The last few weeks, I’ve been feeling pretty aimless again.
got the volcanoes book finished – I wrote it like it was a PhD, mamash, everything was footnoted and sourced in research papers, and I was quite proud of the amount of info I’d managed to uncover and pull together.
Problem was: it was boring as heck for most people who aren’t PhDs themselves.
I was stuck on the horns of a furious dilemma, because I’m not a scientist, so I had to quote tons of papers and research to be taken seriously, but at the same time, quoting all that stuff made what I was writing too ‘high level’ for most people.
For six weeks I ummed and ahhed about what to do about the book. Then a couple of days ago, I finally decided to dismember the content into Quora posts, and hope to get the information out that way.
All that effort….and nothing really to show for it.
As often happens, my mood follows my publishing experiences, so it plummeted off a cliff for a week. But then, I decided to try to pull myself back into ‘doing’ mode again, and to start again, to start over, to start afresh.
For the 400 millionth time, because isn’t this what Rabbenu tells us we have to do? Renew every second, don’t get old, keep making a new start.
It’s excellent advice, just not always so easy to implement.
Especially when you start looking around and asking yourself where exactly, all your effort has got to date. But I rolled up my sleeves, did the first mind map for a good few months, and started trying to plan a course ahead again.
Then, the atzeret in Hevron came along to distract me, and then last week all the terrorism kicked off big time, and I felt like I was in the middle of craziness again, and couldn’t do anything much except wait and see how it was all going to play out.
Then – that awful terrorist attack which killed the two Yosefs at the junction with Bet El, and which upset me greatly. But, their deaths also seems to have ‘sweetened’ things again, holy souls that they were, because by this week, everything is ‘back to normal’.
Or so it seems.
And so, having pinged back from the edge of geula again last week, with its yellow jackets, plunging stock markets, rising anti-semitism, Hezbollah tunnels and terror attacks, this week I’m back to wondering what on earth I’m doing with my life.
Everything has gone back to ‘fantastic plastic’, the fake, superficial world has got a reprieve and we’re back in nonsense land again. We’ve all got that fake smile pinned firmly back in place, and there’s nothing more to worry about than what colour to repaint the walls.
I don’t do so well in nonsense land.
So, I cracked open the Likutey Moharan to get a clue from Rabbenu what, what, WHAT?!?!?!
And I got to lesson 45 in part 1, where I read the following:
“[T]he exile in Egypt was essentially an exile of speech, for which reason Moses stuttered.”
Then, I read the following in lesson 46:
“[S]peech is a manifestation of consciousness, as in, “From His mouth come knowledge and discernment.”
And then, I started to understand why communicating in any sort of ‘real’ way is becoming increasingly difficult these days.
The exile is deepening, it’s reaching it’s zenith. It’s an exile where people can’t pray; where people can’t speak out what’s really in their hearts, where they can’t even really talk to themselves - or listen to themselves - honestly.
Speech today has been hi-jacked by the yetzer, and so we live in a world of superficial platitudes, pointless rants and painful silences.
And not much else.
Once Rabbenu explained what’s really going on, I started to feel a little more sane. Because sometimes, when I’m going on about how ‘plastic’ and how ‘fake’ and how ‘phoney’ so much of our communication is today, so many people apparently have no idea what I’m talking about.
It’s the world of lies, mamash, and 99.9% of us are in it up to our eyeballs.
As I wrote about HERE, I got chewed out last week for trying to cross a quiet Jerusalem road, on Shabbat morning when there are three cars an hour, when the red man was showing.
I was chewed out by an elderly chiloni lady, who clearly wasn’t very happy with her own life, so welcomed the opportunity to vent her frustration and anger on yours truly.
It really made me think about how most of us communicate, because while I was 100% in the wrong, for trying to cross the road with the red man, the way she spoke to me was so unnecessarily aggressive, I had to fight hard to keep myself from going off on one myself, and giving her a mouthful back.
Speech is in exile.
It’s in exile, when parents can’t have real heart-to-heart conversations with their children, and can’t tell them who they really are and where they really came from, and can’t share their experiences and mistakes with them in any but the most superficial and condescending ways.
It’s in exile, when husbands can’t tell their wives how much fear they actually feel about trying to make ends meet; or how much worry and confusion they are carrying about the future. It’s in exile when wives can’t tell husbands how much they miss them, when they’re working late again, and how much they miss them, when they just walk around with their fake smile plastered on their face and their heads stuck in an i-Phone, or a gemara, as a way of avoiding intimate contact and real conversation.
