Awe and Devotion

ADVICE from RABBI NACHMAN Online English translation of Likutey Etzot A compendium of Rabbi Nachman’s practical teachings on spiritual growth and devotion. © AZAMRA INSTITUTE 5766 / 2006

1) You should never fear anything except God. If ever you begin to feel afraid of anything, remember the great fear which is due to God. Throughout the day, fill your entire consciousness with this sense of awe. It will help you to pray with all your strength to utter the words with such force that they are like thunderbolts! Then you will hear the words which are on your lips. This is the way to achieve true joy, and to perform the mitzvoth with a joy derived from the mitzvot themselves. Then you will attain the understanding of how to nullify all harsh decrees even after the decrees have been made, God forbid (5:5).

2) In order to achieve these levels, you must combine your fear of Heaven with love. A person’s main strength lies in the love he has for God. Nevertheless fear must come first (Ibid.5).

3) If you wish to savour the taste of the hidden light the secrets of Torah which are destined to be revealed in time to come you should meditate and speak to God. Express everything in your heart before Him. Examine yourself and judge yourself. Weigh up all the different things you are involved with. In this way you will be able to banish your extraneous fears of forces other than God these are called `fallen fear’ and you will be able to elevate your fear and experience the true awe of Heaven. When a person neglects to examine and judge himself, he is examined and brought to judgement from on high. God has many ways of executing His judgements. He has the power to clothe them in anything in the world, because all things are His messengers, and he can use whatever means he chooses to execute His judgements. We can actually see this in practice. When something bad happens to a person, the particular cause which precipitates the problem is often apparently quite insignificant. One would never have expected a small thing like this to bring on such a train of consequences illness, suffering and the like. The explanation is that the Divine decree passed against him has been clothed within these mundane circumstances in order to give him his deserts. But when a person examines and judges himself of his own accord the decree above is removed. There is no need for him to be afraid of anything. Worldly objects and events will no longer be used as a veil and a cloak for executing the decree of God. By bringing himself to a reckoning he has removed the judgement above. He is already sufficiently aroused and spiritually awake without needing things of this world to shake him. This is what is meant by elevating fear to its root. He is afraid of nothing except God. Because of this he will be worthy of the hidden light (15).

4) To attain true fear and love of God is only possible with the help of the Tzaddikim of the generation (17:1).

5) Fear of Heaven is the foundation for sanctifying the way one speaks and using the Holy Tongue perfectly (see dibbur). But to reach this level of fear it is necessary to journey to the Tzaddik in order to hear words of truth directly from his lips. It is not enough to study mussar literature works giving guidance about spiritual development. When a person hears a Tzaddik, the actual words of the Tzaddik possess a quality of perfection. They are uttered with true fear of Heaven, and this is the foundation for the fulfillment of the Covenant and achieving moral purity. Even if a person hears what the Tzaddik said from the lips of somebody else who himself heard the Tzaddik say them, it still does not help as much, because the words have descended from their original perfection. In order for the words of the Holy Tongue to possess perfection, they must be heard from the lips of the Tzaddik himself. This is where the treasure-house of the true fear of Heaven is to be found, and this is the foundation for attaining perfection in the Holy Tongue (19:3,9).

6) Having a sense of shame is the basis for attaining the fear of Heaven. One must feel ashamed before God so ashamed that one could not possibly sin. To have a sense of shame is a very high level (22).

7) Be sure that you make your days very long. With each new day and each fresh moment, make sure that the time is longer, fuller and richer with added holiness. So it must be with every day that comes. You must continually extend the days by filling them with more holiness and more purity. This is the secret of a long life. When you start each day, at first the day is very short. The spiritual accomplishments you need to achieve this day weigh heavily upon you. It takes great determination not to be discouraged as you feel the weight of the devotions you have to undertake this day. But be courageous and don’t lose heart. Make a start even if at first things seem heavy and strained and difficult. If you are determined enough they will become easier and you will find that you can accomplish what you must in God’s service. With every hour that passes see to it that you enrich that hour and lengthen it with extra holiness. Do the same with every new day of your life. Let each day be filled with more holiness than the day before. Then y ou will be blessed with length of days. The root of this skill in living lies in cultivating true fear of Heaven (60:2).

