Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rebbi Nachman on Overcoming Negative Thoughts

This is a recent chat I had with a student which I thought might be helpful.
Micha: You have given me two examples of trains of thought that have been troubling for you. Have we ever discussed Rebbe Nachman’s advice on how to maintain positive thoughts and avoid negative ones?

A.: No, I don’t think we have.

Micha: Hard to believe, but I think you are right about that. Rebbe Nachman explains that thoughts come in a train, one after the other, and the process can be compared to a clock ticking off the seconds.

A.: ok

Micha: Although many thoughts seem to crowd our minds, in reality we can only think one thought at a time However, sometimes a thought can be harmful and cause bad feelings, and it is important to know how to redirect our minds. We must know that our thoughts are like riding a horse. When the horse strays from the path you just turn the reins and go back on the way you wish to travel. He says that one should just start a new train of thought, but you must be vigilant not to "look back" to see if the other thoughts are gone, since this will make them come back.

A.: Ok.

Micha: The “replacement” thoughts can be in Torah, which is the best option, or even in any positive subject that engages you.

A.: So can you give me an example of what I should be thinking about right now at this very moment?

Micha: Sure. Rebbe Nachman’s teachings on joy, or an interesting Chasidic ma'amar, or anything to draw your attention away from this device of your yetzer hara. It works. If you find yourself back there or in another negative place, you just do it again.

A.: So eventually it will be easier?

Micha: Precisely. If you keep trying you will find that you can do it.

A.: How do I remind myself to do this? Because I am so used to following this "train" of thought.

Micha: It’s a matter of desire and persistence. Now at least when you notice that you are anxious you can redirect your thoughts.

A.: You know it is so much easier for me to do work while listening to music because the music puts my mind completely at ease.

Micha: The main thing is not to get bothered or try to fight this with force. If you feel basically positive you should be able to manage fairly easily, with Hashem’s help. Even if not, it is your choice. Just stay cool and redirect your negative thoughts as they arise, without struggle.

A.: Every second that we have been chatting, I have been battling with myself to force the horse back on the path.

Micha: Excellent. No two thoughts can occupy the mind at the same instant. All you need to do is redirect. In this manner you are on a different train to better places.

A.: Amen. Thank you, Rabbi.

Micha: My pleasure, as always! This has worked for countless people.

A.: It’s so good, I’m starting to laugh already. It slows me down so well inside.

Micha: Rav Nosson writes, "Leave the goy (bad thoughts) standing there." He has a long piece about it.

A: Where can I read it?

Micha: I really think you should be learning Reb Nosson's letters in English. They were published in a four volume set as, “Eternally Yours,” by Breslov Research Institute.

A.: ok

Micha: He discusses this and chizuk in general at length.

A.: When you say you think I should be learning...when do you mean that? All the time?

Micha: I will send you a piece I wrote on it.

A.: Excellent.

Micha: Yes, at least one letter a day, which should take five or ten minutes.
This advice holds true for all readers who have not yet learned this wonderful work. Even five minutes a day can change your life. It did mine.
Here is the link to the piece I did for my friend, "A Simple Jew":"Best Source of Chizuk"

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Get Up!

The Steipler, zt”l, said that the more one has potential to be truly great in Torah, the more hardships and difficulties he has learning. These challenges can assume many forms, both physical and emotional. But such hardships are very discouraging.
When Rav Aharon Lieder, shlit”a, was asked how to overcome the spiritual paralysis that a spiritual fall naturally causes, he offered a very helpful strategy. “We say when we complete every chumash, חזק חזק ונתחזק—‘Be strong, be strong, and we will be strengthened.’ We see from this that we must always be strong no matter what befalls us. In whatever situation, no matter where one has fallen, he must not let this get to him in any way. On the contrary, he should immediately pick himself up and do his utmost to avoid falling in the future.
“We learn this from Bava Kama 31. There we find that two potters were coming down the street, one in front of the other. One tripped and the other one tripped over the first, so the first must pay damages. Rav Yochanan explains there that the first is responsible for the damages of the second since he didn’t get up. Even if the potter is not responsible for his actual fall, he is obligated if he did not get up and remained an obstacle in the path of the other who came behind him.
“The same is true in spiritual matters. One who falls in avodas Hashem is not yet considered a willful sinner since ‘Hashem is not a tyrant,’ as we find in Avodah Zara 3. A person is not an angel. But if he fell, why didn’t he immediately get back up again? This is the meaning of the verse, ‘The tzaddik falls seven times, and rises.’ A tzaddik is not one who doesn’t fall; a tzaddik is one who gets up after each fall!”

