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THE FALLEN SUKKAH OF DAVID : R. Gedaliah Aharon Kenig

INTEGRATING THE MIND THROUGH PERFECTED FAITH

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.

INTEGRATING THE MIND

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.

TURNING DARKNESS INTO LIGHT

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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THE RESCHEDULED REDEMPTION

Every once in a while, a unique and remarkable soul is sent into the world to renew mankind with a previously unrevealed light.

Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, known as the Arizal, was one such soul. During his brief two years in Tsfat five hundred years ago, he succeeded in revolutionizing the understanding of the Zohar, the classic work of kabbalah. The constellation of kabbalah, the Arizal and Tsfat, made redemption almost irresistibly imminent. Against the historical backdrop of the Spanish expulsion and widespread messianic expectation, everyone living in Tsfat at the time awaited the final redemption. The only problem was, at the last moment, it was suddenly rescheduled for some unspecified date in the future.

Today, much mystery and misconception surrounds Jewish mysticism, the wisdom of the kabbalah, as well as those who profess knowledge of its secrets. The Zohar, the most famous book of kabbalah, was authored by R’ Shimon bar Yochai, who lived two thousand years ago during the Second Temple era. According to Rebbe Nachman of Breslev, every word of the holy Zohar has but one theme: how the upper worlds connect with each other in order to draw down shefa, the “oil of abundant holiness” into the world. Shefa is the fundamental spirtual vitality upon which the entire physical world depends for its sustenance. In order to understand the significance of the Arizal’s time in Tsfat, we must understand a little about the true nature of kabbalah and the anatomy of redemption.

THE SOURCE OF THE KABBALAH

Many people think kabbalah is a mysterious book of magic used by Jewish wonderworkers. The truth is, kabbalah is an ancient body of wisdom that was primarily transmitted orally.

However, Sefer Yetzira, a kabbalistic work that predates even the Zohar, was attributed to the patriarch Abraham. Later, the wisdom of kabbalah was handed down directly from God to Moses on Mount Sinai as part and parcel of the Torah. It was then maintained as a secret oral tradition passed from teacher to student for generations under the strictest of guidelines for fear of its holy power being misused. This tradition took written form during the era of the Second Temple when R’ Shimon bar Yochai garbed its wisdom within the book called the Zohar, literally meaning the “Book of Splendor.” In so doing, he drew the holy light of kabbalah further down into the world. Some time later, the book disappeared and remained concealed until the late thirteen century when it was rediscovered by R’ Moses de Leon, and much controversy arose about its disappearance and reappearance. The Zohar itself was originally a collection of midrashim which was later organized according to the weekly parsha. Thus today, it is a detailed commentary on the Five Books of Moses and contains extensive discussion on the elements that comprise life in this world. It speaks about creation, the soul’s anatomy, the Messiah, suffering, the destruction of evil, reincarnation, tikkun, the Shechina, the system of ten sefirot, fulfillment of the 613 commandments, and Torah study. One of the benefits of learning Zohar is that it gives a person the desire to learn all parts of the Torah (Sichot HaRan 108). After the Zohar resurfaced, it became more widely available and thus more difficult to understand correctly for those lacking a high level of Torah knowledge. When the Arizal arrived in Tsfat for his brief sojourn, he introduced an entirely new system to understand the complexity of the Zohar, today know as “Lurianic Kabbalah”. He succeeded in condensing and systemizing the wisdom of the kabbalah even further, making it more accessible to a greater range of people. For this reason, the Arizal was considered the greatest kabbalist since the days of R’ Shimon bar Yochai.

THE ARIZAL

R’ Yitchak Luria was given the appellation “Ari”, which means “lion” in Hebrew. The final three letters “zal” represent a Hebrew acronym, zichrono l’vrocha, “may his memory be a blessing”. “Ari” is also an acronym standing for “Eloki Rabbi Yitzchak”—the godly Rabbi Yitzchak. Concerned that this name might be taken out of context, later generations said that the Hebrew letter aleph at the beginning of the acronym stood for Ashkenazi, a reference to his family’s Germanic roots.

