Avraham ben Yaakov
UNDER THE TABLE
& How to get up

Jewish Pathways of Spiritual Growth

Up to the Table: The Personal Connection

Avodat HaShem: Service of God * Yir'ah and Ahavah * Ups and Downs * Daring * The Table – Speech * The Divine Conversation * The Dangers of Subjectivity * Finding a Teacher * Friendship

Then the Wise Man said to the Prince, “Do you think a turkey has to sit under the table? You can be a turkey and sit up at the table.”

The Baal Shem Tov related: “A certain king had a treasure-house, which he surrounded with what appeared to be a series of walls and barriers, though in fact they were merely optical illusions. People would come to these walls and think they were real. Some turned back immediately. Others succeeded in breaking through one barrier, but when they came to the second, they couldn't break it. A few managed to penetrate further barriers, but then they reached one they could not overcome.

“Eventually the king's son came. He said: `I know that all these barriers are nothing but optical illusions. In actual fact there are no barriers at all.' The Prince went forward confidently and overcame everything” (Likutey Moharan II:46).

This world was created in such a way as to make it appear as an independent realm (see Chapter 2). Godliness is concealed behind a veil of kelipot – husks that make our universe seem like an arena governed by a plurality of conflicting forces rather than the unitary system it really is. The world may seem to be as much under the sway of natural law and chance as anything else, and we sometimes wonder if there is any justice.

Not only can the kelipot deceive us about the true nature of the outer world. There are kelipot of the inner self that may hide our Godly essence from our very selves. These are the Turkey thoughts, desires, mental states and personal identities that govern so much of people's lives.

At times the power of the kelipot may seem overwhelming, yet ultimately they are nothing but illusions. The fundamental truth is that everything in the entire universe is under the constant supervision of God. The kelipot themselves were made by God for a purpose. Godliness was concealed in order to create the conditions in which man would have free will. This gives him the opportunity of turning to God of his own volition, lifting himself spiritually through his own efforts. In this way he is able to earn God's goodness for himself. Everything in the world was created to serve this purpose.

“God gave over the earth to mankind” (Psalms 115:16). The whole world lies open before us: within certain limits, we are free to do whatever we want. We are provided with everything we need to accomplish our Godly mission – both the outer opportunities and the inner resources. Innumerable alternative options are also available. From all directions we are plied with invitations to invest our lives and energies in all sorts of activities and involvements. We are promised every kind of gratification and satisfaction in return. Some of the things offered are permissible, others sinful. We are free to choose whatever we want.

“God gave over the earth to mankind”– yes. But nothing can change the underlying truth, that “The earth and its fullness are God's” (ibid. 24:1). Everything in the world was created by God, including the kelipot. Everything is under God's constant supervision. Therefore, no matter which direction we choose to go in, regardless of what we do in life, we are always eating from God's bounty. In fact, the whole world is God's table.

The question is: are we aware of it? Do we sit up at the table, and receive from God directly. Are we aware that everything we are given in this world is from God, and do we act accordingly? Or do we remain under the table, in a Turkey world, feeling separate and alienated from God, just wanting to get on with our “own” lives, taking whatever comes our way and seems good to us, without thinking where it comes from and why?

 Yes, the whole world is God's table. Deciding to sit up at the table does not involve a change in the world or our place in it. It requires only a shift in our orientation and perception. To sit at the table means to accustom ourselves to viewing the world as a Godly creation and making every effort to act accordingly.

In the Baal Shem Tov's parable, as in the story of the Turkey-Prince, the king's son is the Godly soul in us. The “treasure” is the true goodness: connection with God. It is called a “treasure” because it is the most valuable thing in the entire world, and in order to enjoy it, the first essential is Yir'at HaShem. “Yir'at HaShem is His treasure” (Isaiah 33:6).

Yir'at HaShem is often translated as “the fear of God,” but yir'ah does not signify fear in the sense of a nervous response in the face of danger. Rather, it has the connotations of awe and reverence. These are emotions which arise out of our awareness of God as the supreme Source and Ruler of the entire universe. Awareness of and reverence for God are the foundation for enjoying His goodness. Yir'at HaShem is intimately bound up with Emunah, the absolute faith in God that should permeate every level of one's being.

The “barriers” surrounding the treasure are the kelipot – the multitude of temptations and distractions that hold people back from this awareness and keep them from developing their connection with God. In our mundane, Turkey states of consciousness, these barriers may seem very compelling. “People would come to these walls and think they were real.” But the Prince, the Godly Soul, views everything in the light of Torah truth, with the eyes of faith, and sees through the surface appearance of the world to the underlying truth. The kelipot may appear to be independent forces, but ultimately this is an “optical illusion.” God created everything, and God is present even within the things that separate us from Him.

The Prince is a believer. He ignores the superficial appearance of this world. He closes his eyes to it, as we do when we affirm our faith: “Sh'ma Yisrael... HaShem is One!” The Prince makes a leap of faith to the underlying reality. With this leap, he overcomes all the barriers. Through Emunah it is possible to know and see the truth even in this world of concealment, and thus come to the “treasure.” The Hebrew word YiR'AH, awe and awareness of God, is thus made up of the same letters as the word Re'iYAH, meaning vision. With faith and reverence, one sees the underlying truth of the world with the inner eye of spiritual awareness.

Eating at the table is symbolic of being directly connected with God, rather than receiving from Him indirectly. Getting up to the table is a matter of reaching out to God and trying to make the connection. In fact, the endeavors we make to arouse ourselves and turn to God on our own initiative – the “arousal from below”– must ultimately originate in an “arousal from above” initiated by God. Thus Rebbe Nachman points out that the letters of the Hebrew word for table, ShULChaN have the numerical value of 394. (Shin 300 + Vav 6 + Lamed 30 + Chet 8 + 50 = 394.) This is the same as the value of the letters in the phrase YKVK YeKaRVeNU, “May HaShem draw us close(Tzaddik #476).

What does it mean to be “close” to HaShem? What is it to be “connected” with God? Does one have constant visions and religious experiences? Does one have one's own “hot line”? Does God talk back, and if so, how?

It is impossible to generalize and say what connection with God is like for everyone. “God calls each one according to the person he is. To some He calls with a hint, to others literally with a cry; in some cases the person resists, and He strikes them: this is their call. The Torah cries out: `How long will you be gullible and love foolishness?' (Proverbs 1:22). The Torah is God Himself, calling people and asking them to come back to Him” (Likutey Moharan I:206).

Since God calls each person individually, people's experience of God differs. And so too, each one has his or her own unique way of connecting with God. In general terms, being connected with God means being aware of His existence and His presence in our lives, His love and care for us, and His intimate involvement in every aspect and detail of all we do. This gives a sense of meaning and purpose to life, especially to our prayers and Torah study, our mitzvot and good deeds.

The foundation of connection through prayer is the belief that our prayers are important to God because they are channels for the flow of His goodness into ourselves and the world as a whole. The essence of connection in prayer is to speak to God simply and directly, praising Him and asking for His blessing. Connection through Torah study means being aware that the Torah is God's direct message to us. The purpose of study is to search out and verify exactly what God wants of us, both in general and in all the specifics of the various mitzvot. The greater our understanding of the mitzvot and their significance, the more our various mitzvot and even our mundane activities become acts of outreach and attachment to God.

Life in all its different aspects then becomes a unitary search for God. For the Turkey, life may be a matter of “crumbs and bones”– a multiplicity of mundane involvements which do not necessarily have much to do with one another. But the lover of HaShem searches for the one God in all the different areas of life. “Know him in all your ways” (Proverbs 3:6). Each person has his own unique life-situation, and his own mitzvot and good deeds, and thus each one has his own unique way to “put HaShem before me all the time” (Psalms 16:8).