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Holy Eating

Once Rav Marei Ratzon ben Amram, zt"l, the Chief Rabbi of Shrav, noticed that one of the regular mispallelim had been absent for three days in a row. He figured that the man must be ill, and so he went to visit him. The Rav knocked on the door and was shown in by the man’s wife. The absentee was obviously not sick since he was eating his lunch with gusto.
The congregant saw the Rav and stood in his honor, and even after they sat down the baal habayis didn’t resume his meal out of respect for his distinguished visitor.
“Why don’t you continue eating?” asked the Rav. “How can you disregard the Shechinah for a mere mortal?”
“What does the Rav mean?” wondered the baal habayis.
“We learn this from a clear verse in the Torah: ‘And they saw G-d, and they ate and drank.’ (Shemos 24:11) This verse indicates that a person is able to recognize and contemplate the greatness of the Creator when he eats. As he contemplates that it is Hashem who sustains all living things, he can also use the opportunity to mediate on how needy and frail human beings are. He can feel both the kindness of the Creator and how small a person is. He can also consider the functions of digestion and elimination of waste, and he will find that it helps him appreciate his own human limitations. This will affect him positively, because it will inspire him to cleave to Hashem and use every bit of strength to pray and learn as much as possible.
The Rav then remarked pointedly, “While we are on the topic of praying, where have you been? Chazal say that Hashem asks after a regular mispallel who misses even one day!”
The man was abashed. “My tallis tore and I was too ashamed to come to shul.”
“That is a reason to make Hashem ask after you? I will arrange to have a new one sent to you. But don’t forget: if you think about the greatness of Hashem and the smallness of mankind while you eat, you will draw very close to Hashem!”

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Rainbow

The group was learning the Daf Hayomi as usual, and they were up to Kesuvos daf 77b. They had reached the Gemara’s description of the meeting between Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Rabbi Shimon asked Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi, “Was the rainbow ever seen in your day?”
“Yes, it was,” answered Rabbi Yehoshua.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai declared, “If so, you are not worthy of the proclamation that Eliyahu Hanavi had made earlier on your behalf: ‘Make way for ben Levi!’”
The Maggid Shiur said, “Rashi explains that the rainbow is a heavenly sign of the promise that Hashem made to spare the world from another flood. If there is a complete tzaddik living in the generation, there is no need for such a sign.”
One of the members of the shiur interjected, “I don’t understand this at all. A rainbow is the natural result of the refraction of light through a prism. How can we say that the presence of a tzaddik worthy of protecting the generation from a flood can be seen in the absence of a rainbow? Isn’t it just a natural part of creation?”
The Maggid Shiur replied, “The Rama answered this question in a very beautiful and simple way. In the years before electric lighting, the only way that a rainbow could be seen by a large group of people at once was when it rained during the day—that is the sunlight just after a rainstorm refracting through the remaining moisture in the air. The gemara in Taanis 23a and the Sifrei in Eikev explain the verse, ‘V’nasati matar artzechem b’ito’—‘and I will send the rain of your land in its proper time,’ to mean that when the Jewish people are worthy, Hashem will only send rain on Tuesday night and Leil Shabbos.
The Maggid Shiur concluded, “This is why the rainbow is not seen when there is a true tzaddik in the generation. When we are zocheh through the great merit of a very elevated tzaddik, it rains at night when there is no light!”

