I sent out a letter last week. You didn’t receive it. My unsurpassed technological ability encoded the entire missive. What wouldn’t the CIA and the Mossad do to learn my method? Unfortunately I can’t recall exactly what I did.
I am still high (and exhausted) from my weekend trip to Uman. I made the journey even though I am not a Breslover. I realize that describing me as “unaffiliated” is somewhat misleading, but that is the only word that really does the job; there is so much to learn from so many people that denying myself entrance to any of the potentially opened doors is painful to even consider. The raw brilliance and intensity of Lekutei Moharan is breathtaking, but it is on an entirely different planet than the succinct, overflowing stream of truth that flows from the Gra’s writings. I don’t even have enough self-control to choose deserts when there are options. How can I affiliate?
Going to Uman means opening your heart. You enter the tzion (tomb area), recite tehillim, give tzedakah, and begin to be yourself. When you leave the tzion, things there are different. I used some of the time to explore. I walked down to the lake where the tens of thousands of Chassidim recite tashlich. On the way back, I saw a road in the opposite direction. I came to a pristine lake, surrounded by houses that were of another era; they looked like the Three Bears could have inhabited them. It felt like paradise.
Then a thought entered my mind that changed everything. I knew that during the holocaust the Jews of Uman and the surrounding area were drowned here, in these lakes. Thousands of them. The next day, I travelled from Uman to Haditch, the place where the author of Tanya is buried. As soon as the bus left Kiev (a very "heavy" city, replete with Stalineque architecture,) the forest began. The thin birch trees gave way to fields full of sunflowers. Thousands of them. The wildflowers were so profuse, and their colors so unique that I felt Hashem’s love for His world almost tangibly. The Ukrainians see this every day. They are distinct: most of them are tall, slender until midlife, have dark blonde hair and high cheekbones. And yes, hard faces. They are the only people I have ever encountered who don’t smile back when you smile at them. Nothing of the love that G –d showers on their land seems to touch them. I don’t know enough about their history to have an opinion, or to judge their culture. I found myself revisiting the holocaust books that describe the depth of the cruelty that the Ukrainians had towards the Jews in the camps. They are consonantly described as being even worse than the Germans. How can this happen?
The world was perfect when it was created. Adam’s sin generated the possibility of seeing-and–not-seeing. He thought that his choices would be more meaningful if they were made on a backdrop of challenge. He ate the forbidden fruit, which would make knowledge of evil as real to him as knowledge of good. The result is that good and evil can live together in an uneasy truce. You can walk through beauty, do unutterable evil, and eat lunch.
The only thing that can guarantee that you stay on track is moving beyond Self. It isn’t just learning the rules of Torah. It is also the way you submit to Torah that can change you enough to escape the traps you lay for yourself with the help of confusion and fantasy. The Gra, (in his Chiddushei Agadah in Bava Kama) talks about what you need to do to retain your integrity. You need to be committed towards the positive mitzvos. The trap you may fall into is laziness (which can be emotional or intellectual, not only physical). You have to be committed to observing the negative mitzvos; the ones give you the self-discipline to deal with all of your appetites... You have to be committed to learning, because when you learn you know what Hashem’s plan is, and by voicing it as you study, it becomes you. The last commitment is arguably the most crucial and the most difficult.
Do a visualization; see an ox, it’s far bigger than you are and immeasurably stronger. You somehow become the ox! Hashem is holding a plowshare. Your brute strength is harnessed to His will; you gave him control the plow. Willingly taking your strength, you’re ambition, abilities and longings and submitting them to Hashem is ‘kabbalas oll’.
It is what the Torah touches on in Parshas Chukas, where accepting Hashem’s will whether or not it fits into your vision of “how things should be” or not, is the theme. The way to "feed" kabbalas oll is with emunah. Let the beauty of nature speak to you. Let the taste of food, the pleasure of friendship open your heart to the One whose world you live in. Keep your heart open.
All the best,