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SEIZE THE MOMENT : R. Gedaliah Aharon Kenig

Speaking about how Purim is a preparation for Passover,[1] Rebbe Nachman once said, “At first, all beginnings were from Passover[2] and now….” (and didn’t conclude his sentence). At the time, his followers didn’t know exactly what he meant and offered different explanations for this cryptic statement.

In my estimation, it refers to a new way of serving G-d particularly suited to our generation, without which it would have been impossible to know how to serve Him today. In other words, all beginnings are “from now” davka, since the nature of our generation until the coming of the Messiah is completely different from earlier generations. In the past, the world was tested and refined in a much clearer fashion. Tests involved a clear choice between good and evil where one could identify the good and despise evil. Each generation was challenged with a certain measure of only one attribute (middah) to repair among the many that exist. There were also known and established times during the annual cycle that served as a spiritual basis for new beginnings. Each holiday or special time period during the year offered a more conducive opportunity to make a new beginning for the purpose of entering a higher level of holiness not possible during the rest of the year.

In our generation, however, we face extra-ordinary tests with each passing day. For this reason, any new beginning must be based on the concept of “now.” Each moment is an opportunity for a new beginning—start from now. The instant an awakening to do teshuva is felt, act on it immediately. Snatch whatever good you can in that moment—a good deed, Torah learning or prayer, a mitzvah or something that embellishes a mitzvah. It doesn’t always have to be an actual mitzvah; it can be anything that HaShem desires. Grab any chance to bring enjoyment to HaShem. Through swift action, you can seize a bit of good in every moment and actualize its potential. Whenever we do something that G-d wants, we escape from any exile threatening to overwhelm us in the same moment. It also infuses us with strength and courage in preparation for the final redemption in a global sense as well as on a personal level, as it says, “Draw near to my soul and redeem it.”[3]

This is why it is extremely beneficial to pay attention to the many heaven-sent hints we receive everyday in the form of thoughts, words, and deeds.[4] G-d constricts His essence from an unlimited realm to a limited one—to the innermost point of the physical world. He prepares the thoughts, words, and deeds of every individual according to the nature of that particular day, person, and place. He sends various allusions garbed in specific thoughts, words, and actions meant to bring that specific person closer to Him.[5]

These kinds of allusions are the essence of how the future final redemption will be experienced. For it is via these divinely tailored allusions that we will come gradually closer to G-d. Therefore, we should beg for the merit to understand the hints properly in the here and now in order to attain the ability and enlightenment to delve properly and with true yishuv hadaat[6] into every thought, word, and deed that comes to us.

A person always has the present moment—the aspect of “and now…” to which Rebbe Nachman was referring. The power of this moment is an endless reality for the duration of a person’s life and the apparent intention of Rebbe Nachman’s incomplete sentence, “And now…” It also seems to me that he was hinting at the idea that whoever wants to begin drawing closer to G-d cannot consider anything other than the present moment, paying no attention to either the past or future. In fact, this is a fundamental principle for those who desire to enter into the service of HaShem (avodat HaShem).

Sometimes we are inspired to come closer to G-d, however when we are reminded of our past or worry about the future, a heaviness or fear comes over us until we again become distanced from G-d, chas v’shalom. This is why a person needs to be careful to relate only to the moment at hand in their desire to progress spiritually and serve G-d. Rebbe Nachman refers to this in another lesson[7] through the verse, “Today if you heed My voice”[8] indicating that, except through the present, there is no other way one can succeed in moving beyond what they must and be saved. Worries about the past and future bring confusion and need to be removed from the heart. The heart should instead be consciously connected to G-d’s direct personal supervision in the present moment until one’s avodat HaShem is established. They will then most certainly enjoy a good long life and peace in their service.

Rebbe Nachman writes elsewhere about the repair of the heart.[9] He explains that the heart can be healed through connecting it to whatever point belongs to a person in any given moment by understanding the heaven-sent hints to do good.[10] This nullifies any shame drawn over the heart from misdeeds, since any time a person transgresses, shame surrounds their heart, as it is written, “This is Jerusalem, I have placed her in the center of the nations with countries surrounding her….”[11]

Rebbe Nachman teaches that Jerusalem represents the heart which is given over to the nations. In other words, she exists amidst all the foreign influences which are not intrinsically hers. It is impossible to exit from this situation except by connecting the heart to whatever point belongs to it in any given moment. As mentioned above, this means you should strive to understand the heavenly allusions sent to you within any given moment, and connect to this point by grabbing the opportunity to do something good. In this way, shame from previous transgressions will be released from the heart and you will come to every good in the world, since when one is freed from the confines of prison, the mind are broadened to receive unlimited goodness throughout their entire life.♦

1. Likutey Moharan Tinyana 74
2. All of the mitzvot connected with Shabbat and the holidays are based on a remembrance of the miraculous Exodus from Egypt which occurred on Passover.
3. Psalms 69:19
4. Likutey Moharan 54
5. Ibid.
6. A settled mind.
7. Likutey Moharan 272
8. Psalms 95:7
9. Likutey Moharan 34
10. Ibid., Rebbe Nachman also elucidates this process in the context of watching what presents itself in three different expressions of the same point: the point of the tzaddik, the point of your friend, and the point within yourself, and then grabbing the opportunity to do good. (See also, “The Song of Creation” by R’ Gedaliah Aharon Kenig zt”l in Tzaddik Magazine.)
11. Ezekiel 5:5

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The Power of Yom Kippur & Ascending the Spiritual Ladder

Everyone has shortcomings and mistakes that require teshuva, the spiritual repair known as “repentance. The possibility of teshuva was granted to the world as a gift, and comes from profound Divine compassion. The way teshuva actually works is something that defies logic or human comprehension. Teshuva is also counted as one of the constant mitzvot that is incumbent upon everyone. King Solomon says, “For there is not a righteous man upon the earth who does good and does not sin.” (Eccles. 7:20)

Let’s say that a person completely breaks something belonging to another. According to halacha, in most cases, a replacement would need to be purchased, since the original is irreparable and lost. This is not the case with teshuva, which involves the ability to fix the actual thing broken in the first place.
According to the gemara, if one’s teshuva is based on fear of sin, then the deed is considered unintentional. However, if one does teshuva and returns out of love, the misdeed itself is transformed into merit, and actually counted as a mitzvah. How is this possible?

The possibility of such a transformation comes from HaShem’s compassion on the world. Our sages identify the great potency of teshuva as coming from the fact that it preceded the creation of the world, when everything was good and perfect. If it would have come into existence after creation, it would have been irrelevant, since when something is broken beyond repair, that should be it. Yet, regarding the damage caused by our actions, HaShem preceded the illness with the cure. He created a world dependent upon teshuva, since there is “not a righteous man upon the earth who does good and does not sin.” In order for the world to function, teshuva needed to predate creation so that the moment a person damages or destroys something, a remedy is already waiting.

There is also one day of the year when HaShem repairs the past and purifies us, erasing all that is undesirable. The essence of the day itself atones not only for many intentional sins, but even for certain things done by someone who is completely unaware it is Yom Kippur and does not observe the day!
Yet, according to Rebbe Nachman, teshuva is ongoing. It is usually understood that when you know you did something wrong, as long as you take upon yourself not to repeat it, the issue is considered closed. However, Rebbe Nachman explains that teshuva is not a one-time event. An even higher level of teshuva is required, despite the fact we already did teshuva on a particular action. We need to return to it again and repent on yet another level.

On Yom Kippur, there is a special mitzvah to confess, and there are ten different times we confess wrongdoing in the order of the day’s prayers. According to Jewish law, we not only verbally confess transgressions of the current year, but from the previous year as well, despite the fact that we already repented last year on Yom Kippur. This Yom Kippur there is still a mitzvah to do teshuva again by confessing anew everything that happened in the past.

Why do we have to dig up the past and confess all over again, particularly when we already did teshuva for it? Rebbe Nachman explains that when you verbally admit, “I sinned, I transgressed,” etc., it is very difficult to say these words with a completely pure heart. In other words, teshuva must be done on our first teshuva, when our hearts were less pure.

This is alluded to in the verse, “They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.” (Isa. 29:13) When you admit your wrongdoing and take upon yourself to be better, you become worthy of kavod HaShem, [a level where you are encompassed in the honor of HaShem]. Kavod HaShem is attained through nullifying your ego and being concerned solely for the honor of heaven. When teshuva is done from this place, honor is “restored” to HaShem.

Still, the rest of the verse says, “…their hearts are far from Me.” Even when you already did teshuva, repentance is still necessary for your previous teshuva, since it was done only according to your understanding of HaShem’s greatness at the time. When you ascend to a higher level afterwards, your mind becomes more purified, and you comprehend HaShem’s greatness at a completely different level. Even if you initially understood that HaShem is extremely great, your conception was still limited, since if you had understood at a higher level, you wouldn’t have transgressed in the first place. Relative to your current more spiritual level, your previous understanding is now considered “physical” because it limited the greatness of HaShem in your heart and mind.

To illustrate, say an ordinary person is sitting in synagogue and someone passes by and unintentionally trips over him. The one who tripped immediately says, “I’m so sorry! It was an accident!” Contrast this with another scenario. Instead of an ordinary person, this time he accidentally trips over an important person so forcefully that that person falls off his chair. Now, a completely different level of apology is needed, since not only is it a more distinguished person, but the force of the blow is much stronger than in the previous example.

