All of the world is a narrow bridge. The most important thing is not to be afraid. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov
Life is full of disappointments. The Talmud warns us that if we don't experience tribulations every forty days, we need to worry if Hashem has given up on us. The Ramchal was right -- this world is darkness. Eating food, making money, physical pleasure -- all they lead to is a desire for more. They don't fill the expanse they just widen it. The moment we decide to fix ourselves, the best way to do it is to suffer. Through anguish we clean up our past sins in this world so we don't have to in the Next.
What is the ultimate form of repentance? Death.
What's going on? If we are to live difficult lives what's the point? How can we be commanded to be happy amidst such uncertainty and turmoil?
What is a bridge anyway?
It is a structure which connects two stable land masses yet stands above no foundation itself.
Is Rabbi Nachman’s narrow bridge an allegory for all of existence?
Is he telling us that the two land masses compromise the World we came from and the World we are going to, whereas the bridge represents this life?
The Next World is the World of Truth. It is a place with no perceived injustice, no duplicity, and no uncertainty. Where we are is exactly where we belong. At the end of our lives we will go to the Next Wrold, the place we were before our lives began. There is a solid foundation of Truth that underpins each side of life.
It’s the bridge which connects the moment before we were born to the moment after our passing that’s a little scary. This is where we are “on our own” so to speak.
The Truth that forms the land masses has been stripped beneath our feet. All that remains is an abyss that can seem endless. Crossing that bridge can be a horrible experience.
That’s why we are commanded not to be afraid.
What turns this horror into a fantasy? What transforms our frustration into celebration? What forces the darkness of this existence to reveal its hidden light?
This is why we don’t tiptoe across the narrow bridge, we dance! This is why we never look down! From the moment the solid ground gives way to the dip, we are only supposed to be looking towards at the next land mass. The Ramchal tells us that the primary purpose of this world is to prepare for our place in the Next One.
Emuna takes all the reasons we have to be angry at the world and gives it a constructive purpose. It develops our own instincts to transform feelings of total helplessness in the face of seemingly random acts to constant messages that there is a Maker and a purpose to all of it. He supervises every moment of time and is priming us for a greater redemption. Emuna is the ongoing inspiration that as the Ethics of the Fathers teaches, we are not to be like laborers who work without the expectation of being paid (Avot 1:3). We are to be honest, forgiving of others, and kind even in the face of rudeness. We are to be upright people even with the endless risk that people won’t reciprocate in kind. We don’t present ourselves this way simplybecause we think it’s the right thing to do, but because G-d is with us every step of the way and He approves. We are to be like laborers who work with the full confidence that we will receive all that is due us for our efforts. The world is a just place. Everything that happens is not only for the good -- it is good.
As long as we continue to develop these instincts, things are guaranteed to get worse. We will be tested. The bridge will shake, creak, and become even narrower.
It is up to us to avoid flinching. We have to resist the urge to look downward and worry about the physical world. Many of our worst steps backward in life are under the weight of stress or pressure. It isn’t real. It’s just a test of our faith. It is a gift from G-d. It’s the gift of reinforced emuna. We need to remember what our Holy Rebbe instructs us: Don’t be afraid. Don’t tremble across that bridge, dance! Dance and we will see miracles.
Life is far less uncertain than we think. There is no question whether or not we will feel disappointment, we will. There is no question whether or not we will fell loss, we will. There is no question whether or not we will feel heartbreak, betrayal, sadness, anger – it’s all part of the journey. It’s a section of life’s exam.
The question is how will we handle it? If we remain steadfast in our emuna and trust in Hashem’s world, we will stay happy even during troublesome times. We can feel disappointed, but we won’t be disappointed. The great light within our souls will shine even brighter to illuminate everything.
Just like the bridge which is connected to both masses at all times, we are connected to Hashem and He is everywhere. If He is the land mass at one end, and He is the land mass at the other, and He is the abyss, and the bridge, and the wind which constantly rocks it – what are we worried about?
During those desperate moments when we feel we are about to fall into the void, we simply need to slow down and listen. The voice we hear is His, reminding us that He created all of this so we could take another step.
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Dovber Halevi is the author of Sex, Religion, and the Middle East, a book about personal holiness and happiness. He lives in Israel with his wife and three children.