My little Nachman is just starting to talk. What is so wonderful about these first words is their utter simplicity. A toddler really captures the essence of each word, as they hear it. Shoe becomes choo, book is boo, and cheerios are rows. A siddur is dur, and Amen, a hearty “Meh!”. If only I could get my kids through the dinner-to-bed-via-the bathroom rush with a few short syllables…
When I hear my son capturing the simple essence of each word, and still being able to communicate his needs, I realize that he has also captured the essence of Rabbi Nachman’s advice to those who wish to live a life of Torah: Keep It Simple. As my son is showing me so clearly, even the most simple of interpretations can fully communicate our desires. And this has really resonated with me during this year’s Pesach cleaning countdown.
It seems to me that the Torah lessons and weekly Torah portions that I receive via friends and various other blogs and mailing lists are becoming more and more sophisticated. So many different levels of meaning, interpretations, commentaries and sources are being quoted. I have to admit, I am torn. On the one hand, there is the sublime depth and sheer Divine magnitude of Torah, which somehow needs to be conveyed and treasured. On the other hand, it is The Living Torah, meant to be lived, experienced and maintained by ordinary people, on a daily basis. Indeed, I regularly ping-pong between the two.
But this Pesach, I’m clinging to simplicity. And I’m changing over for good.
I was cleaning out some kitchen cupboards, thinking about how I was just not “connecting” to the task. I wasn’t really grasping the “chametz” as I should be. I wasn’t getting in touch with my “spiritual cleanout”. Was it my inflated pride? Or other insidious traits? Perhaps it was my stubborn materialism, or ….. Wait!
This was not going well at all. I was starting to feel pretty bad about myself! On top of which, I was not getting any cleaning done!
These are the moments I thank Hashem for Rabbi Nachman’s advice to cling to as I slowly begin to descend that slippery slope called “anxiety”.
I took a deep breath and reminded myself to Keep It Simple. I’m cleaning the cupboards because Hashem wants me to. I’m making Hashem happy. That’s right. The Creator of the Universe is proud of me right now, because I’m willing to invest a little elbow grease and a lot of Sano wipes, just for Him.
And you know what? I actually felt cleansed, myself. As if I had just dusted a year’s worth of internal spiritual cobwebs.
I realized, relieved, that even if we don’t really fully understand what we are doing, or are even unconscious of the meaning as we do it, that we will still benefit from the action spiritually if we are doing it purely and simply because the Creator wants us to, and because we want to please Him.
I realized that, surely, since not everyone is an “intellectual”, then to be fair, even those who don’t or can’t understand the commandments won’t fall short of their Divine benefit if performed with simple desire. That, like my little Nachman, even when we are communicating our desire to do Hashem’s will through the simplest essence of each commandment: Hashem will understand us.
As King Solomon said, there is a time for everything. There is a time for plunging the depths, and for soaring the heights. And then, as Rabbi Nachman instructs, there is a time for maintaining an even keel, smooth sailing, and sheer simplicity. He explicitly warns against overzealousness in the mitzvah department, and spoke, even joked, about this subject regarding Pesach stringencies in particular.
Sometimes, with all the wonderful wisdom out there to absorb and ingest, I get a little overwhelmed around festival time. I observe that while all that intellectual stimulation may give my brain a workout: my heart, left out in the cold and on the sidelines, atrophies.
Somehow, Keeping It Simple awakens my heart and stokes the embers of my soul. It’s not just a nifty slogan. It is the essence of following the Torah. It is this generation’s jargon for “Na’aseh, Venishma”- We Shall Do, and We Shall Hear. Rabbi Nachman takes us all the way back to Mount Sinai to the original Keep It Simple statement, made by the Jewish People as they prepared to receive the Torah from G-d.
So, while I’m de-crumbing the freezer and de-crusting the sofa: I’ll simply – yet somehow, sublimely – be doing Hashem’s will.
What could simply be better?