Finding Peace- Shalom with God :Rebbe Nachman's Treasure
RH 2nd Day 2014
All of us dream, and we all hope to have good dreams. You know, an old Jewish nostrum was to pray, during the priests benediction, " May you turn my dreams of myself and of all Israel for God, and guard me, be gracious unto me and accept me".
I remember once seeing a charming children's book, handsomely illustrated, depicting a Jewish legend, of a man who has a dream. So, I will share with you this story of a dream that is attributed to the Hasidic master story teller, Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav. Rebbe Nachman was always on of my favorites, because we share the same Hebrew name, Nachman. He has become something of a meditation mantra in Israel today, as his followers have plastered on their homes and auto bumpers--Na, Nah, Nachm,Nachman me uman- It's a mantra, as sure as any from India, and I enjoy seeing my name plastered all over the country.
But Rebbe Nachman was a great storyteller, and this story is about a dream. May we all have such good dreams:
Once a man dreamed that there was a great treasure under a bridge in Vienna. So he traveled to Vienna and stood near the bridge, wondering what to do. He did not dare search for the treasure by day, because of the many people who were there.
An officer passed by and asked, "What are you doing, standing here and contemplating?" The man decided that it would be best to tell the whole story and ask for help, hoping that the officer would share the treasure with him. He told the officer the entire story.
The officer replied, "A Jew is concerned only with dreams! I also had a dream, and I also saw a treasure. It was in a small house, under the cellar."
In relating his dream, the officer accurately described the man's city and house. He rushed home, dug under his cellar and found the treasure. He said, "Now I know that I had the treasure all along. But in order to find it, I first had to travel to Vienna."
The same is true in serving G-d. Each person has the treasure, but in order to find it, he first must travel to the Tzaddik.
Surely ,we recognize in it a typical children's tale. We all want to win the California state lottery, and the tale is a simple fulfillment of a child's wish.
Rebbe Nachman preached to his followers on a very personal level. He hoped to raise the spirits of his followers and imbue them with hope. In his own interpretation, he adds at the end, that the treasure is the path to God, but that he, the Zaddik, the righteous one, serves as Vienna, the banner that shows the way to the real treasure. You must find the teacher of truth in order to be directed back to yourself, wherein there is personal spiritual treasure.
But you know that a story is never what it seems. Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav never meant it to mean as it seems. There is always, in his tales, another level, and yet another level. This story, too, can be read, with some license from the Rebbe, on many other planes.
Thus, his tale can be read on the humanistic plane, the plane of self-realization, or self-actualization. This is a very California type story.
Each of us is within our little village--our lives, our experiences, but we tend to ignore that. We dream of some treasure, some goal, some grandeur and glory but we doubt ourselves and seek it always elsewhere in something glamorous, fashionable or prestigious--that is Vienna. Our search, however, if it is a true search, will take us away form the glitz and tinsel, back to ourselves, because we discover that each and everyone of us has inside, a storehouse, a treasure. However, without that search, without reaching out of our small village, our limited experience, we would never have found it.
That is, as a tale, a metaphor for the idea of Teshuva-the return- the idea of this season. We leave our ideals and our virtues behind at the village gate, go to the world at large, become crass, trample on the sensitivity of others, take advantage, climb the social ladder or the corporate ladder at all cost. If we get to the top , if that is all that we have in our lives, of being at the top, then it becomes empty, a vanity. If we don't get to the top, it is emptiness plus. But that journey, into the struggles of daily life, teach us to make our way back to what we had within us to begin with, our pure soul.
That is Teshuva, the return to the little village.
The Bratzlaver also lived at the beginning of the age of enlightenment--It was the age of the abandonment of Judaism by Jews, as increasingly, the Jewish elite were being drawn away from their traditions and teachings and to the glories of Western civilization. The Jew is insecure and unsure of himself, in his little insular shtetl, he feels poor, he is looking for the treasure--not money, but the trappings of the great civilization of Vienna-- the palaces, the power of Empire, the University, the opera of Mozart, philosophical enlightenment, and in a later day, nationalism, socialism or communism. However, when he knocks on the gates of Vienna, in all its glory, all the signs will point him back to his roots, to his little village. Without looking beyond the shtetl, however, our Jew would not have been able to see what a treasure he had.
It was a story reenacted many times over. Moses Hess was one of the fathers of socialism, the man who encouraged Karl Marx and him together with Friedreich Engels to found the Communist movement; Hess soon discovered that the glories of the revolution aside, his one true place was with his people, and he became the first of the modern visionaries of Zionism, before well before Herzl. Herzl ,too, was the most glamorous of Viennese journalists, and went the same route, to become the greatest mover of the Jewish people of the past century. That , too, may have been the Rebbe's tale.
