"Moshiach is ready to come now-our part is to increase in acts of goodness and kindness" -The Rebbe

Monday, August 10, 2015

Television: The Ruination of a Generation

Television: The Ruination of a Generation

Below is the Rebbe’s famous letter about television, translated in full. Every individual can draw their own conclusions about this letter’s relevance to more modern technologies.
Television  is an unparalleled breach of standards. Even the non-Jews have now come out with a campaign against television, which is devastating for children. They are considering how to restore the situation as much as possible.

How shameful it is that in this case, Jews must learn from non-Jews. Moreover, we can see [how much of an effect it has had on the Jewish community] from the case of the four Jewish boys [who were recently involved in a murder], and other similar cases of killing and murder. Everyone admits that one of the causes of this is television and movies, where killings and shooting are viewed.

Moreover, even if one thinks that he will only view the “pious” programs on television that one is allowed to view, how can the parents guarantee that the children will not view other, forbidden programs as well? The children will argue that if the parents view television, they may also view whatever they want – and especially here in America, where children aren’t so obedient to their parents.

And who can guarantee that the parents themselves will not fall into sin? Today they will view a permitted program, tomorrow they’ll sneak a peek at another program, and little by little, everything will become permissible to them.

An obvious argument: How could the world have existed ten years ago, before television was introduced? Didn’t the world function just the same in all areas?

[Owning a television] will also result in another detrimental effect on others: When one knows that so-and-so, who has a full beard, has a television, and one doesn’t know whether that Jew only views permissible programs, he will view all the programs, even those that are forbidden to view, relying on that person’s conduct as permission.

One may ask, so why does so-and-so have a television? Are there not pious and even Chassidic Jews who have one? One should disregard them.

This is comparable to the 248 physical limbs. Not all the person’s limbs are healthy. One person’s eyesight is weak, while another is weak in anothare limb, and so on. Would it be reasonable for one to say that since another is sick in his eyes, he also wants to be sick in his eyes? So, too, with regard to spiritual matters: No one is perfect, and everyone does as much as he can in observance of Torah and Mitzvos. Why should one learn a fault from someone else?

Of all those who have a television, none will say that he bought it to increase his fear of Heaven or fine character traits. Everyone has an excuse for it – it’s a piece of furniture for his house, or for his wife. Or he says that he received it as a gift – should he throw it out?!

Once people were careful not to pass by a church; one would go around. A mother would not allow her child to go near a church or see a crucifix. Yet nowadays, through television they bring the church, the priest, and the crucifix into the house, Rachmana litzlan (may Hashem save us).

A young rabbi – in fact fine and G–d-fearing, from a pious yeshiva – related that he listens and watches television every day from twelve o’clock to one o’clock. At that time a priest speaks, and from the priest’s sermon, he gathers material to speak about from the pulpit in his synagogue! He said this sincerely, and he thinks he’s doing it for the sake of Heaven, so he will have what to sermonize about in his synagogue. He is oblivious to the tremendous sin that this involves.

Once, people would give up their lives not to hear a priest speak, but now, through television, they bring the priest into their home, and they even vest this in holiness, as being for the sake of Heaven.

This was the way of the early followers of the Enlightenment movement, whose motto was: “Be a Jew at home, but a mensch outside” – and some of them were even qualified rabbis.

Really, what was wrong with this approach? The Code of Jewish Law does not forbid this. Indeed, one shouldn’t go in the streets screaming, “I am pious!” So what was forbidden about their motto?

But did we not see from experience what happened to them? And among their children and grandchildren, no trace of Judaism remains.

We once related the story of a shochet (ritual slaughterer) in the village of Lubavitch who wore boots and was then fired from his position.

What was the prohibition? My father-in-law himself wore boots. Rather, in the time of this shochet, boots were a new thing, and only the Jews who dressed and acted like the pritzim [sing. poritz – the wealthy non-Jewish landowners], took part in their wild parties, and the like, would dress that way. If someone dressed like this, people knew that he had strayed from the proper path. In the end, it became known that this shochet and his family had indeed strayed from the proper path.

