Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Feeling Guilty #2 -- Tikun HaBris

Here’s another chat, this one a Q. and A. on Tikkun HaBris and how it relates to the cultivation of true joy. And the dangers of guilt...

AG: Why is “spilling seed” so bad?

MG: The simple fact is that it shuts off happiness and purity. On the other hand, guilt about this is even worse. As usual…

If one falls in such a way there are steps to take. These are a way of reconnecting to Hashem. The first is to immerse in a men’s mikvah. The second is to say the ten psalms of tikkun haklali recommended by Rebbe Nachman. (16, 32, 41, 42, 59, 77, 90 105, 137, 150). Praying about this is also beneficial. G-d wants us to take it a step at a time and do what we can.

AG: But how does it “shut off happiness”?

MG: There are subtle ways to cut off happiness and connection.

The first pillar upon which everything essentially stands is emunah/ faith, not only in Hashem but also in oneself. One must internalize the truth, that every act of every person is exceedingly important, especially if the person is a Jew. Our true identity is our soul, and if we really knew how precious every action for good is, we would do our utmost to draw near to Hashem with every act.

Rebbe Nachman said, “You can profit for all eternity in this world without any outlay.” Of course, if one wishes to make it in business one needs to have money for initial expenses, etc. Not so regarding spiritual matters. Every instant of any sincere spiritual act is a slice of eternity. When the Vilna Gaon was on his deathbed he looked at his tzitzis and started to cry. When asked why, the Gaon replied, “In this world it is possible to pay a few pennies for tzitzis and earn eternity. I cry for the fact that it is now time to leave this world where one can gain eternity with such ease!”

In his commentary of Proverbs, the Gaon goes so far as to say that the main problem for one who sins is not the sin itself (although the sin is very serious indeed). The much more serious problem is the good which could have been done during the time one was sinning.
How much more so if one loses out even after the sin because of guilt!
When one comes to the next world, one will be happy for all the good which is an eternal gain. On the other hand, one will truly feel the loss of every lost opportunity. As the Chofetz Chaim put it, “In the next world it is possible to clean the bad out from the garment of one’s soul (in the sense of atonement for sin), but not to sew on a missing button (which represents positive action.)”

It is important to remember that it’s not enough to leave the bliss of spiritual connection to the next world. We have to learn how to experience it in this world. Otherwise human nature drives us to try to find the bliss in non-spiritual ways. These methods are illusions and the joy they bring does not last. Our job is to experience Gan Eden in this world through mitzvos and learning how to connect to Hashem at every moment of the day. Sometimes the bliss takes time to kick in, but if one perseveres, not only does it come in, it gets ever stronger.

One big starting point in this whole business is Shabbos. Shabbos is the time when one has the potential to feel the bliss of the next world. Another is Tefillin, which grants spiritual life and renewed vitality to one who wears them while working on connecting to Hashem. If one doesn’t know what tefillin is or doesn't bother to think about what he is doing while wearing them, it’s as if the mitzvah is a body without a soul that gives virtually no spiritual vitality. At least not in a revealed fashion. The Komarna Rebbe explains that when a person relates to donning tefilin as if he were strapping on rocks he is bound to feel nothing from it. (Women can also access the light in tefillin in a different way, but that’s not relevant to this discussion.)

If one learns what tefillin is or what Shabbos is and focuses on this before doing the mitzvos, one can feel true connection to Hashem.
The truth is that one who is really focused merits this all the time, on his own leve. As it says in Tehillim and in the beginning of Shulchan Aruch, :I have placed G-d before me always.” This refers to the spiritual bliss that one feels by coming to genuine faith and the serenity that is a product of humility. I mean the humility of being happy with who I am, not feeling better than anyone else, and doing my utmost to advance spiritually—especially when this it is easy for me. This humility is evidenced by striving to do what I can do with joy. Most importantly, it means focusing on the good in myself and being satisfied with where I am spiritually, even though I yearn for more. Humility doesn’t mean denying my strengths. It means seeing the truth about the fact that I am far from perfection and still doing what is good because I want to connect to Hashem. Regardless of my level, I must always hold fast to the certainty that Hashem loves me.

Bris means covenant. A person who blemishes in the area of his personal purity demonstrates his disbelief that every single act is significant, spiritual, and powerful. This is why this blemish is called in Hebrew a “mikreh.” This means a happenstance occurrence. The person is revealing a telling lack of faith in the fact that every good act one does is eternal. Obviously, this drains one’s happiness since it undermines his main source of happiness—his connection to eternity. If my actions have no lasting meaning, why live? The truth is the very opposite. It is only arrogance that gets in the way of enjoying my life this instant by doing what I can no matter what I may have done a moment ago. Blemishing the covenant drains one’s hope because one feels that there is no way to correct the problem.
Rav Nosson of Breslov writes that the main objective of the bad inside is to get us to give up on ourselves, since then we are liable to do virtually any evil thing. Thoughts like, “I”ll never beat this anyway, I might as well give up,” contribute to these feelings of despair and are far worse than the sin. Ironically, nothing could be further from the truth. Just because I don't feel that I have hope or that every good desire is forever doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Feelings aren’t facts.

Rav Avraham ben Rav Nachman explains that even if you do the worst sins in the world and only managed to do one good thing during your entire life, it was still worth living. The good point is stronger than the bad; only the good has true existence, the bad doesn’t. This is because the nature of eternity makes any unit of time filled with pain fade into insignificance. After the pain of purification, which is limited, the good keeps going and going and going forever. Rav Nosson once exclaimed in a drawn out manner the Yiddish word for eternity. As if to say, “Who can fathom eternity!” As he said, “Every good point is an eternal gain while every bad is a lost opportunity for eternity!”

Now we can understand the words of the Gaon better. The main problem is the lost good, not the bad. (Of course, the bad is no picnic but it is as nothing compared to the good that is lost while one is involved in negative thought, speech, and action.)

There are many levels of repentance. The lowest level is wishing you hadn’t done it even if you know you will most likely fall again. This is not the highest level of teshuvah, but it is definitely a level of teshuvah. It is the minimum and it is usually quite easy to reach. The highest level of teshuvah is when one turns the sin to merit. This level can be accessed by continuously doing what one can and working on connecting to Hashem and learning to value the good that can be accessed every instant. (Sometimes one really can’t do anything at all. The rule is if you really can’t, you shouldn’t.)

Getting married and having children is one of the rectifications of this blemish because it is the proper outlet for, and sanctification of, the power of Bris.

On the other hand, there is a time when a person feels trapped and falls. If this happens, it is important to correct this immediately by immersing in a Mikvah and saying the ten psalms of Tikun Haklali, then moving on by forgetting about it. The reason why this is so important is that obsessing about it can itself cause the problem. This is why when one is productively occupied, the problem is less acute.

There is a lot more to discuss on this matter if you like. To put it in a nutshell, never, ever give up and always keep starting over. Rav Nosson explains that Hashem gives us life to use each instant to draw closer to hHm despite our failings.
I think this is enough Torah for now (maybe even more than enough!). If anything is not clear I will be happy to try to explain it further.
As I mentioned above, this is a little bit about this problem and by no means comprehensive. I wish you a lot of connection and joy!

AG: I think the reason it is difficult to internalize that every action matters is that although many actions are mitzvahs, many of them are motivated by the yetzer hara. But through your writings I am starting to understand the Breslov way. It is extremely beautiful, and if I could summarize it in just a sentence, I would say that what it teaches is to focus only on the positive both in yourself and in other people, and as soon as destructive thoughts are present it is imperative to ignore them and not dwell on them.

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יואל המתחיל said...
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