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Pathways to Joy

by Yossi Katz

“Pathways to Joybrings to life Rebbe Nachman’s teachings and the practical guidance he offered on how to attain joy even when life is challenging. His wise counsel is explored through the lens of various other Torah sources, including Likutei Halachos, Reb Nosson’s seminal work. Rabbeinu Bachaya explains that within every mitzvah is another mitzvah that is even more important: simchah shel mitzvah. This mitzvah-element of joy is the heart, soul, and vitality that enliven every mitzah as well as life itself.[1] 

Written by Micha Golshevsky

Pathways to Joy 1

Not long after I was married, I had a friend in the kollel who was the kind of friend that Rebbe Nachman recommends you have: a person with whom you share chizuk. We used to speak about different words of chizuk that we had each found in our study of the Breslov seforim on the walk home from the kollel. Once, my friend said that he remembered seeing in Reb Nosson’s writings a list of twelve paths to joy but wasn’t sure what they were. It was not practical to look this up just then, but between the two of us we were quickly able to list twelve effective ways to let go of resentment and sadness and embrace joy ourselves, based on what we had learned. Although at that time we would spend only a few minutes a day learning a letter or two of Reb Nosson’s letters collected in Alim l’Terufah (“Eternally Yours” in English), this was enough to piece together twelve pathways based on the rich contents of that wonderful sefer.

Afterward, every day we would review the twelve methods and discuss our own insights and how we were applying them in our lives. One day as we walked, I was thrilled to recall yet another method discussed in Reb Nosson’s letters that was not part of the twelve.  I mentioned it to my friend who agreed that this was indeed another pathway to simchah. So now we had thirteen! Once we realized that there were more than twelve, we brainstormed and over the next few days we found several more. By the time we reached thirty-three pathways we began to understand that every major lesson of Rebbe Nachman is really another pathway to simcha no matter how difficult the circumstances. And now I’m going to share them with you.

First we must introduce what Reb Nosson calls the two parents of all chizuk: Azamra and Ayeh.[2] Azamra literally means, “I will sing.” When we focus on the good points we reveal our true selves. We affirm our true nature every morning when we say, “My G-d, the soul you placed within me is pure.” Our true identity is good, and no evil can eradicate any mitzvah or even a sincere yearning for good.

The Arizal explains that wherever holiness is drawn down it leaves a trace which can never be erased.[3] Rebbe Nachman explains the practical application of this teaching: that any good, no matter how tarnished it appears to be, contains within it an eternal connection to Hashem which can never be broken. Surely any eternal connection to Hashem should give us something to be happy about![4] The Ramchal similarly writes that every soul that has at least some good has nourishment for the next world. A soul bereft of good will die since it has nothing to give it life.[5] Rav Avraham b’Rav Nachman explains that souls without good are an aspect of Amalek which has no redeeming quality.[6] Of course, to get into this category is a very difficult job, since one must do every good action one-hundred percent for an ulterior motive. It is hard to imagine a person who despises doing good to such an extent that he forcibly resists any impulses to help his friend for altruistic reasons. This kind of attitude is a remnant of Sodom where it was a capital crime to give charity. Yet even Sodom was not wicked enough to destroy their good points, since the Zohar states that its residents, too, will eventually make it into the next world.[7]

Yet it is Rebbe Nachman who reveals the practical application of this concept to our Divine service. Rebbe Nachman explained that Azamra applies even when we fall into the traps of negative thoughts and actions. Even after a fall, we must pick ourselves up and focus on the good, since how could we have gone through life without ever having done something positive? And even if this good is filled with evil, it still contains some sincere good which is an eternal connection with Hashem. Especially after a fall or when one is feeling spiritually challenged he should make this into a prayer to Hashem. He can explain in his prayer that despite all the negative, there are still good points—and he should especially focus on the fact that he did have to endure pain to draw near and serve the Creator.[8]

Ayeh is a very different process, which will work even when one finds it difficult to inspire himself through Azamra.[9] Even when one feels so far from Hashem that he cannot focus on his intrinsic purity and the eternity even one mitzvah affords, Ayeh can raise him up to the highest spheres. But we will have to wait for next week to explore this further…



[2] Likutei Halachos, Shabbos 7

[3] See Otzros  Chaim, Sha’ar Akudim, Chapter 5

[4] See Kochvei Ohr, Sason V’Simcha, Note 3 where this is explained at length

[5] Ginzei Ramchal, Daas Tevunos II:59

[6] Kochvei Ohr, Ibid

[7] Zohar I:108b

[8] Eternally Yours, letter 433

[9] Likutei Halachos, Hilchos Techumin 6:19

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