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TESHUVA DYNAMICS : R. Ephraim Kenig

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.

TESHUVA AND YOM KIPPUR
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.

SHABBAT AND 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.

TESHUVA AND HAPPINESS
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.

RUNNING & RETURNING
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.

KING DAVID ON RUNNING & RETURNING
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.”

UNITY & THE JEWISH BOND

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.

A SPIRITUAL DISTINCTION

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.

ACHDUT ON ROSH HASHANAH

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.

RELATIVES OF HASHEM

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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LIMITS OF THE MIND : R. Gedaliah Aharon Kenig

PHILOSOPHICAL INQUIRY & THE VACATED SPACE

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 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
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MEDITATION, MUSIC & PROPHECY : R. Gedaliah Aharon Kenig

THE GREAT SONG OF CREATION

Rebbe Nachman teaches about a flowing wellspring and a river whose waters are drawn from this spring.[1] The spring is considered the mystery of nekuda, a “point,” because it is described as a specific point from which water flows. This is related to the Hebrew letter yud [ י ] whose shape is a single point. In contrast, the river is described as the Hebrew letter vav [ו] whose shape is an element extending from a point, since a river’s waters extend outward.

Furthermore, the wellspring, represented by the point in the shape of a yud, is the light of wisdom, called chochma. The river, represented by the element extending from a point in the shape of a vav, is the light of bina, understanding, that dwells in the heart. Just as the river is filled and blessed when it receives from the waters of the wellspring, so too the understanding of the heart (bina), is perfected when it receives influence from the light of the mind’s wisdom (chochma).

Rebbe Nachman describes three points of wisdom in the mind, which are three wellsprings of chochma. These three points are the source of wisdom from which the river, representing bina and understanding of the heart, is filled and blessed. We were each created in the image of G-d, in that our minds and hearts are channels for wisdom. Therefore, it is our role to constantly strive for perfection by drawing the waters of blessing from these three points of wisdom in the mind into the understanding of the heart. In other words, it is upon each of us to ensure that the mind (chochma) and heart (bina) are connected through these points which bring an abundant influx of understanding into the heart so it will not lack in any way. This is the perfection of the nefesh (soul).

THE THREE POINTS OF WISDOM
The following describes, in sequence, the three points of wellspring/wisdom in the mind:

  1. The point of wisdom in the rav, tzaddik and sage of the generation, who is the primary source of the waters of wisdom, and who is the all-encompassing influence on the generation.
  2. The point of wisdom in the mind of one’s friend, containing whatever wisdom their friend received according to his or her intellectual abilities, from the rav of the generation.
  3. The point of wisdom in the mind of each person, received personally according to his or her own intellectual capacity, from the wisdom of the rav of the generation.

All three points of wisdom require the use of the spoken word in order to draw the waters of the wellspring (mind/chochma) into the river (heart/bina). This is hinted to in the verse, Pi yedaber chochmot v’hagut libi tevunot, “My mouth will speak wisdom and the meditations of my heart understand” (Psalms 49:4).

The use of the spoken word is expressed through each of the three points in the following ways:

  • Everyone requires an authentic teacher, a rav and sage (chacham) from whom they can learn and receive the true wisdom. For example, [after the Exodus from Egypt] the entire Jewish people received their knowledge of G-d from Moses.
  • In addition, you must speak with your friend with yirat shamayim (fear of heaven), so your heart will be awakened from the point of wisdom that your friend possesses more than you.
  • Finally, to complete everything, you must speak to G-d in order to illuminate your own point of wisdom[2] and draw it into the understanding of the heart.[3] This is called hitbodedut (literally “secluding oneself” to commune with G-d).[4]

When you articulate words in your conversation with G-d, your hitbodedut is then built upon a foundation of truth. This is what connects the point of wisdom in your own mind to the understanding of your heart. The result is a lev tamim, an unblemished, straightforward heart,[5] i.e., a feeling heart vs. one that is sealed shut, unable to feel. In this way, the nefesh is perfected.
This all highlights the central requirement of the spoken word during hitbodedut—speech articulated through using the five parts connected to the mouth: teeth, tongue, lips, throat, and palate. This is true to the extent that it is worthwhile to spend an entire hour in hitbodedut, even if you can only manage to utter a few words.

There are additional requirements of hitbodedut involving time and place. This is because there are specific times and places more conducive to attaining the purpose of hitbodedut.[6] However, there are no specific limitations or requirements regarding body position. It is possible to practice hitbodedut in any position, whether sitting, standing, walking, or laying down—any way that is most comfortable. Since the entire purpose of hitbodedut is to exit from a constricted consciousness to a more expanded one, any position that helps to accomplish this objective is fine.

