloved ones, this whole nightmare already belongs in the history books!  This bad and painful dream is finishing.  Say enough to blows, blood, pursuits, hunger, pain, loss, blame, confusion, lack of certainty, fears, sadness… a turning point has happened in the story, the time of the redemption has come…”  It could be that Moshe stands here, so close to us, telling us in our ears the news of the redemption- and we don’t hear!  We are in the middle of screaming to Hashem, and from so much screaming, we don’t hear how Hashem is saying to us:  “It’s okay, I’m here, you can calm down, I’ve come to save you.  Now.”  Hashem comes to us with all of the good in the world, and we close our hands and don’t take.  We are not prepared to let the redemption enter inside us.

Why?

Because we don’t have faith that we deserve salvation.  We think that we haven’t prayed enough.  For someone like me, poor and not worthy, to merit this great thing that I want, I need to make more of an effort, to work hard, to pray a lot… a little respect to difficult work, to fasts, self-denial, to reading the book of Psalms two thousand times… according to our outlook, in order to merit a salvation, we need to work hard.  How could it be, that I’ll just call out and Hashem will answer me and the redemption will come?!  How?  I don’t deserve it!

This is one of the messages of Rebbe Nachman: precious Jew, you do deserve it!  You don’t need difficult work in order to live!  Everything is very simple:  you scream from so much pain, your prayer goes up to Hashem, Hashem sends you Moshe, and that’s it, you can be redeemed!

Just believe in it…

[1] Their place in the Garden of Eden

Parashat Shemot

Our Spiritual Exile in Egypt

Where do we meet this week’s Torah portion in our lives?  In our soul.  Rebbe Natan of Breslov says: “all of the exiles are called the exile of Egypt, and the main exile is the exile of the soul.”  The exile of the soul.  A concept that once we come to recognize it for the first time, we begin to believe that there is also redemption.

slavery in egypt

Harav Israel Asulin

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

Monday, 16th of Tevet, 5776

BS”D

It is explained in the Chassidic writings that for all of the events which happened in the Torah, there is a parallel experience in our soul.  Everything that happened in the Torah- beginning from the creation of the world from the chaos and darkness that preceded it, continuing with the birth of the generations from Adam, the events and journeys in the desert, and concluding with the receiving of the Torah and the entry to the Land of Israel- all of these events happen to every Jew inside his soul.

So too the descent to the Egyptian exile.

“A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know of Yosef…The Egyptians enslaved the Children of Israel with crushing harshness.  They embittered their lives with hard work, with mortar and with bricks, and with every labor of the field…” (Exodus, Chapter 1, Verses 8-14)  Here begins 210 years of enslavement and harsh labor, decrees and suffering; here the exile begins.

Hey!?  What does this have to do with us?  We are, thank God, in the Land of Israel and not in Egypt.  Pharaoh died a long time ago, and Pitom and Ramses we know of from the Pyramids, not from the slavery…

Correct.  The current Egypt is not the Egypt of the Torah, it is the exile of the soul, because “all of the exiles are called the exile of Egypt, and the main exile is the exile of the soul.” (Rebbe Natan of Breslov)

In order to understand what the exile of the soul is, we need to first understand what is exile?  Exile refers to a person who is not in his place.  He is far from his home, from his land, from his natural place, and not by choice.  This is really the definition of the exile of the soul- you are not in your natural place.  You are not where you need to be.  You are not where you want to be.  Distant.  A captive in a foreign land.

Of course, you can live in a furnished and designed beautiful apartment, with a large salary, a wife and children and all of the pleasures of the land of Egypt.  However, is your soul in its place?  Do you find yourself, inside, where you want to be, where it is fitting for you to be?

In truth, our place needs to be filled with love and light and connection and faith and happiness and excitement and honor and unity.  That is our true place!

Where do we find ourselves?  In loneliness, separation, disconnection, emptiness, depression, fear, lack of trust, lack of meaning, in pain…

Why?  How did this happen to us?  How did we lose our place?  How was love exchanged with alienation, connection with loneliness and trust with suspicion?  How where we exiled so much from our good, true, natural place?

Everything began when we were children.  We were born as children who loved and felt connected and gave 100 percent of our faith and we had will with nothing blocking it… then Pharaoh came, by each and every one of us he dressed up as a different figure, but for everyone he bothered us, he moved us from our original place, threw us into Egypt, enslaved us, and thus, in the end, we lost our true selves.  We learned to lie in order to find favor.  We learned to please so that we wouldn’t be hit.  We learned to stop wanting- because there was no chance that we would succeed.  We learned not to love- because what is love anyways!?  We learned to make ourselves small- so that others would not do it for us with more harshness… we withered, disappeared, constricted our abilities to zero, and forgot what we want.  In place of the true self who got lost, our external self developed, who represents our exile.  Despite the fact that he is called myself, he is a meager self; he is not really me.