In Lubavitch a Jew once came to his father and asked him: “Is it an accomplishment to sit in Lubavitch, closed in one’s room, and be a fine Jew? If one walks on the street in Petersburg, and doesn’t sin there – that’s an accomplishment.” He continued: “Even that is no accomplishment. Being in Petersburg, going inside the theater, sitting with one’s eyes shut, and not sinning – that’s an accomplishment.” Then the Jew went further: “Even that is not enough. Sitting inside a theater in Petersburg with one’s eyes open, and not sinning – that’s an accomplishment.” He continued further: “Even that is not enough. Entering the theatre, sitting near the stage where the performers perform, and then not sinning – that is a great accomplishment.” In this way he detailed an entire list of activities, and one can readily imagine how such a calculation can lead the person to fall to the lowest depths.

You should see to correct this in your own city, and you can even start doing so in New York, because here the need to correct this is very great.

Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 18, pp. 459-461.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Different Origins of Bodies and Souls

The Different Origins of Bodies and Souls

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

The body and the soul—not only those of medaber, but of domem, tzomei’ach, and chai as well—stem from completely different levels in the supernal realms.

Chomer vs. tzurah

Some necessary background: Everything that exists possesses both chomer and tzurah. chomer, “matter,” is the raw substance of the entity, while tzurah, “form,” refers to the specific shape and properties that the chomer assumes.

In terms of the relationship between body and soul, chomer corresponds to the body, while tzurah corresponds to the soul.

Memalei vs. Sovev

Memalei Kol Almin:  This is the G–dliness that sustains Seder Hishtalshelus. The energy of Memalei descends in a gradual, systematic manner known as “ilah ve’alul”—“cause and effect.” The cause begets the effect, which in turn acts as the cause to a level further down, and so on.

The tzurah, the individual properties of each and every level within Seder Hishtalshelus, stems from the life-force of Memalei.

Sovev Kol Almin:  Also referred to as Ohr Ein Sof, Hashem’s infinite light. This kind of G–dliness completely transcends the vast, complex series of limited levels in Seder Hishtalshelus.

Sovev is endowed with the power to create “yesh mei’ayin”—ex nihilo. In Chassidus, creation ex nihilo does not mean that the created being came literally from nowhere, for Hashem is the source of everything. Rather, it stands in contradistinction to ilah ve’alul, where it is obvious how the effect evolves from the cause. In the case of yesh mei’ayin, however, one sees no comparison whatsoever between the level below and the level above it, and thus no way in which the lower level could have emerged from the higher one.

The reason that Sovev is the only force with the power to create something from nothing is that Hashem’s very Essence is vested in it. As the Alter Rebbe famously states, only Hashem’s very Essence, which has no previous cause, can create physicality, an entity that feels as if it has no previous cause.

The chomer, the raw matter of all the levels within Seder Hishtalshelus, was created yesh mei’ayin from Sovev.

Memalei: The source of souls

All souls stems from Memalei, and more specifically, from the four “faces” of the Divine Chariot,[1] located in the world of Beriyah. Each “face” is the origin of a different kind of soul in our world: [2]

  • “The face of the ox, to the left”[3]: The origin of the souls of all domesticated animals. Like oxen, domesticated animals possess the quality of raw strength, and so “Much grain [can be produced] with the power of an ox.”[4] However, domesticated animals may lack the quality of agility and keenness that wild animals possess. This is also the source of the Jew’s Nefesh HaBehamis.
  • “The face of the lion, to the right”[5]: The origin of the souls of all wild animals. Like lions, wild animals in general have the quality of zerizus—they are much more energetic. This is the reason that wild animals are called chayos, which is related to the word chayus, vitality and energy.[6] However, wild animals may lack the quality of raw strength that domesticated animals possess.
  • “The face of the eagle”: The origin of the souls of all fowl.
  • “The face of the man”: The origin of the souls of all humans, i.e., the Nefesh HaSichlis, the intellectual soul that both Jews and non-Jews possess.