Avodat HaShem: Service of God

In the story of the Turkey-Prince, getting up to the table is the last stage in the Prince's cure that Rebbe Nachman tells us about in any detail. The cure is still not complete, but getting up to the table is a climactic step. If sitting at the table symbolizes a personal connection with God, we may well ask if in real life there is a specific moment when one “gets up to the table.” Does one have some kind of glorious reunion with God, after which one enjoys a permanent state of intimate connection and lives happily ever after? Some people have a notion that spiritual enlightenment is a once-and-for-all experience which they imagine to be followed by a state of constant grace, illumination and pleasure. Is this correct?

Certainly people sometimes have intense religious experiences that may cause their entire perception of themselves and their lives to shift rapidly. It is often experiences such as these that initiate the process of Teshuvah, the return to God. Then, as one follows the path of Emunah, there may be times of intense awareness of God, when the spiritual seeker has a sense of profound closeness. Prayer, hisbodidus, Torah study, Shabbat and practice of the other mitzvot can all lead to joyous moments of hitorerut – arousal, hitlahavut – fervor, hasagah – perception, and he'arah – illumination. The mental states involved are termed mochin de-gadlut, literally “mentalities of greatness”– enhanced spiritual awareness and vision, as opposed to everyday states, which are called mochin de-katnut, “mentalities of smallness.” Each person experiences these states of mind in his or her own unique way.

However, as we have seen (above pp. 162-4), moments of self-transcendence and intimate closeness with God – “running”– can only be temporary in this life. God's will is that as long as we remain in this world, these moments of merging with God should be followed by a “return” to ourselves and our more mundane states of mind. This applies even to the greatest Tzaddikim. Rabbi Nathan thus tells us that Rebbe Nachman would at times reach amazing spiritual heights and reveal extraordinary teachings, but then soon afterwards he would feel spiritually darkened and dissatisfied. He now had to start pushing forward all over again in order to rise even higher. (See Tefilin pp. 26ff.)

Many of the most outstanding Tzaddikim of all times had lives marked with obstacles and difficulties. The Rabbis tell us that after Jacob's struggles with Laban and Esau, it was precisely when he finally sought to settle calmly in the Land of Israel and lead a life of tranquility that the tempest of Joseph's disappearance broke out. “When the Tzaddikim want to settle down and lead a calm life, the Holy One says: Isn't it enough for them that they are going to enjoy what is in store for them in the World to Come? Do they want tranquility in this world as well?” (Rashi on Genesis 37:2). Jacob had experienced the most exalted visions and closeness to God, such as in the dream of the ladder. Even so, the Divine Presence now left him for twenty-two years.

In this world, there is no such thing as final, absolute illumination, and the reason is simple. God is infinite. How could any created being attain final knowledge of God? The greater one's perception, the more one recognizes one's own smallness and yearns to advance ever further. No matter how much one knows, there is always more to know. “The goal of all knowledge of God is to know that one is truly ignorant” (Chovot HaLevavot 1:10, and see Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #3). With every day and every moment, one must strive to add to one's holiness and strengthen one's connection with God Likutey Moharan I:6,3, 22,9 and 60,3 etc.).

At moments of special intimacy with God, one's awareness of His presence may be so intense that one may feel quite certain that nothing will ever again separate one from God or dampen one's enthusiasm. The feeling may last for an hour, a day, two days, a week, or even longer, but then mundane activities once again demand attention, Turkey thoughts and feelings begin to rear their heads... and before one knows it, prayer, Torah study, hisbodidus and practice of the mitzvot are again an uphill struggle. Those on the path of Teshuvah know how initial euphoria often gives way to periods of spiritual dryness. It may take a fair amount of work before rising to a new level of connection.

It is clear from our story that even when the Prince gets up to the table, his Turkey side is still a force in his life. The Wise Man has to tell him that “you can be a turkey and sit up at the table.” Still, there is an important difference between being under the table and sitting up at the table. Under the table, the Turkey is the dominant force: one tends to identify oneself primarily with the mundane aspects of the self and not be even faintly aware of the spiritual dimension of life most of the time. For the Turkey, spirituality may be acceptable, but only until the going gets difficult.

Sitting up at the table means that although one's Turkey outlook, interests and involvements may still have a considerable influence over one's life, the Turkey side does not overshadow all of one's spiritual awareness. Because of the continuing influence of the Turkey, the intensity of this awareness may frequently fluctuate. At times it may be very strong, while at others it may become weaker. There may even be periods when it goes underground completely. Nevertheless, one generally puts more of one's energies into trying to lead the life of the Prince, even when one's spiritual awareness is weaker. With growing experience, one learns to recognize when one's spiritual level has fallen, and one begins to understand how to motivate oneself to climb up again.

At court, those who sit at the royal table enjoy the finest foods and wines. The conversation flows from subject to subject, encompassing statecraft, government, and the various arts and sciences. Those at the table have the ear of the king and can directly influence the administration of the kingdom. Yet all these privileges can be enjoyed only when one submits to the code of royal conduct in all its details. Sometimes the requirements may be onerous, yet one observes them even when one does not feel like it. While life at court has its moments of glory, the defining feature is not glamour but service: noblesse oblige.

The same applies to the life of Emunah and the search for connection with God. The code of Torah life is itself called the Shulchan Aruch, the “set table,” teaching us how to conduct ourselves at every turn in life. The royal foods are the finest: “Happy is he who is worthy of eating many chapters of Mishnah and drinking many Psalms” (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #23). The desserts are exquisite and amazing: “The cycles of the stars and planets and numerology... these are the desserts of the feast of wisdom” (Avot 3:18).

There is no area of knowledge and enquiry that the Torah does not broach – the meaning of the human form, the powers of precious stones and plants, healing, astrology, the significance of dreams, altered states of mind, prophecy... to name but a few. “In the future all the wisdoms will be laid out like a set table, as it is written, `The earth will be full of the knowledge of God' (Isaiah 11:9)(Likutey Moharan I:7,5).

There is no greater privilege than to sit at God's table and enjoy the feast. But to do so takes commitment – the willingness to serve and to work for the connection, even at times when you don't particularly feel like it. To “be a turkey and sit at the table” means that you accept that there may be periods when serving God seems very dry and unrewarding, but you are still willing to continue trying.

Yir'ah and Ahavah

The ideal of service of God, Avodat HaShem, is very exalted. It has two fundamental aspects. The first is Yir'ah, awe and reverence. The second is Ahavah: love. Yir'ah means approaching God's service with a humility and shyness that stem from one's awareness of one's own smallness and shortcomings. The root of Yir'ah is awe at the exaltedness of God. Each time one prays or carries out a mitzvah, one has to remember that one is doing so before the King of kings, who is exalted beyond all imaginable blessing, praise and perfection.

It is not enough merely to practice the mitzvot: one must honor them, carrying them out with scrupulous attention to detail, and in as fine a manner as possible. “ `This is my God and I will beautify Him' (Exodus 15:2) – Beautify yourself before Him with mitzvot – with a beautiful Succah, a beautiful Lulav, a beautiful Shofar, beautiful Tzitzit, a beautiful Sefer Torah...” (Shabbat 133b). One should think: How would I act if I wanted to offer a gift to a most important personage. Such is the honor one must give to the mitzvot, to the Torah and to those who study it.

