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* Tallow Candles
The maggid of Zlatshov, Rabbi Mechele, was a rabbi and preacher (musar zager) before he grew close to the Baal Shem Tov.
Once, a Jewish merchant came to him, seeking a way to repent. The previous Friday, he had been so delayed that he had driven into town with his wagon filled with merchandise, after the time for candle-lighting had passed.
Rabbi Mechele told the man to fast forty days and to carry out various other such acts. The penitent--the baal teshuvah-- began fasting, but after a while, he felt that he could bear these self-mortifications no more.
Meanwhile, the Baal Shem Tov visited the neighborhood of the baal teshuvah. The baal teshuvah approached the Baal Shem Tov and told him about his situation. The Baal Shem Tov replied that on Friday he should bring a half pound of tallow candles to the synagogue--and that would constitute his repentance.
On Friday, the man brought the candles to the synagogue and hung them on the chandelier. But before his very eyes, a dog entered the synagogue, leaped up and grabbed the candles, and ate them.
The baal teshuvah came back to the Baal Shem Tov with a broken heart, for this occurrence must mean that his repentance had not been accepted in heaven.
The Baal Shem Tov told him that on the coming Friday he should again donate half a pound of candles to the synagogue. And this time, the Baal Shem Tov added, no dog would take it.
The Baal Shem Tov realized that the reason dog had snatched the candles the previous week was that Rabbi Mechele knew of the easy rectification that the Baal Shem Tov had prescribed for the man, and was very upset.
And so the Baal Shem Tov sent the following message to Rabbi Mechele: "A Jew who has never sinned his entire life cannot understand the broken, regretful heart that a Jew has after committing a sin. And so how can a Jew without sin undertake to give out penitential practices? With his broken heart, this baal teshuvah has already rectified everything."
Chasidishe Maasiyos, p. 23
RABBI NACHMAN'S JOURNEY TO THE HOLY LAND
In this way, we can also understand something that appears so strange. A person travels to the land of Israel facing such adversity; he goes through so much; he yearns, as Rabbi Yehudah Halevi did in his time, to see the beloved land. And then, when he arrives in Haifa, he immeidately wants to leave! He already wishes to depart the land of Israel. He tells his fellow- traveller to find a ship that will take them home. He does not even want to travel to Tiberias.
He ends up staying in the land of Israel only because his fellow-traveller has absolutely no desire to leave without first feasting his eyes on the holy sites of the land of Israel. Only because of that man's stubbornness did Rabbi Nachman remain in the land of Israel for a longer period of time. But from his point of view, there was nothing holding him back from leaving the land of Israel immediately after having spent several hours there and traversing a small area.
On the face of it, he was not even disturbed by the idea that he would not be able to visit the graves of the holy ones, including the grave-site of his grandfather, Rabbi Nachman of Horodenke. And more than that: Rabbi Nachman never visited the true center of Jewish holiness, Jerusalem--even after his fellow- traveller's stubbornness and even after, due to various reasons, he was forced to remain a longer period of time in the land of Israel.
All this can only be understood by explaining that Rabbi Nachman did not view his journey to the land of Israel simply as a journey for the sake of a mitzvah, or for the sake of attaining elevated states of being, or simply for the sake of the love of the land--but exclusively, as he phrased it, "in order to conquer the land."
To conquer? What can this mean? Did Rabbi Nachman in his time foreshadow political Zionism? And if so, how did he mean to "conquer" the land? With his bare hands?
When we enter Rabbi Nachman's inner world, we can comprehend this. The earthly land of Israel, "the land of Israel with its houses and stones," cannot not be redeemed--in the view of Rabbi Nachman as well as other Kabbalists--before the heavenly land is redeemed. And because there are many brambles that encircle the supernal rose (God's Presence), neither the heavenly nor the earthly land can be redeemed until the gardener comes and uproots the thorns.
Who is this gardener--or, as Rabbi Nachman calls him, the "master of the field"? According to Rabbi Nachman, this is none other than the true tzaddik, who occupies the same plane as Moshe and the Messiah. Tzaddikim, even great tzaddikim, exist in all generations. However, the true tzaddik only reveals himself in certain eras.