Anyone who alters these conditions of using the spoken word or placing specific limitations on body position in any way whatsoever, strips hitbodedut of the ability to achieve positive results. Instead of attaining a settled mind, improper hitbodedut brings confusion, irritation and anger, G-d forbid, which of course is completely contrary to the intended purpose. Rebbe Nachman refers to this: “Through hitbodedut and passing one’s time idly, one comes to anger.”[7] He writes elsewhere, “Anger comes from improper hitbodedut.”[8]

This is the answer to many who perform hitbodedut regularly, yet complain they remain far from a settled mind. It is obvious that their practice lacks the above conditions, and they are only acting according to their own opinion as to what constitutes proper hitbodedut.

We can now better understand the following words from the prophet Amos:[9]

“Behold, days are coming, says the L-rd G-d, and I will send famine into the land, not a famine of bread and not a thirst for water, but to hear the word of G-d. And they shall wander from sea to sea, and north to east; they will run back and forth seeking the word of G-d, but they will not find.”

On the surface, these words pose a difficulty, since how could it be that “they will not find”? We are witnesses today to the materialization of this prophetic vision and how it engulfs most of the world. An intense hunger and thirst to hear the word of G-d has been awakened among countless people in our times. They wander the face of the earth, from sea to sea, and in every direction to find from whom to learn, and are filled with a tremendous desire for the word of G-d. If this is the case, why don’t they find it?

We are already familiar with the maxim, “If one says, ‘I struggled and I didn’t find,’ don’t believe them.”[10] Nonetheless, how is it possible, after so much wandering and struggle, they are unable to find what they are looking for?

 According to Rebbe Nachman, there are a number of reasons:

  • First of all, most of the world, even among those who struggle in their search for the word of G-d, quickly tire, and quit in the middle. They stop at the first “teacher” who reveals some sort of wonder or supposed “prophecy,” satisfying them enough to remain with this teacher. It doesn’t occur to them to check further to see if they are proper and desirable in the eyes of HaShem, or if they are a type of guide on the level of Moses, who spoke only words of truth and righteousness; someone through whom the Shechina speaks and who is filled only with the awareness of G-d.
  • A second reason one does not find is that the person lacks belief in the idea of the existence of an authentic talmid chacham of the generation, and in addition, has reservations about receiving the inspiration they themselves lack from their friend’s point of wisdom.
  • Lastly, they belittle what they do receive from their teacher and are unwilling to make an effort to actualize the potential of the revelation through pleading to G-d.

HITBODEDUT, MUSIC & SONG
It is essential to establish an incontrovertible fact regarding meditation for those who choose to attach themselves to the One Living G-d. An important aspect of hitbodedut teaches techniques on how to empty the mind of distracting thoughts, even from things which pose no disturbance whatsoever. The purpose of these techniques is to provide the mind with a break from its normal activities, as well as to create a much broader place within the mind capable of receiving spiritual light.

However, it is critical to realize that these techniques to empty the mind are only meant regarding created beings and the creation. There was never an intention to apply these techniques to G-d Himself, Creator and Ruler of all worlds. Since if the mind is emptied even of the thought of G-d, chas v’shalom, the thought process is automatically given over to the domain of desolation, a place of calamity and trouble, where all types of destructive forces dwell and embitter a person’s life. Constant cleaving to the single G-d saves a person from all sin and damage. Therefore, it is dangerous and utterly forbidden to empty one’s thoughts of G-d Himself, even for an instant.

Nothing exists without music and song, since it is the life spirit of everything. The arms of music and song embrace the world and everyone in it every single day.  Each entity in creation expresses its own perfect and unique sound. Its entire being is nothing but a single chord amidst the multitude of chords comprising the all-encompassing song of ultimate perfection−a song built from the myriad of details within all the worlds.

In one of his stories, “The Exchanged Children,” Rebbe Nachman relates that there are chords of wondrous melody hidden within the different roars of wild animals. These chords join together to create a perfect sweet and pleasant song, heard by the noble of heart. The song then ascends on high and is integrated into the greater all-encompassing song of creation.

The great song of creation was composed by G-d two thousand years before the world was formed. Concentrated within it are the 600,000 letters comprising the Torah. Afterwards, He created the worlds and heavenly bodies from the various combinations, crowns, vowel points, and accents of these letters. Together with the Torah itself, it was all given over to Moses on Mount Sinai. From there, it was handed to Joshua, who passed it on to the elders, and from the elders it was transmitted to the Men of the Great Assembly, according to the line of transmission stated in Pirkei Avot. Afterwards, it was passed from generation to generation until today; this is the Torah we have now in our possession.