Ahavah, love, “means that one should long and yearn for closeness to God, and seek out holiness the way one pursues something of the utmost preciousness, until the very mention of His blessed Name, speaking His praises and studying His Torah are sheer pleasure and delight, like the love one has for the beloved wife of one's youth or for an only son – a love so strong that even speaking of them gives pleasure and delight... Certainly someone who loves his Creator with true love will not falter in His service for any reason in the world unless something physically prevents him. He will need no incentive to serve God: his own heart will lift him and he will enter into God's service willingly...” (Mesilat Yesharim Ch. 19).

Love includes devekut, attachment. One's attachment to God should be so strong that nothing else has the power to distract one, especially during one's prayers, study sessions and other acts of service. Another integral part of love is simchah, joy: “Serve HaShem with joy, come before Him with rejoicing” (Psalms 100:2). “The Divine Presence dwells not where there is depression, lethargy, wildness, lightheadedness, chatter and idleness, but through the joy that comes from engaging in a mitzvah” (Shabbat 30b). True joy is the sense of uplift that comes from serving the One God and occupying oneself with Torah and mitzvot, which are the source of eternal joy and perfection.

Love also involves kin'ah, zeal, for the honor of God's holy Name and a passionate longing that His service should be done and His glory revealed to all the world. Obviously, someone who has a dear friend cannot bear to see him being hit or abused, and will certainly come to help him. So too, one who loves God's blessed Name cannot bear to see it profaned or His commandments transgressed. (See Mesilat Yesharim ch. 19.)

The concept of the Prince is that of one who combines both Ahavah and Yir'ah in his service. As a son, the Prince is drawn to his Father by love. But his Father is the King, and must be approached with due reverence and awe. In the service of God, “one aspect is being the son who searches in the treasuries of the King, while another aspect is being a servant of the King. A servant must only do the work that is assigned to him, without asking for reasons and explanations. But then there is a son who loves his Father so much that his very love for Him impels him to take on the work of a simple servant. The son leaps straight into the thick of the battle and goes down into the trenches. He is willing to undertake the most menial labors for the sole purpose of giving pleasure to his Father. And then, when his Father sees the strength of his love and his willingness to throw himself into complete servitude because of it, He reveals to him secrets that would not normally be entrusted to a son.

“There are areas in the King's treasuries where even the King's son is not normally permitted. That is, there are levels of spiritual perception which even the son cannot attain. But when the son casts aside his sophistication and is willing to throw himself into service, his Father is filled with love for him and reveals to him secrets that are normally not even divulged to a son – the mysteries of God's providence, such as why the righteous suffer while the wicked prosper” (Likutey Moharan II:5,15).

Ups and Downs

“Serving God requires great obstinacy. Understand this well, because anyone who wants to enter God's service must inevitably undergo an endless series of ups and downs and endure all kinds of rejection. There are times when a person is deliberately thrown down from serving God. It takes unremitting firmness to stand up to it. At times you may find that the only way you can strengthen yourself is through sheer obstinacy. Remember this, because you will need it many times.”

Likutey Moharan II:48

“Getting up to the table” in the sense of throwing oneself into Avodat HaShem – concentrating intensely on one's prayers and Torah study, pouring out one's heart in hisbodidus, and putting effort into one's mitzvot – can be a very heady experience. At times you may develop such a momentum that you may think you have finally mastered the Turkey side of yourself and transformed yourself into a spiritual being, and now God will surely sweep aside the veils of concealment and reveal His glory.

Then you pause and look around – and everything seems exactly the same as it always was. It's the same old world with the same streets and buildings. The same old problems are all there: at work, in the home... and in your own self. All the old tensions and worries are back, and with them your doubts. You question whether your prayers are having any effect, if you've made any progress in your studies, and if all your spiritual efforts are really worthwhile. Turkey thoughts and desires assert themselves as strongly as ever. You may feel even further from God than before, and experience a bitter sense of rejection and alienation.

Deepening spiritual connection can itself sometimes engender feelings that tend to increase one's sense of alienation. Growing awareness of God's greatness and glory, His love, compassion and patience, may cause one to feel deeply ashamed of one's Turkey traits and involvements. One may feel pain and regret over past behavior and fear of God's all-encompassing judgment. Within limits, such feelings may well be in place during hisbodidus, but one has to balance them with positive thinking and faith in God's abundant love and forgiveness. Otherwise they can leave one with a sense of personal inadequacy that may easily lead to depression.

At times Avodat HaShem can seem very daunting, particularly as one becomes increasingly aware of the supreme importance of the Torah and mitzvot. All too often we may have a strong sense of what we ought to be doing, yet find it almost impossible to get ourselves to actually do it. Sometimes there seems to be so much to do that we simply do not know where to begin, and may end up doing nothing. When depressed, we may be well aware of the solutions we should be applying in order to elevate ourselves – relaxing, breathing, eating properly, exercising, meditating, learning, praying, searching for good points, faith, etc. – yet find it incredibly difficult to practice any of them.

There are many different ways one can fall spiritually. People often go through many ups and downs in one and the same day. At times it may seem as if everything is conspiring to throw us down and prevent us from achieving our spiritual goals. During moments of frustration and defeat, old Turkey instincts are very likely to rear their heads again. One may have worked for months or even years to steer clear of a bad trait or habit, only to find oneself pushed into a situation that causes one to fall right back into it. Naturally, this is a devastating experience. One may think that all one's work has been undone, and one will never be able to change.

Even a single small lapse can sometimes throw a person into a chronic spiritual morass – a state of demoralization and stagnation that may last for days, weeks, months or even longer. There are times when it seems impossible to get up. One feels inescapably locked into all of one's old ways, and falls deeper and deeper into depression and despair. Each one of us knows in our own heart the way we are in our worst moments.

It is vitally important to understand that regressing is an integral part of the spiritual path. Everyone has to go through it. It is impossible to move forward in any way without first slipping backward and experiencing some kind of relapse. At that moment, everything may seem hopeless, but in reality the purpose of the regression is to prepare the way for an advance. “All this climbing and falling and turbulence are a necessary preliminary to entering the gates of holiness. All the Tzaddikim have endured all this” (Likutey Moharan II:48).

In order to give man free will, Godliness had to be concealed in this world. This means that any new level of connection with God you may aspire to is always “covered over” by a kelipah of its own. The new level is the “fruit.” Before you get to it, the first thing you must encounter is the husk. As you begin to emerge from your present level and rise up to the next, you must first experience the kelipot of the new level. They may appear in various guises – in the form of external obstacles and distractions, or in attacks of inner turbulence and confusion, morbid thoughts, doubts, fears, anxiety, depression, material lusts and desires, and so on.

Here you are, trying to come closer to God, and you feel further away than ever. “There are many serious spiritual seekers who become very discouraged when they find themselves suddenly confronted by all these obstacles and temptations. They begin to think they must have fallen from their previous level, because for some time now they had not experienced such severe problems. However, it is important that they should understand that what they are experiencing is not the collapse of everything they have worked for. On the contrary, the time has come for them to advance from one level to the next. This is the reason why these obstacles and temptations have reared their heads again” (Likutey Moharan I:25).

In order to lift yourself up and move forward, you must first understand that all the different obstacles, external or internal, are being sent as a test. “When God appears to reject us, His purpose is really to draw us closer. A person who wants to draw closer to God often finds that all kinds of hardship, suffering and other obstacles descend upon him, at times with tremendous force. He may start thinking that he is deliberately being rejected. But really these experiences are very beneficial, and they serve to draw him closer” (Likutey Moharan I:74).

