“it is forbidden to be old”
Reb Nachman did not mean in so teaching that one had to die young like marilyn monroe or james dean, let alone like hendrix and joplin, or cobain, tupac, and amy winehouse. you should live to be 120, means you really should live for 120 years! so how do you do that if it is forbidden to be old? not to grow old, mind you, but to be old.
“on the 5th of the month, as i was amidst the exile,
by the river kvar”
relates Ezekiel at the very beginning (1:1) of his prophetic teaching, and then the heavens opened and he saw visions of G’d. he saw the famous ‘chashmal’ (something glowing and electric) and the 4 manlike creatures, each with 4 faces and 4 wings, with a single straight leg and bulbous foot, sparkling like burnished copper. now that is quite an awakening to something indeed. but what was he awakened from? from being smack dab in the middle of exile, and standing by a flowing river called kvar, meaning “already”. Ezekiel was awakened out of the past, out of the attitude of been there done that, out of the jaded, ‘already’ way of habit. exile represents the ossified way, and breeds the cynicism of everything and everytime having existed and been known, done, thought, and felt, ‘already’. it is forbidden, taught Reb Nachman, to be ‘already’, for THAT is to be exiled from haShem. and to return, to do t’shuvah requires that you be in the moment, the now, and not the what has been.
let’s give one to the greeks, shall we? heraclitus famously taught his student that “you can’t step twice into the same river”, to which patteios, his student, replied by teaching his teacher, ” you can’t step into the same river once”. ah, youth. of course, the river can’t be the same if not yet even stepped in, hence you never get the quality of same….not even once. looked at from this perspective, nothing is ever ‘already’ or old….all is entirely fresh in every moment.
there is a you tube video of watching which i NEVER tire. it is of a baby who laughs deeply and again and again and again at the simple ripping of paper held out by (presumably) the father. each of them has absolute delight with each ripping. each is as wonderful as the last. each holds the same wonder….again and again and again. this is the principle of ‘koach ha-hitchadshut’ or the “power of ongoing renewal”. we pray every morning to
haMechadesh b’tuvo b’khol-yom tamid ma’aseh bereishit
(the Renewer of Creation’s Doings each day)
the ba’al t’shuvah, the master of returning to G’d, must learn to live in continuous renewal. in this sense we can understand the Sages when they teach us (Avot 4:17)
1 hour of t’shuvah and good deeds in this world is better than eternity in the world to come
the way of t’shuvah is to recognise that tashlich crumbs are carried off in the river of already, but where you will take your next step will never be the same…..not even once!
and the practice? old as the hills…simply mind your breath. exhale the spent what was, and inhale the new what is. it is never the same breath, but rather renewal of life with fresh G’d’given air. to say, “oh, it’s just breathing” is to be in exile from the power of renewal (koach ha-hitchadshut); it is to be standing by the river kvar (already). it is to be old! and THAT is forbidden. mind your breath when you wake, or when you walk to work from the train or the parking lot, or after you’ve just kissed your beloved. feel that return to holy renewal and be in the moment.