Bring Back the Fire
Essays 2019 / Hopelessness
There’s a pit. A growing black hole. It consumes your energy, passion, and motivation. Until all you feel is nothing. Or maybe it is something but not a thing you can name. So when asked what’s wrong you simply responds nothing. Since in reality it is nothing. The lack of everything that ever made you feel excited turned into a nothing. This is Apathy.
As Jews apathy is our biggest enemy. It shuts off anything we ever felt towards our Judaism leaving us with neither a purpose nor a goal. The Tanya teaches us that we need to work and arouse passion and emotions towards Hashem. Through great contemplation every Jew, even the lowest one, can arouse the dormant love which lies in every single one of us.(1) But when your emotions are shut, and you’re so deep down in the “I don’t care” swimming pool, how do you get out?
The freezing point
A tedious routine causing an emotionless emotion. A heart once filled with with passion and faith now brought down to the coldest place. Very often this is caused by a lack of stimulation. Feeling no responsibility resulting in lack of interest for even the most vital details of a human life.(2) One can only feel a lack of caring when they have something to care about. Hence for Jews apathy can be one of our biggest stumbling blocks. Since we have a goal, to bring moshiach, and a path which tells us how to get there, we have what to become apathetic towards.
Where it comes from
In order to overcome this block, a person first needs to know where apathy comes from. When Bnei Yisroel left Egypt they were on a spiritual high. They had superrational faith in Hashem. After all the great miracles done for them, the 10 plagues, the great riches, the splitting of sea, they we unstoppable. It was then that Amalek decided to attack.(3) The Medrish explains this attack with a parable. There was a boiling tub of water which no creature dared come near. Along came one person who didn’t care about anything and jumped right in. Although he got burned himself, he cooled down the water for all other beings. The boiling tub is Bnei Yisroel who no one dared start with. Came the Amalekim filled with irrational doubt and cooled down the Jews fervent belief in their creator. Though they lost the battle they opened the door for all other nations to attack.(4)
This attack was not just a little battle Bnei Yisroel had to overcome. The Amalekim left a detrimental imprint for all generations. When describing the attack, there is a passuk that says “Asher Korcha Baderech”-Amalek met you on the way.(5) Rashi explains the word Korcha also comes from the word Kar which is translated as cold. Meaning Amalek came on the way and cooled of the yiddens fiery faith.(6) It is for this reason they gained they became known as the symbol of evil. We are commanded to “Zachor es amalek”(7) – remember what Amalek did, and mention it every day. Amalek is the one who shuts off the feeling involved in Torah and Mitzvot. What is Judaism without fire and passion? It’s apathy. It’s knowing G-d in all his glory and purposely going against him. This is why Hashem swore “His Name is not complete nor His throne is complete until the name of Amalek shall be utterly obliterated.”(8) Until that happens, doubt can always creep back in and stifle our service to G-d.
How it gets to you
Inside every Jew there is a soul, and everlasting flame apart of the infinite that can never be put out.(9) This flame automatically feeds a passion towards Judaism. How is it then that this forever ignited fire can suddenly feel so cold? This is Amalek, “He knows his Creator and is intent on rebelling against Him”.(10) It isn’t the knowledge of Torah that he fights. But the emotions, namely the love and fear which translate the knowledge into conducting a life as a Torah Jew.(11) He takes that passion and turns it around 180°. He gets you all caught up in physicality until your blazing fire is seeped in trying to satisfy the desires of the Animal Soul. And the G-dly soul, that is left with an emotionless emotion. The more you are involved in physicality the colder and more apathetic you will feel towards spirituality. Until you don’t care that you don’t care about that thing you onced cared so much for.(12) You have become utterly numb. As Jews our true desire is to cleave to G-d. Therefor all the “satisfaction” we feel from fulfilling temptations is like filling a black hole, nothingness.
