Finding Your Shidduch: Splitting the Sea and Disgrace

Part 2: The Essence of Teshuvah (Likutei Moharan 6:2)

In last week’s article, we examined the true reason behind the shidduch crisis in the orthodox Jewish world. With G-d’s help, we will now begin to lay out the path that a young man can take in order to cleanse his way, thereby meriting to marry his zivug and having her be an ezer to him and not, G-d forbid, k’negedo.

It is taught in the Gemara (Sotah 2a): אָמַר רַבָּה בַּר בַּר חָנָה אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן וְקָשִׁין לְזַוְּוגָן כִּקְרִיעַת יַם סוּף שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר אֱלֹקִים מוֹשִׁיב יְחִידִים בַּיְתָה מוֹצִיא אֲסִירִים בַּכּוֹשָׁרוֹת (Rabbah bar bar Chanah said in the name of R’ Yochanan, Making a match is as difficult as splitting the Yam Suf, as it says [Tehillim 68:7], ‘G-d settles [unmarried] individuals in a [married] house; He releases those bound in fetters’). Why is pairing a man with his zivug so difficult a thing that it is compared to the miracle of splitting the sea? It is as we explained in last week’s article, i.e. that a young man separates himself from his own zivug when he fails to be shomer brit, thus preventing Hashem, as it were, from making the match. However, in this article, we want to focus on a different question: What merit did b’nei Yisrael possess to warrant such an open miracle? Moshe Rabbeinu told the people prior to splitting the sea (Shemot 14:14): יְיָ יִלָּחֵם לָכֶם וְאַתֶּם תַּחֲרִשׁוּן (Hashem will make war for you and you shall be quiet). In other words, in the merit of being silent, Hashem will fight for you and you will be saved from Pharaoh and his attacking army. Since R’ Yochanan compared splitting the sea to matchmaking, the same merit is needed for both kinds of miracles. Therefore, for a young man to merit having his impenetrable barrier of bachelorhood split, thus saving him from the forces of the Evil Inclination [Yetzer ha-Ra] that constantly attack him and prevent him from reaching his personal salvation, he needs to learn the art of silence. But silence in the face of what?

What is the essence of teshuvah? Is it confessing your sins and telling Hashem that you are sorry, banging your chest three times and saying, ‘I have sinned, I have transgressed, I have rebelled’? Is it regretting the sin so much that you shed tears? Is it promising never to sin again? All of these are necessary facets of the whole; however, we have all done these things and yet, we all seem to continue sinning. So what’s missing? R’ Nachman reveals a surprising truth in Likutei Moharan 6:2: וְעִקַּר הַתְּשׁוּבָה כְּשֶׁיִּשְׁמַע בִּזְיוֹנוֹ יִדֹּם וְיִשְׁתֹּק (The essence of teshuvah is when one hears his disgrace and is silent and quiet). Silence is the essence of teshuvah! What does silence and quietness in the face of disgrace or insult have to do with teshuvah? And further, why is that response the essence of teshuvah?

When someone insults or disgraces us, what is our natural reaction? Most of us experience a strong urge to answer back. And why do we want to answer back? We are very particular about defending our own honor, and an insult, at its source, is an attack against our honor. Very rarely do we ever feel that an insult is justified. Either the person who insulted us is just plain wrong or he had no business saying what he said or he delivered it in a tone of voice or in a manner or place that was totally inappropriate, etc. By default, we are quick to justify ourselves and find reasons to answer back. But R’ Nachman comes to teach us that when we remain ‘silent’ (outwardly) and accept the disgrace with a ‘quiet’ and settled soul (inwardly), we are practicing teshuvah in a way that surpasses all of the formal modes of teshuvah mentioned above. Therefore, we need to come to the point in our lives where we actually feel that the insults and the disgraces that we experience come to us only because of our sins, and that the insults are an aspect of middah k’neged middah [tit for tat]. How is that so? By sinning, we insult our Creator. It’s that simple. We should feel ashamed of this, but because most of us don’t, we need a little reminder. So Hashem out of His abundant love for us gives us a little nudge. He gets someone to insult us. And by being silent and quiet, we acknowledge that the real reason for the insult wasn’t anything in the ‘here and now’; rather, it was only because we sinned and brought disgrace to the name of Hashem in this world. And if we respond with silence, then we are forgiven for having insulted Hashem, as it is taught in Berachot 12b: וְאָמַר רַבָּה בַּר חִינָּנָא סָבָא מִשְּׁמֵיהּ דְּרַב כָּל הָעוֹשֶׂה דְּבַר עֲבֵירָה וּמִתְבַּיֵּישׁ בּוֹ מוֹחֲלִין לוֹ עַל כָּל עֲוֹנוֹתָיו (Rabbah bar Chinana the elder said in the name of Rav, Whoever commits an act of transgression and is ashamed of it, they [the heavenly courts] forgive him of all his transgressions).