The Written and Oral Torah, along with the multitude of holy books that explain and renew the Torah for each generation, are part of one entity. All of these works are needed, without exception, for the ultimate perfection of the great song of creation. (It is worth noting that the Written Torah is the “stringed instrument” upon which this song is actually played.)

The Written Torah itself is the concentration of the all-encompassing perfect song, containing many wondrous notes—the 613 mitzvot of the Torah. The countless intricate details of each mitzvah are then revealed through the Oral Torah. The Oral Torah explains the mitzvot, giving them proper context through the thirteen exegetical principles of the Torah, transmitted to us from Moses, who received it directly from G-d.

Every generation possesses faithful expounders of the Torah, occupied solely with generating the necessary chords which compose a perfect song. It is a song of sweet and pleasant notes built from every detail of their commentaries and laws, and integrated as part of the larger song of creation.

We see the ongoing composition and complexity of the all-inclusive great song of creation revealed in the four sections of the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law] and accompanying commentaries. It is also seen in the innovations of science and the wide range of new technology and products in our generation, which benefit humankind and improve the standard of living in the world. Everything attests to the profound intricate magnificence of the great song.

The detailed fulfillment of every mitzvah in the Torah constitutes our divine service. Thus, in a sense, we can call mitzvah observance a form of real “Jewish meditation.” In this context, it is clear that anyone who does a mitzvah or detail thereof, is plucking and strumming correctly on the strings of the instrument. The song then emerges in all of its beauty and is heard throughout the world. Through mitzvah observance, we awaken a living spirit which vitalizes the portion of creation that belongs to us. This dynamic occurs through the will of the Creator to benefit His creation. We can now proceed to discuss prophecy and ruach hakodesh.

PROPHECY & RUACH HAKODESH
The attainment of prophecy and ruach hakodesh can be described as the sublime pleasure of a kiss from the mouth of G-d, that speaks the words of the entire Torah. It can also be described as the delight of attachment to the living G-d. Proper and detailed mitzvah observance prepares a person to attain prophecy and ruach hakodesh. This is because the musical notes that are thereby awakened are connected to the powers of prophecy and ruach hakodesh. The interrelationship between music and prophecy is illustrated by the prophet Elisha. When he wanted to draw upon himself the prophetic spirit, he said, “‘And now bring me a musician.’ And it was that when a musician played, the hand of HaShem came upon him.”[11]

We can now understand the significance of the true leaders of Israel, the mighty ones who safeguard the Torah and its observance. They stand at their holy posts and supervise the vineyard of the House of Israel, aligning the lives of the Jewish people according to the Torah and mitzvot. This prevents any corruption in the movements of the great song, and infuses the spirit of life into the various parts of creation, preparing us to delight in ruach hakodesh and prophecy.

Let us contemplate how to draw the waters of our mind’s wellspring into the river of our hearts to water the trees and surrounding vegetation, so all humanity can enjoy them. We will know how to fulfill the Torah and mitzvot properly, since only through this will the words of our holy prophets be materialized and the world repaired. Every human being will call upon the name of G-d and serve Him in one accord, with the coming of our righteous Mashiach speedily in our days, Amen.

Translated from a talk given in Tsfat.

 

  1. Likutey Moharan 54
  2. Corresponding to pi yedaber chochmot.
  3. Corresponding to v’hagot libi tevunot.
  4. Hitbodedut is considered a form of Jewish mediation.
  5. Known as a “circumcised” heart.
  6. Likutey Moharan 52
  7. Sefer HaMiddot, Hitbodedut 1:2
  8. Sefer HaMiddot, Ka’as 35
  9. Amos 8:11-12
  10. Megilla 6b
  11. II KIngs 3:15

 

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YOU ARE YOUR OWN JUDGE : R. Ephraim Kenig

He [Rabbi Akiva] used to say,“Everything is given on pledge and a net is spread out over all the living. The shop is open, the merchant extends credit, the ledger is open and the hand records therein. All who wish to borrow may come and borrow. But the collectors make their regular daily rounds and take payment from a person with or without their knowledge…” Pirkey Avot 3:16

A person usually goes about their daily life thinking that whatever they do is basically okay. Even if this is not the case, they figure if no one knows, then it’s not the end of the world; they’ll just fix it afterwards. They may even realize that God knows about their indiscretions, but since the person considers them to be only temporary, everything will somehow straighten out in the end. These are the type of thoughts that Rabbi Akiva is addressing in his statement in Pirkey Avot. He reminds us that whatever we take from this world must be left behind when we leave; nothing can be taken with us when we die.

