Friday, December 31, 2010

Parasha Va'eira - Rabbi Nathan of Breslov

Moshe Rabeinu

Dedicated to the refuah shelema of Israel Shalom ben Julie Rzala, Alice Aliza bath Maissa, Levana Taita bath Kreina, Rina Bracha bath Esther and Mordechai Tzemach ben Mazal.

"And G-d/Elokim spoke to Moshe and said to him, I'm the Lord/Avaya." (Chemoth 6:2)

Background: At the end of his first meeting with Moshe, not only Pharaoh doesn't let the children of Israel go, but he makes heavier their work, thus causing discontent of the people. This discontent is orchestrated and amplified by two sinister characters who will never cease to challenge Moshe: Dathan and Aviram. They make Moshe so upset that the leader of the Bnei Israel goes towards G-d and asked Him in turn why the situation was much worse. The answer lies in the few words of our verse:

"And G-d/Elokim spoke to Moshe and said to him, I am the Lord/Avaya.''

Rebbe Nachman teaches in the Likutey Moharan (IV): "When a man knows that whatever happens to him is for his good, he is at a level where it tastes the World to Come, as it is written: "In Avaya, whose word I praise; in Elokim, whose word I praise." (Psalm 56:11). This is a foretaste of the World to Come.''

Our sages asked the question in regard to the verse "On that day the Lord will be One, and His Name One" (Zecharia 14:9): "Is not G-d already One today?" And they answered: "Today on a good thing one recites the blessing ''Hatov vehametiv'' (''which is good and makes good''), while on a bad thing we say ''Dayan ha-emet '' (blessed be the Judge of truth). But in the future there will be only Hatov vehametiv and the names of Avaya and Elokim will become one, in perfect unity."

Avaya, the Tetragrammaton, corresponds to G-d when His goodness is revealed. Elokim is the name of G-d which corresponds to the fact that His goodness is hidden behind the veil of strict justice, generating severe decrees and which is the source of  our problems in our life. Nevertheless a Jewish person with faith can already, in this world, unify these two aspects of the Divine Name and have a foretaste of the World to Come, in other words: be happy. And how do we do that?

Rabbi Nathan teaches from our verse:

"If everyone would listen to the voice of the true righteous and would follow their path and would believe that whatever G-d does is for the good and would always praise Him, no matter if things are good or bad, as it is written: "In Avaya, whose word I praise; in Elokim, whose word I praise", then it is obvious that all evil and all exiles would disappear completely; also, we would already had the final deliverance. But the main obstacle of the general or personal salvation  comes from the numerous opponents of the tzaddik; this is like Dathan and Aviram who were opposed to Moshe Rabbenu.'' (Likutey Halakhoth Prika vei-tei-ina 4:14).

Datam and Aviram correspond to the negative forces that are in all of us. When things go wrong, they make us feel down by making us believe that G-d abandoned us or that we're not important enough to Him to deserve happiness. These forces are undermining the fundamental faith that everything that G-d does is good and that I am His beloved child.

And how do I express that faith? By always praising Hashem, constantly, even if at times everything seems to fall apart. By getting used to this because I trust the words of the tzaddik who taught me that everything is for the good, I will open the door to the salvation and I will see retrospectively that all my praises were justified.

To take our time ...

We should all talk to G-d by beginning to say thank you for everything, anyway. Because the real truth is that if we could see the exceptional good in every thing, included in the worst situations, G-d forbid, we would praise Hashem without end. But if we could see that, we would no longer have free will and this is not what the Creator wants. In addition, we always have to remember that G-d does not want our sufferings, they are usually the product of our misuse of free will.

And if I open my eyes, I can see many reasons to say thank you; it is only that we get used to and we forget them. Thus, we should impose on ourselves to never forget, never again ...

Thank you Hashem.

Rabbi Eliyahu Haviv

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bnei Noach: reasons to convert (1)

Noah's Routemaster

(Yann Caro - himself a Ben Noach - was kind enough to share with us his thoughts about a possible conversion to Judaism. In this first article, he presents the arguments in favor for this conversion. In a second article, he will present the arguments against it.)

What may lead to a conversion to Judaism

Judaism does not advocate conversion to prevent any hasty decision which would mean many final obligations.

The individual who manages to "adhere to the Torah" has therefore a faith in G-d that makes him to understand these difficulties.

Thus Ruth, although discouraged and misunderstood, she decided to stay alongside Naomi not because of her feelings but because she knew that truth and blessings can be derived only from the One G-d of Israel.

A similar attitude towards candidates for conversion, combined with a respect for non-Jews who follow a right way, had always been advocated by the sages of the Torah ... which has always been something good.

We just have to remember the acts that accompanied or still accompany the temptations of the Churche and of Islam to impose a uniform religion ... and to allow some to use the corresponding power. Similarly, the medieval Jewish communities, which had frequently to face a hostile majority, could suffer from a conversion requested in their direction.

However, my experience allowed me to understand why other non-Jews, which could as such contribute to the future of humanity by honoring the Seven Noachide Laws, finally joined Klal Israel (the People of Israel).

The ability to perceive the truth of the Torah is what unites, in addition to compliance with its laws, religious Jews and B'nei Noach.

However, what will differentiate the convert might be, in addition to a sincere affection towards the Jewish people and the love of study, the real possibility to observe 613 mitzvoth.

The situation of a Ben Noach can indeed be lived painfully: misunderstanding of his entourage, Manichaean remakrs about the origins, feeling of being "foreign" to more superficial concerns, even if culturally valued ...

We live in an era almost universally permissive in the sense that many consider the development of science and technology as a simple way to reach the absence of the moral limitations of the "elites" of the past ... which can make also their lifestyle a source of suffering and indignity.

But in the absence of being advised by a rabbi or to be in touch with other Noachide, can't the end of all hope of conversion be a risk of gradually going away from G-d to the point to transgress some of the Seven Laws?

Obviously without reaching theft or inhuman acts, what barriers will remain in an atheist environment (or religiously various) against adultery or the participation in a ceremony with an idolatrous connotation?

It may be more or less difficult for a person, depending if he hides his spirituality to justify himself.