Rabbi Nachman viewed himself as the last true tzaddik, a man who must pave a way for the ultimate redeemer. He must pass through dark forests and chop down trees a thousand years old. He must descend at great hazard into the deepest abysses. And because he is the true tzaddik, because he must deliver the strongest blow at evil, evil arrays all its powers against him, it mobilizes its the strongest and most experienced troops, it shoots arrows aimed directly at his heart. Therefore, the true tzaddik must array all possible strategies against it.
And if he wishes to reach the ultimate goal, the redemption of the land, the redemption of the daughter of the king who has been imprisoned by the Evil One, there swarm from all the heavens and all the abysses uncountable foes and adversaries that oppose him wherever he may travel.
Therfore, the true tzaddik must often conceal himself, he must present himself as a simple man, sometimes exceedingly simple; and when it is very necessary, when he is going straight to free the king's daughter, he must appear as a piece of nothing (or, as Rabbi Nachman once described Rabbi Nosson, "a piece of mud"). I am a small, inconsequential person, I want nothing and need nothing, I merely act the fool, I play with children.
Then, once Rabbi Nachman attained his goal, once he trod on the soil of the land of Israel, he understood that the "tzaddik" had united with the "land." In mystical terms, "yesod" had united with "malchus." Therefore, he acquired this land, in accordance with the halachah, through the principle of chazakah: right of possession. And so there need be no more delays. To the contrary, he must leave as quickly as possible, in order not to arouse the enemy.
On his return, Rabbi Nachman endured great problems and difficulties: imprisonment on a Turkish warship, storms, floods, the threat of death. All this meant that the forces of evil wished to rob him of the great and holy treasure that he had attained in the land of Israel: the promise of redemption and the path to redemption. This explains Rabbi Nachman's great fears and, from this moment onwards, his sudden, effervescent joy at certain moments: for the treasure was saved and carried back to his brothers.
Reb Nachman Braslaver, pp. 144-46
THE BLESSINGS OF TOIL
This coming week we will read in Parashat Bechukotai of great and munificent blessings: complete peace, abundant plenty, and so forth, culminating with the Divine Presence dwelling amongst us.
With what does all this begin? "Im bechukotai telechu": "If you will walk in the ways of My statutes." Rashi explains that this refers not only to fulfilling the commandments but also to "toiling in the study of Torah." Timely rains, peace, prosperity and spiritual blessing all derive from working hard in the study of Torah. We are bidden not only to study Torah but to exert ourselves. As a result, we will receive all these wonderful blessings.
The weekly portion also tells what will happen if we do not "walk in the ways of His statutes." These difficult consequences result from corrupt behavior on the part of the Jewish people. And that behavior is based on our lack of connection to the Torah.
The Midrash explicates this progression: one who does not learn cannot observe properly. Once he does not practice, he becomes disgusted with those who do study and observe the commandments. This then leads him to hate the teachers and rabbis. And from there, he will go so far as to prevent others from keeping the precepts.
On the other hand, the multitude of abundant blessings that God promises us begins with intense study of the Torah.
God granted me the opportunity this week to visit Beit El, where I went to a Talmud Torah of first- and second-grade children. I truly felt as if the words of the Torah portion and the commentators were coming true. "If you walk in the ways of my statutes"--meaning, to toil in the study of Torah. Here were six- and seven-year-old children who knew the entire Book of Genesis, the entire Book of Exodus, and a large portion of the sacrifice studies in Leviticus. They knew it word for word, and truly understood what they learned! I was astonished to see such young children with such knowledge. They knew all the details of the sacrifices and of the Holy Temple, including its layout, and other details--and with such joy! It was truly wonderful. This is really the beauty of "toil in the study of Torah." From there, I went to the Ulpana [the girls' yeshiva high school]. After seeing young women who study Torah and walk in modesty, from there too I came away with a special feeling related to the verse: "If you walk in My ways...."
During these difficult days for the people of Israel, and as we approach Shavuot, the holiday of the Giving of the Torah, we must accept upon ourselves the yoke of Torah. We must make every effort to utilize our spare moments for the study of Torah. Then the promised blessings, both material and spiritual, will come upon us: "I will be Lord over you, and you will be unto Me a nation."
from a speech transcribed on Arutz-7
DOWN THE HILL
When one must be a fool,
Down the hill, through the abstract shafts of trees,
All translations and original material. Copyright 1998