This is similar to our situation with HaShem. To the extent we realize His greatness, we understand that every transgression has a much deeper impact than initially thought. Likewise with our example, the level of requesting forgiveness is much different between the insult of an ordinary person, or someone who is greater. Likewise, the more you understand the greatness of HaShem, the more you understand how even a seemingly small thing is an insult to His honor. The request for pardon must be commensurate with our current level of understanding. As we progressively raise ourselves up, we will experience an increased understanding of the enormity of our misdeeds. They now will require a new teshuva, demanding more of our heart and mind.

Teshuva becomes even more subtle the higher you ascend spiritually, since it will begin to involve the thought process itself. A level can be reached where the teshuva is not so much on the transgression anymore, as our actual thought and misconception that HaShem is limited in some way. We may intellectually understand the idea that HaShem’s greatness is unlimited, but our hearts are not yet sufficiently purified to feel it. We may say the words by rote, as described in the verse, “With their lips they honor Me,” but our heart doesn’t comprehend the true meaning of G-d’s limitless nature, thus, “…they are far from Me.” To the extent we are unable to understand the infinity of the Divine, we are in effect placing a limitation on the honor of HaShem in our hearts and minds. This is what requires teshuva. For this reason, according to Rebbe Nachman, in order to progress step by step up the spiritual ladder, one must constantly hold onto the attribute of teshuva.

The entire dynamic of teshuva is intrinsically connected to the world to come, when it will be completely Shabbat—all teshuva. The connection between Shabbat and teshuva is alluded to in the verse, “…and you shall return to the Lord your G-d…” (Deut. 30:2) “You shall return” is v’shavta, the same Hebrew letters as the word, “Shabbat.” When will this return happen? It will occur in olam haba, the world to come, when it will be only Shabbat. Olam haba is defined as a progressive attainment of knowledge of HaShem, where each of us will perceive HaShem at our own level. And then, every time you come to a greater level of understanding, teshuva will be required on your previously more limited understanding. The nature of olam haba is the continual attainment of a greater understanding of HaShem. We will then fulfill the verse, “…and you shall return to the Lord your G-d.” Shabbat and teshuva will be one.

The profound connection between Shabbat and teshuva is quite relevant today. We rest on Shabbat, but what is our true purpose on this holy day? Any thoughts of our own wrongdoing must be brought to a state of rest so there will not be even a hint of improper deed or a damaged world on Shabbat. However, while Shabbat is a time of teshuva, it is not a time of confession. It is a time for spiritual ascent and elevation. So how is teshuva done without confessing? On Shabbat, teshuva is based on understanding rather than confession; it is accomplished when you come to a higher understanding of the greatness of HaShem and then do teshuva on your previous understanding. This is what will define our olam haba, but we can also attain this now on Shabbat. Such is the power of Shabbat, and this opportunity recurs every seven days.

Generally, when a person senses the seriousness of their situation after doing something wrong, teshuva is done with a broken heart. But there is another aspect to teshuva not commonly discussed. We witness on Yom Kippur how some people appear sad and may even weep in their efforts to do teshuva. They find it difficult to greet others during the course of the day, since they think it will detract from the seriousness of the holy day. However, truthfully, Yom Kippur should be the happiest day of the year, since it is a day of total forgiveness. We confess, and HaShem forgives and erases all of our undesirable deeds. We can dance from joy the entire day that such a thing is occurring. This positive attitude should also be conveyed at home to our families every year. Who needs to eat on such a day? We are like people in olam haba who have no need to eat or drink. This joyful attitude has practical relevance as to how to experience Shabbat as well, since teshuva and Shabbat are deeply connected.

Rebbe Nachman gives further definition to teshuva. When you want to embark on the path of teshuva, you need to be expert in the “going.” Two types of expertise are needed here: One in the running (ratzo) and one in the return (shov). This concept is alluded to in the vision of the prophet Ezekiel [1:14] where he describes how the angels were “running and returning,” as they served and praised HaShem.

The same concept applies to us. In the evening prayer, we say the blessing of hashkiveinu, where we ask, “…and remove the satan from before us and from behind us.” Sometimes when you begin something new in your quest for holiness, you experience such great enthusiasm together with expectations far beyond your actual capabilities. This is merely another strategy of the yetzer hara to set you up for a big fall when you don’t meet your unrealistic expectations. This is what is referred to in the verse, “Remove the satan from before us and from after us.” “Before us”—before we charge ahead to accomplish our goal. “Behind us”—afterwards when we fail to meet our expectations, and everything comes tumbling down where we are unable to do the things even within our power. A person needs tremendous Divine compassion at this point.

Failure to achieve a desired result after unrealistic expectations (or even realistic ones), should be your signal to guard yourself against becoming weak or falling. When you start something with good intentions and desires, be happy with whatever you accomplish; don’t fall into frustration or despair. It helps to know this in advance, when you are “running.” Then afterwards, during the return, you will be able to protect yourself from falling into a low place, and you’ll be able to renew your strength once again. If it didn’t go this time, so try again with more realistic expectations.

There is yet another aspect to the concept of “running and returning.” Rebbe Nachman explains that it is a zechut when you are able to both enter and exit an endeavor in the right way. King David describes running and returning in the verse, “If I ascend to the heavens, You are there; if I go down to the depths, You are there.” (Psa. 139:8)

The first section of the verse refers to when you undergo a spiritual ascent and feel as if you were in heaven, close to HaShem. This can happen after teshuva or when you see how much HaShem helped you beyond your wildest expectations. Yet King David sharpens the idea further as if to say, “Listen well, if you go to heaven, You are there.” There meaning not here. In other words, HaShem is still far from you. You need to come yet closer to HaShem, since He is “over there,” far away, so don’t bask in the feeling that you have already arrived at the ultimate level. Even if you ascend to heaven, know that it is still far from you. Strengthen yourself and your good aspirations to strive even higher, since you haven’t yet “made it.” There is still much more work ahead to come closer to HaShem.

The second part of the verse refers to when you experience a fall so great that you feel as though you’ve fallen into a pit—into sheol—a place much deeper in the earth from where people normally walk. You can become saddened even without a specific reason. The yetzer hara works overtime to give you a feeling of worthlessness. He can convince you that you’ve completely fallen into the lowest of depths, with no ability to pick yourself up. King David writes that this is where HaShem says, “Here I am. I am here in the deepest pit together with you. Let’s ascend together.”

You can say, “Ribono shel Olam! I made a mistake, but You are here with me wherever I have fallen. I want to raise myself up.” HaShem will immediately give you the strength to ascend. You can feel HaShem in this way, and derive strength to get up again. This is the way of teshuva.

Don’t let the temptations of the yetzer hara drag you into feelings of worthlessness and despair. The yetzer hara will give you a good feeling at first, only to trip you up later by making you feel like nothing, draining you of the strength to stand up. Rampant thoughts fill your mind: “You really messed up this time. Don’t you know yourself already? You’ll never change, so who do you think you are to try to get up again…” Don’t become overly emotional or despair out of proportion, since if despair doesn’t exist, according to Rebbe Nachman, then it doesn’t exist regarding any fall or failure.

Now it can be understood why expertise in “running and returning” is needed. Progress must be made step by step. While you are running and ascending, appeal for Divine compassion that you shouldn’t fall, but if you do, that you have the strength to get up immediately again and again. This is the wondrous expertise that Rebbe Nachman is teaching us.

The secret of teshuva was created before the creation of the world out of Divine compassion. Because of this, we have the ability to strive continually to come closer to HaShem. Know that HaShem is always waiting for our teshuva.

Hashem should help each of us to return in teshuva shleima. We should merit to feel Hashem’s closeness throughout the entire year, and draw all good influences upon ourselves, the Jewish people, and the entire world. For this will be how we will bring the complete redemption and the beit hamikdash very soon, in our days. Amen. ♦

Translated and adapted from a talk given from Tsfat to a group in Sydney, Australia. Lesson based on Likutey Moharan 6.

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THE WORLD OF UNITY & THE JEWS : R. Elazar Mordechai Kenig

WHEN A PERSON FACES A LIFE OR DEATH JUDGMENT, they customarily dress in black, neglect their physical appearance and let their hair and nails grow. They are terrified because the final outcome of the judgment against them is unknown.

This is in stark contrast to the behavior of the Jewish people on Rosh HaShanah, the “Great Day of Judgment.” They don white clothing, and cut their hair and nails in preparation for the day. When Rosh HaShanah arrives, they eat, drink, and rejoice in a festive manner, since they are confident that G-d will perform a miracle and they will emerge meritorious from judgment. What is their source of joy and confidence as they enter the Great Day of Judgment? Why are they so certain of a positive outcome?

The answer lies in the difference between the Jewish people and the rest of the world. Am Yisrael possesses an inherent quality of achdut, unity. They are completely unified at their spiritual root since the source of Am Yisrael is from the “world of achdut.”

On the other hand, the other nations are structured as separate worlds, since they draw from a spiritual root called the “world of separation.” Thus, it is the quality of achdut which defines the difference between the Jewish people and the other nations of the world.

It is written, “…all the soul(s) of the house of Jacob who came to Egypt were seventy.” (Gen. 46:27) We learn that Am Yisrael were seventy souls when they were exiled to Egypt. Yet, despite numbering seventy, the verse refers to them in the singular tense as nefesh—soul. In contrast, the people of Eisav numbered six and are referred to as plural, nefashot—souls. (Gen. 36:6) Even as seventy souls, the Jewish people are considered a single soul—nefesh, since they are rooted in the “world of achdut.” The other nations, however, are considered separate worlds even at six, since their spiritual source is rooted in the “world of separation.”