“No matter how you may fall, never let yourself become discouraged. Remain firm and resolute, and pay no attention to what has happened. In the end, the fall will be transformed into a great advance. This is its whole purpose. This applies to all the different ways one can fall. There is much that could be said on this subject, because each person always thinks that his own situation is so bad that none of this applies to him. People think it applies only to those on very high levels who are continually advancing from level to level. But you should realize that it holds true even for people on the lowest of levels. For `God is good to all' “(Likutey Moharan I:22).

“When a person falls from his level, he should understand that this is something sent to him from Heaven with the sole purpose of drawing him closer. The intention is to encourage him to make new efforts to bring himself nearer. The thing to do is to make a completely fresh beginning. Start serving God as if you had never started in your whole life. This is one of the basic principles of serving God. We must literally begin all over again every day” (Likutey Moharan I:261).

The way we rise to the new level is through our efforts to search for God in the actual situation we are in: “It may seem impossible to find God in such situations, but the very act of searching for God from there, asking, `Where is the place of His glory?' is what brings growth and healing. The more you see how far you are from God's glory, the more intently you should search, and ask: `Where is the place of His glory?' Your cries, your questions, your anguish and yearning for God's glory will themselves lift you up. The essence of repentance is to search at all times: `Where is the place of His glory?' Then the fall will be transformed into a very great advance. Understand this well” (Likutey Moharan II:12).

Daring

The opening words of Rebbe Nachman's story of the Turkey-Prince, translated literally, are: “Once the king's son fell into madness.” The Prince's thinking that he was a Turkey and going to sit under the table was the archetypal spiritual “fall.” His lower, Turkey side pushed itself boldly to the forefront of his conscious mind and engulfed him completely through sheer assertiveness. And likewise, through boldness and daring, the Prince returned to himself.

We see evidence of this quality of daring at every step in the Prince's cure. The Wise Man never forced him to do anything. When he wanted the Prince to put on his shirt, the Wise Man put his own shirt on, and then suggested to the Prince that he could do the same. The Prince was perfectly free not to do so. Yet he did. Something in him pushed him to take up the Wise Man's challenge and try something new: the shirt, the trousers, the royal food, and now, getting up and sitting at the table. This, in spite of the fact that at every stage the Prince still felt very much a Turkey, as we have seen.

This Princely quality of boldness and daring is the essential counter to the brazen assertiveness of the Turkey, the Yetzer HaRa, which is constantly pushing its way into our minds with Turkey thoughts and impulses. Through holy boldness and assertiveness we climb out of all our spiritual falls.

The Wise Man tells the Prince: “You can be a turkey and sit up at the table.” This means that even when you feel distanced from God or rejected by Him, you can still push yourself forward and say, “But I want to connect with You! After all, I'm your child. Help me!”

Rebbe Nachman teaches: “God calls us His children, as it is written (Deuteronomy 14:1): `You are children to the Lord your God.' You may think that you have done so much wrong that you are no longer one of God's children. But remember that God still calls you His child. We are taught that `for good or for evil, you are always called His children' (Kiddushin 36a). Let us assume that God has dismissed you and told you that you are no longer His child. Still you must say, `Let Him do as He wills. I must do my part and still act like His child'“ (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #7).

What does a little child do when his father pushes him away? He comes back regardless, and protests. This is a child's prerogative. “It is good to express your thoughts and troubles to God like a child complaining and pestering his father” (ibid.). In essence, this is the same idea as that of searching for God and asking “Where is the place of His glory?”

What does it mean to “search for God”? God is invisible! The force of the searcher's question, “Where is the place of His glory?” is this: you feel yourself thwarted and frustrated, rejected by God, in a totally unspiritual situation. Nevertheless, you are still prepared to believe that this situation does have some Godly purpose. You cannot see or understand it, but you call out to God for help. “Where are You in all this? What do you want of me? Help me!”

It is this very act of faith that redeems the whole situation. Falling spiritually means that God becomes concealed in some way, but by asking “Where is God?” one strengthens one's faith that God is present, and thereby peels off the kelipah of surface appearances in order to penetrate to the reality beneath.

Obviously “searching for God” in one's life in general includes studying Torah teachings about God's relationship to the creation, reflecting on where God comes into one's own life, and striving to deepen one's connection with Him through Torah study, prayer, hisbodidus and observance of the mitzvot. At moments of crisis and difficulty, however, the way to “search” is by talking to God directly: “Where are You? Help me! Draw me closer!”

Opening your mouth and reaching out to God with words, cries, groans, screams, sighs, songs and melodies is the most powerful means of spiritual searching. This is holy daring. (See Likutey Moharan I:22,4.) The hardest spiritual work is easier than the easiest physical labor. Even the least strenuous physical labor involves effort of some kind – lifting, pushing, shifting, etc. The hardest spiritual labor is even easier: all you have to do is move your lips and speak to God, even in a whisper (Rabbi Eliahu Chaim Rosen). You may feel heavy and demoralized. You may feel ashamed to speak to God. Even so, you can still force yourself to say a few words: “Ribono shel Olam! Help me!” Express what you really feel, truthfully and sincerely.

When you feel closed in by problems and oppressed by negative thoughts and desires, anxiety, tension, doubts and the like, tell God what you are going through. Talk about your feelings of distance, and ask God to help you. Even a single word of prayer has the power to transform the whole situation.

There is a part of you that wants to connect with God, but if you fail to express it out loud, it remains potential: it stays on the level of thought and impulse, and has little or no effect on your actual situation. But as soon as you bring out this part of yourself, whether in words, a cry, a sigh or some other way, you actualize it and bring it forth into this world, giving it power.

“Speech is the vessel with which we receive the flow of blessings. According to the words, so is the blessing. One who attains perfection in the way he speaks receives abundant blessings through the vessels formed by his words. This is why when we pray, we must actually pronounce the words with our lips” (Likutey Moharan I 34:3).

You can talk to God even when your heart is not in the words you are saying. “Speech has a great power to arouse a person even when he feels he has no heart... Sometimes merely by speaking persistently, even if you do so without any heart whatsoever, you can eventually come to tremendous fervor and spiritual arousal” (Likutey Moharan II:98).

Wherever you go, your mouth goes with you. Learn to use it to lead yourself, your thoughts and feelings, in the direction in which you wish to go.

“Speech is `a mother of children' (Psalms 113:9). Just as a mother always stays with her child and never forgets him even if he goes to the filthiest of places, so the power of speech never leaves a person even if he finds himself in the worst situation. Even one who has sunk to the lowest of levels can always remind himself of God's presence by speaking holy words of Torah and prayer. Regardless of your situation, make every effort to speak to God... This way you will always be able to remind yourself of God's presence, no matter how far you may feel from God... Understand the tremendous power of speech. This idea can save you from destruction” (Likutey Moharan I:78).

The Table – Speech

“And he spoke to me, `This is the table that is before God'.”

Ezekiel 41:22

“Sitting at the table” is symbolic of the connection we form with God by talking to Him directly. Speech is man's defining faculty. (See above, Chapter 6, pp. 105-13.) When the Turkey is sitting on top of the Prince and riding high, the way to turn the tables and put the Prince back in his rightful place is through talk.

“Woe to the children who are in exile from their Father's table” (Berachot 3a). The Prince's being under the table is a symbol of exile. To be in exile, whether personal or national, means to be banished from one's proper place. Spiritual exile means being distanced from one's own authentic self, the Godly Soul – the Prince or Princess, whose rightful place is “at the table,” having the intimate connection with God that is forged through our single most powerful spiritual faculty: speech.

