Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (the great grandson of the Baal Shem Tov) taught, “Go out and defeat God. Yes, God actually wants us to conquer, to keep praying and praying until we force the Holy One to forgive us for what we have done.” Rabbi Nachman also taught, ‘”Seek the sacred within the ordinary. Seek the remarkable within the commonplace.”
Rabbi Israel of Ryzhin, who was the great grandson of the Great Maggid (the Baal Shem Tov’s leading disciple), once cried for a long time during the feast of Shavu’ot (a holy day commemorating the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai). When asked how he could cry on such a festive occasion he replied, “When my great-grandfather taught Torah to his disciples, they walked home afterwards discussing what the Great Maggid had taught them, and one would disagreed with another about what he said because each had heard it in a different way. This is not a novelty because there are 70 faces (facets) to the Torah, so each of his students heard what the Great Maggid said, according to the face he had in the Torah. Then Rabbi Israel added, ‘When I see your faces, I see only a (conforming orthodox) face and thus there is no need for me to teach Torah.’ This suffices for those who understand (why I cry).”
Rabbi Simcha Bunam of Pzhysha taught, “Humans are always transitioning through two doors: out of this world and into the next world, and out and in again.”
We live in two worlds; past and future, spiritual and material, rational and emotional, public and private. We are always passing from one realm to the next and then back again. Life is continual change between sickness and health, joys and sorrows, victories and defeats. We cannot live either entirely or permanently in just one of them. During a wedding we break a glass, during a time of trouble we say- this too shall pass.
Rabbi Moshe of Kobryn taught, “When people suffer they should not say – That’s bad, that’s bad! Nothing that Mother Nature imposes on us is bad. But it is all right to say- That’s bitter! For there are some medicines that are made with bitter herbs.”
Some people are embittered by adversity while others are strengthened by it. How we react depends in large measure on our attitude. Making oneself a victim leads to self-pity, hopelessness and despair. But you do not have to entirely ignore or deny your pain. It is O.K. to say it’s bitter as long as you also think – I can make something positive from this.
Rabbi Simcha Bunam taught, “Everyone should have two pockets, so you can reach into one or the other according to your needs. In the right pocket should be the words- For my sake was the world created. And in the left pocket the words- I am dust and ashes.
When we are defeated, depressed, discouraged or down on ourselves we need to remind ourselves that we are created in the image of God. When we are self-centered, insensitive, self-righteous or conceited we need to remind ourselves that we are only one of seven billion.
Rabbi Simkhah Bunim of Pshiskha also taught; “The first thing the high priest must do before he enters the Holy of Holies, so that he will not forget the everyday needs of the people [Leviticus 6:3-4] was to remove his elaborate clothes and put on simple clothing, to remind himself to pray for for the [simple] day-to-day needs of everyone else.
Of course, even saints have their shortcomings. Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin died in a most tragic manner. A Cossack shot him in the leg while he was saying the Shabbat morning prayers. His disciple Rabbi Asher wanted the bullet removed right away but Rabbi Shlomo refused and said he would wait until after Shabbat was over, arguing ‘should we forget God the creator of the universe for such a small thing?” After Shabbat was over they went to a doctor but by then the leg was infected. The infection spread and five days later Rabbi Shlomo died. He was 56.
Perhaps with this in mind Rabbi Mikhal of Zlotchov said: “When the Evil Urge tries to tempt people to sin, it tempts them to become super righteous.”
And Rabbi Moshe of Kobryn taught, “We paid no attention to the miracles our teacher worked, and when sometimes a miracle didn’t come to pass, he only gained in our eyes.”
The transformative power of miracles is the real miracle. Faith creates miracles, miracles do not create faith. Love creates beauty, beauty does not create love. But once the connection is made it becomes mutually interactive. One who loses faith when a miracle doesn’t occur believes in magic, not in God. And one who disregards safety and caution because he has determined that God will always protect him transgresses by testing God.
Finally, Jewish tradition stresses the Mitsvah (religious duty) to marry. It is almost impossible to make it throughout life all alone. As Rabbi Israel, the Baal Shem Tov (1700-1760), the founder of the Hassidic movement, said after his wife died, “I thought I could rise to heaven in a whirlwind like Elijah, but now that I am only half a body this is no longer possible.”
When Rabbi Hirsh returned from his wife’s funeral he was overheard saying to himself, “Up to now I was able to experience God’s presence here on earth through marriage. Now I shall have to experience God’s presence directly.” Two weeks later he died.
How did Rabbi Hirsh experience God’s presence through marriage? The Jewish mystics taught that the Shekinah- the feminine presence of God rests upon a husband who makes love to his wife on Shabbat. Actually the Shekinah can rest on a man whenever he makes love to his wife with a sense of reverence, tenderness, adoration and love. The Shabbat adds holiness and choosiness to these feelings. The key attitude is a sense of wonder and gratefulness that his wife is God’s gift, the chosen source of his blessings, and the most wonderful manifestation of God’s presence.
As scripture says, “Who can find a capable wife? Her value is far above jewels. Her husband can trust her completely.” (Proverbs 31:10) Each of us is like a one winged angel who can walk and even run all alone. But with a partner you can trust, you can also FLY.
I end this collection of my favorite Hassidic insights with the way Rabbi Yaakov Yitzhak of Apt began. He told this tale about himself. Once when I was walking along a road by myself, I came upon a huge hay wagon which had overturned. A peasant standing beside the wagon called out to me, begging me to help him lift up the wagon. I knew that the Torah says (Deuteronomy 22:4) that it is a Mitsvah to help someone in a situation like this, but I was sure I was inadequate to do it; so I replied,” I can not do it”.
He replied that I could, but I was not willing. That struck me to the heart. So we took some boards and inserting them under the wagon as levers, and using all our strength, we lifted the wagon upright. Then together we lifted the bales of hay and placed them on the cart. I asked the peasant if I could walk with him along the road and he said, “come right along brother”. We trod along together. Then I asked him why he had said I was unwilling to help him. He replied, “Because you said you could not do it. No one knows if he can do something until he has tried it.”
“But why did you think I could do it?’ I asked. He answered that he needed help; and he thought maybe I had come along this way, at this time, to help him. I smiled and said,“Soon you will tell me that your wagon overturned in order that I might help you.” and he said, “Of course brother, what else.”