Avraham ben Yaakov

A MATTER OF FAITH

When a person understands that everything that happens to them is for their own good, this is a glimpse of the World to Come.

Likutey Moharan I:4

"Fiends, why are you torturing us for nothing?"

In his story of "The Sophisticate and the Simpleton", Rebbe Nachman tells how the Sophisticate proves to his own satisfaction that there is no King over the world. Afire with the zeal of the self-righteous, the Sophisticate sets off with a companion on a world-wide mission to try to persuade everyone else of this "truth". They lose everything they have, but still the Sophisticate refuses to admit he might be wrong.

Finally, the Devil sends for them. The Sophisticate ridicules the idea of the Devil - he no more believes in evil than in good. But to back down from accepting the Devil's dare would mean an unacceptable loss of face. So the Sophisticate has to go off with his companion together with the Devil's messenger.

Rebbe Nachman relates: "The Devil captured the Sophisticate and his companion, and brought them to a quicksand bog. The Devil sat on a throne in the middle of this bog, and he threw the Sophisticate and his companion into the mud. The bog was thick and sticky like glue, and they could not move at all in it.

"When the Devil and his cohorts began to torture these two sophisticates, they screamed out, `Fiends! Why are you torturing us? Does such a thing as the Devil really exist? You are fiends, and you are torturing us for nothing.' These two sophisticates still did not believe in the Devil. They thought these were wicked people, who were torturing them for no reason..." (Rabbi Nachman's Stories p.193)

The Sophisticate had made it his life's purpose to deny God. He is the exemplar of skepticism, the opposite of faith. In place of the King he has put himself on the throne. Spurning external authority and tradition, he is going to be the arbiter of what exists. The Sophisticate will believe nothing unless he can see it with his own eyes or understand it with human reason. For him, there is only one world, the one he can look at, touch and feel, the world of nature. He will not admit that levels of spiritual mystery might exist that could be invisible to him.

A world with no King is a world without order - a world of chance, with no such thing as absolute good and evil, no reward for righteousness and punishment for sin. And thus when suffering comes to the Sophisticate, he can find no meaning in it. Having thrown away the idea of Divine Justice, he cannot relate his suffering to what he has done. He cannot learn or grow from it. Being unable to explain it, he finds it pointlessly cruel. And because the Sophisticate has turned his back on God, God turns His back on him, as it were, hiding His unity, punishing him through a devlish plurality of bizarre, meaningless forces: "You are fiends, and you are torturing us for nothing!"

It is his own self that is blinding the Sophisticate to the truth. This is why he has to be punished for so long. Only when he is totally battered down and crushed will he be forced to admit defeat - to admit that there is a power greater than himself. At the end of the story, when he sees he is unable to help himself, the Sophisticate finally realizes that only through the intervention of a saintly Miracle Worker could he be saved. "...And he was forced to admit to the truth, that there is a King" (ibid. p.195).

The quicksand bog - what a graphic metaphor for some of the things people go through in this world! How many times in life do we find ourselves stuck: no matter which way we try, twist and turn, we are just caught in thick mud, unable to get free.

And how do we respond? Well we're only human. A Sophisticate nags away in the heart: "Why? Why? ... This is not fair! ... What did I do to deserve this? ... Why do You do this to me? If this is what You do, why should I believe in You? Why should I keep to Your rules?"

How much of life goes on anger, complaints, protests, rancour, recriminations, bitterness, hatred. How much energy gets spent on vain struggles against windmills, endless campaigns against the apparent perpertrators of the wrongs and injustices people feel they have suffered. "Fiends, you are torturing us for nothing!"