For this reason, the Hebrew name for Egypt – the archetype of all Jewish exiles – is MiTZ'Rayim. The Hebrew word MeTZaR means a narrowly constricted passage. Spiritual exile is the exile of speech. Instead of coming forth from the mouth and bringing Godly blessing into the world, the words remain caught in the narrow passage at the back of the throat. One thinks, one wants, one yearns – but one does not actualize the thoughts and yearnings by expressing them out loud. Redemption is the redemption of speech. For this reason, the festival celebrating the redemption from Egypt is called Pesach: Peh Sach – “the mouth speaks” (see Likutey Moharan I:62,5).

There is an old custom of turning the tables upside down on Shabbat HaGadol, the “Great Shabbat,” which comes just before Pesach. Rebbe Nachman's explanation of this custom (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #88) is one of the main keys to the symbolism of the table in the story of the Turkey-Prince.

Rebbe Nachman brings his proof that the table symbolizes speech from a verse in Ezekiel (41:22). A heavenly angel shows the prophet the Temple altar: “And he spoke to me, `This is the Table that is before God'.” Every word in the verse is significant. The angel speaks. His message is about the table – an allusion to food and sustenance. All one's food and sustenance in life, material and spiritual, are drawn through speech, as we learn from the verse in Deuteronomy (8:3): “On all that emanates from God's mouth man will live.”

On Shabbat HaGadol, prior to Pesach, the time of redemption, speech is still in exile. This is why the tables are turned upside down. When speech is not in exile, then the Table is turned towards us the right way up, “face to face.” “And he spoke to me, this is the Table that is before God.” “Before” is lif'ney – literally, “to the face of.” When “he spoke,” then the Table is facing. This is a symbol of direct, face-to-face communication.

Speech remains in exile until Pesach. Speech is in Egypt, MiTZ'Rayim, until the Exodus. On Shabbat HaGadol, therefore, the tables are turned upside down, showing that speech is not yet “face to face.” As yet there is no direct connection with God. But with Pesach comes redemption. Speech emerges from exile. Peh Sach. The mouth speaks. And then the tables are turned the right way up (see Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #88).

We may be in exile under the dominion of the Turkey, but as soon as we open our mouths and speak to God, the tables are turned on the Turkey. Speech comes out of its exile, and the Prince comes back to the table.

Thus Rebbe Nachman points out (Tzaddik #476) that the numerical value of the letters of SHuLChaN, table – 388 [Shin 300 + Lamed 30 + Chet 8 + Nun 50 = 388. In this calculation, the word Shulchan is spelled without the letter Vav.] – is the same as that of the letters in the words in the expression KeLIPaH NiDCheH PIHah – “As for the kelipah, its mouth is cast aside.” When you “sit at the table”– when you boldly express the Prince or Princess in you and speak to God, then the Turkey, the kelipah of the self, is silenced. The value of the letters of ShuLChaN – 388 – is the same as that of the letters of the phrase TzU ReFU'AH, “For healing” (ibid.). Speaking to God brings healing of the soul.

The Divine Conversation

“God may give you food and clothing and everything else you need even though you do not ask for them. But then you are like an animal. God gives every animal its food even without being asked. He can also give it to you this way. But if you do not draw your life through prayer, then your life is like that of a beast. A man must draw all the necessities of life from God through prayer.”

Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #233

The way to become the Prince – a spiritual achiever – is by using the power of your mouth. One may have spiritual yearnings, but the only way to fulfill them is by articulating them in words. Rebbe Nachman says: “Know: It is not sufficient to have spiritual yearnings in your heart. You must express your longing out loud. Yearning in the heart creates the potential soul. It is only when you express your yearning in words that the soul becomes actualized. The main place where the soul comes forth is from the mouth. `My soul came forth through speaking' (Song of Songs 5:6)(Likutey Moharan I:31,7).

The spoken word has the central role in the spiritual pathway of Emunah – Torah study, prayer and practice of the mitzvot. When studying Torah, we enunciate the words of God's Wisdom out loud, thereby hearing them and making them a part of ourselves, drawing the light of God's revelation into our selves and the world. The Torah is God's teaching about Himself and how to connect with Him – through the mitzvot.

Out of all the different mitzvot, it is prayer that fosters the most intimate connection with God. Prayer is a matter of words. Through them, we channel Godly blessing. Just as lovers take pleasure in repeating the name of their beloved, so we express our yearnings to connect with God through repeating the many Holy Names, the praises, the requests and supplications which make up the daily blessings and prayer services.

Words also play a part in fulfilling most of the other mitzvot, even in cases where the essence of the mitzvah is a physical action, such as binding oneself with Tefilin, sitting in the Succah, eating Matzah on the first night of Pesach, etc. An all-important concomitant of the physical action is the blessing. Saying it helps to focus and channel the spiritual energy that comes into us through performing the mitzvah. Reciting a kavanah prior to carrying out the different mitzvot is another verbal means of enhancing the connection they create.

The traditional Siddur, the prayer book, contains the classic Hebrew formulas for approaching God through the set prayers and blessings, and the kavanot before various mitzvot, etc. However, “It is hard for us to express everything we feel in Hebrew. In addition, our hearts are not drawn after the words. This is because we are not accustomed to the language” (Likutey Moharan II:25).

Rebbe Nachman was saying this to his own circle of followers two hundred years ago. The majority of them were deeply learned, and they had certainly been familiar with the Hebrew language since their early childhood. Even so, he urged them to supplement the set prayers by speaking to God in their own words, in the language they spoke every day. How much more does this apply to us today!

The way to inject our practice of the Torah and mitzvot with vitality and make it into a personal spiritual pathway is by weaving our own words, whispers, cries, sighs, songs and prayers in and around the classic forms. When studying a Torah text in Hebrew, besides singing the words, we should translate them into our own language and concepts, formulating to ourselves any problems we have in understanding the meaning, asking God to enlighten us, and requesting that He help us to fulfill the teaching.

When the time comes to pray, we can talk our way into the service in our own words: “God: I am here to pray before You. Let me remember that I'm standing before You. Help me to put all my energy into saying the words of the prayers and concentrating on what they mean. Let me start this day by thanking You for all Your goodness. Let me begin right now. Baruch Atah...” And so on. We should introduce our own private requests at the appropriate points in the service. What we cannot put into words, we should express with sighs, cries, songs...

We can likewise talk and whisper our way into all of our different mitzvot. “It's Shabbat! Let me forget about work! Let me enjoy the peace and the joy of Shabbat.” “I want to take the Lulav and Etrog. What do I know about Lulav and Etrog? God, let me manifest Your Kingship over the world through this mitzvah!” “This person is asking me for a donation. He/she probably needs it. God, let me take some of the money You have given to me and use it to open the gates by giving charity for Your sake.” “I'm bursting to tell X about what Y did, but that would be malicious gossip. God, help me not to say anything at all about this. Let me speak only good.” And so on.

This applies to the whole of life. “God, let me get up in time ... do my exercises ... eat like a holy Jew ... be organized and do my work efficiently ...”and so on, and so on. If you are in the middle of your daily business and some thought or impulse to reach out to God comes into your mind, stop right there and then, and articulate the thought. Put it in words. Make it into a prayer. Then carry on with what you're doing. “When a thought of repentance comes to you, stop for a moment in the very place where you are – even if you're in the middle of the market-place! – and offer a prayer to God. If you wait till you get to the synagogue, the thought will have gone!” (Avanehah Barzel p.67 #43).