This is our exile.  The exile of a person from himself.  The exile of the soul.

However, we have not been decreed to be slaves forever.  The same means which opened the way for the redemption of the Jewish people- with those means each and every Jew, not only can he, rather he is commanded to redeem himself from his own personal Egyptian exile.  To break through all of the barriers and to be free.

The first key is identifying the exile.  Someone who does not identify that he is in Egypt will never leave there.  To identify that the place which I find myself is not my true place, I’m just stuck there.  These clothes that I’m wearing are not me, they are just prisoner’s clothes which Pharaoh put me in in his great cruelty.  To identify that I’m faking it, I live a lie, I’m trying to please, I’m disguised like some kind of monster, I’m not myself!  Why is this the first key?  Because “when a person knows in his heart that he has sickness in his soul, after he has this knowledge he can sweeten the situation by way of this knowledge, and that is his healing.  What is not the case when he is in hiding… that he doesn’t know he is spiritually sick, then there is no healing for his blow” (The Baal Shem Tov, Keter Shem Tov, paragraph 25)

The second key is: “and the Children of Israel groaned because of the work and they cried out.  Their outcry because of the work went up to God.” (Exodus, Chapter 2, Verse 23)  After you have identified that you are in exile- cry out to God, request, plead: “Master of the world, see what I’m going through.  Suddenly it’s become clear to me that I’m not at all in my place.  I thought that this was my home.  I thought that this was who I am.  Suddenly I reveal that I’m in Egypt, and this image in the mirror is a lowly reflection of who I buried when I was a child.  Hashem, I don’t know who I truly am.  I don’t know how to leave Egypt.  I don’t know.  But I know that I can’t do it by myself.  There is a scary Pharaoh.  There is noise and subjugators and blows.  Please, Creator of the world, take me out of here!  I don’t want to remain in this place!  I want to return to my original and natural place.  I want to return to the love and happiness, to the innocence and trust.  Save me!  Abba!  I want to be redeemed!!”  When a person cries from the depths of his heart, he also answered: “for if he shall cry out to Me, I shall surely hear his outcry.” (Exodus, Chapter 22, Verse 22)

The third key is Moshe.  Also after the Jewish people recognized that they were in Egypt and also after they screamed out to Hashem- they could not take themselves out of Egypt.  They needed Moshe Rabbeinu[1], who would be the mediator between them and Pharaoh, who would bring them the word of Hashem, who would lead them, guide them, and pave the way for them to escape the exile… like then also today, and always.  In order to leave your exile, you have to walk in the footsteps of the Tsaddik, the healer of the souls, fulfill his advice, believe in him, to lean upon him, to let him show you the way out from your personal Egyptian exile, to be redeemed, and to begin your journey to the land of Israel!

[1] Our teacher

Parashat Vayechi

My Children

What is required of you is only to give trust, to know it is for sure good, to give yourself to the good and have a good influence- without listening to the weakening whispers in your ear of the scientific proofs and statistical facts and astrological forecasts and the numerological guesses and the genetics…

yaakov blessing

Harav Israel Asulin

Monday, 9th of Tevet, 5776

BS”D

One of the main branches of the evil inclination is called ‘wisdom and investigations.’  This is a branch which looks really good and has a special, high profile- it is important, learned and logical and sees the expected results.  It has an archive filled with very thick books- history books filled with deep understandings and science books loaded with evidence and studies; this branch also has advanced equipment for investigating the future- binoculars, telescopes, sophisticated satellites, scientific sensors, facts, forecasts, statistics and probabilities…

Then you come along, a Jew who wants to live according to God’s will, and suddenly you discover that a representative of this branch is on his way to you… the voice of this same wise guy who sees the future sits on the opening of your heart and mind and pokes at you with destructive consistency and logical arguments: “Forget about you!  There’s no chance!  You already tried to go towards the good and you see with your own eyes how always at this important moment, everything turns upside down to evil and black and unbearable.  Why even try?!  Look at the reality outside!  Look yourself at this darkness and tell me:  Where is it possible to find light here?  How?  What, are you blind!?  Please, do me a favor, have both feet on the ground and don’t speak to me with unrealistic and mystical concepts of ‘good’, ‘progress’, and ‘light’, when the reality speaks for itself.  Don’t be naïve, look at the reality with a realistic outlook, forget about all these nice words; let’s let life flow as it is, with hope to get hurt as little as possible and to survive as much as possible…”

Yes.  The branch of the wisdom and investigations is veteran and professional and knows to work excellently.  Not from today, from ancient times.

