Serving Hashem Simply

Many of us want to serve Hashem, but we are not quite sure where to begin. Until we each merit for Hashem to help us find out exactly what our path is, we should listen to the Sages. They give us great advice, saying, “Whatever is harmonious with a person, and elicits beauty from the person” (Pirkei Avot 2:1). The Bartenura comments here, “It should be pleasant for the person, and others should be pleased… This is the middle way.”

This advice of following “the middle path” is so important for our generation. We live in a time of great spiritual darkness. Doubt and confusion are constantly at our side. Few of us know exactly what to do.

The answer is that, until Hashem enlightens us regarding our specific path, we should act simply. We should pray, study Torah with fear and awe of Hashem, work to improve our character deficiencies, and do mitzvot. We must hold our ground and not become confused, even if we still do not recognize our place or G-d-given talents in serving Him.

We should do those things which are obvious, as listed above, and by fulfilling what we know. In time and with Hashem’s help, we will merit for the rest to become clear. Until then, serving Hashem in the midst of darkness, doubts, and confusion might actually be the most pleasing form of service to Hashem.

Our Sages teach us, “Do not say, ‘I will learn when I have time,’ for perhaps you will never have time” (Pirkei Avot 2:5). On this, the Kotzker Rebbe commented: Grab whatever Torah you can, even if your mind is not as clear as possible, for perhaps your repair lies precisely in not having free time.

Based on In All Your Ways: Collected Discourses of Rabbi Yaakov Meir Schechter

Tikkun Chatzot

We should all yearn to merit getting up in the middle of the night to recite Tikkun Chatzot, where we mourn over the destruction of Beit HaMikdash (the Temple). We also mourn the concealment of the light of the true tzaddikim. It is also a very good time to mourn over our own sins and shortcomings, all of which are delaying the rebuilding of the Temple. We need to strive to see ourselves and our personal situations in the words of Tikkun Chatzot

As per Rebbe Nachman, the time for Chatzot begins six clock hours after nightfall, regardless of the time of year, and lasts for two hours (Likutei Moharan I:149; also see Magen Avraham on Orach Chaim 1:2 and 233:1).

Now, depending on one’s location and time of year, there may not be six hours of nighttime. Also, many people are unable to function properly during the day if they break their sleep to recite Tikkun Chatzot. We can at least strive for and yearn to have the merit to get up at Chatzot. We can ask Hashem to help us.

On nights when we do not have to work the next day, we can at least try to get up, even once a week or once a month. There are a few Kollels in Israel (Kollel Chatzot and Kollel Chatzot Layla) where they get up every night to recite Tikkun Chatzot, to do hitbodedut (personal prayer), and to learn Torah until Shakhrit (Morning Prayers). We can pray for these holy men and also support them.

Another thing we can do until we have the merit to get up every night for Tikkin Chatzot, has been suggested in Rav Avigdor Miller on Tikun Chatzos – The Abridged Version, is that before we go to sleep, we can take a few minutes, sit on the floor [preferably by a doorway that has a mezuza attached, if possible], and think about what we are missing in our lives due to the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. These few minutes are more precious than we can ever imagine.

Based on A Day in the Life of a Breslover Chassid, by Rabbi Yizchok Breiter

Accepting All with Love and Joy

We see that Hashem sometimes runs the world in ways that we find very difficult to accept. Things can happen that are hard to understand, and we have no idea where they may lead. Therefore, we must seek out advice that will help us to deal with reality when things happen that are very difficult to accept.

Rebbe Nachman (Likutei Moharan II: 5) tells us that there is advice from the true tzaddikim which is “wondrous.” When we merit to discover this advice, we receive a path and a strength to pass in peace through the stormy waters that threaten to destroy us.

Before we can understand the advice, we need to understand a fundamental rule. Every one of us has two incredible abilities to achieve, rectify, and change things for the greatest good. These two abilities exist inside each of us — the power of  thought and the power of speech. Through correct thought and correct speech we are able to turn everything around for the best.

The advice from the true tzaddikim is likened to a “seed” that causes emuna (faith in Hashem) to grow within us. Our emuna will slowly grow over time as we continue to nurture it. We need to keep three important points in mind as we begin on our path:

  • We must know that everything that happens is only from Hashem, who acts with complete Divine supervision.
  • We must believe that everything that happens to us is for our ultimate good, which allows us to accept what happens to us with love.
  • Be happy with everything that happens, regardless how it may appear. In the end, everything will turn out for the best.

Although it may not appear at first to be so good, and although we cannot initially understand what is happening, if we accept this advice from the true tzaddikim, we will be able to dance and say, “Hashem, I have no clue why this is happening! I do not understand it at all. But I believe that everything, including this, comes from You and that You always do what You know is for my best. I can’t feel Your presence now, but I know You are here with me. And I know that You are preparing something for me that is greater than I can understand. Thank You, Hashem!”

This new path of emuna will slowly grow within our heart and mind. This is the understanding which comes down to us from heaven and reveals to us the gifts that we are receiving through our pain and suffering. May we each merit to reach a level where we will feel that what we are going through is actually for our best, and to understand that good will come out of this present suffering.