Words are the simplest, most accessible, most portable way of connecting yourself with God at any time, in any place, in any mood and any situation. When you think of God, you may think of the endless expanses of the Universe and feel overawed by His greatness. Yet the Rabbis taught that the true measure of God's greatness is His humility (Megilah 31a). God lovingly supervises every detail of the entire creation, down to the smallest and lowliest. At your own table, in the living room, kitchen, bedroom, car, office... the King is present at your calling, and you can bring yourself into His presence simply by saying one word: God.

The key element in developing a true, deep connection with God is setting aside time for hisbodidus. How good it would be if we could regularly discuss everything we need to talk to God about in an ordered way – thanking Him for His many blessings and for all the good in our lives, regretting the bad we have done, working on ourselves, resolving our problems, examining what our true purpose is, asking how we can achieve it, and requesting help to take the practical steps needed to do so, in order to come to the ultimate good (see Chapter 6).

There are times when hisbodidus flows. For those who are assiduous in their practice, hisbodidus can bring one to find and develop the Godly Soul to perfection, each in his or her own way. Hisbodidus is the foundation of a close, intimate, reverential yet loving relationship with God that provides inner strength, peace, confidence, conviction, a sense of purpose, vigor and joy for a lifetime.

For those who are interested in following the classic path of Jewish spiritual devotion, the literature of Mussar, Chassidut and Kabbalah teaches us the way to work on our character traits and to cultivate love and fear of God. There are works which depict the highest and most radiant spiritual levels. The Code of Jewish Law itself – which applies to everyone – begins with the devotion of “I place HaShem before me constantly” (Orach Chaim 1:1). Keeping God's presence in mind at all times and seeing His name before one's eyes are most exalted forms of devotion, not to speak of the inner intentions of the prayers and mitzvot, Kabbalistic meditations, and so on.

However, it is impossible for anyone to achieve any of these levels or to practice any of these devotions truthfully and meaningfully without hisbodidus. “From the smallest to the greatest, it is impossible to be a truly good Jew except through hisbodidus” (Likutey Moharan II:100). Rebbe Nachman named numerous famous Tzaddikim and stated that in all cases they attained their levels only by means of hisbodidus.

How good it would be if we could make the time for hisbodidus and discuss all the things we need to talk to God about in an ordered way! But there's a Turkey that doesn't always let us! In real life, just making time for hisbodidus can be quite an effort, let alone talking.

Sometimes hisbodidus works. Sometimes it may not. Even so: “You can be a turkey and sit up at the table.” When you can, talk to God about everything you want, in whatever way you want. And when you can't, try to say a little, even if it's just: “God, it's hard to talk to You.” Or simply repeat the one word: “God.” If you find you can't talk, simply sit for a while. If nothing works, leave it for now and try again later. If you are willing to make an effort, you will eventually succeed.

Through hisbodidus, the Jew becomes a partner with the Holy One in the work of creation. God says to the Jewish People: “I will put My word in your mouth and I will cover you with the shadow of My hand, to stretch out the heavens and to establish the earth and to say to Zion, `Ami atah, You are My people' “(Isaiah 51:16). The Holy Zohar comments: “Do not read the words as `Ami atah' – You are My people – but `imi atah' – You are with Me: You are partners with Me. Just as I created the Heavens and Earth with My word – `Through the word of HaShem the heavens were made' (Psalms 33:6) – so you too become a creative partner with God through words” (Zohar, Introduction 5a).

Through hisbodidus, you enter a partnership with God in the unfolding of your self, your life and the creation as a whole. What is your goal? What do you want to achieve? How can you get to it? What will you have to do? What steps must you take? What step are you going to take right now? Ask for God's help and now do it!

There is no end to God's amazing miracles. There are growing numbers of people who are making an effort to practice hisbodidus sincerely. They can testify that they have proof of these miracles in their daily lives and their own selves. God is able to do things for you that you would not believe possible. God loves you more than the most loving father. He wants you to succeed. Just try to talk to Him.

The Dangers of Subjectivity

“Someone who is in fetters cannot release himself from prison by himself.”

Berachot 5b

The literal meaning of hisbodidus is “making oneself alone.” The spiritual path of Emunah, of which hisbodidus is an integral part, ideally involves social life with family, friends, community and the wider world on the foundation of “love your neighbor as yourself”(Leviticus 19:18). However, hisbodidus itself is unquestionably and necessarily a solitary and individualistic pursuit.

If you are alone, how can you know whether you are really on the right track or not? How do you know if you are doing hisbodidus correctly? How do you know if you are going about your spiritual development in the right way? Everyone has his blind-spots about himself. As we've already discussed, spiritual life can sometimes be very heady and tempestuous. Could it not be dangerous to go about it all by oneself? Spirituality and religion are matters of life and death: to look for God is to look for the ultimate goodness in this world and the next. Going wrong could be very costly, to say the least.

The Turkey is the notorious trickster who plays with the mind. “The Prince had gone mad. He thought he was a Turkey.” The Prince thought something that was simply not true, yet he was totally under the spell of the illusion. He really believed he was a Turkey. He knew it. How can we be sure we are not under illusions of a similar nature in our own spiritual lives? There are kelipot on every level of the creation. The Yetzer HaRa is active in all areas of life, including our spiritual lives. Spiritual deceptions can be the most powerful of all.

Religion deals with powerful moral categories: Right and Wrong. It is thus very prone to abuse. History shows no lack of cases where individuals, groups and whole societies have used “religious principles” to sanction the most cruel, destructive acts of wanton greed and folly. Even if we do not consciously want to deceive ourselves or anyone else, is there not a danger that natural human weakness may induce us to unconsciously misinterpret spiritual and religious teachings in order to provide rationalizations for our own unhealthy attitudes and behavior? As Rebbe Nachman says: “The way the Yetzer HaRa deceives a person is by first dressing itself up in mitzvot, persuading him that the thing he is tempted to do is really a mitzvah” (Likutey Moharan I:1). And even with no ulterior motives at all, one can sometimes simply get things wrong.

The Torah itself gives objective guidance over the whole of life, but it is impossible to learn the Torah all by oneself. The Written Torah is inseparable from the Oral Torah, and neither can be understood except from live teachers. Since the time of Rabbi Yehudah the Prince in the second century of the common era, more and more of the Oral Torah has been put into writing in the form of the Mishnah, Talmud, Midrashim, Responsa, Codes, Kabbalah, and so on. Even so, it is impossible to grasp the true spirit, nuances and implications of the Oral Torah without learning from an experienced teacher.

For this reason, a Torah scholar is called not a Chacham, a Wise Man, but a Talmid Chacham, the pupil of a Wise Man. The first step in becoming wise is to have the humility to admit that one can be wrong without even realizing it, and to seek responsible outside guidance.

 “The main cause of all madness is failure to listen to the words of those with wisdom and intelligence. If a madman were to listen to what others with intelligence tell him, he would certainly not be mad at all. In his crazed state it might seem clear and self-evident that he has to act in the crazy way he does. Even so, someone greater than himself is telling him that it is unnecessary for him to act this way. If he were to put aside his own ideas and accept the opinion of this other person, who is wiser than himself, his whole madness would certainly go away” (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #67).

The Prince who thought he was a Turkey was the ideal madman! He had the good sense to follow all the Wise Man's suggestions – and he was cured! Most of our discussion about this story has been concerned with the allusions it contains to various aspects of the spiritual path of the individual. We have tended to look at the different characters as personifications of different parts of the soul, notably the Godly Soul, the Yetzer HaTov, and the Animal Soul, the Yetzer HaRa. Nevertheless, taking the story at face value, it tells us about a relationship between two separate people – one who needed help badly, and another who helped him in the most remarkable and compassionate way.

