A pathway for Teshuvah during Elul, Rosh Hashanah, the 10 Days of Awe, and Yom Kippur!
1. Find oneself in the words of King David’s Tehillim
Rebbe Nachman concludes his magnum opus–Likutey Moran with this teaching:
מֵעִנְיַן אֲמִירַת תְּהִלִּים דִּבֵּר עִם אֶחָד וְאָמַר לוֹ, שֶׁעִקָּר אֲמִירַת תְּהִלִּים לוֹמַר כָּל מִזְמוֹרֵי תְּהִלִּים עַל עַצְמוֹ, לִמְצֹא אֶת עַצְמוֹ בְּתוֹךְ כָּל מִזְמוֹר וּמִזְמוֹר.
“On reciting Tehillim (the Book of Psalms): Rebbe Nachman told a person with whom he spoke that the main thing in reciting Tehillim is to say all the psalms as referring to oneself, finding oneself in every chapter. The man asked the Rebbe, of blessed memory, how one does this. The Rebbe briefly explained: All the battles from which King David, may peace be upon him, implored God to save him—a person has to apply them all to himself, as referring to the battle against the evil inclination and its forces.” (Part II, Likutey Moharan 125:1)
The same teaching appears in Likutey Moharan, Part II 101:1. “A person should endeavor to find himself within all the psalms, and within all the supplications, requests, penitential prayers. And effortlessly, simply, with no sophistication, he can find himself within all the supplications and requests. Especially in Tehillim, they were composed on behalf of the Jewish people—on behalf of everyone personally.
How does one find oneself – in the book of Psalms and other teachings and prayers? לִמְצֹא אֶת עַצְמוֹ בְּתוֹךְ כָּל מִזְמוֹר וּמִזְמוֹר
For the month of Elul leading up to Rosh Hashana especially, this קוּנטרֵס pamphlet will explore this question in depth using Breslov sources where the phrase” לִמְצֹא אֶת עַצְמוֹ (To find oneself) or a derivative in form appears.
We suggest you spend some time with the quotes highlighted below and draw what personal inspiration you can to come to Teshuvah (repentance) through Elul leading up to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur
2. Say many psalms and study them deeply in Elul
David Hamelech saw his Book of Psalms as a transformative legacy for all generations. It was not just sacred literature for prayer. Still, Torah texts are to be studied in-depth, as were the complex and weighty tractates of the Talmud on laws of purity and impurity (Midrash Socher Tov, Psalm 1:1). Why the selection of those tractates specifically? King David wanted his Psalms to have the same purifying effect on the human soul as the laws of ritual purity (Harav Gifter).
This thought is reflected in Psalm 105:4.
דִּרְשׁ֣וּ יְהֹוָ֣ה וְעֻזּ֑וֹ בַּקְּשׁ֖וּ פָנָ֣יו תָּמִֽיד׃
Turn to the LORD, to His might; seek His presence constantly.
Psalm 105 is a review of Jewish history. If we study texts, we can find ourselves in Psalms. Psalm 105 contains a connection and affiliation with Jewish history and how God has continually helped us. The deep study of Psalms – דִּרְשׁ֣וּ – was common in Talmudic times. “Abase commonly taught homiletic teachings derived from verses in Tehillim.” (Adapted from Talmud Kiddushin 33a)
3. An urgent request: לִמְצֹא אֶת עַצְמוֹ – To find oneself
We can find this phrase frequently (26 times, according to Sefaria) across Breslov literature:
Likutey Etzot (3)
Likutey Moharan (7)
Likutey Halakhot (12)
Likutey Tefilot (3)
Sefer HaMiddot (1)
Amazingly, 26 is the gematric number, being the sum of the Hebrew characters (Hebrew: יהוה) the name of Hashem. Our phrase לִמְצֹא אֶת עַצְמוֹ (to find oneself) does not appear many times elsewhere in Torah literature.
Seeking one’s truth and seeking repentance is a central teaching of Rebbe Nachman and his prime student Reb Noson. This Kuntris (Pamphlet) will present a loose translation of these source texts. We would encourage the reader to seek the material in Hebrew to attain a rich understanding and motivation.
(Editorial credit: ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com)
4. From Likutey Eitzot[i]: searching for joy and taking responsibility
The effort to find oneself is a critical teaching found in Likutey Eitzot.
And he should find a personal strength to come to joy from everything possible and try to find in oneself good points to go to joy. (Likutey Etzot, Happiness 29)
Because every person, no matter what he is, can find himself reciting a psalm, he will wake up and make a return and come to the gate of Teshuvah. (Likutey Etzot, Repentance 32)
It is not appropriate for one to find in oneself excuses for not performing a good deed because of the obstacles that might confront him. (Likutey Etzot, Obstacles and Inhibitions 3)
5. Likutey Moharan[ii]: The route to Simcha and God
These pieces from Likutey Moharan stress finding in oneself the good to move from sadness and lethargy to an awakening of Simcha. Simcha is the pathway to true repentance and finding God. Implied is achieving a higher spiritual state where you find your truth as a spiritual being.