This is an entirely new awareness of true reality that will open up to each of us. We must know: It is impossible to fix the world, but it is possible to fix the lenses through which we view the world.

Based on From the Depths, by Rabbi Ofer Erez

A Short Prayer to Start the Day

It is very good for a person to hand oneself over to Hashem and rely on Him when the day comes. (Sichot HaRan, 2)

Following the practice of Rav Yitzchak Breiter, one of the leaders of Chassidei Breslov of Poland, the following is the wording of ‘giving oneself over’ that Chassidei Breslov still say today:

“Master of the World, I give myself over to You, all my actions, all my thoughts and words, my eating, drinking, learning, praying, and breathing — and all those of my children and of all others who are dependent on me, of this day (specifying the day), that all of them will be according to Your will and desire for good.”

Afterwards, we do not need to be concerned at all about anything, because we are relying on Hashem, and if Hashem would want us to do something different, we would also want to do differently, according to His will (Sichot HaRan, 2).

We can go about our lives with simplicity and emuna for the sake of Heaven. We still need a set time for cheshbon nefesh (soul accounting), but the rest of the day we need to be happy. “I will do what is mine to do and know that Hashem runs the world.” Over time, this relieves us of all worries and ultimately leads to a place of great happiness where we are free to just serve Hashem.

Based on From the Depths, by Rav Ofer Erez

Overview of Seven Pillars of Faith for a Breslover Chassid

R’ Yitzchak Breiter, in Seven Pillars of Faith, clarifies the meaning of seven basic ideas or themes which are at the root of all of Rebbe Nachman’s teachings. The one underlying concept is that of Hashgacha Pratit, the direct and personal supervision of Hashem. This means that G-d lovingly supervises every detail of each of our lives and growth.

However, if everything is under Hashem’s control, what is as role? What about our free choice? R’ Yitzchak explains that it is only from our ego-driven perspective, which causes Hashem to be concealed from us, that there appears to be a contradiction. Our on,y way to rise above this is through t’shuva, repentance, by following the teachings of the True Tzaddik.

Wisdom built her house of several kinds, she hewed out seven pillars.

Proverbs 9:1

I. First Pillar: The Hand of G-d

The foundation of all of Rebbe Nachman’s teachings is to know and understand that everything that happens to us, both spiritually and physically, including everything that we do, all comes through the decree of Hashem. [“One cannot even cut his finger unless heaven decrees” (Chullin 7b).] Even if we want to accomplish something holy, if we are not yet sufficiently worthy and have not sanctified ourselves enough to achieve it, heaven arranges things in such a way that we become distracted. [“Sin clouds the heart of humanity” (Yoma 39a).]

Hashem does this solely out of His love for each of us. He knows that the only way to bring each of us to our ultimate good is through helping us understand our present lowly position  and how far we are from true good. [“One who comes to be purified will be helped. But he will be told to wait” (Yoma 38b).] This is the time to cry out to Hashem for help and to do t’shuva. [“If your prayer was not accepted, pray again” (Berakhot 32b).]

No matter what we may go through in life, we must always pray to Hashem to bring us closer through our falls. [Humility is very important. “When a person is arrogant, G-d removes Himself from them saying, ‘I and he cannot dwell in the same world'” (Sota 5a).]

II. Second Pillar: Revelation of G-dliness

We must know that G-dliness is being revealed to us all of the time. in most cases, this revelation is indirect. [“Every day a voice calls out from Sinai, saying, ‘Woe to humanity over the embarrassment of Torah'” (Avot 6:2).] Whatever we hear, see, or experience, from any person, are all the words of Hashem calling us to Him. [G-d’s Glory calls out from everything in creation… “(Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom #52)] It is through these messages that the things we need to achieve our spiritual perfection are sent from above…

When we find ourselves faced by contradictory messages, we must know that this is how creation has been designed in order to give us free will and test us. When we choose correctly, we separate out the good from the bad, and bring about a refinement for all of creation. This is why we must study the Code of Jewish Law, the Shulchan Aruch, every day (Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom #29)… “When G-d is pleased with a person’s ways, even one’s enemies will make peace” (Proverbs 16:7)…

III. Third Pillar: The Concealment

Know that all materialistic cravings stem from an inherent atheistic attitude we all have due to Hashem’s concealment. This is expressed in the egotistic idea we have that “my power and the strength of my hand has made for me all this might” (Deuteronomy 8:17). Because of our misunderstanding regarding Hashem’s concealment, we believe that we are in control of things in this world.

This attitude is literally idolatry. It is the source of the drive for material wealth, causing us to forget that Hashem alone is in control of every detail of our life, and everything comes only from Him…

The craving for excessive food is also rooted in this atheistic attitude. The true source of our strength and vitality lies in the flow of blessing coming down to us from Hashem, the Life of life. By requiring us to receive our vitality indirectly through food and drink, Hashem conceals Himself, giving us free choice. [“Perhaps you will eat and be satiated … the you will forget G-d” (Deuteronomy 8:12-14).] …

We should have this in mind when we say the blessings over food and all other material pleasures. (Likutei Moharan I:56)

III. Fourth Pilllar: Not Getting Angry

“When one hears someone insulting them, they should keep silent and hold their peace” (Likutei Moharan I:6). This is the foundation of t’shuva, of returning to Hashem. [There are two levels of t’shuva. The lower one comes from the fear of G-d’s punishment for one’s sins. The higher level is from the love of Hashem (Yoma 86b). “Those who happily accept their embarrassments for the sake of serving G-d are considered those who love Him” (Shabbat 88b).]

