Avraham ben Yaakov
Jewish Pathways of Spiritual Growth
The Royal Food: Faith
The Story of the Clay-digger * How did the Clay-digger stay happy? * Faith and Personal Growth * Trust * Food for the Soul and Food for the Body * Fundamentals of Faith * Emunah: The Twenty-Four- Hour-a-Day Meditation * "You can eat good food and still be a Turkey"
Afterwards the Wise Man gave a sign, and they put down human food from the table. The Wise Man said to the Prince, "Do you think if you eat good food you can't be a turkey any more? You can eat this food and still be a turkey." They ate.
"Dwell in the land and feed off faith."
Rebbe Nachman told a story about someone who was always searching for good. In fact, that was how he made his living. He was poor, and he used to dig clay and sell it. No doubt he was always on the look-out for a good find -- some trinket someone had dropped or the like.
One day he was digging, and suddenly -- what a find! Glinting through the clay was a diamond. And what a diamond! It must have been worth a fortune. The Clay-digger didn't know how much it was worth, so he went to a jeweler to value it. The jeweler told him it was so valuable that there was no-one in their country with enough money to buy it! Only in
Imagine the mixed emotions of this Clay-digger. Here was good fortune beyond his wildest dreams, but he didn't have a penny to journey down to the port, let alone to pay the fare for the sea-voyage to
It sometimes happens that after all our years of searching, we finally discover something truly worthwhile, and we decide to devote our entire life to it. So it was with the Clay-digger. Here he was, setting off for a far-off country where he knew no-one and didn't even speak the language. Yet he was more than willing to take the risk, because he could see in his flashing diamond a future of abundant prosperity and happiness.
At the port, he found a boat that would shortly set sail for
The Clay-digger's cabin had a window looking out over the sea, and as they sailed the ocean, rocking up and down, up and down, he would sit there enjoying himself immensely and rejoicing over the diamond, especially at mealtimes. Joy and good spirits are medically-proven aids to digestion! Riding the high seas of life is sheer pleasure when everything's going your way.
One time he sat down to eat, with the diamond placed on the table in front of him so that he could enjoy it. After his meal, he took a nap. While he was asleep, the cabin-boy came in to tidy up. He took the tablecloth to the window and shook out all the crumbs, together with the diamond, into the sea!
When the Clay-digger woke up, he quickly saw what had happened, and it did not take him long to realize that he was in big trouble. His entire fortune had gone out of the window, and with it his whole life. He almost went out of his mind wondering what to do. The captain was a pirate who would murder him for the price of the boat-ticket. There are times in life when you see the inescapable truth with chilling clarity. Your dearest dreams have been dashed to the ground, and death stares you in the face.
Imagine the cries and prayers that the Clay-digger poured out to God from the depths of his heart in those moments of complete honesty. Imagine his passionate entreaties for pity and mercy. What possible hope was there? "God of miracles! HELP ME!!!"
The Clay-digger now did the greatest thing he ever did in his whole life. At this supreme moment of trial, with nothing at all in his hands, and no hope whatsoever, he decided he would still be happy. He pretended to be happy, as if nothing at all was the matter.
Every day during the voyage, the Captain used to come in and talk to the Clay-digger for a couple of hours, and he did the same today. How trite their usual chat about adventures in exotic ports and the like must have seemed today as the Clay-digger sat facing the ultimate Truth. Nevertheless, he made such a show of being happy that the Captain didn't notice anything unusual at all.
The Captain said to him, "I know you're clever and honest. Now listen, I want to buy a large quantity of produce to sell in
Shortly after they arrived in
Rebbe Nachman concluded the story by saying that the diamond did not belong to the Clay-digger, and the proof is that he lost it. The produce did belong to him, and the proof is that it stayed with him. "And he only came to his own because he held himself and kept happy."
(Rabbi Nachman's Stories #19)
How did the Clay-digger stay happy?
You may feel that the ending of the story seems a little rigged -- but the truth is that nothing in the world stops God from doing whatever He wants. Salvation can come from anywhere, and help often appears from the most unexpected of places. A far more important and practical question is: How did the Clay-digger stay happy in that darkest moment? Life is like a voyage over the oceans: you go up and down, up and down. The main thing is to stay happy and keep going even when you're down and things are against you. But how?
