The Jewish Spirit Journal
A Journal of Jewish Mysticism and Spirituality
Vol. 1, No. 8 July 2004

SPARKS OF INSIGHT

1. A Place in the World

The Breslover hasid, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak Bender, used to say:

The Rabbis say that God is called "The Place of the world." So the closer a person gets to God, the more he is included in the Name "Place." Then he has a place in the world and he is a person living in his own place. Contrarily, the farther one is from God, one loses one's place and is cast from struggle to struggle, from trouble to trouble, from place to place. He becomes like the restless spirits (shedim) that flit about in the air and have no peace and no place. So too with him, he is confused; he never has a settled mind; he never has a place in which to stand and rest and rejoice. That is why Rabbi Nachman of Breslov gave the essential advice: for a person to daily seclude himself and reflect on all his ways and deeds; then he will finally have a place in the world.

2. What Remains

Rabbi Levi Yitzhak Bender used to say about all the sufferings and troubles that pass over each and every person, that a person should know that every trouble, great or serious as it might be, that passes over a person, God-forbid, in the end, everything will pass, even all his sufferings and troubles and afflictions, it all will pass. The only thing that will remain is his faith in divine providence and his trust in God, and the prayers and pleas that he made in his time of distress. As with King David and the Book of Psalms that he wrote: David prayed and pleaded much about every trouble, and that is what remains from him for eternity, for no prayer is ever lost. So too should every person engage in much prayer over every suffering and sorrow that befalls him, God-forbid. And the Holy One, blessed be He, who counts tears, will gather them and keep them forever; and that is what will remain from him for the generations that follow after him, and they will eat from those fruits forever. For no prayer is ever lost, God-forbid, and in the end everything will be transformed to good, even in this world.

3. The Greatest and the Smallest

A Breslov hasidic teaching:

Ordinarily, there is no way to receive a full flow of divine light: God is too awesomely great; His light is too powerful. The only way to receive it is by making oneself childlike and utterly simple. By becoming the smallest of the small in humility and lowliness, one makes oneself a vessel for the greatest of the great, for the tremendous light of God.

4. Praying to a Cat

Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav once said to his daughter, Edel, "A certain Jew once prayed before a cat." He then explained to his surprised daughter, "When this Jew was praying in his room, he heard some pushing and scratching against the door, and he thought, 'Some of my admirers among the hasidim want to hear me praying!' So he began to pray more loudly and fervently. But actually it was just a cat rubbing up against the door and scratching it, making it shake. So he was praying to a cat (may God save us)!"

5. In Sequence

Rebbe David Moshe of Tchortkov was one of those who delayed their ordained prayers beyond the permitted hour. He was not bound by time and prayed the afternoon prayer when it was already night. He used to say, "When I finish one thing, I begin another."

6. Only Holy Words

Rebbe Hayim Meir of Vishnitz would praise his veteran hasid, Rabbi Mordechai Hanna Fox, for his intense focus on holiness. Whenever Rabbi Mordechai Hanna would sit with his fellow hasidim, as long as they spoke about divine service, he would listen; but the moment they began to speak about profane matters, he would nod off, he actually fell asleep!

7. Imperfect Angels

The Rabbis say that a certain category of angels are created by our utterances and actions. But they say that if a person does a mitzvah without true kavannah, an imperfect angel is created, without one of its limbs. What does this mean? To use contemporary parlance, all of our actions create "vibrations" that go out into the world and affect the world and their originator too in many ways. Essentially, an "angel" of this sort is a "vibration." But it interesting to note that there is such a thing as an imperfect angel! I think that particularly in our time of great religious confusion and turmoil there are people among us who merit the appellation "angels"-- who influence the world for good-- even though they may be imperfect.

8. Pressure to Donate

Rebbe Yitzhak of Pshevorsk once pressed a wealthy but stingy man to give a big donation for an urgent cause; after great efforts he finally succeeded in getting the man to make a large donation. Rebbe Yitzhak later said, "Because of my nature, it's very difficult for me to pressure someone to donate money. But when I look back, and see what a great favor I did for the person by getting him to participate in a great mitzvah, I realize it was worth it." This is a valuable thought for the next time we hesitate to approach someone to enlist them in a holy effort or cause.

The Torah says: "Life and death are in the power of the tongue." By complimenting someone, you can actually give life to him or her. If so, how can you refrain?

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Copyright 1998-2004, Yitzhak Buxbaum. All rights reserved.