Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star…

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came up in my life recently that caused me to ask the following: Have I ever
done anything in my life that was done for someone else without any ulterior
motives on my part, without even a trace of self-interest? After searching and
searching, I found nothing. I couldn’t recall a single instance when I knew
beyond the shadow of a doubt that I had behaved toward another person from a
completely pure heart. Maybe I was being a bit more neurotic than usual, but
that’s where I ended up in the early morning hours as I sat outside on the
balcony talking with Hashem in the still of the night.

We know the
story of when Daniel’s three friends, Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah refused to
bow down before the golden statue that Nebuchadnezzar set up, willing to suffer
the consequences of being thrown into a burning fiery furnace if that’s what it
came to (Daniel 3). Not only did they resist the peer pressure of
practically everyone in the kingdom but they also resisted the pressure of the
king himself when they stood before him. The obvious question is: “What
character trait did they possess which gave them such strength, inner courage
and fortitude?”

A number of
weeks ago we wrote an article entitled “Daat, Daat Everywhere and
Not a Drop of Truth” in which we discussed the root cause of the proliferation
of fakeness in our world today. There was one element of fakeness which we
omitted from that discussion, and in some regards, it may be the most
important. Utilizing the principle of middah k’neged middah, if we
witness a great deal of fakeness in our world, it must be that we ourselves our
inherently fake. Yes, we are. We interact with almost everyone by projecting an
image of ourselves to others. No doubt, man has been doing this for centuries,
and perhaps in its more benign forms there may have been some valid reasons for
doing so. However nowadays, with the rapid growth of social media, so-called
“reality” shows, and the media-promoted opinions and lifestyles of celebrities
and others of influence, we have taken this practice to unprecedented heights.
We don’t really want others to know who we really are; rather we want
them to know the image of ourselves that we set up for them. Not only that, but
as we become more accustomed to setting up an image of ourselves on a regular
basis, we become more and more disconnected from reality, and start identifying
with and believing in the very image of ourselves that we set up for others. To
put it bluntly, this is a form of idol worship (עבודה זרה‎, avodah zarah).

Idols have
mouths that cannot speak, eyes that cannot see, ears that cannot hear, noses
that cannot smell, hands that cannot touch, and feet that cannot walk (Tehillim
). But most importantly, it is written in the next verse (115:8):
כְּמוֹהֶם יִהְיוּ עֹשֵׂיהֶם כֹּל אֲשֶׁר־בֹּטֵחַ בָּהֶם (Those who make them will become just like
them, all those who trust in them). And this is the great plague of our age. We
have eyes but have become blind to another’s distress, pain or suffering. Or
perhaps more accurately, we see another’s distress, but it just doesn’t matter
to us. We have ears to hear of other’s pain but then we go on as if we never
heard. Yes, we give lots of tzedekah [charity], but that’s not what we
are referring to here. We are referring to something deeper, more subtle and
more pernicious. It takes place in our own families, amongst our loved ones.
And how come we have become blind and deaf, i.e. so insensitive? Because we
have other things to do that are more interesting to us. We have our lives, our
friends, our music, our hobbies, our career—our fun—and we’re just not as
interested in the notion of self-sacrifice for the benefit of others [מסירות נפש, mesirut
] as perhaps we once were. Mesirut nefesh for our own benefit,
sure. But that’s not really mesirut nefesh, is it? It’s just dedication
to a personal cause or goal, but true mesirut nefesh, i.e., to do
something for someone else or for Hashem without any ulterior motive, without
even a hint of desiring something in return, is rare.

When Avraham
was just a little boy, he took a hammer and smashed the idols in his father’s
shop. He left one standing, however, and placed the hammer in its hands. Upon
returning to his shop, Terach was horrified. “How could you have done such a
thing? You’ve ruined my business! Don’t you know what kind of disgrace this
will bring upon our family? We’ll be financially ruined and ostracized!”

But Avraham
responded, “Daddy, you’re wrong. I didn’t do anything. That big statue over
there must have done it, the one with the hammer in its hands.”

father responded, “That’s just a statue. It can’t do anything!”

As the
saying goes, “The jig was up.” Terach articulated the lie that everyone knew
but no one wanted to say out loud. And it’s the same for us today. Society is
built on gigantic lies that most intelligent people know about but play along
with anyway. Our idols are all over the place, but they are just idols. So if
you want to work on smashing your image, take up the hammer as did Avraham and
get to work, as it is written (Yirmeyah 23:29): הֲלוֹא
כֹה דְבָרִי כָּאֵשׁ נְאֻם־יְיָ וּכְפַטִּישׁ יְפֹצֵץ סָלַע (Isn’t My word like the fire, says Hashem, and like a hammer
that smashes rock?).

So now we
can understand the inner strength of Daniel’s three friends. How could they
resist bowing down to the image? But that’s not the right question. The
question is: “How could they bow down?” They weren’t in the habit of erecting
images of themselves and bowing down to those images, so how could they
possibly bow down to any image? They were real and that’s why it was so easy
for them to tell the king (Daniel 3:16): נְבוּכַדְנֶצַּר
לָא־חַשְׁחִין אֲנַחְנָא עַל־דְּנָה פִּתְגָם לַהֲתָבוּתָךְ (Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter).
There was really nothing to say, nothing to discuss, and nothing to explain. It
was a non-issue to them.