When things are reasonably OK and just a little down, most of us can get by and keep our heads up. But when you're in a crisis as serious as that of the Clay-digger, what do you do then? As far as he knew at that moment, all possible hope had been dashed. He was most probably going to die a cruel death by drowning within a matter of hours. Even if he did somehow get to
The Clay-digger was someone who had spent years making a living from looking for the good even amidst the slimy black mud. He knew that if you just keep searching, you'll always turn up something that will provide you with a bit of a living. He had then had occasion to see the most amazing, miraculous, totally unexpected chessed, the unstinting generosity of the Creator of the World, in the shape of his diamond. And then he suddenly saw the truth of life as he had never seen it before: "HaShem gave and HaShem took." "Naked I came out of my mother's womb, and naked I will return there. HaShem gave and HaShem took. Let the name of HaShem be blessed" (Job 1:21).
HaShem is everywhere. In the world. Beyond the world. In every situation. Whether we go up or down. Alive or dead. "If I go up to Heaven -- there You are, and if I make my bed in Hell -- You are there" (Psalms 139:8). Even in the worst possible situation, one must hold oneself and have faith that even there, one still has hope, because HaShem is present there too. (See Likutey Moharan I:6 end.)
HaShem is all good and His only intention is for good. "Since the ultimate goal is entirely good, 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 look at the ultimate purpose, you will see that 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, whether to remind you to return to God, or to cleanse and scour you of your sins. If so, the suffering is really very beneficial, because God's intention is certainly only for good" (ibid. I:65,3, and see Garden of the Souls).
Even death is ultimately good. " `And God saw all that He made, and it was tov me'od -- very good' (Genesis 1:31) -- `very good' refers to death" (Bereishit Rabbah ad loc.). Death is the ultimate atonement for sin, and leads to final purification and eternal life. "Know that in this world a person has to cross a very narrow bridge. The main thing is not to be afraid" (Likutey Moharan II:48).
The Clay-digger had come face to face with the worst of all possibilities, and he was willing to accept it if necessary. He could do that because he knew God is good. Even if sometimes God does things that seem bad to us, ultimately everything is for our good. Without faith in God there would have been no basis for any positive hopes or feelings whatsoever. But the Clay-digger kept his concentration fixed upon God and upon the ultimate good he would eventually come to, and he was happy.
In fact, he was overjoyed, because he now understood that although, in the vicissitudes of life in this world, sometimes things are good and sometimes bad, eventually we will definitely receive the good that is all good, total good, our eternal heritage in the World to Come. Compared to this, the diamond was worth nothing. No matter what might happen, the Clay-digger saw that in the end he would only gain.
Through complete faith in God under all circumstances he could always be happy and confident -- and his very confidence is what now saved the entire situation. He determinedly ignored the looming disaster completely, chatting happily with the Captain... until the Captain politely invited him to sign his name to what was to be the deed of possession of something far more valuable than a mere trinket or diamond: an entire shipload of expensive foreign produce.
Faith and Personal Growth
The produce symbolizes "the fruit of the land" (Numbers 13:26). "The land" is faith, the ground of our being, the ground that we walk on, that holds and supports us more surely than the earth under our feet. "Dwell in the land and feed off faith" (Psalms 37:3). The soul is like a tree planted in the land. Our task is to dwell in the land and cultivate the tree. If the soil is good -- if our faith is strong -- and we do our work, the tree will grow and bear fruits. The fruits are our mitzvot and good deeds, which we enjoy in This World and the World to Come.
Many people think positive thinking is a good thing but basically a matter of blind man's bluff. You have no idea where you are going, but as you grope around, you put on a mighty front that everything's just wonderful. This is certainly true of "positive thinking" that is not based upon faith in God: there are no real grounds for confidence at all. Without God, everything is a matter of chance, and experience seems to show that the worst disasters can overtake the best people -- lo olenu, not on us! In the end, everyone dies, and who really knows what comes after death? What is there to be positive about?
"People with a secular outlook have no life, even in this world. As soon as things go against them, they are left with nothing. They depend completely on nature and have nowhere to turn. When trouble strikes, they are left without any source of inspiration.
"But someone who has faith in God has a very good life. Even in times of trouble, his faith still inspires him. He trusts in God and knows that everything will be for the best. Even if he has to go through suffering, he realizes it will atone for his sins. And if this is not necessary, these troubles will ultimately bring him a much greater benefit. No matter what happens, he realizes that God ultimately only does good. Someone with faith therefore always has a good life, both in this world and the next" (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #102).
