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Despair does (not) exist

Despair does (not) exist

Apr 27, 2021

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov is one of the most well-known and misunderstood of the Hassidic teachers. I don't say misunderstood because I understand everything, or anything, he says. But his writing is so deliciously complex, bouncing from idea to idea to idea, that any simplification is an injustice. That's why I struggle with sentences like "Despair does not exist at all," that we read today. People spray that quotation on walls in Jerusalem and sing it on the streets, but what to do about the despair that I see and know? And Rebbe Nachman also struggled with it too.

(not Rebbe Nachman in that picture!)

That's why I spent time reading the story that describes the context of the teaching that we examined, where we meet a Rebbe Nachman who doesn't sing and dance but is exhausted and empty, coughing blood and about to die:

On this Shabbat he was isolated in his room... and many followers came to see him, both new disciples and old, to be with him on the holy Shabbat. He was then very weak and hardly had the strength to speak, and after Kiddush he sat at the table and could not even return to his room. He was extremely weak, and began to speak with fatigue: Why do you travel to see me? I don't know anything at all! If I have some Torah to teach, you can travel to see me, but why did you come now? I really just don't know anything. I'm really just a prastik. He repeated this two or three times, how simple he was... (Sihot Haran 153)

We didn't get through the whole teaching in our session. You can read the source-sheet here, or watch the video summary (13 minutes!):

There's no magic formula for dealing with despair. Yes, there's holiness everywhere and that can be encouraging, and yes, the back-and-forth between obvious powerful moments of divine connection and ordinary life is a healthy part of spiritual growth. But we need strength to remember, to allow ourselves to be encouraged. Where does that strength come from? That's the real miracle, the real act of kindness that the world sometimes grants us.

Baruch Hashem!

I have an idea for a framework for the next four weeks, especially relevant for those of us still in lockdown and curfew. We'll speak about four sacred spaces in the home: the doorway, the kitchen, the toilet and the bedroom! Stay tuned...


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