But G-d can also stay close, the respect that we give ourselves ending by winning the conviction of the people around us. It is at this level that Jews and Bnei Noach who have strengthened their emunah meet.

Yann Caro

To be continued...


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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Restorative disease

happy pills

If G-d is good, why does He make us sick? Ultimately, should not a merciful G-d have mercy on His creatures and keep them always healthy? Has anyone ever heard of a mother who would make her child sick for his own good?

The question is relevant and most often we do not know what to answer. Yet, a little reflection allows us to understand that the comparisons we usually use are wrong and that the problem has a faulty logic.

There are an infinite number of differences between the physical and the spiritual worlds. Although our relationship with G-d is repeatedly presented in the Torah as that between a father and son, we should not take this example to the letter and believe that the two situations are similar in all respects.

The two fundamental differences between these two situations are explained firstly by G-d's perfection - what a father is not - and secondly by our obligation to completely nullify ourselves before G-d's will, what a child doesn't always have to do before his father.

Knowing that G-d is perfect, according to a concept that human mind can not fully grasp, we must be convinced that everything which comes from Him is good. We can understand it occasionally, although most often we must use our emunah (faith) to be believe it.

On the other hand, knowing that we must nullify ourselves to the highest point before G-d's authority, we can not pretend to always understand how the world is run and simply say that we disagree with what comes from Heaven. In this respect, we would better turn our misunderstanding into a willingness to believe - with a total emunah – that everything that comes from Heaven is good, even and especially when we do not understand the nature of it .

With all this in mind, we can try now to explain the existence of disease in this world.

Between the material and the spiritual

When we are healthy, we often make the mistake of believing that Heaven's help is not essential in our lives. Do we want to walk? We just get up and move our feet. Do we want to talk? We just open our mouth and make sounds come out. Do we want to reach something? We simply move the hand toward it and seize it. Etc.. All these situations lead us to believe that we can get what we want in our lives. This is exactly contrary to the situation of bitul (self-nullification) which we referred above.

On the other hand, when getting up to fetch a glass of water is a miracle; when rising our hand is above our strength; when our physical weakness makes it impossible to say one simple word... in all these cases, we have only one thing to do: to turn to G-d and to ask Him for His help, His mercy. This is the exact situation of bitul which we referred above.

Certainly, we should not pray to become sick! Do we know for sure if we would still have the intelligence to forget our pride and call the Master of the world? However, when the disease is already here - G-d forbid – we should not miss that unique opportunity Heaven sent us to admit our utter helplessness and ask for Divine Intervention for all our needs: a glass of water, lifting a hand, take a few steps ...

“Master of the world, keep me healthy as long as possible. However, if You decide to weaken me physically, also open my eyes so I do not refuse to give in and that I should call you.”

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Quote of the day

La citation du jour

"We must not to deteriorate our wisdom with philosophy or unhealthy desires." (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Likutey Moharan I, 5)

Commentary: The wisdom that we must try to develop in ourselves is one that motivates us to get closer to G-d. This is done by multiplying our prayers and studying the Holy Scriptures. Without this wisdom, we might serve Hashem in a cold and tasteless manner.

Rabbi Nachman puts us on guard against two concepts that hinder the development of such wisdom in the person. First of all, we must beware of philosophy. The reason is that philosophy is directly opposed to the foundations of emunah (faith) and is a real danger for the soul.

On the other hand, not being in control of our desires (of food, money, sensual pleasures...) develops in the person something that slowly destroys his wisdom. The consequence of such an attitude is to get us away from the desire of the Divine and to make us feel like strangers to the Holy Word, G-d saves us.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Quote of the day

La citation du jour

"The essence of joy is found in the heart." (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Likutey Moharan I, 5)

Commentary: Each person listens either his heart or his head. All actions that we do answer the will of one or the other. It is therefore important to know the characteristics of each.

The head allows us to complete a thought, to set in an appropriate way a particular problem and to solve all kinds of equations. On the other hand, the heart is the seat of our passions and our desires.

That is why joy is in the heart. While it is certainly nice to solve a mathematical problem, we have more chance to experience a true joy in front of a good meal, when one of our desire is fulfilled ... Since the joy is in the heart, it is the heart that we must put the forward in our Divine service: this is a fundamental rule.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Believing in yourself (1)

La_confiance_en_soi

(This is the first part of a lesson given by Rabbi Eliyahu Godlevsky, shelita. This article is the fourth in a series of Divrei Torah about the trip on Rabbi Nachman's grave in Uman for Rosh Hashanah. To read all the articles, click here.)

Rabbi Nachman said that there is nothing greater than to be by him Rosh Hashanah. Reb Noson adds that in Hashem’s eyes, there is nothing greater than the Rebbe’s Rosh Hashanah. How much do we have to thank Hashem that we have merited to be here!

However, we also know that the Rebbe once said that he doesn’t want us to be like the Chassidim who travel to their Rebbes, and don’t know why they are going, and what they are coming back with. We should therefore try to gain knowledge of what we are supposed to be getting from the Rebbe.

Knowing: that is the key!

Let us contemplate the words of Reb Nosson in Likutei Halachos, Hilchos Pikadon 5:7, which is based on Likutei Moharan 61, a Torah lesson which the Rebbe taught on Rosh Hashanah.

Reb Nosson discusses the principle of trust in Chachamim, wise, learned men; the necessity to believe in true Tzaddikim. In addition, he adds that it’s crucial to believe in one’s friends, which means to realize that everyone has a good point and that in that good point, his friend is like a Tzaddik. It is therefore important to have good friends in order to be inspired by their good points.

Reb Nosson continues, that even more important than believing in the Tzaddik and in the good in our friends, is the need to believe in oneself. “And even more so, it is essential to believe that even his little bit of Avodas Hashem and Torah study is cherished very much by Hashem.”

These words may cause us to wonder; everybody is for sure asking himself, why do I have to believe in myself? I know who I am and where I am, and what’s going on in my life. What do I have from believing in myself? Reb Nosson answers us: “Even if someone believes in Hashem, and in Tzaddikim, and in his friends that they are all Tzaddikim, but he doesn’t believe in himself, which means that he doesn’t believe that the faith which he places in the true Chachamim is very, very precious, this is also as if he doesn’t really believe in the Chachamim. In a certain way, this lack of belief is worse than anything.

