i am dust and ashes

The same Torah that the zohar brings down, comes down in the Noam Elimelech, to teach a slightly different idea.

Tzaddikim must always look at their deeds and find them wanting. They must always suspect their merit, perhaps they made an unwitting mistake and their merit is in arrears. This is how the Noam Elimelech explains the passuk relating that Avraham took HaShem's promise that his children would go into slavery and be redeemed as a tzeddaka, a hesed. Why did Avraham receive the information like this? Because (being a proper Tzaddik) he found nothing in his own merit to warrant all of the good that would befall his children, so Avraham assumed that what God had promised he was promising out of tzeddaka, merciful charity/kindness.

We have to be careful in our taking this Torah to heart. It is always important to recognize God's heavy hand in all our achievements--to recognize that left to our own devices we wouldn't be anywhere right now. But, it is important for that to be a point of joy at our personal redemption. If instead it becomes a depressing reality, we would be tripping ourselves up. (almost) Nothing warrants being truly sad. Prayer, especially, must always come from a place of joy. (according to the Arizal among others) The Tanya brings the exception of one who prays with a broken heart, who intentionally breaks his heart, but he explains that this is a practice that has a specific time and place but should never interfere with one's joyous composure. [Furthermore he explains that sadness and happiness can coexist in the heart, so that even if one is sad, he still has an obligation to be happy!] Rebbe Nachman also explains that being happy is one of the most basic, most necesary and most fundamental pursuits of a Jew. Never give up!

So, just to sum up--turning a withering eye upon our own deeds will keep our egos under control, but if you see your happiness flagging, find all the small deeds you've done that have any good at all in them and find happiness in that. Rebbe Natan quotes Rebbe Nachman I think, as saying that when all else fails we can reach exceeding happiness by simply remembering that you are a Jew and not a gentile. (The Notzer Hesed also brings this last down, I believe.)


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