Encouragement: Rabbi Nachmen
In this chapter Encouragement of Rabbi Nachamn’s Likutey Etzot [Advice] he explains how all can draw close to God and be encouraged by His loving kindness.
1) To return to God one must be expert in the law, the halachah, which literally means `going.’ A person must be skilled in travelling the necessary path so that nothing in the world will discourage him or make him feel rebuffed. Whether he makes progress or not, even if he feels himself sliding back, regardless of what he may go through, he should always be firm and follow the teaching of King David in the book of Psalms (139:8): `If I ascend to hea ven You are there, and if I make hell my bed, behold there You are.’ For even in the lowest pit of hell it is possible to draw oneself closer to God, because He is to be found there too. `If I make hell my bed, behold there You are.’ (6:4).
2) The greatest revelation of God’s greatness comes when those who were very far from Him draw closer. His blessed name is then glorified and exalted in the worlds above and the worlds below. What this implies is that no one should ever despair of coming closer to God even if he feels very far from Him, because of his sins. It may be that he has c ommitted great wrongs. But if so, then it is precisely through his returning to God that God’s glory will be exalted and magnified (Ibid. 10:1).
3) It is a good thing for friends who are attached to the Tzaddikim to give encouragement to each other. The main source of strength they have to draw on is the Tzaddik himself: his power is so great that he can draw up even the most damaged soul, even a soul that has not yet begun to emerge from the profane to the holy by a single hair’s breadth. The thought that the Tzaddik can renew such a soul should give everyone a feeling of encouragement. However low a person’s level may be and no matter what he may have been through, there is genuine hope for him so long as he attaches himself to the Tzaddik. A person should remind his friend about this in order to give him encouragement. He should also find other ways of encouraging him and strengthening his devotion to God. It is a good thing to pass on to his friends as much of the teachings of his teacher as he himself can understand (13 end).
4) God takes pride even in the most insignificant Jew, even in the sinners of Israel, so long as they go by the name Jew. There is a special pride which God takes in each individual Jew. One should therefore never despair of God’s help regardless of any wrong one may have done. God’s love for him will never cease, and he can still return to God. T he main thing is to be attached to the Tzaddik and his followers, because they possess the ability to uncover the goodness and glory which is present even in the worst people and return everything to God (17).
5) When it is time for a person to advance from one level to the next, he must first experience a fall before he can rise up. The whole purpose of the fall is to prepare for the advance. Try to understand this and you will realize the determination which is necessary in order to serve God. No matter how you may fall, you should never allow yoursel f to be discouraged. Remain firm and resolute and pay no attention to the fall at all. In the end the fall will be transformed into a great advance. This is its whole purpose. This applies to all the different ways one can fall. There is much that could be said on this subject because everyone always thinks that his own situation is so bad that th is idea does not apply in his case. People think it only applies to those on very high levels who are continually advancing from level to level. But you should realize that it holds true even for people on the lowest of levels. For God is good to all (22:11).
6) One may be on such a low level that one is literally `inside the earth.’ But in order to serve God one must start advancing from level to level. This applies to everyone in the world. Each time a person emerges from one level in order to rise up to the next, the `husks’ attack him again in the form of temptations, fantasies, strange thoughts, confusions and all kinds of other obstacles. They range themselves against him and refuse to allow him to enter the gates of holiness . There are many sincere people who get very discouraged when they find themselves suddenly confronted by all these temptations and obstacles. They start thinking they must have fallen from their previous level because for some time now they had not experienced all these temptations to the same degree. They were dormant. But they should understand that what they are experiencing is not a fall. The time has come for them to advance from one level to the next. This is the reason why these temptations and obstacles have reared their heads again. Whenever this happens it takes a lot of strength and courage not to lose hope and to master all the temptations and obstacles again (25).
7) In this situation it helps to give charity to those who are worthy. When the recipient of the charity is himself worthy, the act of charity reveals the greatness of the Creator. This revelation helps the individual to break the husks confronting him on every level (Ibid. 4).