We find many people afflicted with this scab. They may be good people, and they may have begun to come close to the Tzaddikim, but they are always saying, ‘My friends, they’re for sure Tzaddikim, but as for myself, how can all this help me? I know what’s wrong with me, how I’m always failing.’ They afterwards fall completely away from belief in Tzaddikim, until many of them have become opponents of the Tzaddikim as a result. We thus see that their loss of faith in the Chachamim started as a lack of faith in themselves.

We thus find that believing in oneself is of utmost importance. When a person has it, he will naturally come to merit everything else.

But what happens to a person? A person studies books of mussar and self-improvement, or hears sermons and lectures. Since he has a Jewish soul connected to Hashem, he feels inspired. He decides to take life into his hands, and to become a Tzaddik right away.

We all recognize this picture. Many times people are motivated and inspired, and they decide right here and now to break themselves away from this material world, to become angel-like. But when it comes to actualization, there are those who fall away five minutes after hearing the speech, and others for whom it might last a day or two, and some very strong people who may be able to keep it up for a week or two.

With most people, everything’s over immediately after the lecture. On the way home somebody got him angry, etc., and he’s already back to being the same person as before, with the same bad character traits, the same failings, and the same thoughts. That wonderful person who was at the lecture is gone, disappeared. When will he be met again? When will he wake up again? Maybe tomorrow at the next lecture. And what will be then? He’ll only stay around for a couple of minutes again.

And then our hero comes up with a clear conclusion: There are two types of people in the world. Special individuals, who were born on some mountain, who are capable of becoming Tzaddikim; and us, the majority of Klal Yisroel. This is the state of affairs, and this is how it’s going to stay.

Next ...

Rav Eliyahu Goldlevsky, shlita

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Quote of the day

La citation du jour

"When a person performs a commandment with a joy that comes from the commandment itself, he enters into G-d's joy." (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Likutey Moharan I, 5)

Comment: There are an infinite number of ways to achieve a mitzvah (commandment). We can fulfill the Divine Will with a light heart or by dragging our feet. More than the act itself, it's how we do it that brings us closer to G-d.

Hashem gave mitzvoth to the Jewish people by love and with a desire to let us multiply the opportunities we can seize to show Him our love for Him. Accordingly, each commandment must be considered as a unique opportunity to take a step in the right direction.

When our joy goes along with the G-d's commandments, we bring ourselves very closely to the Creator. Knowing that the universe was created for this purpose, we provide a tremendous joy to Hashem; in other words, we enter into G-d's joy.

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Reading Tehilim (Psalms) 9:9

Europe

"And He will judge the world with righteousness; He will judge the nations in fairness." (Psalms 9:9)

King David said it consistently: Divine justice is perfect and it is applied with the greatest precision on every individual and every nation in the world. However, there is a significant difference between the way the Creator judges the Jewish people and the way He judges the other nations of the world.

Israel and the nations of the world

The nations of the world behave most often against G-d's will. Whether we refer to their indecent moral values, or their ability to deal with concepts they should reject (lies, thefts, slander ...) or their direct attack against the Master of the world (which is found mainly in the teaching of philosophy), their whole life seems to be doomed to a losing struggle against Hashem.

However, the Creator is filled with compassion for His creatures and He does not want to judge too strictly those who do not deserve it. Thus, because of their life and their actions which are almost always against His will, G-d judges the nations of the world with fairness, that is to say by making great use of this endless compassion. It is only at the end of days that a heavenly tribunal will be established which will judge the nations of the world with righteousness, that is to say without any mercy.

This favorable attitude explains why the nations of the world can live being against the Divine will, while enjoying a certain wealth and an apparent success. In fact, if the strict aspect of the justice was applied to them, they could not survive it. The Master of the world awaits the end of days to give them what they really deserve. Meanwhile - and in this world - Hashem give them the benefit of the doubt and uses the little good they do to reward them on earth.

The situation is quite different with the Jewish people. Despite his many imperfections, he strives to fulfill the will of the Creator. Certainly, his faults are many and frequent, but who is the Jewish person - even if he is far from the Torah - who has not made some mistwoth? Who never gave tzedakah? Who never thought to approach sincerely G-d? Etc..

This desire to do good - and to do so more or less frequently - allows the people of Israel to face a more severe trial, but how much closer to the truth! Thus, it should not surprise us to witness a system of justice characterized by the concept of "double standard"; actually, it is the way used by the Master of the world to lead the universe. However, we must realize that this is for our own good.

At the end of days, when the final verdict will be pronounced, the nations of the world will not be able to rely on Divine Mercy: they would have already benefited from it in this world! For this reason, the strict aspect of Divine Justice will be thus applied to them. On the other hand, the Jewish people can expect to receive the Divine Compassion in a wonderful way: after having been tried without any leniency during his whole life on earth, it will be time to give him the benefit of the doubt .. . for eternity!

Therefore, we should not insist too often for a strict justice to be applied to the nations of the world and compassion for ourselves. Rather, we should keep in mind that our goal is for the long term and it is certainly better to keep a reserve of unlimited Divine Compassion for the World to come!

To be continued ...

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Quote of the day

La citation du jour

"It is impossible not to feel a sense of pride when we are praised." (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Likutey Moharan I, 4)

Comment: Rabbi Nachman does not refer to a person who runs after honors and who depends on the opinion of others. If that was the case, this citation would not teach us much. Rather, it refers to the individual who may be modest and humble, but who nevertheless does not remain indifferent when complimented.

That is why this quote is of a concern for almost all of humanity. In fact, it is almost impossible not to feel some pleasure when we are praised. This is even more true if we were complimented for a mitzvah or a good deed we did.

To reach the level where the compliments do not affect us is for the person who has reached the full bitul. Only the individual who completely canceled his physical aspect is not affected by whatever happens in this world. Even if this level is reserved for the complete tzaddik, we must do everything to come closer to it, every day.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Parasha Shemoth - Rabbi Nathan of Breslov

Bundle Babies

“And the Israelites were fertile and prolific; their population increased greatly. They became so numerous that the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:7).

