Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A Question About Advice

Akiva of Mystical Paths asked:

In Sichos HaRan, #35 and #220, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov warns us of a time of great atheism, to strengthen us against the great temptations in the times before Moshiach. He follows this with #36, stating that "There will come a time when a simple religious man will be as rare and unique as the Baal Shem Tov."

Given that Sichos HaRan #220 talks of spreading atheism in that day, and comparing the generation following the passing of Rabbi Nachman to today I would consider when this was written to be a time of great faith (compared to today), what practical instruction does Rabbi Nachman provide to us to resist these great temptations and further, perhaps more importantly, to provide to our children? Clearly, if (G-d forbid) Moshiach does not come immediately, the challenges will continue to increase. Has the Rebbe predicted with the statement from #36 above that almost none of our children will be left hanging on to their emunah (faith) when Moshiach arrives? (G-d forbid!)

A Simple Jew responded:

Akiva, I am flattered that you would ask me these questions about Rebbe Nachman of Breslov since my knowledge of his teachings is miniscule in comparison with that of my teachers. Even though I learn Likutey Moharan every day, I understand very little. Nevertheless, since my neshoma is drawn to his teachings, I will try to answer your questions.

One of the best sources for Rebbe Nachman of Breslov's advice can be found in the sefer Likutey Eitzos. Likutey Eitzos contains a chapter entitled Hischazkus (Encouragement) that provides guidance relevant to your question about how to strengthen our faith in these days before Moshiach. To begin with, Likutey Eitzos (Hischazkus #17) encourages us to view our present reality with a different set of lenses; with the lenses of simple faith rather than those of sophistication:

"When G-d appears to reject us, His purpose is really to draw us closer. A person who wants to draw closer to G-d often finds that all kinds of hardship and suffering and other obstacles descend upon him, at times with great force. He may start thinking that he is deliberately being rejected. But really these experiences are very beneficial and they serve to draw him closer. The most important thing is to be very firm and resolute, to stand up to the test and not let oneself be deterred by the suffering and obstacles and the sense of rejection. It is a mistake to think that one is being rejected. He should have simple faith that whatever he has to go through is for his own good -- to bring him to strengthen himself and draw even closer to G-d. The whole purpose of this apparent rejection is to draw him closer to G-d."

Indeed, it may seem difficult for people on our lowly spiritual level to maintain this elevated state of consciousness. Likutey Eitzos (Hischazkus #18), however, suggests there is a way that we may accomplished it:

"The way to remain firm is by using the power of speech. Even if you fall, be resolute and speak words of truth -- words of Torah and prayer and the fear of Heaven. Talk to G-d. Talk to your friends also, and especially your teacher. Speech has a great power to remind a person of G-d's presence and give him strength even in situations which are very far removed from holiness"

From the above teaching, we see that Rebbe Nachman's advice is three-fold. To strengthen your simple faith you must:

1) Make time for hisbodedus and talk directly to Hashem in your own words*;

2) Attach yourself to friends who bring out the best in you; friends to whom you can speak of your spiritual struggles and accomplishments; and

3) Attach yourself to your teacher (see Rabbi Lazer Brody's posting "Vertigo" for more on this topic).

Finally, you asked, "Has the Rebbe predicted with the statement from #36 above that almost none of our children will be left hanging on to their emunah (faith) when Moshiach arrives?" Akiva, given my little knowledge, I do not feel qualified to answer your question about what will happen before Moshiach arrives. While Rebbe Nachman of Breslov told us that it will be a time of great atheism, he also encouraged us to do everything in our power to ensure that this atheism doesn't take root in our own minds.

I don't think that Sichos HaRan #36 predicts that none of our children will be left hanging on. Rather, Rebbe Nachman predicted that the majority of our people would not be able to maintain their faith -- which tragically is the case today. And maybe that even many of those who remained Torah observant would lack the qualities of simplicity and whole-heartedness, which are the foundation of everything in Yiddishkeit.

* For more on the subject of hisbodedus, I highly recommend the book Outpouring of the Soul.


At February 7, 2006 at 12:16:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know if I understood properly, but I don't think the statement that "There will come a time when a simple religious man will be as rare and unique as the Baal Shem Tov" means that "almost none of our children will be left hanging on to their emunah" (G-d forbid)in the simple sense.