"Everything God does is for the best"

At the other end of the spectrum is Rabbi Akiva, exemplar of faith. The Talmud relates how once Rabbi Akiva went on a journey. He came to a town and asked if anyone could put him up for the night. The inhospitable inhabitants all refused. Still, Rabbi Akiva said, Kol de-avid Rachmana, le-tov avid - "Everything God does is for the best," and he went and spent the night in the field. With him he had a lamp, a rooster to wake him and a donkey to ride on. But a wind came and blew out the light, a cat came and ate his rooster, and a lion came and ate the donkey. Rabbi Akiva was left all alone in the dark, but he still said, "Everything God does is for the best."

In the middle of the night a band of marauders came, sacked the town and took all the inhabitants captive. Then Rabbi Akiva said, "Now I see how everything the Holy One does is for the best. If my lamp had been alight, they would have seen me. If the rooster had crowed and the donkey had brayed, they would have known where I was and taken me as well" (Berachot 60b).

A story not about suffering, perhaps - at least, as far as Rabbi Akiva is concerned - but certainly one about things not going as planned. Yet Rabbi Akiva is a believer. Not just intellectually. His belief has a practical effect on the way he conducts his life and responds to what happens to him. He has the humility to accept that a force higher than himself controls the world in general and his life in particular. Belief does not mean that Rabbi Akiva succumbs to passivity and resignation. No, he is a doer - he has lots of plans and he tries doing whatever he can. But when things don't go the way he thought they should, he doesn't get annoyed. He puts up with a bit of inconvenience - because he believes God knows better than he does how to run things.

Rabbi Akiva calls God Rachmana - the Loving One. No matter what happens, the Loving One is working everything out for the best, even when Rabbi Akiva can least see how. And in the end it was indeed revealed how the hand of Providence had been working at every stage to do what was necessary to save the Tzaddik from the punishment of the wicked.

The Talmud tells us Rabbi Akiva spent the night "in the field". Perhaps the Supernal Field, the Garden of the Souls Rebbe Nachman speaks of in his lesson - the ultimate, joyous goal of all of life. Closing his eyes to the hardships of the physical world, Rabbi Akiva takes himself off to the "field": he focusses his inner eye on the spiritual world of Unity.

Rabbi Akiva was a living expression of Emunah, our faith in the One God as we express it every day in the Shema: Hear, Israel, HaShem, Our God, HaShem is One. God in Himself is beyond any comprehension. He reveals Himself to the world through different facets. There are the aspects of Chesed, Mercy, alluded to in the name HaShem (YKVK), and Gevurah, Might, Strict Judgement, alluded to in the name Elokim. In the Shema we assert that the two facets are one: HaShem is Elokim. Elokim is HaShem. HaShem is One.

Life has different sides. Sometimes things smile at us and we see the Mercy. Other times we feel under a cloud, nothing goes the way we want it, things seem bad. But in the Shema we express our faith that One God is in control of all the different sides of life. Even the hard things in life are from God. When things go differently from the way we might want, it doesn't mean that life is cruel without purpose. Hardship and suffering are not arbitrary. They come from God as much as the good things.

God is Rachmana, the Loving One. Everything He does to us is for our ultimate good. God is perfection, and the greatest love is that we should come close to Him and know Him. But we are like growing children who still want to be little: we don't like leaving behind our childhood indulgences - materialism - for the sake of maturity - the life of the spirit. The worldly ego says "I want things my way". But good parents know that if you love your child you have to be firm. You have to deny the child things that will be bad in the long run, and you have to push the child to make an effort to attain the things that will be good.

The hand of Strict Judgement operates in unity with the side of Tender Mercy. Both complement each other, working towards the same goal - the bestowal of God's love on us, which means the revelation of Himself. God is One - EChaD. The sum of the numerical values of these letters - the gematria - is 13. This is the same as the gematria of AHaVaH - Love. Thirteen attributes of Lovingkindness. Perfect unity.