However, we are now in the twentieth-first-century, we are past the great revolutions and ideologies.
Science, socialism, communism, nationalism no longer ring anyone's bells. Nothing, no compelling vision is our there for our day.
We need a different reading. Perhaps this reading is the one that Rebbe Nachman intended for us, our spiritual reading, a spiritual treasure hunt.
This is the reading:
The small town, our Judaism, as we know it, is poor, and modest. Vienna is Catholic Europe--the great Cathedral, the conquering religion. Vienna, in our day, is Jews for Jesus, or Bu-Jew, or Hare Krishna, or Scientology, or every guru and New Age avatar.
The Rebbe sought to tell us--the spiritual treasure which we seek is really buried in our Judaism. It is the search outside our spiritual house that enables us to see that we have our treasure buried in our own backyard.
Anyone who looks across this country detects a sense of great malaise, a lose of the sense of ideals and civic virtue. Perhaps, our previous generations were not truly idealistic and virtuous, but what little there may have been, we, today sense, that even that is vanished. On the right, we speak of values, and on the left, the politics of meaning.
There was an essay in the Los Angeles Times some time ago by one Ralph Georgy, an Egyptian Coptic Christian, a budding philosopher who taught my own children general history right here in the former Herzl High School .
You have to know that Coptic Christians are very ancient , the oldest of the established Christian communities. They also are a community that was threatened in Egypt under the previous regime but now protected by President Sisi.
What is missing in our public and private life, he asked ?
God, for the common person , is now Dead. God was dead for the intellectual--he is now dead for the common person. He writes
" God , with all his theoretical complications, gave us morality, decency , and hope. He gave us something to hold on to. We used to find shelter and meaning in God. Today, we find shelter and meaning in physical sensation; we escape our lives through television, the movies, music, sex and drugs. We seem to need more and different sensations to feel anything at all."
The buried treasure, of Rebbe Nachman's dream, is truly buried, then, if we have lost our vision of the sacred.
For those of us , as Jews, who still dream dreams, all the paths must bring us back to our path.
A Catholic priest once consulted me about a design that he wished to incorporate into his religious garments, something to include the Jewish foundations of his faith. He had told me of a Jew he knew who desired to become a Catholic.
Go back to Judaism, he told him--this is the root from which all faith is derived.
One of the great Jewish luminaries of this century, Franz Rosenzweig, went through just such a path of return. He was about to go to baptism, when he decided, for once, to attend a synagogue, on Yom Kippur. In that one visit, he turned his life around. Suddenly he realized that in his Judaism was the answer to his life's search.
A Roger Kamenetz had gone to the Buddhist Dalai Lama for enlightenment only to be asked by the Dalai Lama for the Jewish secret of spiritual survival in exile. The Jew had to go to the great Buddhist leader to be turned around back to his Jewish foundations.
We Jews go to the Himalayas only to return to Jerusalem.
What is it that we return to in Judaism? What is the hidden treasure of the tale of Rebbe Nachman?. What was it that Franz Rosenzweig found in the small shule in Berlin? What is unique to Judaism?
After all, the search for God and truth is found in all religions. Yet all religions are not Judaism, and all religions are not alike. There are religions which denigrate the body and our souls attachments to this world. There are religions which deny the reality and validity of our existence. There are religions for which there is no foundation for morality, other than the whim of the gods.
Judaism unites body and soul; our selves, our very beings, our every day life can be elevated to the highest levels. Judaism unites the individual and the community; I don't seek salvation alone, but as part of a community. Judaism binds the moral and the ethical as one with the spiritual; every man and woman is in the image of God. Judaism recognizes the value of community, of the fellowship of Israel, together with the common origin of all humanity.
We look back to the story, and we ask ourselves, " We are so far gone, so far removed from our heritage, can we ever find our way back. We are so mired in our troubles, our worries, our failures in work or in love or in fellowship, can we ever get out of it. Can we ever return to the little village, to that mythical shtetl where the treasure is buried? "
That is our purpose in being here at this High Holy Day season. Rosh Hashanah doesn't make us saints, but it keeps open the doors of life for us.
Rebbe Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev taught that atonement, our sense of Shalom, of shlemut, of peace, completion, reconciliation, is possible, for at this season the Jew becomes aware in his soul that " You are the sons of God"-- He is your father in heaven.-" Whether before you sin, or even after you sin," A Jew must believe with full faith that even after he has ruined and sinned all year, God is still his father and will cleanse him."
The treasure is there, in our hearts, in our heritage and culture, in our faith. We need but to return in earnest search to find it.