In addition to Torah and mitzvot observance, the Jewish people also took upon themselves the quality of achdut—unity. Each Jew serves as a guarantor for his or her neighbor, and this guarantee extends to the entire people, as well. It is understood that the mitzvot are binding upon a Jew, but how can we explain the obligation to be guarantors for one another? It can be understood when we realize that the source of the Jewish people is unity—a single unseparated root. This is true to the extent that the obligation falls not only on the individual for his or herself, but for everyone else as well, since what one Jew does influences every other Jew. This is a very subtle and spiritual issue, so it is worthwhile to be aware of it in the proper way, and important to understand its practical significance.

Despite its lofty spiritual nature, Jewish unity is clearly manifested here in olam hazeh—our lower physical world. To better understand this concept, it is known that everything in the physical world requires separate space. There are four levels of life: inanimate, plant, animal and human, which are connected to the four elements of earth, wind, fire, and water. The more physical something is, the more it manifests separateness. The opposite is true with things of a more spiritual nature. The more spiritually-oriented something is, it possesses a more unified nature. For instance, earth is a physical element that exhibits a stronger quality of separateness. Water, air and fire are elements more spiritual in nature, and thus more unified. Thus we witness the expression and interplay between spiritual unity and physical separateness even in the physical world.


The achdut of Israel is spiritual, not physical. They are rooted in the very source of achdut. Furthermore, when the Jewish people are united, they are united with HaShem. This is referred to in the Sabbath afternoon prayer, “You are One and Your name is One; and who is like Your people Israel, one nation on earth.” As a result, the Jewish people are closer to each other, which is expressed in many ways. For example, whenever one Jew hears about another, regardless of where they are in the world, they will always feel a strong connection and concern. While it is true that everyone experiences a sense of individuality in the world, the Jewish people must nonetheless always remind themselves of their spiritual root in achdut. It is the fundamental difference between Jews and the other nations of the world, despite the fact that to outward appearances, everyone appears identical.

The denial of this difference is actually one of the biggest tragedies to befall the Jewish people. To our great sorrow, many have distanced themselves from the Torah and mitzvot, thinking it is better to imitate the non-Jewish manner of behavior or dress, etc., even participating in non-Jewish competitions as if there is no distinction between the two. The Jews are a single unit, a great and spiritual nation, with a completely different root than the rest of the world. After millennia of exile and tragedy, including the holocaust of the previous generation, time has proven they are different through the countless number of Jews bound to Torah and mitzvot today. This is the proof of their spiritual nature, since everything depends on its root. It is important to remind ourselves of this and not err by thinking there is no difference.

The source of our confidence on Rosh HaShanah comes from our spiritual root in achdut. Normally, when an individual faces a life and death judgment it is frightening since the final outcome is unknown. In the case of the Jewish people however, each individual is judged together as a whole because of their single root. Because of this, they face judgment on Rosh HaShanah with confidence and hope. They eat and drink festive meals and are joyous in the knowledge that G-d will perform a miracle for them.


There is another aspect relevant to Jewish achdut. Halacha obligates everyone to make peace with his or her neighbor well before Rosh HaShanah, without waiting until Yom Kippur. Of course teshuva is necessary for any wrongdoing, but there is a specific obligation to repent of any misdeed committed against another person.

If the confidence of the Jewish people on Rosh Hashanah flows from their root in achdut, then the moment someone insults another in any way, it diminishes the ability to approach the Great Day of Judgment with the power of achdut. This is why is it so good that people make an extra effort to attend prayer services on Rosh HaShanah to show their unity and connection to HaShem.

The entire purpose of life is to accept the kingship of HaShem. Rosh HaShanah in particular is when we “crown” the Creator to show this acceptance. By living our lives according to the way He desires, we crown the Creator here in olam hazeh. The uniqueness of the Jewish people comes from their extremely elevated spiritual root of unity, and their ability to reveal it here in the physical world.

Although there is always free choice, we see how the Jewish people are prepared time and time again to give up their lives al kiddush hashem—to sanctify HaShem’s name. History has shown that this is not something restricted only to great tzaddikim. Even those far away from the Torah, when faced with certain death, chose to sanctify G-d’s name, rather than abandon their Jewishness. It is a wonder how a person who found it difficult to uphold the Torah was nonetheless willing to give up their life for it. Throughout history, when faced with difficult tests, or forced to participate in religious debates, Jews were prepared to forego the riches of the world to remain a Jew. Even when offered vast rewards by kings to convert, they didn’t consider it for a moment. It was incomprehensible to the other nations from where the Jews drew their strength to stand firm. This shows the lofty root of the Jewish people.


The gemara discusses the verse “Who is a great nation?” Mi goy gadol? (Deut. 4:7) The question is asked, who is this nation who knows the customs of their G-d? The Midrash explains that the Hebrew word gadol comes from the root g’dal, meaning “upbringing,” alluding to the Jewish people being “raised” by HaShem. As a consequence of their more “familial” relationship, they are familiar with the nature of HaShem, which gives them the confidence that He will perform a miracle on their behalf on Rosh HaShanah.

Because they share the same source of achdut, the Jewish people are considered “relatives” by HaShem. Yet, despite this, we are still put to the test here in a world of free choice as to whether we will consider ourselves like the other nations or draw down and reveal our intrinsic achdut in the world by observing the Torah and mitzvot—especially Shabbat. After six days of creation, HaShem rested on the seventh day, Shabbat. This is the same Shabbat that the Jewish people have observed throughout history.

May we be blessed with a renewed sense of achdut and clear sense of purpose in the world. And may we see the rebuilding of our Temple, speedily in our days, Amen. ♦

1. Likutey Halachot, Arev 3
2. See Likutey Moharan 27 and 52

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THE FALLEN SUKKAH OF DAVID : R. Gedaliah Aharon Kenig


The sukkah is associated with King David. It is thus called the “Sukkah of David.” It could have been called by another name, like the “Sukkah of Israel” or the “Sukkah of Moses,” yet our sages connect sukkah to King David.

The fourth evening of the holiday of Sukkot marks the yahrzeit of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev, who is referred to as the nachal novea mekor chochma—“the flowing river, source of wisdom” (Prov. 18:4). He proclaimed an astounding concept to the world: “There is no such thing as despair!” Nothing in the world is beyond hope.

How can such a claim be made when everything points in the opposite direction? Everyone experiences situations textured with despair to the point that it appears the entire world has ended. Everything seems black, with no glimmer of light. The despair these situations engender is called the “Fallen Sukkah of David.”

Yet Rebbe Nachman asserts, “There is no such thing as despair.” Although it is impossible to avoid difficult situations, the mind possesses a special power that can prevent one from falling completely during hard times. On Sukkot we pray: “May the Compassionate One raise for us the ‘Fallen Sukkah of David.’” Conceptually, the Sukkah of David represents a spiritually cleansed mind connected to a higher spiritual level, a place beyond our own intellectual perception of the world.


According to the kabbalah, the sukkah represents the levels of perception beyond the conscious mind called makifim or “external intellect.” In contrast, pnimim or “internal intellect” is the knowledge we have successfully acquired. These two levels are dynamically related; when the higher intellect enters our mind enabling us to understand it, the new insight becomes encompassed within our internal intellect.

Makifim are those levels of understanding that transcend intellectual grasp. They surround and hover above the conscious mind, radiating understanding into the internal intellect. It is this upper level of intellect surrounding the mind that is called sukkah. This is similar to a physical sukkah, which completely surrounds us. During the holiday of Sukkot, we are required to enter the sukkah with our entire body, which includes the head, our intellect. Without the entire body entering the sukkah, the mitzvah of sukkah remains unfulfilled.

“David merited the crown of malchut—kingship.”[1] The physical universe and everything that occurs within it, is part of the lower level of the World of Action, and connected to the kabbalistic sefira of malchut. Malchut itself possesses a type of “intellect” expressed as the animating intelligence contained by everything in the world. This intelligence corresponds to King David and the lower internal intellect mentioned earlier. The crown of King David, however, symbolizes the higher surrounding intellect, corresponding to the concept of sukkah.

When we don’t understand why things are a certain way in the world, the power of faith should be exercised. Faith draws down the highest light into any situation. If you believe that there is a G-d Above Who governs the world, you won’t dismiss something as meaningless just because you don’t understand it. On the contrary, despite your current inability to understand, you will know everything is functioning according to a Higher Plan which is just and fair. This faith will then illuminate your entire reality. In every situation, you now connect the upper surrounding intellect, called sukkah, to the lower internalized intellect, corresponding to your current perception of how the physical world operates. When you believe that whatever happens is governed from Above, it is clear that it is good.

“When I dwell in darkness, G-d will be a light for me.”[2] Even if I am sitting in darkness and don’t understand what is happening, if I nonetheless believe that everything is just and fair because it is supervised by G-d, then this faith is a light for me. Despite the darkness, it does not even occur to me to despair, since the same governing Power that brought me here to this situation or state of mind will do everything for my good and ultimately take me out of this darkness.