Above them is the “man” who is “sitting” astride the “chariot”: “On the likeness of the throne was the form of the likeness of a man.”[7] This level is the origin of the Nefesh HoElokis. Thus it is written, “You are man,”[8] which is interpreted to mean “You [the Jewish people] are called man”[9]—“because you resemble the Supernal Man”[10]—the “Supernal Man” that sits astride the Divine Chariot.

The Jew’s 248 limbs correspond to the 248 “limbs” of the Supernal Man from whence his soul is derived. He connects his limbs to the G–dliness within the 248 “limbs” of the Supernal Man by observing the 248 Positive Mitzvos of the Torah, which are also compared to a man—“This is the Torah of man.”[11]

Sovev: The source of bodies

The above describes the origin of the souls within our world. However, bodies cannot stem from the higher spiritual realms in Seder Hishtalshelus.

To explain this, we must define the difference between the physical and the spiritual: In the higher spiritual realms, one naturally senses the presence of a Higher Force to which one must submit to some degree. In the physical world, however, one does not sense this reality naturally and automatically; only through inquiry and contemplation can one reach that awareness (as in the famous story of Avraham, who deduced logically at age three that a single Creator must exist).

This fundamental difference between the physical and the spiritual makes the gap between them so vast that no matter how far down spiritual levels evolve and descend in a manner of ilah ve’alul, they can never develop into a physical entity, even an exceedingly refined one. A spiritual entity can only ever beget another spiritual entity.

This gap between the physical world and the higher spiritual realms means that the former can only come forth from the latter by a process of yesh mei’ayin. As we explained, it is the G–dliness of Sovev that brings something forth yesh mei’ayin.

So since souls are spiritual entities, the souls in this world can descend in a systematic, gradual manner from higher spiritual levels. The bodies, however, since they are physical, cannot, and they must be formed yesh mei’ayin from the spiritual.

Since the neshamah stems from the divine energy of Memalei, while the body stems from that of Sovev, and Sovev is higher than Memalei, it emerges that although in our world, the soul is higher than the body, in the higher realms, it is the reverse.

The power of food

Since body and soul are so different, they need an external force to bring them to unite, to join the physical and the spiritual. This is known as “the power that performs wonders,”[12] and this is the power vested in food.

The main purpose of food in joining body and soul is not to give vitality to the soul per se, but to enable the soul to give vitality to the body. The soul has vitality independently, for before the soul becomes vested in the body, it exists in the higher spiritual realms in a constant state of love and fear of Hashem. This is alluded to in the verse, “By the life of Havayeh, the G–d of Yisrael in front of Whom I stood,”[13] and “standing indicates prayer.”[14] This alludes to the way that the neshamah prayed to Hashem Above, before it descended into a body. Likewise, when the soul departs from the body, it rises to Gan Eden and takes delight in the G–dliness that it evoked through its Torah study in this world.

Since the soul can exist without the body, while the body depends totally upon the soul, the main purpose of food in binding body and soul together is for the body’s sake.

The reason for this is that both the body and the food (i.e., the physical matter of the food) stem from Sovev.

But how then can the food help the body, if their source is identical? Because although they both stem from Sovev, there are numerous levels within Sovev, and food stems from an even more sublime level in Sovev than that from which the body stems.

This also explains the fact that food must lose its life before it may be eaten—an animal must be slaughtered and a plant must be severed from the soil. For it is the raw chomer of the food that holds the Sovev energy that combines the physical and the spiritual; in order to reveal this Sovev energy, the external Memalei energy of the animal soul in the animal, or the plant soul in the plant, must first be removed.

Toras Menachem, Vol. 33, p. 372 ff.