Because there is no way for a person to absolve himself and find in himself an excuse for himself through the motive, to say that he wanted to do the thing, only that I do not allow him the wrath of the reason and the convention, and so on. (Likutey Moharan 66:5:1)
Thus, a person must search and seek to find good in himself to revive himself and attain joy. By searching until he finds a little bit of good in himself, he genuinely moves from the scale of guilt to the scale of merit and can return [to God] in repentance.” (Likutey Moharan 282:2:4)
Therefore, by not letting himself fall but reviving himself by searching and seeking until he finds in himself some good points, gathering and separating those good points from the evil and impurity within him. These melodies are made, as explained above. Then, he can pray, sing, and praise God. (Likutey Moharan 282:7)
Although he knows within himself that he committed evil deeds and many sins and is exceedingly distant from God, he searches and seeks until he finds some remaining good. He then attains renewed vitality and joy. For it is undoubtedly correct that a person feels ever-increasing joy over every good point stemming from the holiness of Israel that he yet finds in himself. Then, when he revives himself and brings himself to joy through this, as explained above, he can pray, sing, and praise God. (Likutey Moharan 282:10)
The central teaching of repentance is through King David. The root of the repentance of King David is the Book of Psalms, which he said in a state of very great awakening and with the Holy Spirit (Ruach haKodesh), so that everyone, according to his capacity, can find in himself (his spiritual situation) in the Book of Psalms, to merit repentance through the recitation of Psalms.” (Likutey Moharan, Part II 73:1)
And easily, with simplicity without wisdom, they will find themselves in all the supplications and requests, particularly in the psalms, said for all Israel, for each one. (Likutey Moharan, Part II 101:1:2)
And easily, with simplicity without wisdom, they will find themselves in all the supplications and requests, particularly in the psalms, which were said for all Israel, for each one. (Likutey Moharan, Part II 125:1:2)
And the man asked him how it was possible to apply those verses in which King David, may peace be upon him, praises himself, for example: “Guard my soul, for I am devout” (Psalms 86:2), and similar such statements. The Rebbe answered him: This, too, one must apply to himself because a person has to judge himself favorably. He has to find in himself some merit and good point that he is devout in this good point. (Likutey Moharan, Part II 125:1:3)
6. Likutey Halakhot[iii]: Find yourself through your good points.
Never give up! Start over every time to find yourself, so you won’t lose everything. Whatever you do, do with all your strength. The main thing is patience: you need to be infinitely patient (to find yourself). Take a long breath and never lose hope for God’s help. Pay no attention to obstacles and distractions. (Likutey Halakhot, Orach Chaim, Laws of Phylacteries 5:7)
Every person, as he is, can find oneself in the recitation of the Psalms; by this, he will awaken and repent and come to the gate of repentance. (Likutey Etzot, Repentance 32)
When not overcome by luxury and an over-preoccupation with fine wine and foods, he can find in himself set his mind afresh and find oneself anywhere he teaches there that will bring out sentences of honest practices (Likutey Halakhot, Choshen Mishpat, Laws of Lost and Found 5:11:1)
And therefore, he will certainly not fall by the fear of the punished; on the contrary, the fear of the punishment will strengthen him to find in himself good points and to make himself happy in what he sows (Likutey Halakhot, Yoreh Deah, Laws of Firstborn Kosher Animals 4:17:2)
How could it be that he cannot find himself in the Book of Psalms, which includes everything in the world, in all the generations and all the levels of the world, from the beginning to the end (Likutey Halakhot, Yoreh Deah, Laws of Three-year-old Trees 4:16:1)
It is a blessing to the Torah, however, that every person, as long as he still has mercy on himself and thinks of his eternal purpose, should try very hard to find in himself good points. To rejoice in the privilege of doing some mitzvot and good things. (Likutey Halakhot, Even HaEzer, Laws of Procreation 3:11:1)
It is then necessary to find oneself amid adversities. All the good and wonders that G-d has already done will be a blessing for him (Likutey Halakhot, Choshen Mishpat, Laws of Unloading and Loading 3:34:1)
Do not hate your fellow. Love him and find within oneself the ability to see his good points and to love him. (Likutey Halakhot, Orach Chaim, Laws of Blessing on Sights and Other Blessings 5:6:3)
7. Likutey Tefillot[iv]: Examples of Hitbodedut from Reb Noson
But you warned us that man needs to search and ask for and find in himself good points, make his soul happy, and not fall in his mind from everything that may come. (Likutey Tefillot, Volume I 90:3)
O revive me by this and help me find in myself a straight path and correct advice by the ways of innocence and simplicity to seeing you, God, in every place, low and high. (Likutey Tefilot, Volume II 39:4)
King David, peace on him, infused the ability to find oneself in the holy word of psalms. Recitation of psalms enables one to always see oneself every day and in the recitation of Psalms. A route to true repentance. (Likutey Tefilot, Volume II 49:4)
8. Sefer Hamidot[v]: A thought on finding oneself to find a partner
A person who has difficulty (finding in himself good points) and consequentially a marriage partner should recite the Torah section about the Temple sacrifices brought by the princes of the twelve tribes in Numbers 7. (Sefer Hamidot, Marriage 7)
9. Penimius HaTorah: The deeper path
Penimius HaTorah – the deeper Torah to be found in the teachings of Kabbalah provides a path to find within us our true selves. By spiritually advancing in the study of the writings of the Ari Hakodesh, Rabbi Chaim Vital, and the many other masters, we can gradually attain the spiritual ability to access our true self, the soul.