8) Another way to face this situation is to make yourself happy with the thought of the good point which is within you. You are of the seed of Israel, and you have succeeded in drawing closer to the men of truth who are leading you and guiding you along the path of truth. Regardless of your situation you still have hope of attaining the ultimate g ood. The joy these thoughts will arouse will help you break the husks which confront you at each level (Ibid. 5).
9) When a person succeeds in breaking through the barriers and rises from level to level, this also benefits his fellow Jew who was previously standing on the level he himself has now attained. For it means that the other Jew was obliged to rise to the next level, since it is impossible for two people to be on the same level at the same time. This is how one Jew can help to raise up another (Ibid.).
10) The places which seem lowest of all and furthest from God actually contain the most exalted life force of all, albeit concealed: namely the `secrets of Torah.’ One who has fallen very far should therefore understand that in the very place where he has fallen he can draw very close to God, because of the exalted life force which is concealed th ere. When he succeeds in returning to God, exalted levels of Torah will be revealed through him. These are the `secrets of Torah’ (56:3).
11) When a person wants to return to God and change his life accordingly and make the journey to the Tzaddik, a new evil inclination rises up against him far stronger than the one he had before. The more strongly a person is devoted to God, the stronger the onslaughts of the evil inclination. It is a constant battle to control it. This explains so mething which is often found when a person wants to journey to the Tzaddik. At first he feels a great enthusiasm, but when he actually starts on the journey his desire becomes weakened. At times it happens that when he finally comes to the Tzaddik himself he loses his desire completely. The reason is that as soon as he felt the desire to journey t o the Tzaddik, he killed the evil inclination which he had before and a new and stronger evil inclination came into being. Because `whoever is greater than others has a stronger evil inclination’ (Succah 52). If you genuinely wish to draw close to God, you must be very firm in the battle against the evil inclination, because it keeps on rising up with ever renewed strength (72).
12) There are many different aspects to the evil inclination. Most people have a very crude and materialistic evil inclination — literally the `spirit of madness.’ But one whose understanding is somewhat developed and who can begin to form some slight conception in his heart of the greatness of the Creator will realize that an evil inclination li ke this is mere foolishness. For him even sexual temptation is mere folly requiring no special exertion to fight it. His own evil inclination is on a far higher level (Ibid.).
13) On a higher level still are those whose evil inclination is a `fine shell’. This is sent only against one who has outstanding spiritual strength. But this is still not the evil inclination of the Tzaddikim. Theirs is truly a holy angel (Ibid.).
14) Even the desire one experiences to return to God may have its source in the evil inclination. This is the case when one has too much enthusiasm without the proper limits. Thus before the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, God told Moses to warn the people, `Let them not break through to come up to the Lord.’ (Exodus 19:24). You must beg God to take pity and save you from this kind of excess (Ibid.).
15) When a person is in some kind of trouble and experiences the severe face of God, he needs to make a special effort to escape from the evil inclination. This is because the evil inclination then attacks him with even greater force since its source is in the Divine aspect of severity and harsh justice (Ibid.).
16) Depression is very harmful and gives strength to the evil inclination. A person should use the various methods explained elsewhere to make himself happy. Joy and gladness are the main source of strength, as it is written, `for the joy of the Lord is your strength’ (Nehemiah 8:10).
17) When God appears to reject us, His purpose is really to draw us closer. A person who wants to draw closer to God often finds that all kinds of hardship and suffering and other obstacles descend upon him, at times with great force. He may start thinking that he is deliberately being rejected. But really these experiences are very beneficial and they serve to draw him closer. The most important thing is to be very firm and resolute, to stand up to the test and not let oneself be deterred by the suffering and obstacles and the sense of rejection. It is a mistake to think that one is being rejected. He should have simple faith that whatever he has to go through is for his own good — to br ing him to strengthen himself and draw even closer to God. The whole purpose of this apparent rejection is to draw him closer to God (74).