It’s in exile when one friend can’t tell another: I feel for you so much. I wish things were different. And when we just keep playing the same, awful, game of keeping up with the Cohens, instead of stepping out of the competition, and off the rat wheel.
It’s in exile when we can’t say to God, “God, help me! I’m lost! I’m totally overwhelmed, I don’t know if I’m coming or going! I’m bouncing off the bottom here, Hashem, pick me back up!”
Of course we can’t say that to God.
Most of us can’t say anything to God, so we pretend we’re communicating via the Shemoneh Esrei when really, our mind is on work, and the bills, and the upcoming barmitzvah, and the blocked drain.
Speech is in exile.
I feel it nearly every day, when I sit down to write, or sit down to answer a few more emails, or catch up with someone else only to have to sit through another phone call where I can feel there is so much more to be said, so much more going on, but the other person can’t quite put it into words.
So I read that, then I asked God:
“What’s my job then, in this nonsense land where most people are completely lying to themselves and can’t speak out what they are really feeling and experiencing?”
Because in case you haven’t noticed, most people think I’m crazy (but entertaining…)
And the answer I got back is this: Just be real.
Just carry on writing about your struggles.
Just carry on telling people that sometimes you fall down and watch some pop videos on Youtube, because it makes you really happy to see Mariah Carey got so fat. Just keep sharing how hard you sometimes find it in the fake world.
Just be real.
There’s nothing more to do.
Until Moshiach comes, speech is going to stay in exile.
But once geula gets under way in earnest, we’re going to need to remember how to actually talk to each other again.
And maybe, just maybe, that’s where me and my writing could come in a little bit useful.
Sometimes, when I’m doing hitbodedut and I feel like I need a bit of extra inspiration or guidance, I open up a Breslov book at random, and see what I get. This is what I got, this Shabbat, when I was praying about ‘the matzav’:
“Prior to this last Shabbat before Rosh Hashana, the Rebbe had been visited by two prominent Chassidim, who ate with him. In the course of the conversation, the two Chassidim started ridiculing a certain man in Nemirov who used to clap his hands a great deal, while praying. The Rebbe was upset by their comments, and told them sternly: “How do you know what it means to clap one’s hands while praying, and everything it involves?! What right do you have, to make fun of this man whose hand-clapping isn’t meeting with your approval?!”…
“A few weeks later, after Succot, this man who had been with the Rebbe before Rosh Hashana, and who had made fun of the man who clapped his hands in Nemirov, came to the Rebbe, and asked him to intercede for his son, who was now sick. The Rebbe showed him a passage in the Pri Etz Chaim…[and] afterwards, the Rebbe told him the lesson about hand-clapping in Likutey Moharan 46, discussing the three hands etc.
“However, the man refused to incline his shoulder to bear the yoke of Torah and become a follower of the Rebbe.
“The man returned home, and his son’s condition became more serious. He told me the entire story of how the Rebbe had dealt with him and the lesson he had given. He also told me that the Rebbe had told him a story about a certain aristocrat who was extremely hard, and brazen… The man asked me to remind the Rebbe about his son’s illness, next time I went to him, and to ask him for help.
“Soon afterwards, I went to the Rebbe and spoke with him about this. He said, ”The boy is still alive?” in a tone of surprise. I stood there trembling, because I understood from this that the boy’s decree of death was already sealed. The Rebbe said: “If this man had accepted what I said, the boy would already be healthy” – but now, it was impossible for the boy to stay alive. And indeed, the boy died shortly afterwards.
“When the Rebbe spoke to me about the man, I started making excuses for him, saying, “How can he become your follower, when he already has a leader?” – namely, one of the Rebbe’s opponents.
“The Rebbe replied: “If so, it is a big test for him.”
“In other words this did not mean it would be impossible for him to become the Rebbe’s follower, only that his test would be greater. He should certainly make every effort to withstand the test, overcome all the obstacles, and become a follower of the Rebbe.”
This passage hit me like a ton of bricks.
There’s more to say, but I’m strangely reticent to say it. Let each person understand what they will.
The following is a translated excerpt of a shiur Rav Eliezer Berland gave a few years ago, on the topic of 'Azamra', aka the importance of judging our fellow Jew favorably.
“Vayetze Yaakov Vayelech Charana” (‘Yaakov left and went to Charan’) (Bereishis 28:10)
The Torah tells us: “Vayetze Yaakov” (‘and Yaakov left’). 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 Yisrael, as he himself revealed in Lesson 282 of Likutei Moharan (popularly known as ‘Azamra’).
