Doing your own thing
Is it necessary to be an advanced sage and mystic in order to find God in nature and enter into a relationship with Him? Not according to Rebbe Nachman. Most important of all is to have a powerful yearning for God.
|A person may be totally unable to study, if he is ignorant, for example, or if he does not have a book to learn from, or if he is out in a desert. Even so, if his heart burns within him, yearning and longing to find God and serve Him, then his heartfelt longing to learn is itself a form of study from a book...
Likutey Moharan I:142
Abraham had nothing but his own yearning. As the only one in his generation who was searching for the truth about the world, Abraham had no guides or teachers. There was no existing tradition for him to turn to. He had no alternative but to follow the prompting of his own heart and rely on his own observations and reasoning. The only way to succeed in such a venture is with the utmost sincerity and honesty.
This sincerity is beautifully depicted in the figure of another individual who also found God in nature all by himself -- a simple young shepherd boy once seen by the saintly Rabbi Israel, the Baal Shem Tov ("Master of the Good Name", 1698-1760), founder of the Chassidic movement):
Once the Baal Shem Tov was shown from Heaven that a certain shepherd boy was serving God better than he was. The Baal Shem Tov had a powerful longing to see this shepherd, and he set off in his carriage with a group of his disciples. They finally came to a mountainside. There on the mountain stood the shepherd. He blew his horn to gather the flock. When all the sheep were gathered, the shepherd took them to a stream to drink. As the sheep stood there drinking, the shepherd opened his mouth and cried out in a loud voice:
"Master of the World: You created the Heavens and the Earth, this mountain and the flock, the owner of the flock, me and your Jewish People. You provide for all your creatures and you give me my food as well. I am ignorant and unlearned. I am simple. I don't know how I can serve you and what praise I can give you, for I was orphaned at an early age and I grew up among non-Jews. I don't know any Torah... But I do have my shepherd's horn! And I'm going to blow it as hard as I can in Your honor!"
The shepherd blew and blew with all his strength until he collapsed exhausted onto the ground. He lay there quite still for a time. Then he got up and said:
"Master of the Universe: You created the Heavens and the Earth, and you give food to all. You created all the flocks and You created me. Just as You are One, so You have one People who are always studying Your Torah and praying to You. But I am a young shepherd. I don't know any Torah or any prayers. My father and mother abandoned me as a child and I grew up among non-Jews. All I know is shepherds' songs."
Immediately he started singing at the top of his voice. He sang and sang until he again fell to the ground totally exhausted. When he finally came back to himself, he said: "Master of the Universe, I've played You my horn and sung for You. But how can anything like this begin to do justice to Your real greatness, God of all the Worlds, Who gives life and food to all? How can I serve You, our Father, our King? But there is one thing that I can do, and I'll do it in Your honor!"
As soon as he finished speaking, he threw himself down into a handstand and waved his legs furiously in the air for as long as he could. Again and again he stood on his hands and waved his legs in the air for as long as he could ... until he was totally exhausted and he collapsed on the ground. He lay quite still for a long time.
When at last he came back to himself, he got up and said: "Master of the World: I have blown my horn for You; I have sung You songs; I have done handstands in Your honor. But what is any of this worth compared to Your greatness, awesome Father in Heaven? What more can I do to serve You?
"Last night the squire who owns the flock made a party for all his attendants. At the end he gave everyone a silver coin as a gift. He also gave me one. And this coin I am giving You as a gift -- to You, God, Creator of the World who created the Heavens and the Earth and the mountain and the water and the flock and me, the little shepherd..."
As he said this, he threw the coin upwards... and at that moment the Baal Shem Tov saw a hand stretched out from the Heaven to accept the coin.
The Baal Shem Tov said to his students: "This young shepherd has fulfilled the commandment to "love God with all your heart, all your soul and all your might" (Deuteronomy 6:5).
from Sichos Yekarim printed in Kol Sipurey BeSht by R. Israel Yaakov Klapholtz, pp. 253-5
"In every place where you find the greatness of the Holy One, blessed-be-He, there you find His humility" (Megillah 31a)
The story of this shepherd is a teaching about true "greatness". In Hebrew this is "gedulah", kabbalistically the quality particularly associated with Abraham (the same quality is also often called chessed, expansive kindness.)