Faith is the only sure foundation for real personal spiritual growth. If you want to change and develop, you are bound to encounter problems. Life is a succession of ups and downs. Sometimes we are confronted with enormous obstacles to what we want to achieve. The only way to conquer them is through faith in God.
If your goal is to grow spiritually through the Torah and the mitzvot, you know this is what God wants, because He tells us so in the Torah. The hurdles and difficulties you encounter in trying to lead the life of Torah, prayer and hisbodidus may be very discouraging, but you can be sure they are not a message to you to give up. God wants you to keep on trying. And if, after all your efforts, nothing comes of them, there is still no reason to despair. You must accept that it was the will of God that things should turn out this way, and God wants your ultimate good. Eventually, things will turn out better than you could ever dream.
Faith is the soil for growth. "When a grain of wheat is planted in good earth, it develops and grows beautifully and comes to no harm even in strong winds and storms. This is because the growth-force is working in it. That is why nothing harms it. But when a wheat-grain is planted in earth that is not good for planting, it rots in the ground, because it doesn't have the growth-force. Faith is the force generating our growth and development. When a person has faith -- the growth-force -- nothing hurts him and he is not afraid of anyone or anything... But when a person is lacking in faith, he doesn't have the growth-force, and then he literally rots, like the wheat-grain. He is depressed, lazy and heavy and literally rots" (Likutey Moharan I:155).
Faith is the essential vitality-giving nutrient that causes development and growth -- faith that what you are doing is right and important, and that you should make every effort to keep on doing it; faith in yourself -- faith that you are precious to God and your efforts are valuable in His eyes; and faith that behind all the veils and obstacles, God is present, watching, helping and supporting you.
Faith involves patience -- the willingness to just wait and sit things out when times are difficult, the way the Clay-digger sat when the Captain of the ship came in for his daily visit. When there was nothing he could do, the Clay-digger didn't try to do anything. He just sat out the crisis, waiting for the winds to change.
"When you have faith and patience, you are not afraid of anything and you pay no attention to interruptions and obstacles to your efforts to learn, pray, keep the mitzvot and serve HaShem. You just keep on doing as much as you can do. This is patience -- when nothing can distract you and you pay no attention to anything: you just keep on doing what you have to do to serve HaShem...
"When you have faith in God you just take a long patient breath, no matter what interruption or obstacle may come up as you try to pray and serve God. You simply take everything in your stride without getting upset or discouraged. You take a long, deep breath and pay no attention at all. You just carry on doing your work. This is the way to overcome everything, until eventually you will not even notice the obstacles and barriers.
"All this comes from faith, which is the vital growth-force. The more you grow and blossom successfully in the Torah path, the less likely that something will be able to throw you off or cast you into depression and laziness. You will do your part energetically and happily without paying attention to any of the obstacles" (ibid.).
While faith is the general belief that everything is in the hands of HaShem, trust in God is the confidence that He watches over the specific details of our lives. To have trust in HaShem means to have confidence that He is taking care of us in every aspect of our lives, major or minor, and will help us and provide us with whatever we need.
To have trust, you have to have faith, but not everyone who has faith has trust. "Faith is like a tree, and trust is the fruit of the tree... but there are trees which do not bear fruit" (Ramban, Emunah u-Bitachon 1). "There are people who have a general belief in HaShem. They believe that everything is in His hands. Yet they do not put their trust in HaShem in every single thing they do. They may remember HaShem and pray for success at the outset of some major venture or a dangerous journey and the like, but not when it comes to doing something small or going somewhere nearby.
"Genuine trust means putting one's entire confidence only in God and remembering Him in every detail of one's activities, being aware that no matter what one may attempt, success depends not on what one does, but only on the will of God. Remember that you could get hurt even somewhere nearby if not for God's protection" (Rabbenu Bachaye, Kad HaKemach, #Bitachon).
"The test of faith comes not when a person observes the Covenant and the Torah and serves HaShem in the quiet and comfort of his palatial home, with everything going well... but when reverses, hard times, poverty and persecution strike and drive a person to breaking point, and even then he still maintains his purity... This is why the Psalmist says (Psalms 62:9) `Trust in Him at all times' "(R. Yosef Albo, Sefer Ha-Ikarim 4:46).