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Pocketing Pennies

The Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, was very emphatic about the importance of keeping Shabbos. He helped many people who had difficulty with understanding the absolute inviolability of this mitzvah put things into their true perspective.
Once, when the Chofetz Chaim was in Moscow to attend to yeshiva business, he heard about a certain observant Jew who owned a factory that unfortunately did not close down until several hours into Shabbos and which began work again the following day while it was still daylight. When this wealthy factory owner came to greet him, the Chofetz Chaim related the following parable:
“A certain non-Jewish peasant would sell the sacks of grain he had grown to a Jewish wholesale merchant. The way they kept track of how much grain had been brought in was to fill the scale over and over again to its maximum capacity, as they marked a line on the wall to keep track of how many times the scale had been filled. The scale held a total of sixteen kilograms, and when they multiplied this number by the number of lines on the wall, they would determine the exact weight of the grain being sold.
He continued, “One day, the peasant realized that if the Jew wanted to cheat him, all he would need to do would be to erase some of the lines while he dragged in his sacks! So he insisted that they change their method; the Jew would give the peasant a small coin to hold after each scale-full. The Jew readily agreed. However, as the coins passed into the peasant’s hands, he foolishly looked on it as an opportunity to pocket a little spare change at the Jew’s expense. Without thinking, the peasant cheated himself out of the value of several scales-worth of grain!
The Chofetz Chaim concluded, “Chazal tell us that in the merit of keeping Shabbos, Hashem blesses our endeavors. When one steals an hour or two from his Shabbos observance in order to make money, he is just like this foolish peasant. It’s like pocketing pennies and throwing away thousands!”

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Balancing Chizuk with Divine Service

Anonymous commented on "Toiling in Torah": "Respectfully: i think a point is missing here. it is not fair to compare parents and children. to expect or even hope that a child will go beyond a parent in torah is not showing kindness or fairness to the child. HaShem makes everyone different. Our goal is to be the best person 'we' can be. not in relation to another.
sadly, i think much damage and hurtful pressure is put on some kids to "be like" or 'exceed' their parents achievements.
doesn't it says by pirke avot(?) to encourage a child in "its" way?

the famous story of reb zushya getting to heaven and H' asking not why were you not moshe but why were you not zushya!!!

this is the key. certainly children should be encouraged to do well, to work hard, to excel.

if a child works in torah like his parent then let the child find his own way in torah.

sorry, i strongly disagree here."

My answer: You are totally correct that each person has his own derech.
It is well known that pressuring children is the number one cause of "off the derech syndrome." Any pressure must be very balanced and with so much love and caring that these traits are palpable to the child. This is clear in Chazal: "Push them away with the left hand while drawing them near with the right."
But I don't think this piece implies otherwise--it certainly was not meant to.
The two talmedei chachamim discussed were not children. Even as adults, no one told them what the Ohr Sameach said or embarrassed them. This story was told long over after they left the world to teach a lesson.
The Ohr Sameach knew them well and saw that for all their erudition and refinement, they could have been much more. With more hard work would have reached comparable greatness to their father (=gedolei hador.)
But this does not mean that they would have followed exactly the same path or written the same works. There were many children who reached--or even surpassed-- their father's greatness yet clearly blazed their own trail in learning and avodas Hashem. One well known example of this is the Chacham Tzvi and Rav Ya'akov Emden.
Even in our time, Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita may very well have reached his father's greatness even though his path is different from his father's in many many ways.
This in no way implies that everyone can surpass their father in learning. The Arizal says that some people are just not cut out for learning. Some of these souls have already done their learning in earlier lifetimes. In any event that is not their mission here at all.
when the elderly tzaddik exhorted his students that if they toil they will reach such exalted levels he meant each person would reach their true potential.
The Mishna Berurah writes that one who does all he can spiritually is equal in Hashem's eyes to a second person who is more talented and also does all he can. In this sense if the students do all they can they will equal these gedolim.
In addition, it is possible to "expand one's soul" and achieve greatness where none was there before. (There are a great many sources for this concept.)
One example of this is Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita. When he was a child his father would write down the tractates he needed from the shelf before sending young Chaim since the young man would forget any name by the time he made it to the shelf. He worked and toiled with purity and prayer and look where he ended up.
The Chazon Ish would often say that gadlus is not necessarily found in people with the greatest talent but the ones who want Hashem the most and are the hardest workers.
The man who retold this story apparently noticed that people were not working as hard as they should and wished to encourage them to reach their full potential. I think it is safe to say the same about most people in our time as well.
Although I really don't believe we disagree on any count, this piece was written mainly to encourage each person to internalize how precious every little bit of spiritual light is in our dark times.
We should all rejoice in our spiritual accomplishments and be filled with chizuk so we are able to safely tax ourselves to grow just a little bit more each day.
Let us not forget that although Reb Nosson of Breslov says that one needs mostly chizuk, he also says that avodas Hashem that is only chizuk is not the path of the truly righteous.
It is important to note that there are exceptions to this rule. One exception is someone who is so broken that he needs immense chizuk just to be made whole again. Although this healing process takes time, it should not last forever. When one is finally repaired he needs to advance spiritually. Yet even someone in such a "healing mode" must at least yearn to be better each day. And just like the rest of us; if he falls he needs to make a new beginning. Rebbe Nachman revealed that sometimes one needs to make many new beginnings in one day. Rav Nosson promises that if we keep at it we will eventually achieve our spiritual mission. This is why giving up is the worst spiritual evil.Despair is a direct result of judging Hashem to be unloving and judging oneself to be beyond salvation and is false on both counts.
Hashem should give us all immense chizuk so we are strong enough to keep climbing spiritually one step at a time!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Toiling in Torah

