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Moment of Truth

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Over 3300 Years and Counting

You can never win. Many of our readers complimented our series of Samach-Vav articles, which address some of the deepest concepts in mysticism and life in general. Others felt that the articles were too esoteric and voiced how much they missed Rabbi Jacobson’s “special ability to talk about the trials and tribulations of everyday life, and how our spiritual teachings aid us in dealing with life’s challenges in a positive way.”

You can’t satisfy everyone all the time. But you can try. The fact is that the most practical psychological messages – the ones that help us deal with our most intimate conflicts – are rooted in the most profound inner mechanics of the soul and the cosmos. The challenge is to translate these intense ideas and communicate them in accessible and relevant language without compromising the integrity of the original. Most of the time these insights can be expressed exclusively in a user-friendly form, stripped of the inner dynamics that shape the concepts. But sometimes it’s good to see these ideas in their original form, and study the method through which we derive the practical lessons from these esoteric teachings.

The Rebbe Rashab may have anticipated this dilemma. After twenty consecutive weeks of discourses (beginning Rosh Hashana and continuing week after week (except for Parshat Miketz) until last week’s Parshat Beshalach), Samach-Vav takes a break for a few (four) weeks, until it resumes in the week of Parshat Ki Tisa, when the Rebbe Rashab continues the incredible discussion about the nature of light.

After delivering the fundamentally profound discourse (titled Vayeilech) which was discussed previously, perhaps the Rebbe Rashab sensed the need to allow his Chassidim a “pause” to review and absorb the essential ideas expressed in that discourse, before he continued on several weeks later.

And so in this spirit, we take a break from the intensity and unplug a bit as we confront the daily realities of our life’s struggle.

The last night of his life the great Chassid Reb Gershon Ber was asked “what do you look forward to?” He replied: “To a life of no lies and no deception.”

Another Chassid, a ninety-year old man by the name of Reb Aaron Biyeshnikovitzer, would say: “G-d Almighty, 90 years I have lied; give me at least one day of honesty…”

We live in, what Kabbalists call an “alma d’shikra,” a deceptive world – and we lie.

Are we actually lying all the time? Even if it’s true that duplicity may come easily to us, and that many people live deceitful lives, can we say that all people are lying all the time? There are truthful people who do not lie. So what did these spiritual individuals mean by saying that we are living a life of lies?

The mere fact that we live in a world in which can say one thing and mean another demonstrates that the world is inherently a “deceptive” one. In a world of truth two-faced behavior would simply be inconceivable. In a seamless universe, there would be no place for any inconsistency.

Take children, for instance. Before they learn the art of deception from “seasoned” adults, children simply do not know how to lie. The reason is because they do not live in a dichotomous universe. For children everything is seamless: What you see is what you get.

Try to remember the first time you lied. You will not be able to. Why? Because it was a completely unnatural thing, that was not part of who you truly are. As young children, the first time we hear our parents lie or disappoint us, we simply believe them. (That’s why abuse endured at a young age has such devastating effects: It wounds our deepest vulnerable innocence). It takes sustained deception – time and again – to finally jade our impressionable spirits. Once we accept the “fact” that people lie, we become liars ourselves, and then we never turn back. Once we crossover from the world of honesty to the world of deception, we no longer remember the previous world of truth, or even the place and time when we crossed over.

How sad.

Historically speaking, the dichotomy entered our consciousness with Adam and Eve eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Prior to that fateful moment there was seamlessness flow between matter and spirit, body and soul – between actions and beliefs. Therefore Adam and Eve were unashamed by their own nudity. Like newborn children they were not conscious of their own “egos” and had no independent sense of “self,” thus their sexuality was seamlessly part of their Divine beings.