"Hope in God should be like the confident anticipation a person has of something that he is certain is going to come, as surely as day follows night. Have complete trust that God will certainly satisfy your needs without any doubt at all, since He has the power and nothing can stop Him -- not like someone who hopes for something but has doubts if it will or will not come. Perfect trust will strengthen your heart and give you joy" (ibid. 49).
Food for the Soul and Food for the Body
"HaShem is my shepherd, I will not lack. In lush meadows He lays me down, He leads me beside tranquil waters."
"HaShem is my shepherd." The Shepherd is the Ro'EH, and it is written, "Re'EH emunah -- feed off Emunah" (Psalms 37:3). The food is Emunah. Wherever the Shepherd leads his flock, they always find something to graze off whenever they want: a mitzvah, a word of prayer, a melody, even just a sigh.
But people say: Faith is fine -- it may be all very well spending time praying and learning, but you need to eat! How does the money come? By going out to make a living, no? You can't sit and wait for your food to drop out of the skies.
Certainly, you have to earn a living -- but how many prayers have been stunted, how many sessions of Torah study and hisbodidus neglected, because of the need to attend to business? How many mitzvot have fallen by the wayside in the rush to earn money. The need to make a living is the
It is true: we do have to act to initiate the flow of livelihood. The sun shines, the rains fall, the plants and trees grow, and all good bounty comes out of the earth. But ever since the sin of Adam -- "with the sweat of your brow you will eat bread" (Genesis 3:19). God provides us with a world of basic materials and opportunities, but it is up to us to work in order to actualize the potential, whether through cultivating the land, taking raw materials to make things and use or sell them, providing a service, trading at some level, or even going out to ask for charity!
It is the very fact that we do have to do something to earn a living that makes it so difficult not to think that it is "my power and the strength of my hand" (Deuteronomy 8:17) that makes our bread. How much do we have to do in order to know we have done our part? As we go through the ugly jungle of economic life, day by day, we can be forgiven for wondering what we are going to eat, and how we can ensure we'll have everything we need. What does God want of us? How much should we do? How does He want us to earn a living?
Only you can decide what you think the right answer to these questions is for you now. Ask God to help you to understand what you should do, and to develop trust in Him. Say the special prayers for livelihood as printed in the Siddur etc. In your hisbodidus, speak to HaShem about your needs and feelings and express what is in your heart. To whatever extent you can at present, arrange as much or as little time as you think you can reasonably spare for your prayers, Torah study and hisbodidus. Make every effort not to miss your sessions. Then do your best to go about earning a living in accordance with the halachah, using your intelligence to make the very best of your situation and talents and any opportunities that may come up.
Although we may be
Can you get rich through Torah, prayer, hisbodidus? Yes. "What? Real wealth -- clothes, cars, furniture, holidays. No kidding?" Wealth, yes, and what wealth: the wealth of the King, for "the wealth is from You" (I Chronicles 29:12). "Who is wealthy? Someone who is happy with their share" (Avot 4:1). Look around you. Look at your hands and legs, and think of the amazing things you can do with them. Think of your vision and hearing, your ability to speak and act, your digestion, your breathing, your co-ordination... You have something to eat, you have clothes and somewhere to live...
Instead of thinking about what you don't have, thank God for everything you do have and enjoy it. If you can learn to discipline yourself to take exactly what you need from this world, no less and no more -- whether food, comforts, pleasures or anything else -- you will come to be perfectly satisfied with everything you have. You will accept and enjoy your body, your food, your clothes and housing, your family, your work, your synagogue, your study sessions, Shabbat, the festivals, and your deepening connection with God... and you will come to see that the whole of this world is really yours -- the free fresh air you breathe, the light of day, the stars of the heavens, the rains, the grass, the trees and plants, the fish, insects, birds, animals, and worlds upon worlds of variety, whether you open a book, talk to people, go out into the streets or the fields, look outside yourself or go within... "The whole world was created only for me" (Sanhedrin 37a).
Fundamentals of Faith
1. God Controls Everything: The first principle of faith is to know and understand that everything in the entire universe is under God's control. This includes everything that happens to you personally, both spiritually and materially, including what you yourself do, whether deliberately or unwittingly, willfully or under compulsion: everything is from God.