The Arizal was born in Jerusalem in 1534 and moved to Egypt in his early childhood. By the time he was eight years old, he was recognized as a prodigy, expert in all areas of the revealed Torah including the Bible, Mishnah, Talmud, Midrash, and Aggada. At the age of seventeen, he obtained a written manuscript of the Zohar and spent days, even weeks, engrossed in a single passage until he had grasped its deepest meaning.

In time, after tremendous exertion, he understood the conversations of both trees and birds, as well as the speech of angels. By looking at another’s face, and even by one’s odor, he could discern everything the individual had done and what they would do in the future. He knew people’s thoughts, often before the thought even entered their minds. He knew the future, and was aware of everything happening here on earth, as well as what was decreed in heaven. He knew the mysteries of reincarnation, who had lived previously, and who was here for the first time.

The life story of the Arizal took a intriguing turn when he made his appearance in the Holy City of Tsfat. It was here a relationship was forged between him and another fascinating individual that was meant to catalyze nothing less than the redemption of the world.

R’ CHAIM VITAL

Concealing his gifts completely, the Arizal moved to Tsfat from Egypt during the summer of 1570. He came with the express purpose of teaching a young scholar by the name of R’ Chaim Vital who, the Arizal knew, was to become his main student and disciple. It wasn’t until six months after the Arizal arrived in Tsfat that R’ Chaim Vital finally met him. R’ Chaim, an acknowledged master in kabbalah himself, later wrote that one reason it took so long to meet his master was because he initially thought his own knowledge of kabbalah surpassed that of the Arizal. R’ Chaim Vital was a most unusual individual, an esteemed Torah scholar and an outstanding expert in alchemy, astronomy, astrology, and kabbalah, even before he met the Arizal. At the time of their first meeting, R’ Chaim was only twenty-seven years old; the Arizal was thirty-six.

It is astounding that according to his own account, R’ Chaim was a disciple of the Arizal for less than eighteen months, yet during this brief period, he managed to gain an astonishing mastery of the Arizal’s kabbalistic system. Given their short-lived relationship, the amount of information that must have passed between them defies imagination. Like many great masters, the Arizal rarely, if ever, recorded his own teachings, instead entrusting the task to a close follower. In this case, R’ Chaim Vital. He was the great organizer of the Arizal’s system and spent decades writing, organizing, rewriting and reorganizing countless versions and editions. R’ Chaim’s writings comprise over a dozen large volumes, each intricately compiled and written in an extremely terse style. Known collectively as the Kitvey HaAri, the volumes include the Etz Chaim (Tree of Life) and Pri Etz Chaim (Fruit of the Tree of Life), as well as the Shemoneh Shaarim (Eight Gates), and deal with everything from Torah commentary to Divine inspiration and reincarnation. The sheer quantity of R’ Chaim’s writings is immense, and if not for him, little if any, of the Arizal’s teachings would have survived.

One of the biggest challenges posed to R’ Chaim, was that the Arizal would suddenly start revealing secrets to him with no introduction, or clear sequence. Since the key in learning kabbalah is knowing where and what is being discussed—which world, which construct—the Arizal’s revelations were a dizzying mass of cryptic unorganized material. R’ Chaim was the only one who was able to successfully present the entire system with proper introduction and sequence. Even so, he intentionally wove into the text stumbling blocks to prevent the uninitiated and unworthy from improper understanding.

Kabbalists are extremely careful to use only the writings of R’ Chaim Vital. A relatively contemporary kabbalist from Yemen, R’ Shalom Sharabi (known as the “RaShash”, d. 1777) was particularly strict, warning in extreme language to completely avoid anything other than the writings of R’ Chaim Vital, since among all the students of the Arizal, only he understood his master’s teachings properly.

THE RESCHEDULED REDEMPTION

Yet, the relationship between the Arizal and R’ Chaim Vital possessed an even deeper dimension. Sometimes, when two people unite in a relationship, one of them may experience a personal redemption. In some cases, both sides experience the same. There are also relationships which effect the redemption of a town, a people, or even a country. In the case of R’ Chaim Vital and the Arizal, their union was meant to catalyze the redemption of the entire world, the advent of the Messiah, and the ultimate perfection of mankind. It was all meant to happen in the city of Tsfat.

