Friday, December 27, 2013

Regards from Carl


Tonight is the "yartzeit" of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, most often remembered as the author of the holy work called, "Tanya". True to his nature, he refused to publish his "Tanya" until he received approval from two holy sages and colleagues, Rabbi Zusya of Anipoli and Rabbi Yehuda Lieb HaCohen, both of whom are memorialized in the collective memory of the Jewish people for outstanding saintliness and spirituality. Their approvals came in written form and are printed on the early pages of any standard edition of the "Tanya".

Last night, Rabbi David N. Krasnjansky told me that there was a third approval which was not published, because it was entirely oral and came from a mysterious source. As with much of what’s Jewish, this too comes with an interesting story.  

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi had a follower who eked out a pittance of a livelihood teaching children Torah. In a private audience, Rabbi Shneur Zalman guided him to enter into business. In time, his business was very successful. When he visited for his next private audience, he was guided to expand his business. Again, he heeded the advice and his business grew in size and success. With each subsequent visit, Rabbi Shneur Zalman advised him to expand his business yet further and yet further, until he became a fabulously wealthy man - fully beyond his expectations.

Then one day, during an audience, Rabbi Shneur Zalman advised, "I think it would be good for you to do business at the large annual fair in Leipzig, Germany. While you are there, I want you to purchase a theater ticket to watch a show."

This was a strange request, as going to the theater was generally considered a sheer self indulgence - something normally outside the whole framework of a very devout Jewish lifestyle. However, since the request came as part of spiritual advice, he accepted.

Indeed, he traveled to Leipzig and when the opportunity arrived, he attended the theater. Once settled into a plush seat, he relaxed and his eyes closed in exhaustion. By the time they opened, the audience was making their exit. A theater usher casually shuffled by and pleasantly inquired, "Where are you from?"

"From Liozna", came the groggy reply.

"Who's your spiritual master?", inquired the usher.

"Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi", the follower responded.

"Ah yes, I know him. When you see him next, please tell him that Carl sends regards.", smiled the usher.

Back in Liozna, by his spiritual master, the follower sent regards from Carl the theater usher. To the his utter surprise, Rabbi Shneur Zalman's face lit up with a huge smile of celebration. The follower wondered what the joy was all about. It seemed too disproportionate. After all, Carl appeared to him as an ordinary human being, going about his ordinary routine. The joy didn’t seem to fit a simple “hello” from an ordinary acquaintance.

He was even more puzzled when on his next journey to Leipzig, Rabbi Shneur Zalman handed him a bag containing a large loosely bound handwritten manuscript. "Please buy a theater ticket again. When you see Carl, lend him this manuscript and ask him to please return it in the morning.", came the instructions.

In the Leipzig theater, Carl inquired, "How's your holy master?"

"He's doing fine. He asked me to hand you this bag.", offered the follower.

Carl briefly looked over the manuscript. "Can I keep it?, he inquired.

"Sorry, my instructions were to retrieve it in the morning.", came the reply.

They arranged to meet the next morning. In the morning, Carl handed back the bag and smilingly requested, "Please tell your holy master that Carl said that it is very good."

Then they parted ways and the follower made his way back to Lioza.

Once in Liozna, he relayed Carl’s message that the manuscript is “very good”. Again, Rabbi Shneur Zalman's face lit up in celebration. "You've accomplished your mission. Now, you can go back to teaching children.", he smiled.

Soon after Carl's approval, Rabbi Shneur Zalman published his "Tanya". Till today, nobody knows who Carl was. Jewish mystical tradition teaches that each generation has 36 revealed saintly people and 36 hidden ones, who conceal their saintliness. Apparently, Carl was among the hidden ones.


Rabbi Avraham Y. Shemtov advised that this story somehow incomplete without it providing a practical lesson about the “Tanya”. Under the circumstances the best I can provide is what the story meant to me - which may or may not be it’s real lesson.

In previous stories I have heard about the hidden saintly, they always came across as “off personalities” - perceived as somewhere on the spectrum between weird and cruel. I chalk this up to what the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach related when he retold “Shvartze Volf”, that the hidden saintly are absolutely our mirrors. Whatever one projects at them, is mirrored back. So on the encounter, one sees his/her own personality flaws mirrored and mistakenly thinks that they belong to the other. It’s like making ugly faces into a mirror and then accusing the mirror of being ugly.

Interestingly, I noticed that “Regards from Carl” is the very first story I have heard about the hidden saintly where the character is not depicted as an “off personality”, but merely as an “ordinary one” - as a simple theater usher.

Though the “Tanya” was not yet published, the unnamed follower had access to it’s teachings even more fully than someone who has studied the published work. After all, he was under the personal guidance of the author of the work himself. It is my understanding that having been spiritually molded in the style of the Tanya, he was able to view the hidden saintly without anything untoward being projected back at him. Far from seeing an “off personality”, he merely saw an “ordinary one”.