In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Vayechi, Yosef the Tsaddik comes to his father Ya’akov with his two sons, Menashe and Efraim, who were born to him in Egypt, and he asks Ya’akov to bless them.  Ya’akov receives them with happiness, however he immediately sees with prophetic vision that in the future really wicked people will descend from the sons of Yosef:  “Then Israel saw Yoseph’s sons and he said, ‘Who are these?’” (Genesis, Chapter 48, Verse 8)  ‘Who are these?’ Ya’akov asks Yosef, intending to say as the commentators explain: “Who are these- they are not fitting for blessing?!”

Look, Ya’akov our forefather says, I look with prophetic vision and I’m shocked to reveal what will come from these youths in the future- Yeravam the son of Navat who sinned and caused others to sin, Achav, Yehu; how much evil with come from them in the future!  So tell me, who are these??  They are not fitting for blessing!  I see this difficult future, and I don’t find in myself the power to shower upon them good and bless them!

In truth, how can someone influence and give and serve Hashem and make progress, when we see such a dark, threatening and lustful horizon!?

Yosef the Tsaddik answers in his tremendous holiness and purity: “They are my sons whom God has given me here” (Verse 9) – Hashem gave me them.   They are good.  Nothing will change this truth, not even a prophetic vision.

Yosef the Tsaddik teaches us that is forbidden for us to act according to the forecasts of the future, even when you possess the power of prophecy and it is clear to you that the future will be bad (by the way, in our current reality, we do not have prophecy)… you must do what you can right now with purity and simplicity, to do the good which is required of you, to have a good influence without rational considerations and making a smart accounting, because “the main purpose and completion is to serve Hashem with complete innocence, without any wisdom… however in truth the main way to obtain the true purpose is only through faith and fulfilling the mitzvahs practically, to serve Hashem according to the Torah with simplicity and innocence, and through this itself we merit what we can merit…” (Likutei Moharan, second part, Torah 19)

Yes, despite everything you’ve been through and despite everything that seems to you that you’ll go through in the future, despite everything and because of everything- don’t loosen your grip on the good, from your belief in the good, from doing good and having a good influence with no boundary.

What about all of the bad that you see and experience in ‘the reality’?

The reality that you see and experience, is measured by you with minimal, external and sensory vessels which take into account only what is visible and not the internal experience, because this life has to it a tremendous, hidden depth with one simple truth: Hashem is good, and he created the world in order to bestow good.  Therefore, it has to be that everything is good, here and now, and it will be better and better also in the future.

It’s true, it is terrible to think that my descendants will be mistaken and led others astray, but don’t focus on how it seems from the outside.  At the depth, there is only good, even if in your eyes it seems completely evil.  If it is from Hashem- it is good.  This is ‘my sons’, with everything that means: they are beloved and good and likeable and worthwhile.  “They are my sons whom God has given me here”- ‘He showed him through this that this is God’s will, in this itself is hidden the hidden good.’

What is required of you is only to give trust, to know it is for sure good, to give yourself to the good and have a good influence- without listening to the weakening whispers in your ear of the scientific proofs and statistical facts and astrological forecasts and the numerological guesses and the genetics…

When Ya’akov our forefather sees the complete belief with no hesitation which Yosef has in his sons, even against a proof from Ya’akov’s prophetic vision which seems to be completely bad- immediately Ya’akov is appeased and he says: “Bring them to me, if you please, and I will bless them.” (Verse 9)

Ya’akov did not just bless them, but also if you merit to walk with this innocence, if you merit to strengthen the good in a simple way, without lessons learned from the past and silly considerations of the future, then immediately the abundance will arrive and the blessing will be upon you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parashat Vayigash

The depth of Crying

Joseph and his brothers

Harav Israel Asulin

Tuesday, 3rd of Tevet, 5776

BS”D

One of the issues we run into it when we merit to make progress in our spiritual growth relates to other people.