R’ Chaim Vital could be termed a “microcosmic man”. He was what the kabbalists call a neshama klalit, a general all-encompassing soul. Usually, a Jew is spiritually from one of the original twelve tribes, the sons of Jacob. But a neshama klalit, or all-inclusive soul, has the spiritual root of all twelve tribes encompassed within one soul. This is a specific quality found in certain souls, and it was true in the case of R’ Chaim Vital. The repair, or tikkun, of R’ Chaim’s soul would blaze a spiritual pathway back to God through which others would be perfected. In this way, the entire world could be drawn back unhindered to God in repentance, ushering in the Messianic era. He was the mysterious paradigm upon which all mankind depended, without anyone knowing. This was the secret to the world’s redemption during the time of the Arizal and the significance of the deep relationship between these two extraordinary individuals.

Since the Arizal had come into the world only to teach and perfect the soul of R’ Chaim, he repeatedly cautioned R’ Chaim not to reveal his teacher’s greatness to anyone. If the Arizal’s true greatness was revealed prematurely, it would prevent him from accomplishing what was needed with R’ Chaim. Untold damage would be caused not only to him and R’ Chaim, but to the entire world. Yet feelings of unworthiness persisted within the heart of R’ Chaim. He felt compelled to reveal his teacher’s sublime level to the great leaders in Tsfat at the time, who were older than he, including R’ Moshe Alshich, R’ Moshe Cordovero (the Ramak) and R’ Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch.

As the Arizal’s fame quickly spread, he was sought by those far and wide for the wonders he performed and spiritual guidance he provided. Others were seeking rectification for their souls. Because of the Arizal’s humility he refused no one.

The Arizal continued to plead with him to be more discreet, even revealing awesome secrets about R’ Chaim’s soul in an attempt to convince him that their relationship served a unique purpose in the world, but to no avail. R’ Chaim was unable to overcome his feelings of inadequacy and continued to publicize the Arizal’s greatness. Within a short while, his time spent with R’ Chaim was greatly compromised.

ALL TOO SOON a deadly plague struck the idyllic holy city. At a mere thirty-eight years of age the Arizal passed away suddenly in the summer of 1572 (5 Av 5332), only two years after the Arizal arrived in Tsfat. No one understood the true significance of the loss more than R’ Chaim. The redemption had been foiled, the dream shattered, at least for then.

During the funeral, Rabbi Chaim almost went mad with grief. When the Arizal’s body was lowered into the grave, he jumped in as well, clinging to it tightly. With great difficulty, others separated him from his master’s body and lifted him out from the grave.

R’ Chaim later wrote, “In my transgression, I wanted to be a ‘foolish chassid’ so I said to my master, ‘If these great scholars aren’t able to learn from you, then neither will I. I want no accusations in heaven leveled against me that I was concerned only for myself and not for these great tzaddikim who also want to learn from you.’”

After the death of his master, R’ Chaim often saw him in dreams, but as the years passed, these visits became less frequent. He settled in Damascus in 1594, teaching and inspiring Jews to return to a Torah-based life, but he was plagued until the end of his life with profound regret and sorrow that the final redemption had not yet come. With the exception of occasional visits to Tsfat, R’ Chaim remained in Damascus until his own death in 1620.

TWO EARTHQUAKES and a series of plagues subsequently devastated the city, and Tsfat went into a deep spiritual and physical slumber, essentially freezing her healing redemptive powers for another time in the future.

Thus the gates of redemption temporarily closed in sixteenth-century Tsfat, home to some of the greatest tzaddikim in Jewish history. Although the Arizal’s time in Tsfat was brief, the spiritual levels attained during this period sustain us until today, as we await the final redemption when we are destined to reach these levels and beyond.

SOURCES: Shivchei HaAri; Shivchei R’ Chaim Vital
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THE SECRET TO THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE FUTURE : R. Elazar Mordechai Kenig

Everything is for the Good

When one knows that everything they go through in life is for the good, it is as if they exist in the World to Come, m’eyn olam haba.[1] It is written that a person must make a blessing over the bad as well as the good.[2] What does it means to recite the same blessing over the bad as the good? It is obviously easy to make a blessing over something good, but how can we sincerely say the same blessing over something bad?

