On four occasions we have to bentsh gomel [say a special blessing thanking G-d for helping us]. One occasion is when someone had been lost in the desert, another one is when someone had been in prison, the third is when someone had been sick, and the fourth is when someone crossed the ocean by ship, or, now most people say, if one flew over the ocean.
What is the whole question of being in exile or being free? Being in exile means I am not in the place where I am supposed to be. Free means I am in the place where I am supposed to be. The two don’t have to be different addresses. If I am sick, I am really not in the place I am supposed to be, because I am supposed to be well. If I am crazy, G-d forbid, I am also not in the place I am supposed to be. If I am lost in the desert, or in prison, or in the waves of the ocean, I am not where I am supposed to be.
The Gemara says that evil is a strange ingredient. If you put some in the cake or the soup, like salt or pepper, it really tastes good. If you overdo it, however, you feel there is something in the soup that doesn’t belong there. So a certain amount of evil is important. Evil has something good about it, a certain fire, a certain battle. If I would do everything without free choice, if I would just want to do it, it would be nothing. If I had free choice and I did it, then it does something to me. Rebbe Nachman says, the whole idea of evil was created only in order to give me free choice. Evil was never in the world for me to do evil, it was only put there so that when I do right – it can be done on a different, higher level. If we do wrong, that is completely out of place.
Every Jew, every person, is in exile in his own way; we are not in the place that we should be, and all of Israel is also not in the place where they should be. This is only until Shabbos comes. When Shabbos comes, then, suddenly, something happens and we become free. That means we get rid of that part of us which is the wrong ingredient, we are back in our place, everything is right again.
The first reason for bentshing gomel is due to having been lost in the desert. What is in the desert? In the desert, nothing grows, nothing happens. The strongest exile might be to be a desert person, to do nothing, like a desert where nothing grows, where nothing is built. What is this exile of desert? It is laziness. Actually, this is the utmost of evil. Laziness comes from gravity. Gravity pulls us down, makes everything heavy so that we don’t have the strength to do it. Rebbe Nachman says that yesod heafar, the element of earth, is such that holy earth makes everything grow, and unholy earth makes everything heavy, just by the gravity of it, nothing else.
There is no way out of laziness. You just have to stop being lazy. There are no two ways about it. Do you know what lazy means? Food is in front of you and you are too lazy to lift up your hand. There is food all over, holy food. You are dying from hunger, and food is right there in front of you.
How can you get rid of laziness? you can’t take it out of yourself alone. There are certain things that you can get rid of on your own, certain sicknesses for which you can take medicine, and there are certain other sicknesses for which you just have to see a doctor. There is a sickness called laziness and you can’t get rid of it on your own. There has to be a great light from Heaven to cure you. This is Shabbos. Suddenly, when Shabbos comes, we get rid of all this heaviness, all this gravity. We stop being a desert, and we are ready to build again.
The second person who has to bentsh gomel is a person who has been in prison. What is a prison? I am in one room and I can’t get out. What is so bad about being in prison? I have a bed, and they feed me, so what is so bad? I can’t move. This is not being lazy, it is something else.
Imagine meeting someone who says something to me that really hurts you. The person didn’t mean it, and it is just a stupid thing. It is possible that you could be very stupid and be bothered by it. You could walk around for weeks and be in prison all the time, thinking, “Why did they say that?” First of all, ask why they said it, maybe they didn’t mean it.
Everyone has his own little prison. He is hung up on one little thing, and he can’t get out of it.
This is not laziness. This is complete darkness. Laziness is not darkness, it is just laziness, and nothing happens. But this is darkness, because whatever good happens to me, whatever great things I can do in the world, whatever good and holy things people tell me, are spoiled if I am still thinking, “Why did that person say that?” This is possible, and it puts darkness into everything. Shabbos takes you out of that darkness.
Then comes the third example, the person who was sick. There are two levels of sickness. There is one kind of sickness in which you are simply sick. Then there is a stronger kind of sickness which is that even when they give you the best food, you think it tastes bad, and when they give you the lowest, rotten, most evil smelling food, you think it is tremendous. It is possible that your sense of taste is completely gone, but that you are still alive. But then there is an even lower level, G-d forbid, where you are just about dead. Then comes Shabbos. Every Shabbos, G-d gives us one holy word to bring us back to life. Within those twenty-six hours of Shabbos, either you or someone else tells you one holy word, and this one holy word can really get to you, if you only have enough sense to hold on to it.
The person who bentshes gomel for crossing the ocean represents the whole world, and the way people in the world treat each other – going up and down like waves in the sea. You are living in the world, and the vibrations of all the lies in the world really gets to you, it makes you go up and down, knocks you off. The Bal Shem Tov says, the body is a ship, and the soul is in the ship. The body goes up and down: one minute super holy, one minute absolutely at the lowest point – just like the waves. It is not that we are not holy – we are holy, but the whole problem is that the next minute we are low down again. We are both the holy of holiest, and we are the unholy of the unholiest. We don’t know where we belong. It is like a ship in the ocean that can’t find anchorage.
Then comes Shabbos, and on Shabbos we are in a place where the whole world can’t reach us. We can really find our place, back on the shore.