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CHAPTER 2.  LOVE AND SIMPLICITY

 

A person could attempt to serve Hashem out of fear, but it will only take them so far. When a person adds love of Hashem to their fear of Him it becomes an entirely new madreiga[1]. You can do anything in life successfully without loving it but when your heart’s not in it, the job is missing realness. When Hashem created man, He did it out of the greatest love. A love, which is beyond man’s scope of interpretation, of what love is. The only way therefore to come close to Hashem is to return this love to Him, by serving Him within the realm of our personal level of understanding.

 

When a person truly loves someone, they are willing to do anything to make that person happy. There is no greater feeling than being close to someone you truly love. The love a husband and wife have for each other can help them to understand what it means to then love Hashem. Shir Hashirim[2] speaks about the great love and devotion that Klal Yisrael[3], and Hashem share for one another. It is considered the greatest text and love poems ever written. You can see from Shir Hashirim how the love of G-D and his people reaches beyond the scope of normalcy.

 

When you hurt the feelings of someone who loves you, if the love is true it will not break. If the love is weak and not real enough then there is a chance it can break. The love Hashem has for us is a so strong that it cannot be broken. Even if we are not worthy, He is constantly giving to us. This is because the love He has for us is whole and true.

 

In our physical relationships with people, it is common that if they get to close to us we put up some form of a defense mechanism to chaise them away. Hashem is right there so close by that we do the same to Him. We push Him away [by sinning] even though we know He wants to be close to us.

 

Everyone can serve a King but the servants that serve Him out of love are the Kings favorite and most special servants. It is not complicated actions and hanhagos that He yearns for us to perform for Him, rather it is the simplicity of doing the mitzvos with love that He seeks. The humble man who puts His heart into everything He does, even the simplest of things.

 

The Baal Shem Tov once invited his students, “Come, and let us go learn a lesson in the love of Hashem.” They followed him to a nearby open field where a shepherd tended to his flock. Suddenly, the shepherd lifted his voice towards heaven and exclaimed, “Dear Hashem, my love for you has no bounds! I will express my love by jumping back and forth across this small pond.” After jumping back and forth for some time, he exclaimed heavenward again. “What can I offer you to prove my deep love for you, oh Hashem? Here... I have a coin in my pocket, I will give it to you.” The shepherd took the coin and cast it heavenward; some versions of this story relate that the coin did not descend.[4]

 

            Sometimes we get so caught up in deep ideas and hanhagos, stringencies, we forget the simple pure love and avodah[5] that Hashem truly desires from us. “I heard that the Rebbe (Rebbe Nachman) once said, ‘my achievements came mainly through simplicity. I spent much time simply conversing with G-D and reciting the Psalms.” This is how he achieved what he did. The Rebbe deeply yearned to serve G-D like the ignorant common people. He often said, “Ay! Ay! Prustick! Oh! Oh! Simplicity!” The Rebbe also said, “I have spoken with many great tzaddikim. They all said that they attained their high level through Prustick- absolute simplicity. They would do the simplest things, secluding themselves and conversing with G-D. This is how they attained what they did. Happy are they.”[6]

 

Love and fear of Hashem are the vehicles in which raises you up to higher levels of greatness. The next level can be reached through fearing punishment and to love Him in order to receive reward. We are mere human beings and for some of us this is where we are holding in our connection to Hashem.  Today some of us are so far from G-dliness that we have trouble even holding this madrega. In truth though, we must strive for more truth then this and with much toil we will equip ourselves with the necessary tools to reach the third and forth floor’s. These floors are for those who serve Hashem purely out of love and fear seeking nothing in return. 

 

There is one thing that our holy rabbis have always had in common, the willingness to do anything for Hashem Yisborach. Some of our holy masters mortified themselves through fasting, while others took axes breaking the ice in a pond and actually immersing[7]. If they did this once in a while maybe we could comprehend it but friends these acts where done constantly. Others took it upon themselves to remain silent for forty days. There were even some who locked themselves up in a room for months. It’s funny, we have all of these storybooks, which tell of the greatest devotions of these rabbis, but let me ask you, do we really know? Can we even begin to comprehend the holiness, love of Hashem and self-control these tzaddikim had?

           

            Some people think that holiness is a gift you are born with. Those people are sadly mistaken. Tzaddikim earn every ounce of holiness they attain. The question is how do they attain self-mastery and how can reach the same plane in our lives. If you want something you are willing to do anything for it. The same has to be true of Torah. If you ask any scholar they will tell you that you have to be willing to go through the wall, so to speak. That is what these tzaddikim were all about. They wanted to come close to Hashem and not only that, they knew how to make it happen.

