Updated: Feb 24
In this newsletter I will be highlighting an aspect of the following story. If you’d like to read it in full detail, click The Lamplighter.
A student of the 5th Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch, asked the Rebbe, “what is a chassid?”
The rebbe replied, “A chassid is a lamplighter. The lamplighter walks the streets carrying a flame at the end of a pole. He knows that the flame is not his. And he goes from lamp to lamp to set them alight.”
Asked his student: “What if the lamp is in a desert?”
“Then one must go and light it,” said the rebbe. “And when one lights a lamp in a desert, the desolation of the desert becomes visible. The barren wilderness will then be ashamed before the burning lamp.”
Continued the chassid: “What if the lamp is at sea?”
“Then one must undress, dive into the sea, and go light the lamp.”
“And this is a chassid?” his student asked.
For a long while the Rebbe thought. Then he said: “Yes, this is a chassid.”
In early November 2021, I watched a discourse entitled V'Yiten Lecha (He will give to you) by Rabbi YY Jacobson (link to my podcast with him). In the video, Rabbi YY refers to the story above and insights from the Lubavitcher Rebbe about it.
A desert represents desolation, where G-dliness is not readily perceived, as was the case in Mitzrayim (Egypt). Egypt is derived from the Hebrew word meitzar, meaning limitations. When a fellow person is in a desert, we can light his lamp allowing him to overcome the boundaries.
A sea on the other hand represents the flooding of doubts, worries, fears, and so on. The student was asking, how can one light another person when he or she is drowning in worries?
The answer is hinted at in the 5th Rebbe’s response that, “one must undress.” Garments represent the person’s thoughts, speech, and actions. The Rebbe is teaching that in order to help out this person in the sea, we must first - *cue the song!*- “take off all our clothes” in order to connect with the other person. If the other person is drowning, neither words nor actions will necessarily help. We must go beyond the structure and be in the space before the thoughts became worries, so they can overcome a limited aspect of themselves. This can be done first by helping the other person relax and get into a calmer state.
The same applies with you and me as individuals, with healing internally when it feels as though our light is not lit; when it feels like we’re drowning in worries.
Scientifically, we know that whenever you analyze your life within some disturbing emotion, you’re making your brain worse. Also, no new information not equal to the emotional state we’re in will be accepted. For example, even if you have the solution to a friend’s problem, but they’re frustrated and angry, they physiologically won’t accept the answer.
This is where meditation - also in a float tank session - can be a powerful, liberating tool. By closing our eyes and disconnecting from external stimuli, having a focal point, and allowing the thoughts to come and pass away, one can trace the doubts and worries to the core, the the space beyond and before they had structure. In this space, one can create a new, empowering belief beyond the worries and limitations.
This too is how we can light our own lamp.