For this reason, a distinction is made between them, and practically, there are two separate blessings. Over good, we recite the blessing ending with hatov v’hameitiv, “…Who is good and does good.” A separate blessing is recited over bad, baruch dayan ha-emes, “Blessed is the True Judge.” Even a blessing over something bad should be said wholeheartedly and with joyful acceptance, together with the realization that difficult things are for the good as well.

A story is told about Rabbi Akiva who approached a city to spend the night, but was refused entry. He immediately exclaimed, “Whatever G-d does, He does for the good.” Prevented from entering, he was forced to sleep in an open area outside city limits. He had a candle, rooster, and donkey. All of a sudden, a gust of wind blew out the candle. This was followed by a cat, who came and ate the rooster; then a lion came and ate the donkey. After each incident, he said, “Whatever G-d does, He does for the good.” Anyone else in a similar situation could have easily complained and blamed others for their woes. Yet Rabbi Akiva had the ability to sincerely say that everything G-d does is for the good.

In the course of the same night, enemy soldiers infiltrated and captured the city. Rabbi Akiva then said, “Did I not say that everything G-d does is for the good? If the candle was lit, I would have been found and taken captive. If the donkey brayed or the rooster crowed, I would have been easily discovered and captured.” In spite of the suffering he inevitably experienced, it was a clear and simple matter for Rabbi Akiva to say, “Everything G-d does is for the good.”

At times, a person seems to have everything, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, everything changes. Every step brings new trouble, with no chance to rest. Eventually, whatever they do have is taken from them as well, like Rabbi Akiva’s candle, rooster, and donkey. Nonetheless, even in such circumstances, there is still a practical obligation to say with full sincerity, “Everything G-d does is for the good,” because the world doesn’t run on its own. There is Someone who leads and guides everything that happens. Since He is good and acts only for our benefit, anything that occurs to us is for the good. When this awareness becomes absolutely clear in our minds, we enter into a state of olam haba, the World to Come.

It is written, “On that day, G-d will be One and His Name One”.[3] The question is raised, “Is He not One now?” Our Sages explain that presently, since the full revelation of G-d’s unity is still lacking in the world, we have separate blessings for good and for bad. In the future, it will be different. Evil will be completely nullified and everything will be perceived in its true light as good. At that time, we will say only one blessing—hatov v’hameitiv. This means that if one is able to achieve an awareness that every occurrence in life is good right now, they are actually living in a state of the World to Come, while existing in this world. Happy is one who achieves such a level.

ACCEPTING GOD’S KINGSHIP

Yet the challenge remains. How is it possible to avoid uttering an empty blessing over the seemingly bad and be completely clear that everything is really for the good? Rebbe Nachman reveals a practical way to achieve this: Accept the sovereignty of the Creator over your life. This is done by consciously acknowledging the existence of a G-d who runs the world both on a macro and micro level. This is how G-d’s Kingship, called malchut, is elevated from exile. The term “kingship” is relevant to G-d, since there is no king without a people. We are His people because He created each one of us. In this sense, He “needs” the creation, as it were, since the world was created only for the revelation of this kingship.

The fundamental nature of true kingship, malchut, is not a rule by force, but rather ratzon, i.e., desire from those being ruled. Thus G-d’s kingship must be revealed in the world through willingness and desire on the part of Creation. This was the situation during the Exodus from Egypt, when the Jewish people willingly accepted G-d’s kingship and authority upon themselves. However, in the case where the Jewish people are distant from G-d, He rules over them with anger, chas v’shalom. This is not what G-d wants, rather He desires that we willingly accept His sovereignty over the world.

This is the essence of free choice. On the surface, it appears we can do whatever we want, since one can choose between good and bad. Free choice is necessary within creation in order to reveal G-d’s kingship. It is also the vehicle for willingly accepting Divine authority, and having desire to serve Him, by asking ourselves, “How can I best bring pleasure to the Creator?” Our actions should not be driven by our own desires, but rather be completely directed toward what G-d wants. Practically, this is how the kingdom of holiness is redeemed from exile, and through this, the entire purpose of creation is realized.

In the future, the Jewish people will possess the consciousness that every occurrence is truly good, including the most difficult things that happen in general as well as on a personal basis. If we know we are already destined for such a level, then it is easier to understand Rebbe Nachman’s statement that even now, it is possible to realize that everything is for the good. On a deeper level, we will also understand that there was no bad in the first place.