Through this expression of lower intellect, you will now attain the higher intellect, called sukkah. The merging of these two intellects is called the “Sukkah of David,” which occurs when your perception of the way the world operates (Malchut David) is joined with the upper surrounding intellect (sukkah). The opposite occurs when the two are separated, a division caused by thinking everything is under the jurisdiction of nature and human agency. “David” is separated from sukkah—our perception of this world is separated from the upper intellect, faith in Divine governance of the world. This state is called “The Fallen Sukkah of David.”

Thus, when Rebbe Nachman says, “There is no such thing in the world as despair,” he is drawing down the highest light into the human heart to give us the ability to understand that regardless of the difficulties we experience, there is a higher Power in charge of every detail in the world. The process of attaining this level of understanding is called “raising the fallen sukkah of David.” Sukkat David is the rectified state of mind where the upper and lower intellect are united.


G-d created us in order to know Him. How is it possible for a limited physical human being to know G-d,Who is infinite? It is only possible to know G-d through facing the difficult challenges in life, and strengthening ourselves to get through them.

During times when it is extremely difficult to find G-d, one may fall, since it seems that G-d doesn’t exist. The difficulty of the search itself brings one to a state of nothingness. By strengthening oneself during these moments, the very obstacles which prevented perception of G-d, can be transformed into a vessel for Divine light.

Sometimes we undergo bitter situations where our understanding disappears completely. Even though we want to believe in G-d, we live inside a dark cloud. However much we search, we cannot find Him. This is a very dangerous situation, because we are unable to see G-d in spite of a sincere desire to find Him. What can we do?

Rebbe Nachman has advice for this dilemma as well. Cry out, “G-d! Where are You? I don’t see you, but I believe You are here! Where are You?” These cries will eventually enable you to return to your proper place, because the question of “Where are You?” indicates a belief in the existence of the thing for which you are searching. You believe G-d is present, but you just don’t know where. The repeated cries of “Where are You?” from the depths of the heart are answered with,“Here! Deeply inside, where You have always been.”

“The whole world is filled with His Glory.” One begins to sense G-d’s direct supervision over every detail. Anything that seemed unjust or unfair is now understood as being orchestrated in a wondrous way for the good. Only by passing through darkness and obstacles can we draw closer to G-d, which is a fulfillment of the Divine will.

Sometimes during difficult times, we say, “Oy! This is too much! I’ve had enough obstacles and darkness! I’m finished!” This way of thinking is erroneous, since we were not created to remain on a single level. On the contrary, we were created to continually ascend from level to level. Difficult situations are necessary in order to progress and come closer to G-d. The message of Rebbe Nachman is that it shouldn’t even occur to a person to despair and think, “I can’t go on.” Strengthen yourself over and over again, and eventually you will make it through.

There is always a limit to difficulties because G-d doesn’t leave us in difficult straits forever. The only purpose of obstacles is to create a vessel to receive light. Material obstacles and the vessels they can create have measure and definition. However, G-d’s light is unlimited. We need only to strengthen ourselves and not give up. Sometimes one becomes so weak in the last moment and loses everything. This is a shame, since at that very moment a vessel is being completed to receive a higher light. At the end, the darkness can become so overwhelming that we think we are lost and give up completely, G-d forbid.

Constantly strengthening oneself is the secret to our existence. There is no book in the world that can tell the entire awesome story of what the Jewish people have undergone since inception. Yet, despite everything, we continue to exist. This is only because of our patience, trust, and will to strengthen ourselves anew each time, despite constant suffering. We will continue to develop, and with the help of G-d, we will exist until the end, when the purpose for which we were created will be fulfilled: To know the unlimited light of the Infinite One.

Vessels to receive light are formed through obstacles. By overcoming the obstacles, the obstacles themselves are transformed into vessels of pleasantness. Rebbe Nachman calls this pleasantness “supernal delight,” which can now flow into completed vessels. The delight that the upper intellect can experience is more pleasant than anything in this world. This is the meaning of “May the Compassionate One raise for us the Fallen Sukkah of David.”

Rebbe Nachman is proclaiming to the entire world a message that everyone must hear. There is no such thing as despair! There is no situation beyond hope! The Jewish people have always found themselves in difficult situations, and today is no different. Instead of losing hope, we must strengthen ourselves with perfected faith, especially during the days of Sukkot, when we bring our entire physical being into the sukkah. We will then be worthy of being illuminated with a new light, which will reestablish the “Fallen Sukkah of David forever.” Amen. ♦

Translated and adapted from a shiur given in Tsfat.

1. Kohelet Rabbah 7:2
2. Micha 7:8

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ERASING THAT NAME : R. Ephraim Kenig


ON PURIM, we are commanded to “remember what Amalek did to you” and to “erase the memory of Amalek.” How is this relevant to us today? The account of the war with Amalek is not merely a historical chronicle of a one-time event, but rather a description of an ongoing war from generation to generation. It is a conflict that exists in creation until the coming of Mashiach, when the name of Amalek will be completely and utterly erased. However, until then we have the job of fighting this arch-enemy.

The war with Amalek is mentioned twice in the Torah. It occurs once in Parshat B’shalach and another time in Parshat Ki Teitzei, which is read in synagogue on Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat before Purim. Within these two sections, we infer two ways of how to deal with Amalek.

Parshat Ki Teitzei begins with the Hebrew word zachor—“Remember what Amalek did to you” (Deut. 25:17). It ends with the words al tishkach—“don’t forget” (ibid. 25:19). We thus have a double warning: remember and don’t forget, indicating a strong directive to do our part in erasing Amalek from under the heavens. Elsewhere we see that G-d, too, has a part in the war with Amalek. In Parshat Zachor, G-d says to Moses “I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek.” We see how the war is fought from two directions, one from our side, and the other from G-d, as it were.

G-d’s part in the war is articulated through the verse, “The hand is on HaShem’s Throne: G-d wages war with Amalek for all generations” (Exod. 17:16). Rashi points out that the Hebrew word for throne as written here (כס) should actually be written with an aleph at the end (כסא). Quoting the Midrash,[1] he explains that it is written with only the first two letters, since G-d says, “My Throne is not complete…”

When G-d says, “My throne is not complete…” it means that His Kingship is not complete. The Hebrew term, “HaShem” literally means “the Name.” More specifically it refers to the four-letter Holy Name of God (yud-hey-vav-hey). In the beginning of the verse, “The hand upon the Throne of HaShem,” only the first two letters (yud-hey) are written. Rashi explains that HaShem is indicating that His name will not be whole (i.e., indicated by only the first two letters yud-hey, instead of the full four-letter name) nor His throne complete (signified by כס instead of כסא) until the name of Amalek is utterly blotted out. In other words, as long as Amalek exists, the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people is considered imperfect.

Quoting the Zohar,[2] Rebbe Nachman teaches that when the Jewish people perfect themselves through their deeds, this perfects their relationship with G-d. More specifically, it perfects emunah (faith) in G-d.

This point is illustrated through the war with Amalek during the time of Moses. When Moses would raise his hands, Israel would dominate. When he lowered them to rest, Amalek would dominate. When his hands became too heavy, Aharon and Chur supported them from each side, as it is written, “And his hands were emunah (lit.,”faith”) until the setting of the sun” (Exod. 17:10-13).

When Joshua was sent to wage physical war against Amalek, Moses was immersed in spiritual battle. His hands were outstretched in prayer until the “setting of the sun.” This was one of the times in history when the sun actually stood still in the heavens. In this instance, G-d brought this about to weaken Israel’s arch-enemy. Amalek was a skilled sorcerer who knew how to calculate the exact hour most conducive to prevail against the Jews.[3] Through the power of faith and prayer, Moses influenced the Divine Will, causing the heavenly spheres to make the sun stand still, thus rendering Amalek’s calculations futile. Although Moses actually possessed the power to defeat and annihilate Amalek completely, he prophetically saw it wasn’t yet time. This being the case, he would raise his hands and Israel would dominate; when he rested them, Amalek would dominate. This only weakened Amalek temporarily in order to give him a measure of existence in the world until the time came to erase his memory completely.

“And his hands were emunah” refers to prayer.[4] Rebbe Nachman teaches that this phrase indicates a level of faith attainable by anyone. Even deeper, it highlights a specific strategy in the war against Amalek that is relevant to us today. He points out that there are different kinds of faith. For instance, there is a type of faith confined to the heart. Outside, you might observe people you wouldn’t even suspect as having religious faith. However, upon speaking with them, it is apparent that they do indeed believe in G-d. Developing the conversation further, they might even say that they have faith in their hearts. This is actually true, and they are satisfied with this level. However, they possess nothing more than this degree of faith, since their faith has not yet spread to every limb of the body. For example, in the case of a male, it hasn’t yet reached his hands to the extent where it obligates him to put on tefillin every day. In other words, perhaps he understands the basic concept of faith, but it simply hasn’t spread to his limbs enough to feel the urgency of the Divine command where the arm itself compels them, “Put tefillin on me! This is why you have an arm!” This is the meaning of faith extending to all the limbs.

Of the 613 mitzvot, 248 are positive commandments. There are also 248 limbs in the human body, each corresponding to a particular mitzvah. A Jew is built in a way that faith should extend throughout the entire human body, from head to toe. If every mitzvah corresponds to a certain limb, it gives us confidence in our ability to fulfill every mitzvah in the Torah because of the compelling force of faith contained in that limb.