10. Take your time: Self-care along the path
Rebbe Nachman teaches us to take time in our spiritual work and care for our bodies. See the verse: Guard yourself and guard your soul carefully. (Deuteronomy 4:19)
The blog Jewish Food Hero makes a similar point to the teaching. Excellent point.
While the Jewish tradition has high expectations of self-refinement and taking actions that benefit society and the world, it also guides how we must care for ourselves. We can define self-care as any regular and repeated action that a person takes to preserve or improve the health of their body, mind, and spirit. Self-care actions can be:
- Make sure you go to sleep at a certain hour to ensure you get a specific number of hours of sleep
- Saying no to things and people that bring out the worst in you or drains, saps, or derails your strength or positive energy
- Saying yes to things and people that bring out the best in you. That revitalizes, soothes, refreshs or invigorates your strength energy
- Daily meditation and prayer
- Daily/weekly movement and exercise for your body
- Creativity and crafting
- Eating foods that make you feel well
From Rav Kook, we see writings inspired by Breslov, to whom he felt a great affinity.
“We see the imperative of working hard to find the uniqueness of oneself and then the circle of friends that will encourage and support him.” Again, from Rav Kook, “A person has to find himself in himself, and then he finds himself in the world around him, which is his company, his crowd, and his people…” (Orot Kodesh 2:3, Lev) * The concluding paragraph.
Rav Kook wrote extensively about the importance of personalized connections to Hashem and Torah, including with Talmud Torah (studying Torah) and living mitzvot. “The great spiritual people … must focus their time uncovering the depths of their souls,” Rav Kook writes. “The principal source that will lead them to spiritual transformation must be their own inner Torah” (Shmoneh Kevatzim 2:172 – translated by Rabbi Ari Ze’ev Schwartz in “The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook,” p. 17)
When a person leaves this world and faces his final judgment, they will ask him several questions, the first of which is whether he was honest in his business dealings. These questions are meant as tests for us: did we see to understand the truth about our life, or did we live all our energy in self-deception?
Each one of us can yearn for inner discovery and understanding. Each one of us will eventually mature to want to seek self-truth. Each one of us will subsequently spiritually grow up. It might take several lifetimes, but it will ultimately happen, eventually, in this lifetime or the next, or the next. It is up to us, and that is what Rebbe Nachman urged us to build to.
[i] Likutey Eitzot (Advice) is a seminal work in Breslov literature. Compiled by Reb Noson, the leading disciple of Rebbe Nachman, it presents a wealth of practical pointers gleaned from the Rebbe’s teachings to help readers live with greater awareness and purpose.
[ii] Likutey Moharan is simply incomparable to anything else in Chassidic literature — or, for that matter, any literature. It is neither a textbook nor a commentary but a revelatory work. The discourses or lessons (which Breslov Chassidim call “Torahs”) contain Rebbe Nachman’s perceptions of the essence of reality, garbed in lower levels of wisdom and packaged in a way that will enable the worthy student to gain access to these perceptions in a manner appropriate to the student’s capacity and spiritual level. Thus, each discourse is a complete path, tailor-made to every student in every moment, in a manner, we cannot begin to fathom.
[iii] Following the order of the Shulchan Arukh, in Likutey Halakot, Reb Noson highlights a particular halakhah, presents an overview of the relevant concepts found in Rebbe Nachman’s lessons, and then creates an original discourse showing how the Rebbe’s insights illuminate the deeper meaning of the halakhah.
[iv] Likutey Tefilot is a collection of personal prayers composed by Reb Noson of Breslov (1780-1844), a leading pupil of the outstanding Chassidic luminary, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810). The Hebrew original of Likutey Tefilot consists of two parts containing 152 and 58 prayers, respectively, a total of 210.
[v] An ethical work by Nachman of Breslov, edited and published by his disciple, Nathan. The book lists various character traits in alphabetical order and elaborates on them at length. The book is divided in two parts: The first section, written in the author’s youth, contains simpler material which mainly draws on Talmudic and Rabbinic literature, while the second part was written at an advanced age and contains more complex original ideas.