Rav Yehudah learns from the verse, “As water reflects back one’s face, so too does the heart of one reflect another’s,” that understanding in Torah is according to the effort one invests.
Rav Abba Yaakov Borchov, zt”l, author of Shut Chevel Yaakov, had many illustrious teachers. At first he learned with Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, zt”l and he subsequently spent three years learning b’chavrusah with the Maharil Diskin, zt”l, and his son Rav Yitzchok Yerucham, zt”l. He later learned in Kovno with Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector, zt”l, and was ordained by him. When Rav Abba Yaakov was already elderly, he settled in Yerushalayim, where his shiurim were extremely well attended.
Once he reminisced, “Two of my mentors merited children who were great in Torah but did not reach the greatness of their illustrious fathers. Rav Yitzchok Yerucham, the son of the Maharil Diskin, and Rav Tzvi Hirsch, the son of Rav Yitzchok Elchonon. I always thought the reason for this was similar to what the Maharal of Prague, zt”l, says about Moshe Rabbeinu’s children: ‘Since Moshe Rabbeinu had a ma’alah that surpassed the attainments of regular human beings, his children couldn’t reach his exalted level.’
Rav Abba Yaakov continued, “When I shared this thought with the Ohr Someach (who knew and respected the two sons highly for their greatness in Torah and their refinement of character), he disagreed vehemently. ‘The children had the potential to reach their fathers’ levels. The sole reason they didn’t is that they didn’t exert themselves as much as their fathers had!’
The elderly tzaddik concluded, “The same holds true for all of us! If we toil as Rav Yitzchok Elchonon did, we will reach his level! If we exert ourselves like the Maharil Diskin, we will reach his exalted level!”
The Chazon Ish, zt”l, said, “If someone were to put in the effort that the Maharsha did nowadays, he would come out with a much greater work. The harder the test, the more one must exert himself to overcome it. The greater the effort, the more siyatta d’Shmaya one merits!”

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Best Doctors

When Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zt”l, was sick, he was treated by a certain doctor with great self--sacrifice. Night and day, this physician was on call to do everything in his power to help him get well.
Once, this doctor asked the Rav, “Rabbi, I really cannot understand the mishnah in Kiddushin 82 which states that the best doctors go to Gehinom. Is this a fitting reward for a doctor who gives his all and faithfully treats his patients with skill and caring?”
The Rav smiled slightly and replied, “This is not the meaning of the mishnah. Surely, the fate of a doctor is not predetermined to Gehinom! Rather, this is an exhortation to the doctor regarding his approach to his patients. He should not expect that they are in the serene state of those who feels connected to Gan Eden. On the contrary, the life of a sick man is a living hell and it is into that place that the best doctors must be willing to venture to treat the severely ill!”
On another occasion Rav Sonnenfeld explained why this could not be taken literally. “Does not the gemara say that saving one Jewish life is like saving an entire world?”
When Rav Aharon of Belz, zt”l, was in Pest, a certain doctor wished to see him but was brusquely rebuffed at the door by the gabbai. “It is not a good time to see the Rebbe now,” he claimed.
When the Rebbe asked him what that was all about, the gabbai answered, “Some doctor. ‘The best of them go to Gehinom!’”
“Chas v’shalom!” the Rebbe vehemently replied. “You do not understand the meaning of that gemara. Chazal tell us of the great self-sacrifice of the best doctors. While treating their patients they feel that they stand on the brink of Gehinom since one false move can cause irreparable damage or death, G-d forbid…”
The Rebbe immediately ordered that the doctor be found and ushered in to see him.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Selfless Service

