What’s going on right now is a massive opportunity for the Jewish community to finally fix the sin of ‘sinat chinam’.
And God is inviting each of us to do a bit of that ‘fixing’ in our own back yard.
Now that we know that ‘yichus’ actually has nothing to do with how easy or hard we find it to serve Hashem, really – in both directions – that means that the whole shebang actually boils down to this:
Free choice, and working on our own bad middot.
I.e. whoever we are, there is still everything to play for.
And whoever we are, there are still choices that we ourselves can make, to really build the world, work on our own bad middot and rebuild the Temple – in our hearts.
And no-one is excluded from this work, not even ‘the biggest tzaddikim’, who have far more responsibility than us average Joes, for setting an example, in the area of cultivating true humility, and acknowledging their own bad middot.
Baruch Hashem, Rav Eliezer Berland is a paradigm for this ‘real’ approach to avodat Hashem.
And Rabbenu, Rebbe Nachman, set the example for this, too, when he encouraged his student Rav Natan to write books like Chayei Moharan that really depicted Rabbenu’s struggles to work on himself, and overcome his own bad middot, and to uproot his ta’avot – lusts.
That was one of the biggest selling points of Breslov for me, all those years ago, that finally, I had a Tzaddik who I could relate to as a real human being – and who could also relate to me, and my struggles.
I had a lot of issues with bad depressions and feelings of totally yeoush, before I hit Breslov.
And then, I started reading about how Rabbenu sometimes also had days when he despaired, and couldn’t carry on talking to God because of it…. but how he always picked himself up, broke through that yeoush and returned to Hashem.
Rabbenu had been there before me – and he charted the way to get out of all the bad middot, and the sadness, and the despair and all the other issues that prevent us from serving Hashem and building the world by refining our own characters.
And that information forms the real foundation of his teachings.
And Rav Berland is carrying on where Rabbenu left off.
Below, I’m going to bring a translated excerpt of R’ Natan’s Likutei Halachot, which lays out some very important ideas about ‘free choice’, in connection with the True Tzaddikim and overcoming the Erev Rav.
Before I do that, tho, I want to tell you about a bar mitzvah I went to yesterday, in a penthouse overlooking the beach in the Gush Dan area.
We have close family who made aliya last year, and it was their son’s barmitzvah.
Our family members are not ‘frum’, and down the years, we have had massive clashes and blow-ups around just about every family gathering you can imagine, beginning with my own wedding, and then snaking through a bunch of other weddings, funerals, stone settings – and even, my ‘good bye’ party, which my in-laws decided to hold in the 9 days, totally against my wishes.
Long story short, most of these ‘family gatherings’ have resulted in the sort of acrimony and bitterness that would make what happened with Kamtza and Bar Kamtza look like child’s play.
And so…. the barmitzvah appeared on the horizon.
But this time, things were totally different.
Over the last few years, me and my husband have paid innumerable pidyonot to the Rav, on behalf of ourselves and other family members, to try to ‘heal’ so much of what has gone wrong.
Those pidyons have worked in big and small ways – to the point that even our ‘unreligious’ family members have paid a pidyon or two, now, as well.
And yesterday, we could all see the effect of what happens when you connect to the True Tzaddikim, and also make an effort to identify and work on your own bad middot.
The barmitzvah and party were held in the Omer, at the time when you’re not meant to attend gatherings with live music.
The party was a ‘cocktail party’ – in every since of the word! – and totally not the sort of thing that me and my husband like, or are suited to.
In the past, my yetzer would have been working overtime, giving me justifications for why we shouldn’t go, why we definitely shouldn’t dance, why we definitely shouldn’t approve of all the OTT gashmius and untznius behavior, etc.
This time, I had one clear message in my head:
This is family, and family are celebrating a big milestone in their son’s life, and instead of thinking about yourself, the whole time, Rivka, in your super-duper-holy-way, why don’t you think about what you can do for them, and the barmitzvah boy, instead?
And this insight mamash changed the whole picture.
Instead of sitting in the corner dissing everything and everyone the whole night, and feeling holier-than-thou, I decided I’m going to do my best to really celebrate that barmitzvah with our extended family, even though we were way out of our comfort zone.
Because what’s the point of coming, just to sit in a corner with a sour face and making my hosts feel bad about themselves, and their celebration – and us?
It’s only today, the morning after, that I realised just how ‘big a deal’ yesterday was – because make no mistake, it was still very hard not to fall back into the mindset of ‘Kamtza and Bar Kamtza’, while we were there.
Some close friend of the hosts from the UK stuck his hand out to me to shake when we were introduced, and I saw the look of panic flit across my brother-in-law’s face, because in the past, I have flat-out refused to shake hands with people back in the home country, no matter how embarrassed that made them.
This time – I shook hands.
And chalked it up to mesirut nefesh for shalom bayit.
And I still got overwhelmed by things like the saxophone-playing young woman with pink hair and tight black leather, and indulged in a bit of ‘quiet tutting’ before I got over myself again, and just found somewhere else to go and sit, where I didn’t have to eyeball her.
In these small, myriad ways, me and my husband did our bit, to fix the sin of sinat chinam.
And on the other side of the equation, my sister-in-law did her bit, too, by accepting us totally as we were – with payot, headscarves and totally NO cocktail dress, and with strictly kosher food, and with an understanding that we should come as we were, with no other instructions about how to behave or dress.