[1] Rav Chaim Vital, Ta’amei HaMitzvos, Vayikra s.v. Mitzvas korbanos.
[2] Sefer HaMa’amarim Admur HaZakein 5566, p. 395.
[3] Yechezkel 1:10.
[4] Mishlei 14:4.
[5] Yechezkel 1:10.
[6] Ohr HaTorah Devarim, Vol. 5, p. 2131.
[7] Yechezkel 1:26.
[8] Ibid. 34:31.
[9] Yevamos 61a, beg.
[10] Asarah Ma’amaros, sec. eim kol chai, 2:33.
[11] Bamidbar 19:14.
[12] In Hebrew, “ko’ach hamafli la’asos.” Based on the Asher Yatzar prayer. Cf. Ramo on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 6:1. Cf. Sefer HaMa’amarim 5649, p. 233.
[13] I Melachim 17:1.
[14] Berachos 6b.

Dedicated by Zvi Rona and family l'ilui nishmas Shlomo ben Pesach, whose yahrtzeit was on 8 Tammuz.

Dedicated in the merit of a speedy release for Yonasan ben Malka (Jonathan Pollard) and Sholom Mordechai Halevi ben Rivka (Sholom Rubashkin).

Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for (at least) $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeit of a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

On Marital Harmony II

On Marital Harmony II

(see On Marital Harmony I here)

Impact of Awareness of the Imminence 
of Moshiach on Relating to One’s Wife

When one considers the fact that we find ourselves at the end of the age of exile, close to the true and complete redemption (may it happen speedily in our days) when the feminine aspect will be dominant over the masculine, this very awareness fosters respect and care towards one’s wife.

Igros Kodesh, Vol. 6, p. 202.

Exerting a Positive Influence on One’s Husband

When it seems—sometimes perhaps with justification—that one’s husband could be “on a higher level,” one should take into consideration that Hashem has already decided upon this match long ago. Thus, just as when one detects a fault in oneself, the solution is not to cause oneself pain, but to seek painless ways to rectify the fault, so should it be—and to an even greater degree—between husband and wife. For ultimately it is hard to know what the other person is going through, and the difficulties that he went through in past years.

However, when he sees his wife’s softness and firm sense of trust in Hashem, the husband will then regard the entire world in a different light, and see that Hashem is the master of the entire world, and of their personal home in particular, and its environs. This will then put one in a good, joyful mood.

Experience shows how worthwhile this approach would be even for your own sake, for this approach brings warmth and calmness to a degree that far outweighs the effort required to compromise and forgive.

Igros Kodesh, Vol. 9, pp. 119-120.

Torah Observance Bolsters Peace in the Home

You must found your home on true foundations of Torah. This is not only important for the Neshamah to succeed, but also for the body to succeed, and it makes no difference whether you understand this. This is comparable to one who obeys the directives of a great professor, and the person benefits from doing so even if he doesn’t know the reason behind the directives. This applies all the more to instructions from the Creator, Who is the Healer of all flesh.  ... You should not forget the main point—that you must bring peace between the soul and the body, for this will immensely facilitate peace in the home.

Igros Kodesh, Vol. 5, p. 224-225.

Differences of Opinion between Husband and Wife

Chazal say that everyone has a different way of thinking.[1] This implies that despite this, true peace is attainable and necessary between every single Jew, and all the more so between husband and wife, for when they act according to Torah and Mitzvos, Chazal say that the Divine Presence rests in their midst.[2]

Only after the couple is blessed with children who reach the age of education does the concern that the couple may disagree about how best to educate their children become practically relevant—in other words, only after a number of years. But by this time their opinions will certainly have changed. Likewise, children bring tremendous emotional intimacy between their parents, and one cannot know at the outset the nature of this change and the extent of this intimacy. Based on our faith, one should harbor strong hope that this intimacy will occur to a great degree. Even if differences of opinion remain, they can reach a compromise between themselves, and their house will be an “everlasting edifice.”

Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 24, p. 467.

