'A Damaged Mirror' is the true story of a non-Jewish American woman who started to have lots of 'Auschwitz flashbacks'. I don't want to give the whole game away, but she ended up converting to Judaism, and managed to track down the previous owner of her 'Auschwitz memories' in the Holocaust records.
The previous owner of this woman's soul had died a horrible, traumatic death as part of Auschwitz' infamous 'Sonderkommando', the Jewish inmates who were given the soul-destroying job of cleaning out the gas chambers, and cremating the remains.
The man in question had lost his faith in Auschwitz, as did so many others. But God gave him a second chance to make good, by reincarnating part of his soul in a new body.
I have to tell you, I read an awful lot of books, but few of them have made as big an impact on me as 'A Damaged Mirror'. I learned so many profound spiritual lessons from the story, and I felt the book changed my perspective on life in a fundamental way.
Because firstly, it really brought home to me that everything we do in life is meaningful - even the 'small' every day choices that seem to be so mundane and pointless - and secondly, because it underlined the fact that God never gives up on a single one of us.
Even if we didn't make the correct decision last time round, He keeps giving us repeated chances to get it right.
Another reason the book made a huge impact on me is because I believe that there is a lot of unfinished spiritual business still hanging over the Jewish people's head, on account of the Holocaust. (See this article on the Holocaust and reincarnations, by Sarah Yocheved Rigler).
I'll write more on this elsewhere, but I think the spiritual scars of being hunted to extermination by the Nazis (even though God didn't let them succeed, ultimately) traumatized a whole generation to their core - regardless of whether they actually experienced the death camps first hand.
And if that wasn't enough, then the subsequent upheavals that dislocated most of Sephardic Jewry after World War II, and the wars fought in Israel subsequently, have done a wonderful job of traumatizing all the other sectors of Jewish society.
But back to the Holocaust: how do you let yourself care deeply for other people again, when so many members of your community, your family, your nation, got killed in such a horrible way? How do you trust God's goodness again? How can you keep going without cracking up or breaking down?
The answer is that you can't, really, unless you have rock-solid emuna. And if your emuna is not up to scratch, then your next best option is to throw your feelings and emotions into the deep-freeze, and to go through life as some sort of spiritual-teflon zombie, on automatic pilot.
That's what happened to most of our grandparents' generation, bar the ones that really had the incredible spiritual strength to continue to feel, even through all that pain and suffering.
In turn, they raised children in increasingly sterile, materialistic environments, where keeping up appearances became an ingrained habit, another relic leftover from the devastating war - even if there's a Blitz happening, even if you have no food to eat, even if your dad just got killed on the Western Front, - the Stiff Upper Lip still reigns supreme! No moaning, whining, complaining, crying or feeling, thank you very much!
IE: No empathy, compassion or genuine emotion.
That was the atmosphere our parents grew up in. And now, here we are in 2015, and we're next inline.
We, who grew up with women's lib, and absent working mothers, and TV 24/7. We who haven't seen a genuine emotion (apart from anger or plastic happiness) for 60 years.
The test, the challenge, today is to feel. To find a way to thaw our hearts of stone, and to trust God again.
Rebbe Nachman foresaw this test more than 200 years' ago, when he called his particular branch of chassidut 'Breslov', which spells out lev basar, or 'heart of flesh', in Hebrew.
That's our test. That's our challenge. And when I read 'A Damaged Mirror', I realised it was the same test and challenge 70 years' ago, too. And that God, in His wisdom and kindness, is giving us all another chance to somehow do it differently, and to somehow get it right, this time round.
EMUNAROMA RATING: YYYYY
One of the amazing things about where I live in Jerusalem is that the Breslev Bookstore in Mea Shearim is literally a five minute walk from my house. I pass it at least a few times a week, and whenever I have a spare moment, I always try to pop in to see what's new on the shelves in Breslev Book World.
A few weeks ago, I struck gold: I found a two volume set of Rav Levi Yitzhak Bender's discourses on emuna, that had been translated into English.
I bought the books home, and started devouring them. Dear reader, they are simply amazing books, packed full of history, insight, and spiritually-deep but still accessible ideas on how to live life.
Let me quote you a few things, to give you a flavour:
"To tell a person in a specific manner 'Do this' is not feasible. It is self-understood that if one cannot give advice - it's forbidden to give advice! And if you will ask - there are those who do give advice…Is it possible to do anything to stop them? But it is certainly very dangerous to receive advice from anyone.
"At times, it's possible to smash a person to smithereens through the 'advice' that one gives him…"
I read this particular passage at a time when I was pondering on why certain Torah luminaries, like Rav Arush for example, make it a broad rule to give as little direct advice as possible, and to encourage people to pray for their answers, while other 'lesser' rabbis of all stripes are freely throwing their advice around in all directions.
They're happy to tell people who to marry, what business to start, even where to live - and to be honest, it's always struck me as taking on a huge responsibility. What if you directly tell someone to move to Israel, for example, and then it doesn't work out so well?
Or what if you tell them to leave their job and just to rely on prayer for parnassa - and then it doesn't materialise? Or to change their name, if they want more mazal in life - which they dutifully do, but still don't see much improvement in their circumstances?
I know rabbis who have done all of the above and more, and when their 'advice' didn't work out, they pretty much dumped the person they were 'advising' and made it clear that they were on their own, to deal with all the consequences of following the bad advice they'd been given.
Giving advice is not the authentic Breslev way
Then, I opened up 'Words of Faith' and this passage literally jumped out at me, and resolved the issue categorically: giving advice is not the authentic Breslev way. Instead, Breslev encourages people to talk to God, and to get their directions and their insights that way. Of course, sometimes we still need an objective person to tell us what's really going on, but any advice given by an authentic, humble rabbi is still phrased as advice, not as a command or an order.
Other things I like about the book is all the anecdotes and stories it contains about the different Breslev elders, from Rav Natan, Rebbe Nachman's main student, all the way down to R Levi Yitzhak's own life and peers, many of whom were tortured and murdered by the evil Stalinist regime for the terrible crime of being practising Jews.
I started to realise that the students of Rebbe Nachman have often achieved some amazing things, spiritually, but that it's never been 'easy'. There's always been dissension, oppression, confusion and distractions, both internally and externally.
But I found it very heartening that someone of the spiritual stature of Rav Levi Yitzhak Bender, who became the defacto head of Breslev in Jerusalem until his death in 1989, had also faced tests and trials to get to where he got to.
I drew a lot of strength and encouragement from his stories and Torah teachings, and I also got a lot of clarity on many Breslev customs and practises (like not giving advice, for example) that had become a little murky for me.
I highly recommend this book. In the best Breslev tradition, it clothes lofty spiritual concepts in the most simple words and discussions, and R Levi Yitzhak Bender's words pierce straight to the heart of the matter, and also to the heart of the reader.
You can find 'Words of Faith, Volumes I & II, at the Breslev Bookstore in Meah Shearim, or contact the authors directly to order a copy at: email@example.com
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