I’m choosing to write about this for Parashat Shekalim because part of the story takes on a Shabbat Parashat Shekalim long ago, and because I had the privilege to be in Uman this week, to say the Tikkun HaKlali (General Rectification/Remedy) at Rebbe Nachman’s gravesite.
For those of us who don’t know, the Tikkun HaKlali is a set of ten Psalms* that Rebbe Nachman prescribed to be said in the event of a “nocturnal emission” (onanism). I almost wrote “unlikely event,” but that would be incorrect. The Rebbe commented that “three parts” (i.e., 3/4) of mankind is ensnared by this sin. In a number of places, the Rebbe referred to the holy Zohar’s comment that controlling this drive was the most difficult challenge a person faces.
We won’t go into the specifics, but many classic Jewish works decry this sin, detailing the damage it causes and warning about the spiritual, and even material, catastrophes that onanism brings in its wake. The holy Zohar not only calls it the worst possible sin a man can do (for some momentary pleasure, he’s willing to kill even his own children!), but it also states that teshuvah (return to God) for this sin is impossible (Zohar I, 188a, 219b). Again, many of our classic works say that teshuvah is possible even for this sin. Rebbe Nachman concurs and even goes as far as to say that he is the only one who truly understands this statement of the Zohar (Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom #71).
In addition, Onan’s older brother Er was guilty of the same sin. The Torah says Er was ra (bad, evil) in God’s eyes (Genesis 38:7). The Zohar (I, 57a) and Rebbe Nachman (Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom #249) both asked why he is termed ra, rather than rasha (villain). The Rebbe says that one reason is that a person who commits the sin of Er, God forbid, is generally bad-tempered, unpleasant, disagreeable and irritable. This can be better understood when we take a closer look at the meaning of the word ra, usually translated as “bad” or “evil.” The same root also means “shatter” (Psalms 2:9). The nature of ra is to fragmentize, to detach in a negative, counterproductive way. Ra is disagreeable.
One might expect that such a harmful, horrible misdeed would call for a difficult, severe, and perhaps somber process of teshuvah. One should be, and people often are, surprised that Rebbe Nachman says that in fact, the teshuvah for this is rather easy and enjoyable. Just say some Tehilim (Psalms) and be in a good mood. “Sing along with Dovid HaMelekh,” as it were. Think positive and sing? How can that possibly undo the enormity of what’s been done?
Fantasizing about committing immoral acts—bad thinking—creates more bad thoughts and bad thinking. As the Ramchal writes in Mesilat Yesharim (Path of the Just), when one does not see clearly, he misidentifies what he sees. As a result, he makes poor judgments and even worse decisions. Fantasy also displaces reality. By thinking about things that aren’t, things that may never be and perhaps should never be, one displaces his thoughts about reality, piling them up in disarray. The technological temptations we face today are not just the cause of the problem—they are a result of the chaos of the mind. (See Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom #25 concerning the order of thoughts.) Finally, fantasizing indicates that deep down, a person is dissatisfied and unhappy with his reality.
So being in a positive frame of mind is critical. The stronger and more enduring it is, the more it prevents fantasy from taking hold, or even starting. Instead of a shattered, disjointed thought process, one can have a clear, flowing and seamless stream of thought. This is also part of the musical tikkun. Music is about harmony, about determining what really fits with what and organizing the notes into an integrated whole. By connecting to song—singing or playing music—one becomes infused with the essentials of song. The happiness and the healing lead back to holiness. Amen.
* The Psalms are: 16, 32, 41, 42, 59, 77, 90, 105, 137, 150. They are to be said specifically in this order.
a gutn Shabbos!
—Based on Sichot HaRan (Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom) #141