After they ate from the Tree of Knowledge, after they tasted and experienced good and evil, their innocence was lost, and now they sensed themselves as independent selves from their source. No they were ashamed of their own nakedness, and covered themselves. G-d therefore asked Adam “where are you?” (even though G-d surely knew where Adam was physically): It was like asking someone who you see “spacing out” even though the person is standing before you. G-d was saying to Adam “where have you gone, where has your spirit and consciousness gone. I don’t recognize you anymore. I don’t see your Divine Image radiating from your being.”

When an entity is completely aligned with its purpose, there is no dichotomy and no room for disunity. Deception is caused by duality – a result of an entity becoming disconnected from its soul, its purpose – its essence.

Mystically speaking, the root of the “deceptive world” originates from the great tzimtzum – the concealment of the Divine energy that is the soul of all existence. Once the source is concealed and our independent consciousness emerges, duality becomes the “norm:” Our agenda is no longer aligned with the purpose of our beings.

So there you have the beginning of all deception. The first deception of them all is actually G-d deceiving us humans by hiding His presence from us! The rest, as they say, is history. Once matter is disconnected from spirit, and form from function, once we are disconnected from our inner selves – we are living a “lie.” When we do not perceive the force that gives us life – the very purpose of our being, our raison d’être – we have the ability to lie to ourselves and to others. When we don’t feel that we are all part of one integral unity, we are able to hurt ourselves and others.

Though we can also tell the truth, we are fundamentally trapped in a world of deceit – intentional or unintentional – a world where the package can completely conceal what lies within, and “sugarcoated” images can indeed be killing us.

But therein also begins our search for truth; our search for our inner self. Our seeking out what makes us human and the entire universe tick.

Because after all is said and done, no matter how duplicitous life can be, there is a voice inside of us that seeks seamlessness and is not at peace with fragmentation and duality. We are disturbed when we are torn apart by scattered agendas.

Integration resonates with us. Truth resonates; dishonesty does not. We feel at home when we are, well, at home – when all of us, our inside and our outside, is aligned.

From the day we lost our innocence, we are desperate to rediscover it. Innocence, childhood, truth, spontaneity, enchantment, seamlessness – these are attributes we adults seek out all our lives.

Everybody has their “Rosebud.”

True love and intimacy – the place where we feel we most belong – is a taste of this seamless flow. Any experience that unites who you are and what you do feels right.

Any this is the power of a moment of truth.

Try to remember the last time you had such a moment? You’ll recall that though it may have been a moment, it is an eternal moment; one that touched you in the deepest place, and one you will never forget.

And if you do forget it, it is only because you have allowed the forces of life to take you back to the duality of existence.

The secret to all happiness and fulfillment is to be able to hold on to your moments of truth; to allow them to carry you through the rest of life when honesty is not always evident.

The key is to never forget the deeper truths of life. Easier said than done. The pursuit of money, power, pleasure and all other obsessions in a post-tzimtzum agnostic reality so consume our lives that we hardly have time for moments of truth, let alone for holding on to them.

The tentacles of the tzimtzum entangle us in a mesh that conceals even the fact that we live in a state of concealment (the Baal Shem Tov calls it “double concealment”).

Yet, it is not an airtight reality. We have many reminders of the inner truth. We have many moments of inspiration. We have music and love. We have faith. We have the resonating factor: That honesty resonates more than dishonesty.

And then we have our children: Those gentle souls that remind us of our own innocence. Our children give us a second lease on life: Through them we can reconnect and regain our own inner truths.

3318 years ago a nation had a collective moment of truth. A fleeting moment, but what a moment it was! The Sinai moment changed the world forever. It introduced civilization to the world.

Such are true moments of truth.

No coincidence that children played a prominent role at Sinai. They were the ultimate guarantors that Torah would be upheld and perpetuated.

Let your children into your life. You may need them more than they need you.

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Anonymous too
11 months ago

“The first deception of them all is actually G-d deceiving us humans by hiding His presence from us!”