Appearances may sometimes seem to suggest otherwise, yet faith is "blind" in the sense that the believer does not pay attention to the external appearance of this world but to the underlying reality. There may be many philosophical questions about faith, but most of them are unanswerable. If you are prepared to accept the Torah unconditionally, you will eventually see with your very own eyes the truth of what you believe in.
Following the Torah pathway sincerely enables us to experience a dimension of existence which is otherwise simply inaccessible. You may be surrounded by radio waves, but you need a receiver to convert them into something you can experience with your sense apparatus. Faith is the "receiver" through which you experience the Divine. The essence of faith is believing that the One God controls everything.
2. Freedom: What we ourselves do is ultimately controlled by God, but this is concealed from us by our own egos, which give us the sensation of being independent and separate from God. It is inherent in our make-up to think that our thoughts and actions are our own, and that it is "my power and the strength of my hand" (Deuteronomy 8:17) that makes things happen in our lives.
God created us like this in order to give us free will. Our task is to turn to God of our own free will, in order to discover the truth for ourselves and see that, in actual fact, God controls everything, including our thoughts, feelings and actions. In this world, we are given the freedom to make our own choices. Then, depending on the choices we make, God either reveals Himself to us or conceals Himself even more, according to a system of strict justice.
3. Action: Even though all things in both the spiritual and material realms are in God's hands, this does not mean that our role is passive, waiting for God to do everything. God arranged the Universe in such a way as to give us freedom of action, whether in regard to carrying out the mitzvot, earning a living, finding a marriage partner, etc. We have to act -- but always with the understanding that our need to act in this world is a test, to see whether we will exercise our free will in accordance with the Torah or not.
Whether in carrying out the mitzvot or in acting in the material world to make a living and attend to our other needs, we have to understand that although it is up to us to take the initiative and act as if everything is up to us, ultimately everything depends on God. No matter what we feel we ought to do, whether in our spiritual or material lives, our first step should always be to ask God to guide us in what we do and to bless our efforts with success.
4. Reverses: When things turn out badly for us, we have to accept that this is God's will and that whatever happens is for the best. Even when things go wrong because of something we ourselves may have thought, said or done, we have to accept that this was also brought about by God. While we should feel contrite about our sins and make every effort to do better in the future, it is pointless to live with regrets about the past, because ultimately whatever happened came about through the will of God. Even when you observe the mitzvot and pray but feel that God is not responding, you must have faith that God is paying attention to everything you do, and that "if you get no answer, this is also an answer."
Other people are also free agents, yet, paradoxical as it may seem, everything they do is ultimately controlled by God. Therefore you should understand that if someone insults you or harms you in some way, this has been sent to you from God. If you respond by getting upset and venting your anger, it is a sign that you do not have complete faith in God's control over every detail of the Creation. When people insult you, it is God's way of cleansing you of your sins. If you respond with anger, it is as if you are refusing to accept His reprimand.
If things go against you, be patient. Take a deep breath and accept this as God's will. If somebody hurts you in some way and you keep silent, accepting it as atonement for your sins, this causes the outer veil of concealment to be removed, and God's control over the entire Creation becomes manifest.
5. Personal Growth: Your spiritual development is also under God's control. You may feel a desire to grow in a specific area and accomplish something holy, but as long as you are not ready to achieve what you want, things will be arranged in such a way as to hold you back -- either by external obstacles or through some idea that becomes implanted in your own mind to prevent you from reaching it. This does not mean that God is rejecting you, but He knows that, in the long run, this will be the best way to bring you to the ultimate good. The purpose of holding you back is to prompt you to cry out to God to help you rise from your present level and bring you nearer your true goal.
Even when you experience a breakthrough in your spiritual growth, do not imagine that from now on you will always be able to maintain your new level. Anything you may have achieved until now came about only through the love and help of God, and the only way you will be able to stand up to future challenges is also through His help.
While you must always try to do your part to develop and deepen your observance of the mitzvot, the central focus of your efforts should be your prayers to God for His help. Prayer reveals that everything is in God's power and that "it is in His hand to cause all things to grow and become strong" (I Chronicles 29:2). Ask God that no matter what may happen to you, you should always remember that the main thing is to pray.
6. Revelation and Guidance: Since God is everywhere and in all things, everything we experience is actually a communication from God. This includes our inner thoughts and feelings. Even negative thoughts and feelings -- heaviness, lack of enthusiasm, depression and the like -- are from God. Whatever you hear, see, or experience in life, whether from people you know or from complete strangers -- everything is a call to you from God. Through these communications everything you need in order to grow and attain spiritual perfection is sent to you.