Our Sages of blessed memory taught the most amazing thing (Eruvin 13b): נוֹחַ לוֹ לְאָדָם שֶׁלֹּא נִבְרָא יוֹתֵר מִשֶּׁנִּבְרָא (It would have been preferable had man not been created than to have been created). How could our Sages say such a thing? After all, Hashem created man! Did He make a mistake? Obviously not, but because of man’s sins, the perfect world that G-d created was destroyed, and its beauty was replaced with pain, misery and suffering. If we don’t fulfill the purpose of our creation, then what’s the point of our existence? However, their teaching didn’t end there. They concluded their teaching with עַכְשָׁיו שֶׁנִּבְרָא יְפַשְׁפֵּשׁ בְּמַעֲשָׂיו וְאָמְרִי לַהּ יְמַשְׁמֵשׁ בְּמַעֲשָׂיו (now that he has been created, he should examine his actions; and some say, he should evaluate his actions). ‘Examining’ reflects the desire to fix the damage created by one’s sin, e.g. by doing teshuvah, whereas ‘evaluating’ refers to contemplating one’s actions beforehand to determine if they should be done in the first place. In other words, before a person does teshuvah, he is an aspect of ‘it would have been preferable had man not been created’. It is as if such a person doesn’t really have any existence in the world. However, when he prepares himself to do teshuvah, then his life begins to have meaning and he starts to transition from having no existence to having existence. This is when he becomes an aspect of ‘now that he has been created’.

This is the meaning of the name אֶ-הֱ-יֶ-ה [Ehyeh], which is associated with one’s will and the sefirah of keter [crown], i.e. ‘I will be’ or ‘I am prepared to be’. As R’ Nachman explains in L.M. 6:2, when a person prepares himself to do teshuvah, he has a share in this name and draws down the light of Ehyeh from the upper worlds to himself. However, before teshuvah, the light of Ehyeh is hidden from him. This is known as the achoraim of the name Ehyeh, always going back to the beginning and starting over, i.e. א, א-ה, א-ה-י, א-ה-י-ה, the gematria of which is 44, i.e. א is 1, ה is 5, and י is 10. So what? This gematria matches the gematria of דָּם [dam, blood], i.e. ד is 4 and ם is 40, and this comes to teach that spilling of blood (humiliation, embarrassment) and disgrace come to us when we experience the hidden face of Ehyeh. This is what Elkanah, the man of G-d, said to Eli the Kohen Gadol (Shmuel Aleph 2:30): כִּי־מְכַבְּדַי אֲכַבֵּד וּבֹזַי יֵקָלּוּ (For I [G-d] honor those who honor Me, and those who disgrace Me will be treated lightly). In other words, they too will be disgraced. As we said already, this is an expression of middah k’neged middah.