As mentioned earlier, the first step towards this level of awareness is to accept G-d’s kingship in the world. Although this is an ongoing process, a person shouldn’t live with complaints and in a depressed state. One can suffer greatly over a perceived lack, or suffer because what they do have is not perfect, thinking that everyone else has more and better. If you ask them what is good in their lives, they are unable to tell you. Feeling bad does not need to be a reality of life. If a person really wants to suffer, reasons abound. One can descend to a very low level just by being overly caught up with themselves and surrounding themselves with the rationale to suffer. However, it doesn’t need to be like this. Sometimes rediscovering the good and blessing in our lives is like reinventing the wheel. While it is true that trouble and pain at times can be so overwhelming that it is experienced only as suffering, when you are really aware that everything is for the good, you can be happy and thankful for the blessings you do have. This gives the strength to adjust to any difficulty, leading to a happier and calmer life—a life not dependent upon what we, or others, have or not. This translates further as not only being happy for another’s good fortune, but also believing that our neighbor’s happiness is good for us as well. A person can be happy and fulfill, “Who is rich? One who is happy with his portion” (Pirkey Avot).

WEALTH & HAPPINESS

Rebbe Nachman tells a story about a country of wealth where one’s importance was measured solely by how much money they had. This determined how much honor was due the person. Those with the most amount of money were considered angels and gods, while those with no money were not even considered human, rather a type of animal.

In reality, financial hardship can cause a person to fall so much in their own eyes they consider themselves subhuman. Lacking the ability to adjust to their current situation, they become apathetic and act in ways they would never consider otherwise. Things are very different for one who accepts G-d’s sovereignty over their life. Even if suffering has been decreed upon them, they are able to withstand and accept whatever they go through without confusion. They remain “human” with the capacity to function and be happy.

Obviously, true wealth and happiness are not determined solely by material attainments. A person can have many possessions, yet be full of suffering. Someone else, on the other hand, with next to nothing, can live a happy and fulfilled life. It all depends on one’s awareness. When it is clear that events are not random and that there is an Owner of the world Who arranges everything, what others have does not disturb us in the least. Rather, it makes us happy, since when it is good for someone else, it is good for us too. It is a fundamental point to realize that whatever one has, is given directly from G-d Himself. Despite appearances to the contrary, no one can lift a finger over anything that was not decreed for them from Above.

Another story is told about two people who needed to travel abroad by sea for business. On the way to the port, one broke his leg and missed the ship. He took it badly, thinking, “I am trapped here while my friend has it good. He’s going off to make a fortune while I am forced to stay behind.” A few days later, news arrived that the ship had sunk and all aboard perished. He then viewed his situation in a completely different light. He realized that not only he was saved from death, but the suffering he underwent leading up to the disaster was also for the good. This is the level of understanding we can attain, and it begins by accepting G-d’s kingship in our lives.

In the future, everything will be understood as good. A great consciousness will be revealed and we will realize how two thousand years of Jewish exile with all of its suffering, was for the good. It will be completely clear that it couldn’t have been any different, and we will thank G-d for everything with a sincere heart.

May HaShem enlighten our hearts and minds with an increasing awareness of G-d’s profound goodness in every detail of our lives.

Translated from a shiur given in Tsfat.

  1. Likutey Moharan II, 4
  2. Berakhot 54a; Pesachim 50a
  3. Zecharia 14:9

What You Never Knew About Esther

Esther is a “precious stone.” She descended into the depths on a secret mission. Her very name means “hidden.” Only when her mission was accomplished did she and Mordechai record the events on a scroll called Megillat Esther. Written with ruach hakodesh (Divine inspiration) the contents of this scroll are read every Purim around the world, testifying to the hidden and miraculous presence of G-d in the darkest of moments. A prototype of hidden redemption, the Purim story is especially relevant to our generation.

Sometimes there are dilemmas so enormous that the mind cannot fathom a way out. In this case, there is only one solution to circumvent everything: Go to the microcosmic source that holds the root of everything. The Foundation Stone1 in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem had this quality, lying beneath the Holy of Holies—a place radiating unparalleled spiritual symmetry and beauty of irresistible attraction. This innermost point was hidden inside Esther, as well as other great tzaddikim and tzidkaniyot throughout history. Redemption during periods of great peril is sometimes brought about through a lone individual. Other times it involves the interaction between a pair of redeemers, as in the case of Mordechai and Esther.

