Parashat Shelach

The Purpose of Ascent

It sounds like an affront to everything we know, why descend? What strange words- for completion we also need to go down? Descending is a merit? To only want to ascend is the evil inclination? Why? What is the secret that the Tsaddikim are revealing to us about ascending and descending?

sin of the spies

Harav Israel Asulin

Wednesday, 23rd of Sivan, 5775

Since Hashem promised to our forefather, Avraham, in the covenant between the parts[1]: “For all of the land that you see, to you will I give it, and your descendants forever (Bereishit[2], Chapter 13, Verse 15)”… the children of Israel have gone through a lot. The descent to Egypt, the terrible slavery, the ten plagues, Moshe Rabeinu and the miraculous redemption, the splitting of the Red Sea, the giving of the Torah, the journey in the dry desert… and now, finally, the time has come, and the Jewish people are right before the entrance to the Promised Land.

Moshe Rabeinu sends spies, one person from each tribe, to explore the land of Israel which they will eventually enter- to see what it is like, what are its strengths and characteristics and who is settled there. After forty days of exploration in the Promised Land, the spies return to Moshe and they degrade it with their words to the entire nation, who are awaiting their entrance to the land of Israel. In one blow of despair and national destruction: “They spread an [evil] report about the land which they had scouted, telling the children of Israel, ‘The land we passed through to explore is a land that consumes its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are men of stature. There we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, descended from the giants. In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes.’ The entire community raised their voices and shouted, and the people wept on that night. (Bamidbar[3] Chapter 13, Verse 32-33, Chapter 14, Verse 1).” There are a lot of interpretations and explanations about the sin of the spies, what exactly their sin was and what brought them, important messengers and the elite of the nation, to sin like this. Rebbe Natan[4], like always, explains these occurrences in great depth, but even with all of their depth, they can still touch us and be relevant for us: “The spies said: ‘There we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, descended from the giants. In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes.’ That is to say, that disguised among them was the accusation of the angels who said ‘what is a human’, that from this comes the main evil inclination. Since the giants were sons of Shemachazi and Azael, who brought testimony against the creation of man, Hashem brought them down since with their words they did a lot of damage. The defect of the spies came due to these accusers, who did not want to lower themselves to the aspects of faith and to join by way of this all of the worlds together, which is the aspect of the land of Israel. Because it seemed to them that it wasn’t relevant for Hashem to receive joy from the lower levels… and they fell from the true faith that Hashem gets pleasure and satisfaction from human beings specifically, even from the lowest ones (Lekutei Halachot[5], Yoreh Deah- Hilchot Nedarim- Halacha 5, Paragraph 12-19).”  The sin of the spies was that they didn’t agree to lower themselves. They didn’t believe that there was a purpose for low levels. They didn’t agree to fall; they only wanted to rise, to always be ascending. And the land of Israel- which is the aspect of connecting the lofty and the lowly, to join heaven and earth- did not fit them. In their opinion, there was only supreme, and their desire was to reach the heavens only. Leave them alone concerning the land of Israel. Everyone recognizes the will that pulsates throughout humanity- especially those of the 21st century- to rise, to go higher, to succeed, and to get to the peak. In our words- to be a true servant of Hashem, exact, pure, one that never despairs and conquers battles and continues to fight with all their strength and does not surrender from any battle without a flag of heavenly victory in his pocket… and this is only talking about spiritual goals, when we are sure that it is a holy desire.

***

What, it’s not true? They revealed to me Hashem, they revealed to me his commandments, what it’s not clear that now I’m supposed to go up, always to rise, to climb and to skip on the mountain of Hashem? I want to ascend! I don’t want to descend! Who wants to descend? And when I go down it hurts me.   It frustrates me. I feel guilty and that I am not ok. Get out of here, loser! We only need to go up! The decline is a mistake! It is a terrible error! How dare you descend? If you were strong enough and talented enough and righteous enough, if you really wanted, if you really cared and you made a great effort like you were supposed to- of course you would have found a way to skip over these failures and continue to climb higher on the mountain of Hashem! It’s clear, isn’t it? It’s the truth, right? No! Because just as one needs to ascend, one also needs to descend! “…as Rebbe Nachman[6] wrote, may his memory be a blessing, in Torah 62[7], that there is a strong evil inclination in the matter of coming close to Hashem, the aspect of ‘lest they break through to Hashem to see…to ascend (Shemot[8] Chapter 19, Verse 21)’ that is to say one desires only to come close to Hashem and to ascend always in an upward movement without a break. He does not want to lower himself at all to the lower levels, to serve Hashem in purity and to elevate and to draw near all of the lower levels to Hashem, because it seems to him that he is already close to Hashem. But in truth this is a terrible deficiency, because in truth there is no completeness to any Tsaddik, as big as he is, when he is only above and not below at all, as it is explained in Torah 7 (Likutei Mohoran[9] II) that the principle completion of a Tsaddik is that he is above and below… because this was the essential fault of the spies that damaged the land of Israel, which is where one merits this aspect for the purpose of completion, to merit complete faith, until one merits every time to lower himself to all of the levels, even the lowest, and to raise them and to draw them closer to Hashem (Likutei Halachot[10], Yoreh Deah- Hilchot Nedarim- Halacha 5, Paragraph 12-19).” It sounds like an affront to everything we know, to our outlook and to our stance regarding failures, on everything we were educated about from when we were very young. Why descend? What weird words- completion is also to be below? The descent is a merit? Only to want to ascend is an evil inclination? Why? What is this secret that the Tsaddikim are revealing to us about ascents and descents?