The Torah tell us about the Jewish population explosion right before going into the account of the Exodus. What’s the connection?

We know that any time G-d needs to chastise the Jewish people, He always prepares the cure/solution before the disease/problem (Megilah 13b). The huge surge in the Israelite birth rate immediately prior to the pain and humiliation of the Egyptian exile was a seed for the geulah (exodus) that was to take place. It is a suggestion for us, how we can bring the future, final geulah that much sooner.

The more, the better

Reb Noson acquaints us with the following concept: the more Jews there are, the more sacred daat (G-d consciousness) there is; the more sacred daat there is, the sooner the geulah arrives. How does this work?

We know from our own first-hand experience, as well as from history, that pain is a major feature of exile. The genesis of exile-pain, whether inflicted by others or ourselves, is misguided thinking. When non-Jewish concepts, values and weltanschauung hold sway, the inevitable results are a decline in faith (in G-d, His Torah and her teachers) and in the exercise of defining Jewish values—kindness, modesty and compassion. Misconceptions about what Jews do or think, whether entertained by Jew or gentile, lead to slavery: mental, emotional, physical, financial and spiritual.

When Moshe Rabbeinu (our teacher) saw that so many Israelites were freed from Egypt and on their way to receive the Torah, he thought mankind’s redemption was at hand. He thought there were enough Israelites with kosher thoughts and attitudes to induce the rest of the world—starting with the Mixed Multitude (non-Jews who departed Egypt with the Israelites)—to accept the notion of “G-d is One and His Name is One.” That will definitely happen, and soon, we pray. But conditions weren’t ripe then. The Mixed Multitude proved incorrigible and ended up harming the Israelites.

So in later Egypts we continued our history, always accompanied by some great tzaddik reprising the role of Moshe Rabbeinu, always trying to correct the damage done by the Mixed Multitude. The damage is undone when every little Jew gets born and grows up thinking and behaving as a Jew should. The damage is undone as each of us gets re-born, from day to day and hour to hour, thinking and behaving a bit more Jewishly.

May we soon see the fulfillment of the prophecy, “The smallest will number in the thousands and the least will be a mighty nation. I, G-d, will hasten it, in due time” (Isaiah 60:22). Amen.

Based on Likutey Halakhot, Rabbi Nathan, Taaruvot 3:2–3

Agutn Shabbos!
Shabbat Shalom!

© Copyright 2010 Breslov Research Institute

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

The journey to the Tziyun (3)

Flight while flying

(This is the third part of a lesson given by Rabbi Eliezer Berland, shelita. To read the second part, click here. This article is the third in a series of Divrei Torah about the trip on Rabbi Nachman's grave in Uman for Rosh Hashanah. To read all the articles, click here.)

We are traveling to the radiant heavenly light of Adam Ha'rishon (the first man, who until his sin had radiated a spiritual light that nullified that of the sun), to a soul that never once sinned, a soul that fled from within Adam Ha'rishon before he even entertained the thought of sin, that did not taste from the Eitz Hada'as in action, sight or thought.

A soul that never ceased it's Dveikus (cleaving) to Hashem for even a moment, that never saw the physicality of this world at all, that passed through this world without eyes, without ears, without a mouth, without hands and without legs, that never took a breath from this world; the wondrous soul that cannot be comprehended, the soul before whom no gates are closed and no heart impenetrable.

A flaming fire

We are coming closer to the flaming fire that can burn and eradicate any trace of impurity, we will soon fulfill the verse “anything that comes into fire, you shall pass through fire and it will be purified” (Bamidbar 31:23).

We are progressing with broken hearts and rivers of tears with which to burn away all of our sins, unintentional and willful, from all our gilgulim (reincarnations), truthful cries and broken heartedness drawn from he who is the heart of the world, the root of all hearts, whose toenail was more heart-like than the very heart of any other, he is the one more compassionate than all those with compassion and it is he who promised, without compromise, that he will come to the aid of all those who travel to him simply and sincerely for the sake of teshuva alone.

The little bit of broken heartedness that we have and the few tears we will merit to shed in the coming days will suffice, through the power of the awesome Tzaddik, to create wondrous vessels to cleanse us of our sins, to refresh every part of our souls, to uplift our prayers and our teshuva until all of the gathering and all of the Jewish people are uplifted back to our root in Hashem's Throne Of Glory.

Also, we will merit to be included in the root of all the Jewish souls, to be incorporated with all the souls of the coming awesome and holy gathering, to truly feel our lowliness, that we are truly the worst, lower than all the others who join in this holy gathering and every other Jew, wherever he may be, to feel that all of them are closer to true teshuva and that in truth we have no hope of sincere repentance if not for the awesome and holy Tzaddik who promised to come to the aid of every one of us.

In his merit and through his power, all of our prayers and teshuva will be accepted, even those of the spiritually poor and impoverished. It is in his reliable hands that we have entrusted ourselves, to purify us of any trace of sin and iniquity until the coming of Moshiach in the blink of an eye, this very year, in the merit of our holy Rebbe, Amen.

Rav Eliezer Berland, shlita

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Quote of the day

La citation du jour

"Every prayer that a person prays is a component of the Divine Presence." (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Likutey Moharan I, 2)

Comment: We often think that prayers are only texts that we must pronounce in order to discharge us from our obligation. In fact, our life in that material world makes it difficult for our commitment to the spiritual world.

Yet, we should realize that every word  we say during our prayers is a true spiritual vehicle that has the power to climb very high into the Heaven. When that vehicle reached the peak of its height, it finds the words of our previous prayers.

All of these spiritual vehicles represent the spiritual structure of the Third Temple of Jerusalem; that Temple will be revealed at the coming of the Messiah, soon and during our days, Amen. That's why every prayer we utter is a unique moment in our day and it deserves our attention.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The nineteen letters (3b)

Les 19 lettres (3b)


Here is the fictitious correspondence between two friends, including one who has done teshuva.

Benjamin,

How often do you take the time to look at the sky and the stars? Get out of town and go for a walk in the fields! Go in the countryside and look at what you see. From the higher star to the tiny grain of sand, was everything not created by Hashem? Do you really think that all that fills the universe has arisen "by chance"? Admire the sun, the moon. Appreciate their steady, unchanged revolution for millennia.

