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The View From Within

The View From Within

Why there's really nothing to complain about


I don't think I've sufficiently expressed the absurdity of our prayers. Let me illustrate with a story:

When the Baal Shem Tov was leader of the chassidim, whenever troubles befell them, he would pray and avert the harsh decrees from heaven. When the Baal Shem Tov passed on and his disciple, the great kabbalist, Rabbi Dov Ber, the Magid of Mezritch, took over the leadership, he would similarly avert these decrees. When the Magid passed on, the most difficult persecutions of their leadership and of their cause began.

The students of the Magid, all of them great, enlightened masters, beseeched him to respond to them from his place in the world beyond. They pleaded, "As long as you were here, you interceded successfully on our behalf. Certainly, from your place in the next world you have yet greater power to intercede!"

The Magid responded to his disciples, "When I was below, I saw these things as harsh and cruel. But from my station up here, I only see the good in all of this. As Rabbi Akiva taught, all that the All-Merciful does is for the good. How could I pray to avert something I see as true goodness?"

His disciples then asked, "If so, our master, what about us? Should we also desist from praying that these decrees be averted?"

"No," the Magid responded. "Since in your world these appear to be evil, you must do everything in your power to avert them and alter the heavenly decree!"1

The question screams out: If the Magid would not pray to avert true goodness, why should his students? If it is truly good, let them grin and bear it!

Let's travel a little further into this: The above story tells us that the view of the Magid from his station above is quite different from ours. Apparently there is more than one perspective on reality.

Even within our own world, we can see how space, time and attitude can effect perspective—to the point that two observers may see two diametrically opposite phenomena.

The image below is of two hybrid images. Look at it and note which face is pleasant and which is angry. Then step back about ten feet and see what happens as the images are blurred. Actually, you can simply squint to blur your vision, or sit back and take off your glasses.2

View the image from close and then at a distance of 10 feet
View the image from close and then at a distance of 10 feet

Time can have a similar effect. A late autumn tree, bare of its leaves may not look as beautiful as the same tree in the spring. But imagine a time-lapse video of the tree's cycles, as it bursts into blossom, dons it greenery, only to shed its leaves in fiery colors, baring itself to the winter snow and then returning to blossom once again. Within that kinetic context, the naked, dry wood of a frozen tree becomes a crucial element in the drama of renewal.

Oak tree — the big view

And attitude as well: What is pain for one person is pleasure for another. Fasting is forbidden on Shabbat, because Shabbat is a day of rest and delight. Yet there's an exception: if a person has had a frightening dream, he's allowed to fast, because for him, fasting is pleasurable, eating is painful. You could say the same about roller-coaster rides, and life in the big city.

Now imagine this creation we call our world from the lookout balcony at the top, the view of its Creator. The view that understands where everything is going and why things have to be the way they are. It's magnificent and beautiful — all of it. As the prophet Jeremiah says, "Evil does not descend from Above." Evil only appears as you descend below.

As you descend, you see less and less of the big picture. What from above appeared as a harmonious whole begins to look like a mess of conflicting fragments. By the time you hit the basement — where we are — it's dark and ugly. Reality is distorted, nothing makes sense, darkness seems like light and light as darkness.

Each moment of life, taken on its own, is imprisoned. It is a fragment, and as such, orphaned from its meaning, like torn pages of a book scattered by the wind…But if you could see the entire picture as a whole, from beginning to end, the beauty would return to all of it…

I remember a music professor who would start the class by playing a chord on the piano and asking us to write down the notes. The chords became more and more sophisticated as the classes progressed: minor 9ths, suspended, augmented, 13ths ... Then, one day, he played the ugliest chord imaginable—and this time, not only were we asked to write the notes, but to tell him the era and composer, as well.

All were convinced it was post-Wagnerian. Most placed it as "modern ugly — likely from the 1920s." Several suggested Arnold Schönberg.

Then he played us the entire piece. It was a fugue from J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. The voices of the fugue fought their way into a crescendo of complexity culminating in the agonizing tension of that chord ... and then smoothly resolved back into the sweetest baroque harmony.

