Jewish Spirit Journal - Issue 11
1. The Secret of Joy
How can we serve God with joy during times of suffering?
Many Desires, One within the Other
A person in his daily life often needs to decide between contradictory desires. For example, someone wants to buy a washer-dryer and also a dishwasher, but only has enough money for one of them, and has to decide which he will buy. In other words, he has to see which he needs more, which is more important to him in his current situation. And when he is clear about what he needs more, then he will decide what to do. Everybody has many desires and a person must weigh them against each other and decide which is stronger and more important. From a broader perspective, there are in a person’s heart, what the Sages call “desire within desire” that is to say, a web of desires, one within the other until one reaches the innermost desire that is deepest and strongest. As long as a person hasn’t become aware of what his deepest and most inward desire is, he has not reached the innermost part of himself. And he doesn’t truly know himself.
True Joy Comes When a Person Fulfills His Innermost Desire
How is it possible to be happy and joyful during times of suffering? It says in Psalms 104:15, “wine rejoices the heart of man” and the Sages say, “when wine goes in, the secret comes out.” What is the connection between wine and a secret? As we said, a person has a web of desires, one within the other until the most inward desires and wishes, which are the most urgent, yet that in general he’s not aware of. A superficial person thinks that the desires he is aware of are his real desires and when a fulfills those wishes he will attain the hoped-for joy. When will a person attain joy? What his desire is fulfilled. However, if the desire is external then even when it’s fulfilled the joy will be external, and he will still be sad inwardly, lacking on the inside! Therefore, the more inward the desire is, the more inward the joy will be when it is fulfilled. If a person succeeds in becoming aware of the innermost point of his own self, when this desire is fulfilled, he will attain the most inward joy attainable. Therefore, wine, whose nature is: “when the wine goes in the secret goes out,” in other words, the wine brings a person to an awareness of his inner true nature and his innermost desire, then he’s able to attain true inward joy.
What is True Joy?
The reason it seems to us that troubles and difficulties are the cause of an absence of joy, is because we are unaware of our innermost desire. It seems to us that our innermost desire is for peace, tranquility, to live a calm life without disturbance and to serve God in peace. But the truth is altogether different. Our innermost desire is to be close to God, in truth, so that we feel Him in the innermost chamber of our heart and experience Him as an integral part of our very life and reality. When we attain this awareness of our innermost desire to get close to God, we will not be disturbed by troubles or damages, because they too can bring us to Him. Then, then, we will attain true joy.
Based on Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, volume 3, Talk #17
2. Immediately Pray
A person should accustom himself that whenever he hears about some trouble that someone has, that he should begin to pray about it immediately. And whenever he sees that his friend is lacking something, he should immediately begin to pray about it.
From Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, volume 3, p. 76.
3. Use Speech
Whenever a person wants to internalize a truth he knows intellectually, and place it in his heart, the best device is Speech. He should speak to himself in simple words that which he knows intellectually – to speak to speak to speak, many, many times, just as one would explain something to a child (the Elder of Kelm once said that we are adults in our minds alone, but in the feelings of our hearts, most of us are children.) One should repeat the teaching to oneself aloud, again and again, until it enters the heart. So for instance, if one wants to internalize the idea that God has given you many good things, he should speak to himself saying, “The Holy One, blessed be He, has given me this, and that, and this, etc. But there’s another way to approach this, which changes a person’s whole essence. It is to speak to the Holy One, blessed be He, directly, that is, not to say “The Holy One, blessed be He, gave me this,” but to speak directly saying, “You gave me this, You gave me that also.” At first, this might feel strange, but if one keeps this up, one will finally feel that one is truly speaking to God, and will feel His immediate presence.
Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, volume 3, p. 78
4. To Elevate
There are two ways to view all the situations and events in your life. One: When a person has a very troublesome problem, he considers how to resolve it. Or, two: He reflects on why the Holy One, blessed be He, put him in this situation, because it’s clear to him that every life situation is a test of some sort – if he will be able to serve God in this situation as fitting. If this is his perspective, he needs to reflect on what the point of the test is. He knows that the test is in order to elevate him, so in each and every situation he reflects on the point of the test, because he understands that God is putting him into the situation to elevate him spiritually in this area.
Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, p. 66.
5. Think Before Asking
The Hazon Ish said: If you want to ask something from your neighbor, carefully weigh whether you’ll have your request answered. Don’t say, “What does it matter if I ask him for something and he doesn’t comply?” Understand that you’ve lost a lot. Because you can’t trust yourself that you won’t become angry when the other person refuses you. And he also may have resentment in his heart toward you. So you’ve created a division between friends. And you’ve increased baseless hatred. Someone who asks and makes requests easily becomes a hater and is hated.
From V’shom Isha Gedola, p. 20
6. Enoch’s Shoemaking
An early kabbalistic and hasidic anecdote says:
Enoch [Hanoch; Genesis 5:24] was a shoemaker who would sew together the uppers and lowers of the shoes. And with each and every stitch he would say, "Blessed is His glorious kingdom forever and ever!" And he was able to bind together the upper and lower worlds.
This fascinating anecdote describes the ideal pious laborer who attains continuous d'vekut (God-consciousness) by use of a mantra during work. I plan to publish a booklet on authentic Jewish mantras.
The following sweet teaching was given by Rabbi Dr. S. Z. Kahana:
“Enoch walked with God: then he was no more, for God took him" (5:24).
We are told in our ancient literature that Enoch is one of the nine persons who did not die. Like the Prophet Elijah, he too was carried alive to heaven.
When Enoch came to heaven, the angels asked him how he would like to occupy himself in the Garden of Eden. Enoch replied: "I would like to be a shoemaker." The angels were astonished and asked for his reason. "When my great-grandfather Adam was forced to leave the Garden of Eden, he attempted to return but could not find the way for a long time. When he finally found the road, he discovered that it was infested with snakes. The Serpent that had caused his downfall was determined to prevent him from returning to the Garden of Eden and had sent many snakes to bar the way. These snakes were ready to do Adam bodily injury, and he was compelled to turn back.
"Therefore I wish to make boots to protect their wearers, so that all may return to the Garden of Eden unharmed."
Some mystics now believe that the Jews who were saved from the concentration camps, who were not fed to the hungry ovens, wore shoes made by Enoch. When they escaped from the Nazis, they found refuge and in the free countries of the world. Some found the Garden of Eden in the Land of Israel.
Torah Thoughts, Book 2, p. 162
Even for a Little Girl
Rebbetzin Tzipora Rosenberg had special sensitivity and a rare understanding of the other person’s heart. She treated each person as that individual needed to be treated. She had a special understanding of children. At family celebrations she made sure that they had a place to sit at the table and were taken care of and received food as fitting. She did not allow them to be pushed aside. Once, her five-year-old niece was at her house for lunch. When the girl returned home she was beaming with happiness and said “ It was so wonderful there!” Her mother assumed that she had been entertained by some special kind of play or had been offered special sweets, and asked her, “What was so wonderful?” Her daughter told her, “Aunt Tziporah gave me such kavod!” [honor]
V’shom Isha Gedola, p. 128
A Child Won’t Give
A great Musar teacher of the last generation was a guest at the table of a pious Jew in Israel. During the Torah discussion at the table he taught the following lesson by means of a demonstration. There were cake and cookies and drinks on the table, refreshments for the guest. The teacher picked up a cookie and gave it to a small child, who was standing in his crib. The child was very happy. The teacher gave him another cookie, and he was happier still, then a third cookie and a fourth etc.. Afterward, he asked the child for a single cookie. The child wouldn’t give him one. He cried and didn’t allow them to take a single cookie from him to give to the teacher. The teacher said to those present. “Do you see this? The child feels that if they gave him something, it’s his. Adults feel the same. God gives them something, for example, wealth, and when someone comes to ask for tzedaka, they close their hands. God gives wisdom, and the person is not willing to bestow his wisdom or advice on others. It’s the same when an individual is given strength, time etc. It’s very hard for a person to work on himself and to internalize that everything that God gives someone is in order for him to give freely of his own to others.”