When we say the Shema, the declaration of our faith, we put our hand over our eyes and close them tight. This material world was set up to challenge us. Things cannot be taken at face value here - appearances can be very deceptive. God is often so hidden, especially when things are bad, and we cannot see where any of it is leading. We close our eyes tight and cover them over with our hand, so as to focus the inner eye on the world of truth. Shema Yisrael, HaShem is Elokim. Elokim is HaShem. Mercy involves Firmness. Firmness is a part of Mercy. HaShem is One.

Why do people suffer?

All this is very fine as long as things are going reasonably well, and the level of suffering is tolerable. A single night without lights, alarm clock, or transportation may be bearable. In Rabbi Akiva's case the meaning of the mysterious happenings of the night was revealed the very next morning. But how many things in this world work out with a happy ending so quickly?

People go through protracted periods of acute suffering, physical and mental. There are so many different kinds of suffering - lo alenu - please, please, not on us! There are all kinds of illnesses, terrible accidents, tragic losses, catastrophic reverses, the shattering of hopes and dreams, whether in families, relationships, careers, businesses. There is the suffering that comes directly from HaShem, and the suffering that is channeled through the agency of others - criminals, persecutors, and even unwitting innocents. We go through suffering ourselves, we see those around us, our loved ones, going through it. And too often we see no happy ending at all in this world - only tragedy, loss, heartache and grief.

Physical pain can sometimes be eased. There may be a cure, or at least the agony can be lessened with pain-killers. But what about the anguish of the soul? So many of the things people go through seem so incomprehensible. It might be easier to accept if we could see something that made clear sense in terms of human logic: suffering as the punishment for evil, the wicked suffer, the good do not. Things are nothing like so simple. Suffering afflicts not only the wicked, but good, upright, hard-working citizens, and even the greatest Tzaddikim. What did the six million victims of the Holocaust do - men, women, children, babies in arms? We are not atheists. We want to believe. But how? How can we begin to understand any of this, let alone accept it?

Silence... and an echo of a voice

At the end of his life, Rabbi Akiva himself suffered the most terrible martyrdom. He was flayed alive at the hands of the Roman oppressors. Rabbi Akiva was undoubtedly a Tzaddik Gamur, a Perfect Tzaddik: a saint, a towering scholar of the Holy Torah, an outstanding leader of his people. He has to go through such suffering? Suffering that baffles his students, that baffles Moshe Rabbenu, that baffles the very angels...?

Yet at the climax of his ordeal, Rabbi Akiva is saying "Shema Yisra'el". Wracked with pain, face to face with the most horrible death, Rabbi Akiva asserts the unity of God. Even in his pain and torment he sees the hand of God. How?

There is no answer.

And there is an answer.

And both are correct.

The Talmud (Menachot 29b) depicts Moshe ascending on high and seeing the soul of Rabbi Akiva, who was to plumb greater depths in Moshe's Torah than even Moshe himself. "Show me his reward!" asks Moshe - and he is shown a vision of Rabbi Akiva being flayed alive with iron combs. "Is this the reward for Torah?" asks Moshe. And God replies, "Be silent! This is the way it arose in the Divine thought." Be silent. It is part of the Divine plan. How? Why? No answer. Only silence. Everything is cloaked in mystery.

But the Talmud gives us another dimension of Rabbi Akiva's martyrdom. In Berachot 61b we are told how when Rabbi Akiva was taken out to be killed, it was time for saying "Shema". Rabbi Akiva was taking on himself the kingship of Heaven. His students ask him "Rabbenu, this too?" And Rabbi Akiva answers: "All my days I've been troubled about this verse - `love God... with all your soul'- which means `even if He takes your soul'. I said, When will I have the opportunity to fulfil it? Now that the moment has come, shall I not fulfil it?" Rabbi Akiva drew out the word Echad ... until his soul went out on Echad.

The Talmud continues: The Ministering Angels asked God, "Is this the reward for Torah?" Exactly the same question as Moshe's. Only this time there is an answer. Moshe Rabbenu was flesh and blood - a man living in this world, where life ends with death, and beyond death nothing is visible. But the angels are pure spirit, they are not subject to death, and can therefore understand something which mortal man, this side of death, cannot.