If the Prince had been left to himself, it is doubtful whether he would ever have recovered. He would have had no way of knowing that his Turkey illusions were false, destructive and against his own best interests. It took someone else from the world above the table to come down and lift him up. Not just anyone was able to do it. The other doctors tried whatever they could, but they failed. It was only the kind, simple, humble Wise Man, willing as he was to take himself right down there next to the Prince, who was able to teach him the priceless art of getting things done a little at a time.

Although an amazing figure, the Wise Man had no pride whatsoever. He didn't hold himself to be anything. He did not look down on the Prince in any way. In fact, he equated himself with him. He pulled at crumbs and bones and said, “I'm also a turkey.” Not only is the Wise Man a symbol of the ideal teacher, he is also a symbol of the ideal friend. Two of the greatest practical lessons coming out of our story are: “Get yourself a teacher and acquire a friend” (Avot 1:6).

Finding a Teacher

“Seek out the greatest possible Tzaddik. When you seek a teacher, choose only the greatest Tzaddik.”

Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #51

“Each one should search for the right guide. It takes a very great teacher to explain Godly wisdom in terms that are comprehensible to people on a lower spiritual level. The lower a person is and the further away from God, the greater the teacher he needs. Thus when the Jews were on the lowest level, in exile in Egypt, they needed the greatest, most awesome leader and teacher – namely Moshe Rabbenu. The sicker the patient, the greater the doctor he needs. Each person knows in his own heart how lowly he is and how far from HaShem. The more one realizes this, the more one needs to find the greatest possible doctor for one's soul” (Likutey Moharan I:30).

Spiritual life is bound up with issues of life and death and ultimate destiny. Who wouldn't want a personal Wise Man like the Prince had, a true spiritual guide who could see to the very roots of one's soul and understand one's deepest needs, and who could lead one to perfect fulfillment and happiness in the sweetest, easiest way! If you are one who has found the right teacher for yourself, I bless you that you should joyously walk the path of Torah at all times, and let HaShem be with you for ever!

For those who have not yet found their teacher, it can be a long, frustrating search, with many disappointments. As always, the first practical step to take in finding the right teachers is to pray to HaShem. “HaShem, nothing is more important to our whole being as Jews than finding our true guide in life. Please help us and send us our righteous Mashiach quickly, that he should take each one of us by the hand, speak sweetly to our hearts, and lift us out of our exile. Help us to find good teachers for everything that we need to learn...”

Make the search for reliable, sympathetic teachers into a project that you will accomplish step by step. What is in your own ultimate best interests? What are you looking for? Be as honest with yourself as you can. What do you need? Who do you know, or know about, that might be able to help you? What practical steps will you have to take to get what you need?

There are all kinds of false and unscrupulous “Rabbis,” teachers, professors, instructors, psychologists, therapists, gurus, friendly advisors, etc. who might offer you their services. Such people are often extremely talented, sophisticated and impressive: it may be hard to discern what they really are and where they might lead you. It is your prerogative to make careful inquiries from whomever you can about any teacher, leader, Rabbi, doctor, therapist, etc. to whom you may decide to entrust your life and spiritual destiny, or any part of them. Think carefully about what God wants of you, as set forth in the Torah, and ask yourself honestly if this person can help you.

If a particular teacher makes you feel uncomfortable, ask yourself: in what way? Our Sages said, “When there's a Rabbi whom people like, it's not because he's so good but because he does not reprove them about serving HaShem” (Ketuvot 105b). “People hate the one who gives reproof” (Likutey Moharan I:10,4). If you feel uncomfortable because your teacher makes you aware of urgent personal business that you need to take care of, that is good. But this does not mean that you have to submit to teachers with attitudes that make you feel irredeemably crooked. Steer away from teachers who make you feel negative about yourself and your spiritual aspirations. Oh to find the teacher who tells you the real truth and makes you feel good about it!

Do not expect to find the ideal spiritual mentor, teacher, counselor, helper, etc. all rolled into one. Be ready to learn what you can from everyone, including those from whom you learn how not to behave! Everyone has his strengths and weaknesses. You may need a variety of teachers in different areas – Halachah, Hashkafah (faith and outlook), Chassidut, inner growth, prayer, Gemara, nutrition, fitness and anything else you are interested in. For some purposes regular sessions may be necessary, for others periodic consultations may be sufficient.

As regards the way you relate to your teachers: “Be bold, even with the Rav himself, and have the courage to talk with him just as much as you need to. Don't be shy! The fact that one person may be closer to the teacher than another is only because he is more determined and adventurous and therefore speaks to him more” (Likutey Moharan I:271). Work out your needs and questions, and ask freely. Press for private time if necessary. Where personal access is not possible, try writing letters explaining clearly what you need.

Good teachers are rightly jealous of their time – time is life. One reason they may not pay much attention to you could be that they want to test you to see if you are really serious. If you pester them persistently enough, you may be able to persuade them to give you the time you need.

For those interested in using hisbodidus to work on deep personal problems and effect far-reaching changes in their lives, it is desirable to find a reliable, knowledgeable, understanding and sympathetic counselor/friend, if at all possible. Everyone has blocks, resistances and blind-spots about themselves that cannot be overcome without outside assistance. When you need help, don't be too proud to ask for it!

Quite often the help we need is not available, but “Which great nation is there that God is close to like HaShem our God whenever we call to Him?” (Deuteronomy 4:7). Cry out to God for whatever you need. Be persistent. Nag. And be patient.

By this point in the book, the true identity of the Wise Man should be perfectly clear. He has been quoted on practically every single page. What is Rebbe Nachman really saying to you? Read his books, in Hebrew if you can, or in translation. Read everything he has to say, even if you disagree. Watch for the way he carefully qualifies much of what he says. Details can be important. Take time to think about his message.

True, the Rebbe himself stated clearly: “There is no comparison between hearing from the Tzaddik's own mouth and studying what he has to say in a book” (Likutey Moharan I:19,1). Rebbe Nachman ascended to the higher life in 1810. His body is under the ground. How can you know for certain which way to interpret what he says? He tells us to “speak to the Tzaddik” (Likutey Moharan I:34,8). How can you speak to Rebbe Nachman and get answers?

Studying Rebbe Nachman's teachings from a book may seem far less personal than hearing Torah from a living Tzaddik. Somewhat less remote is hearing his teachings from the students of his followers, who heard them direct. Among Rebbe Nachman's present-day adherents, the Breslover Chassidim, there are reliable teachers who received the tradition from a line of five generations of outstanding Torah leaders going back to Rabbi Nathan, Rebbe Nachman's closest follower, and other disciples. Search out Breslover Chassidim who strike you as being responsible and genuine in their efforts to practice Rebbe Nachman's teachings, and discuss hisbodidus and other aspects of spiritual growth with them.

Can't you talk to Rebbe Nachman? Yes you can! It is an ancient Jewish custom to visit the graves of the Tzaddikim, to pray to God and ask the Tzaddikim to intercede on our behalf. Rebbe Nachman invited people to come to his gravesite, give charity, and recite Ten Psalms which he called “The Complete Remedy.”(The Psalms are 16, 32, 41, 42, 59, 77, 90, 105, 137 and 150. See Rabbi Nachman's Tikkun.) Rebbe Nachman's burial site is in the town of Uman in the Ukraine, U.S.S.R, and can be visited today. One does not pray to the Tzaddik, God forbid, but one can talk to the Tzaddik in just the same way as one might pour out one's heart to a live person sitting opposite.