Of course, it was all beautiful. But the most beautiful was that which we had first heard as the most ugly.3

From Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier”, Vol. I (Preludio XXI)
From Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier”, Vol. I (Preludio XXI)

So here we are, at rock bottom, suffering from all our circumstances because we can't figure out how on earth any of this could be good. We're helpless — this is an inherent deficiency in our design and vantage point. And the Mastermind of All Worlds turns to us from His penthouse panorama with banks of video monitors on every creature in the universe, and yells down into your pit, "So how's the weather down there? Any complaints?"

And this is mitzvah of tefillah! To "petition for all your needs with requests and supplications" three times a day!

It must be, then—because this is the only way out of our conundrum—that for whatever reason (or just out of pure desire), the Creator of this reality is interested in the experience from within, and not just from above. And He wants to bring the two into perfect union.

Tefillah, then, means a union of two worlds, two perspectives, two forms of consciousness: The view from Above unites with the view from within. And we are the matchmakers.

This is vital for us to know before we go any further into the spiritual ascent of prayer, mystic union and higher consciousness: The goal is not a jailbreak out of the dungeon of material existence. The goal is a marriage of two worlds—ours and His. Heaven on earth. Tefillah is where the two kiss.

We’ll journey deeper into this romance in the next installment. We’ll also see how this explains the enigmatic phrase that most prayer books direct you to say at some point or other:

In the name of the union of The Holy One, blessed be He, and His presence, to unite Yud-Hey with Vav-Hey in complete union, in the name of all Israel.

It’s not as mysterious as it sounds. Hang in there.

Rabbi S.Y. Zevin, Sipurei Chassidim
For source reference and further information on hybrid images, see There you’ll find this image in video format.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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yosi wolf brooklyn November 5, 2017

thank you for the article!
Where in Rabbi Zevin's book can I find the story cited?
Thanks Reply

Leah Lapidus Cleveland Hts, OH February 8, 2011

How do we redeem each moment? I've read and re-read this and thought and thought about it. My understanding is we are being asked to free each moment - redeem each fragment of life - restore its meaning. To create a more intimate relationship with G-d. G-d does not want to be left out so to speak. More daily G-dly consciousness. This is challenging, to say the least. It is puzzling to say the "Creator is interested in the experience from within" when we know there is nothing but Him - and He is within. So what exactly are we unifying anyway? (I know "kudsha brich Hu and Shechina") Upper and Lower. Heaven and Earth. Yud-hey and Vav-hey. I guess my question for Rabbi Freeman is: Are the disordered fragments a reality that needs to be put back in order through mitzvos OR are the disordered fragments a perception problem? or maybe it's both. Reply

Dr.Harry Hamburger Miami, Fl February 7, 2011

Jimmie Boswell What if Moses hesitated to ask G-d not to wipe the Israelites off the face of the earth after the incident with the Golden Calf?

G-d is not some distance, scary, force. He is very near to you, and can be talked to like a friend. Go outside where it is quiet, and ask Him anything you want. If you disagree with something that is happening, then discuss it with Him. It is helpful when arguing with G-d to argue for the sake of Heaven or others, as it helps you to think altruistically. Reply

Hirschel Moskoff Bet Shemesh, ISRAEL February 7, 2011

yasher koach Beautiful piece. As time moves forward, the Big Picture is becoming smaller and smaller (on purpose). Reply

happyminyan Beverly Hills, California February 6, 2011

Dr. Harry.... I think there is something to what Dr. Harry says. We don't get anything or give anything. It is about PROCESS and somehow what takes place in this dynamic situation. Something is made holy. Something is accomplished. It is good and furthers creation's purpose perhaps.