***

There is a purpose to this world, and the purpose of the world is not for a person to fly in the heavens with the wings of angels and to receive medals, rather the purpose is to connect the entire world, in its diversity, to Hashem.   In this world there is a lot of pain and a lot of black and a lot of evil and failures and descents and defeats, and every person is waiting for their rectification. In everyone there are sparks that are awaiting you, for you to raise them up, and how will you raise these sparks from down below, if you are only up above? Do you understand? You also have to descend. This is what Hashem desires. That we will go up and down! The descent is not a mistake; it is part of the purpose! Like our Rebbe says “The purpose of ascent is descent.” The purpose of ascent is so that we can merit going lower and from there we can pull out very rare treasures and raise them up. So the next time you fall, in whatever situation, in your eating restrictions, or in your daily hour of personal prayer, or from joy, or from will, or from trust or from faith…along with the pain and the prayer and the desire to ascend and start anew, remember that you now merit with your descent to bring closer and to elevate other souls who are like distant diamonds, from the depths- to Hashem. All my praise!

[1] The covenant between the parts (Hebrew: ברית בין הבתרים berith bayin hebatrim) was an important event in the biblical story of the forefather Avraham. In this event G-d revealed himself to Avraham and made a covenant with him (at the site known nowadays as Mount Betarim), in which God announced to Abraham that his descendants would eventually inherit the land of Israel. This was the first of a series of covenants made between God and the Patriarchs.

[2] Genesis

[3] Numbers

[4] Rebbe Nachman’s major disciple

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

[6] Great grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Breslov Chassidut

[7] Likutei Mohoran I

[8] Exodus

[9] The main collection of Rebbe Nachman’s teachings

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

Parashat Behalotcha

To Be Ignited- In Front of the Menorah

Can we be ignited anew? Can we be connected to the illuminating strengths of our soul? Can we want something, really want something, like when we were little and innocent? Can we have holy desires, strong will, amidst everything that we are going through?

priest_prepares_the_menorah_3

Harav Israel Asulin

Tuesday, 15th of Sivan, 5775

The Torah portion, Behalotcha, opens with the lighting of the Menorah: “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and say to him: “When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall cast their light toward the face of the menorah” (Bamidbar[1] Chapter 8, Verse 1-2).

The day that the tabernacle was erected, Hashem commanded the high priest, Aharon, and his sons after him, to raise the Ner Tamid[2], in the morning and the evening; to light and to tend to the seven lamps of the Menorah, until a flame rises from them. Now you will see what it means that the Torah is ‘wider than the oceans.’ You will see that this verse that was said thousands of years ago, and only to Aharon and his sons, and was only relevant during the days of the Tabernacle and the holy Temple- can illuminate our lives. Rebbe Natan[3], in Likutei Halachot[4], takes this command of ‘behalotcha’ and explains: “When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall cast their light toward the face of the menorah- the soul is called a candle, like it is written (Mishlei[5] Chapter 20), ‘Man’s soul is the Lord’s lamp’ and the principle essence of the soul is the will. Therefore the soul is called will. And therefore it is called a candle, because the strength of the will is like a lit candle, in the aspect of (Shir Hashirim[6] Chapter 8) ‘for love is as strong as death’, which is the strength of will and yearning for Hashem…” (Orach Hayim, Hilchot Birkot Hashachar Chapter 5, Paragraph 44). Rebbe Natan doesn’t relate to candles by their simple definition; rather he relates to the soul that is within each one of us, which is called a candle. Every Jew is like a candle. Not a candle that is small… a candle that is the size of a soul that is stored within me and is drawn to heights, until the thrown of glory… but also not a physical candle- rather a spiritual candle. What does this mean for me, that I am a candle? It means that I can be an enlightened person, illuminated, burning- like a candle! It means that I have enormous strength to illuminate the world, like a projector. Like the sun. To illuminate my world, the world of my spouse, my children, my friends, the nation of Israel, the entire world! This candle’s size is unfathomable and has enormous strength! Consider this, you are going around this world, inside your body, deep is this dark and shady exile, and you are in reality an enormous light. With such strength, everything is supposed to be easy and simple and happy and refreshing and full of song and praise to Hashem…everything someone says to us, no matter what it is, is supposed to be small for us- detoxification from an addiction?- No problem; from now and forever! One hour of personal prayer with a broken heart and 23 hours of bliss? –Excellent! I’m on board! Learning Torah? Yes! Thank you!! Helping in the house? Right now! Whatever you say. To judge every man favorably? – What a wonderful idea…it sounds like the days of the Messiah. And why aren’t we there? We have a soul. We have a candle. So where is the light?