PAYING BACK WHAT YOU EAT

One way to understand this is found in the book “Chesed L’Avraham,” written by the grandfather of the Chida, Rabbi Chaim David Azulai, a”h. He writes that when a person dies, the chevra kadisha comes to attend to the body before the levaya, or funeral. They cover the body in the place where it was when the soul departed, and everyone returns home. The deceased remains alone with himself. When the body is put into the grave, if the person enjoyed a lot from this world, the first thing that happens is that the worms come to demand their portion. In other words, they must now return whatever they took from this world, whatever they ate simply to fill their stomach. Yet if they ate only in holiness and purity, i.e., only kosher food and only in quantities necessary to sustain a healthy and strong body to serve God, then there is nothing to take back. This is one understanding of “they take payment”.

WITH OR WITHOUT HIS KNOWLEDGE

Since there are specific times during the year conducive to repentance and forgiveness, a person may think that everything automatically works out. For example, there is the month of Elul, [the Hebrew month set aside for teshuva, intensive introspection and repentance] which is followed by Rosh HaShanah and the atonement of Yom Kippur. But the reality is that God is not obligated to wait until these specific times and can send messengers to collect what is due at any point. Sometimes, one may even be aware of their situation and upon a little soul searching, may even realize they might need to go through something unpleasant. But usually, this level of self-awareness is rare and one has no realization that anything is amiss or in need of change. But God operates in His ways. It is here the idea “with or without his knowledge” comes into play.

YOU ARE YOUR OWN JUDGE

Rebbe Nachman transmits the following idea in the name of the holy Baal Shem Tov. Before any decree is issued in the world, God forbid, the entire world is assembled to give their agreement. In this instance, the “entire world” encompasses the inanimate, plant, animal, and human levels. They are all notified and asked if there is any opposition to the decree. This even includes the person who has the negative decree hanging over them. When everyone reaches agreement, the judgment is passed.

Who in the world would agree to a negative decree against oneself? Obviously, if you were to ask the person directly, they would defend themselves and oppose the judgment. For this reason, a similar situation is presented to them, and their opinion is asked without realizing it has anything to do with their own case. Someone will ask them, “What do you think about what so-and-so did?” They respond, “Whoo whoo, they deserve this or that…” In heaven they say, “Is that right? You just passed judgment on yourself…” The case is closed and the person doesn’t comprehend what just transpired. According to Rebbe Nachman, this is an example of “taking payment with or without his knowledge”.

The whole concept of how a person is asked each time about their own judgment is profoundly deep. Each word of every story we hear has lofty and exalted significance. For example, we may hear a story about two people involved in an argument that has nothing to do with us. In the rare case it does, we need to be even more careful. But most of the time, it is simply a seemingly random story where everyone takes the liberty of jumping into the fray, taking a stand on who is right or wrong, and who deserves what. The very words a person utters are then taken and applied to his own case and he will be compelled to bring his own words to fruition. This is why Rebbe Nachman advises us to be very careful about what we say. Don’t let an inadvertent word slip out in the wrong way or pass judgment on another’s behavior. If you do, you are agreeing to your own verdict, since no judgment can materialize without your agreement.

CONTROLLING YOUR THOUGHTS

King David says, Zamoti bal ya’avar pi. “My thoughts dare not pass through my mouth.” (Psalms 17:3) There are two important ways to understand this verse. Firstly, the word zamoti is related to the Hebrew word for “muzzle”—z’mam. King David alludes to this as if to say, “God! Since I don’t weigh my words seriously enough, put a muzzle on my mouth to prevent me from saying anything irresponsible or improper.”

The second explanation of how to understand this verse concerns controlling our thoughts. Sometimes a person blurts out an empty phrase, without even knowing why they said it. But the reality is that there are custodial forces appointed over a person from heaven; sometimes they are good and sometimes not. They seize upon these same words and turn them around on the one who uttered them. These ramifications ought give each of us serious pause for thought.

It is not necessary to express every thought that comes to mind. Thus King David refers here to the need for an even deeper level of restraint. He would like God to place a muzzle on his mouth to stop him from verbalizing anything that enters his head. Since according to Rebbe Nachman, it is through these very words that they “take the payment from a person with or without his knowledge”.

We witness how people suffer from a bundle of woes that they carry, whether external problems or personal health issues, God forbid. Yet the reality is that they agreed and signed off on everything. Without their agreement, these difficulties could not have materialized. One may say, “I never agreed to such a thing!” The recording is then played back for them and they are asked, “You don’t remember what you said in such and such year when someone told you a certain story? Was it any of your business to comment? You gave your commentary anyway and here are the consequences.” God should save us from ourselves!