If deception is a lie and a sin, how can this be attributed to a perfect G-d? How is Hiding His presence a deception? Is our clothing a deception then as well? I would actually like to suggest His presence is never hidden, for all of Creation reflects His presence. I find your statement ill conceived at best and frankly seems quite blasphemous.

cassia
13 years ago

bsd
1) I have a child and have noted that lying seems to be frequent from the age of about 3-4. It is difficult to tell whether the lying was intentional or whatever. But it appeared to me that my child had a strong inclination to be self-protecting rather than tell the truth at loss, or share at a loss etc etc. Of course, on the other hand I can clearly notice a strong inclination towards showing love and kindess, caring about my feelings etc etc as well.
I just could not find the nature of a child inspiring (except in so far as everything is new to them). I just think childhood is a very sad stage of life, of great confusion, trying to make sense of life, and great powerlessness and vulnerability. The older, the more you know, the more you can protect yourself, your heart.

2) I remember being brought up as to feel that children were boring to talk to, would certainly not say anything worthwhile listening to, and were a great burden to grownups who had to make up for the ineptitude and weakness. Children are cute and nicer and more accepting and more kind towards me than adults, but ultimately I couldnt be inspired by a child. I would have to agree that a child is, although cute and lovely and meaningful, still a huge emotional (I am not talking about financial) price, which is very difficult to afford, simply because of their innocence and their great need for love.

Therefore I find it incredible that anyone could not look at a child and not feel at least great pity for them and relief to be past that age and stage. One of the worst things about children is that they do remind us of sad times (for those people who had unhappy childhoods).

S. Minanel
14 years ago

WONDERFUL ARTICLE! How true!!! Do you know why MOT seem more inclined to complain and disagree and in general be more contentioous than others?

AZ
14 years ago

Thank you for your sensitivity and honesty so rare in the age of duplicity and mixed messages. Whenever I feel like giving up I think about my children.

Karol B. Feld
14 years ago

Beautiful article! Im so grateful to Rabbi Jacobson for his amazing teachings. I read these newsletters over and over and truly learn a lot from them and Im very thankful for his amazing work. Please continue inspiring us and helping us to understand the truth!

Lakshmi
14 years ago

Thank you once again for the beautuful writing regarding truth. It needs to be published in the wall street journal. It is simply the truth. I will pass it on to the many. God bless your work and never let critisicism stand in your way; although you already know that. Blessings upon your lited week.

Anonymous
14 years ago

You write:

Mystically speaking, the root of the “deceptive world” originates from the great tzimtzum – the concealment of the Divine energy that is the soul of all existence. Once the source is concealed and our independent consciousness emerges, duality becomes the “norm:” Our agenda is no longer aligned with the purpose of our beings.

So there you have the beginning of all deception. The first deception of them all is actually G-d deceiving us humans by hiding His presence from us! The rest, as they say, is history. Once matter is disconnected from spirit, and form from function, once we are disconnected from our inner selves – we are living a “lie.” When we do not perceive the force that gives us life – the very purpose of our being, our raison d’être – we have the ability to lie to ourselves and to others. When we don’t feel that we are all part of one integral unity, we are able to hurt ourselves and others.

In the first paragraph (above) you are writing on a mystical/chasidus level (sod).

In the second paragraph, although the thought follows on logically from what went before, the fact that you have here expressed yourself in everyday terms (pshat) gives your words a devilish force which they ought not to have.

In fact, you have expressed a shocking thought. The idea that G-D initiated deception is a thought that I personally (and I am sure I shall not be alone) find blasphemous. At best, it is immensely disrespectful. Some readers with less emunah shleimoh than you will feel empowered by your words to express further emotions of anger, accusations of blame and expressions of chutspa against the D-vine.

Chachomim hizoharu be-divreichem. Such thoughts dare not be expressed in such a way in such a forum. They are bound to be misunderstood.

Our chazal teach that G-D is our Shadow – how we relate to Him determines how He relates to us (save that He is more merciful than we deserve). He is all-good and does not initiate deception. If that is how you understand tsimtsum then, with respect, I feel there might be a flaw in your understanding.

