Home Advice Count “Down” to Count “Up”

Count “Down” to Count “Up”

by Meir Elkabas

In Breslov tradition, it’s often said that the essence of Breslov teachings can be found in Reb Noson’s letters. These letters offer a glimpse into the practical, real-life experiences of Breslov followers. When you observe how Reb Noson communicates with his son about struggles, daily challenges, and personal growth, you can’t help but appreciate the authenticity. While Reb Noson’s prayers express yearning and his Likutey Halakhot embodies ideology, the letters provide a down-to-earth perspective.

In one of his letters, Reb Noson shares a profound idea, also found in Likutey Halakhot, which resonates with the theme of Sefirat HaOmer. He discusses how, as life progresses, individuals often become increasingly humbled by their experiences. Setbacks, failures, and the recognition of personal imperfections can weigh heavily on a person. Initially, when one embarks on their journey in Yiddishkeit, there’s a sense of upward momentum, fueled by aspirations and goals. Challenges arise, but there’s enough energy and determination to overcome them. However, over time, setbacks can start to feel overwhelming, leading to a sense of unworthiness. Doubts creep in, questioning one’s deservingness of Divine assistance. This self-perceived unworthiness can dampen prayer and devotion, as individuals feel unworthy of help from Hashem.

Reb Noson offers a powerful reassurance in his letter. He reminds his son, and by extension, all readers, that even if one feels undeserving due to their deeds, Hashem’s goodness is not contingent upon human worthiness. Hashem acts according to His own judgment, irrespective of human limitations. Reb Noson emphasizes that it’s not for individuals to decide what is fitting for Hashem to do. Despite feeling unworthy, Hashem will act as He sees fit.

I encountered a situation involving a friend who was navigating the world of shidduchim. He expressed deep feelings of inadequacy due to personal flaws, particularly relating to p’gam haBrit (defilement of the covenant). Despite being matched with respectable Beit Yaakov girls, he struggled with a sense of unworthiness. Why, he questioned, should he pursue a good match when he felt so flawed? Reb Noson’s teachings offer guidance in such situations. If Hashem presents an opportunity, even if one feels undeserving, it’s not for them to question. Reb Noson cautions against false humility, rejecting blessings out of a misguided sense of unworthiness. Instead, he encourages acceptance with gratitude.

Similarly, the concept of Sefirat HaOmer involves counting down the days, reflecting a somber tone. This period commemorates the tragic loss of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students and signifies a period of mourning. Reb Noson explains that during Sefirat HaOmer, individuals may experience intense emotional fluctuations. While life inherently consists of ups and downs, this period accentuates the lows. However, just as there are highs, such as Pesach and upcoming celebrations like Lag BaOmer and Shavuot, there are also lows. Learning to navigate these fluctuations is essential for maintaining strength and happiness amidst challenges. Reb Noson emphasizes the importance of resilience during such testing times.

In the midst of self-doubt, individuals cannot deem themselves unworthy, because the decision rests with Hashem, who sees beyond human limitations, and seeks the positive amidst the perceived negative

Reb Noson beautifully encapsulates these sentiments in a prayer he composed for the Sefirah period – Prayer 36 in Part 2 of the 50th Gate, Reb Noson’s prayers, the Likutey Tefilot. He poignantly describes the spiritual journey, likening it to ascending to the heavens and descending to the depths, as if being cradled in a hollow sling. This imagery vividly portrays the intense highs and lows experienced during this time, particularly during Sefirat HaOmer.

Despite feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy, Reb Noson reminds us that even during these tumultuous times, we are obligated to count the days. Each day, no matter how challenging or imperfect, is significant in the countdown towards Shavuot. Reb Noson acknowledges the struggles of maintaining spiritual practices during such times – e.g. missed prayers, lack of focus, and a general sense of negativity. Yet, he emphasizes the importance of recognizing each day’s value and significance in the journey towards the Keter, the crown of Shavuot, symbolizing the ultimate spiritual attainment.

Although one may feel downtrodden and question the worthiness of their days, Reb Noson underscores the importance of acknowledging and valuing each day, even amidst the ups and downs. The act of counting the days serves as a reminder of their inherent worth and contribution to the spiritual ascent towards Shavuot. Despite the challenges and setbacks, each day is a part of the countdown towards spiritual elevation, deserving of recognition and gratitude.

Rebbe Nachman delves into this concept in Lesson 24, elucidating the secret to reaching the Keter. The Keter represents a transcendent level beyond one’s immediate grasp yet holds the promise of connection to the Infinite Light, joy, compassion, and all things good. However, the path to the Keter requires patience, as indicated by its connection to the Aramaic word “Katar,” meaning “to wait.”

Rebbe Nachman draws a parallel between “Keter” and “Katar,” highlighting the necessity of mastering the art of waiting to attain spiritual elevation. Waiting, he explains, entails enduring setbacks, moments of self-doubt, and feelings of vulnerability – experiences mirrored in the challenges of Sefirat HaOmer. Just as individuals struggle with impatience and negativity while waiting in mundane settings like doctor’s offices or courtrooms, the spiritual waiting period involves similar emotional turbulence.

Despite these challenges and feelings of unworthiness, Rebbe Nachman emphasizes the importance of recognizing the divine wisdom behind the waiting period. While individuals may feel stagnant or unworthy during this time, Rebbe Nachman assures that Heaven understands the intricacies of their journey. The waiting period serves as a transformative experience, preparing individuals for the eventual revelation of the Keter and the blessings it holds.

The essence lies in valuing oneself amidst the challenges of the waiting period. Despite feeling miserable and upside down while waiting, Hashem sees and values this effort. He wants individuals to recognize the significance of each day, even during the countdown of Sefirat HaOmer when they may feel spiritually low. Reb Noson conveys this message to his son, emphasizing that Hashem’s goodness prevails regardless of self-perceived negativity.

In the midst of self-doubt, individuals cannot dictate to Hashem or deem themselves unworthy. The decision rests with the Divine Judge, who sees beyond human limitations. Hashem seeks the positive amidst the perceived negative, assigning value to each day. Reb Noson underscores the importance of recognizing this inherent value during Sefirat HaOmer. Despite the overwhelming negativity, there is hidden goodness waiting to be uncovered.

Counting down the days of Sefirat HaOmer holds profound significance, symbolizing the journey towards Shavuot and the reception of the Torah – the ultimate Keter, the gateway to the Infinite Light. Despite the challenges and perceived upside-down nature of the days, each day is inherently valuable. May we merit to count our days, recognizing their significance even amidst adversity, as we journey towards the revelation of the Torah and the boundless blessings it holds.

Shabbat Shalom
Meir Elkabas

Related Articles

Leave a Comment