Facing Life’s Challenges with an Aleph

Mushka Rivkin, New Orleans, Louisiana
Belief in G-d / Essays 2018 / Personal Growth


One person struggles to make ends meet. Another has health concerns. One individual deals with tough relationships. And yet another is grappling with emotional issues. Each one seeks solutions and works to get past the shadow that envelops his life. Unfortunately, circumstances do not always work out the way we try to maneuver them. A person can make every attempt to find a job, but possibly nothing will materialize. Even after visiting doctors and specialists, there may be no cure. What can we do to rise above the challenges and get through the tough situations beyond running to doctors, job interviews, or psychologists? How can we illuminate our predicaments and take steps to actually see the light at the end of the tunnel?

The approach of Chassidus across the board is to look past the surface and reach the core.[1] We are shown how to dig deeper within the words of the Torah and the prayers to discover the powerful underlying messages. We are taught how to see beyond the externalities of another Jew and define him by his essence, his soul.[2] With the teachings of Chassidus, the layers of materialism are stripped away from the physicality of the world, and what remains is an opportunity to elevate a G-dly spark and transform the corporeal world into a dwelling place for G-d.[3]

This essay focuses on one angle of this Chassidic approach of looking deeper: recognizing that G-d is the only true existence. All of our issues and concerns are merely a facade of nature that mask G-d’s hand. We can overcome and transcend our challenges if we recognize them for what they truly are, do our part, and then let go. We can then focus our energies on spiritual endeavors. Through applying the teachings of Chassidus presented below, a person can create for himself an oasis of Geulah, redemption, amidst the darkness and concealment of the world’s veneer. The destitution, illness, or friction can become a memory of the past.


From the first moment of creation, the world was in a state of concealment. There was a tzimtzum, a seeming contraction of G-d’s revelation in order for the world to come into existence[4]. Included in the side effects of global tzimtzum is Golus- the exile experienced by the Jewish people as a whole- and the dark spots that each person experiences on a personal level.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe once gave a sharp talk to the Chassidim[5], expressing that they are stuck in a Golus Pnimi, a personal exile, held captive by a mindset of concealment. To define the difference between a mindset of Golus, exile, and a mindset of Geulah, redemption, the Rebbecontrasts the two Hebrew words of Golah- an alternate term for Golus- and Geulah. The difference between the term for exile and the term for redemption is only one hebrew letter, Aleph. [6] The Aleph represents the Oneness of G-d, Alupho Shel Olam. To create a paradigm shift of perspectives, from Golah to Geulah, what is needed is to put the Aleph, G-d, into the picture.

In the times of Geulah, the whole world will be filled with the knowledge and recognition of G-d[7]. The Rebbe encourages that a person should accustom himself to living a Geulah life now, even before the global era of Redemption. [8] We don’t have to wait for the world to change in order to change our own perspective. It is possible to create a mini, personal redemption, here and now. This shift of mindset is the first step to facing our challenges.


Many scholars believed that the concept of tzimtzum should be taken literally, meaning that this world is a place where G-d is less invested. In the Tanya, the Alter Rebbe presents a revolutionary thought that the tzimtzum is only from the human perception of G-d’s presence in this world. In actuality,the concealment is only a facade. The creation of the world did not have an effect on G-d’s presence in, and interaction with, the world. [9]

For example, the Ba’al Shem Tov taught that if not for G-d constantly speaking the world into existence, the world would cease to be. Every single creation and every single event is only possible because G-d is uttering it into existence, at every single moment. [10]

Therefore, if G-d wants something to happen, it will. If He doesn’t want it to happen, then it won’t, even if it is the most predictable force of nature. “Ein Od Milvado”[11] , there is nothing other than G-d.

There is a story told of the Chossid, R’ Binyomin Kletzker. He was once observed calculating his business earnings. After adding and subtracting all of the figures, he wrote the grand total at the bottom of the page: “Ein Od Milvado”. [12] This Chossid was in tune with the reality that although he may have put in effort towards his business successes, and he may have connections in all of the right places, he could not earn a penny more than what G-d willed for him.