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 Yisrael, 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” (Yeshaya 60:21).
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 few days will fulfil the verse: “the smallest one will be like a thousand, and the youngest will be like a vast nation” (Yeshaya 60:22).
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 Yisrael! 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 Yisbarach 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 here 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”, [ie, in the place of being wicked]. If people would realize this, and internalize 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 Yisrael.
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 G-d” (Avos 3:14). The heart of every Jew, even the most wicked, burns for Hashem Yisbarach.
There is no Jew whose heart does not burn for Hashem Yisbarach.
Because a Jew is not a cow or a sheep, every Jew is a holy Neshama, that was carved out from theKiseh Hakavod [the Throne of Glory]. 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 lets blow away the mountains of sand from his heart, because there is no such thing as a wicked person in Am Yisrael. 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 Yisrael. 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 Yisrael.
FOLLOWING THE TRUE GADOLEI HATORAH
It's often very hard to see the world through the eyes of our true Gadolei Torah like Rebbe Nachman, and Rav Berland, and to try to judge our fellow Jew favorably - especially when our bad middot are clamoring for a 'target' to attack.
But, to quote something I was just sent by Rav Avidgor Miller, who was responding to someone who had criticised the late Satmar Rebbe's stance on the State of Israel:
"So you’re bringing a proof from yourself? Who cares what you think? Are you a gadol batorah? You’re merely saying your opinion, that’s all. The question is, are we going to ask you, you over there, an unknown man; are we going to ask you for your opinion for the Jewish Nation?! Or shall we ask the great men who have Torah minds, the ones who lead our nation? Who should we ask, you or the great men?
Q: The great men we should ask.
A: So keep quiet. Keep quiet! Keep quiet, then. Your da’as is not da’as Torah, so we don’t care about your opinion. Da’as Torah means that you go to the gedolei Yisroel and ask their opinion. If you get gedolim to tell you that you’re right about it, then you’re right.
Everyone and his dog is entitled to their own opinion. But when it comes to who we should really be listening to, especially on a topic as 'fraught' as rebuke and harshly judging our fellow Jew, I'm following the Gadolei HaTorah, like Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, and Rav Berland.
There seems to be some confusion about whether it's permitted to rebuke, and the right and wrong way to do it.
This is what Rebbe Nachman says in Likutey Moharan 2:8, about rebuking:
"Though rebuke is of great import, and all Jews are obligated to rebuke each other when seeing that the other is not behaving properly...nevertheless, not everyone is capable of rebuking.
"As Rabbi Akiva said. 'I wonder if there is anyone in this generation who is capable of rebuking' [Eruvin 16b]. And if Rabbi Akiva said this about his own generation, how much more so in our generation.
"When the rebuker is not capable of rebuking, then not only is his rebuke ineffective, but he is also causing a sense of malodorous repulsiveness in the souls hearing his rebuke."
Then, in the translation of the Kitzur Likutey Moharan, translated into English as 'Advice', by the Breslov Research Institute, we find the following, in the chapter on Moral Guidance, p 304:
"There is no contradiction between what was said earlier about the obligation which every Jew has to discuss spiritual matters with his friends, and the statement here that not everyone is fitted to give criticism.
"If you examine the different passages carefully, you will see that the idea that is applicable to everyone is having discussions with friends about spiritual matters: what is the purpose of life? What will remain of us, in the end? And so on.
"Even the simplest of people should discuss these things."
The Kitzur Likutey Moharan then continues:
"The kind of moral criticism which is referred to in the last passage is a completely different matter.
"It means making explicit reference to another person's sins, and saying to him: 'Why did you do such and such?' One should be very careful not to discuss people's sins and bad behavior with them, because one can weaken their soul through arousing this bad smell.
"The distinction between moral guidance and rebuke is implicit in Rashi's comments on the opening words of Deuteronomy, where he says that Moses did not rebuke the Children of Israel until immediately prior to his death."
So, go right ahead and rebuke if you are
a) on the spiritual level of Moshe Rabbenu
b) only going to do it once every 40 years.
Otherwise, Rabbenu seems to clearly be telling us to keep our mouths shut, and just stick to general discussions encouraging the people we know to think more about the spiritual aspects of life.
NOTICE: The blog is only restarting at this address temporarily.
I will be migrating this blog over to a new site at: rivkalevy.com