 

Self-control is everything. Do you think that when the Baal Shem Tov stood at the lake ready to immerse, he didn't have a second thought telling himself that the water was too cold? Having self-control though, he overcame these thoughts and completed the action anyway for Hashem. We have to do the same in our lives. Let us not move over and let our bodies do the driving. They’ll only steer us off the road and into a ditch. How will we get out then? Our rebbes[8] will have to pull us up! Better we should let our neshamos, souls, do the driving. Our neshamos are experienced and are familiar with the roads ahead that we will need to follow. Where is this road? It is self-mastery by doing the will of Hashem and thereby fixing all of our midos[9].  That is what these tzaddikim were all about, putting the neshama in the drivers seat following the Torah straight ahead.

 

Your Rebbe in yeshiva can give you the Torah, yes, but only you can turn yourself into a tzaddik. You have to ditch the way of the world, even the way, unfortunately, of many of your Jewish friends, and you have to follow the Torah. The Torah will not come after you, nor will self-mastery. If you want it you have to take it, go after it, making Torah first and foremost in your life.

 

            Do not let your eyes, ears, and mouth control you. Take back control over yourself. Protect what you have. Do not let your ears hear that which is bad for it. You cannot let your eyes run freely either. Lets not have our pallets touch that which is wrong for them. Most importantly, let us take back our minds.

 

We are told that mortifying oneself is not the best way in our day and age to come close to Hashem. Various practices of self-mortification did help tzaddikim of the past to reach their levels, but our bodies are not as strong as theirs were to handle such practices. In our day and age there is so much impurity to get into. Just to stay away from an improper movie, too much Television (or any for that matter), literature which is not Torah based, the internet, a pool hall, sports games and who knows what else. I could go on, but I probably have already touched a nerve in you and myself. Chazal say, “Whatever character traits and things that are most difficult for you to overcome, this is your true test in life.”

 

It is said that the generation of today can reach the level of the great Rabbi Akiva. To do so though, you must believe in yourself and take control over your life. People cannot perfect themselves without being in control of their time. Be above your body and yourself, giving to Hashem and to others. Also know that when you say a bracha, it truly makes a difference and shakes the heavens. Do everything with love and with all your heart. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach said, “If you don't do something with all your of heart, your not really doing it.” That is what made these tzaddikim who they are.  All of their devotions, the ice, fasting, Torah study and prayer were done with all their hearts. To help a fellow Jew out, enjoy it and give it your all, that is true life. The harder the test is, the more difficult the devotion, the greater the reward.

 

Hashem wants us to strive to come close to Him, yet the vanities of this world seem to hold us back. So why do we let them? How can we allow the impurities of the world into our homes and our lives? What is worse, we neglect protecting our own children like we know we should. The time we recognize that we let the gate down which protected them, they are already lost. There is always hope though as no prayer goes unanswered and no effort goes unnoticed. We have to make sure that instead of pulling them closer, we are not pushing them away. This is a common mistake. The best approach is to teach love of Hashem and mitzvos. This is done by example.

 

            The holy Baal Shem Tov said, “Attach your thought to Above. Do not eat or drink excessively, but only to the extent of maintaining your health. Never look intently at mundane matters, nor pay any attention to them, so that you may be separated from the physical. Intent viewing of the mundane brings crudity upon oneself.”

           

            Our sages, of blessed memory, thus said, “sight leads to remembering and to desire.”  It is written of the Tree of Knowledge that it is “desirable to the sight and good for eating...”[10], the sight of it made it desirable.[11]

 

            Rashi says, “The eyes see and the heart covets, and the body commits the sin.”[12] Gazing at physical and mundane desires will arouse a person to sin. Our physical bodies constantly desire pleasures of this world. This is because Hashem created us with free will so that He could see if we would be true to His word. If one views things, which are holy, then the holiness rubs off on them. Spending ones time with tzaddikim is of tremendous benefit to ones soul. A person is affected by his surroundings. Therefore a man wears tzitzis, fringes on certain garments[13], in order to have a positive effect by helping him to remember the mitzvos. This is because it is written, “you will see it and remember all the commandments of G-D and do them.”[14]

 

            The Baal Shem Tov comments on the saying, “Turn aside from evil and make good.”[15] This means that you should make the evil into good.[16] In everything you do Hashem can be found. Everything physical around us in the world has sparks from above. It is our job to elevate these sparks by thinking about who created them and by using them to perform mitzvos. Even the worse sinner has a spark of good in him. All this can and should be turned around into good. Generally, the higher a person’s madreiga the more they are able to lift up these sparks. Though those who are furthest from Hashem who return can be His dearests as it says, “In the place where those who repent stand, even the perfectly righteous cannot stand.”[17]

           

Mans main task in this world is to “transform darkness into light”[18]. The truth is though that even bad is really good as how could Hashem really create something bad? It has been taught that these sparks fell from the time of creation of the world. In order to bring the final redemption, all the sparks must be elevated back to their source. May it be soon in our generation that together we complete these final elevations.