Rebbe Nachman had an interesting way of communicating with Tzaddikim whose graves he could not visit in person. After moving from his birth-place in Medziboz, where his great-grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov, was buried, there were times when he wanted to speak to him. Rebbe Nachman would then visit the grave of a renowned Tzaddik who was buried nearby and he would ask this Tzaddik to transmit his message to the Baal Shem Tov, telling him what he needed (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom p.22).

In Eretz Yisrael there are many holy burial sites of outstanding Tzaddikim where one is free to pray and talk out all one's needs. There are also graves of celebrated Tzaddikim in the Diaspora. “The Tzaddikim are greater after their death than in their lifetime” (Chulin 7b).

Friendship

“Two are better than one... for if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow... And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Not only must we try to find ourselves a teacher. We must also try to acquire a chaver, a true friend. In the Rabbinic teaching to “acquire a friend” (Avot 1:6), the Hebrew word for “acquire,” k'ney, literally means buy – “buy yourself a friend.” It is well worth paying a good price in terms of effort and devotion in order to develop genuine friendships based on spiritual love and support.

One of the reasons why hisbodidus has to be a solitary pursuit is that the social environment most of us live in confronts us with endless distractions and negative influences. It is necessary to set definite times to separate oneself from them in order to re-establish our personal connection with God. “Other people can be great detractors. If you were alone, without the influence of others, you would always direct yourself toward the path of life. You might be confronted with every type of confusion, worry and frustration, but you would eventually end up on the right path. It becomes much more difficult when others confuse you” (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #81).

On the other hand, the goal of hisbodidus is not to turn oneself into a hermit. It is to develop inner strength in order to lead the Torah life in this world in the best way possible. Life necessarily involves other people. Interpersonal relations are an integral part of the spiritual journey. “Love your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:18) is the foundation of numerous daily mitzvot. Interacting with real live human beings can be very difficult at times, and it is precisely through the practice of honesty, kindness, acts of giving and other mitzvot, despite the difficulties, that we develop Godly qualities in ourselves. In addition, God reveals Himself to us through other people in all kinds of ways: both through our casual interactions with strangers and our longer-term relationships with family, friends, work associates, etc.

Each person is God's unique creation, having a spark of Godliness in him that is quite unlike anyone else's. The Torah commands us to “judge your fellow man fairly” (Leviticus 19:15) – to search for the good in others and judge them favorably (see Azamra). Nevertheless, “love your neighbor” does not mean you have to become intimate friends with everyone. Each person has good in him or her somewhere, but it is not necessarily the good that you need for your development right now. The concept of acquiring a spiritual “chaver” means choosing one or more friends that you get on well with in order to give each other support and to search for God together, whether through joint study, deep and intimate discussion, or work on projects, etc.

Choose your chaverim carefully. Look for individuals who are truthful. One of the best ways of judging whether a friendship is good for you is by evaluating the time you spend together and how you feel afterwards. Is the time well-spent or wasted? Are the things you do together constructive or not? Do you come away feeling spiritually re-energized, uplifted and positive, or drained, frustrated, irritable, depressed, pessimistic and the like?

There are many different kinds of chaver-relationships. Sometimes it is enough that you have a regular appointment with someone in order to study or practice hisbodidus, etc. even though you then study separately or go aside to meditate individually. These can be difficult disciplines to adhere to alone: having the fixed appointment with a friend can be highly supportive. Joint study sessions can be of mutual benefit even when the two partners are at different levels and one tends to be more the giver while the other receives.

Nothing is more precious than a chaver you can talk to on your own level easily and frankly – someone loving and honest with whom you can discuss the deepest spiritual issues and who will tell you what you most need to hear. “Everyone should discuss the spiritual journey with a friend in order to receive inspiration from his unique Godly spark. Just as the angels on high `receive one from the other,' so human beings should receive from one another” (Likutey Moharan I:34,8).

A good basis for such a relationship can be regular sessions focused around study of a text that is of mutual interest (e.g. Chassidut, Mussar) out of which your discussions can then develop. The main thing is to search for the truth. Do not insist on winning arguments or having your viewpoint accepted. “The need to win makes a person intolerant of the truth” (Likutey Moharan I:122). Hear, and try to understand, what your friend is saying, even if you do not agree. Evaluate everything according to Torah teaching. “Sometimes your friend may not be able to grasp your words, but you can still gain from the conversation... You can be motivated by your own words. Your words literally bounce off your friend and are reflected back to you.... The same words may have had no effect, had you spoken them to yourself” (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #99).

“It is good to tell your teacher or a reliable friend about all your negative thoughts and feelings – those which go contrary to the Torah – whose source is in the Yetzer HaRa. You may have many such thoughts and feelings when you are studying and praying, when lying in bed or in the middle of the day. Don't hide things because of shame: through articulating what is in your mind and heart you break the power of the Yetzer HaRa, which is then unable to overwhelm you to the same degree again. This is in addition to the good spiritual advice you can receive from your friend” (R. Elimelech, Tzetel Katan #13).

It can be very beneficial to talk over deep problems in this way, but be cautious. You may sometimes feel a strong urge to pour out your heart to another, but it is not wise to entrust the intimate details of your inner life to just anyone. Being honest does not mean you have to be open to everyone about everything. Some people are unable to keep secrets, even after promising faithfully not to divulge information. Even the best-intentioned friend may unwittingly abuse your confidence. You should also understand that although a close friend may have many fine qualities, there may be aspects of your inner life that your friend does not have the strength to deal with. It may be best to speak about deep issues in your life to an experienced and responsible counselor.

Buy a friend.” The best way to develop a successful chaver-relationship is to concern yourself not so much with what you can get out of it as what you can give. Greet your friend with a warm smile! “With happiness you can give a person life. A person might be in terrible agony and not be able to express what is in his heart. If there is no-one to whom he can unburden his heart, he remains deeply pained and worried. If you come to such a person with a happy face, you can cheer him up and literally give him life” (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #43).

Empathize with your friend. Put yourself in his shoes and try to understand the way he feels and sees things. “You should be able to feel another's troubles in your own heart. This is especially true when many are suffering. It is possible to clearly realize another's anguish and still not feel it in your heart. When an entire community is in distress, you should surely feel their agony in your heart. If you do not feel it, you should strike your head against the wall – i.e. the walls of your heart. You must bring the realization from your mind to your heart” (ibid. 39).

Even if you see much that you find negative in your friend, remember that “you should not judge your friend until you come to his place” (Avot 2:5). Only God understands the tests and trials each one is put through. Always try to focus on looking for your friend's good points. If you feel an obligation to offer criticism, do so as sensitively and constructively as possible. It is good to discuss the purpose of life with people. We all benefit from gentle reminders that human life is very fleeting and that in the end we have to give a full account.

Give your friend every kind of encouragement in his search for God. Want the best for your friend. Rebbe Nachman said: “I would like nothing better than for all my friends to be great Tzaddikim. This would be my greatest expression of love and friendship. This is how you must love your fellow man. You should want him to attain his true goal in life as ordained by God's goodness. This is true Jewish love” (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #119). Pray for your friend's welfare and success.

The Torah was given at Chorev. The letters of ChoReV are the same as those of ChaVeR, friend. And just as “two are better than one,” so, “a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). Extend your group of spiritual friends, one by one.

“Sometimes a circle of people are happy and dancing, and they pull in someone who was standing outside, miserable and depressed. They make him join the dance, and eventually he becomes happy too” (Likutey Moharan II:23). Talk to people about the purpose of this world and the joy of serving HaShem. The more we do to influence the people we have contact with, the closer the day when all flesh will call on God's name and He will make the dance-circle of the righteous that will be the antidote to all grief and suffering (Ta'anit 31a and Likutey Moharan II:24).

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