One of Rebbe Nachman’s most important, and most memorable lessons in Likutey Moharan is Lesson 282, popularly called Azamra, which describes how important it is to search for the point of good that can be found in every Jewish soul.
(On the BRESLEV page of this blog, you'll find a site where you can download translations of all of Rebbe Nachman's works in English, for free, so you can read the full lessons yourself.)
The key point of the lesson of Azamra is this:
“Know! One must judge every person favorably. Even if the person is totally wicked, one must search and find in him some bit of good, regarding which he is not wicked. By finding in him this bit of good and judging him favorably, one actually elevates him to righteousness and is able to bring him to make repentance.”
Reams have been written about whether Rebbe Nachman meant this literally (he did) and whether it was truly possible to bring a ‘totally wicked’ person back to the side of good, (it is) and what that actually means, in practice (we’re about to find out…)
Does Azamra apply to the Erev Rav?
The question of how to apply Azamra becomes that much sharper, once the Erev Rav are added into the mix. Remember, the other holy sources who were explicitly talking about the Erev Rav (a sampling of which you’ve read for yourself, in previous posts) suggested that the souls of the Erev Rav were rooted in the realm of evil, and couldn’t be fixed.
These commentators, including such Torah luminaries as the Rashbi and the Vilna Gaon, appeared to be saying that unlike Bnei Israel, the Erev Rav had no spiritual place to ‘come back’ to, as their souls weren’t a part of Hashem in the same way that Bnei Israel was. That’s a big part of the reason why the Erev Rav could, and did, act in such treacherous, cruel, upsetting and disturbing ways.
If the Erev Rav weren’t considered to be real Jews, then does Rebbe Nachman’s lesson of Azamra, of seeing the good, also apply to them? And, if the answer is ‘yes’, then how on earth are we meant to do that, in practice, given how difficult they are to deal with, and the problems they trail in their wake?
Maybe this sounds like semantics, because after all, we’ve already ascertained that it’s next to impossible, these days, to figure out who the Erev Rav really are. But Quantum Physics tells us that nothing in the physical world is actually permanently ‘fixed’ until it’s been observed.
To put it another way, the way we look at things creates the physical and spiritual reality.
If Azamra applies to the Erev Rav, then there is a way back for them, and they can be fixed. If Azamra doesn’t apply to them, then de facto, it would appear they can’t be fixed and we’re be back to square one, of trying to do the impossible of figuring out who they really are, and then trying to steer clear of them, as much as possible.
In the course of my research into the Erev Rav, I kept coming back to the same question: Can the Erev Rav make Teshuva?
Can they change the way they act and behave, and come back to Hashem?
A great deal appeared to be hanging on finding the right answer to these questions, but that answer was simply not forthcoming – until a few months’ ago, when the leading Breslev figure, Rabbi Eliezer Berland, released the following statement.
(I’m including it in full, below).
Azamra Redux: Rabbi Eliezer Berland blasts the path open
“The Torah tells us: “Vayetze Yaakov” (‘and Yaakov went out’). When Yaakov left Beersheba, he’d already completed the seven levels of holiness, the seven Sefirot, namely: Malchut, Yesod, Hod, Netzach, Tiferet, Gevurah and Chessed. These are the seven ‘Gevurot’.
“Vayelech Charana” (‘and he went to Charan’). Yaakov went to Charan, to the place where the roots of din, or judgment, was found because he wanted to draw down chessed, or kindness, into the world, and to bring shefa (bounty) into the world, because the work of the Tzaddikim is to bring chessed and shefa into the world.
From the moment that Rebbe Nachman of Breslev came into the world, he sweetened all of the judgements in the world until the end of all generations. He drew down Shefa into the world, he drew down Chessed into the world, and he announced that there are no more wicked people, and that the age of wickedness in the world had come to an end! From the moment that Rebbe Nachman was born, the age of wickedness finished; there were no more wicked people in Am Israel, as he himself revealed in Lesson 282 of Likutey Moharan (popularly known as ‘
In that lesson, Rebbe Nachman explains: “Od me’at v’ain rasha”, (‘a little more, and there is no longer a wicked person). Just a little more - today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow – and we’ll already see that there won’t be any more wicked people in Am Israel, because everyone will be on the path of Teshuva, or repentance.
This verse, “Od me’at v’ain rasha”, comes from Tehillim (the book of Psalms), and Rabbenu explained its simple meaning: Just a little more! A little more, and there will be no more wicked people, and everyone will be Tzaddikim, and everyone will reach the level of “Your entire nation are Tzaddikim”.
One Jew will become a Tzaddik today, another one will become a Tzaddik tomorrow, and yet another one the day after. And the one who will become a Tzaddik after a number days will fulfil the verse: “the smallest one will be like a thousand, and the youngest will be like a vast nation”.
This ‘small’ one will rise up and up, as the greater the soul that a person possesses, and the more refined their soul, the more difficulties and obstacles they have to overcome when they want to make Teshuva.