There are a number of ways to reach such a level of faith. Based on the teachings of the Arizal,[5] Rebbe Nachman gives one practical example. After netilat yadayim, the ritual washing of the hands in the morning upon awakening, or before eating bread, we should raise our hands to head level, palms opposite the face while slightly to each side, in order to receive the holiness brought about through this deed. However, in order to do this, we need faith in our hands. We must believe that through raising our hands in this manner, we receive holiness, since without faith, nothing will happen. This is alluded to by King David in the Book of Psalms, “all of Your mitzvot are faith” (Psa. 119:86).

King David says to G-d: “Whatever I do or refrain from doing is because You commanded me. I have faith that You commanded me with 248 positive and 365 negative mitzvot. Despite never having seen You, I believe You exist and commanded us regarding the mitzvot in the Torah via Moses Your servant, and this obligates me.”

When the Arizal says that we should raise our hands in order to receive the holiness, we don’t necessarily feel anything, since it is something spiritual, not material. If we want to receive this holiness, we raise our hands only because of our faith. We simply believe in the words of the Arizal when he says that we receive holiness when we raise our hands after netilat yadayim.

This is important to point out since there are many types of educated people, irrespective of belief, who attempt to analyze various reasons for the mitzvot according to human reason. For example, one with a philosophical mindset who has analyzed tefillin might say, “The tefillin placed on the head is simply a box with four cells, containing a small parchment in each one. You ask him, “So why don’t you put on tefillin?” To which he would say, “What do you know about tefillin? It is the concept of the mind, and I am well aware that the human brain has four lobes. So when the Torah speaks about tefillin, it is obviously referring to the intellect and the structure of the human brain. Thus it says to make this box and put it on one’s head, etc., but this is not the essence of tefillin. How can you think that such a sublime concept as tefillin could be expressed through something as primitive as animal skin?! I have already attained its inner essence intellectually. I don’t need to actually do it!”

Unfortunately, there are countless people who have made an intellectual exercise out of the Torah, which reduces it to nothing. They are convinced they have comprehended the true greatness and significance of the Torah, but it remains only an abstract wisdom lacking any practical expression. This way of thinking is the biggest heresy—which is exactly the Amalek of our generation we are discussing.

If the Torah tells us to do a mitzvah in a particular way, we need to do it exactly that way. It is perfectly acceptable to search for the meaning of the mitzvot, but it must be after one is already bound to the deed itself. When we are immersed in the actual doing, then G-d helps afterward by bestowing an intellectual understanding of the mitzvah. Thus, through the actual performance of the mitzvah, we are able to arrive at the higher levels of intellect and understanding.

According to Rebbe Nachman, faith allows us to ascend intellectually. To the extent we have faith, we are able to attain progressively higher levels of understanding. As understanding reaches our intellect through faith, we begin to grasp what at first we only needed to believe. Increased attachment to the actual doing of the mitzvah, after initially accepting it with faith, brings us to comprehend the mitzvah intellectually. We then rise to the next level of faith higher than our current understanding. It is a process without limit.

“And his hands were emunah.” This was how Moses rose to unlimited heights through perfect faith, which permeated every limb of his body. Here, Moses teaches us a critical element in fighting the war with Amalek. Success in the war depends on faith radiating throughout our entire body, which will compel us to actively serve G-d. It is not enough to have faith only in our heart. By perfecting faith more and more, we give the war with Amalek over to G-d. Amalek symbolizes the refusal to allow G-dliness to penetrate and sanctify the world. Until Amalek is destroyed, G-d remains concealed. Neither His Name or throne is complete.

According to the Holy Zohar, when the Jewish people perfect their deeds through faith, it causes a unification of G-d’s name. This is expressed through the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people. When this happens, they ascend so high that G-d’s Throne is considered complete, together with Hashem’s full four-letter name—the essence of fighting the war with Amalek. G-d’s declaration, “I will utterly erase the memory of Amalek from under the heavens,” is a level achieved only with the coming of the Mashiach, when it will be revealed to every eye.

The coming of Mashiach brings a general and total redemption. Certain tzaddikim achieved the level where, from their vantage point, Mashiach had already come. In other words, they had perfected their faith to the extent that, as far as they were concerned, they were already living in the time of Mashiach. There was no difference between their current behavior and how they would act in the messianic age.

It is good to know from Rebbe Nachman that such a level exists and is accessible to us all. My blessing to everyone is that we rededicate ourselves to carrying out the mitzvot with deep faith and a whole heart. This will certainly establish the strong foundation needed to ascend progressively higher until understanding will enlighten our minds enough to illuminate the entire world. Hashem yimloch l’olam va’ed—“God will reign forever and ever.” Amen.♦

Translated and adapted from a talk given from Tsfat to a group in Sydney, Australia. Lesson based on Likutey Moharan 91.

1. Midrash Tanchuma, Ki Teitzei

2. Etz Chaim, Sha’ar HaKelalim

3. The ancient sorcerers used celestial configurations to determine astrological influences in the physical world and thereby predict the future of natural occurrences such as success or failure of nations and individuals. They also used methods of channeling celestial energies to influence things here in the physical world. Thus halting the sun frustrated their tactics based on a standard process of nature.

4. Targum Onkelos (ad loc.).

5. Rabbi Chaim Vital, Etz Chaim, Sha’ar 31, chap. 2; Sha’ar HaMitzvot, Eikev, Inyan “Netilat Yadayim.”

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LIMITS OF THE MIND : R. Gedaliah Aharon Kenig


According to the Zohar, human beings are called by the name “Adam” by virtue of intellect and wisdom. It is impossible to separate intellect from the concept of a human being. Without intellect, the concept of “Adam” would not exist, since da’at, higher knowledge, is what defines a human being. For this reason, we possess a will and desire to know everything—to increase da’at. Thus, the human being and intellect are one and inseparable.

In this light, Rebbe Nachman writes,[1] “It is a great mitzvah to sharpen the intellect in order to come to a clear understanding of what G-d has limited to the human mind.” It is important to note the precise language of Rebbe Nachman: “…what God has limited (higbil, from the word g’vul, meaning limitation) to the human mind”; this indicates that human intellect is inherently limited. The obligation to sharpen the intellect is only according to one’s intellectual capacity. A person should not attempt to reach beyond this limit, since it will cause what is termed, in the language of the Arizal, shevirat ha-keilim, “shattering of the vessels”—meaning destruction and collapse. The human mind is a type of receptacle made to receive the “light” of the intellect according to its capacity. If this measure is breached, the vessel soon reaches its breaking point and shatters. It then loses the ability to receive anything more.

For this reason, we must correctly gauge the receptive capacity of our intellect and guard it by not exceeding its limit. Even though we generally have the ability to estimate this limit for ourselves, it would be greatly beneficial if we had expert guidance from someone knowledgeable in this matter. This would make our desire and search for enlightenment much easier, since the danger would be removed, and we would have a greater likelihood of success.

This is exactly what Rebbe Nachman has accomplished. He paved a path for us to increase and broaden the intellect, as well as a way for us to guard it from all harm. With divine wisdom, deep understanding, and expertise in every philosophical path, he established that we must divide our philosophical inquiry into two types: 1) investigations that possess no danger whatsoever; and 2) investigations where it is impossible to escape from inherent dangers.

The first category we can enter, since such investigation will broaden and increase our intellect. Every question has a correct answer and each investigation can be fully concluded. This is not the case with the second category. It is forbidden to enter it, since the human mind does not possess the ability to resolve any of the difficulties that arise. The deeper the investigation, the more confusion is generated, since the very essence of this second category is comprised of contradictions and opposites. Any solutions reached will be incorrect and untrue.

Rebbe Nachman bases his conclusions on a kabbalistic explanation of Genesis. Based on a teaching of the Arizal, he writes[2] that when it became G-d’s Will to create the universe, there was no “place” for it, since everything was Ein Sof, G-d’s Infinite Being. The place where we exist today was originally the Infinite Divine Light called the Ohr Ein Sof. Therefore, when it arose in the Divine Will to create the universe, He constricted His light to the “sides” so to speak, and through this constriction (tzimtzum), He created a “Vacated Space,” termed the Chalal ha-Panui. Inside of this space, the entire creation came into being. The Vacated Space was fundamentally necessary for creation, since without it, there would have been no place to create anything. However this produces a philosophical paradox. Is G-d present or absent in the Vacated Space? G-d can’t be truly absent, for nothing can exist without G-d’s animating force; yet if He were present in the Vacated Space, there would be no “place” for the universe—all that would exist is the Ein Sof, as prior to creation.

Presently, the paradox of the Vacated Space is impossible for the human mind to understand. It can only be comprehended in the future, when the capacity of the human mind will greatly expand. For the time being, there is no way to comprehend it since it contains two opposites, yesh and ayin, “somethingness” and “nothingness.” On one hand, we state that G-d constricted His unlimited essence to the sides to make the Vacated Space. Without it, there would have been no “place” to create the world. The Vacated Space is thus termed ayin, “nothingness.” On the other hand, however, even this Vacated Space must contain His G-dliness, since nothing can exist without the Divine life force. This is the Yesh, “somethingness.”

Thus, we have before us three divisions: 1) the Ein Sof; 2) the preparation for creation; and 3) creation. We exist in a lowly physical world, which is also the focal point of creation. When we begin to investigate and search for the meaning of life and the true path, we encounter many problems and doubts. These difficulties can be divided into two categories: 1) problems engendered by the creation itself; and 2) problems originating in the Vacated Space that preceded creation—the preparation for creation.

