Rosh HaShanah begins Sunday night. I am looking forward to welcoming the new Jewish year, 5776, with all of you. As we do so, we will be focusing on our ability to transform our lives, making the changes needed to make this new year one in which we flourish.
To get us thinking about our ability to transform ourselves, I wanted to share this beautiful story told by the great Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810).
The Sad Tzadik
(From Sippurei Maasiot, adapted from a translation by Rabbi Avraham Greenberg)
It is told that a certain tzadik (a righteous person) was overcome with a terrible sense of sadness. This tzadik fell into such a mood of deep discouragement that he found it literally impossible to move. He sat in his home, in his chair, wanting to lift himself up, but nothing could make him happy. Whenever he tried to be happy about something, he found in it something to make him depressed.
Finally he started trying to make himself happy by focusing on the fact that God had made him a good, decent person. This is certainly a reason to feel immeasurable joy since the vast gulf between the holiness of a good, decent person and the impurity of those who are evil is beyond all measure. As the tzadik sat in his chair, his right arm resting on the arm of the chair, his left arm resting in his lap, his head resting in the exact center of the back of the chair, he focused intently on how fortunate he was to have been created as a good, decent person and this did the trick! It made him feel happy. He started rejoicing and he was able to move ever so slightly. He felt himself rising little by little from his chair.
As the tzadik’s happiness lifted him higher, he literally flew out of his home and into the heavens where he traveled diagonally for thousands of miles. Suddenly, he noticed that he was very far away from his home. He began to worry that he might fall somewhere and the people in his town would be very surprised that he had suddenly disappeared. This worry, coupled with the fact that the tzadik believed that enjoying too much happiness was gluttonous, caused the tzadik’s happiness to subside little by little, and he began to descend very slowly.
As he descended from the place where he had flown in his ecstasy, he noticed that he was not returning to earth using the same diagonal path that he traveled as he ascended into the heavens. Instead, he descended straight down from where he was. Therefore, he was very surprised to discover that when his descent was over, he had returned to his chair in his home! Now, however, he was happy, content – no longer depressed.
He looked around and he saw that not only was he in his chair, he was almost in the exact position he was in before he began to ascend – his right arm resting on the arm of the chair, his left arm resting in his lap – but his head was now resting a slight hairsbreadth to the right of where it was before his ascent. The tzadik found it amazing that he had flown so far through the heavens, yet here on earth he had moved ever so slightly from his place. He was amazed that even the tiniest movement one makes to lift himself up in this world, even just a tiny tilt of the head, is equivalent to a tremendous heavenly journey.
Rabbi Nachman explains that what happened to the tzadik is best understood when we view our world as the center point of God’s universe. From this view, our world is but a tiny point. From this point you can draw as many straight lines as you wish in any direction. Where the lines start at the point, they are all very close to each another. But the further they extend from the point, the further apart they become. When the lines are very far away from the point, the lines are very far apart from one another. Given this, when the tzadik pushed himself to feel happy, he caused his body to move slightly here on earth but great distances in the heavenly realms. Even though in this world we might feel like we have hardly moved at all – the slightest change is tremendous.
As we seek to transform our lives during these High Holidays, please rem
ember the spiritual journey of the tzadik. It was his determination to change his life – his desire to be happy – that empowered him to begin moving physically and spiritually. While we might have trouble relating to his journey through the heavens, what we must take from this story is that it takes just the slightest movement to radically transform our lives. For the tzadik, the slightest movement lifted him from a terrible depression.
Now it’s your turn. What aspect of your life do you want to radically transform this new Jewish year? Now is the time to make a move – even the slightest of moves – toward real transformation.
May we all ascend to great and incredible heights together over these High Holidays. And may we return renewed, refreshed and changed for the better. Cheryl, Abigail and Jonah join me in wishing you all a Shanah Tovah – A Sweet, Meaningful, Transformative New Year.