R’ Nachman further explains (L.M. 6:2): כִּי עֲדַיִן הַדָּם שֶׁבֶּחָלָל הַשְּׂמָאלִי שֶׁבַּלֵּב שֶׁשָּׁם מְדוֹר הַיֵּצֶר הָרָע כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב [לֵב חָכָם לִימִינוֹ] וְלֵב כְּסִיל לִשְׂמֹאלוֹ עֲדַיִן הוּא בְּתֹקֶף וָעֹז וּבִשְׁבִיל זֶה בָּאִין עָלָיו בִּזְיוֹנוֹת וּשְׁפִיכוּת דָּמִים (Because the blood still resides in the left cavity of the heart, and that’s where the Yetzer ha-Ra dwells, as it is written [Kohelet 10:2], ‘[The heart of a wise man is to his right] but the heart of a fool is to his left,’ it is still strong and powerful and because of this, insults and spilling of blood come to him). We have two kinds of ‘blood’ coursing through our ‘body’; blood on the right side strengthens the Good Inclination [Yetzer ha-Tov] while blood on the left side strengthens the Yetzer ha-Ra. Our job is to drain the blood from the left cavity of the heart in order to completely subdue the Yetzer ha-Ra. And the best way to do this, the most effective way to do this, is by being disgraced and insulted, feeling the embarrassment and being quiet. Miraculously, this drains the blood from the left side and weakens the Yetzer ha-Ra—which, if you think about it, explains why we have such a strong urge to answer back in the first place. The Yetzer ha-Ra doesn’t want us to be silent because by doing so, it slowly dies.

But how does being silent empty out the blood on the left side? By being silent, we transform דָּם [dam, blood] into דֹם [dom, silent]. And since the dam was changed from its original substance, it is no longer there. By being silent, we diminish the amount of dam on the left side. As R’ Nachman further explains: וּכְשֶׁמְּקַיֵּם דֹּם לַה’ אָז הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא מַפִּיל לוֹ חֲלָלִים כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב דּוֹם לַה’ וְהִתְחוֹלֵל לוֹ וְהוּא יַפִּיל לְךָ חֲלָלִים (And when he fulfills ‘Silence for Hashem’, then the Holy One of Yisrael, blessed be He, causes corpses [chalalim] to fall before him, as it is written [Tehillim 37:3], ‘Silently wait for Hashem and longingly hope [hitcholel] for Him’, and He will cause corpses [chalalim] to fall before you [see Gittin 7a]). And who are those who fall dead like corpses? The Yetzer ha-Ra and its minions.

This is exactly what David ha-Melech did to destroy completely the Yetzer ha-Ra within himself (Tehillim 109:22): כִּי־עָנִי וְאֶבְיוֹן אָנֹכִי וְלִבִּי חָלַל בְּקִרְבִּי (I am poor and destitute, and my heart is completely empty [chalal] within me). The cavity on the left side of the heart was completely drained. There was nothing in it. He had completely slain the Yetzer ha-Ra within himself, i.e. the left side of his heart became an empty space, a chalal (the same root as the words chalalim and hitcholel above). With concerted effort, we can do it too. It’s not impossible. If we can do it once, we can do it hundreds or thousands of times throughout our lives. But it takes prayer, practice and patience. If you remind yourself of this every day, you too can merit the death of the Yetzer ha-Ra within you. And if we all practice this, the Yetzer ha-Ra will no longer have any place in this world.

If you think about it now, the reason why silence in the face of insults and humiliation is so powerful is because it is an expression of emunah. By remaining silent, we are, in essence saying, ‘Hashem, You orchestrated this insult. You gave me this opportunity to fix myself. It is for my good and couldn’t possibly be any better. Thanks.’ And this explains the great merit of the silence at the Yam Suf. It was a massive expression of emunah by the entire nation in the face of an unprovoked attack by the forces of evil, as it says (Shemot 14:31): וַיַּאֲמִינוּ בַּיְיָ וּבְמֹשֶׁה עַבְדּוֹ (And they had emunah in Hashem and in Moshe His servant). And this is the same emunah that a young man needs to develop to have his Yam Suf split for him.

In next week’s article, G-d willing, we will explain how this kind of silence creates a man in the image of ‘Adam’ thus giving him merit to find and unite with his ‘Chavah’, i.e. his true zivug.

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