I look forward to receiving your comments.

Sincerely,

Anonymous

Simon Jacobson
14 years ago

Hi,

Thank you for your suggested correction.

Regarding the actual issue — I believe that the readers of the piece will understand from the context and tone that in no way was the article suggesting anything remotely blasphemous or disrespectful as saying that G-d initiated deception in the universe. The Divine deception referred to in the article is on a cosmic plane and should in no way be confused with the despicable lies and deceit that humans are capable of. And like all matters Divine, this idea should not be understood in anthropomorphic terms. Its quite clear that people who lie and are deceitful are not doing so because G-d concealed His conscious presence via the tzimtzum; they are doing so because of their own flaws and self-interest. People dont see the consequences of deceit and feel that it is easy to lie in this world and get away with it. Yet, the cosmic question remains how it is POSSIBLE for us humans to be duplicitous? And the answer to that is because we do not feel the all pervasive and all encompassing Divine unity.

I think that all this was quite obvious from the article, but in case it was not (as clearly you took it), I am elaborating somewhat here to make sure that everyone understands the point.

The concept of G-ds deception (by concealing His presence) is mentioned in various Torah sources. Look in Midrash Tanchuma Vayeishev 4, explaining Psalms 66:5: Come and see the works of G-d; how terrible is the plot perpetrated against man — referring to G-d creating the angel of death and then setting up Adam to eat from the Tree of Knowledge (see also Sukkah 52b that G-d regrets creating the yetzer harah, evil inclination). Commentaries explain that this is the meaning behind all the tests of mankind: G-d sets up the world in a way, that he conceals His conscious presence (not to hurt us, or as an end in itself, but) in order to bring out the best in us — that we see behind the deception — the false world (alma dshikra), and also the Hebrew word for world (olam) is rooted in concealment — and reveal the Divine presence hidden within. The Baal Shem Tov and others often cite the analogy of a father that deceives his child by hiding his presence in order to elicit the ingenuity of the child to discover his father. There is also his famous analogy of shvindel trep (swindling steps), which deceive us into thinking that we are moving away from the destination even though we are actually climbing toward it.

There are more such references to the idea of deception in a cosmic sense — not to be confused with the lying and deceit of us humans. Another example would be the deception used by Jacob to buy the first-born blessings of Esau, and even more prominent – in getting the blessings from Isaac, a plot to deceive Isaac in which not just Jacob but also Rebecca was involved. There are long discussions explaining this deception as one that as being the way to redeem Esaus great blessings. Sometimes the only way to free the sparks concealed in the deceptive universe (a universe that hides the Divine within) is to deceive deception — to dress up in the Esau garments of the material world in order to redeem the sparks within. Look here and here for more on this. And here is a powerful analogy from the Baal Shem Tov that explains this idea.

Finally, I would add: There are many stories in which Tzaddikim took G-d to task so to speak (kavyochol, blaaz) for being silent in face of pain and suffering. Abraham challenges G-d for wanting to destroy Sodom, though it may contain some righteous people. Abraham uses the strong words: The world will say that the Judge of the universe is not doing justice! And Moses powerful words to G-d Why are You doing evil to this nation?! Moses knew that evil was being perpetrated by Pharaoh and the Egyptians (and they would duly be punished for their cruelty). Moses could have said why are You allowing evil to be done to the nation. Instead he placed the full blame on G-d. And then later, when the Jews build the Golden Calf, again Moses demands of G-d that He forgive the people (though their sin was severe), and even broke the Divine Tablets in order to preserve the people.

Were all these accusatory challenges acts of blasphemy or were they acts of faith? Clearly, they were supreme acts of powerful faith. A faith that is not insecure and fearful, but one that can confront even G-d — not because we have chutzpah, but because G-d wants us to demand justice and compassion. A faith that turns to G-d and expects that G-d will respond. A faith that is completely aware that behind all the coverings that can deceive us mortals lies G-ds infinite goodness. There are many other stories of Tzaddikim who demanded that G-d stop hiding His presence and that He reveal Himself.