In the first category, we need to know that God created everything in the universe through His spoken word, which our sages call the Asarah Ma’amorot, or “Ten Divine Utterances.” These Ten Divine Utterances through which the world was created are made up of the twenty-seven Hebrew letters of the Torah (twenty-two consonants plus the five final letters) and their various combinations.

However, the second category, involving the act of constriction, which formed the Vacated Space preceding Creation, was not made through letters at all. It came into existence solely through the Divine Will. No letters are present there.

Now we can understand that as we search for a way to draw closer to the Infinite G-d, we must pass through the creation, as well as the Vacated Space. This journey is fraught with inevitable difficulties and doubts. However, it is vital to understand and examine the source of these difficulties in order to determine into which of the two categories they belong. If a question is rooted in the first category of creation, comprised of the twenty-seven Hebrew letters of G-d’s creative word, then an answer exists which is accessible to human intellect. It may be solved through discussions, explanations, and speech, and there is no inherent danger in these types of investigations. They are even worthwhile to embark upon, since they will bear the fruit of increasing intellectual understanding, as well as grant the ability to teach and clarify the way for others.

This is not the case with the second category. When we engage in questions rooted in the Vacated Space, which contains no letters, then difficulties and doubts will always remain with no solution whatsoever. This is because there are no letters or words in the Vacated Space which would enable us to find an answer. Therefore, extreme caution must be taken to avoid entering and investigating problems and doubts in the second category. Those who do enter remain submerged and trapped in a sea of doubt with no hope for rescue. Every conclusion they reach will be negative, since it is the opposite of true existence upon which the first category is based. Since the entire essence of the Vacated Space is built on two irreconcilable opposites, yesh and ayin, “somethingness” and “nothingness”, questions originating from this paradox are irreconcilable and no words exist in creation to address them.

One who is careful and travels on the first path expands the intellect properly. They are protected from all damage and possess a healthy mind. Such a person is called “Adam”—the quintessential human being. Rebbe Nachman brings everything one step further by concerning himself with those who have faltered on the second, forbidden path. He reveals a wondrous way for such individuals to be rescued through the awesome power hidden in music. He tells us that it is possible to extract even those caught in the sea of doubt originating in the Vacated Space through the influence of the melody of the “Tzaddik in the category of Moses.”

I concluded my previous talk with one of these melodies attributed to Rebbe Nachman, who attained this lofty level. Therefore, his song can lift up all souls from their fallen condition and return them to their holy place of origin. Understandably, there is much more to explain on these topics and perhaps, G-d willing, we can explain further at another opportunity. ♦

1. Likutey Moharan I, 62:2

2. Likutey Moharan I, 64

NOTE: Reb Gedaliah did not live long enough to provide a second installment of this talk given during a series of two radio broadcasts on station WBAI in New York in 1979. He passed away in 1980 at the age of 59 while visiting Manchester, England on behalf of rebuilding the City of Tsfat. Many have since requested further clarification on this idea of the hidden power in this type of melody. Reb Gedaliah once said that any of Rebbe Nachman’s niggunim without words are part of this melody of the “Tzaddik in the category of Moses.” An audio recording of one of these melodies that Reb Gedaliah sang on the first broadcast is published here on this site under “Audio.”

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THE WORK OF GIVING : R. Elazar Mordechai Kenig


There is an aspect of charity that is virtually unknown in the world. Aside from the actual deed of giving charity—tzedakah—there is a mandatory stage through which everyone must pass. G-d tells Elijah the Prophet, “I commanded the ravens to sustain you…”[1] Rebbe Nachman relates this to the idea of tzedakah, since when we begin to give charity, it is very difficult. But just as G-d commanded the ravens, which are considered to be cruel, to feed Elijah, we must undergo a phase of breaking whatever innate cruelty we possess in our nature and transform it to compassion. This is a fundamental principle in the “work” of tzedakah.

It is written: “And the deed of tzedakah shall be peace, and the work of tzedakah shall be tranquility and security forever.”[2] The first part of this verse alludes to the actual deed of tzedakah; any time a person gives to another in need, this fulfills the mitzvah of tzedakah. However, there is another aspect to the mitzvah, called the “work” of tzedakah.

Rebbe Nachman highlights this concept through the second part of the verse “…and the work of tzedakah shall be tranquility and security forever.” Beyond the actual giving itself, the work of tzedakah consists of breaking any inherent cruel tendency in our personalities, and converting it into compassion.

If one gives charity because of their compassionate nature, where is the work? Even among animals, certain ones have a more compassionate nature than others. There are also some that are less compassionate, like the raven.[3] Thus G-d said to Elijah, “And I commanded the ravens to sustain you.” Even though the raven’s nature is cruel, it was transformed into compassion in order to sustain the Prophet Elijah. Likewise, anyone who gives any amount of charity out of inborn generosity must pass through this preliminary stage of breaking whatever point of cruelty, or lack of kindness and sympathy, they have within themselves and turn it into compassion.

Our compassion is certainly aroused when we see someone starving. In this case, it is clearly a mitzvah to offer assistance, and we are required to help. However, there is a higher level involved in giving tzedakah. Even a naturally generous heart must go through a stage of pushing beyond its inherently compassionate nature. This is accomplished by understanding where the compassionate tendency ends and the cruel one begins. Everyone has a limit where they say “ad kan—until here, and no more!” This point of cruelty is what requires effort to change. Precisely here is where effort is needed to break this selfishness and transform it into compassion through giving tzedakah. Without going through this stage, one hasn’t really done the work of tzedakah.

True tzedakah doesn’t only involve money. Tzedakah and doing kindness has many forms. For example, offering good advice can also help another person. We are all limited in certain situations and have different points where our compassion ends. The work of tzedakah is to push beyond our inborn tendencies, something which involves a deeper understanding of the nature of giving. Tzedakah is not solely dependent upon the compassion we feel at the moment. Rather, it is also connected to breaking through our personal limitations to give of ourselves more than our natural inclination dictates. In the final analysis, this is what we are bidden to do by our Creator.

The concept of transforming anger into compassion is discussed at greater length elsewhere by Rebbe Nachman.[4] In practical terms, this means that when we begin to get the least bit angry, we should be very careful to refrain from acting or speaking in an unkind way. Extreme care must be taken regarding all forms of anger since our Sages state, “One who breaks vessels in anger is like an idolator.”[5] Anger is mitigated through acting in the opposite way: “In wrath, remember to be merciful.”[6]

Of course, it is best never to become angry in the first place, but at least we must ensure that anger doesn’t lead to any harmful action or harsh words. It is vital to remember to restrain ourselves and act with compassion. It is written, “One who becomes angry gains nothing beyond the anger.”[7] Anger never accomplishes anything. Even if one thinks something was achieved through anger, the truth is that it wasn’t the anger that accomplished it. Much more would have been gained without it.


To understand this entire issue on a deeper level, Rebbe Nachman brings two concepts called “length of days” and “shortness of days.”[8] The first concept, “length of days,” is connected to the positive side of old age. Our sages teach that as people age, they acquire wisdom. Since every day needs more illumination, it is our task in life to bring more light into each day.[9] Every single day, a person should add more holiness, light, and awareness of the G-dly; one must increase daat (literally “knowledge,” but in this context, higher consciousness). Through this, the mind becomes progressively calmer and more settled.

Just as there is a process of development from childhood to adulthood, so we must grow spiritually from one level to the next on a daily basis. Practically, this means that we must strive to reach a higher spiritual level today than yesterday by adding something new to our service of G-d—hitchadshut.

The second concept, “shortness of days” is the opposite. As the verse states, “Mortal man’s days are short, full of anger.”[10] According to Rebbe Nachman, there are people who live long lives and thus appear to have attained “length of days.” Yet, since they blemished their days by neglecting to add to them more holiness and daat, they draw their spiritual vitality from the belief that there is nothing beyond nature (chochmat ha-teva). When days pass without renewal, this is the very opposite of “length of days” and the wisdom that comes with old age. Instead, it is considered, “shortness of days, full of anger.”

Rabbi Shmuel Isaac of Dashev, one of the great chassidim of Rebbe Nachman, once said that if he were to recite the Shema today the same as he did yesterday, he would have no reason to live. In order to grow spiritually, a person cannot remain on the same level. By living with renewal, one’s days are “long” in the sense that every day has more holiness and light than the previous one. On the other hand, if each day passes without any holiness being added, a person exists within the context of “shortness of days, full of anger.”

A life of routine without renewal brings irritation and upset. Rebbe Nachman offers a remedy through our doing the “work” of tzedakah. By subduing and breaking the innate point of cruelty and converting it into compassion, a person repairs the damage caused by living a life without renewal, known as “shortness of days.”

A happy and satisfying existence in this world depends upon knowing that everything comes from G-d. This means believing that G-d created the world in the way He desired, above the dictates of natural law. Even though He utilized the laws of nature to create the world, He preceded everything. Nothing either obligated Him to create the world, or to continue to sustain and support it. These are all principles of faith.