Conditions for Proper Family Life

A proper family life demands from the man, and even more so from the woman, more attention to be devoted and refined, which most cost much time and energy. ...

A proper family life according to Torah requires understanding, effort, devotion, patience, a good heart, cleanliness, calmness, an orderly appearance, a happy mood, a smiling face and friendly behavior. This is the way that both the husband and wife should behave, but in the majority of cases, this depends upon the woman, for “The wisdom of women built her home”[3]—the woman builds the home.

Igros Kodesh Admur HaRayatz, Vol. 5, pp. 57-59.

Willingness to Compromise

We find that Rochel was ready to compromise [and give up being buried with Yaakov Avinu in the Me’aras Hamachpelah] in order to be of assistance to her children. This is the main quality that every proper Jewish woman should have, whose role is to serve as the “main part of the home.”

Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 30, p. 239.

One Who Encounters Many Obstacles Knows: 

This is One of His Main Tasks

The very fact that you encounter so many obstacles to maintaining peace in the home demonstrates that this is one of your main tasks in life. It is implicit in the words of the Arizal, and explained in Chassidus, that the souls of these generations were already in this world, and they are coming back in a reincarnation, with the main purpose of rectifying areas that were lacking in the observance of the 613 Mitzvos in previous incarnations.

Obviously, these souls are also obligated to follow all the 613 Mitzvos, even those in which they did not fall short in a previous incarnation. The difference is that when it comes to Mitzvos in which they did not fall short the previous time, the evil inclination does not mount as much opposition. It only presents enough difficulties so that free choice will remain, for in these matters, the person has already been refined in previous incarnations. In contrast, in areas in which they were lacking on previous occasions—i.e., in which their portion in this world and in the part of the soul connected to these worldly matters was not refined—the evil inclination fights with maximum force.

Igros Kodesh, Vol. 5, p. 39.

Considering the Similarity of One’s
Wife to the Jewish People

When one thinks about one’s wife, one should always keep in mind that the entire Jewish people and every individual Jew is referred to as the wife of the King of all kings, the Holy One, blessed be He. When we offer requests from Hashem that He relate to the Jewish people—whom he refers to as “My beloved one”—by fulfilling their requests for the good, we should know that an “arousal from above” depends upon an “arousal from below.” Thus, this is also the way that one should treat one’s wife—as the Talmud says,[4] one should honor one’s wife more than oneself.

Igros Kodesh, Vol. 6, pp. 201-202.

Opposition to Marital Harmony is
Much Greater at the End of Exile

I would imagine that you will encounter the most obstacles [in the area of self-rectification] in the realm of peace in the home, for it is known that peace is great, and the ways of the entire Torah are pleasant, and all its paths are peace. This opposition is particularly great in this final exile, which, as mentioned in the Gemara[5] befell us because of lack of peace. The closer we approach the time of the end of exile, the greater the opposition of the other side to prevent peace in the world in general, and between husband and wife in particular, for they are comparable to G–d and the Jewish people, respectively. However, “the load is according to the camel,” and G–d surely grants one the strength to overcome this test.

Igros Kodesh, Vol. 4, pp. 422.

[1] Berachos 58a.
[2] Sotah 17a.
[3] Yeshayah 44:13.
[4] Yevamos 62b.
[5] Yoma 9b.

Friday, August 30, 2013

"Sharing the Burden" Through Torah Study

“Sharing the Burden”
Through Torah Study

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

Complementary Roles

The Gemara states:[1]
Rabbi Abba bar Kahana said: Were it not for David, Yoav would not have done battle, and were it not for Yoav, David would not have engaged in Torah. As it is written, “David performed justice and righteousness for all his people, and Yoav ben Tzeruya was in charge of the army.” What does it meant that “David performed justice and righteousness for all his people?” [He was able to,] because Yoav was taking care of the army. And what is the meaning of “Yoav was in charge of the army?” So that David could perform justice and righteousness for all his people.
Yoav and David HaMelech were partners who each valued the other’s contribution. David HaMelech knew that since the Jewish people had enemies, and since Torah instructs us “We do not rely on a miracle,”[2] he needed an army of soldiers led by a mighty general to lead the battles against the enemies of the Jewish people. This general was Yoav.

