The Supernatural Power of Supra-Rational Commitment
MyLife Essay Contest 2017
My wife and I are fighting for our lives. Chassidus is to us a source of life energy and joy through understanding. The teachings of the Rebbe have sweetened our existence. They have equipped us with invaluable strength and perspectives desperately needed to face the incredible hardships that Hashem has decided should befall us. A ma’amar of the Rebbe on Chanukah taught us that mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice) can be implemented daily in an unexpected way. A way that can lead anyone to their own personal redemption.
In the month of Tamuz of last year my pregnant wife (may she live) was diagnosed with a stage 4 intestinal carcinoma (colon cancer). In the 26th week of pregnancy her life and the life of our child were in danger. Prof. Yoffe Borris; a sharp Yiddish speaking surgeon, managed to pull off a subtotal colectomy without removing the foetus. Meaning; he removed the vast majority of her large intestine without harming or removing the baby. He then connected the remaining large intestine to the small intestine. During this operation, I was davening (praying) and saying Tehilim (Psalms) for hours. When I finally looked at my phone I had a bunch of missed calls. The Doctors were looking for me to share the bad news. I didn’t yet know to what extent my wife, may she live, wasn’t well. I had thought that the baby was in more danger than my wife, may she live. I had thought that the tumor blocking her intestines was benign. But it wasn’t. I had done a lot of davening (praying) and Tehilim (Psalm) reading but hadn’t yet opened another sefer (book) that I’d taken with me:
מגילת אסתר עם ביאורים ואמרות קודש של כ”ק אדמו”ר מליובאוויטש
Notwithstanding the uncertainty, I begged Hashem for a sign. Something…anything! I desperately needed a clue that would let me know what would be. I then opened the Sefer (book). The first thing I read was the Rebbe relating a Midrash (אסתר רבה ז) In this Midrash Haman follows Mordechai who follows Jewish children and asks them what they just learnt in (School). Through the psukim (scripture) they recite, Mordechai understands that there is nothing to fear and that the children will be ok. This is crucial because Haman wanted to annihilate the women and children first, G-d forbid. This was the message I needed. From that point on, I never lost hope that my baby would be ok. This gave me the confidence, greatly needed in the near future that Hashem (G-d) wanted my boy to live.
The connection between the large intestine and the small one tore. Over the course of ten days my wife’s belly filled up with infected liquids. The baby was removed without a pulse and resuscitated several times before being stabilized. My wife was taken to intensive care for the next five days. My son was in the NICU for four months and my wife has undergone more surgery and Chemotherapy. To cut a long, painful and literally miraculous story short, my wife is alive and so is my son. The weight of our struggles has been lifted but not yet removed. My wife, may she live, is fighting cancer and my baby boy hasn’t yet gotten a bris because of his small size and weight.
Two weeks after birth, our baby boy fell in a coma for a month and a half. We gave him a name: Meir-Chaim. The main thing that kept me sane, and charged my visits to him with loving optimism, was the sign I had received from Hashem through the Rebbe. After four months in the NICU, Meir-Chaim, came home for the first time attached to oxygen and a monitor. Because of surgery and chemotherapy, his mother was too weak to take care of him. Due to the strain of having to keep it all together, I was physically and psychologically exhausted. Two other small children, traumatized by their mother’s condition, bills to pay and rockets falling (Sderot) is a lot to handle. Amidst these trials and tribulations, our community and respective families have helped in every possible way. Amongst these helpers is a Rabbi called Yaniv Mizrachi. He offered to learn with me on Saturday nights and even though he’s a busy man, he comes to my place so that I don’t have to leave. The book that we are still learning contains many indescribably deep, enlightening, useful diamonds of knowledge. It gave my wife and I a tool that no one can ever take away from us. It gave us something that anybody can use and practice at any time. This understanding can be deepened and the more it is practiced the easier it gets. There is no hardship that can defeat it. No ‘reality’ is stronger, and there isn’t a person alive who’s life won’t be improved by using it. The book we are still learning is called:
אוצר מאמרי חסידות מאת כבוד קדושת אדמו”ר מנחם מענדל שניאורסאהן מליובוויטש מועדים . נושאים
The Ma’amar (essay), this treasure is buried in, is on Chanukah. It’s the 10th Ma’amar (essay) in the Sefer (book) and it starts on page 78. But, before I attempt to share this amazing idea with you, lets familiarize ourselves with four indispensable principles of Judaism:
- In the Hebrew we don’t say ‘G-d’, we say Hashem i.e. ‘The Name’. We use this denomination because G-d himself is unfathomable. He is completely unimaginable. The mind cannot even begin to wrap itself around ‘What’ He Is. Therefore, only His Name(s) and His will have been revealed. His will is the fulfillment of Torah and Mitzvas joyfully and His Names are many.