A person with faith can accept and cope with anything that happens in life without getting upset, or losing one’s sanity, G-d forbid. A loss of faith sometimes occurs when one is unable to see that everything comes from G-d, and instead imagines there is some other force running the world. It appears that others have a better life, causing one to become angry, jealous, or hateful, and entrapped in the narrow confines of “shortness of days, full of anger.” This may be considered by some as an inevitable part of life, but anger and pain are the very opposite of life. True life in this world is serenity—the calm and settled mind that comes from “length of days.” Through faith and believing that everything comes from G-d, a person is able to add holiness, light, and daat to every day and every moment, acquiring wisdom and revealing compassion.

Based on Likutey Moharan Tinyana 4.

[1] I Kings 17:4

[2] Isaiah 32:17

[3] Tikkuney Zohar, Tikkun 70 (129b); R’ Chaim Vital, Pri Etz Chaim, Chazarat HaAmidah, Chap. 7; Likutey Torah (Arizal), Vayeshev

[4] Likutey Moharan 18:2

[5] Shabbat 105b

[6]Habakuk 3:2

[7] Kiddushin 40b

[8] Likutey Moharan Tinyana 4:8-9

[9] Kiddushin 32b

[10] Job 14:1

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“Every lack a person experiences, whether children, livelihood, or health, comes from oneself.”[1] ~ Rebbe Nachman of Breslev

There is an old saying, “The One Who gives life will also provide for it.” In other words, since God created the world, He most certainly provides whatever we need to exist, whether livelihood, children, health, etc. As discussed in the writings of the Arizal and many other holy books, He created the universe to bestow good on it, not so it should be lacking.

If this is true, then why do we need to exert ourselves so much in order to subsist? An animal usually has everything it needs nearby in its local environment. Why would it be different for a human being, who is considered the choice of creation?

This is Rebbe Nachman’s point. The lack is not inherent in creation—it comes from oneself. The human being was created perfect and complete,[2] but something happened that created lack and deficiency. For example, when a baby is born, the parents hover over the infant to ensure that it is warm, well-fed, and has everything it needs. As the child grows and begins to develop its own ideas and direction in life, the parents still desire to bestow good on the child. Sometimes, the child goes out on their own and acts foolishly without realizing the damage caused to themselves and others. The parents still worry, and do their best to warn the child of the various dangers, even when he or she stubbornly persists in pursuing their own ideas.

Likewise with HaShem. As mature as we consider ourselves, we still possess only a child-like understanding of the greatness of G-d. We don’t fully grasp the extent to which He wants to benefit us, and instead, we act like immature children who make trouble. Divine light, called shefa, constantly flows to us. Descending through all of the upper worlds into this world, it arrives to fill any need we may have. Shefa is very subtle in the heavens, and once it comes into the world, it manifests as a beneficial influence. Just as parents desire good for their child, G-d’s love likewise directs the appropriate shefa to reach us in a ready-made fashion, like children, money, a home, etc. The only thing that can stop it is the shadow created by our own actions. The shefa is then experienced as a deficiency.

How do our actions create a shadow? The first thing to understand is that the nature of a shadow is relative, since a shadow is created from something more physical in relation to something more spiritual. For example, a tree will create a shadow when put up against the light of the sun or moon. The earth will also cause a shadow in the form of an eclipse, as will the moon itself. Even the sun will create a shadow in relation to something higher than it. In this case, the sun would be considered physical in relation to what is above it. Anything more physical obstructs light in relation to something more spiritual. Similarly, a person’s physicality and undesirable deeds form a shadow that obstructs the flow of shefa, since something physical will block something more spiritual.

There is a way, according to Rebbe Nachman, to circumvent this problem. If you nullify yourself by minimizing your connection to the world, no shadow is created and shefa is received unhindered. It is normal to want to fill a place in the world, or to feel you possess something. You enjoy the respect accorded to you by others, you consume, eat, drink and buy, all of which amounts to experiencing some sort of “somethingness” that defines your material existence. The more physical you are, the more it prevents you from receiving the constantly flowing divine light called shefa.

A basic understanding of human character traits can help a person move towards minimizing their connection to the world. Let’s examine the trait of humility. Everyone is born with a specific predisposition and nature, with varying levels of coarseness or arrogance at one end of the spectrum, and qualities such as humility at the other end. Each quality, though, needs to be expressed in the proper way and proportion. For example, it is a natural and positive reaction to a feel a sense of nullification or insignificance next to a greater person, not the opposite.

Likewise, we should feel our smallness in relation to Heaven. Our only desire should be to fulfill whatever role G-d gave us with self-nullification, which will naturally bring a tiny perception of God’s greatness. Even if we are not currently on this level, it is something that needs to be deeply contemplated, since it is the true reality.

As creations of G-d, we belong to Him. To the extent we comprehend this message and internalize it, our entire existence and relationship to the world will change. As we go about our daily business, we will begin to understand that we are nothing more than messengers on a mission given to us by HaShem. We will also be much less exacting of our own honor and care less about what others say or think about us. These concerns are exactly what make us more material. Freed of these concerns, we are less physical. More shefa reaches us and we experience less deficiency and lack.

The world was created with such compassion, in a way that is truly good for us in this world and the next. Consider the generation of Noah and the Flood. How did this generation come to such depravity that it had to be completely wiped out? The Midrash explains that this was actually caused by the abundant and awesome 
shefa they enjoyed on a constant basis. They had everything they wanted, immediately, with incredible opulence, which is what brought them to such coarseness and vulgarity. They believed the shefa came from their efforts and the strength of their own hands. They knew very well G-d was sending this goodness, but they didn’t believe He was the ultimate power behind sending it, or had the ability to halt it. When Noah repeatedly warned them about the impending flood, they taunted, “Where will the flood come from, Heaven?” since they felt they could stop the Heavenly wellsprings themselves. Although the good was indeed meant for them to enjoy, their way of thinking was a serious error because it overturned everything to the opposite.

You can actually sense where you stand before HaShem through evaluating your current situation, whatever it may be. The very deficiency you experience is a gauge to how physical you are, since the perceived lack is a result of divine light that has been blocked. It is now expressed as a specific shortcoming, which indicates a lesser level of self-nullification to what HaShem desires.

How do we know what HaShem wants from us? According to Rebbe Nachman, it is all related to kavod—glory and honor. He writes, “The essence of the light of HaShem is kavod, since whatever HaShem created, He created only for the sake of His glory.” The entire world was created only to reveal His kavod, as written throughout the holy writings.[3] Since HaShem’s glory fills the world, when you don’t take up space in the world, you receive the light of HaShem unhindered.

The Jewish people have an inherent power of self-nullification, which is epitomized by Moses. He brought us the Torah in such a way to show anyone, in any situation, that they are connected to the Torah and mitzvot, and what they need to uphold. Moses was considered to be the most humble human being. Although our own perception of humility is very far from its true nature, we still have some conception of it, since Jews possess a natural point of humility, which is developed when contemplating the greatness of HaShem.

Whatever we have or not, comes from HaShem because of His compassion. Internalizing this message more and more will generate full divine consciousness, which is the purpose of our existence. Our entire life experience is meant to bring us to an awareness of the One Who brought the world into existence. When this is deeply integrated into our daily outlook, we will feel no lack whatsoever in life.

This will be the experience many years after Mashiach will have already arrived, as well as in the Next World, when we will see the world in its perfection. There will be no “somethingness” that demands honor and recognition. It will be clear that you are alive only because G-d wants you to fulfill your function in the world, so you will lack nothing required to fulfill your mission. If you need money, He will give it to you. If you need health or anything else, you will receive it.

This is actually the level of the tzaddikim. They already achieved their tikkun, and see the perfection in this world now. Their pain comes only from looking at the Jewish people and seeing how far they are from their true life’s purpose. They are completely given over to bringing each Jew closer to G-d, one after another, by revealing another point of awareness in what it means to serve HaShem. These tzaddikim, with all of their perfection, are already experiencing the World to Come in this world. Rebbe Nachman insists this is not only something for spiritual giants, but for us as well. When we pray for Mashiach and the Temple, we are asking for this level—it is something we must all attain, since it is our purpose.

The world is divided into groups. Tzaddikim are also divided into different groups. There are tzaddikim in the category of Yesod Olam, foundation of the world, and there are tzaddikim on a lower level, yet the world’s existence completely depends upon all of them. The holy Zohar explicitly states that the highest level in each generation is that of Moses. Afterwards, there are the thirty-six tzaddikim called the “lamed vav” tzaddikim. According to the Zohar, there are thirty-six in the Land of Israel and thirty-six outside of Israel. The entire world stands in their merit, since without them, the world could not exist. The Zohar mentions other examples, such as a category of 10,000 tzaddikim, who are on a lower level. Nonetheless, the world requires all of these tzaddikim to exist.

We also need to place ourselves in some sort of category of tzaddikim. You may ask yourself, “Why do I need to call myself a tzaddik?” Don’t forget that we were born to carry out a specific mission, so it is not a matter of what we want or not. It is not merely a one-time task like when someone says to you, “Go bring this envelope to someone,” rather it is a mission involving your entire being and everything connected to you. Your entire life is no more that a simple shlichut—mission. For example, someone says to you, “Get on a plane, travel to a certain place and do this particular thing.” You will be well aware of why you are in that particular place, since it is part of your mission. You’ll also take care not to damage anything in the process of carrying it out. Nonetheless, at the same time, you still feel “something” from yourself since, despite being on a mission, you still need to eat, sleep, travel, accomplish, etc.

In other words, whatever you do in the world, whether sleep, eat, make money, pray, put on tefillin, or any of the other mitzvot, it is all one big mission. This is the most truthful way to think about ourselves since we have no other function in the world besides our divinely-given mission.