8) Such fear is the foundation of a long life. It can bring you great wealth, the wealth of holiness. And through this wealth it is possible to attain profound understanding. There are certain paths of Torah which possess a degree of profundity which can only be attained with the help of great wealth. This is the reason why so many of the greatest of the Tzaddikim were extraordinarily wealthy, such as Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, the compiler of the Mishnah, and Rav Ashi, the compiler of the Talmud. The source of this wealth is in `length of days,’ which is attained through awe (Ibid. 3).

9) There are three aspects to fearing God: the fear of Heaven, fear of your teacher, and fear of your father and mother (Ibid.).

10) When a person has true fear of Heaven, he is no longer trapped by the beauty of women. He is free from the attractions of falsehood. He will be saved from poverty and attain wealth (Ibid.).

11) The Tzaddik has the power to arouse men from their sleep through the stories he tells about the years of old. Through this he can cause the barren to give birth, which arouses great awe at the might of God throughout the world. This awe is the instrument for attaining all the spiritual levels we have mentioned (Ibid. 5,6).

12) The key to everything is the way you start. All beginnings are difficult, because you are trying to turn things from one direction to the opposite direction. But once a start has been made, you begin to get used to the direction you are going in and things are no longer so hard. The level of awe and devotion a person attains each day depends on the way he starts. Every day you should go backwards in the sense that you should always try and draw inspiration from the start, which was the hardest thing of all. You must always make a frest start. Each time you come to the Tzaddik, you must likewise make a fresh beginning. It must be as if you had never come to him before, as if this time it is an entirely new experience for you. Because perhaps the first beginning was not as it should have been, and if so all the devotion which followed will not have been as it should have been. Because everything depends on the beginning. Therefore you must marshal all your strength and steel yourself to make a vigorous beginning. Start again every time with new fire and passion for God. Start as if you had never begun at all before. The strength of your new beginning will bring power and vigor into all your devotions. You should always ask yourself if the start was as it should have been. Make the effort to start again, and come to the Tzaddik afresh. Do this every time (62). 13) When a new soul enters a person, he must raise it and rear it with love and awe (67:6).

14) If a person does not consider the purpose of everything, what is the point of his life? (268).

15) One of the basic rules in serving God is to think only of today. Pay no attention to yesterday or tomorrow. This applies to the work you have to do to earn a living and provide your needs. Our sacred literature tells us that we should only be concerned with today. The same applies to serving God. You should only think of today, the present hour. When a person wants to begin serving God it seems like a heavy burden which he will never be able to bear. But if you think that you have only today, it will not be a burden at all. Don’t put things off and say, `I’ll start tomorrow… tomorrow I will pray with strength and devotion,’ etc. Man’s world consists of nothing except the day and the hour that he stands in now. Tomorrow is a completely different world. `Today, if you would but listen to His voice!’ (Psalms 95:7). Exactly! Today! (272).

16) Every mitzvah which a person does in this world, creates a lamp with which he can explore the treasure house of the King after his passing. This is the ultimate bliss of the World to Come (275).

17) There are two kinds of fear of Heaven. There are people who fear God because of His greatness and exaltedness as the Ruler and Master of the Universe. This level of fear adds completeness to God’s Name. Secondly there is a lower form of fear which is attained through the fear one has of other, lower things — a wild animal, a person wielding great power, or the like. Such things can evoke the awareness of God within a person, and this second level of fear is the source of the influx of blessing into the world. To receive the blessings one has to make a vessel. The vessel is formed through the longing and desire which he has to travel to the true Tzaddikim. This creates the shape of the vessel, and the vessel itself is formed when one comes to the Tzaddik in person. The more obstacles a person encounters in his efforts to draw close and the more energy he devotes to breaking them, the greater the vessel he forms (185).

18) Every Jew is created with the ultimate purpose of wielding power over the angels. This is his destiny. But the angels are very jealous of a man who has power over them. He must protect himself and see that he has the strength to remain in this position of power without being cast down through the angels’ envy (Ibid. II, 1:1).

19) Materialism, immorality and gluttony distort and corrupt the fear in a person’s heart. The remedy is through honoring the three festivals of the year and celebrating them in the proper way. This causes the fear which is latent in the heart to become manifest, and through it one can attain the experience of prophecy. This is the avenue to true prayer and healing. One becomes bound to the very root of the souls of Israel, and here alone there is protection from the envy of the angels (Ibid.).

20) When a person falls into materialism, immorality and greed, God sits and cries out like a lion (Ibid.).

