The Torah of Hashem is Perfect

Rebbe Nachman explains to us (Likutei Moharan I: 74-B:9) the meaning of, “The Torah of Hashem is perfect, meshivat nefesh (restoring the soul)” (T’hillim 19:8). In this psalm, the Torah of Hashem is likened to the sun, since both bring light to the eyes. Another explanation is that the sun at times harms and exacts punishment and at other times it is a “benevolent sun with healing in its wings” (Malakhi 3:20). Similarly, Hashem’s Torah “is [always] perfect, restoring the soul” and protects those who study it.

That “”The Torah of Hashem is perfect,” as Rebbe Nachman notes, alludes to the wisdom of the Torah, which he calls “speech with wisdom.” This is the soul’s life-force, as written in the Zohar (III, 85b), “Worthy are those who know the paths of Torah, who endeavor [to fulfill] it in an upright manner. They plant a tree of life on high, which has the power to heal.”

This is unlike a person who during Torah study stammers out the words and cannot understand their meaning. Such Torah study is less than perfect. Rebbe Nachman refers to this as “speech without wisdom,” which lacks the power to heal the soul’s affliction.

When we attain the wisdom of Torah, our soul is rectified and we elevate it to its root. For the wisdom of Torah is the root of all things, since Hashem created the worlds with the Torah (B’reishit Rabba 1:1). In fact, all the worlds are renewed by means of the wisdom of Torah.

We must strive to understand Hashem’s Torah, each according to one’s level. Since the Torah of Hashem is perfect, by means of understanding the wisdom of Torah, we come to the level of “speech with wisdom.” When we understand the Torah, we then experience “The Torah of Hashem is perfect, meshivat nefesh (restoring the soul).” At this point, the Torah is able to restore our soul, and has the power to heal the soul’s affliction.

Based on Likutei Moharan, Volume IX, BRI (See notes there)

A Divided Heart

Rebbe Nachman teaches us that we “must l’avod (serve) Hashem with both inclinations, with the evil inclination being subservient to the good inclination” (Likutei Moharan I:62:2). Our Sages teach us, “You shall love Hashem your G-d with all levavekha (you heart) (Deuteronomy 6:5) — with both your inclinations (Berakhot 54a).

Our Sages teach us in Berakhot that we should use the energy generated by the yezter hara (evil inclination) to serve the objectives of the yetzer tov (good inclination).

The Torah uses the word levavekha (you heart), rather than the more more common form libkha. The Sages see the doubling of the vet in leVaVekha as an illusion to our heart’s two inclinations. Hence, they are telling us, “You shall love Hashem your G-d with both inclinations, by making your evil inclination subservient to your good inclination.”

Rebbe Nachman then tells us that a person’s heart should be whole with Hashem. There should be no makhloket (dispute) between one’s two inclinations, so that the heart should not be divided, which is an aspect of “Their heart is chalak (divided)” (Hosea 10:2).

Rashi offers two interpretations for “with all your levavekha” (Sifre, Ve’etchanan 7): namely, 1) with both your inclinations; 2) with your heart not divided against G-d. Rebbe here simply combines the two. With a heart not divided against Hashem, a person will be able to overcome all heretical thoughts.

The prophet Hosea speaks about idol worshiping Jews, whose hearts were divided against Hashem. Rebbe Nachman shows us that this is due to conflict within the heart, between a person’s good inclination and evil inclination. When a person is chalak (divided) between devotion to Hashem and submitting to one’s evil inclination, this makhloket (dispute) gives rise to heretical thoughts that distance the person from Hashem. Therefore, we must strive to serve Hashem with a whole heart.

Based on Likutei Moharan Volume VII, BRI, see notes there

Believing In Oneself

“The main thing is emuna (faith)” (Likutei Moharan II: 5:1)

Rabbi Natan tells us that working on our emuna, faith in Hashem, is the ultimate goal in life and fundamental to everything we do. “All Your mitzvot are emuna” (T’hillim 119:86). When we unconditionally believe in Hashem, the Torah, and the true tzaddikim, our emuna is complete. As discussed in Serving Hashem In Simplicityemuna exists only where knowledge does not.