Rabbenu teaches us in Lesson 282 that there is no such thing as a wicked person in Am Israel! There is no such reality. Even if you see a completely wicked person, from his head to his feet, you can’t see any Yiddishkeit in him at all, he is completely anti-Torah, anti-observance, God forbid, even if it seems to you that there was never a more wicked person than this since the creation of the world, you should know that the main problem is that this person simply lacks da’at, or spiritual awareness.
But a huge fire of holiness still burns inside of them! A raging fire of holiness and yearning for Hashem Yitbarach burns inside of every Jew, just that it’s covered over by mountains of dust. Their Neshama is on fire for God, but it’s covered in a layer of dirt. These Jewish souls are like spiritual volcanoes; from the outside, a huge mountain covers the heat and the lava flowing just beneath the surface, but the moment the fire and the lava burst forth it consumes the entire mountain. The mountain explodes!
A spiritual mountain of dirt and rocks is currently resting on every Jewish soul, but the day will come when the fire will bursts forth, and consumes all of these mountains of sand and dirt.
In Lesson 282, Rebbe Nachman writes: “And you need to search and find in him a small amount of good. And in that small place, he is not a wicked person.” Rabbenu is teaching us that there is no such thing as a wicked Jewish person, from his head to his toes, just that it currently seems that way to you. But it’s only your imagination! You imagine that he’s a completely wicked person, but if you train yourself to look for some little bit of good that he has done, or some kindness that he did to help someone else, you’ll always find even in the most worst wicked person lots and lots of good. And the very act of you finding some good in this person, and judging him favourably, through this very act you raise him up to the side of good, and you can cause him to make Teshuva.
We need to look at every Jew with a ‘good eye’, and stop thinking to ourselves: ‘Well, I made Teshuva and I keep Shabbat, and I learn Torah, so why doesn’t he make Teshuva like me?! Why doesn’t he keep Shabbat like me?! He should be doing the same! I went through what he went through and more, so why doesn’t he also make Teshuva!?’
It’s exactly about this that Rabbenu said: “Od me’at v’ain rasha”. A little more! He is going to do it eventually, tomorrow or the day after. You can’t interfere with Hashem’s order for the world, and the order of the Teshuva process. The order of Teshuva, when each person will make Teshuva, how he will make Teshuva, this process is hidden from all of His creations, but it’s a process that needs to happen to every single Jew. Every single Jew will one day make Teshuva!
Now, it’s possible to speed this process up, but only if we start looking with a ‘good eye’. Only if a person merits to look at every Jew with a ‘good eye’ then, “he will consider his place and he [the wicked person] won’t be there any more”, [i.e., in the place of being wicked].If people would realise this, and internalise that if they started to judge others favourably, and to stop looking at them with an ayin ra, or ‘bad eye’, then there wouldn’t be any more wicked people in Am Israel. Because it is possible to bring all of them back to make Teshuva, in the blink of an eye.
Even when a Jew appears to be the most wicked person, know that he really has the most righteous Neshama, or soul. It’s the opposite of how it appears to be externally: the more ‘bad’ the Neshama seems, the more righteous it actually is. Only, because it’s so full of righteousness, it’s scared. It has a hidden, internal fear about keeping Mitzvot, because it knows if it starts the process of Teshuva, it will go ‘to the end’!
There are many Jews who are far away from Yiddishkeit who say, ‘if I start to fulfil Mitzvot, then I will go to the end… not like you! I will go to the end, I will learn Torah day and night; I will become holy, I will purify myself, to the end!’ But to go ‘to the end’ seems very difficult for them. So, we try to say to them, ‘go at least halfway, and keep half the laws’. But they tell us no, they are not prepared to do that, because by them, they want everything - or nothing. And in truth, if you were to show them and to explain to them how to reach the entire way, and how to become holy, and how it’s really not as difficult as they think, they would all make Teshuva!
Every Jew is a part of Hashem, and every person has Godliness in him. “Man is beloved that he was created in the image of God. The heart of every Jew, even the most wicked, burns for Hashem Yitbarach. There is no Jew whose heart does not burn for Hashem Yitbarach. Because a Jew is not a cow or a sheep, every Jew is a holy Neshama that was carved out from the Kiseh Hakavod [the Holy Throne]. Every Jew in the place where he is, even if the burning coals of his soul and heart are currently covered over by mountains of sand, billions of grains of sand, nonetheless, the coals continue to burn. We need to blow away the dirt covering his heart, the mountains of sand covering his heart, and this is what Rabbenu said – come let’s blow away the mountains of sand from his heart, because there is no such thing as a wicked person in Am Israel. There is no such thing as ‘chilonim’ [secular Jews], there is no such thing!
There are people who succeed in fulfilling the Torah’s commandments 80% of the time, 70%, 20% and 10%. Every Jew fasts on Yom Kippur, and eats Matza on Pesach. There is no such thing as a ‘secular Jew’! Every one of them fulfils some aspect of the Torah. Every Jew is a holy Jew, a pure Jew.