What about animals? Their diversity is not accidental: each plays his role perfectly; very foolish is the person who would think that one of them is unnecessary! How many species are there? Think also about the plants and their admirable way to purify the air and give us the oxygen we need to live. If a simple electric appliance needs expert hands to be made, don't you realize that it takes a genius Creator to make the Universe appear from nowhere and to enable it to continue to exist every second?

The more we look at the world around us, the easier it becomes to reach the only possible conclusion: a "hand" is behind this, and every detail has been planned to perfection. If we look at the facts and we are ready to accept all the consequences that this observation may lead us to formulate, is it not clear that we must pay great tribute to G-d?

To honor the Creator

Ascribe to the Lord, O you mighty, 
Give to the Lord glory and strength.
Give to the Lord the glory due to His Name; 
Worship the Lord in the beauty of Holiness.
The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; 
The G-d of glory thunders; 
The Lord is upon many waters.

The voice of the Lord is powerful; 
The voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; 
The Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes them skip like a calf; 
Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild ox.

The voice of the Lord divides the flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord makes the hinds to calve, 
And strips the forests bare; 
And in His Temple every one speaks of His glory.

Psalms 29

At this also my heart trembles, and is moved from his place.
Hear attentively the noise of His voice, and the sound that goes out of His mouth.
He directs it under the whole heaven, 
And His lightning to the ends of the earth.
After it a voice roars; 
He thunders with the voice of His excellency; 
And He will not restrain them when His voice is heard.

G-d thunders marvelously with His voice; 
He does great things which we cannot comprehend.
For He says to the snow: "Fall on the earth!"; 
Likewise to the small rain, and to the great rain of his strength.
He seals up the hand of every man; 
That all men may know His work.
Then the beasts go into dens, and remain in their places.
From its chamber comes the storm; and cold from the scattering winds.
By the breath of G-d ice is given; 
And the broad waters are frozen fast.

Also He burdens the thick cloud with an overflow; 
The cloud scatters lightning;
And it is turned around by His counsels; 
That they may do whatever He commands them upon the face of the world, in the earth.
He causes it to come, whether for correction, or for his land, 
Or for love.

Job 37

Here is what is possible to understand: there is a Creator and only One! Everything around us is the manifestation of His will and proof of His existence. It is He who has given everything its place and its attributes and the role it should take. Benjamin, here is the only truth that it is possible to argue: that we live in a world that belongs to Hashem!

If we understand this, it becomes apparent that each creature has a single purpose: to reveal G-d's glory. The reason is that each of us is the G-d's messenger, and we have been placed in this world for this noble reason. Is it really impossible to say that we - as well - must contribute to this particular task: to thank the Master of the world by making the best tribute we can?

Who covers Himself with light as with a garment; 
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain;
Who lays the beams of His chambers in the waters; 
Who makes the clouds His chariot; 
Who walks upon the wings of the wind;
Who makes the winds His messengers; 
The flames of fire His ministers.

Psalms 104:2-4

During the next storm, go to walk in a field or a forest! Each lightning and each thunder is there to serve the One who created it. Hear the leaves of the trees moving in the wind; look at  the clouds going fast in the sky; see the animals running to find a shelter from the lightning ... All this world is that of Hashem and only fools cannot recognize it!

For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, 
And returns not there, but waters the earth, 
And makes it bring forth and bud, 
That it may give seed to the sower, 
And bread to the eater;
So shall My word be that goes out of My mouth; 
It shall not return to Me void, 
But it shall accomplish that which I please, 
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:10-11

Benjamin, open your eyes! Nothing exists for itself and each person is related to those that preceded them, those who live in his time and those that will come after him. The people of Israel was put on earth to serve the Creator and fulfill His will, as best as we can.  It is such a crazy idea to believe we are detached from everything and that our life resembles that of a boat lost in the middle of the ocean!

It is attached to a tradition that we were born. It is by learning the nature of this tradition that we move forward on the path that is ours. The greater selfishness is that which  deny all this. The greatest humility is to accept with joy our mission in this world. From this humility, we will draw  a incredible strength and we will remove all the obstacles that negative forces always put on our path.

A heart of flesh and an open mind: here are the advantages of a Jew and of a servant of G-d! How beautiful is the person who seeks to know and discover his true calling. We were placed in a fertile field and the conditions are ideal for us to grow up at full speed. All it requires is that we take into account the reality that surrounds us. Benjamin, is that too much to ask from us?

I kiss you and I wait for your letter with impatience.

Naftali.

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Quote of the day

La citation du jour

"Before praying, every person must attach himself to the true tzaddikim of the generation." (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Likutey Moharan I, 2)

Comment: The concept of attachment (devekus) is essential in the Divine Service. Yet, it seems impossible to attach directly ourselves to G-d. Rashi writes: the fire would devour us! Thus, we must attach ourselves to the tzaddikim.

To attach ourselves to the tzaddikim does not mean to pray the tzaddikim; that would be idolatry, G-d saves us. Rather, it means to ask them to do their utmost to ensure that our prayers ascend as high as they can in the celestial spheres.

Of course, this commitment should not be the excuse to slacken our efforts to get closer to Hashem. Instead, by knowing that our prayers do not depend solely on our efforts, we have good reason to redouble our efforts in how we serve the Creator!

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Are animals intelligent? (2)


Based on an email dialogue between a passionate secular Jewish vegetarian activist and a more equivocal Orthodox vegetarian. (To read the first part of this dialogue, click here.)

Activist:

So you consider Orthodox supervisory rabbis and kosher slaughterhouses that mistreat animals to be violating the Torah?

Vegetarian Chassid:


I would hesitate to condemn anyone without carefully studying the facts. However, if it would be proven that such supervisory rabbis and kosher companies have shown a lack of concern for avoidable tza'ar ba'alei chaim – such as by willfully ignoring existing animal welfare regulations, or by making no effort to reduce animal distress indicated by bellowing, or by using electric prodders unnecessarily, etc. -- I would say that yes, they are in the wrong, and that this is a tremendous chillul Hashem, a disgrace of G-d's Name.