The potency of Esther’s power lay in its hiddenness; it flowed from the all-inclusive good point she possessed. It wasn’t just any good point, it was the microcosmic hub found within every woman who played a redemptive role in Jewish history: for instance, the three matriarchs Sara, Rivka and Rachel, as well as Ruth, Devorah, Yael, Rabbi Meir’s wife Bruria, Rabbi Akiva’s wife Rachel, and many others who remain hidden. Evil individuals seeking to harm or destroy the Jewish people often met their downfall through women who put their body and soul on the line for the sake of the Jewish people. Esther cried out in profound distress, Hatzila Mi-cherev Nafshi—“Save my soul from the sword!”2 The first letters of this verse spell “Haman.”

Since Esther’s innermost point included the root of every soul, she is said to have encompassed Klal Yisrael. She was also the living spiritual paradigm of ishah yirat Hashem—the “G-d fearing woman” (Proverbs 31:30) spoken about extensively in our holy writings. Her humility formed the basis for every salvation, and allowed her to resist the empty lure of fame and recognition—something that would have undermined her success entirely.

A TIMELESS VS TIME-BOUND REALITY

There is another deeper aspect to Esther’s powerful influence that involves time itself.3 All suffering is the result of existing in a realm bound by time. Exile in particular personifies the pain and anguish of life under the constraints of time. We are unable to see the whole picture, something reserved only for the higher timeless consciousness of the World to Come.4

But at extraordinary moments in history the two realms intersect, bringing redemption. The reality that exists above time is miraculous because it suffers no lack or damage of any kind. Everything is whole and complete, and as such, holds the key to all healing and perfection. The essence of the Purim miracle (as well as that of Chanukah) came from this timeless realm and penetrates deeply into our world every year during Chanukah and Purim. It is the same place that Mashiach pulls down his strength to repair a very troubled and diseased earth. Because Esther possessed this microcosmic good point in her generation, by straddling both realms, she was the conduit of salvation for the entire Jewish people during Purim.

When she descended into the depths of evil, the Other Side rejoiced, figuring it had won the biggest prize by capturing the ishah yirat Hashem, the quintessential G-d-fearing woman herself. She now would be lost along with everything else she held within her. Vi-ka’asher avaditi avaditi, “And if I perish, I perish,” she wept (Esther 4:17). Taken into the inner chambers of Achashverosh, she was submerged in the constraints of time—the ultimate expression of exile. However, the profound humility and righteousness of Esther prevented the wicked Achashverosh from accessing her inner essence.5 She nullified herself entirely and remained unaffected by any contact with him. Her purity protected her during her descent, enabling her to elevate and restore the sparks of holiness that fell into the lowest time-bound realm of evil.

Esther’s “capture” and exile to the lowest time-bound realm of Haman and Achashverosh was intended to suppress all hope for redemption rooted above time. This supra-temporal level is where the Jewish people draw their strength. Therefore, since the dimension of time had engulfed Esther, to prevail over her meant prevailing over Israel—since they were all rooted in her soul. Yet she overcame everything through her heroic efforts on behalf of the Jews. In so doing, she prevailed over the time-bound astrological calculations of Haman to annihilate the entire people on the 13th of the Hebrew month of Adar (usually the day preceding Purim, observed as the “Fast of Esther” today). Instead, the tables were completely turned on Haman and his supporters when the day earmarked for the destruction of the Jews brought devastation to Israel’s enemies. The redemptive light of the timeless realm converted everything into good—all in the merit of Mordechai and Esther, the redemptive duo of Purim.

“For the Jews there was light, gladness, joy, and honor—so may it be for us.”8

1. Called Even HaShetiyah.

2. Psalms 22:21. This entire chapter in the Book of Psalms is attributed to Esther.

3. Toras Noson on Megilat Esther.

4. Berakhot 34b, et al.

5. R’ Chaim Vital, Etz Chaim, Sha’ar Klipat Nogah 4-5; Ma’amar HaNefesh II:3.

6. From the prefatory verses of the Havdalah ceremony recited at the conclusion of Shabbat, based on Esther 8:16.