And every time that we pray for someone who is ill, is that an act of blasphemy. Since G-d knows best and decreed that a person become ill, what right, the argument can be made, do we have to ask G-d to heal someone? Yet, prayer is a very powerful expression of faith — faith that G-d can change His decree and have mercy, faith that G-d wants us to be His partner in creation, and that we ask for and expect His blessings.

Much more can be said on this important — and often misunderstood — topic, but I hope that this suffices for now.

Blessings and best wishes.

Anonymous
14 years ago

Rabbi Jacobson,

You are a scholar and, like many scholars, you overestimate the levels of understanding of the amcha. I would moreover reiterate my point that if you use the same word in adjacent sentences (deception) you can hardly expect your readership to attribute different meanings or nuances to each and conclude yes, but cosmic deception is on an altogether different plane from human deception if it is not spelled out as you attempt to spell it out below. I still do not understand why you could not, at very least, garbed the word (when applied to G-D) within a set of inverted-commas and added, for good measure, the word kvayachol.

I think that this is always the danger when one is trying to teach something on different levels (pshat, drush, remez, sod) simultaneously and offers no guidlelines on when one is switching levels.

I personally would like to see esoteric concepts brought into your pieces much more sparingly. I am sure you have much to teach us all in the realm of pshat and drush which we do not know.

With regard to tsadikim confronting G-D – yes of course, but the answer is obvious. We are not tsadikim. For us to do it is an act of self-indulgence and gaavah prompted by the crafty wiles of the yetser ha-ra.

Yes I am happy for my comments to be posted, anonymously please in this instance, presumably together with your answer and my response

Best wishes.

Simon Jacobson
14 years ago

All your points are well taken.

So, let me ask you: Is prayer — not of tzaddikim but of simple people — an act of chutzpah? What about an anguished mother who just lost a child (G-d forbid) and cries out to Hashem: Why have you forsaken me? Where are you? Do you feel that only Tzaddikim have a right to beseech G-d?

On another note: Since you are addressing pshat — have you ever met anyone that expresses emotions of anger, accusations of blame and expressions of chutzpa against the D-vine? There are surely people who may do so as an excuse to justify their own actions — but they will find one reason or another to justify themselves, with or without our giving them ideas. On the other hand, those people who cry out angrily to G-d but they are sincere — so though their tantrum may be an act of chutzpah, it perhaps may be better that they express themselves than be silenced. If it was my child — I would rather hear them call out, even if it may sound inappropriate, than retreat in silence or resignation.

The fact is that many people who are angry at G-d for allowing the Holocaust or other tragedies simply havent yet developed a mature enough relationship with G-d. But it still is a relationship, albeit like a child with a parent, but much better than no relationship at all. Perhaps we could compare it to what the Rambam writes (end of Hilchos Teshuvah) that initially we all begin (lolam) serving Hashem for ulterior motives, and from that we grow into a more selfless form of service. Indeed, this is the system of education (chinuch), in which we teach children to study, pray and do mitzvot for reward, and slowly grow to appreciate it for its own value.

But is there anyone you know that serves G-d for no ulterior motive at all (whether it be reward in this world or in the world to come)?

My experience (with amcha as you put it) has taught me that people feel freed when they hear that it is G-d Himself (and not some accident) Who created a world in which the Divine is initially concealed, and gave us a yetzer hora, all because He also created us in the Divine Image and G-d has the confidence in us that we can and will see beyond the deception and reveal the Divine within through our Torah and Mitzvot.