But David HaMelech himself did not go to war, although he was fully capable of doing so. He chose, instead, to remain behind in order to study Torah and teach it to the people.

Yet Yoav had no complaints. He knew that David HaMelech’s contribution was indispensable. “Were it not for David, Yoav would not have done battle.” He did not view David HaMelech’s choice as shirking responsibility, never mind as cowardice, G–d forbid. He knew that most fundamental principle of the Jewish faith: Success at any endeavor comes not from one’s efforts, intelligence, and strength, but from divine blessings—“it is the blessing of Hashem that gives us wealth.”[3]

Yes, accomplishment require a human investment, for Hashem created the natural order and desires that we follow its laws. But one who relies on his own power and does not combine reasonable efforts with prayers for divine assistance denies the existence of Hashem as “the One Who sustains the entire world with His goodness, grace, kindness, and compassion”[4]—as the Provider of all our needs. The Torah warns us against this: “And you may come to say in your heart that your strength and the might of your hand made you this wealth, but remember that it is Hashem, your G–d  Who endows you with strength to perform deeds of valor.”[5] In particular, “war does not belong to the mighty.”[6]

So Yoav knew that in order to triumph over his foes, he needed divine blessings, and that this depends upon Torah study. But not the Torah study of the soldiers, for a soldier must focus his attention on the technicalities of warfare and cannot simultaneously analyze intricate Talmudic debates. Rather, the material efforts of the soldiers must be complemented by the spiritual efforts of the full-time Torah scholars, for “Torah protects and saves”[7]—Torah study brings protection and safety not only to those who study it, but to the Jewish people as a whole, and therefore to its protectors in particular.

Foolish Bravery

An analogy for this division of roles can be drawn from the army itself. Consider the chief general who sits calmly in his protected headquarters, poring over one classified intelligence report after another, calculating how the war ought to be fought—with what tactics, with which weapons, when to attack, how many soldiers to deploy, and countless other complex considerations. In the course of his duties, he instructs that others be dispatched to the battlefront, while he remains hard at work.

One day, his son and best friend approach him in outrage and accuse him of hypocrisy and cowardice: “How can you do this?! You send us and many others to face mortal danger, while you remain far from harm’s way in your cushy office chair, reading all day? Shame on you! As the verse puts it, ‘Will your brothers go to war while you sit here?’”[8]

Filled with guilt, the general concedes to the pressure, considering himself guilty of reprehensible double standards. He bows his head, clears away all the classified documents, closes down the headquarters, dons army fatigues and a gun, goes to the front, and fights.

Not only would no one benefit from this “sacrifice,” but it would lead to certain defeat and horrendous loss of life, may G–d save us, for both the soldiers and the civilians whom they are protecting.

So, too, on the broader, national level, in order for the army, the general, and everyone else involved in the material war effort to succeed, spiritual war efforts are necessary—devoted, full-time, G–d-fearing Torah scholars.

Spiritual Desertion

But when the Torah scholar lacks fear of Hashem and forgets what his Torah study accomplishes, he can become so captivated with awe for the heroic soldier that he desires to quit learning. He wants to let everyone know that he, too, can wield a gun, earn a medal, and perform daring feats of military prowess.

Just as one who is assigned to the front and abandons it is termed a deserter, so are Torah scholars assigned with the mission of studying Torah day and night who abandon their post, don army fatigues and a gun, and go to fight, also deserters. Since Jewish military victory depends upon the merit of Torah study, instead of benefiting the war effort, these young men jeopardize it and bring disaster upon the Jewish people, may G–d save us.