In connection with this idea, the Alter Rebbe explains[13] the teaching of the sages[14] that anger is comparable to idol worship, the denial of G-d. If a person would believe in Divine Providence, that everything that happens is destined by G-d, he would not get upset.

This applies to dealing with others as well. Nothing can happen against G-d’s will. Certainly no one can get in G-d’s way. The more we recognize that everything is being orchestrated in heaven, the less upset, angry, and frustrated we will be when someone rubs us the wrong way, or when things don’t go as we hoped for in any aspect of life.

During the Shema prayer, we speak of Hashem’s Oneness, “Hashem Echad.[15]” The basic interpretation of these words is that there is only one G-d. On a deeper level, we are acknowledging that there is nothing in this world devoid of G-d.[16] This prayer should not be a mere lip service. Shema must be said with intense concentration, while covering our eyes.[17] For a few moments each day, we block out the world and all of its veils and we refocus ourselves, bringing the Aleph into our lives.


In order for a blessing to come to fruition, a keli- a figurative vessel- is needed within the natural order of the world. [18] If a person wants to make money, he can’t sit on the couch expecting money to fall from the sky. He needs to pick himself up and get a job. If he is ill, he needs to search for a remedy.

In a letter, the Rebbe writes that the reason for creating a vessel through natural means is only because we were commanded by G-d to do so. The Rebbe cautions that a person should not lose focus and consider the vessel to be significant in its own right. That would be a lack of trust in G-d and a misinterpretation of reality. [19]

The Rebbe Rashab expounds[20] on a question posed[21] about an axe: would an axe boast about its accomplishment of cutting down the tree? Only a fool would praise an axe for chopping down a forest or constructing a building. The axe is obviously only a tool used by the builder and could not have accomplished the work on its own. So too, we are instructed to toil and put in effort. However, we cannot fool ourselves into thinking that our efforts met with success without G-d.

Natural causes and effects are only masks designed by G-d to make things seem predictable. We therefore think that the rules of nature rule us. If the weather forecast says that it will rain, it is probable that it will. If one gets a lot of sleep, he will likely feel rested. But in truth, there is no real cause and effect in the world aside from G-d. A job will not give a person a livelihood. In reality, the relationship between ‘banging one’s head against the wall’ and getting money is the same as having a job and getting money. The job that results in a paycheck is a curtain hiding G-d. We only seek employment because G-d wants us to create a natural vessel, while remaining cognizant that He is the true source of income.

Being that everything is ultimately up to G-d, the vessel that one creates should be in line with G-d’s will, abiding by the directives of the Torah.[22] We are promised by G-d, that if we follow His will, we will blessed with our needs. [23] One would be stuck in a Golus mindset if he were to believe that skipping a Torah study session to spend more time working, is a prosperous move. Similarly, working on Shabbos to make money would be counterproductive.[24]

A person can’t be irresponsible. One should do his part, and try his best to overcome the obstacles in a natural way. Once he does everything within his control, he can let go and leave it up to G-d to bless his efforts with success.


The steps that Queen Esther took to erase the decree against the Jewish people are recorded in the Megillah.[25] First, she instructed Mordechai to assemble the Jewish community for a gathering of fasting and prayer. She pledged that she and her maid-servants would fast as well. She then agreed to approach King Achashverosh to plead with him on behalf of the Jewish nation.