We must know that everything that happens to us even by another person, who has free will, ultimately comes from Hashem. [As King David was fleeing from his son, Abshalom, Shimi be Geira cursed David, who replied, “Leave him alone, G-d told him to curse me” (II Shmuel 16:5-11).] Everything is sent from Hashem for our own benefit, to cleanse us of our sins. [“Suffering removes sins” (Yoma 86a).]

The only way to fix what we need to fix in this life is through t’shuva. The main thing to know is that whatever happens, “From G-d this came to us” (Tehillim 118:23). We have to return, l’shuv, t’shuva, everything to Hashem through knowing that everything is from Him…

V. Fifth Pillar: T’shuva

Know that every time we are spiritually uplifted and thoughts of t’shuva begin to stir in us, if we then think “from now on, will certainly be a “good” Jew, I will certainly do …”, this is that admixture of the atheistic attitude that things are in “my power and the strength of my hand.” Such thoughts will lead to depression and will push us further away from Hashem.

If someone has been far from Hashem until now, it is because heaven held them back due to their [lack of merit for] not praying properly. [Rebbe Nachman teaches, “A person should pray one’s entire life to have the merit of saying even a single word of pure absolute truth before Hashem” (Likutei Moharan I:112).]

We must ask Hashem that no matter what may happen to us, we should always immediately remember that the main thing is to pray. Prayer is founded on extreme heights of holiness, to reveal that everything is in Hashem’s power.  Hashem says, “I will show favor to whom I will show favor” (Exodus 33:19). Hashem [based on His principle of ‘measure for measure’] will show favor to a person who asks Him for favor. Such a person comes to realize that there is never no hope! There is no despair at all, not in all the world! …

VI. Sixth Pillar: Action

Know that all things both in the spiritual and physical realms are in Hashem’s hands, arranging creation in such a way as to give us free choice. We need to chose, to act, with the understanding that this is our test, for Hashem to see how we will chose. It is Hashem’s will that we chose and act, even though things are not really up to us.

We must fulfill the positive mitzvot (commandments) of the Torah and guard against all sin and wrongdoing. This includes our dealings in worldly matters as well… We are commanded to descend into the concealment — to act as if everything is up to us, in order to reveal the G-dliness out of the concealment itself…

VII. Seventh Pillar: The Tzaddik

The final pillar is attachment to the True Tzaddik:

  1. The soud of Mashiach preceded the creation of the world. “The Tzaddik is the foundation of the world” (Proverbs 10:25)
  2. The Holy One, blessed be He, took counsel with this soul in the creation of the universe.
  3. He gave Hashem a guarantee that he will repair the universe.
  4. All the acts of devotion of all the world … all are through him. “He is faithful in all My house” (Numbers 12:7).
  5. To him Hashem has given sovereignty and kingship. “The Tzaddik rules in the fear of G-d” (II Shmuel 23:3).
  6. He is in the heavenly court.
  7. Hashem’s control over every detail in the spiritual and material realms is through him.
  8. He reveal prayer. “I am prayer” (Tehillim 109:4).
  9. He is the chariot of the Sh”khina.
  10. He is the holiness.
  11. He is the vitality of the entire universe.
  12. Through him, all devotions rise up to heaven.
  13. All arousal to t’shuva is through him.
  14. Through our attachment to the True Tzaddik, a spark of the light of the holiness of the Tzaddik is drawn into us, each according to one’s level.
  15. Parts of the soud of the Tzaddik are to be found in all of creation, especially in G-d’s People, and especially in all the true tzaddikim.
  16. Five times in the history of the world the path of truth has been renewed: through Moshe Rabbeinu, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria — the Ari, Rabbi Yisrael the Baal Shem Tov — the BeSHT, and “The flowing stream, the source of wisdom” (Proverbs 18:4) — Rebbe Nachman ben Feiga. From him until Mashiach, there will be nothing new.
  17. Wherever the concept of the Tzaddik is found in Likutei Moharan, the reference is to this Tzaddik.
  18. Prayer and the soul of Mashiach were revealed especially in King David.
  19. A person should not strive to become this Tzaddik. Anyone who deos so is a “false famed leader.” Each person must receive from this Tzaddik, whi is revealed every few generations…
  20. Know that there has never been such a unique figure as “The flowing stream, the source of wisdom.” He prepared the weapons with which our Righteous Mashiach will fight in order to put the world in order. May this be Hashem’s will. Amen.

Please understand that this is simply a brief, and very incomplete, overview of R’ Yitzchak Breiter’s Seven Pillars of Faith. In English, please refer to the source for this overview — Seven Pillars of Faith & A Day in the Life of a Brelsover Chassid, The Breslov Research Institute.