In a sense, he is the true hero of this story. He served as a walking advertisement of his master’s spiritual path. Just by relating to Carl as an “ordinary person”, the unnamed follower might have unwittingly provided Carl with a most satisfying introduction to the value of the “Tanya” - a kind of proof in the flesh. In the follower’s reaction to him, Carl saw how far “Tanya” can go to help a standard person attain purity.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Happiness Stream

Today I realized that happiness is simply the default state of the soul. If you have a soul, you are naturally happy. If you aren't feeling that way then there's something blocking the psycho-spiritual flow between your higher self and your conscious mind. Getting rid of such blockages restores the flow. Essentially, celebrations and spiritual experiences don't "create" happiness. Rather, they temporarily remove the blockages, allowing the happiness stream to flow.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Step by Step

I've waited a while for an opportunity to make a lentil soup, like I used to. Finally, the opportunity came last night. I threw in sufficient lentils into a pot of water followed by a heaping spoon of red miso paste. Then I chopped in onion and garlic cloves. Finally, I sprinkled in cumin and curry to complete the taste.

While my soup was boiling, I realized that if I threw in the right amount of rice, it would absorb the flavor rich soup making a wonderful rice and lentil dish. So I did it. Thank God, it worked!  I had the most wonderful, delicious and nutritious dinner these last two nights. 

In fact it worked so well that I was too full to finish my dinner tonight. So thank God another idea arose. I mashed up the remaining rice and lentils in my bowl with a spoon and made a delicious spread, which I smeared across spelt cakes, making little sandwiches for breakfast tomorrow. God willing, I'm looking forward to a delicious and healthy breakfast tomorrow.

You see God sends some nice and helpful ideas step by step. You never know what He will teach you, if you are only patient. What a delicious way to learn such a lesson.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Ultimately Only Oneness

Yesterday, I was asked, “What's Judaism's idea of Satan?”

I answered that in Judaism, he's simply another angel. He's a good angel with a dirty job. The proof is that if one looks at the beginning of Job, one sees that the Creator orders him around and sends him on errands.

Then I was asked, whether the presence of such an angel sets up a kind of cosmic duality between good and evil, Zoroastrian style. I responded that in Judaism cosmic duality exists as part of the creation, not as part of the Creator.

Then I was asked whether the presence of angels deliberating in a heavenly court before a soul being judged possibly allude to the presence of multiple forces controlling destiny, a possible multiplicity. I responded that when the Creator deliberates within His Oneness, the various points of view under consideration are experienced on the soul's more fragmented level as angels deliberating in a cosmic court. However, in the ultimate sense, there's only Oneness.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Parable About a Parable

Last Saturday night I heard an interesting teaching from Rabbi Yoel Kahn about one difference between our perspectives and the Creator's. 

He explained that when a teacher uses a parable to teach a lesson, initially the student does not see the lesson in it's purity. He only sees the lesson by way of the parable. The parable is one thing and the lesson is another thing. Let's say a physics teacher wants to express an overarching principle of physics. He'll likely begin with a practical example and then work his way up to the underlying abstract principle. Initially, the students are only able to relate to the abstract principle by way of the parable (i.e. the practical example). For the students, grasping the abstraction is a "two step" approach, first the parable and then the lesson - a real "bottom/up" view.

However, the teacher primarily sees the lesson (i.e. the abstraction). For him, the parable he taught is only one of many possible expressions of this core idea. These parables barely arise in his mind, unless he needs them for teaching or for other practical applications. He sees the core lesson in it's purity. For him, grasping the lesson is a "one step" approach - a real "up/down" view.

Similarly, the Creator gives us the Torah and the world as parable material about Him.  We have a "bottom/up" view. First, there's the parable material, which we live with, and then there's the lesson - the Creator Himself. This is a "two step" approach, giving us a fragmented view. In contrast, the Creator's view is "top/down". There's only the lesson - only Him! Fragmentation never even begins. All's Oneness!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

In Touch with Personal Truth


I thank the Creator for allowing me conversations with others about higher matters. This way, higher levels of beingness are brought into my conversations, forming a union of sorts among the souls participating in the “give and take” of the discussion.

While it’s true that no matter what ideas I express from whatever soul level, there are always even higher levels of truth. The truth about truth is that truth is layered. Humans don’t experience Absolute Truth. The only Absolute Truth is the Creator Himself. To know this kind of Truth is to be Him. One can’t know Him without being Him. To be Him is not to be human or any other kind of creation. That’s why all other levels in existence present only “relative truths”.