We often find ourselves faced with unclear or even contradictory messages. These are also sent to us with a purpose: to give us free will and thereby test us. The way to sort out which messages to follow and which to ignore is through evaluating everything in the light of Torah teaching. The more you familiarize yourself with the Torah outlook on life, and especially the Halachah, which gives clear guidance about what is right and what is wrong, the more you will be able to interpret the various messages.
7. The Wise Man-Tzaddik: Faith in God includes faith in the Tzaddikim that God sends into the world to teach us how to transcend our lowly state and fulfill our spiritual destiny. It is not enough to accept that God gave the Torah to Moses on Sinai. The Torah tells us that in every generation we can only resolve our doubts and questions about what is the right path to choose by turning "to the judge who lives in those days" (Deuteronomy 17:9).
God sends Wise Men in every age to lift Jewish souls out of our exile. "You must do according to what they tell you... take care to act in accordance with everything they teach you... Do not turn aside from what they tell you either right or left" (ibid. 10-11).
(Adapted from R. Yitzchok Breiter, Seven Pillars of Faith)
Emunah: The Twenty-Four-Hour-a-Day Meditation
"Habakuk came and based everything on faith."
Meditation has been defined as "deciding exactly how one wishes to direct the mind for a period of time, and then doing it"(Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Jewish Meditation p.3). In this sense, Emunah -- faith -- could be called the twenty-four-hour-a-day, lifelong meditation. The Torah way of life involves turning oneself to God in every thought, word and deed. "Know Him in all your ways"(Proverbs 3:6).
The first act of the day, the moment you wake up in the morning, is to recite "Modeh ani"-- "I thank You, living and enduring King, for restoring my soul with love..."This is an act of faith. You remind yourself of the fundamental fact that there is a God, and you thank Him for the spark of divinity within you, your higher self or soul. With your first words of the day, you orient yourself to the ultimate goal of life -- the perfection of the soul and union with God in the World to Come.
The morning prayers then begin with a series of blessings that take us through the various details of our physical life and relate each one of them to God. Then in the P'sukei de-Zimra, the "verses of song"(selections from the Psalms, etc.) which form the next main part of the morning service, we survey the world around us and remind ourselves of the many manifestations of the Creator in nature and society. "You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing" (Psalms 145:16). The entire creation is sustained by God.
One of the main climaxes of both the morning and evening services is the recital of the Sh'ma. To live the life of Emunah, make these the most intense and vital moments of your day. Pause before you take on the yoke of God's kingship. Prepare yourself to affirm your total faith in God in a way that will illuminate everything else you think, say and do throughout the entire day. Put all your powers of concentration and feeling into the first verse of the Sh'ma.
With the word "Sh'ma"-- "Listen"-- call yourself to attention, addressing your innermost heart and soul: "Yisrael." Then, as you recite each of the Divine names in turn, "HaShem, Elokenu, HaShem," take the time to think how HaShem is the eternal Master of All, All Powerful, and that beyond all the masks and veils -- the plurality of powers manifested in the world -- there is only HaShem. As you say the word EChaD, affirm the perfect unity of HaShem (Aleph = 1) in the seven heavens and on earth (Chet = 8) and in all four directions (Dalet = 4). As you say Echad, have in mind that you surrender yourself to the service of HaShem and the obligations of the Torah completely, and that your belief in HaShem is so strong that you are willing to sacrifice your very life for Him.
The affirmation of faith in the Sh'ma is developed in the silent Amidah prayer, repeated in the morning, the afternoon and evening. In a life based on faith, the Amidah is a homing point we return to three times a day in order to keep ourselves aware of the essential truth of our existence -- that we are standing before HaShem at all times, and that every aspect and detail of our lives, both as individuals and as social beings, depends upon His blessing.
The opening blessing of the Amidah should be said with intense concentration and awareness of the immediate presence and overwhelming majesty and greatness of HaShem. Then, in the intermediate weekday blessings, we focus on all the important areas of life in turn, invoking the blessing of HaShem and asking for our most basic needs -- wisdom and understanding, repentance, forgiveness, redemption, health, livelihood, and so on. We pray not only for ourselves but for the entire Jewish People and the whole world. On Shabbat and festivals, the theme of the intermediate blessing is the unique spirit of the day itself, enabling us to focus on drawing this spirit into our souls and consciousness.