 

            Rebbe Nachman explains that one should follow the code of Jewish law with simplicity. He also said, “One does not have to be a genius to serve G-D. All that he requires is simplicity and sincerity.”[19] A person’s main goal should be to do good things and serve G-D without sophistication. Every good and holy thing can be done with absolute simplicity. The Rebbe also said, “One can study much Torah, do much good, and spend much time in prayer, all without sophistication at all.”[20]

 

            Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev’s way in holiness was actually like a seraph, fiery angel. It was said of him that when some food was brought before him to eat, and he had to make a blessing of enjoyment first, he would make the blessing with such fervor and with such a great fire of devotion that he would end up in one corner of the room and the food in the other corner.[21] 

 

            Who is it that binds together Heaven and Earth, the tzaddik?[22] He is above the physical world, yet is not, nor can he ever be as spiritual as G-D. Through the tzaddik we have a bridge in which we can use to come close to Hashem but we must be close to the tzaddik to draw from his spirituality and advice. Having come close to a tzaddik one can then learn true humility. Simplicity and humility go hand and hand. Moshe called himself a humble man yet with complete humility.

 

            When the Gerer Rebbe, Rabbi Aryeh Leib, first took leadership of the Gerer Chassidic branch some Chassidim wanted to see what this new Rebbe was all about. When they came to the Rebbe he said, “So you’ve come to spy out the land? You will recall that when they finally met him, Joseph’s brothers did not recognize him, thinking he was an Egyptian. Now is it not strange that the righteous Joseph could be mistaken for an Egyptian? The answer is simple: a real tzaddik like Joseph is able to conceal himself to the point that he can be mistaken for a gentile...” From that moment on, they all became his Chassidim.[23]

 

            There are stories of many great sages whom kept themselves a secret so that people would not find out their high level. We are to learn in order to teach so these rabbis usually would still find ways of teaching Torah to school children or adults. Some separated themselves from society as much as they could to serve Hashem privately. What was this all about and what did it truly accomplish for them?

 

            The way to come close to Hashem is to become bittul[24]. When a person thinks of himself or herself as being bittul they become infused and one with Hashem. We are His creation and compared to Him we are absolutely nothing. If Hashem desired He could stop sustaining us with His divine influx and we would stop existing instantly. When we sin, as it says in Tomer Devorah, Hashem is sustaining us with divine influx that very moment even while we are sinning. So why does He let us get away with so much? He is slow to anger and Hashem wants us to give us a chance to repent. It is horrible how we can humiliate Hashem like this. There is no excuse for hurting someone close to you. Unfortunately we all struggle with this and usually hurt those closest to us. Let us try to reflect before everything we do with our fellow Jews and before we do actions that can lead us to sin. Hashem has given us so much and all He asks for is a few mitzvos and Torah study. When you borrow money from the bank they charge you interest, they don’t reward you afterwards for paying it back. Hashem is giving us our bodies as a loan to perform His commandments and when you pay back the loan He gives you more than precious gems. Hashem gives us a little glimpse at His glory and that is so precious to look at that the righteous say,  “one moment in this world is worth all the world to come.” After life there is no way to perform any more mitzvos. Hashem rewards everyone in the next world, but they cannot add to their slate. We are not aloud to wear the fringes of our tzitzis out in a cemetery because we do not want to embarrass those who cannot perform any more mitzvos. These beautiful souls would do anything just to do one simple mitzvah that we are faced with every day. To go up one more level in the next world where one level is the difference between black and white. It says that in the next world a person is embarrassed to look another in the eye who is higher then them as they feel so bad for not doing more good during their lifetime.

 

            The Rabbis teach that with one mitzvah it is possible for a person to reach eternity. Without being humble and realizing our lowliness compared to Hashem we cannot possibly come close to Hashem. Being like nothing means realizing that everything comes from Hashem.