Still, I don’t think anyone has ever spiritually advanced by ignoring his/her personal take on truth. The Creator seems to like it when people are in touch with their personal truths; however “relative” these truths may be. Baal Shem Tov stories are replete with such episodes. It’s likely that the reason for this is because those people are truly doing the best they can. Since they’ve done their best, the Creator does the rest. He carries their efforts to an appropriate destination. It’s only just and fair. One can’t expect people to behave outside the box of their awareness and guidance.  

While I certainly believe in this notion and celebrate it, I still think there’s something more to the value of following a personal truth than a person doing his/her very best. I think that a personal truth is the piece of Absolute Truth which is appropriate for this person at this time to latch onto. It’s the piece of Absolute Truth which has been spiritually parceled out to this person. This piece is the seed by which the person will grow and extend his region of personal truth into new territory; taking in more of the surrounding body of truth.

On the other hand, if a person jumps and skips over this step in favor of an imposed position presented by someone else, the person has effectively abandoned his/her piece of Absolute Truth. The parcel has been forsaken. A real spiritual master works to bridge a disciple with the broader surrounding truth from the spot where s/he already is holding. It appears to me that this is the way the late Lubavitcher Rebbe worked with people. Whatever life role a person was playing, the Rebbe found a way to “widen scope”, leaving the core role intact, yet enlightened. He understood that a person’s role and perspective that came with it was his/her healthiest foundation for continued spiritual growth.

In addition to being a person’s point of contact with Absolute Truth, bearing one’s personal truth while acknowledging that there are more levels of truth to grow into, can be very humbling. Since the Creator favors humility, this might be an additional reason why actions which express personal truths seem to carry Divine favor.  

Based on this awareness, I pray to the Creator to please help me come more in touch with my own personal truths. At the same time I beg Him to continually expand the scope of my personal handle on truth. I implore Him to help me proceed with a constant awareness that there are always truths which are truly beyond my awareness at any given moment. If I knew these truths, they may fill the gaps, widen my scope of understanding or reach for greater depths. Yet, I beg Him to please prevent me, based on such considerations, from being too timid to stand up for my own personal truths, as valid positions continuous with His Absolute Truth.

I further pray to live in connection and harmonious cooperation with people who can help my perspective grow and expand.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Partzuf !

This morning I was particularly inspired by what I reviewed in “Otzrot Chaim” regarding the development of “partzufim”, i.e. the divine attributes, “sefirahs”, expanded into fully developed structures. These attributes have lights and vessels, which serve as their souls and bodies.

Rav Chaim Vital explains that the lights don’t need to develop, only the vessels do. This parallels what I have learned in Chabad teachings that the soul is already holy and pure. She did not descend so much for herself as much as to refine her body and by extension the portion of the world assigned to her.

In the process of the development of divine attributes into “partzufim”, the vessels develop capacity to express more and more of the soul, i.e. the light. The light has huge potential. However, this potential can only be expressed on a lower (less energetic) realm if there’s a vessel present to do so.

For example, an embryo already has a soul assigned to it. However, until the embryo develops eyes and ears, the soul’s capacity for sight and hearing cannot be expressed on the earthly realm. These potentials would simply remain latent within the soul. Once the body or vessel develops eyes and ears, these potentials can be expressed.

I would presume that if the body could be genetically or medically enhanced, even more potentials of the soul than are typically expressed today can be expressed. For example, let’s say the wavelength ranges which the eyes and ears can perceive are expanded. Or let’s say mental functioning is enhanced. Maybe, these are developments for tomorrow.

It seems to me that a person’s possessions are also part of his/her personal “partzuf”. By means of possessions a person has the ability to express more and more of his/her soul on the earthly realm. For example, If one has more wealth, one can give to more causes and to the needy. Or in a nice home, one can perfect the kindness of hosting guests. Or with a car one can travel to do deeds of kindness. The list goes on and on... Basically, the totality of one’s “partzuf” includes his/her possessions. In a sense, they are tools which extend what one can do with one’s bodily organs even further.

The path of Torah and Mitzvahs is the path by which the soul uses her earthly vessels to express herself. Additionally, through Torah guidance and refinement, the body and/or possessions continue to develop into an even more enhanced “partzuf” - leading to even further soul expression or download down the road.

As part of one’s possessions, technology also fits into this picture. The fact remains that technology manifoldly increased what the soul can express. For example, today we can reach further with kindness, conversation and Torah. One can publish a Torah thought which will instantly be seen around the world.

Since the soul is layered, it is best to use technology to express the highest level of soul one can access. Then we’ve truly used technology properly in the self of being a cohesive “partzuf”. If a person uses technology to express his/her animal soul only, then it’s a wasted opportunity. However, if one distills messages from the highest accessible reaches of the divine soul and shares those messages with the world, it is so worth it.

Continuity with Oneness


Rabbi Bachya Ibn Pequda taught me about the Creator's Oneness, while Rabbi Shneur Zalman taught me about the universe's continuity with His Oneness.