Chazal say that lashon hara brings no physical pleasure to the speaker, much in the way that a snake enjoys no physical benefit from biting. The Avnei Nezer zt”l explains that this is why the incense atones for the sin of lashon hara. During the actual burning of the incense, the Kohein Gadol experiences no physical pleasure from the odor. Chazal stated that even he cannot be physically present while he stands within the cloud of the incense, for “no man shall be in the ohel moed...” (Vayikra Rabbah 16:17, #21) How, then, could he have both stood in that place and not been present? When ruach hakodesh rested on him in the kodesh kodashim, it elevated him to the level of an angel, in a state of complete transcendence of his physical senses. This uplifting was a result of the Kohein Gadol’s selflessness, his lack of expectation of receiving any material reward from the avodah.
The Mei Hashiloach zt”l writes that, in this respect, the Kohein Gadol represents the gadol ha’dor. Like the Kohein Gadol, the Torah leader of the generation often does not derive any gain from his toil on behalf of the Jewish people. This is why their words are able to bestow spiritual life for all time—because everything they do is for the sake of heaven.
Rav Leib zt”l, the son of the Chofetz Chayim zt”l, once asked his father a question that touched on this subject.
“Father, will people ever know and understand how hard you worked and how much effort you put into writing each and every word of the Mishnah Berurah?”
The Chofetz Chayim replied, “What does it matter if no one praises me or even comprehends how much work went into its writing? If they don’t realize that they should be grateful for all my efforts, what difference does it make? Do I toil to receive their applause? My only desire is to honor Hashem—and He knows all about every single effort I expended!”

A Fool for Honor

Our Rabbi’s teach that one exclusionary statement following another is inclusive. The Chidushei HaRim zt”l explains this principle figuratively: “diminishment followed by diminishment is only meant to make great.” We are made great in the eyes of others to the degree that we minimize ourselves.
Rav Eliyahu Lopian zt”l once told about a big baal chessed who was a simple man. Years earlier, he had saved the life of the governor and this gave him a degree of influence not enjoyed by other Jews. The man’s relationship with the governor enhanced his ability to help people in need, and even allowed him to secure army exemptions for many yeshivah students. Unfortunately, the man’s efforts on behalf of other Jews were matched by an equally strong drive to be honored publicly. He rationalized that more prestige would further his efforts on behalf of the community.
Once, when he was visiting Slabodka, he began to boast about his accomplishments. He crowed, “You batlanim should give someone like me shishi—even the Chofetz Chayim agrees!”
He then related that he had met with the gadol ha’dor and complained that since he didn’t receive the honor he deserved, his ability to help the community was compromised.
The Chofetz Chayim offered an explanation. “Why do Chazal say that honor flees before all who pursue it, and that it pursues all who run from it? Why do we need the word all? It would be enough to just say “those who pursue it,” or “those who run from it!” Apparently, the extra word “all” teaches that honor flees from everyone who chases it, even one who deserves honor as much as you do. And anyone who flees from it, even someone as unworthy as myself, is pursued by it!”
The foolish man exclaimed, “You see, even the Chofetz Chayim admits that I am worthy of more honor!”
Rav Eliyahu concluded: “Just see how much a person can make a fool of himself for a little kavod!”

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Do What you Can

The Chidushei HaRim, zt”l, teaches a powerful lesson: one who acts as a ben aliyah would despite his shortcomings, will eventually become one. One is only divorced from spirituality when he gives up on spiritual ascent because of his flaws.
A young bochur once came to Rav Wolbe, zt”l, feeling very confused and frustrated. He said, “I don’t know what to do with myself! Sometimes I feel very drawn to spiritual matters like learning with a fire and davening. At other times I act in ways not befitting a ben Torah. What is my avodah worth if I keep falling into the same spiritual morasses?”
The Mashgiach replied, “Your feelings are the result of a simple fact: as long as one is young, one finds in himself various contradictions. On the one hand, you may be very drawn to spiritual matters. You have a taste in davening and can literally pour out your heart to Hashem. You may feel an incredibly intrinsic identification with the Torah that you learn. On the other hand, you also might enjoy joking around and making fun of things with friends.
The Mashgiach continued, “So what should you do? Just because you enjoy joking around and sometimes even wander into the realm of leitzanus, is that an excuse not to daven with kavanah? Surely this path only leads to complete estrangement from spiritual growth! Quite the contrary—since you notice this flaw in yourself and this bothers you, this should be a reason to exert yourself all the more to daven with a geshmack and seek spiritual growth in any way you can! In time you will be drawn more and more after spiritual elevation until you outgrow your spiritual immaturity altogether.”
The Mashgiach concluded, “Until then you must learn to bear the unflattering assessment of your peers and even consent to be the brunt of their jokes. If you persevere, however, you will overcome your weaknesses and flourish!”