You may ask, “What is my mission?!” The answer lies in knowing that everything is connected to the kavod of HaShem, since He created the world to reveal His glory. Before the world came into being, there was no one to reveal His kavod. After creation, it is our mission to reveal it.

When you feel some deficiency, it is a signal that there is some sort of “shortcoming” in the revelation of G-d’s kavod. The more we reveal His kavod, the less lack we will feel. HaShem created us with all of our materiality to serve as a foundation in this world for Him, and to elevate our divine awareness until we clearly realize that we have no other function than to see the divine in every detail of life. Everything should bring us closer to the knowledge that there is a Creator of the World Who desires something from us. If it is against the Torah, it is not the desire of HaShem. Every step we take in life should bring us closer to a mindset that nothing exists beyond our appointed function in the world. Bringing children into the world, working in whatever area HaShem has brought us, or any other life situation, is all part of our mission to reveal what Hashem desires.

Delving deeper, we will sense how limited our understanding is. This is when to pour out our hearts, “Ribbono shel Olam! Heal us so we can reveal Your kavod. Give us livelihood so we can magnify Your kavod in the world. Redeem us from the oppression of outside influences, so we can carry out our mission.” The emphasis should be in this direction, rather than driven by the desire to shed the discomfort of exile. Thinking this way makes us more complete and less demanding of space and self-importance. When we achieve such a level, Rebbe Nachman promises that we will experience no lack. Obviously this is a process, but we must begin.

This is all connected to Rebbe Nachman’s concept of a self-generated shadow that blocks our own shefa. Every day, the ability to prevent its creation can be drawn from the power of Moses and his humility, since he is the primary soul in which we are all rooted. Rebbe Nachman describes how the influence of Moses is found within every limb of our body, reminding us to perform the mitzvah associated with that particular limb. His point of humility is also there, waiting to be developed. It is this point that will help us better understand how to remove our sense of “somethingness” and feel much more authentic. Most think that kavod and happiness are found by taking up more space in the world, as if this is the purpose of life. However, this point of humility will save us from being distracted or thrown off by the attractions of the world.

May HaShem help us be encompassed in the humility of Moses, so we will be able to receive an abundant influx of everything good in this world, as well as all the other worlds we will witness in the future. This blessing very much depends upon us. When we repair ourselves, we repair the entire universe. By drawing divine awareness into the world so everyone will know there is only HaShem, we will experience the good of the World to Come in this world as well. ♦

Translated and adapted from a lessed based on Likutey Moharan 172.

[1] Likutey Moharan 172.

[2] King Solomon wrote, “Elokim made Man straight, but they pursued many intrigues.” (Ecclesiastes 7:29)

[3] “For My glory I created…” (Isaiah 43:7); “The earth is filled with His glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)

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WHAT IS MAN? : R. Gedaliah Aharon Kenig

I would like to explain the concept of Man, Adam, according to the kabbalah and the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev. There are two things in the world in which everyone is familiar. One is a matter of belief, and the other, a matter of perception. The matter of belief is that there is a Creator of all, Whose existence is absolute. There was never a time when He did not exist. The matter of perception is that we perceive that creation exists. The creation’s existence is based on “possibility” because there was a time when it did not exist. These two things are opposites.

On one hand, the Creator is without end. He is One in the most absolute sense of oneness and there are no limitations to Him. On the other hand, creation is limited by both time and space. It is known that between any two opposites, there is a connecting midpoint. For example, the colors of black and white stand at opposite ends of the color spectrum. The midpoint between them is the color sky-blue, techelet, which combines both black and white. Likewise, in the concept of space, there is a midpoint between right and left, as well as up and down. So too with the Creator and creation. There is a midpoint which connects them both.

This midpoint is called the Shechina, the feminine aspect of God that dwells within creation. The Creator, Who exists as a unity unlimited by space or time, decreed that in order for the creation to receive the abundance of life and blessing from Him, called shefa, the Shechina will act as the intermediary to transmit this abundance from an unlimited to a limited realm. In this way, all the separate worlds that exist beneath Him, limited by time and space in all of their complexity and detail, are able to be nourished and supported.

The Shechina is the mother and root of the one all-inclusive Soul, which is the storehouse for each individual soul. This individual soul, which comes from the storehouse of the Shechina, was given to the last thing created in this world, man, known in Hebrew as Adam. Our soul yearns for us to be conscious of the tremendous favor and goodness the Creator has granted us. It wants to tell us about our awesome ability and power to unite from this lowly and limited world with our Creator, Who is One, endless and unlimited. Just as the Shechina is the intermediary between the Creator and creation, so is her daughter, the soul, a midpoint between good and bad, holiness and impurity.

Impurity is an extremely fine and subtle concept to understand, since impurity itself actually comes from a pure source. For this reason, it is easy to be confused and think that impurity is holiness, even though it is, in fact, impure. Therefore, the concept of purity, the opposite of impurity, is related to the soul. This is expressed every morning in our prayers when we say, “God, the soul you have given me is pure.” The soul serves as a protective fence to purity since it acts as the midpoint between holiness and impurity. In other words, the fact that we have a pure soul, which stands midway between holiness and impurity, means we have the ability to choose between the two.


Mankind possessed the ability to choose between holiness and impurity immediately after God breathed the soul into the body of the first man. If one wants, a person can choose to become one with everything good and holy. Or one can choose to become a partner and slave to all that is bad and impure.

If he decides to bind himself with goodness and holiness, then from this lowly world he can ascend to the highest of heights, even rising above the angels with the authority to rule over them. However, if he hands himself over and enslaves himself to that which is bad and impure, he descends to the lowest of depths. He sheds his beautiful spiritual clothing and becomes darkened. At this point, even the smallest and lowliest creature in creation is above him and can be the messenger to bring judgment upon him.

At the beginning of creation God wanted man, who is limited by space and time, to choose goodness and holiness. He wanted man to bind himself to his Creator from this lowly physical world, elevating himself above the entire creation, and rule over it. What happened back then is history. Man was not able to pass the test. Unable to overcome the obstacles, he sinned and fell from his lofty level. Afterwards, he felt tremendous regret and repented, still mankind has not yet achieved the will of God which was to unify Him with His creation. Yet God’s will can never be nullified since it is eternal and without limitation. Therefore, His desire that man ultimately elevate himself will come about in the future when he will become purified. The time will certainly come when man will be elevated above the entire creation, even ruling over the angels.

Delving a little deeper, we can discern that the will of the Creator exists even now. From our limited view we perceive that we have fallen and that our ultimate perfection and purification has been delayed to another time in the future. However, the Creator is above time and exists in a sphere where past, present, and future are one. What we perceive as the future, is for Him the same as the present. This means that our eventual completion and perfection exists now. But to us, bound to the realm of time, we live temporarily amidst awesome pressures coming from two opposite sides: holiness and impurity, light and darkness, good and evil.

As we have said, man has free choice. He is built with strength as well as weakness. With his strength he has sufficient power to overcome all tests, even the most difficult. Yet in his weakness, he can fall from the breath of the smallest wind, from the push of a leaf, and stumble over the most meaningless things.


What can give man hope and strength? When he looks deeply forward into time and yearns greatly for the shining future destined to come, it can vitalize him even now by inspiring him to overcome every obstacle and remove them from his path. As a person progresses step by step, winning another battle with his evil inclination, he becomes further purified and shines more and more. He then tastes everlasting life right now in the present. Furthermore, he has the capacity to purify and enlighten his fellow man, bringing to them the taste of eternal life as well. In contrast, if he becomes influenced by temporary brilliance and things which bring only momentary pleasure, his horizon is narrowed and he enters into a type of prison where he lives with great difficulty, confusing others. His portion in life is then only anger and pain. When he finishes his life, he leaves behind nothing.

It is very hard to describe exactly what spiritual satisfaction means to the person who lives with his soul as opposed to one who lives with his body. However, it is easy to understand when looking at one’s way of life. The first allows his body to control his soul. The second makes his soul dominant over his body. The man whose body controls his soul, dims her light, empties her of all content, and removes her glory. She becomes enslaved and is forced to eat the bitterness of moral impurity. The end of this is only nothingness. But the person whose soul dominates his body, polishes and purifies his soul, revealing her radiant points. He elevates his soul to the Garden of Eden, illuminating her with a wondrous upper divine light until even the physical radiates with light and is attached to everlasting life.


This is the secret of the resurrection of the dead. At that time, those whose bodies were vessels for the soul and acted according to the Will of their Creator, will rise from the grave together with the soul. They will be purified and ready to serve the Creator forever. Therefore, even those living presently who make their bodies subservient to their souls, and act in accordance with God’s Will, can taste eternal life now. When the time comes for them to die, they are not frightened and it does not cause them pain. On the contrary, they are happy because they know that this is the Will of the Creator, and that the time has come for them to return the gift that was entrusted to them—the soul. Likewise, their burial in the earth does not frighten them because they understand that it is like one who goes from one room to another, a narrow room to a much wider one. By entering the grave, he enters into a type of “laboratory” designed to purify his body from all of its gross physicality, removing all vestiges of impurity. In this way, he will be able to come to life again in order to completely serve his Creator.

This is the meaning of the word Adam, man. The complete Man is one who has reached perfection by purifying the physical matter of his body with divine light while in the world, just as it was in the Garden of Eden.