Proper emuna includes believing that Hashem is the only true Reality, that He is the ultimate good, and that He governs His creation according to the principle of reward and punishment. Emuna in Torah includes believing that, as the Word of G-d, both the Oral and Written Torah are the manifestation of His Will and His instruction for how we are to draw close to Him. Emuna in true tzaddikim entails believing that these truly righteous individuals are sent by Hashem to guide us in proper understanding and practice of the Torah and greater devotion to Him, as discussed in, We Each Need a True Spiritual Guide.

There is actually a fourth area of emuna, distinct from the others, namely, the emuna a person must have in oneself. This requires believing that we are each precious in Hashem’s eyes, and that we also can know Him and have a direct connection to Him. Also, we must believe that, with Hashem’s help, each of us can succeed in our spiritual journey. All of the lofty spiritual goals mentioned about the true tzaddikim are attainable by us, each at one’s level. Hence, we cannot even start on our spiritual journey without having emuna in ourselves!

Based on notes in Likutei Moharan II, Volume XII, BRI

Self-Sacrifice In Serving Hashem

“Mesirat nefesh, self-sacrifice, is something a Jew does every hour of every day… In Midrash HaNe’elam (Zohar I, 124b) we find that [prayer] is the concept of ‘For Your sake we are slain all day long'” (Tehillim  44:23) (Likutei Moharan II: 46:1).

Mesirat nefesh, literally meaning, “soul-sacrifice,” refers to when we sacrifice, usually physically of financially, on behalf of another person, cause, or for the sake of Hashem.

The first example Rebbe Nachman gives in this lesson (LM II: 46) is giving tzedaka, charity. While many people like to say, “Time is money,” the money we earn is actually a part of our soul, for “he gives his soul for it” (Deuteronomy 24:15). To earn money, most of us have to sacrifice our soul through overcoming the struggles and dangers of work. In our time, just leaving our homes to travel to work can be dangerous enough, G-d forbid.

Afterwards, we take part of our money and we give it away for the sake of Hashem. “Should there be a pauper among you … you shall surely open your hand to him …” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8). As the Rebbe points out, giving tzedaka is a form of sacrificing one’s soul for Hashem.

Rebbe Nachman next discusses prayer as another form of self-sacrifice. The Rebbe cites the Midrash HaNe’elam‘s teaching that when we recite with concentration the verse from the Shema, “And you shall love Hashem your G-d” — intending to sacrifice our very soul for the sake of Hashem — it is as if we are actually being slain daily for Him, as in, “For Your sake we are slain all day long.”

Mesirat nefesh, self-sacrifice, is something everyone experiences in serving Hashem. As discussed here by the Rebbe, simply giving tzedaka, charity, is one way we sacrifice ourselves for Hashem. Another way is through the many obstacles we experience and must overcome before and during our prayers. In the future, bsd, we will take a closer look at some of these obstacles we experience before and during prayer…

Based on Likutei Moharan II, Volume IV, Breslov Research Institute

Serving Hashem In Simplicity

“The ultimate purpose and perfection is nothing other than to serve Hashem in complete simplicity, without any cleverness at all.” (Likutei Moharan II: 19)

Simplicity is one of the basic topics in Rebbe Nachman’s teachings. The Rebbe teaches, “When a person follows his own intellect and cleverness, he can fall into many mistakes and pitfalls, and come to great evil, G-d forbid” (Likutei Moharan II: 12).

The essence of Judaism is to conduct oneself at all times with simplicity, which entails studying Torah and fulfilling it, as described in the Talmud and Shulchan Aruck, without adding or subtracting from the Jewish Law. The Rebbe teaches that “one should see to it that everything that one does is for the sake of heaven … If an act brings glory to G-d, one should do it, and if not, not. Then one will never stumble” (Likutei Moharan II: 12).

Enhancing Hashem’s glory must become the intended goal of all of our actions. If a particular action will enhance G-d’s glory, we should do it; if not, it must be avoided. This is what the Rebbe means when he says that we must “serve Hashem in complete simplicity.”