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Balanced Chizuk

Alice asked for guidance regarding a very important issue in the comments: How [does] one remain positive the majority of the time yet also allow for the release of pain in a healthy way—in a way that allows for pouring out one’s heart?

This problem is so prevalent that Reb Nosson of Breslov warns against it in the very first piece of Likutei Halachos. The Midrash teaches regarding the red heifer, “Let the mother come and clean up after her child.” The child of the heifer is the golden calf, the paradigm of willful sin, and the cleansing from the impurity of death (through the ashes of the red heifer as prescribed in the Torah) symbolizes the internal cleansing of teshuvah. This is achieved by focusing on our good points and returning to our real identity, which makes the negative fall aside. Just as the red heifer must be completely unblemished (since if it is blemished it is disqualified,) the good within us is absolutely unsoiled by whatever bad we may have done.
But this focusing on the good is double-edged; like the ashes of the heifer, it can defile the pure even as it purifies the impure. Seeking out our own good points is appropriate for when we are feeling discouraged and far from Hashem, because it ensures that we won’t fall completely. However, when we are in a good state, such a focus can easily lead to arrogance. Knowing when to focus on the good in ourselves and when to focus on how far we have to go is a great challenge. Perhaps this is what Shlomo HaMelech referred to when he said that although he had tried to understand it, the mystery of the red heifer remained “far” from him.

It is important to put this into perspective. When chizuk is as it should be, it empowers us to do all we can to serve Hashem. Reb Nosson writes that chizuk engenders a feeling that Hashem is truly near and even the smallest good is eternal. The natural outcome of this is that one does everything he can to serve Hashem.
While we are waiting for Hashem to finally grant our prayers and help us truly appreciate the importance of even the smallest good act or prayer, we can fall into the false-chizuk about which Reb Nosson warns. In this state one focuses on the positive even when he should be moving ahead by seeing what is still incomplete in him. This can bring a person to various levels of arrogance that manifest in different ways. In a person who has a more calm type of personality the arrogance from too much chizuk often leads to complacency or spiritual indifference. In more dynamic temperaments, inappropriate chizuk can lead to feelings of depression, unwarranted anger, or emotional buildups which burst out in an unhealthy way.

Before we discuss what to do about this, it is important to note that people tend to need more chizuk than hisorerus (inspiration to change). Reb Nossson actually prescribes the balance: one full “plate” of chizuk for every small spoonful of hisorerus. So our major focus should always be chizuk. Clearly, finding this balance in ourselves is a step-by-step process that can take many years.
So how exactly does one practically achieve this? Although Rebbe Nachman provides more than enough advice relevant to this problem to literally fill a book, I will only write here what has worked for me in my personal experience.
I have noticed that the more chizuk I have gained, the less depression has been a problem for me. Now my problem is just realizing that I am in a “low state” and applying the appropriate chizuk teaching to help me overcome it. As Rav Nissan Dovid Kivak has explained, there are many different pathways to chizuk. Many people find that sometimes one will work, while at other times a different method will be efficacious.
The same holds true regarding the other issues for me. I need to notice that I have one of the above problems and apply the correct spiritual medicine.