- In its’ infinite depth there are 5 levels/dimensions to the soul (Midrash Rabbah Bereshit 14:9):
- Nefesh (soul) – Relating to the physical being
- Ruach (spirit) – Relating to the emotional being and character
- Neshama (soul/ from the Hebrew: breath) – Relating to the intellect.
- Chaya (life) – Relating to the supra-rational being. Ones’ will and faith.
- Yechida (singularity/ones’) – Relating to the essence of the soul, a ‘piece’ of G-d. (Tanya Chapter 2)
- As you can see, one can only access the first three dimensions of the soul listed above. The last two are out of reach. The ‘Chaya’ and the ‘Yechida’ are not within the bounds of even remote conceptualization. Especially, the ‘Yechida’ that is a part of G-d Himself (Tanya Ch. 2).
- Mitzvas are the application of G-d’s will in the physical world. They are also beyond human knowledge and reason. Meaning: Why Hashem wants us to wrap Teffilin (Phylacteries) or say certain things at certain moments or how these Mitzvas affect the material world is incomprehensible.
The Ma’amar (essay) starts by laying down some tantalizing questions about Chanukah. The Rebbe then proceeds to answer them, connecting different parts of Torah, weaving an incredibly deep and resonating dimension to the ‘Festival of Lights’. For the purpose of this article the Rebbe’s ma’amar will not be summarized. I’m going to focus on a concept from the ma’amar that brought light to my home in particularly dark times.
The story of Chanukah revolves around a war waged on Judaism by the Greeks. Their objective wasn’t necessarily to eradicate Jews as much as it was to erase our observance of Torah and Mitzvas. They were particularly against Mitzvas seemingly devoid of any logic. Mitzvas appearing to contain no practical or theoretical reason whatsoever.
Matisyahu and his sons, who lead the revolt against the Greeks, could have decided to flee, reasoning that fighting against such ridiculous odds meant certain death. But they chose a path of mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice). They chose a path above and beyond knowledge and reason. Mesirut nefesh connotates that knowledge and reason are not on the table. As opposed to a decision that is taken based on knowledge and reason. Reasoning connotates that despite considered counter arguments a decision has been made. But, when one enters the realm of mesirut nefesh logical counter arguments don’t come into play. In the Rebbe’s ma’amar mesirut nefesh is the turning point that brings everything together. It’s what won the war against the Greeks. It’s what made Chanukah what it is.
Being beyond knowledge and reason, the acts of mesirut nefesh, in the application of G-d’s will, are connected to what is beyond all knowledge and reason. These types of acts of mesirut nefesh are connected to the ‘Yechida’, the dimension of the soul that is a part of G-d himself. This connection has the effect of uplifting and positively transforming the very essence of the material world. This connection literally turns darkness into light.
I don’t really know how to convey the mental struggle involved in fighting cancer. My wife had reached a point where she didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. After surviving the NICU Meir-Chaim was hospitalized, on and off, for two months. My wife, may she live, had been through so much and remission wasn’t in sight. Depression, physical and mental pain as well as being overwhelmed by day to day demands were constantly chipping away at us. I was looking for something that could help us practically. Get us closer to Hashem and honestly, help us feel better.
Rabbi Mizrachi and I learnt the Essay twice and it clicked. I knew that my wife and I must learn it together. I emphasized the idea and perks of mesirut nefesh in our situation. We should be happy beyond all knowledge and reason. The mesirut nefesh involved in not indulging in self-pity. The mesirut nefesh involved in fighting beyond all odds. The mesirut nefesh that could literally have an effect on the physical world was the what we needed. It was our solution. We had to throw all logical and realistic thinking aside. We purposely ignored all the statistics the Doctors threw at us. We had to choose happiness over our reality. Choose happiness over what is. Choose happiness in despite of everything. Our lives depended on it. It’s not a one-time thing. It’s not something one can decide to do and then it just sticks. It’s like everything of value: it needs to be worked at. It needs to be practiced and sharpened. When we’re pushed down by the weight of our situation, we turn to the ma’amar, to the Rebbe, to Hashem. We reach for the happiness that’s beyond our realm and we bring it down into our home, into our children, into our lives and we are transformed. Our perspective has changed. Our mental and physical state is different and better. We’ve seen that reality itself has been transformed. On more than one occasion when we’ve made the decision to be happy, to apply this concept we have been immediately rewarded. A positive change whether medically, financially or other has been an almost immediate result. Every day is a gift and we feel blessed. This creates blessings and suddenly life isn’t just bearable, life is good.