Monday, May 2, 2011

Du, du, du!

I always appreciate it when two seemingly disparate things that I'm involved in come together; we have a tradition that if we come across similar concepts in separate limmudim during one day, there's a certain significance that we must take notice of.

This past Friday night after the seudah (meal), I came across the following:
It is well known that no Jewish person is ever utterly excluded from the totality (II Kings 14:14). When a person comes to a nadir, God forbid, and is about to commit some transgression - especially if this will cause his exclusion, God forbid - then God does not abandon him. We have learned in sacred literature that the miluy of the three Hebrew letters yud-tzadi-reish comprising the word "yetzer" (inclination) are (Y) vav dalid, (TZ) dalid yud, and (R) yud shin. The last letters of the miluy are the three letters of the name of God, Shad-dai (shin-dalid-yud). In order that the person not succumb entirely to his inclination, God forbid, the Holy Name Shad-dai is there at the end. When the person reaches the end, God does not allow him to fall any further. - Reb Kalonymos Kalman Shapira, Aish Kodesh (Kedoshim 1940)*
The next morning before shacharis, I found an idea that reflected the same concept:
There are places which are so low that they seem totally divorced from God. Yet it is precisely there that the most exalted life force is concealed: there are the "secrets of the Torah." A person who has fallen far must know that in the very place where he finds himself he can achieve unique closeness to God because of the exalted life force which is concealed in that very place. When such a person turns to God, a very high revelation of Torah comes about: the "Secrets of Torah." - Rebbe Nachman, Likutei MohaRan I:56 (as quoted in Meshivat Nefesh)**
The fact that we can find God in any place, no matter how far we seem to be from the Source, is a profound and fundamental teaching of chassidus (other paths of Jewish thought discuss this as well, but more so in chassidus, in my experience) . It is one that gives tremendous chizuk to many, including myself. I remember times when I felt so low, so disgusted with myself and my failings that I nearly despaired.

Despite all my efforts to the contrary, it always seemed like my urges and desires would get the best of me; even those times when I didn't necessarily feel the draw of my ta'avot, I would think about ways of stimulating and arousing those thoughts. Any victories would be short lived and fleeting, overwhelmed in the face of the sheer volume of times when I succumbed to my basest desires. Compounded by the existential struggles and questions that I grappled with in my adolescence, along with the negative experience of my high school years, I actually believed that there was no possible way that God would hear - let alone listen to - my prayers.

(Concerning one specific problem which is common amongst young men, I never felt so alone as when I was in high school. In my naivete, I believed that I was the only one who had this problem, certainly the only one who actually transgressed. This erroneous belief was reinforced by my teachers and peers, who stigmatized this particular sin as being heinous and particularly deviant; only the most evil minded people actually perpetrated this act. One particularly embarrassing moment was when my roommate "confided" in me that he had heard "someone" (I knew that he meant me, of course) in the bathroom, and proceeded to mock "that sicko" for what he had done, forcing me to join him in the lambasting to keep up the deceit.
The first time that I openly admitted it to a trusted friend, and he responded in kind with the reassurance that many of us go through this struggle, and that we must stay strong and help each other was like a weight lifted off of my shoulders; when I transferred to another yeshiva later I found a small group of honest individuals who were interested in reinforcing their shmirat einayim through the focus of a mussar seder with group support. But I digress.)

The teachings of Breslov and Reb Kalonymos Kalman specifically, and chassidus in general is about the omnipresence of God. The paradox of tzimtzum (Constriction) versus the panentheistic belief of God is irreconcilable to our finite intellect, and yet we believe in both. The very idea that there can be a place devoid of God's presence is antithetical to our ability to function as human beings engaged in the struggle for perfection. The knowledge that no matter how bad it gets we are not alone and all we need to do is fight back in earnest is an integral part of the human struggle. "One who comes to purify himself, we assist him."

This is the importance of real prayer, as explained later on in Meshivat Nefesh and other places: no matter where you go, the power of speech accompanies you (Rebbe Nachman explains that speech is the "mother of all children"; the same way a mother will follow her child into even the filthiest of places, so does the faculty of speech). Therefore, one should always engage in prayer and honest conversation with God, and with those whom he feels closest with, gaining mutual support.

*English translation adapted from Sacred Fire: Torah From the Years of Fury by J. Heshy Worch (Aronson)
**English translation adapted from Restore My Soul by Avraham Greenbaum (BRI)

No comments: