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Hassidic Teachings of Hope and Faith

abracad, · Categories: externally authored, religion

by Rabbi Allen S. Maller

A growing body of medical evidence indicates that people who are optimistic and trusting, have stronger immune systems and recover more rapidly and fully from major trauma, than those who are skeptical and distrustful. Painful experiences are natural and normal. They usually leave us with an unconscious fear that they will reoccur. This anxiety weakens our resolve to recover when we face new traumas. Even worse, we hesitate to live and love as fully as we should, so that we suffer loss even if nothing bad ever reoccurs.

Religious insights that derive from powerful spiritual experiences can help us overcome these anxieties by directing our attention to new and different ways of seeing things. People who change their perspective and become more hopeful prior to negative situations may even avoid experiencing them. 

The great Jewish philosopher Martin Buber asserted more than a half century ago that, “the purpose of all great religions and religious movements is to engender a life of elation and fervor which no (later negative) experience can dampen and stifle.” In this light I offer a sample of Hassidic insights that Christian preachers and teachers can use to inspire their people.

One of the most important teachings of Hassidic Rabbis was not to worry about the future or sacrifice present joy because you fear it will not last very long. After all, most things people worry about never occur.

The Baal Shem Tov's (1700-1760) great grandson Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772 –1810) taught his disciples “The whole world is one long narrow bridge, so it is essential not to let yourself  become fearful.” and “You are wherever your thoughts are. Make sure your thoughts are where you want to be.” and  “Always remember that joy is not merely incidental to your spiritual quest. It is vital.”

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov also taught, “Get into the habit of dancing. It will displace depression and dispel hardship.” A Hassidic Sage who was near death got up and danced. When they tried to stop him he said, “This is exactly the time to dance.” He then told them a story and concluded, “When they (circumstances) come to you with a very difficult demand, that is exactly the time to dance.”  All of our virtues (love, faith, courage, trust, etc) are tested in times of adversity, and that is exactly when we really need to exemplify them.

As Rabbi Mordecai of Lekhovitz taught, “We must not worry. Only one worry is O.K.  We  should worry about being (always) worried.”

Rabbi Levi Yitzkhak of Berdichev also taught, “A person who fears God loves his own self; but a person who loves God forgets his own self.”

Rabbi Barukh of Mezbizh once said: “What a good and bright world this is if we do not lose our hearts, but what a dark world, if we do!”

Soon after the death of Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin someone asked one of his disciples what was the most important thing to his teacher. The disciple thought and then replied, “Whatever he happened do be doing at the moment.”

Rabbi Simcha Bunam of Pzhysha taught, “Humans are always transitioning through two doors: out of this world and into the next world, and out and in again.” We live in two worlds; past and future, spiritual and material, rational and emotional, public and private. We are always passing from one realm to the next and then back again. Life is continual change between sickness and health, joys and sorrows, victories and defeats. We cannot live either entirely or permanently in just one of them. During a wedding Jews break a glass to remind ourselves that no joy lasts forever, and during a time of trouble we say- this too shall pass.

Before his death, Rabbi Zusya of Hanipol said: “In the next world they will not ask me-Why were you not Moses? They will ask me-Why were you not Zusya?”

Rabbi Moshe of Kobryn taught, “When people suffer they should not say – That’s bad, that’s bad! Nothing that God imposes on us is bad. But it is all right to say- That’s bitter! For there are some medicines that are made with bitter herbs.”

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk asked, “Where can you find God?  Other sages say that God is everywhere. I say God is wherever a person lets God in.”

Rabbi Michal of Zlotchov once said to his children, “My life was always blessed in that I never needed anything until I had it.”

Rabbi Shelomo of Karlin taught, “What is the worst thing that Satan can accomplish? To make a person forget that he or she is a child of God.”

This was the way Yaakov Yitzhak of Apt began his spiritual journey.  He told this tale about himself before he became a Rabbi.

Once when I was walking along a road by myself, I came upon a huge hay wagon which had overturned. A peasant standing beside the wagon called out to me, begging me to help him lift up the wagon. I knew that the Torah says (Deuteronomy 22:4) that it is a Mitsvah (a religious responsibility) to help someone (even a stranger) in a situation like this, but I was sure I was inadequate to do it; so I replied,” I can not do it”.

He replied that I could, but I was not willing. That struck me to the heart. So we took some boards and inserting them under the wagon as levers, and using all our strength, we lifted the wagon upright. Then together we lifted the bales of hay and placed them on the cart. I asked the peasant if I could walk with him along the road and he said, “come right along brother”.

We trod along together. Then I asked him why he had said I was unwilling to help him. He replied, “Because you said you could not do it. No one knows if he can do something until he has tried it.”

“But why did you think I could do it?' I asked. He answered that he needed help; and he thought maybe I had come along this way, at this time, to help him. I smiled and said,“Soon you will tell me that your wagon overturned in order that I might help you.” and he said, “Of course brother, what else.”

Finally in today's world of fanaticism and extremism the words of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk and Rabbi Nachman (great grandson of the Baal Shem Tov) should be continually repeated by all teachers of true religious devotion.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught, “Go out and defeat God. Yes, God actually wants us to conquer, to keep praying and praying until we force the Holy One to forgive us for what we have done.” He also said: “Never insist that everything go exactly your way, even in matters spiritual.”

The Rabbi of Kotzk said: “Even as you do not think other people should look like you; so you must not think another person's opinion should be like yours.”

Rabbi Maller’s web site is: rabbimaller.com

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