To the angels God gave an answer: "Their portion is life..." And a Bat Kol - the "Echo of a Voice" - the distant voice of prophetic intuition - came forth, spelling out the answer for those willing to hear it: "Happy are you, Rabbi Akiva, for you are called to the life of the World to Come!" Such martyrs and sufferers may suffer in this world, but ultimately they inherit life, the true life of the World to Come. Eternal life.

For Moshe, in this world, there was no answer - because in terms of this world alone there can be no answer. If we look at suffering only in the perspective of this visible, temporary world, it must remain incomprehensible. If our only criteria of success and happiness are those of this world - material wealth and pleasures - how can we possibly come to terms with sickness, pain, loss, destruction...? Too often the older people get the more they seem under attack - lonely, bereft of their dear ones, incapacitated, ever more helpless, riddled with aches, pains, chronic disease. Is this where life leads to and nothing more?

The answer is that the purpose lies beyond this world, in a realm we cannot see with our physical eyes - a realm only the angels can begin to "see". The most that can be revealed in this world is through a Bat Kol - a faint echo of a voice - the voice of Torah wisdom - for those willing to hear it. It is a matter of belief. It has to be, because this side of death we cannot see what lies beyond. Here we cannot see that for the soul there is no death, only eternal life.

Belief in the World to Come is the foundation of Torah teaching about the meaning of suffering - and indeed of all the different things people go through in this world. This world is the ante-chamber, the place of preparation, leading to the World to Come. Only when we understand that the soul is living and enduring, that its sojourn in a transitory body in a transitory world is a preparation for something higher, can we can begin to make sense of the things people go through in this world.

"He's laughing!"

A funeral procession was passing in front of Rebbe Nachman's window. The people in the procession were crying and wailing. But the Rebbe commented, "Presumably the dead man is laughing in his heart at the way they're crying over him. When someone dies, people cry over him as if to say: How good if you had lived in this world even longer and suffered even more trials and torments, and then you would have had even more bitterness... At least this will be the end of his pain and suffering, because once he has gone through anything he might have to go through [in Gehenom] he will enjoy the reward for his good deeds in this world" (Tzaddik #446.).

So the World to Come is the place of laughter and joy - does that mean we have to wait till then to be happy? Are we supposed to just grit our teeth and bear the pains of this world in the meantime? Could that be the message of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov - who taught the world to rejoice, that "It's a great mitzva to be happy all the time" - ?

Well, what is the happiness Rebbe Nachman is teaching us? Much of the world is obsessed with a hell-bent pursuit of the blithe, breezy light-headedness that adverts, films, romances and the like parade as happiness. But even if it exists, it is only a fool's paradise, good as long as reality can be held at bay. This has nothing to do with the holy joy and happiness - the Simchah - that Rebbe Nachman is teaching us. The power and depth of true Simchah is that it is founded on facing reality, not evading it.

We are not supposed to wait for the next world until we can be happy. There is a way to find joy even amidst the suffering of this world - through belief in the World to Come. The stronger our belief in it, and the more we work for it and look forward to it, the more we can accept and rejoice in the trials of this world - because we believe, we know, that their ultimate purpose is good. We discover the real good that is in this world. This is the essence of Rebbe Nachman's message to us in "Garden of the Souls".

"For the ultimate goal is completely good, and in the end everything will turn out to have been for good. Even when bad things happen and you are beset with troubles and suffering, God forbid, if you will look at the ultimate purpose, you will see these things are not bad at all, they are actually a very great favor. All suffering is sent from God intentionally for your own ultimate good. It could be to remind you to return to God, or to cleanse and scour you of your sins. If so, suffering is really very beneficial. God's intention is certainly only for good.