Although chokhma means “wisdom,” Rebbe Nachman occasionally uses the plural form chokhmot as referring to the misuse of intellect in serving Hashem, of being too clever for one’s own good. If paths of wisdom in serving Hashem involve sophisticated reasoning, they are not true paths to Him.

We must always remember that it is only by serving Hashem in complete simplicity and without any cleverness that we merit, with Hashem’s help, to reach our ultimate purpose and perfection.

Based on Likutei Moharan.

Distancing To Be Brought Near

When a person begins serving Hashem, the way is that they show him rejection. It seems to him that he is being rebuffed from on high and they are preventing him from entering l‘avodat, into the service of, Hashem. In truth, all distancing is nothing but being brought near. (Likutei Moharan I: 48:1)

Rebbe Nachman is encouraging us in our service of Hashem. We need to understand what the Rebbe means by avodat Hashem. To truly serve Hashem means that our praying is no longer a distracted recital of words by rote, and our Torah study is more than simply attending an occasional shiur, lesson. It means completely immersing ourselves into our devotions, focusing more on each mitzva we perform and striving to perceive its deeper meaning in our mind and heart. It also means seeking closeness with Hashem in every aspect of our life. This leads to greater awareness that Hashem is always with us, because “the whole earth is filled with His glory” (Isaiah 6:3), which should lead us to true awe and love for Hashem.

In his above teaching, “they” refers to the spiritual forces Hashem sends as obstacles, which appear to us as rejection. “It is the case … that as soon as a person wants to follow the path of the upright, he is beset by judgments…” (Likutei Moharan I: 87). While this may sound rather disheartening, Rebbe explains that Hashem “hides within the obstacles, and anyone with insight will be able to find Him within the very obstacles” (Likutei Moharan I: 115).

While these obstacles may appear to us as a sign of Hashem’s rejection of us, G-d forbid, reality is that He is always with us, even hiding within the obstacles themselves! The Baal Shem Tov once asked, since everything, including that which to us appears to be “not so good,” is from Hashem, how is it that we experience pain and suffering? He answered that “whenever it become necessary for a person to endure rejection or suffering or the like, Heaven deprives him of his awareness of G-d, and at that moment he feels that suffering!” (Rabbi Eliyahu Chaim Rosen, as cited in LM II: 48 [n. 3], BRI)

In the midst of the confusion and darkness, we must believe that these obstacles are simply a test to determine if we are truly committed to serving Hashem. While they may appear as rejection from Hashem, G-d forbid, these obstacles placed by Hashem can increase our desire to serve Him.

The main point is that when we experience obstacles in our service of Hashem, we must remember and believe that all distancing is nothing but being brought near!

Based on Likutei Moharan Volume XIV, Breslov Research Institute.

Hashem’s “Concealment within Concealment”

Unfortunately, many in our generation have committed so many sins that they have fallen into “concealment within concealment.” This “double” concealment can cause the person to fall into despair, G-d forbid, to feel there is no hope for them.

The first concealment is described as, “One who sins and repeats the sin perceives the sin as something permitted” (Yoma 86b). “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). In this case, one is aware that Hashem is concealing Himself, due to the person’s sin. The person is also aware that what appears permissible is actually forbidden. In this single concealment, it is possible through Torah study to arouse oneself and come to know Hashem.

The second level of concealment is when a person continues in their sin and improper path. Hashem becomes concealed from the person in a “concealment within a concealment.” The person is completely oblivious to the fact that Hashem is hidden, and neither knows nor senses the need to search for Him. In fact, all evil things now appear to this person to be completely upright, G-d forbid. This second case is similar to, “I will haster astir (thoroughly hide)” (Deuteronomy 31:18). This is the “concealment within concealment.”

However, in truth, we must believe that even in all the concealments, including the “concealment within concealment,” Hashem is present. It is only that due to our sins, Hashem “hides” His presence from us. At this time, Hashem’s Torah cries out, “How long will you fools go on loving foolishness?” (Zohar III, 57b-58a). Through concerted effort in Torah study, the person begins to hear this voice, rousing the person to do t’shuva (repentance) and return to Hashem.

Based on Likutei Moharan I, 56:3