21) A person’s devotions, his mitzvot and good deeds are his `children.’ This is especially so of the Tzaddikim. Before a woman gives birth she has to undergo contractions and birth-pangs, and she cries and screams. It is literally the same when you serve God. When you want to carry out a particular devotion or return to God in truth, it inevitably takes a tremendous effort. You have to cry out and groan, bending and jerking in all directions. The hardest thing of all is the start. All beginnings are difficult. This is when you need to cry out and groan the most. Even after the start things do not necessarily come easily, and it takes a lot of effort before you achieve something worthwhile. But don’t be discouraged by what you have to endure. According to the effort, so is the reward (4:5).

22) Charity helps to open the gates to holiness. This is why it is good to give charity before doing any mitzva or good deed. The charity helps to widen the opening to the holiness which is the goal of this particular devotion, and then it will not be so hard to enter (Ibid.).

23) Through giving charity you can attain fear of Heaven, and this will lead to lovingkindness. When you attain this you will be able to serve God without being restricted by the difficulties of earning a living (Ibid.).

24) In times when the elders of the generation fail to achieve perfection, it gives strength to anti-religious ideologies. The task of each individual is to ensure that with every day that passes he gains additional holiness and deeper understanding. Each new day must be filled with more of the radiance of devotion to God. Only when a person achieves this is he worthy of the name `elder.’ When a person wastes his days without adding extra holiness, he may grow old but he cannot be termed an `elder.’ Instead of enjoying `length of days,’ his days are actually short. It is because of this that materialistic ideologies are able to become entrenched in the world. The remedy lies in the giving of charity (Ibid.).

25) God’s main joy and pleasure come only from this low world of ours. God has the whole array of angels, serafim, chayot, ofanim and all the higher worlds, all of them serving Him. But when we in this low world of ours magnify and sanctify His Name and carry out His will, this is what gives Him the greatest joy, because He sees the service of this low world rise to the realms above (Ibid. 7). 26) When people study and discuss one of the original Torah concepts of the true Tzaddikim they can become filled with the fear of Heaven (Ibid.13).

27) Your main aim should be to serve God with simplicity, with no ulterior motive. Follow His ways in order to know Him. This is what He wants. A person who serves God in order to earn the World to Come is just hungry: he wants to fill his stomach with the reward. But even so, it is better to serve God for the sake of the reward of the World to Come than it is to chase after this world. At least someone who serves God for the sake of the reward is wiser than one who struggles for this world all his life. This world is transient, but the World to Come is the world of eternal life. But even so, the main aim should be to serve God with no ulterior motive whatsoever (37).

28) What profit is there when people run after the superficialities of materialism and gratification and neglect the task of achieving self-perfection? There are many people who waste away their days struggling to leave a big inheritance for their children. But this is no better than when a person gets himself dirty and then takes more dirt to cover up the dirt. Other people try their best to leave a good name behind them for their children’s sake. But this is still not the real purpose of life. The aim of the true Tzaddikim is only to satisfy the will of God (Ibid.).

29) Man always has free will. This applies to everything he may be involved with. In all situations, the Jew always has the option of exercising free choice. As far as the other nations of the world are concerned, there are certain things which restrict their free will and compel them to act in a particular way. With a Jew, however, no matter what he does, be it to travel to a particular place, or whatever, there is always some devotion involved, something which relates to his service of God. Because of this, the Jew has free will in everything (54).

30) The profit a person can have from this world is indescribable. You don’t need to spend your own money to make a profit here. God spreads the opportunities before you and you can simply stretch out your hand and take abundant profit. `No eye hath seen it.’ (55).

31) You should throw yourself upon God and rely upon Him completely. At the start of every day you should entrust all your actions of that day, and all the actions of your children and other dependents, to God, asking that everything should go as He wishes it (Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom 2).

32) Fear is the key to achieving spiritual perfection. The basis of fear of Heaven is to be afraid of being punished. Even Tzaddikim need to have this fear. This is what gives us our initial motivation to serve God (Ibid. 5).

33) If you want to serve God, you must keep on making new beginnings. Even in the course of a single day you may have to start all over again several times (Ibid. 51).

34) Whatever you see in this world exists only to create the possibility of free will. The whole world and all that is in it was created only for the sake of free will (Ibid. 300).

35) There are people who serve God for a whole lifetime without being shown what they have achieved. Only in the World to Come will they see what they have achieved (244).

36) The main devotion of the Jew is to get up every night in the winter for the midnight prayer. In the summer, when the nights are short and we do not rise for the midnight prayer except in the Land of Israel, he should be sure to get up with the dawn each morning (Ibid. 301; see Chatzot 3).

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