This is the foundation of what Rebbe Nachman taught us, that there are no wicked people in Am Israel. It’s forbidden to call any Jew ‘wicked’. It is forbidden to say: ‘this one is wicked’. We need to fix this way of speaking, because there’s no such thing.
How can you believe that so-and-so is wicked? Were you in his place? Do you know where he was born? Do you know who his parents were? What he went through? How can you decide to call a Jew wicked? How can you decide to call a Jew ‘chiloni’ (secular)? How can you say things like this? Do you think you can decide who is righteous and who is wicked? Do you think that you can really know? You need to know that everyone is righteous, because “Your nation are entirely righteous”, and there are no wicked people in Am Israel.”
Azamra applies to everyone
There’s a few key points to note from Rav Berland’s statement. The first, is that from the time Rebbe Nachman of Breslev came to the world, there are no longer any 100% wicked people in the nation of Israel.
This statement is not intuitive, because if you look back at the last 200 hundred years’ or so, you’ll see a period of time when most Jews turned their back on mitzvah observance, where assimilation became the order of the day, and where large numbers of Jews were caught up organisations and activities, particularly in communist Russia, that made persecuting their fellow Jew for maintaining even a vestige of their Yiddishkeit a ‘mitzvah’.
In many ways, the last two hundred years have marked the spiritual low point of the Jewish people, where pogroms and poverty chased hard on the heels of assimilation, atheism and even conversion to other religions. And yet according to Rav Berland, the leading authority in Breslev today, and an enormous Talmid Chacham and Kabbalist in his own right, completely wicked people don’t exist anymore, and things are not really as they seem, from the outside.
Remember, back in post number three, Rebbe Nachman made the connection between ‘wicked’ people and the Erev Rav, when he wrote in the Sefer HaMiddot (Book of Traits) that:
“[A] brazen person has certainly stumbled in a sin, and will stumble in more sin. It is permitted to call him 'wicked' and to hate him, and he is from the 974 generations that preceded the Creation.”
If Rav Berland is now telling us that: “It’s forbidden to call any Jew ‘wicked’”, then he’s effectively telling us that today, it’s forbidden to say that any Jew is ‘Erev Rav’ – for reasons that we are explaining in this book.
Spiritual rectification takes time
The second point is that Am Israel is still undergoing a process of purification and rectification – that same process that was begun all those centuries ago in Egypt, and even before. But Rav Berland is implying that this process is now almost concluded, and that it won’t be much longer until all the souls that make up Am Israel (including those with sparks from the Erev Rav) are completely rectified.
A third point that jumps out from Rav Berland’s statement – so much so, that it’s going to become our eighth secret - is that how we view our fellow Jew is either going to speed the rectification process up, or slow it down.
THE EIGHTH SECRET OF THE EREV RAV: How we view our fellow Jew – seeing the good in them, or the opposite, God forbid – is either going to speed up the rectification process, and bring Moshiach and redemption, or slow it down.
If we think the difficult people in our lives are ‘bad’ Erev Rav types, that’s the reality we’ll create, at least for ourselves. But if we practise Rebbe Nachman’s lesson of Azamra and try out best to see the good in them, that will empower their innate power of good, and give them the ability to make complete Teshuva, and return to God.
(There’s more to be said about how to actually apply the lesson of Azamra in practise, as it doesn’t mean that we pretend that bad behaviour or evil actions are somehow good, or acceptable. We’ll come back to the idea of how to successfully Azamra in a later post, where I’ll set out some practical guidelines.)
Remember, everyone today is a composite soul
If we try to pick out those parts of Rav Berland’s statement that are pertinent to our discussion and understanding of the Erev Rav, and what response God is really requiring from us, we come to the same conclusion we came to in the previous post, albeit framed in slightly different language:
Today, every single member of Am Israel has the potential to make complete Teshuva, and to return to God, and to become a holy Tzaddik. Instead of wasting our time looking at all the bad that’s going on around us, and trying to figure out who might be the evil Erev Rav, so we can stay away from them, we actually need to be making much more of an effort to be focussing on the good, as that’s the only way the situation is really going to turn around.
Of course, as much as this answers the question of ‘can the Erev Rav make Teshuva, and change?’ it also begs many more questions, like: How do we actually see the good in evil people, in real life? And, how are we meant to deal with all the evil actions and ideas we’re surrounded by, if we’re being adjured to focus on the good? It all sounds nice in theory, but what does it actually mean, in practise?
Hopefully, by the time you come to the end of this book, you’ll have a much clearer idea of how to actually practise Azamra, in real life. But in the meantime, let’s conclude this chapter by stating the ninth secret we’ve learned about the Erev Rav:
THE NINTH SECRET OF THE EREV RAV: They can make Teshuva, and eventually every single one of them will return to Hashem.
And when they do, that will mark the end of the process of Tikkun HaOlam, or the rectification of Adam’s sin, that began almost 6,000 years ago, in the Garden of Eden. But before that happens, there’s still a few more bits of the puzzle that we have to look at.