This does not make the meat produced treif -- kashrus is an entirely separate matter -- but it does mean that these individuals have failed to recognize and to do what the Torah wants from us. As I've said before, when it comes to tza'ar ba'alei chaim, we have certain explicit laws, such as the prohibition to allow animals to see other animals being killed (Yoreh De'ah 36:14), for example -- and then there is the category of "lifnim me-shuras ha-din," going beyond the letter of the law in order to prevent avoidable animal suffering. Only an achzor and a baal ga'avah, a cruel and arrogant person, would fail to recognize this and act accordingly.

Activist:

There is a tradition that that prior to their creation, animals agreed to G-d's plan that that they would be slaughtered (see Rabbi Yosef Gikatilla, Sha’arei Orah, Gate 6). In addition, the kabbalists say that eating animals raises their “holy sparks” and their da'as, or consciousness -- so the implication is that we are doing animals a favor by eating them, and this is why they consented to be slaughtered. Most animals, however, are certainly not passive in the face of slaughter – at least when they understand what is going on. They try their best to escape! How are animals' terror and flight responses to be reconciled with the claim that they gave their consent and are being granted a "favor" to serve human needs?

Vegetarian Chassid:


Just because on some awesome transcendent plane the animals collectively agreed to their earthly destiny before they were created doesn't mean that they shouldn't be motivated by the basic pleasure-pain response that characterizes all sentient beings. For example, when I go to the dentist, I know that what he's doing is good for me -- but I still don't like the experience one bit! A wise person knows that everything we go through is ultimately for the good -- "gam zu l'tovah," as the Talmudic saint Nochum Ish Gamzu used to say -- yet our self-preservation instincts still tell us that pain hurts!

According to Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (Likutey Moharan I, 4, based on the Gemara in Pesachim 50a), realizing that everything is ultimately good, whether we experience it as good or bad, is an experience of "World to Come" – the World of Oneness -- right here in this world. But there is a spiritual barrier that separates these two domains or modes of experience, and for this reason, it is difficult for a mortal human being to grasp that sublime reality. Why shouldn't this be the case with animals, too?

Again, practically speaking, I believe that a great deal of animal distress in the meat industry, both kosher and non-kosher, can be eliminated by improving handling and restraint systems. Those who are unwilling to opt for vegetarianism should at least be supportive of proposals for such improvements.

(A Simpe Jew)

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Quote of the day

La citation du jour

"The evil inclination wants to drive everyone literally mad." (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Likutey Moharan I, 1)

Commentary: Knowing that each person was created to follow the Divine Will, the ways of Torah are those of the normal behavior of man. On the other hand, the individual who deviates from this path, G-d forbid, goes out from normality and acquires the status of an abnormal person.

Rabbi Nachman warns us: the abnormal person is not always the one whose behavior surprises us by its lack of etiquette. In fact, an individual considered by everyone as very honorable - but who transgresses Hashem's commandments - is crazy and we must do everything to avoid him.

The evil inclination wants to drive us crazy, that is to say, to make us deviate from the path of reconciliation with the Creator. It is this madness that we must refuse, even if it has all the appearances of normality in this world.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Parasha Vayechi - Rabbi Nathan of Breslov

Paracha Vayé'hi - Rabbi Nathan de Breslev

"Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years; so the whole age of Jacob was a hundred and forty seven years." (Bereishith 47:28)

It is written in the Midrash Rabbah and the Zohar that the seventeen years that Yaakov lived in Egypt were the most important of his life and that those years were filled with joy and pleasure. This may seem surprising.

How can we explain this importance and that great joy, especially during a period when Yaakov lived outside the Land of Israel? It is true that his life in Eretz Israel had never been easy and that he never knew the serenity he met in Egypt. However, Egypt was a unclean land; also, Yaakov's arrival in this country represented the beginning of the exile of the Jewish people. Thus, it is in the same country where the lives of the Jews became so bitter that the Patriarch enjoyed a perfect serenity!

To transform pain into joy

In truth, this corresponds to what is written (Isaiah 35:10): "The ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away!" We learn from this an important rule: the essential aspect of perfect joy is in Hashem and it is in Him that we must find our vitality.

The meaning of this joy is to strengthen and transform our pain and our groans into joy. This aspect of our lives is essential: to change the apparent nature of the events of our lives to give them always a positive aspect. This change is possible only through joy. In its absence, it is impossible to "always be happy."

This is what was essential in the mission of the Patriarchs: to reveal and to let the all world know about the existence of the Divine Presence. It is only for this reason that man was created in this world. This aspect of our lives must also be the source of our joy and our vitality. This corresponds to all exiles the people of Israel had and still has to suffer: their most important aspect is the exile of the soul of each individual.

Thus, being in exile really means that our soul is very far from her Father in Heaven. This is also for the same reason that we are often affected by sadness and discouragement: because we are far away from Hashem. However, when we are happy, we get closer to the Creator and all the sorrows and difficulties disappear; it is at that moment that we really leave our exile.

When Yaakov went to Egypt at the end of his life, he knew it would be the beginning of an extremely difficult and painful time for the people of Israel. It is precisely in this difficulty and pain that he found the reasons for his joy and to get closer to Hashem. It is when we most need Him that G-d gives greater value to our appeal in His direction.

(Translated and adapted from Likutey Halakhoth of Rabbi Nathan of Breslov, Orach Chaim, Hilkhoth Hoda, Halakha 6:51)

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Reading Tehilim (Psalms) 9:7

Epee!

"The enemies have came to an end, in perpetual ruins; for You have destroyed the cities; their memorial is perished." (Psalms 9:7)

Our enemies hate us beyond reason. Didn't one author write that if the Jews did not exist, anti-Semites would have invented them? This hatred is part of their personality and it is futile and ridiculous to want to change it for the better through dialogue, education ... Rather, we must have emunah (faith) that the world is run by a Creator and that He - and only He - decides what our enemies do.

A justified existence

If so, an obvious question arises: why Hashem make us having enemies? Do not we say that G-d is good and full of compassion? What style of individual would think of sending enemies to his friends? Could such a friendship and relationship have only one reason to remain? Thus, we can ask ourselves about the opportunity that Heaven has to make our life not as simple as it could.