18) The way to remain firm is by using the power of speech. Even if you fall, be resolute and speak words of truth — words of Torah and prayer and the fear of Heaven. Talk to God. Talk to your friends also, and especially your teacher. Speech has a great power to remind a person of God’s presence and give him strength even in situations which are very far removed from holiness (78).
19) You should always be happy and serve God with joy. At times you may fall from your level. If you do, you can give yourself encouragement by thinking about occasions in the past when you experienced a certain illumination. Use that experience as a source of inspiration now (222).
20) A person who has to have contact with non-Jews for business purposes must be very careful to see that his sanctity as a Jew is not affected. It is dangerously easy to get caught in their net, God forbid. He should always be steadfast and remind himself constantly of the holiness which is his heritage as a Jew. He should pray to God not to be influenced by their behavior (244).
21) The main source of strength is the heart. A person whose heart is steadfast will never be afraid of anyone or anything. He can achieve remarkable feats and win fierce battles simply through the strength of a heart which fears nothing and does not run from the battle lines. This applies literally to serving God. Understand this well (249).
22) When a person falls from his level he should understand that this is something sent to him from Heaven, with the sole purpose of drawing him closer. The intention is to encourage him to make new efforts to come closer. The thing to do is to make a completely fresh start. Start serving God as if you had never started in your whole life. This is one of the basic principles of serving God. We must literally begin all over again every day (261).
23) As soon as a person starts thinking about himself and sees how far he is from true good and how full of sins he is, he can become so discouraged that he may not be able to pray at all. He must try and search until he finds one good point within himself. How is it possible that throughout his life he never did a single good deed or mitzvah? The re must be at least one good point. If he starts to examine it, he may see that really it is thoroughly blemished and there is `nothing sound in it.’ Perhaps his motives were not the right ones or other things were not as they should have been. Even so, it isn’t possible that within this little bit of good there is not at least one very tiny point of good. After this he should continue searching until he finds another good point. This may also have been mixed with much that was improper. Even so, it must contain at least some good point. He should carry on searching until he succeeds in finding a number of good points. The merit and goodness he discovers will take him out of the scale of g uilt and place him on the scale of merit. Then he will be able to return to God. If you follow this method you will give yourself fresh vitality and joy no matter what condition you may have reached. You will be able to pray and sing and give thanks to God (282).
24) A person should be very careful to follow this method. It is a great principle for anyone who wishes to draw closer to God and not to lose his eternal reward completely. The main thing is to keep as far removed from depression as possible. Depression is the reason why most people are distant from God: when they see the seriousness of the damag e they did they become discouraged. Everyone is aware of his own personal pain. Most people give up hope for themselves completely, they pray without any devotion whatsoever and they do not even try to serve God in the ways they used to be able to. Think very carefully about this, because many souls have sunk completely because of it. Despair is t he worst thing of all. Follow this method of searching out the good points. It will give you a constant source of strength, and you will always be able to pray with desire, vitality and joy, and return to God in truth (Ibid.).
25) Certain fallen souls can only be revived with special kinds of `tasty delights’ which restore the soul. One who breaks the force of his sexual desire becomes worthy of an exalted spiritual illumination. From it are made words of nobility and truth which have the power to revive and restore these fallen souls (Ibid. II, 5:8,9).
26) Despair is forbidden no matter how you may have fallen. You may be lying in the lowest pit of hell, but you should still not despair of God’s help in any way at all. Even there it is possible to draw close to Him, because `the whole earth is filled with His glory.’ The true Tzaddik is only worthy of the name because he has the power to revive and raise up even those who have fallen very far: he can strengthen them, arouse and awaken them and reveal to them that God is close by. He is at their very side, for `the whole earth is filled with His glory.’ This is the message of the Tzaddik to those on the lowest levels. But to those who are on higher levels he must show that they still know nothing of the Creator: for `what knowest thou? what hav e all thy searchings achieved?’ (Zohar I, 1b) (7:7).
29) All this climbing and falling and turbulence are a necessary preliminary to entering the gates of holiness. All the Tzaddikim have endured all this (Ibid.).
32) When you consider the utter greatness of God and His unfathomable exaltedness, the merest movement, the merest glance of ours which is slightly out of place in relation to the glory of God, should make us liable to whatever we should be liable to, God forbid. But He is filled with love and the whole world is filled with His kindness. God desir es this world very greatly. So my beloved friend and brother, my very soul and heart, take courage and trust in God. He will not abandon you. Whatever you experience is all for your good. Rely upon God’s abundant love, which is absolutely without end. There is no limit to the greatness of God. Somehow everything will be transformed to good. Even t he intentional sins will be transformed into merits. Only remain firm (49).
33) That man has the evil inclination is really a great thing. Thus man can serve God with the very evil inclination itself. Even when he is exposed to the burning of the evil inclination, he can still strengthen himself even then and try to draw some of its passion into the service of God. If man had no evil inclination his service would be worth nothing. This is why God gives the evil inclination such power against men, especially those who genuinely seek to draw closer to Him. The onslaught of the evil inclination brings men to all mann er of sin and devastation. But even so, in God’s eyes all this is acceptable because of the preciousness of the gestures which people make when confronted by the full force of the evil inclination — those gestures of fighting and escaping. In God’s eyes this is more precious than if a person served him for a thousand years without the evil inclin ation. All the worlds were created only for the sake of man. The whole preciousness and greatness of man lies in the fact that he is confronted by this strong evil inclination. The more it arrays itself to attack, the more precious in God’s eyes is every single gesture one makes to strengthen oneself against it. God Himself will send help, as it i s written: `The Lord will not abandon him into his hand’ (Psalm 37:33) (Ibid.).
34) The evil inclination bites a person again and again. Repeatedly it tempts him and tries to lead him on. One may refuse to listen and turn away. Even so it comes back and bites him a second time, a third, a fourth and more. But if one is absolutely determined, obstinately refusing to bow to it in any way, then eventually the evil inclination wi ll just leave. The same thing is true when it comes to the confusing thoughts which rise up in the mind when we are praying. The same thought comes again and again and tries to disturb the person. He must be firm and pay no attention whatsoever (51).
35) When a person reaches a very exalted level of holiness, for example when he draws closer to the true Tzaddik, at times it can happen that precisely at this moment he experiences an impure emission, God forbid. He should not lose heart because of this: it may well be a sign that he has indeed entered such a level, and it can be very beneficial to him (117).
36) There is no reason for despair at all. The very fact that a person sees how very far he is from God should itself give him a way to find encouragement. At least he knows that he is far from God. It is possible that he could have been so far that he would not even have known that he was far. Far he may be, but the fact that he knows it is itsel f precious in God’s eyes. This alone should encourage him (68).
37) Even the most ordinary people, even the wicked, even the nations of the world… all draw vitality from the Torah, each in their own way. A person may be perfectly ordinary, he may be unable to learn or he may be in a place where he cannot learn. Still, he too receives vitality from the Torah. Therefore even in situations like these he should remain as steadfast as he can in his fear of Heaven. Even at times when he is prevented from pursuing his studies, or if he is a person who doesn’t know how to learn! All receive their vitality from the hidden Torah through the agency of the great Tzaddik. At times this Tzaddik may act with absolute simplicity (78).
38) A person may have fallen very far, he may be sunk in the lowest pit of hell. But he can still restore and rebuild, with the help of the true Tzaddik. Because through the Tzaddik all can receive vitality from the realm of holiness regardless of their situation. Therefore despair is absolutely ruled out. No matter where you may have fallen, reme mber that there is still hope for you to return to God. The main thing is to cry out: `From the belly of hell I cried out’ (Jonah 2:3). Even a cry from the lowest pit of hell is not lost. Cry, cry and cry again. Do not despair and do not stop crying out to God. Cry and plead with Him no matter who or what you are, until He looks down from the Heav ens and sees (Ibid.).
39) Even in the lowest pit of hell it is possible to be close to God (Ibid).
40) If you believe it is possible to destroy, believe it is possible to repair.
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