"Whatever evil and suffering you go through, God forbid, if you will just look at the ultimate goal - God's purpose - you will not experience it as suffering at all. On the contrary, you will be filled with joy at so much good when you look at the purpose of this suffering. Because the ultimate purpose is entirely good, all unity. And the deep truth is, there is no evil at all in the world: everything is good.

"Then why do we feel pain when we suffer? The pain people go through because of their suffering is only because their Da'at - divine understanding - is taken from them, and they are unable to focus on the ultimate purpose, which is entirely good. It is then that they feel the pain and sorrow of their suffering. But when understanding is present and one keeps one's attention on the ultimate goal, one does not feel pain and suffering at all" (Likutey Moharan I:65,3).

What is Da'at? "VeyoDA'to - Know today and take it to your heart that HaShem is Elokim - in heaven above and on the earth below - there is none other" (Deuteronomy 4:39). Know: HaShem is Elokim. The two facets of life - Chesed, Mercy, and Gevurah, Might and Strict Judgement - are one. HaShem is Elokim. Elokim is HaShem. HaShem is One. It's a matter of faith. The faith of Rabbi Akiva. When problems came up, he said "Everything the Loving One does is for the best". And at the moment of excruciating pain and torment, he closed his eyes completely to this world in a supreme effort to focus only on the truth beyond it: "Shema Yisrael, HaShem Elokenu HaShem Echad".

The Rabbis (Pesachim 50a) asked about the prophecy "On that day HaShem will be one and His name one" (Zecharia 14:9). "Why `on that day'? Isn't God one today?" And they answered that today, for good things we bless God as "good and beneficent", while for bad things we bless Him as "true Judge". In other words, in this world, we do instinctively distinguish between the different facets of life, between good and bad. The underlying unity is for the most part concealed. But in future, said the Rabbis - "on that day" - we will bless God for everything as "good and beneficent"! In the future, in the World to Come, even God's severity will be revealed as an aspect of His love. Everything will be seen to be a single unity.

Da'at means taking the longer perspective - understanding the real place of this world and the things that happen in it in the total scheme of things. Thus when we relate the bad things that happen to our ultimate purpose, when we believe determinedly that they are for our good, we can get a glimpse even here and now of the inexpressible joy of the World to Come. This is the meaning of Rebbe Nachman's saying: "When a person understands that everything that happens to them is for their own good, this is a glimpse of the World to Come - Me-eyn Olam Haba" (Likutey Moharan I:4).

Olam Haba itself is beyond this world - "No eye has seen it" (Isaiah 64:3) - because it cannot be seen with the physical eye. We have to close our physical eyes to the outward appearance of this world, and focus our thoughts on the ultimate purpose - Unity. Then we can have me-eyn Olam Haba - a fleeting glimpse, an indescribable taste! The word me-eyn literally means "from the eye" - signifying the appearance of something. We can have a fleeting glimpse of the way things "look" in the future world. And the hint as to how is: me-eyn, "from the eye". Where are our eyes? How do we look at things?

 "I never had a bad day in my whole life"

After all the teachings and explanations about the way we are supposed to respond to the hard knocks and blows of life, the practical question still remains: How? How do you look on the good side when the pain hurts? "When a person understands that everything that happens is for their own good..." Is it possible to understand this at the moment of actual suffering, when the ultimate purpose is far beyond our range of vision?

Let's not even talk about trying to achieve the high level of having clear knowledge that things are all for the good. Say we just want to believe it even without being able to see it. It's one thing to believe in theory. How do we get the belief into our hearts and respond accordingly? It may be a lot to expect to experience joy at the height of pain, but let's talk about less intense suffering. In more normal circumstances, when things go against us in the way they do one way or another practically every day of our lives, how can we learn to accept the superiority of the Divine wisdom with love? How can we remain cheerful and happy instead of kicking, screaming and complaining? How, in this benighted world, can we learn to look at the things we don't like differently?