Don’t forget to remember
To get out of this state is the only way we can get our job in this world done. Along with the inherit Amalek in every Jew, we were given the tools to overcome him, since Hashem doesn’t place an obstacle we can’t overcome Amalek numbs our passion with irrational doubt but we must use faith to keep the feelings strong. This is done through the commandment of Zachor- remembering. We remember the faith we have in G-d and bring it out to the surface. It isn’t something that needs to be created, but a gift as an inheritance from our forefathers. Tapping into our faith brings about a supremely powerful tool since faith transcends reason. It gives us the power to completely relate to G-d without the limitations of human minds whose nature is to rationalize and understand.(13)
Strategy is key
In Tanya(14) the Alter Rebbe gives an analogy of a wrestling match to help us understand what apathy causes. If one opponent is sluggish, even though he may be the stronger of the two, he will lose. The same is true with the fight against our evil inclination. The more enthusiastic we are about winning the greater the victory will be. The idea of not wanting to fight and being spiritual insensitive comes from having commited previous sins. We will not be able to overcome the battle with a sluggish attitude. When a foolish thought enters a person and causes them to sin, one of the strands that connects him to G-d is breached. The more sins committed the more strands affected. But a Jew can never truly be disconnected from his creator. It is simply the emotions of the Animal Soul blocking the emotions of the G-dly Soul.(15) Sin is what causes the negative energy to come about but it is proper repentance that restore all the positive feelings. Repentance consists of two aspects.Firstly the commitment to never sin again and then the feeling of remorse over what we did. The emotional aspect is an ongoing process for as we get older the feelings we had back then won’t suffice for the place and circumstances we are in today.(16)
Action is the main thing
There is a story in Tanach about a woman known as the Shunammite the wife of a prophet who once went to Elisha the Prophet crying. She told him that her husband had died leaving behind a great amount of debt. The creditors had told her that if she wouldn’t pay up immediately her children would be taken as slaves. Elisha asked her what she had in her house and she responded nothing but one small jug of oil. He then instructed her to go borrow as many vessels as possible, lock herself in her house with her sons and pour the oil into all the vessels. So she did just as the prophet instructed her. When she began pouring the oil from the small jug it didn’t finish until all the vessels were full. Elisha then told her to sell the oil and pay off her debts and with the remaining money provide for her family.(17)
Chassidus comes and takes this beautiful story of a righteous women and teaches us a lesson for our daily lives. The women in the story is called Isha achas. Isha is the soul which is called achas because it is one with G-d. She is the wife of a prophet-navi in hebrew. Navi is derived from the words Niv Sfatayim meaning the utterance of the lips who receive the word of G-d and gives it over. Our soul is the vessel which is able to receive G-dlines. Elisha is referring to G-d coming from the word Keli. Husband in hebrew, Ishi, comes from the word Eish-fire. The soul comes crying to G-d saying “your servants husband has died. The fire and passion I once felt is gone. The creditor wants to come take my children and make them slaves for himself.” The creditor is the Animal Soul who wants to make you forget about G-dliness. He wants to take the children, love and fear for G-Dliness, and point them to the opposite direction. G-d responds by asking what do you have at home? What strengths did the Animal Soul not take over? Just a small jug of oil, the essence of my G-dly soul. G-d instructs the soul to go collect all the vessels she can find. Collect Torah and mitzvot which are vessels that carry G-dliness. Pouring the small jug of oil into the empty vessels is the action. Bring down the essence of your soul and use it to fill up the empty Torah and mitzvot. After this the love and fear will be brought back this time however stronger than before. Just as light after darkness is stronger than the original light. The emotions brought about through hard work are exceedingly more powerful than ever before.(18)
You will make it
When we are drowning in apathy, action is what will save us. In the beginning we may have to fake it, yet we will always make it. Doing the right thing automatically awakens the passion and rekindles the faith. In reality though a Jew doesn’t fake anything since our true desire is to cleave to G-d. It is simply a cause of giving into the Animal Soul that caused us to forget what direction we want our fire to point to. The more actions done the more the desire will be reawakened. And the more we contemplate about G-d the emotions, the more we will reach greater heights, higher than ever before.(19) But it all begins with that first “fake” step of action.
Being involved in Torah and Mitzvot with love and passion brings about a lasting and true happiness.(20) It requires hard work but nothing worth having comes easy. We must combine our intellect and emotion for it is the disconnection between mind and heart that causes apathy. Use your knowledge about Hashem as a guide for the impulse of your emotions to create the proper actions.(21) And it’s with those action that we elevate the world and create a place where G-d feels welcome, ultimately bringing about the final redemption, may it be speedily in our days.
1 Tanya chapter 18
2 Leon F Seltzer Ph.D
3 Devarim 25:17-19
4 Rashi, Devarim 25:18
5 Devarim 25:18
6 Rashi, Devarim 25:18
7 Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 5:5
8 Rashi, Shemos 17:16
9 Tanya Chapter 2
10 Sefer HaMaamarim 5562, p. 172
11 Sefer HaMaamarim 5565, Vol. I, Maamar titled Zachor
12 Maamar titled Zachor 5694
13 Tanya Chapters 18–19.
14 Tanya Chapter 26
15 Basi Legani 5710, chapter 4
16 Tanya Chapter 28
17 Melachim II 4:8-37
18 Sefer Hamaamarim melukat 4
19 Tanya Chapter 46
20 The Book Letters of the Rebbe Vol 1 pg 144.
21 Hayom Yom 12 of Shevat