 

            Although humility brings a person to the world to come, humility itself does not exist there. In the world to come, no person will be able to honor his fellow by saying, “Sit beside me.” Each person reposes on his resting place, and each one will come in peace to the place that has be prepared especially for him. If a person humbles himself in this world, not withstanding that he has the opportunity of progression and attain a dominant position in the community, he will occupy first place in the world to come.[25] An example of this is the B’ne Beteira, who resigned their leadership in favor of Hillel.[26]

 

            A pious sage, Reb Elimelech, once said that he was without a doubt assured that he would have a place in the world to come. For when his time would come to go up to the world above and he would be asked if he had studied Torah to the best of his ability, he would answer “No”; if he had served Hashem fully through worship, he would say “No”; if he had done his quota of mitzvos and good deeds, he would say “No”. Then they would say, “If so, then you are telling us the truth and in that case you deserve reward in the world to come.”

 

            I was once telling a friend about all the troubles I was experiencing and all the things I lack, that I feel I truly need to continue. He gave me a deep look and said, “Who are you to think you deserve anything more then you already have?” The voice he said it in was so strong that it penetrated my heart. I told him that he is very right and I thanked him even though it was difficult to recognize his correctness. This person was somaich bechelco after loosing one wife and soon after another. I have learned so much to appreciate things from seeing him live so simply and humbly.

 

            Some of these tzaddikim, who kept their pious actions a secret, were hidden tzaddikim. This is one of the highest levels of serving G-D. For many it was how they reached their levels but eventually they were found out or they knew they had to come more into the open with their pious actions in order to help the world. Many of the great rebbes knew that not everything they did and knew about was something they should necessarily share with the world. Maybe the world was not ready to learn certain high concepts, just yet. There are many stories about tzaddikim, and they are very good examples of how we should behave. Some are to just inspire us as they are above our physical bodies abilities. Rebbe Nachman says that hearing stories of tzaddikim has the ability to wake a person up even if they are stuck in the deepest pits of depression and idle worship. The holy Baal Shem Tov says that reading stories about tzaddikim are equivalent to learning Miesa Merkava, which is from the deepest kabalistic concepts. We do not tell enough stories considering how hearing them really wakes us all up.

 

            Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach used to go around with his guitar and tell stories in his toned singing voice. People from all over the world would gather to his concerts to hear him tell stories and sing. He woke up many from their sleep. People so far from Judaism turned over a new leaf, all because of his stories of tzaddikim, and even simple folk who served G-D with all their heart. A storyteller is called a Magid. Many of the old Jewish towns had Magidim who were known for relating stories. One known contemporary Magid is Rabbi Pesach Krohn who has many published books and tapes. Every one of us can be a Magid. To our children, friends and spouses we must relate stories to give us all a rebirth in our Judaism. There is a book out called Rebbi Nachman’s Stories, which are very deep stories written from Devine inspiration. His stories are known to be the deepest and most purifying stories to read. The Rebbe said that from hearing them, even a woman who has been having trouble conceiving might be able to conceive. I’m honored now to have a few moments to tell you some of my favorite stories.

 

            The Chazon Ish was willing to sacrifice everything in order to fulfill the mitzvos, as commanded from Hashem. During the First World War he was in a town where no esrog could be found and it was two days before Succot. It was said that the town of Minsk had some esrogim but it was said to be very dangerous to travel there. This did not stop this pious tzaddik from journeying on his own in search for an esrog so he could properly fill the requirements for this important Jewish holiday. He was successful in finding an esrog, and he remained in Minsk for the Yom Tov. When he arrived home someone asked him why he went to such lengths when the halacha says that you are free from your obligation many of the mitzvos when performing them might put you in danger. He responded, “If you found yourself a few days before Pesach, Passover, without matzos, would you resign yourself to not eating on Yom Tov?”[27]

           

            To the Chazon Ish, mitzvos were food for ones neshama. He personally could not live without them, and this mitzva, and every mitzva, meant a lot to him, as they should the same to all of us.