Hisbodedus is a very powerful path and the best healthy way to channel unhealthy emotion as Rebbe Nachman writes. The most powerful method for me is to completely nullify myself to Hashem as Rebbe Nachman discusses. What helps me the most is to just hope to Hashem with my whole being. The Ramchal writes that the Hebrew word for hope (kivuy) is also the same as the word for “line,” since one who hopes to Hashem with his whole heart attains a direct “lifeline” to Hashem. First hoping to Him and then begging is one way to diffuse such emotions. The Ramchal adds that just as a worried person is depressed and experiences spiritual death, one who hopes to Hashem is filled with vitality and joy.
In addition Rebbe Nachman discusses screaming during hisbodedus and prayer. He speaks of the silent scream, an internal cry that is fully visualized and felt within that one has resort to even when surrounded by people, which also helps release negative feelings.

I have found that what works best for me is to find the source of what is causing such feelings and work on changing my attitude. The first step is feeling truly grateful to Hashem that it is not worse. We call this, “Ba’tzar hirchavta li”—“In trouble, You have broadened for me.” Even in “trouble,” there is always some aspect of “harchava”—of broadening or opening, of ease. This has become such second nature for me that no matter what happens I immediately see something positive and usually thank Hashem for it on the spot.
This attitude eventually leads a person to joyously thank Hashem from the bottom of his heart for all the good even though he has not lost sight of the challenges. Rebbe Nachman calls this transforming the bad to good. He explains that just as a spoilsport will avoid a circle of joyous dancers so as not to be swept up into a happy mood, the bad attitudes and feelings also run away the moment we have a truly joyous attitude. They aren’t brought into the “circle”—they are just biding their time on the side. The true rectification of the negative feelings is to “draw them in”—to transform them by “dragging them into the circle” by force. This means that one must use the opportunity afforded by being in a positive state to chase down his fleeing issues and work on them.
Hashem should grant us the vitality and joy of balanced chizuk!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Balancing Divine Sevice with Chizuk

Anonymous commented on "Cry to Hashem!" "What if you can't cry like that?
What if trying to do that makes you sick, so you can't do it?

what if trying or even attempting that makes your head hurt terribly, makes your stomach sick and you cannot go to work as a result?

what the heck are you supposed to do then?

this seems very unfair.

Excellent question! The answer is: If you can't then don't. Do what you can and yearn for more, while working on being happy with what you have.
One who does his or her utmost to fulfill a mitzvah and doesn't manage it for reasons beyond his control is considered to have fulfilled the mitzvah to the hilt.
Regarding children there is a very inspiring Midrash: When a childless person who yearned for children with all his or her heart leaves this world he or she will be very surprised to be presented with many children of his or her own in the hereafter.
"But I didn't have any children," he will stammer.
"These are yours since those who had them didn't really want them; the only reason they came into being was through your yearning and prayers."
Although progress is important it must be step by step. In the meanwhile we must avoid feelings that we are invalidated because we don't see how every prayer and mitzvah is another step towards reaching our goals. We must internalize that yearning and hoping to Hashem on whatever level we can --without overdoing it or getting sick from it--is in and of itself is more precious to Hashem than we can possibly imagine.
Rebbe Nachman said that even one moment of the struggle each person endures trying to come closer to Hashem on his own level is more precious to Hashem than a thousand years of an angel's impeccable divine service. The reason for this is simple. Because angle has nothing preventing him from serving Hashem his service is effortless and virtually worthless.
It follows that the more challenged one is, the more precious any little bit of spiritual movement is. A person with every advantage who seems more spiritually advanced may be on a much lower level than another person with greater challenges. Even if the more challenged person does much less, he is still higher.
Rav Nosson of Breslov explains that ethical works which make people feel depressed were not written to cause feelings of despair. On the contrary, their author's purpose was to give one a feeling that every tiny movement of spiritual advancement priceless and to encourage one to never pass up even the smallest opportunity for spiritual advancement.
If one finds that such works cause him despair he should not learn them since they are above one's ability for the moment. Instead one should fight feelings of despair by focusing on the positive and working to internalize that every little bit of good is very precious.
Eventually when one has amassed enough chizuk he can go back to concepts that were above him and slowly apply them to his life. Until that time, one must yearn to change for the better while never allowing this to overwhelm or cause depression. How to do this will have to wait for a later post b'ezras Hashem.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Cry to Hashem!