***

Simply put, it is not enough that there is a candle, one has to light it. And what is the difference between a lit candle and an extinguished candle?

Will.

“Because the strength of a will is like a lit candle…the physicality of the body and the world are called darkness, and due to the strength of the darkness it was not possible to exist…and therefore, the angels that came down into this world failed miserably, like our Rabbis said, only the soul of man is drawn from a very high place, from the supreme will, therefore there is power if you want to stand in this war, because if you overcome and hold on to the source, which is the aspect of will, that is to say that the world does not weaken your good desires with everything that you go through, by way of this one can always overcome the darkness of the body and this world… and everything is according to the strength of one’s will which is the principle holiness of the soul’s essence which is for this reason called a candle, because it illuminates like a real candle in all types of darkness…” (Orach Hayim, Hilchot Birkot Hashachar Chapter 5, Paragraph 44).

The angels could not withstand this world…but our soul, which is drawn from the supreme will, has the power to withstand this battle- if one wants.

Now the question of questions can be asked- is our candle extinguished? And if we don’t have will?

Behold, in reality, we fell into this world like a power outage. From the moment we opened our eyes inside our cribs with the mobile over our heads, the fluorescent lights were disturbing. From the beginning, when we were little and innocent, we wanted something, very badly, we were burning with desire- very quickly we grew up and grew wiser and understood that it was a waste of time and would not help for us to want and in any case, nobody was considering our desires, one way or the other the adults were dictating for us, or our friend, or the reality, and there was no place for our desires, therefore it was better, regretfully, that we should extinguish our fire. For our best, it was worthwhile that we stop getting disappointed…

And today, we are after having already lost everything. We don’t have any idea what we want. Everything is blurry and vague, we are carrying on in our lives with a dull and lowly outlook, we act based on what we “need” to do and we don’t actually want anything.

So what? Is there a solution? Can we ignite ourselves again? Can we connect ourselves to the shining strengths of our soul? Can we want something; really want, like when we were small and innocent? Is it possible that we can have holy desires, a strong will, amidst everything that we go through, until we glow like this great candle, which shines in all the types of darkness that are in this world?

***

Yes! It is possible!!! And this is how Rebbe Natan continues: “But it is only possible to merit this if we connect ourselves to the true Tsaddikim that have within them the aspect of Moshe, who passed away at the time of the highest will (at the time of Mincha[7] on Shabbat), because he stands between spiritual destruction and will and makes converts and returnees to the Torah in the world, because he uplifts them from spiritual destruction to will. Only he gives light and strength to the holy will in every person, even if one fell, G-d forbid, to wherever he fell, he gives him the strength to overcome with strong good will and by way of this he rises him up from spiritual destruction to will” (Orach Hayim, Hilchot Birkot Hashachar Chapter 5, Paragraph 44). Amazing! No matter how much we have fallen into spiritual destruction, to death, to complete lack of will- the true Tsaddik, the aspect of Moshe, can raise us from spiritual destruction to will, to ignite us so that we should burn! What do we need to do for this? To connect ourselves to the Tsaddik; to fulfill the advice of the Tsaddik, to go to Uman, to bring ourselves, like this, like we are, extinguished, sunken in darkness and lacking any will… and to tell him ‘look at my situation’… and everything else he will do. “And this is ‘When you light the lamps’- that when you want to light and raise the holy candles that are the aspect of the souls of Israel, that they should burn to Hashem so that their candles should go forth and illuminate in all types of darkness. ‘The seven lamps shall cast their light toward the face of the menorah’- the face of the menorah is the aspect of the Tsaddik, who is the aspect of Moshe, who is the aspect of the face of the menorah. From the pure menorah, all of the souls of Israel receive their light. Because that is the origin of everyone, and it is therefore called ‘the face of the menorah’” (Orach Hayim, Hilchot Birkot Hashachar Chapter 5, Paragraph 44).

[1] Numbers

[2] An Eternal Light (Ner Tamid) hangs above the ark in every synagogue. It is often associated with the menorah, the seven-branched lamp stand which stood in front of the Temple in Jerusalem. It is also associated with the continuously-burning incense altar which stood in front of the ark.

[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

[5] Proverbs

[6] Song of Songs

[7] Mincha is the prayer service that may be recited from half an hour after halachic noontime.

In memory of Byron McKibbon.

Shabbat Shalom Umevorach!

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