“You are amazing.”
A friend just wrote this to me. It’s funny, though, because I don’t feel amazing. There are times when it feels like I’m barely hanging on. My mind constantly bombards me with questions, concerns and “what-ifs.” There are scenarios, fears and darkness that I have to fight off on a daily, and even hourly basis. But my friend wrote this line in response to a message I sent her that I’m doing ok today because I gave a parsha shiur this morning. What I’m not sure she understood was that the parsha shiur is my lifeline, my handgrip in what sometimes feels like the freefall of life.
There are so many questions running through my mind all of the time- What are my kids going to do for the summer? How am I going to help them have a meaningful summer and not just be glued to screens all day? Will it be possible for me to also feed my neshama? Will it be possible to have my essential time alone while also giving my family the time and attention that they need? How can I be all of the things that I want to be without falling apart? Very quickly these questions can become overwhelming and cause me to spiral down into a place of darkness, chaos and fear.
In my life’s journey, Chassidus has become the doorway to healing whenever this kind of darkness threatens to overwhelm me. The fire of the Baal Shem Tov’s Torah, quite literally, shines a light into my life.
In parshas Noach, Noach is commanded to build a teivah- generally translated as “ark.” The “teivah” will be for him and his family a safe haven during the flood. The Baal Shem Tov teaches us, however, that “teivah” also means “word.” In that understanding, the Baal Shem Tov enables us to see that the words of Torah and tefillah can be a safe haven for us in the storm of life.
Noach is also told to set a “tzohar” at the top of the teivah-צֹ֣הַר תַּֽעֲשֶׂ֣ה לַתֵּבָ֗ה (Beraishis 6:16). The commentaries explain that the tzohar was a source of light, although there are many opinions as to the exact nature of this light. Through his teaching, the Baal Shem Tov opens the door to seeing the power of the words of Torah and tefillah as sources of light. He says, “let the word (teivah) said in Torah or in prayer radiate light (matzhir)! For in every letter there are worlds, souls and Divinity…” Every word of Torah that we say draws Hashem’s light down into this world and into our souls. They themselves are sources of light that can create windows in our hearts and souls.
To take this concept even deeper, the Gemara (Shabbos 104) states that the first word of the 10 Commandments, Anochi, is an acronym for “Ana Nafshi Kesavis Yehavis”- “I put myself into these writings”. The Alter Rebbe explains in Tanya that this means that any time we read the words of Torah, we are connecting to Hashem- even if we don’t understand the words that we are reading. Because Hashem put Himself into the words, as it were, just by reading them we infuse our soul with His light. For me, this has been one of the most powerful tools of connection to my Creator and my neshama. Through this lens, saying even one chapter of Tehillim, any bracha, or even trying to learn a small bit of Torah becomes, in itself, an act of opening and healing- an act of attaching myself to The Source of All Light.
This week’s parsha, Balak, is named after the evil king of Moab who wanted to defeat the Jewish people. The Midrash tells us that the Moabites went to the elders of Midian to ask for tips on how to beat Bnei Yisrael. Why would they know? Because Moshe Rabbeinu “grew up” in Midian. The Midianites answer that Moshe’s power is in his mouth, in his words. Balak then strategises that the way to defeat Bnei Yisrael is also with words so he hires Bilaam the sorcerer to curse Bnei Yisrael.
Why were Moshe’s words so powerful? Because they were words of Torah. They were words that Hashem gave to Moshe Rabbeinu to fight off the forces of darkness and to bring more goodness into the world. They were words that embody, as it were, Hashem Himself.
We also have access to these words.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe tells us that the parsha is named “Balak” in order to enable us to access the negative energy that Balak represents in this world and turn it to good. By putting Balak’s name in Torah, Hashem gave us the power to redirect his negative energy as a force of positivity. And the same is true for all aspects of the world since everything is found in Torah.
This is what I am holding onto. This is what is keeping me going. That each and every single one of us has access to the greatest source of light imaginable. That this light is never-ending and all-powerful. That by opening books of Torah and accessing shiurim we can open windows in our own souls. That by speaking words of Torah and tefillah the light shines into the dark places and gives us the strength to keep moving forward. And that every little bit counts.
I bless each and every one of us to have the desire to strengthen ourselves through words of Torah and tefillah. I bless us to feel the light and the power in these words and to say them, even a few of them, every day. I bless us to hold in our hearts the knowledge that Hashem loves us and that He created the cure before the sickness to enable us to grow and to strengthen ourselves through His light. Shabbat shalom.