It all must lead to Moshiach. Reply

Robert Rubin Lincoln, MA February 4, 2011

Nice presentation well presented. just to nit pick a little. It assumes that when one is in the upper world, his sight or perception is of the same degree or level as the one in the lower world. Would not G-d or an angel have the ability to see down to any level? Looking forward to the next lesson. Reply

jimmie c boswell denver, colorado, usa February 4, 2011

what is the price and cost? the cost of asking G-d to alter any HEAVENLY Decree? does it eventually result in greater terror in the long run? am i just asking G-d to postpone a minor terror today, for a greater terror tomorrow?

I cannot change anything happening today, uniless i can convince G-d, to change it. what if Avraham, had convinced G-d to not destroy sodam and amorrah? whjat worse horror, would have resulted from this? what if Moshe asked G-d, not to send the plagues of egypt, and G-d granted his request. along with great prayer, comes an awful greater responsibility. Reply

Anonymous wisc February 4, 2011

Great essay Great essay and intriguing audio-visual effects to make your point. I am a bit lost ( learning deficient ) how this fits in with the absurdity of prayer, but as you instruct I am happy to " hang in there " to learn more about he romantic enigma.

I am familiar with the Yud-Hey and Vav-Hey split as in tikkin olam. I am also familiar with the Yud-Hey-Vav and final Hey ( Shechina ) split as in tikkun olam. i am guessing that these two splits are not identical in meaning, and it is probably not important to the theme. Reply

Happyminyan Beverly Hills, California February 3, 2011

Where Heaven and Earth Kiss... Tzvi Freeman does it again. Dazzling. The superficial concept of prayer dashed to pieces and from its broken shell is a radical and profound epiphany. The ramifications boggle the mind.

G-d wants our perspective and wants us to surrender ourselves in beseeching. Not sure how it all ends but it must be about connection and Moshiach somehow. Reply

Dr. Harry Hamburger Miami, Florida February 3, 2011

Desire and Pray There was never a person on this earth who desired a child more than Abraham and Sarah.

Finally, after much prayer Issac was born. Abraham and Sarah thanked G-d, but that is not what He ultimately wanted. After granting Abraham's greatest desire, He asked for it back, in the sacrifice of Issac! So what exactly is going on here with our desires and prayer? G-d gives, then asks back..yet in the process and interaction something changes, the world is made holy. We realize that Elokim is G-d, and that all is one. We never really have anything, or are anything, G-d is One, and we are one with Him. If you do not understand this teaching, think about it, or wait for future teachings from Rabbi Freeman to make things clear. Reply

Soledad Santiago, Chile February 2, 2011

The View From Within Thank you Rab, always your words come in the right moment...... yours or His? ;-) Reply

Anonymous NY February 2, 2011

Amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!! Its an amazing way to look at things!!!! but i dont get it G-d doesnt understand all our hardships and sufferings?! i know that He sees everything that revols arround to whats going on to us but should G-d still understand and help us??? Reply

teria mat`am Mt Juliet, TN February 2, 2011

It’s not as mysterious as it sounds. I agree. Your subject material here sounds like my mind on a daily basis...even into the analogies I utilize to simplify my minds' time spent.

It is nice to know I am not crazy after all. Reply

Leah Lapidus Cleveland Hts., OH February 2, 2011

Frightening Faces, Rabbi Those pictures of faces were really scary !
The worst part is when you begin walking back to your computer screen from the distance of 10 feet away and come to the point where you really don't know WHAT you are looking at anymore !!!! I used to enjoy those printed books of hidden images -same idea - but these faces were more frightening to me. Reply

Braha Jerusalem, Israel February 2, 2011

Rabbi Freeman's Awesome Hi Rabbi Freeman,

Your writing is awesome! Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! (I could go on.)

I drop in now and again. Because, yeah, awesome. So glad you do what you do.

You're among my writing heroes. Just a little note to say thanks. Thanks! Reply

Syed February 2, 2011

Blessing! G-d bless you, Sir, for showing the wisdom and light! Reply

y Pgh. February 1, 2011

Thank you so much! I love your articles, Tzvi, especially all the crazy computer-technology ones! Like in this article, with the banks of video monitors. And the main thing is that lessons are very real. Reply

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