After a person engages in personal development work, makes progress and increases his ability to make good choices- suddenly he begins to see the people that were left behind, and he realizes how much they are stuck and lacking direction.  If, for example, you merited to stay in the boundaries of healthy eating that you set for yourself and you made it through Hanukah without letting a tiny bit of jelly or powdered sugar touch your lips- what goes through your mind when you see around you plump people who are chewing between their teeth donuts dripping in oil, Kosher L’Mehadrin, according to the method of increasing each time?  Or, when your child made you crazy and despite that you succeeded in taking responsibility for your feelings and you believed the internal voice of your mature self: “This is my experience”- what do you think about all those types of people who go crazy in front of their mirror and kick it with no mercy?  Or when you danced with great closeness to Hashem and your strengthened yourself in emunah[1] that Hashem is good and everything is for your best, even when you felt difficulty and sorrow- what are you supposed to do when another person is in a lot of pain or sad or shut down or bitter?

Yosef the Tsaddik answers the question for us.

In Parshat Vayeishev we met Yosef, the wondrous Tsaddik who danced in the darkness of Egypt.  There he was, alone, lonely, disconnected and distant from his father’s home surrounded by the impurity of Egypt, imprisoned and subjugated in a completely despairing reality; “Hashem was with Joseph, and he became a successful man” (Genesis, Chapter 39, Verse 2)- ‘he was dancing and skipping’, he lifted himself up from his reality and defeated the darkness of Egypt!

On the other hand, the Torah takes the trouble of describing to us the many times that Yosef cries.

Yosef’s cry when he reveals himself to his brothers still sounds natural and required: “Now Joseph could not restrain himself…He cried in a loud voice.” (Genesis, Chapter 45, Verses 1-2)  However, the matter of Yosef’s crying returns and is emphasized many times, and is not always understandable from first glance: When the brothers reached Egypt for the first time, the verse says: “Then they said to one another, ‘Indeed we are guilty’…He turned away from them and wept.” (Genesis, Chapter 42, Verses 21-24)  When the brothers returned and came back to Egypt with Binyamin:  “Then he lifted up his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin…Then Joseph rushed because his compassion for his brother had been stirred and he wanted to weep; so he went into the room and wept there.” (Genesis, Chapter 43, Verses 29-30)  Later on, when he reveals himself to his brothers:  “Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept;” (Chapter 45, Verse 14) “He then kissed all his brothers and wept upon them.” (Chapter 45, Verse 15)  Also when Yosef merits to meet his father, Yaakov reads the Shema Yisrael prayer and rather Yosef: “He appeared before him, fell on his neck, and he wept on his neck excessively” (Chapter 46, Verse 29), again he cries.  Even when his brothers come to him with the offer to be his servants: “And Joseph wept when they spoke to him” (Chapter 50, Verse 17), they speak and he cries.

It is strange.

Why on earth are you crying so much?  About what are you crying?  Furthermore, how does this go together with the dancing and skipping?

Behold when you stood, as an alone young man, against the servitude and lowliness and incredible difficulties- you danced, and specifically now, when the story moves toward its good ending and you merit to see you dreams becoming reality- behold, you rule over all the land of Egypt, you have sons and wealth and honor and kingship, and furthermore you merit to reunite with your family after so many years of separation and longing; specifically now you cry so much?!  Why? About what?

If we contemplate the verses we can receive from Yosef the Tsaddik, who merited to traverse the challenges and lift himself up to the awesome level of a Tsaddik who is the foundation of the world, exact and inspiring guidance how to look at the other and how to behave with someone else, even when we are already great Tsaddikim who overcome even the donut and take responsibility and hold on to pure faith that everything is for the best…

Yosef’s crying was not crying for himself.  It was cries of mercy and participation in the sorrow of somebody else.  Cries of giving.

In his darkness he danced, but not in the darkness of others.  When someone else was in pain, when his brothers were embarrassed or suffering or hurting or feeling regret or hitting themselves- then Yosef would cry.  When mercy for his brother Binyamin overcame him- then he cried.  When he met his father who mourned for him many years with endless sorrow- again Yosef cried.

Here he breaks out dancing to a song of faith that everything is for the best… and here he can’t restrain himself from crying so much!  He cries and cries and cries again and can’t restrain himself from crying in front of his brothers!

Yosef learned this exalted crying from his mother and ours, Rachel, whose whole essence was crying for the other, a cry of giving which gave birth to the promise of redemption: “Thus said Hashem: Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears; for there is reward for your accomplishment…and your children will return to their border” (Jeremiah, Chapter 31, Verses 15-16), concerning this crying the Midrash says: “Just as Joseph only appeased his brothers through crying, so to Hashem only redeems the Jewish people through crying.” (Midrash Rabah Vayigash 93, 12)

To cry a cry of giving is a tremendous virtue, this is the goal, and in the end the path to the redemption.