Seemingly, it would not be sensible for Esther to fast, diminishing her charm and beauty before going to the king. However, the Rebbe explains that Esther was aware that going to the king was merely a superficial step, a mask of nature. The real catalyst of the salvation was the fasting and prayer. [26]

At a challenging moment, beyond doing our part within nature, we should think in spiritual terms. What can be done to receive G-d’s blessing? In many instances, the Rebbe advised individuals to check their Tefillin and Mezuzahs at a time of difficulty, aside from dealing with the issue in a natural way.[27] To a person having a hard time with Parnassah, livelihood, the Rebbe suggested giving more charity[28]. A couple experiencing friction in their marriage were recommended to be more scrupulous in the observance of Taharas Hamishpacha, Family Purity. [29] A bachelor seeking a suitable match was directed to implement more Torah study into his schedule. [30]

To a man facing medical issues, the Rebbe wrote that while Hashem heals through a doctor, the primary medicine for a Jewish person is spiritual in nature- giving charity, and adding in prayer and good deeds. [31] In another letter, the Rebbe describes conventional methods of preventive medicine- vaccinations, brushing teeth, and maintaining a balanced diet. The Rebbe then states that for Jewish children, the most effective preventive medicine is adherence to the Kosher laws. [32] In every area of life, taking spiritual measures is the pipeline through which G-d’s blessing will flow. By bringing the Aleph into the dark spots of Golus, a person can attain a personal Geulah.


  • Learn Chassidus to look deeper and keep your perspective in line with the true reality. Don’t get fooled by the facade that G-d creates- predictable causes and effects.
  • Recognize G-d’s supervision over every scenario, encounter, and rule of nature, thus creating a Geulah oasis in your life.
  • Concentrate on the idea of G-d’s Oneness during the Shema prayer.
  • Acknowledge that the blessings and successes come from G-d.

Realize that He alone holds the key to all of your needs.

  • Do your part according to the natural order of the world, and then let go.
  • Engage in spiritual techniques to draw down the blessings.


Through studying and applying Chassidus, a person can learn to look at life through the lenses of Geulah. With this perspective, G-d is the true reality and nothing else holds power. Using this approach, obstacles are overcome using strategies that lead us to do our part and then let go of the rest. The value of spiritual measures is highlighted, and we get in touch with the truth about what takes place in this world.

[1] As explained in Kuntres Inyana Shel Toras HaChassidus, among other sources

[2] Tanya Perek Lamed Beis

[3] Kuntres Toras HaChassidus, Chapter 17, among other sources

[4] Likutei Torah Hosafos Parshas Vayikra citing Otzros Chayim and the works of the Arizal

[5] Sefer Hasichos 5751, Parshas Shemini

[6] Sefer Hasichos 5751, Parshas Emor

[7] Yeshaya 11:9

[8] Sefer Hasichos 5751, Parshas Pinchas

[9] Likutei Amarim Perek Chof Aleph

[10] Explained in Tanya, Sha’ar Hayichud V’haemunah Perek Aleph

[11] Devarim 4:35

[12] Likutei Sichos Vol. 34, p. 112

[13] Tanya Igeres Hakodesh Epistle 25

[14] Rambam Hilchos De’os 2:3

[15] Devarim 6:4

[16] Derech Mitzvosecha Mitzvas Achdus Hashem

[17] Shulchan Aruch Admur Hilchos Kriyas Shema

[18] Sifri on Devarim 15:18-וּבֵֽרַכְךָ֙ יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ בְּכֹ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר תַּֽעשֶֽׂה

[19] Igros Kodesh Vol. 2, p. 179

[20] Ma’amar V’yadata

[21] Yeshayahu 10:15

[22] Maamar V’yadaata

[23] Vayikra 26:3-4

[24] See Chassidic Discourses Vol. II,   מאמר יחיינו מיומים ביום השלישי יקימנו ונחי׳ לפניו

[25] Esther 4:16

[26] Likutei Sichos Vol. 1 p. 216

[27] Igros Kodesh, Vol. XIII, p. 180, among other sources

[28] In Good Hands, Part A, Letter 23

[29] Igros Kodesh Vol. 9 p. 302

[30] Igros Kodesh Vol. IV, p. 73

[31] I Will Write It In Their Hearts- Vol. 5, Letter No. 660

[32] Healthy in Mind Body & Spirit, Chapter 13