The Baal Shem Tov was already a "great" man: a towering Tzaddik and sage, a cherished, respected leader with a coach and horses and a flock of disciples. Yet he saw that this shepherd was "greater" than himself: the shepherd served God better. The greatness of the shepherd lay in the fact that he was totally without pretensions. He just did what he himself could do best with the utmost simplicity.
Doing your own thing in the best possible way is the greatest praise there could be of God. God is great beyond great beyond great... It is impossible to begin to measure or fathom the true greatness of the Creator of the entire universe. It would be impossible for a puny human -- a tiny speck on a planet that is itself a tiny speck in the vast, infinite universe -- to do anything to serve God in proportion to God's true greatness.
Yet the greatness of God is revealed more than anything in the endless variety displayed throughout the creation. It is the uniqueness of every single detail of creation -- with God simultaneously and equally present in each one, from the highest to the lowest -- that is the most powerful possible testimony to the endless greatness of God.
When a person develops the unique goodness within himself and does his own thing in the best way he can, this itself is the greatest praise he could give God. For when each unique detail in creation shines to perfection, it shows the endless power of God to create every possible variety of beauty.
This shepherd knew that God is infinitely great. But that did not deter him from blowing his horn, singing and doing handstands with all his strength. For he instinctively understood that God, being so great, has the power to be directly and intimately involved in every detail of His creation. He takes equal joy and delight in each one. The shepherd knew that when he did what he could do best, that was precious to God. The shepherd surely enjoyed doing what he did. But he offered it easily and sincerely as his gift of love and praise to God.
This shepherd must have been very familiar with nature from spending all his days out in the hills with his flock. He must have known every nook and cranny of the surrounding areas, all the streams and watering spots, all the different types of vegetation and wildlife. He surely knew about the different times of the day and seasons of the year and how to take care of the flock under different weather conditions. He did not need a watch or a calendar. By day he could tell the time from the position of the sun; by night from the stars. Years of experience and observation give the simplest shepherds profound sensitivity to and understanding of the natural environment.
The scientific mind seeks to "know," "analyze" and "understand" the various phenomena in the world. The scientist observes coldly and dispassionately and asks "What? What do we have here?" But this shepherd looked up at the heavens and his heart prompted him to ask "Who?" -- "Who created these?" (Isaiah 40:26) -- Who is the Power that stands behind all the wonder and glory revealed in the skies and on the earth? This shepherd knew instinctively that God cannot be a cold, impassive Being. Such a supreme artist and craftsman is surely more alive, aware, sensitive and involved than any person. Therefore it is possible to make contact with God. This shepherd wanted to make direct contact with God and to talk to Him in the only way he knew -- in his own words. He wanted to express the love he felt for God in his own unique, simple direct way.
The most natural way to initiate a connection with anyone is to give them something, whether it be a smile, a kind word or an actual gift. But what can anyone give to the infinite God?
When the shepherd threw up his silver coin, he showed he was willing to give up his own self! The coin represents a person's desire for self-gratification. People cling to their money because it is money that enables them to satisfy their needs and desires. But when we are too preoccupied with our own needs and interests, this can prevent us from seeing God's glory and greatness even though it surrounds us all the time.
Only when a person is willing to put aside his self-preoccupation for a while will he become sensitive to what God is communicating to him whether through natural phenomena or indeed in any other aspect of life.
In the words of Rebbe Nachman:
|If you take a little coin and hold it in front of your eyes, it will stop you from being able to see a great mountain even though the mountain may actually be thousands and thousands of times bigger than the little coin. But because the coin is positioned in front of your eyes, it stops you seeing something that is actually far larger.
So too, when a person comes into this world he becomes so involved in worldly vanity that he comes to imagine there could be nothing better. This tiny little material world stands in the way and prevents him seeing the awesome spiritual light of the Torah, even though it is actually thousands and thousands of times greater than all the world!
Likutey Moharan I:133
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