(Here’s an email I sent to Reb Bahir, in response to the post that I previously included in my own blog. I hope they were helpful.)

Dear Reb Bahir,

I read your post on accepting life’s challenges as “tests.” [1]

Let me first say that I deeply admire your way of expressing yourself so heart-fully. Writing (and teaching) for and by we Jews needs so much more of that!

With your permission, I want to share my own thoughts with you. I think they’re very parallel to your own. My bitachon is often reinforced by what I read (and then apply). So, I offer this, hoping that it’ll help you and your Belovedest through this time, as it helps me through mine.

“Tests!” It’s certainly what the rabbis teach. Especially in the “Akeidah”: G-d “tested”/נסה Avraham — about which the rabbis punned that Avraham’s behavior became a flag/נס/standard for the world to follow. I call life’s tests “little akeidahs,” as our tests are so often about giving up what we want in favor of what G-d wants. [2]

But again, I deeply admire your ability to write so directly from your heart.

I recently attended a lecture by (psychiatrist) Dr. Norman Rosenthal, author of “The Gift of Adversity.” The title says it all. Dr. Rosenthal was also the one responsible for identifying SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and a leader in the new psychopharmalogical treatments for depression. He’s also a practitioner of Transcendental Meditation with quite a life story of his own. He doesn’t seem to come from a background of any Jewish observance, but might be very surprised at how “Hasidic” his views are. Perhaps his book might interest you?

I’ve also found Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s “Gateway to Happiness” an invaluable aid. Sometimes, in struggling to accept and face a test, it’s been so helpful for me to “hear it from the outside,” as it were, rather than trying to argue with myself in my own head. I think it’s like what you describe as Reb Zalman praying over the bottle of lavendar water, after which the empty bottle becomes an external, symbolic faith-producer for you. Rabbi Pliskin’s approach is based on his years of doing counseling in the CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) mode — choosing happiness-producing thoughts over sadness-producing ones. It’s not fully “hasidic” (which can go into even higher realms), but it certainly overlaps in a very productive way.

One of my own special teachers is Rabbi Morris Lichtenstein, z”l. Especially his book “Jewish Science and Health.” He was one of three “Jewish Science” rabbis, each of whom wrote startlingly beautiful, uplifting teachings almost 100 years ago. The other two rabbis were Rabbi Alfred Geiger Moses and Rabbi Clifton Harby Levy. All three were “Reform” rabbis. Rabbi Lichtenstein’s wife, Mrs. Tehillah Lichtenstein, continued his work in her own writings after he passed on in 1938 (she was also the first American Jewish woman with a pulpit, although she was never “ordained” formally). I think of “Jewish Science” as “Reform Hasidut.” Rabbi Joseph Gelberman, z”l, who ordained me, and who was another rebbe to me, was also trained in “New Thought,” but wasn’t part of the “Jewish Science” lineage per se.

One of the things I learned in Jewish Science was “Visualization.” The simplest description of the technique is in R. Kelly’s song, I Believe I Can Fly: “If I can see it, I can be it.” That’s Visualization in a nutshell. Visualizing the outcome creates the outcome.

It’s like the Kabbalistic/Hasidic principle of “Itaruta d’l’tata itaruta d’l’ilah” — “A ‘push’ from below creates a ‘push’ from Above.”

It’s a definable technique that can be learned, but the key to it is realizing that it’s G-d (as the higher level of our own mind) creating the outcome; not our “will power.” This comes only through experience. Mrs. Lichtenstein wrote about it:

“…G-d cannot be perceived through the mind [intellect] alone. If you would know G-d, do not seek merely to prove His existence, but turn to Him with your heart; affirm your union with Him, affirm His responsiveness to prayer, pray to Him; if you actually turn to G-d … speak to Him in your heart, you will be astonished to find how close He is to you, you will feel His nearness, you will have found G-d.”

I can’t say that I’ve experienced Visualization as healing physical problems (although I haven’t applied it to any in an ongoing way, except once for a migraine), but it has always brought me calmness and happiness in facing my tests since I learned it (after some practice). After I do it, I always find myself thanking G-d for both the “test” and for the gift of Visualization, too.

In terms of spiritually accepting a test, I also believe that we first have to accept that “all is from G-d.” That thought in itself is a spiritual milestone to achieve. But further, if G-d is Good, (as in the Amidah, where G-d’s called “Ha-Tov”), then we must truly wrestle with how G-d is doing only Good (“Ha-Meitiv.”) To me, accepting that all is done for Good is the ultimate crux of “bitachon.” I’ve heard even Orthodox rabbis express doubts about it. I think it’s one of the things that we want to re-acquaint our Jewish brothers and sisters with.

Some teachers have written that bitachon also requires taking our mind off the problem and placing it only on G-d. I agree with that — but how do we do it?

Rebbe Nachman says that finding the “good” — in people and events — is finding the G-dliness, since G-d, the Good One, is the source of all. This means thinking only of the good and disregarding any other appearance.

“Gam zu l’tovah,” Nachum ish Gamzu used to say. By saying it, he negated any other thought. Affirming his belief, he invoked the Peaceful Presence of G-d.

Experience also taught me that a degree of “intensity” — kavannah — is needed. I didn’t find that it came from “forcing” the idea on myself. Rather, it came from repeating it. My first breakthrough was when I spent an hour or more visualizing myself receiving joy from G-d. A few minutes did nothing, but a prolonged period brought results and additional certainty of what Visualization could do. Later, the results came quicker. I once also spent several hours a day, for several days, simply repeating: “G-d is Good. All is G-d. All is G-d” after which I’d be elated. [3]

My heart goes out to you and your Belovedest at this time.


[1] see my previous post for links to his piece.
see also his post: http://rockymountainhai.com/2013/09/25/a-holy-season-of-tests-and-lessons/

[2] https://rabbielimallon.wordpress.com/2012/07/04/7-4-12-little-akeidahs/

[3] https://rabbielimallon.wordpress.com/2011/06/15/6-15-11-a-meditation-at-wave-hill/