The Beraisa states that when various calamities would strike the Jewish people, they would not blow the shofar as they would in certain cases but would rather cry out in prayer. Truly heartfelt prayer can bring deliverance even when we deserve the punishment that befalls us!
Once, an avreich who had been married for many years without children came to Rav Shimshon Pinkus, zt”l, and cried before him about his terrible misfortune.
Rav Pinkus said to him, “Meet me here at two in the morning and we will see what can be done to remedy your trouble.”
The young man joined the Rav at two in the morning and they traveled to a very deserted spot outside of the city. The Rav exited the car with the young man and said, “You are now alone in the desert, there is only you and Hashem. Cry to Him and plead before him about your problem from the depths of your heart like you would tell a friend standing right beside you. This is your only hope! I shall return in a half an hour.”
After half an hour had elapsed, the Rav returned and gazed at the young man. He remonstrated with the young man, “You haven’t cried nearly enough! Cry! Plead from the deepest depths of your heart! Beg the King with your whole soul!”
Rav Pinkus then got into his car and drove off into the night.
After exactly half an hour, the Rav returned a second time. In the interim, the young man had wept so much that even his clothes were soaked through with his tears.
Rav Pinkus smiled at him and said, “This is what I meant! Now you will surely see a yeshuah!”
The young couple had their first child that very year!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Rav Nosson's Final Night

It was the tenth of Teves, 1844, the last night of the life of Rav Nosson of Breslov, zt”l. Although he had already been very ill for a number of years with a chronic and worsening intestinal illness, he still “strengthened himself like a lion” and arose at midnight to recite the chatzos service and spend an hour in heartfelt prayer to Hashem. Rav Nosson had adopted this practice in his youth, and never let go of it until the day he died.
Afterward his prayers, he committed his final words to writing: “We find in the beginning of Moed Katan that one may water crops on chol ha’moed if they would be otherwise ruined (beis hashlachin) and the owner will sustain a financial loss. This symbolizes how the true shepherds of the Jewish people are always trying to draw those who are weak closer to Hashem. And this is especially true of those neshamos that are completely exhausted and cannot go on. This is one way to understand the concept of davar ha’aved—it refers to those souls that seem on the verge of being completely lost, G-d forbid. These neshamos require an injection of new vitality that will help them blossom so that they can live the good life of emunah and closeness to Hashem.
“This is why the Targum renders the word shelachin as ‘Eretz ayefa utsemaya,’ a tired and thirsty land. These are the souls who are tired and thirsting for closeness to Hashem.
“The first step in slaking that thirst is to convince the person that it is never to late to do teshuvah. And this is true of even the biggest sinner who has done the worst things until it seems that they could sink no lower. The truly righteous do not give up hope that even such a person will return. And they try with all their might to encourage such people. We must never write a person off!”

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Confounding the Soton

Chazal tell us that on Rosh HaShanah we blow teruah and tekiyah both before and after the amidah in order to confuse the Soton, the heavenly accuser. Tosefos birngs the Yerushalmi which explains that our sounding the shofar at those two points is meant to echo the sound of the “great shofar” that will herald the end of death and evil in times to come.On hearing these blasts, the Soton is reminded that his reign is going to end, and so he gets confounded and does not have the “presence of mind” to accuse us. Of course, the obvious question is why the Soton doesn’t learn from year to year?
When the Imrei Emes, zt”l, was asked this, he responded with the words of Rav Pinchas of Koritz, zt”l: “Every year there is a new Soton!” He can’t learn from year to year since there is a new one appointed every single year!
Rav Elazar of Bialastok, zt”l, was one of the students of the Kotzker Rebbe, zt”l. He was known for his biting wit, and once he decided to employ it to give a certain group of people some moral direction.
Rav Elazar said, “When I come to the next world and they ask me why I didn’t learn enough, I will say that I was busy working. If asked why I thought this was more important than spiritual matters, I will respond with the words of the Gemara in Rosh HaShanah 16b. There we see that even the Soton, an angel, gets confused by the blasts of the shofar.”
He continued, “The obvious question is, why doesn’t the Soton just remember what happened the previous year? The answer is that he doesn’t have time to think. So this will be my answer to heavenly tribunal: If I had thought about it I would certainly have acted differently, but what could I do? When I saw all the bills that needed to be paid and felt all the pressures of my job, I just didn’t have time to think things through and dedicate enough time for Torah study—which is above all else. Surely they will accept that if an angel can get confused, a measly human can certainly be confounded by the day to day pressures of life!”