Vasham Isha Gedola, p. 23
A Giver Not a Receiver
Before Rabbi Mordechai of Kreminitz, the son of the Maggid of Zlotchov, became a rebbe and leader, he experienced a time of great financial difficulty. So he traveled to see Rabbi Mordechai of Neshkiz (a disciple of his late father), who was a great rebbe and conducted himself with great expansiveness, like a king. Rabbi Mordechai was sure that the rebbe would give him a generous donation. The Neshkizer honored him greatly, as fitting for the son of his spiritual master. When Rabbi Mordechai was leaving, the Neshkizer only gave him money for his expenses to travel home, and wished him goodbye. This was somewhat astonishing, since everyone knew of the rebbe’s great generosity, especially to the son of his own rebbe! But he told them, “Don’t be surprised, because I see that he’ll soon be a great leader and rabbi in Israel, and I don’t want to make him into a receiver (mekabail), because a receiver can’t be a giver (mashpia), and soon he’ll need to be a giver.” And he told them an anecdote about the Maggid of Mezritch, that once a very wealthy man who had donated a lot of money to the Maggid became poor and the Maggid declined to give him any donation, saying he wanted him to be a giver not a receiver.
From Parashat Gedulat Mordechai, p. 83
Is kindness always in giving? Can we believe that a rebbe can see so deeply into the spiritual world of a person and know that giving them charity would be the opposite of kindness?
The Constant Kindness of a Holy Woman
Rebbetzin Tzipora Rosenberg used to say: “The greatest hesed [kindness] is in your home with your own children.” Her sacrificing for her family, and her feeling that she was constantly doing the mitzvah of kindness was without end or limit. She once said with great joy, “I’m occupied in doing mitzvot the whole day! When I’m washing clothes –I’m fulfilling the mitzvah of kindness! When I’m cooking – I’m fulfilling the mitzvah of kindness! Everything I’m doing in my home, are all acts of kindness!”
Vasham Isha Gedola, p. 130.
The way one reaches a state of mystic consciousness, of continuous awareness of God, is by continuous spiritual practice. There are three pillars of Judaism: Torah study, prayer, and acts of kindness. Traditionally, women have excelled in reaching exalted spiritual states by continuously engaging in acts of kindness, as here.
The Thread of Grace
Yissachar Berish, the father of Rebbe Yitzhak Eizik of Komarno, was a very pious Jew. He would wake at midnight and study Torah throughout the night in great poverty and difficulty. Once, he asked his holy son, “the Sages say in the Talmud that whoever studies Torah at night has a thread of grace drawn over him during the day. We study Torah through the night, but after the morning prayers, we have nothing to eat to revive us. Where is the thread of grace?” His son answered, “The thread of grace is that although that is the case, we accept it with love for God and tomorrow also we’ll push away sleep from our eyes, get up at midnight and occupy ourselves with Torah study and divine service.”
From Ohavan shel Yisrael, p. 11
In pre-state Israel, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook saw that the members of a certain communal settlement were stiff-necked and would not listen to any attempts to draw them back to Judaism, because they thought that the rabbis were light-years away from them in understanding and were unaware of what was taking place in the world and the revolutions that were happening. Rabbi Kook wanted to reach them, so he put on the clothes of a guard of the pioneers and rode into the settlement on a horse like an experienced rider. The members of the settlement saw him, and we’re very pleased at the sight, that the rabbi was wearing their uniform and riding a horse like a settlement guard. The rabbi then said to them, “My friends, I’ve put on your uniform, which I respect. Now you should put on my uniform –the uniform of our ancestors –tallis and tefillin!”
From Haggadah Shel Pesach: Ayelet HaShachar, p. 101