Now let’s
return to my story. Normally, the early morning sky is free of clouds and very
black, so even in the city it’s possible to see the largest stars. But this
morning was unusual because the entire sky was covered in clouds. I couldn’t
see a single star. And so after feeling pretty devastated with just how
pathetic of an individual I really am (not the image of myself I set up
for myself and for others, but the real me), in the midst of tears for being so
distant from fulfilling the purpose of my existence, I looked up into that
cloud-ridden sky toward the east, above the hills in the direction of Yerushalayim,
and I saw a patch where the clouds had dissipated, and in the center of that
patch hung a single bright star. It was Aldebaran, the brightest star in the
constellation Taurus—a point of beauty in the night. And I knew that I was
wrong. Aldebaran represented my soul, and my soul is pure. It’s pristine and
lofty. It is beyond my comprehension, but it is the real me. It’s not an
image; it’s a gift from Hashem. And although it appears only as a point of
light in the midst of the darkness and clouds of my life, in reality it is 44
times as large and 400 times as bright as our sun! Then I was reminded of the
prayer that we recite each morning: אֱלֹקַי נְשָׁמָה
שֶׁנָּתַתָּ בִּי טְהוֹרָה הִיא אַתָּה בְרָאתָהּ אַתָּה יְצַרְתָּהּ אַתָּה
נְפַחְתָּהּ בִּי וְאַתָּה מְשַׁמְּרָהּ בְּקִרְבִּי וְאַתָּה עָתִיד לִטְּלָהּ
מִמֶּנִּי וּלְהַחֲזִירָהּ בִּי לֶעָתִיד לָבֹא כָּל זְמַן שֶׁהַנְּשָׁמָה
בְקִרְבִּי מוֹדֶה אֲנִי לְפָנֶיךָ יְיָ אֱלֹקַי וֵאלֹקֵי אֲבוֹתַי רִבּוֹן כָּל
הַמַּעֲשִׂים אֲדוֹן כָּל הַנְּשָׁמוֹת…
(My G-d, the soul that you put in me is pure. You created it, You formed it,
You breathed it into me, and You guard it within me, and You will eventually
take it from me and return it to me in the future. As long as the soul is
within me, I will give thanks to You Hashem, my God and the God of my fathers,
Master of the all things, Master of all souls…)

So I dried
my eyes and stood on my feet, and then I started to dance and to sing to Hashem
for the next 15 or 20 minutes. And when I was done, I was filled with tremendous
simchah. It wasn’t a fake simchah that comes by chasing what this
world has to offer. Rather, it was the real simchah that comes from
having received a gift from Hashem, a gift which He places into all broken
hearts. And this is an aspect of what Rebbe Nachman taught (Likutei Moharan
): כִּי צָרִיךְ הָאָדָם לְחַפֵּשׂ וּלְבַקֵּשׁ
לִמְצֹא בְּעַצְמוֹ אֵיזֶה מְעַט טוֹב כְּדֵי לְהַחֲיוֹת אֶת עַצְמוֹ וְלָבוֹא
לִידֵי שִׂמְחָה (For everyone
must search and seek to find in himself some little bit of good in order to
revive himself and to attain simchah). We are obligated not only to find
the point of goodness in others, but also in ourselves, and when we do, we are
brought to teshuvah as R’ Nachman teaches there: וְזֶה
בְּחִינַת אֲזַמְּרָה לֵאלֹקַי בְּעוֹדִי–בְּעוֹדִי דַּיְקָא הַיְנוּ עַל יְדֵי
בְּחִינַת הָעוֹד שֶׁלִּי שֶׁאֲנִי מוֹצֵא בְּעַצְמִי…עַל יְדֵי אוֹתָהּ
הַנְּקֻדָּה עַל־יְדֵי־זֶה אוּכַל לְזַמֵּר וּלְהוֹדוֹת לַשֵם (And this is an aspect of [Tehillim
]: ‘I will sing to my G-d with my essence [b’odi]’—b’odi
specifically, i.e. through the still [od] little bit of good that I find
in myself…through that point [of good] I will be able to sing and to offer
thanks to Hashem).

And that
star represents you too! Don’t ever forget it. Focus on it. As Rebbe Nachman
said, it keeps you alive. It’s the holy spark inside you, and if you do that
which is right, you will merit to see yourself in all of your brightest, as it
is written (Daniel 12:3): וְהַמַּשְׂכִּלִים
יַזְהִרוּ כְּזֹהַר הָרָקִיעַ וּמַצְדִּיקֵי הָרַבִּים כַּכּוֹכָבִים לְעוֹלָם
וָעֶד (And the enlightened
ones will shine as the brightest of the expanse of the sky and the ones who
make others righteous will be like the stars, forever and ever).

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