The Amidah prayer is the center of the prayer services and one of the most important ways of keeping focused on HaShem. Take your time. Where you have specific needs in any particular area, you can express and develop your faith in HaShem by introducing a private prayer into the appropriate blessing. In the blessing of Sh'ma kolenu -- "Hear our voice"-- it is permitted to introduce specific requests for any private or general need, in any language. The same applies in the concluding prayer of the Amidah, after "Let Your right hand save, and answer me," before the closing "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable..."Pray about all the things that are uppermost in your mind today.
The fixed prayer services do not replace hisbodidus, which is a separate and indispensable element in the pathway of faith. Hisbodidus is the work-shop of faith. You examine every aspect of yourself and your life in relation to God. You confront the things that separate you from HaShem and struggle to bring your whole life and being into His service. Only through the intimacy, spontaneity and freedom of hisbodidus is it possible to draw your entire self into your relationship with HaShem and cultivate your own unique soul-powers to the full.
Hisbodidus is different every day because each day is different. How are you feeling today? What is on your mind? Do you need to just sit and relax, or breathe? Are there strong emotions welling up in you that you need to let forth and express? Is there a particular issue or problem you need to analyze and discuss? Are there particular people and situations you want to pray about? What's happening in the world? What's happening in your world? What do you have on your schedule today? What plans do you have? What would you like to achieve? What steps will you have to take to do what you want? In what order? Where will you start?
Hisbodidus without Torah-study is, as we have seen, impossible. Daily study of the Torah, the will of God, is another integral element in the pathway of faith. It is not enough to study Torah out of purely intellectual interest. The goal is to learn in order to fulfill. The holy words in which the mitzvot and their details are explained to us, both in the Written and Oral Torah, are themselves beacons of faith, radiating God's light to us day by day. The Torah is God's communication with us, calling on us to ask ourselves the same question that He asked the first man: "Where are you?" (Genesis 3:9). "And now, Israel, what does HaShem your God ask of you except to fear HaShem your God, to go in all His ways and to love Him and to serve HaShem your God with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deuteronomy 10:12).
The prayer services come to an end, hisbodidus is over. You have studied Torah and you have asked God to help you fulfill what you learned. After all the affirmations and good intentions, now you have to go out into the world and get on with the business of daily life. This is the real test of faith, because the world we live in here under the table is the world of concealment. How do we find God on a busy shopping street? Where is God?
If someone asks you that question, said the Rabbis, "tell them God is in the great city of
"Evidently this person who questions where God is," says Rebbe Nachman, "is someone who is sunk amidst the kelipot, the concealing husks, because he thinks that where he is, there is no God. Therefore you must say to him: Even where you are, sunk amidst the forces of darkness and concealment, you can also find God, because God gives life to everything -- `And you give life to them all' (Nehemiah 9:6). Even from there you can attach yourself to God and return to God completely, for `it is not far from you' (Deuteronomy 30:11) -- it's just that in the place where you are, the veils are very many" (Likutey Moharan I:33,2).
"Every day brings its own thoughts, words and actions, and the Holy One, blessed-be-He contracts His Godliness from His infinite, endless heights down to the central point of the material world over which He stands, sending each person thoughts, words and deeds according to the day, the person and the place, clothing in these thoughts, words and deeds all kinds of hints and messages in order to draw him close to His service" (ibid. 54,2).
Faith is to know that God is everywhere and in everything -- whether we are at work, driving on the highway, shopping in the supermarket, or anywhere else. Everything around us is a revelation of HaShem, though we should not expect to be able to understand all the Divine messages they contain. Our minds are too small to grasp the infinite flow of Godliness. It is enough if we strive to think carefully about the purpose of our lives and ascertain what God wants of us through studying the Torah. Then, if we find that people or circumstances are giving us strong messages that are in accordance with the Torah, we can be confident that this is a Divine communication.
To understand the constant revelation of HaShem all around us is a very exalted spiritual service, involving deep wisdom and perception. The way to walk through the sea of this world on dry land is by following the path of the mitzvot. Set out to be an observant Jew, simply and without sophistication. Believe in God, put on Tallit and Tefilin, say the blessings and prayers, set regular times for Torah study and hisbodidus, eat kosher, do business honestly, give charity, love your friends and family, keep Shabbat and the festivals, rejoice in God, and allow yourself to grow through the mitzvot, especially those you feel the most strongly drawn to.