As I type these words, I really feel how ‘huge’ it was, yesterday, because there has barely been a family get-together that has no resulted in all out, acrimonious warfare for 25 years, since my husband first got ‘frum’.
And now, here’s Rav Natan, writing about the Erev Rav, and free choice, and how we can really only uncover that ‘free choice’ to overcome our own bad middot when we’re connected to the True Tzaddikim.
Likutei Halachot – The Laws of Blessings on Smell and Blessings of Thanks (4, 33)
This is an aspect of what we have seen, something confusing and strange, from which everyone is astounded. That after the Nation of Israel merited to receive the Torah, with such wonderous signs. And everyone merited ruach hakodesh etc. After all this, to hear that they acted in such a way, to sin by going after the golden calf…
And even though it wasn’t the Nation of Israel who did this, but rather the Erev Rav, afterwards some of the Nation of Israel did sin.
Nonetheless, even the few of the few who made this mistake, what was going on with them?
And even on the Erev Rav themselves there is still a difficulty, because even the Erev Rav had a huge spiritual awareness, as is apparent from the writings of the Arizal.
And certainly, even in them there was some small good, since they followed Moshe out of Egypt and threw away their families and households, and wanted to convert, since they saw tremendous signs and wonders from Moshe Rabbenu in Egypt.
And after all of this, after all the tremendous wonders that they saw with their own eyes in Egypt, and the splitting of the Sea and the war with Amalek and the Giving of the Torah with such tremendous signs and wonders, like its written ‘the great signs which you saw with your eyes, and the signs and wonders, etc.’
And after all this to do such an act, to make a calf for themselves as a god…[!?]
But, from all this, each of us can understand just how much free choice we all have, and just how much the Sitra Achra can overcome a person every day, because Hashem Who is Blessed created everything for the sake of free choice, because everything was created for the sake of man. Not for the sake of the angels.
And so too, the opposite, not for the sake of the animals or the plants, etc.
Simply, everything was made for the sake of man, from the beginning to end.
And the main thing is that man has free choice, because it is for this which is his work which is of so great importance, far more than the work of the angels, since they do not have free choice, and a man does have free choice. And it was for this that Hashem created everything, from start to finish.
So, it turns out that everything was created for the sake of free choice, and therefore free choice has great power.
So much so, that Hashem Himself, so to speak, is not able to cancel the free choice without cancelling the world.
Like our sages said, ‘everything is in the hands of heaven, except for the Fear of Heaven’.
And, on account of the greatness of free choice, for which everything was created, therefore the Sitra Achra has the power to overcome each time anew with all types of new confusions and ways to lead astray, such that he had the power to overcome Israel after the Giving of the Torah, so that they would create the golden calf.
And all of this happened because Moshe Rabbenu was absent from them and wasn’t among them.
So, the Satan confused the world until the made the golden calf, like it says there in the parasha, ‘and the people saw that Moshe was delayed…etc.’, [and they said] ‘come let us make for ourselves a god’, ‘because this man, Moshe, we don’t know what has become of him.’
So, it turns out that the main way the Satan overcame them was by hiding Moshe from them, and placing in their hearts the thought that Moshe had now disappeared.
Therefore, he managed to persuade them to do this thing, because on that day the Sitra Achra so powerfully overcame them, that no-one had the power to nullify him, except for Moshe if he had been there.
And this is what it means when it says, ‘and the people saw that Moshe was delayed.’
And our sages explained this [that the word ‘boshesh’ delayed] can be read as ‘ba-shesh’ [the sixth hour came], that it was a cloudy day etc. [ie, that the people thought the day had already passed and Moshe, who had promised to return that day, did not arrive.] That the Satan confused the world so much, such that this day was destined for calamity. And, specifically, at that time, after the six[th hour] had come.
And it was a cloudy day, and so specifically then the Satan had the power to overcome with confusion and heresy like this.
Specifically, on that day and at that time. So much so, that no one had the power to nullify him with anything, except for Moshe Rabbenu himself, who was the Tzadik of that generation.
And, since Moshe was at that time in Heaven, therefore the Satan succeeded at that time.
But, as soon as Moshe came down from the mountain, he subdued him and smashed [the tablets] and nullified the golden calf.
And he went back and received the second set of tablets. And returned to strengthen their emunah. But, even then, it was all in the power of the remainder of the impression of the foundations of emunah which remained engraved in the heart of Israel from the Giving of the Torah.
At the time of Receiving the First Tablets, because on the basis of this foundation of emunah, each and every Tzadik has the power in his generation to clarify to Israel the holy emunah, because on account of this foundation of emunah the Nation of Israel in each generation merit to come close to the True Tzadik, to request and to search for him until they find him.
And like we described above, therefore we need to make an effort to come close to the Tzadik of the generation specifically, so that we will merit that he clarifies for us the holy emunah each time, according to the day and the hour.
Because, even though at the time of the Giving of the Torah, Israel merited emunah through ruach hakodesh, as we described earlier.
And so too, through the Tzadikim and the prophets in each generation, who clarified the emunah each time more and more.
Nevertheless, we ourselves need in this generation to come close to the True Tzadik of this generation, in order that he can clarify for us the emunah according to the current period and time.
Without a connection to the True Tzaddikim, the ‘Erev Rav’ in our midst will overwhelm us, confuse us and rule us, however ‘holy’ and sincere we ourselves might be.
Because only the ‘Moshe Rabbenu’ of the generation has the power to take them on, and destroy them.
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