While there is no doubt that the existence of our enemies depends entirely on the will of Hashem, we should know that their presence in this world serves a single purpose: to get closer to the Master of the world. Like a father who inflicts a punishment on his son, the Creator erects enemies in our path to awaken us to the spiritual.

The punishment of a father against his son is justified only if he enables him to realize the seriousness of his behavior and to repent. In other words, a punishment has a positive goal: that of teshuvah (repentance). In fact, a punishment imposed for another reason (anger, malice ...) is cruel and should not exist.

The situation is the same with G-d: each person gets what he deserves and what can help him to open his eyes to leave his spiritual slumber. This is also for this reason that our difficulties in life - both great and small - must be seen as positive: to allow us to come closer to Hashem.

To the extent that heavenly justice is perfect, the Master of the world sends us only enemies we can defeat. Our main tool in this fight is prayers: in every situation and in every moment. Thus, when an obstacle stands in our way, we must see the will of the Divine Presence and take this opportunity to work harder in our commitment to reconciliation with the Divine.

Here is on what hold the survival of our enemies: our stubbornness in not wanting to wake up spiritually. Yet, if we would pray sincerely and admit our utter dependence to G-d, our accusers  would disappear immediately and forever. This is to what King David refers in our verse: the power of teshuvah is so great that entire cities of opponents can be wiped out in an instant. If only we wanted to wake up ...

Fear, anxiety and stress because of our enemies are explained only by our lack of Knowledge. In fact, it is because we do not see the Divine Presence through the obstacles that fill our lives that we perceive them in a negative and painful way. However, if we think about the ultimate goal and purpose, life takes a new twist: that of constant joy and happiness every day!

To be continued ...

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The nineteen letters (3a)

Les 19 lettres (3a)

If some people put G-d in the center of their lives, others still lead the life of nations. Between G-d's will and our desire to live fully as we want, the heart of each of us is between these two extremes. What follow is the third letter from a fictional exchange of letters between two friends: Naftali and Benjamin. If one of these friends made teshuva (repented), the other remains far from Jewish life. This exchange is based on the book: "The Nineteen Letters" written by Rabbi S.R. Hirsch, without attempting to match the thought of Rav Hirsch.

Benjamin,

If I left several weeks passed since my last letter, it is because I wanted to grant you the necessary time to make the ideas to which I referred to take root in you. Am I too optimistic if I hope that these ideas have helped you to grap the Book of life and to begin to read it? Today, it is with you that I want to consult the Torah, our Torah!

Do we agree, Benjamin, to say that it is the people of Israel we want to discover? What we want is clear: a better knowledge of the content and of the true meaning of its name - ours - and discover what it really means to bear it and also, the practical consequences it means for us. Don't you think that this approach is that of responsible people who do not close their eyes to reality? Like a person whose skin is black cannot live by ignoring it, we cannot live as if we were not Jews: we are!

A historical fact

Above all, the people of Israel is a historical reality. In fact, do you know many nations who can trace their history as far back in time as ours? History takes such an important place in the formation of each nation - including ours - that we must know what it really is.

Will you agree with me if I write that history is the way that allows the human destiny to achieve its ultimate goal? Considered in this light, history is made by a multitude of people including ourselves. We can probably assume that such person had a greater weight than any other in history. However, is it not undeniable that we all have a role to play and hold? Wouldn't it - again - to close our eyes to suggest otherwise?

If we can understand that each of us has a unique and special role to hold, we must also grasp the true meaning of the human being's nature. Is man not the main actor of Creation? So: what is man and what should it be? Let me warn you: my questions are not obscure and theoretical questions whose only objective is to enable us to obtain a position in a prestigious university!

Rather, these questions are the foundations of an approach that allows us to distinguish ourselves from the animals. Has anyone ever heard of a cow who questioned the deep meaning of life? However, do we ask ourselves that question regularly in our lives and we are giving ourselves the necessary tools to respond in a suitable manner, that is to say honest?

The first evidence is that a human being is not isolated. He is a creature - among others - and if he may have some influence on other creatures, they also have in influence on him. This is to better understand this interaction that the Torah was given to us. Its advices guide us and make us understand the significance of Israel and the task which is its. If only we would admit the existence and role of G-d in our lives, how things would be more clear in our thinking! For this, we must inquire into what the Torah says.

To continue...

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Quote of the day

La citation du jour

"Nowadays, because of our many sins, the grace and the real importance of the Jewish people have fallen. Today, the essence of the importance and the grace are with others. "(Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Likutey Moharan I, 1)

Comment: Some values affect us more than others. At each of our good deeds, our soul takes over and brings us closer to Hashem. However, at each of our sins - G-d forbid - we let our physical aspect take over and we are moving away from the Creator.

Nowadays, jeans, rock and roll and non-Jewish literature are part of our lives and we regard them as estimable and estimated values. Who does not want to own the latest fashionable jeans? Who does not love going to concerts? Who did not read the latest Nobel Price of literature?

It doesn't matter what we do with the commandments that G-d gave us. The most important thing is to know where is our heart. Why do we look so often at what is really Jewish as being so remote from us? Do we really think that Hashem wants us to follow the ways of the non Jewish nations?

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The journey to the Tziyun (2)

Aile d'avion

(This is the second part of a lesson given by Rabbi Eliezer Berland, shelita. To read the first part, click here.This article is the third in a series of Divrei Torah about the trip on Rabbi Nachman's grave in Uman for Rosh Hashanah. To read all the articles, click here.)

And so if we proceed, with trembling knees and tear-filled eyes, will we truly be worthy to have our teshuva accepted? Will we truly abandon from here forth our forbidden thoughts and sights? Will we merit from today to: “Who may ascend the mountain of Hashem, and who may stand in the place of His sanctity? One with clean hands and pure heart who has not sworn in vain…” (Tehillim 24,3) Will we truly merit to purity of heart, that the waters of purity and sweetness should wash us clean of our illness and filth? 