The fact remains that we live in a universe which is dark. The wicked can prosper and the righteous often suffer. We have before us two options how to look at this state of being: Either it is man-made and we are victims of other peoples transgressions. Or is it G-d made, and we are being challenged to rise to the occasion. The Torah option is the latter of course. Obviously people can make things much worse through their evil actions, but the initial state that allowed for any sin is the concealment of the Divine. And its implication is that G-d must have had a very good reason for concealing His presence, and allowing us to make the mistake — harotzeh litois yiteh, an act of intentional deception (and one which allows for fools to make the mistake, yet G-d does not destroy His universe because of the fools) — all worthwhile because of the great Divine revelation that we can generate through our work in illuminating this dark world and transforming it into a home for the Divine – the purpose of all existence. Which is why one hour of teshuvah and good deeds in this world is better than the entire life in the world to come.

Maybe if we all got angry enough at the concealment of the Divine in this golut we would have Moshiach here already.

Anonymous
14 years ago

Rabbi Jacobson,

Surely it is all a matter of how we express ourselves. G-D indulges our weaknesses and our human frailities to the extent that He will hear out prayers passionately expressed even if they are challenging. There is a fine line. The way that, say, the tsaddik Rebbe Levi Yitschak of Berditchev spoke to G-D would not be appropriate for us. But impassionedly asking G-D to grant us this or that (instead of perhaps saying, as we should, You know what is for my good – if its good for me please grant my request and if not, not), that much G-D will surely indulge us. It is much like a child asking for a toy even after the parent has said no and explained why. If the child says impassionedly PLEASE let me have it the parent will not object at the childs protest. If, however, he has a tantrum and demands aggressively I WANT it! the parent may well take exception. Even more so if the child says to the parent youre a cruel daddy, youre a wicked mummy a responsible parent will upbraid the child for expressing himself inappropriately – no??

As parents too, when speaking to our children, there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to rebuke. If we say Your behaviour today was bad thats an appropriate comment. If we say youre a bad boy or youre a stupid boy thats inappropriate.

I think it is similarly inappropriate to label G-d deceptive.

In my experience (I am a kehila rabbi), people do not often get angry with G-D. Thats good for Elie Wiesel and the story books. People who already have a relationship with G-D know He is there even when things go wrong. The story of the little boy riding on his fathers shoulders, enjoying nuts, fruit and berries passed up to him who asks a passer-by have you seen my father? is an apt reference-point here. I woould prefer in my writings to emphasise the countless little things we have to be grateful to HBH for.

The Novi Yeshayahu writes oseh shalom u-vorei ra.

The Novi writes thusly be-nevius: he writes in G-Ds name.

However the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah changed the wording for our tefilos (in itself not done lightly with Scripture) to oseh shalom u-vorei es ha-kol.

It is not considered appropriate for us to express ourselves as the Novi Yeshayahu does.

With regard to your last comment: let us rather get angry at our own shortcomings. I have never been comfortable, incidentally, with the slogan We Want Moshiach Now. We as children were brought up to believe that to demand I want is rude; we have similarly brought up our children. G-D is our Father. Let us at least address Him as respectfully as a human parent!!!

BeVirkat Kol Tuv.

I would just add – with regard to a person who has undergone a tremendous nisayon – the losss of a loved-one, unspeakable suffering, etc. lo oleinu,- yes he might temporarily become angry with G-D. And G-D will of course excuse him as our chazal declare that we are not held accountable for what we say in moments of such acute distress. But we cannot extrapolate from that to a normal situation encompassing the general life experience of most of your readers (Holocaust survivors always excepted). Even granted that you will say: really we should relate to the prolonged golus as to such a nisayon, the emes is that we dont. Tsaddikim might. And thats maybe the secret of why they sometimes get angry with G-D. But we are not tsaddikim and it would be disingenuous to pretend otherwise.

Heide Weisel
14 years ago

What I read was very moving and beautiful. My only question is the last line about the children. What if one does not have children? It seems sometimes there is so much emphasis on that that if one doesnt have children they are left out and not considered. Please clarify. Thank you.