Obstacles: Rabbi Nachman

1) All the barriers and obstacles which confront a person have only one purpose: to heighten his yearning for the holy deed which he needs to accomplish. It is part of man’s nature that the greater the barriers standing in the way of a certain goal, the more he desires to achieve it. When a Jew needs to do something whose purpose is to strengthen his very core, especially when it is something upon which his whole being as a Jew depends — to travel to the true Tzaddik — he is given desire from above. The desire is created through the barrier which is sent to him, and the barrier itself causes his yearning to grow. You should understand, therefore, that there is no barrier in the world that you cannot break if you want to. The entire purpose of the barrier is only to increase your desire. When you achieve the necessary desire and yearning for the holy act you need to accomplish, you will surely succeed in transforming the idea which is in your mind into an actual reality. The barrier itself can bring you to succeed by strengthening your desire to do so (66:4).

2) The greater the goal for which you yearn, the bigger the obstacles and barriers which are sent in order to strengthen your desire. For desire is in proportion to the magnitude of the barriers. From this you can understand that if tremendous barriers spring up on every side as you start to draw near to the Tzaddik, it is an indication of the importance of the goal you wish to achieve. There are always difficulties and obstacles when you try to do anything holy. This is especially true when you want to make the journey to the true Tzaddikim because this is the foundation for everything else. Obstacles appear like at no other time. There are many Tzaddikim. But there is a single point of truth to be found in their midst. When you seek to draw closer to this point of truth — and everything depends on this — you will find obstacles and barriers springing up and confronting you on every side. You need fierce determination: you must strengthen your desire and will-power in proportion to the greatness of the goal you are aiming for. Then you will succeed in breaking the barriers and attaining your goal. There is no barrier in the world which a person cannot break, so long as he has the desire and will-power to do so (Ibid.).

3) Nor should a person try to find excuses and exempt himself. It may well be true that the desire and yearning to achieve something holy are good in themselves, and that even if the barriers prevent him from accomplishing the holy deed in actual fact, it will still be accounted to him as if he had achieved it because his intention was good. The Sages did indeed say that `If a person intended to do a mitzvah but was prevented from doing it, it is accounted to him as if he had done it’ (Berachot 6). This applies to someone who wants to feel that he has at least fulfilled the minimum that was required of him. After all, what could he do? He wanted to succeed, but circumstances prevented him! But it is different for someone who does not merely want to feel he has done his duty but actually wants the mitzva or the holy deed itself. What good is it for him to know that as a special concession it will be accounted to him `as if’ he had achieved it because he had the desire to succeed? This `as if’ will not give him any satisfaction at all. He yearns for the mitzvah itself, he will not be satisfied with a mere `as if.’ For a Jew, the true goal is to accomplish what he wants and desires in actual fact — to transform the thought in the mind into a practical reality. When a person has true desire he can certainly achieve this and break every barrier or obstacle which stands in his way. The only reason they were sent to him was to heighten his yearning. When the desire matches the preciousness of the goal, he can achieve every holy deed that he yearns for (Ibid.).

4) There are people who after a whole life time of materialism suddenly feel a strong desire to walk in the paths of God. The attribute of Judgement then rises up to accuse them. It tries to prevent them following the way of God by creating barriers. The unintelligent person, when he sees these barriers, starts to retreat. But someone with understanding takes this as the very signal that he should draw closer. He understands that God is to be found in the barrier itself — and the truth is that God Himself is indeed hidden in this barrier (115).

5) It may take a lot of effort for a person to break the barriers confronting him when he starts to draw closer to God. Many people experience opposition from their parents or parents-in-law, their wives and so on. But all their effort produces a vessel. Within this vessel he can receive the holiness and purity he will attain thereafter. The greater the struggle one has at the outset, the greater the vessel one forms. In the end he will be worthy of true fear of God, and he will receive abundant blessings and goodness. He will be worthy of giving perfection to the Holy Name of God, because the essence of its perfection is founded on religious awe (185).

6) The way to begin serving God is to imagine there is no one in the entire world except for you. Pay no attention to anyone who puts obstacles in your way, whether it is your father or mother, your parents-in-law, your wife, your children or anyone else. There are certain people who can make things difficult for you through ridiculing you or offering temptations and so on. Pay not the slightest attention to any of them. It is written that `Abraham was one’ (Ezekiel 33:24). Abraham was alone! You must also be alone — as if you were the only one in the world (Likutey Moharan II, Foreword).

7) People often imagine that the barriers they experience in their efforts to serve God are so great that they will never be able to break them. But this is not true. No one is ever confronted with barriers he cannot break if he really wants to. God only sends a person obstacles that are within his capacity to overcome if he is really determined enough. If he thinks about it carefully, he will realize that the obstacle is really a veil for God Himself. In reality there are no obstacles at all. They are simply an illusion (46).

8) The greatest barriers of all are those in the mind. The heart is slippery. People do not concentrate their entire heart and mind on the true importance of what they need to achieve. For example when someone wants to travel to the Tzaddik and starts experiencing difficulties, if he really concentrated his whole heart and mind on the fact that his entire life and being and that of all his descendants depend on his reaching his goal, nothing in the world could stop him. None of the barriers would be of any significance at all in his eyes. The main barrier is that people are not firm in their own minds. A person may have reached the Tzaddik in spite of all the obstacles. But if some little doubt then arises in his mind and his heart begins to falter as a result, this is the biggest obstacle of all. The same is true of prayer. There are many barriers to prayer. A person may succeed in overcoming all of them and praying as he should. But once doubts about God or about the Tzaddikim arise in the crookedness of his heart, this is the worst obstacle of all. The way to fight it is to cry out to God with a voice which rises from the very depths of the heart (Ibid.).

9) The main thing is that your heart should be strong and firm. Then nothing at all will stop you, certainly not material difficulties — financial difficulties or opposition from your wife and children, your parents or parents-in-law, or the ridicule of other people and their attempts to persuade you otherwise. None of these things will have any power at all if your heart is firm and strong in God (Ibid.).

10) When a person’s heart is firm there is nowhere in the world that he cannot serve God. There is never an excuse to say that in a certain place it is impossible to serve God. When a person’s heart is strong, all the places in the world belong to him (Ibid. 51).

Online English translation of Likutey Etzot
A compendium of Rabbi Nachman’s practical teachings on spiritual growth and devotion.
© AZAMRA INSTITUTE 5766 / 2006

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