That we should merit renewed souls, that our prayers should be received in favor and that we should be granted a fresh start in which we will begin to close our eyes to this lowly world that it should not taint us in thought, word or action with the poison of The Nachash (primordial snake) in whose belly the world has been completely consumed.

To be free, really

We are now coming to the place where we can be freed, in the blink of an eye, from The Nachash that has engulfed us from head to toe, not leaving even one strand of hair unconsumed. Only The Tzaddik who is called “Levyasan” (an enormous type of sea creature described in scripture; Pirkey D'Rebbi Eliezer mentions that is eats one whale a day), as taught in the Zohar Ha'kadosh (Parshas Ki Tetsei pg.279), [The gematria (numerical value of the Hebrew letters) of 'Levyasan' is 496, which is a also the gematria of 'Nachman Ben (son of) Feiga'], whose 248 limbs, internally and externally [248 × 2 =496], where transformed into spiritual torches of fire, can take us out from the stomach of The Nachash.

Our Holy Rebbe stated that even in his time he had succeeded in freeing many people from the grasp of the Samech Mem (Satan), and his strength has continued to grow from day to day and from moment to moment, so much so that he can free even us, and there is no end to the ways and means of salvation drawn from the endless “wellsprings of salvation” that are without boundaries and without limit.

It is only because of our own endless arrogance that we are so far from truth and humility, sunken in all sorts of jealousy and terrible impurityand that we have still not merited to sincere teshuva with true regret from the depths of our hearts. Surely if we had truly regretted our wicked ways we would have already been saved long ago. And now, from where will come our salvation, being that we are still so far from true regret for the past and from full-fledged resolve for the future not to sin ever again?

However, we nevertheless believe with perfect faith, and will not, G-d forbid, allow any despair to sway us, that there is no greater sin and transgression than despair and belief in any lack of hope. We know, with as much clarity as we know that the sun and the moon shine in the sky, that it is within the great power of The Tzaddik who is going to arouse us to true teshuva and remorse with all the heart, and to uproot from within us, once and for all, any trace of evil in thought and in sight that are the bitter fruits of the many reincarnations spent in the deepest depths of evil and below, since the sin of the Eitz Hada'as (The tree of knowledge) until this very day.


Rav Eliezer Berland, shlita

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Quote of the day

La citation du jour

"With the [study of] Torah, all prayers and requests are accepted." (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Likutey Moharan I, 1)

Comment: This statement of Rabbi Nachman is for individuals who do not see their prayers answered as quickly as they would want. These individuals may become discouraged and lose patience. This is a danger that threatens us all.

Despite our possible frustration, we must have absolute trust in Hashem: in due time, our prayers will be answered and we should not be impatient.

Not only do our prayers are heard, but Rabbi Nachman reminds us that it is through the study of the Torah that they will receive their answer. Thus, we must should increase our study, good deeds and prayers to receive an answer from Heaven.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Reading Tehilim (Psalms) 9:6

Bad Guys by Justin Aerni

"You have destroyed nations, you have destroyed the wicked, you have blotted out their name for ever and ever." (Psalms 9:6)

In the previous verse, King David talked about the absolute perfection of Divine Justice. With the Creator, the errors, delays, misunderstandings, corruption ... do not exist and there is no hope to see one of them one day! What is owed is given and what is earned is awarded. This works in both directions: positive and negative

Evil people: a temporal existence

When we meet someone who annoy us, G-d forbid, we often think that life would be easier without him. From the small daily hassles to truly dangerous situations, we ask G-d to remove this obstacle to our peace of mind and our security, which are things that everyone needs to live a peaceful life.

Obviously, we should definitely pray for our salvation and in times of opposition, it is quite natural to seek assistance from the Master of the world. Yet, we must never forget that the authority to which we send our requests to be saved is the same that put us in front of the obstacle which bothers us so much. In this world, no luck or chance: everything is wanted, desired and programmed by Hashem.

It is precisely for this reason that the disappearance of evil and bad people can occur as quickly as they appeared. In both cases, they only follow a celestial decision which uses them to help us find the right path. When their mission is reached, they often evaporate faster than expected.

Jewish history is old and the number of our enemies is great. How many so-called "big nations" or "eternal people" had sworn our destruction and had set a goal to wipe us off the face of the earth, G-d forbid? A few centuries later - or even just a few decades later – what's left from these nations and these peoples? They are the ones who have disappeared, while the Jewish people continue his march towards the Divine. What a contrast between their stated aim and their end!

This lesson of history may help us in the difficult period in which we live. In fact, it seems that the whole world is against us. Whether it is the State of Israel or the Jewish individuals who live around the world, reasons to expect are diminishing every year a little more. Where can we find an ally of great confidence to the State of Israel? In which country do the Jewish individuals live truly in peace?

Rather than spend our energy to yell, curse or mope, we must realize that our opponents are there only by the will of the Creator. So, is it not smarter to go to the source of our problems rather than its outcome? Thus, it is our prayers that we must multiply to see the sky cleared up; it is our actions that we should try to stick to the Divine Will; it is our thoughts that we must try to make more beautiful, more holy. It's by doing so that we'll tip the scales in our favor.

Even if it is impossible for the human mind to understand how exactly does the Divine Justice work, one thing is sure: by following the G-d's will, we are doing our part of our work. If difficulties arise, we will then be able more easily to ask Hashem to do His!

To be continued ...

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Quote of the day

Obstacles

"The magnitude of a person's desire is determined by the obstacle erected to him (by Heaven.)" (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Likutey Moharan I, 66)

Comment: To want to do something spiritual is a nice thought that is sent to us from Heaven. At the same time, an obstacle is arranged to determine the importance of our desire for that thing. This seems contradictory? Probably, but this is for our good.

In fact, by making grow in ourselves a Holy Desire, the Creator wants to test us: will we answer the call and take a step in the right direction or shall we stay on the dock? Thus, whenever the desire arises, a difficulty arises too which seems to make it more difficult to accomplish.

If we persevere and put together our strength to overcome the obstacle, we take a big step towards the Divine. Of course, our efforts are linked to the nature of the obstacle: the more it increases, the more our efforts and our determination are important. In other words, our desire for the Divine is directly related to the nature of our difficulties to come closer to it!

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