The Jewish Spirit Journal
A Journal of Jewish Mysticism and Spirituality
Vol. 1, No. 5

SPARKS OF INSIGHT

1. God Only Loves What's Real

My spiritual master, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, once quoted the Kotzker Rebbe as saying "God only loves what's real." This saying has had a great impact on me. Shlomo often used the word "real." And this saying of his is short but very potent. To me, it means that if you see something in religion that seems false and phony, be sure that God is not interested in it; it's not from Him. This saying is Shlomo's as well as the Kotzker's, but they spoke from somewhat different perspectives. The Kotzker was fire. When he said that God only loved what was real, it was because he only loved what was real. He hated pretense and falsity. If a great rabbi was a phony, the Kotzker and his hasidim gave him no kavod, no honor. They were dismissive of him; they would just as soon knock off his shtreimel. And the Kotzker hasidim made many enemies, because they burned a lot of people with their fire. When Shlomo said God only loved what is real it is because Shlomo looked beyond a person's exterior to appreciate the inner beauty and holiness of people who didn't have the external "credentials," so to speak. Shlomo didn't burn up others with his glance, like the Kotzker. At the most, he would say that someone was "a little off [from the mark]," or that he was "sweet and cute, but ..." Both the way of the Kotzker and Shlomo's way are holy. Peace on Israel.

Sometimes you meet a person and you forget about them immediately. When you meet someone who is real, you remember them forever.

(Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, quoted in Shlomo Carlebach: A Friend to Our Generation).

Shlomo was so real that whoever met him never forgot him.

2. The Ego and The Soul

Really turning to God is like death. Rabbi Simha Bunim of Pshis'ha said that real tshuvah is like climbing up a tall tree and throwing yourself down. It is no less fearful for your ego to be destroyed than for your body to be destroyed. In our false identification with the ego, we consider it as "me." The fear is that when your ego is extinguished, you will "disappear," cease to exist. That is not so. The image to understand this is that of a circle with a smudge within it. If one erases the smudge, the circle is still there. If one removes one's ego, the part of us that pushes us toward lowliness and evil, our purified personality-- our soul-- still remains. When the ego is repressed, the soul is revealed.

One may occasionally pray: "O God, please, destroy my ego, crush it so that it ceases to direct me to pride, anger, lust, and all other evil traits that make me miserable. I'm disgusted with that part of me and don't want this ego at all! Please crush it!"

3. Taking a Vacation From God

Years ago I remember my rebbe, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, the remembrance of a tzaddik for a blessing, say, "Sometimes you have to take a vacation from God." Shlomo said this in answer to a question, but I don't exactly remember the question. I was thinking of this because I am going on vacation and told someone that I was searching for the right sefarim (Hebrew religious books) to take along. He said, "If it's a vacation, why would you take that along? Why not some more relaxing reading?" I'm also taking some "lighter" reading but how could I relax without Torah?! This person didn't realize that Torah is my ultimate relaxation because it relaxes the soul-- usually. Sometimes, however, you need to take a vacation even from Torah. When Shlomo said that you sometimes have to take a vacation from God-- a striking and memorable comment-- perhaps he meant what the Rabbis meant by teaching that the neglect of Torah is its establishment. Sometimes one must neglect Torah in the interest of establishing one's deeper relation to it. But Shlomo's remark certainly meant (and I remember the basic context and point) that sometimes if a person forces himself to be too religious, beyond his capacity at that time, he will end up overthrowing his whole religiousity. It might be necessary to let up once in a while, even "taking a vacation from God" in order to gain new energy with which to re-devote oneself to divine service. The Baal Shem Tov also said as much.

The Rabbis say: "The place where repentants (baalei tshuvah) stand, even the perfectly righteous (tzaddikim) cannot stand."

Who is an example of a repentant person, who returned to his Jewish roots after being assimilated? Moses, who grew up in Pharaoh's palace. And where is the place where he, and no perfect tzaddik, was able to stand? Mount Sinai, where he received the Torah.

(Yitzhak Buxbaum)

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Copyright 2004-2005, Yitzhak Buxbaum. All rights reserved.