This spiritual dynamic accompanies us every single day, hour by hour. It is written, “Whoever sits in the refuge of the Most High…” (Psalms 91). The Talmud calls this particular chapter of Psalms “a song against evil forces,” since it is recited by those who want to be saved from misfortune and accidents. For instance, when mourners attend a funeral, they recite these verses since they possess tremendous protective power against negative spiritual forces seeking to harm a person. It is further written, “His angels He will charge for you, to protect you on all your paths.” This refers to the fact that there are angels who constantly accompany a person to safeguard him from harm. According to our sages, these protective angels are more accurately called the yetzer tov and the yetzer hara, the good inclination and the evil inclination. In contrast to what most people think, they are both responsible for protecting a person from disaster, since the fundamental role of the yetzer hara is to serve a person. However, if one comes too close and is drawn after him, the yetzer hara is no longer obligated to fulfill his protective duty. One then becomes enslaved to him, and the yetzer hara does whatever he wants with the person.

FORCES CREATED FROM OUR OWN ACTIONS

Along with the yetzer tov and yetzer hara, come all sorts of other forces, God forbid, which are created when a person stumbles, for example, in eating non-kosher food or is involved with any kind of negative thoughts, speech, or actions. In this case, damaging forces are created in the world that are bound to the person who created them. These forces are called mezekei alma, “destroyers of the world.” Their whole purpose is to cause damage and they don’t even realize this is their role.

To illustrate, it is like a child who plays with matches because he thinks it is fun. An adult comes along and admonishes him, but when he sees that the child doesn’t understand, he takes the matches away by force. This is because the adult understands very well that the child is doing something dangerous. The child though, doesn’t comprehend this fact. He screams and cries, “Why did you take them away from me?!” Likewise, these “destroyers of the world,” don’t even understand they are destructive. Their actions are not intentional, but since they were created from damage, this is their fundamental essence.

It is these forces that accompany us wherever we go. They catch our every word in an attempt to interpret it according to their crooked way of thinking, because after all, they are a creation based on crookedness and damage. Since they are an undesirable creation, everything about them is undesirable. They even have the ability to compel a person to undergo judgments from the upper worlds. They facilitate a person’s undoing to such an extent that life is endangered, and the individual has no idea what is actually going on.

We don’t know. We don’t actually see these forces or perceive them with our senses, but what do we know? We know that there are tzaddikim on the highest of spiritual levels, who know about these matters with such clarity, that they simply advise us to have compassion on ourselves and acknowledge we don’t know what goes on around us on a spiritual plane. For this reason, they caution us to guard ourselves from undesirable speech, thoughts, or deeds since they bring detrimental consequences.

One may take note of the many criminals at large in the world, who say and do terrible things, but seem to have it good without any suffering. So where do these ideas fit in? The answer is that something much worse is actually going on for them. The criminal doesn’t pay for his actions in this world. It simply waits for him in the next world, where everything comes back to him in a much more penetrating way. This is what the Talmud refers to when it states, “Afflictions atone for a person.” Whatever difficulties one goes through in this world serve as a huge atonement for him. It is preferable and worthwhile to undergo it here, since in the next world, one contends with not only afflictions, but humiliation along with much more unpleasantness.

The only advice is to say to oneself, “Stop.” Just as we need to be careful about what we put in our mouth, i.e., kosher and healthy food, likewise we must be careful about what comes out of it by guarding our speech. The same caution applies to our actions. We should do nothing that the Torah or our sages forbid. Similarly with thought; we shouldn’t think that just because our thoughts are only between us and God, they can be easily fixed. It doesn’t exactly work like this, since many holy books describe the power of thought as greater than the power of deed. It is possible to do teshuva or repair an action, but it is much more difficult to do the same with a thought. You can nullify or gain control over an action, but once you think it, a thought is out of your control and possession.

Thus Rebbe Nachman’s advice to everyone is to weigh our deeds in a way that will be truly positive in this world and the next, and to live good and thoughtful lives, with proper consideration for our every thought, word, and action. Since there will be no one to pass a bad judgment, every negative decree will be opposed.

Remember that you are never asked directly about your own situation, rather only about someone else’s story. Thus, don’t rush to pass judgment either verbally or even in your thoughts as to who is right or wrong. Unless it concerns you directly and practically, just leave it without comment. You will feel profoundly satisfied, and it will be so very beneficial not only to you but to the entire Jewish people.

May God enlighten us with higher levels of self-awareness to improve our lives, as well as the entire world, every day and every moment.

Translated and adapted from a talk given to Sydney, Australia from Tsfat.

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