[1] Faith

Parashat Vayeishev

Me and My Clothing

19 of kislev

Harav Israel Asulin

Monday, 18th of Kislev, 5776

BS”D

It is written in this week’s Torah portion, regarding Yosef and the wife of Potifar: “She caught hold of him by his garment, saying ‘Lie with me!’  But he left his garment in her hand, and he fled, and went outside.” (Geneis, Chapter 39, Verse 12)

Rebbe Nachman says (Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom, paragraph 100): “The evil inclination catches a person with his clothing, that is to say that he bothers him regarding his clothing.  Because a person’s worry about the need for clothing greatly confuses him and prevents him through this from serving Hashem.  This is what it means ‘She caught hold of him by his garment’.  However, someone who has a strong soul and his heart is strong in serving Hashem doesn’t pay attention at all to this matter, and this is what it means ‘But he left his garment in her hand, and fled’- he leaves his clothing and escapes from them and doesn’t pay attention to them whatsoever, he just does what he can in his service of Hashem.”

Rebbe Nachman reveals to us that the evil inclination has an amazing trick for trapping someone- clothing.  His fishing rod automatically zones in on clothing; that is his method.  He spreads out before us a net, catches us with clothing, and keeps us by him, far from the service of Hashem.

What is clothing?

Clothing is not specifically the clothes that we buy in the store and wear on our body; clothing is anything that we put upon ourselves from the outside, it is our external image.  Just as there are different types of clothing, for every time and season, so to the external image takes many different ways of talking and interacting.

In truth, there is no doubt that there is a role for the external image.  This image is what allows a person to conduct himself in the world and have a place amongst people.  A person places upon himself an image as a need, as a defense.  Sometimes it is the only way it seems to him to conduct himself in the world.  The feeling is that if it were not for the external image, a person simply could not survive.

However, when we make the less important, the clothing, the main thing, when somebody identifies so much with his external image until he has no differentiation and it seems to him that he is the external image and that he can’t get along in any other way from that which he is used to, this has gone beyond a ‘need’ and become something troubling.  A bother which holds up our service of Hashem.

***

It’s a bit difficult to understand, what is so bad about identifying with my external image?  It’s a sin?  What is the connection between the external image and the evil inclination?  In general, how can these external images and ways of being prevent us from serving Hashem?  The external image that a person gives himself limits him and bounds him.  It tells him how to behave and what to feel, where all the other variety of possibilities which are not part of the same fixed way of acting are not in the picture.  When somebody allows a certain way of acting to take over his choice, he is by definition limited and able to realize just a small amount of his talents and attributes.

The inability to change ways of acting is exactly what stops a person from growing.  Rebbe Nachman says that “She caught hold of him by his garment” is the evil inclination which whispers to a person: “You are not able to!”  “This is the only way that you know and therefore it is the only possibility!”  In this way he catches the person by his external image and prevents him from moving in the right direction.

Someone who recognizes his true value, his talents, the holiness of his limitless soul, does not worry about his clothing- his external image, he identifies what is more important and what is less and he clings to the main thing- even if the meaning of this is leaving behind his habits and disconnecting from everything known and certain.

A person like this agrees to leave his clothing and escape without it, “even though he doesn’t have another piece of clothing to wear, nevertheless he doesn’t concern himself with this and he doesn’t want to let himself be confused by this!”

If you will forego your clothing/ external image, if you agree to dedicate yourself completely to the good and release yourself from holding on to these external things, you will merit God willing to the continuation of verse regarding Yosef: “And (he) went outside”- away from all the imaginary chains which hide you from yourself.  Away from all the threatening barriers which stop you and prevent you from realizing your true purpose in serving Hashem and in the world.

Go forward to the real life.

Parashat Vayishlach

Everything or nothing?!

imperfect

Harav Israel Asulin

Monday, 11th of Kislev, 5776

BS”D

“Yeah, I already tried, I already worked on this point, but I didn’t succeed.  It’s too much for me, and that’s it.”

This is a sentence that we hear a lot from many people and in many variations, where the common message of all of them is: “Listen, I tried- it didn’t work for me, so leave me alone.”

One of the stronger tendencies in our soul is the tendency towards everything or nothing.  This tendency raises its head with more strength and intensity when we try to enter the service of Hashem, work on ourselves and connect to our inner self.