A man once came with these very same questions to Rabbi Dov Ber, the Magid of Mezritch: "How can I learn to accept the bad things in life?" And the Magid said to him: "I have a disciple who will be able to help you. His name is Reb Zusya. He lives in such and such a place. Go to him."

The man found a low, broken-down house betraying all the signs of extreme poverty and suffering. When Reb Zusya appeared, the man explained why he had come. "But I don't understand," said Reb Zusya. "Why did the Magid send you to me? I never had a bad day in my whole life!"

A famous Chassidic tale... but did the Reb Zusya of the story really exist? Was the actual Reb Zusya of Anipoli really like that? Could someone in real life live in abject poverty with all that it entails - hunger, deprivation, discomfort, sickness, pain - and be in Gan Eden? Didn't Reb Zusya feel the discomfort - when so many people in their luxury villas and mansions, with more food, clothes and money than they themselves could ever need, are mournful, depressed and full of complaints?

Perhaps some of us look at Reb Zusya and say in our hearts, he probably wasn't used to anything better. I could never accept anything like that in my life. Is there an element of pride in such a reaction? How demeaning to have to go through that. And fear? Please, God, don't ever do that to me! Maybe we have a sneaking suspicion that learning to look at things differently doesn't really make the pain go away! And in a childish way, isn't that what we really want - that pain and suffering should just disappear? Is Reb Zusya's way of looking at things really a solution?

We may certainly admire Reb Zusya and wonder at his greatness. But what does his example do for us? Is such a level practically possible for you and me? How can ordinary people with all their human frailties, needs, desires, standards, etc. possibly experience pain, hardship and adversity as being good?

Perhaps the man who came to the Magid with his questions felt exactly the same way, as he stood there contemplating Reb Zusya. Why did the Magid send me here? What kind of an answer is this supposed to be? Yet the question remains. How do we cope with suffering? Because it is with us whether we like it or not.

Self-Centered or God-Centered

You might have thought the Magid should have responded by sending the man home with some kind of practical selfŪimprovement program to deepen his faith. How was he supposed to benefit from going to see Reb Zusya?

Well, first let's consider what Reb Zusya really was. He was a living example of bittul - one of the key concepts in "Garden of the Souls". The root idea of bittul is to make something into nothing, to nullify or cancel. In the terminology of Mussar and Chassidut, bittul refers to a state of self-surrender and transcendence. One recognizes oneself as a creation of God, dependent on God, a servant of God. Bittul is the opposite of yeshut, most ordinary people's regular state, in which they experience themselves as separate and independent entitites, with an outlook and responses that are basically ego-centered.

Pure bittul is not a state that can be experienced permanently in this life. Even to talk about bittul as an experience is somewhat of a contradiction in terms, because "experience" implies that there is someone having the experience, whereas in bittul one is taken quite out of oneself. Rebbe Nachman makes it clear in "Garden of the Souls" (and see Likutey Moharan I:4,9) that even the most advanced spiritual seekers go into bittul only for fleeting moments - at the height of intense prayer and meditation, for example.

Yet there is a more everyday aspect of bittul that everyone is capable of achieving. Step by step, one works towards a fundamental shift of orientation in which selfŪcenteredness is sacrificed for God-centeredness. One learns to accept that God's goals for our lives, as taught in the Torah, are more vitally important than the mundane goals and projects dear to our material egos. God's guidelines about how to make a success of life are truer and more firmly founded than any of the ideas we or those around us could ever think up by ourselves.

Why do we not experience God's goodness at all times if not because our whole attention is focussed on what we want and desire, our own goals, projects and purposes. We want to control things and have them go our way. We get tense, anxious, and fearful that things won't go the way we want. And when they finally don't, we are frustrated, angry, outraged, depressed...

Where are our eyes? Rebbe Nachman teaches: The sun shines constantly, it's just that you can't always see the light because the earth is in the way - even though the earth is very small in comparison with the sun. The "sun" is Godly light - the light of the Torah and the Tzaddikim. The "earth" is earthly materialism - This World, with all its desires and obsessions.