           

            Rabbi Yisrael of Ruzhin was traveling through all the places where the Baal Shem Tov had been during his youth. He came to the village that stood between Kitov and Kossov and asked the Jews who lived there if they remembered anything about the holy rabbi and how he conducted his avodas Hashem, actions towards G-D. They referred him to an old man who was a gentile that was formally the mayor of the village. The rabbi found him lying in bed, infirm in his old age. He began to ask him what he knew of the holy Baal Shem Tov. The he told him that the rabbi regardless of the weather would immerse himself in the nearby stream. Once when I saw him the old man said, “I noticed that his feet were stuck to the ice and as he tried to remove them the blood flowed from them. From that day onwards, when he would go to immerse and was under the water, I would go and pile straw and hay on the place where he emerged. I kept doing this for him for a long time until one day the rabbi thanked me and asked me with what I wished to be blessed with. The rabbi offered me long life, wealth or honor. I did not want to give up any of these blessings, so he blessed me with all of them. It became known among our town that the waters of the stream had miraculous healing powers and people flocked to bathe in them.” The gentile became rich by prospering from the use of the lake and he was honored by the townspeople and became their mayor. I asked the Baal Shem Tov one last thing, “How long will I live?

 

            Rav Yisrael Baal Shem Tov kindly responded, “You will live until a Sage comes to you bearing the same name as I and having a similar appearance, and you will tell him about me.”

 

            The holy Rabbi bid him farewell and thanked him for his story. Before leaving the village, he was informed that the old man had past on.           

 

            Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai received [the oral tradition] from Hillel and Shammai. He used to say: If you have studied much Torah, do not claim special credit for yourself; for this very purpose were you created.[28] 

 

            Rav Yisrael AbuChatzeirah, known as Baba Sali, was known for his humility. He would often say, “Woe to those who believe in someone who is nothing.”  He would often become angry after everyone left and ask, “ Why do they come here?  What do they see...?”

 

            Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz would open up a Gemara, turn through the pages and read during a shir. Those who were standing behind him sometimes noticed that the sefer was not even turned to the correct page. Reb Chaim knew the text completely by heart, but in his humility, he made it look as if he were reading.[29]

 

            An upstairs neighbor of the Gerer Rebbe, Rabbi  Simcha Bunim Alter, came home to find a note on his door stating that his daughter could be found with the family Alter. He quickly rushed downstairs to find out if his little girl was okay. When he came in to the Alter house he saw the rebbe sitting in the kitchen offering the little girl sweets to comfort her after finding her crying in the hallway![30] From this we see that a tzaddik would even make time from his busy schedule to care for a little girl who was crying. One can never be too holy to do kindness, after all that is what being holy and Torah is all about!

 

            When the mighty mountains heard that Hashem planned to give the Torah from a mountaintop they began arguing amongst themselves. Each of the mountains felt that it was the most suited for this auspicious event. Mount Tavor, Mount Carmel and other mountains made claim that the Torah be best given upon it. “You are all mountains but none of you are fit,” said Hashem to them. You are all so lofty that you have become full of pride.” Mount Sinai, the lowest of the mountains, stood by silently without saying a word during all this debating. Seeing this, Hashem declared, “That is the mountain upon which I shall give the Torah, for only it is fitting”. It is humble and also the place where Yitzchak was bound as a sacrifice to Hashem when it was part of Mount Moriah. Therefore it deserves the honor more then all the rest and that is where we received the Torah![31] We received the Torah for these same reasons from our sages. Our sages where humble and therefore people listened and respected their teachings. We must emulate their ways. It is the only correct path! One cannot get close to Hashem when their heart is full of pride. The mountain was chosen only for its humility and we will be chosen to enter the highest levels only for our humility.

           

            Serving Hashem through fear is the level of a servant, and serving Him from love is the level of a son.[32]

 

END CHAPTER                  

           

 

 

 



[1] Level

[2] Song of Songs

[3] The Jewish People

[4] From My Fathers Shabbos Table

[5] Worship

[6] Sichos Haran 154

[7] Immersing in a stream, lake or Mikvah can purify a person from the damage done through sins and can help a person reach very high levels of holiness.

[8] Another term for Rabbi, teacher and guider

[9] Character traits

[10] Genesis 2:9

[11] Tzav'at Harivash 5-6

[12] Numbers 15:39

[13] See Numbers 15:38

[14] Ibid 15:39

[15] Psalms 34:15

[16] Keter Shem Tov 69

[17] Berakoth 34b

[18] Zohar 1:4a

[19] Shevachay Haran 13

[20] Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom 19

[21] Seder ha-Dorot ha-Chadash, p. 36

[22] Zohar III, 257a

[23] Rebbes of Ger, Artscroll Books

[24] Nullifying ones ego

[25] Bava Metzia 85b

[26] Sefer Chassidim

 

[27] Story from the Chazon Ish, Arscroll Series

[28] Pirkei Avos 2.9

[29] Rabbi Chaim’s Discourses

[30] Torah Luminaries, Artscroll

[31] Shabbos 89

[32] Kedushat Levi, Yitro. p. 36