Also here we want to be successful.  We want to serve Hashem in a complete way, to do everything and exactly the way that Hashem wants from us.  To have a hour a day of personal prayer with a broken heart and supplications, and to be happy and joyful the remaining twenty three hours… to be successful in Torah learning, fulfill the mitzvahs with beauty, to finally be weaned and overcome all addictions, to be an amazing husband- a good listener, accepting, understanding, and a good father and educator…

In short, to be complete.

This is good and correct, to want to reach all of the true spiritual good.

The problem begins when our will meets the evil inclination and all of his soldiers, and the accomplishments become distant from us, and nothing goes our way, and we scream at our children instead of hugging them and we eat donuts instead of cucumbers and we don’t succeed in weaning ourselves like we hoped and we don’t pray like we wanted to and we’re not able to learn like we dreamed.

If also then we continue to hold the flag of “everything or nothing” and the “everything” gets buried, then what we are left with is the despair of “nothing”.  This is the sentence that says “listen, I tried- it didn’t work for me, so leave me alone.”

In this week’s Torah portion Rebbe Nachman speaks in an incredible way exactly about this matter.

It is written: “Then Jacob sent angels ahead of him to Esau his brother to the land of Seir, the field of Edom…The angels returned to Jacob, saying, ‘We came to your brother, to Esau; moreover, he is heading towards you, and four hundred men are with him.  Jacob became very frightened, and it distressed him.  So he divided the people with him, and the flocks, cattle, and camels, into two camps.  For he said, ‘If Esau comes to the one camp and strikes it down, then the remaining camp shall survive.’” (Genesis, Chapter 32)

When Esav and his soldiers came close to Yaakov’s camp, and the threat was great and tangible, Yaakov divided his camp into two camps.  What is the reason for this division?  “Then the remaining camp shall survive.”  If, God forbid, he is not able to save everyone, at least he can save some of them.

Rebbe Natan explains: “When we see that it is difficult to obtain the complete advice, we need to behave according to part of the advice in any case, in a way that the remaining camp shall survive and not be completely lost, God forbid.  That is to say that when a person sees that the evil inclination overcomes him and it seems to him that he doesn’t have the strength to stand up to him as he needs to, and whatever advice and plan he thinks of does not succeed as he wants, he should behave according to part of the advice, which is the aspect of ‘he divided the people with him… then the remaining camp shall survive.’

This means that a person should establish in his heart that no matter what, nevertheless I’m remaining strong so that I won’t fall backwards completely from Hashem and I will never cause myself to despair, and I will make an effort with all my strength to grab some good every day of my life; and if, God forbid, I can’t pray at all, I’ll see to it to speak afterwards some words of request and supplication, and if I will be prevented also from this God forbid, I’ll scream in any case- ‘Master of the world please save me’, and so forth.” (Likutei Halachot[1], Rosh Chodesh, 7th halacha, paragraph 52)

Listen- Rebbe Nachman and Rebbe Natan say- I understand your tendency to choose ‘nothing’ when you don’t succeed in touching ‘everything’.  Understand, here is exactly your work!  Be okay with the fact that you are not perfect and cannot do everything.  Be okay with the fact that not everything is in your hands.  Agree to do just half of everything you dreamed about.  Do what you can.  Grab something.  Don’t give up, God forbid, on everything.

You can’t pray?  Say a few words.

You can’t get out even a word?  Scream!

You are running to the bakery to fill all of the empty batteries from the last few months of detoxification?  You’re not able to overcome?  Okay, but keep something small for yourself.  At least the willpower, at least the right direction.  Don’t fall apart, hold on to your clarity as you face the croissants.

Don’t choose to become despaired.

Understand, God has pleasure from your work even when it is partial.  He loves you also when you succeed one day and fail the next.  He is happy with you, also when you try and don’t succeed, and you choose to continue and begin anew.

On the contrary, in Heaven they love specifically this struggle, your courageous falling and getting up, your effort to grab onto something when it is impossible to do everything perfectly, your tremendous courage to forego the flag of ‘everything or nothing’ in exchange for true nullification to God’s will.

This is the most exact service of Hashem; I don’t serve myself and the dreams of heights or depths which the evil inclination sketches for me with an artist’s hand.  I’m not supposed to supply a certain amount of goods according to the plans and the planners…

I serve Hashem, as He wants- at the pace and the time and in the way that he dictates; not the plans, not the output, and mainly- not myself.

[1] Rebbe Natan’s explanation of the Code of Jewish law, based upon the teachings of Rebbe Nachman