Says Rebbe Nachman: You may be standing facing a great mountain, but if you take even a little coin and hold it in front of your eyes, you won't be able to see the mountain. So it is when we come into this world: we get sunk amidst the vanities of this world and think there's nothing better - because this tiny little world prevents us from seeing the great light of the Torah, which is so many thousands of times greater. The world is there in front of our eyes and stops us from seeing any further. If only we could remove the barriers from in front of our eyes. If only we could lift our heads up a bit and look a little further. We would see such a wonderful light - the light of the Torah and the Tzaddikim - and we would not feel we were missing anything.

"Oy va-voy!" cried the Baal Shem Tov, "The world is full of such incredible radiance, such wonderful secrets... And there's a little hand stuck in front of the eyes, stopping them seeing these great lights" (Likutey Moharan I:133).

If we could just lift up our heads a bit and look a little further. Bittul in the practical sense means just this - lifting ourselves up so as to see beyond our ego-bound interests and ideas. Little by little one learns to erase the part which says "I want things this way. I can only accept things as good if they come out my way." And thus one comes to accept that "You decreed it that way, and You really do know better."

Reb Zusya had achieved this bittul to perfection. That is how he could accept that everything is from God and therefore good. "I never had a bad day in my whole life."

A Chip at the Ego

Emunah - faith - is the answer, and emunah means taking a different perspective. This may help explain why the Magid didn't just send his questioner home to work on his faith by himself. He had to come out of his ego-bound self. That's why he had to go to see a Tzaddik - someone who could take him out, and show him a whole other perspective on life. The first step towards Emunah is one of self-deflation. We have to acknowledge that we ourselves do not have all the right answers. We do not know. We are not perfect. There are others who are far wiser and saintlier.

The Tzaddik is a kind of spiritual mirror you go to in order to see yourself by comparison and understand where you're really holding (Likutey Moharan I:19,2). This is why Rebbe Nachman's lesson to us in "Garden of the Souls" begins with the idea of leadership. The souls in the Garden cannot grow without the Master of the Field. Only with outside guidance can we rise above ourselves and come to a higher perspective.

The road to bittul can be long and arduous. Really trying to put the Tzaddik's teachings into practice may involve extensive re-evaluation of one's goals and priorities, many doubts and questions, difficult adjustments to habitual patterns and lifestyle, trying new ways, facing challenges, falling down, trying to pick oneself up and start again.

Do the perspectives of Rabbi Akiva or Reb Zusya seem impossibly hard to achieve? That should not deter us from making a start. It was Reb Zusya himself who taught us to be ourselves and start from where we are. "At the Heavenly judgement, I won't be afraid if they ask me why I wasn't like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. When they ask me, Why weren't you like Reb Zusya - that's when I'll be afraid!"

And who am I? Am I so wise that I know what is really best for me - best in this world and best in terms of my ultimate destiny? Is the way I think things ought to be necessarily the way they should be? Am I entitled to expect that everything should always go exactly the way I want? Have I done right all my life - am I so pure and saintly that nothing needs fixing in my life. Do I understand what needs fixing and how? And when I know things need fixing, do I do everything necessary of my own accord, without needing any kind of push or nudge from the outside?

And for all that, "...Your kindnesses are never exhausted... and Your tender mercies are never ended!"

Who understands the meaning of the suffering in this world - lo alenu - please, please, not on us! Who knows who suffers and how? Who understands the pain in another person's heart? Who understands the pain in our own hearts? But there is one kind of suffering we can perhaps do something about: the suffering caused by the Sophisticate in us.

The Sophisticate had dethroned the King and made himself king. That was why he was made to suffer - until his pride was broken down and he finally had to admit: I am not the king. God is the King.

This article was first printed in Garden of the Souls by Avraham Greenbaum Breslov Research Institute 1990

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