When Avrohom and Sarah come to Egypt, Avrohom tells Sara that he sees that she is beautiful, and he is afraid that the Mitzriyim will desire her, etc. The question is raised, why does the pussuk need to tell us that Avrohom sees that Sarah is beautiful? The answer given is that he had not noticed her physical beauty before - and it was only due to their proximity to Mitzrayim that caused him to notice this... The lesson being that our surroundings have an impact on us.

It is not possible for us, living in an atheistic society, to have been unscathed by this. So I think the emphasis of Reb Nachman's words was "simple religious man" as it should be. Today, I dare say, were are all not much different than maskilim of old - and the man of simple faith is a hard fellow to find.

It reminds me of a story: A writer once came to Lubavitcher Rebbe for an audience. After he came out he said "The Rebbe is a highly intelligent man, but he has simple faith like a bubbeh (grandmother)." The writer didn't mean it as a compliment, but in truth I think that this is what R' Nachman was talking about: The simple faith of our bubeh in the 'old country" is what the Rebbe had, and what we lack.

The average Jew is more knowledgeable in torah than ever before, but how I wish that we could have that just a little simple emunah that the uneducated bubeh in the Russian village had when she lit her Shabbos candles...

At February 7, 2006 at 2:18:00 PM EST, Blogger Akiva said...

Reb Elisha - I understand the difference you present. Coming back to my point, I have children today, from teens to kindergarden'ers. So what practical advice does Rebbe Nachman give to counteract this plague of atheism? After all, he specifically says that even though he warned us, it won't help!

The most important of all, what about for our children? G-d forbid, if Moshiach doesn't come today, they face a society that is sliding even farther, that is even more toxic. A Simple provides some practical actions we can take to help recapture a bit of a "simple" essence.


Unfortunately, they're being raised and taught by those, who (and I think A Simple is far too accurate in this beautiful assessment), "maybe that even many of those who remained Torah observant would lack the qualities of simplicity and whole-heartedness, which are the foundation of everything in Yiddishkeit."

At February 7, 2006 at 6:41:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with ASJ's remarks above.

As to raising children, the mantra for generations has been:
Do your best, plus some "Tehilim un Treren."

We all must do our best to provide our children with the necessary tools, environment, and family support. But remember, they have their own bechira just as we do, and we can't change that. And surely you know the Rebbe Rashab's remark that just like we have an obligation to put on Teffilin every day, so too, we have the obligation to discuss our children's chinuch at least a half hour every day - this is guaranteed to have results.
And the Lubavitcher Rebbe said that reciting the entire sefer Tehilim on Shabbos Mivorchim is a shmira as well.
On the other hand, I don't think R' Nachman's words mean that most children will be lost, G-d forbid. I think he is referring to me, and my generation - we may have Torah, but not the emunah pshuta that used to personify the Jew.

As I watch my children run around (Be"h) I also worry about their future and the world in which they will live, but then I remember that all is in G-d's hands; we can only do our part... (See my last posting about Bar Mitzvah).

Is the concept that I can control their outcome really just ego? I wonder...

At February 7, 2006 at 9:07:00 PM EST, Blogger Alice said...

In the past there was a great deal more pressure to appear to have faith, to go through the motions. Now there is tremendous pressure to appear as if you don't. These things are really quite difficult to measure, therefore there is no reason to think the worst, in my humble opinion.

At February 8, 2006 at 6:28:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Here is the teaching Chabakuk Elisha referred to

...and this is the Bar Mitzvah posting

At February 12, 2006 at 6:07:00 PM EST, Blogger MC Aryeh said...

Thank you, Akiva, for the important question, and thank you, ASJ, for the inspiring answer...

At July 24, 2006 at 10:18:00 PM EDT, Blogger ggg said...

I know that this is an old post but like a breslev hassid i can explain you something more.
In Al Hageula veal hatemura Rabi Joel Teitelbaum ztvkl cite that sicha of the atheism and show how is happening today whit the sionist, sionism and the haskala, secularims, reformist, etc etc etc. All the things that change the worlds of the tzadikim.


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