"All your mitzvot are faith" (Psalms 119:86). If you want to find and connect with God, always look for the mitzvot. At every juncture in life there are mitzvot that relate to what you are doing. Each mitzvah is a way to reveal the Godliness present in the areas of life with which it is bound up. As you go through your day, keep the mitzvot in mind. Remember Shabbat -- think of each day of the week as Yom Rishon, day one to Shabbat, Yom Sheni, day two to Shabbat, etc. Arrange your schedule around your morning, afternoon and evening prayers, your fixed Torah study sessions and your hisbodidus. And then, as you go about your other activities, use your growing Torah knowledge to be aware of which mitzvot are involved in what you are doing at any time.
"There is nothing in the realm of human life, whether on the level of action, speech or thought, seeing or hearing, that does not involve either a positive mitzvah or a prohibition" (Yesod ve-Shoresh Ha-Avodah I:9). Whether you are at work, around the house, with family or friends, travelling, meeting people, eating, at leisure... at every moment one or more of the mitzvot are relevant.
Nevertheless, we are human --
Sometimes things may be very bad. No matter what you try, you feel you cannot connect with God. What do you do when nothing works? Rebbe Nachman said: "When things are very bad, make yourself into nothing... Close your mouth and eyes -- and you are like nothing. Sometimes you may feel overwhelmed by the Evil Urge. You are confused by evil thoughts and very disturbed, finding it impossible to overcome them. You must then make yourself like nothing. You no longer exist, your eyes and mouth are closed. Every thought is banished. Your mind ceases to exist. You have nullified yourself completely before God" (ibid. #279).
...At last the day comes to an end. You are tired. You have said your evening prayers and studied a bit. You need to go to sleep. Sleep is also service of HaShem. "There are times when the way to keep the Torah is by taking a break" (Menachot 99b) -- in order to come back with renewed strength and vigor.
"Be-yad'cha afkid ruchi -- In Your hand I entrust my spirit" (Psalms 31:6, recited in the bed-time prayer). Sleep is the greatest act of faith. You give up conscious control and hand yourself back to HaShem. As you sleep, your soul rises to higher worlds and is permitted to travel in accordance with your thoughts and deeds of the day. Amidst the strange images of dreams, your soul transmits to you some hints of what she sees (Zohar II:195, Sha'ar HaKavanot, Drushei HaLaylah, and see Likutey Halachot, Netilat Yadayim Shacharit 4:2). At times, God speaks to us through our dreams, and through the thoughts, understandings and intuitions we have as we lie in bed at night, half asleep, half awake.
As you lie in bed waiting to go to sleep, speak to HaShem simply and intimately. Tell Him about anything you may have on your mind, tell Him what you need, and ask Him to help you. If you have particular questions or problems, express them to HaShem directly and be assured that HaShem is definitely going to help. Settle your mind and entrust your limbs and your soul to HaShem. "In His hand I will entrust my soul at the time I sleep. I will awaken! And with my spirit, my body. HaShem is with me, I shall not fear" (Adon Olam, closing words of the bed-time prayer).
"You can eat good food and still be a
Maybe you have questions about God or doubts about faith. It is only natural, living as we do in this under-the-table world. We are all exposed to the media and, whether we like it or not, we tend to absorb something of current thinking among scientists, philosophers, artists, popular writers and journalists, etc. The prevalent tone of most of the world is secular -- even though every honest scientist will admit that all scientific theories rest on axioms that can no more be proven than religious doctrines, and that ultimately this world is a mystery. Nevertheless, amidst the popular ferment, it's hard to avoid confusion, lay to rest all our doubts and questions, and accept Emunah wholeheartedly.
Even so, as the Wise Man said to the Prince: "You can eat this food and still be a
"There are many searching questions about God. But it is only fitting and proper that this should be so. Indeed, such questions enhance the greatness of God and show His exaltedness. God is so great and exalted that He is beyond our ability to understand Him. It is obvious that with our limited human intelligence, it is impossible for us to understand His ways. It is inevitable that there should be things that baffle us, and it is only fitting that it should be so" (Likutey Moharan II,52).
"You can eat this food and still be a
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