Unsung Heroism

In a sense, the Torah scholar is faced with a more difficult challenge than the soldier. Soldiers are lionized. They are given honorable mentions in the newspaper, awarded with marks of distinction, and their exploits and victories are publicly recounted and rhapsodized. They are national heroes.

But far away from the action of the battlefield, the Torah scholar sits and learns without fanfare. His efforts to protect the Jewish people (studying Torah all day is very difficult, as anyone who has done so, or attempted to do so, can testify) confer upon him no elevated status and glory; he goes unknown.

If anything, he is punished for his choice, subjected to constant insults and condemnation by his less religious brethren, who scream at him in self-righteous indignation: “Will your brothers go to war while you sit here?” And not only doesn’t his vital contribution earn him an honorable mention in the media, but the media regularly spews vitriol against the full-time Torah scholar and incites the populace to despise him, branding him a leech and a drain upon society, one who selfishly refuses to “share the burden.”

An Invisible Lifeline

There is a response to their complaint, albeit one that some don’t appreciate because they don’t want to.

The Torah is a “Torah of light”[9] in which Hashem reveals sublime, perfect teachings that illuminate our daily lives with moral clarity and direction. The Torah tells us: Look beneath the material reality.

Even the soldier himself depends upon others whose involvement is not visible. For the soldier to stand and shoot, many other army personnel and others are required to assist the war effort from the sidelines by providing food, technical know how, logistical direction, discipline, funding, and so on.

Likewise, the soldier needs spiritual help from behind the scenes in order to be alive. After all, all his training and weaponry will be of no avail if he is not alive. And the true source of life and safety is Hashem, Who grants us life through His holy Torah, which is “our life and the length of our days.”[10] So for the soldier to be alive, he must be infused with life through the life-giving studies of the Torah scholar.

[1] Sanhedrin 49a.
[2] Toras Kohanim on Vayikra 22:32.
[3] Mishlei 10: 22.
[4] Grace After Meals liturgy.
[5] Devarim 8:17,18.
[6] Koheles 9:11.
[7] Sotah 21a.
[8] Bamidbar 32:6.
[9] Mishlei 6:23.
[10] Evening prayer liturgy.


See also this letter of the Rebbe posted here, which touches on the topic:
You ask why Lubavitch Chassidim do not serve in Tzahal. Obviously you are misinformed, for many do and many have attained high rank in the defense forces on active duty; and not only in the Chaplaincy, as you thought. As for those who serve in the Chaplaincy, clearly that is where they contribute most to Tzahal and the security of the country, since keeping the morale of the defense forces on the highest level is of primary importance. It would be a poor judgment on the part of Tzahal  to press one who is qualified to be a Chaplain into service as a private, as it would be to force one who is qualified to be a colonel to serve as private instead.

While on this subject, let me mention a further point, though you do not refer to it explicitly, namely, the exemption of yeshivah students from military service. As you may know, this exemption was recognized and agreed to by the founder of Tzahal, the late D. Ben Gurion. It is based on the fact that a yeshivah student can accomplish more to the security of the country by continuing his Torah learning than by military duty. Anyone who is familiar with the Sedra Bechukosai and is not prejudiced can see this clearly.

Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for (at least) $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeit of a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Light Prepares for Darkness

Light Prepares for Darkness

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

I recently spent a few days in the country, where at night even the streets are much more poorly lit than in the city, and in the fields there is almost no light. Yet during my time here, I have not needed to walk around at night, only during the day.

Last night, for the first time, I had to make my way across several large fields in order to reach my destination, with only some faint streetlights in the distance and a glimmer of moonlight and starlight to help me find my way.

Although I did trip a few times and veered onto a minor detour, I managed. Why? I had gone down that path often enough during the daylight hours that the little light that shone was sufficient to direct me.

Perhaps the lesson is as follows. When one is in an environment of spiritual light, of holiness and purity, such as a beis ha'knesses or a beis ha'medrash, the way is clear. In contrast, the outside world is a place of intense spiritual darkness (see here), rife with ignorance of Hashem's Word, materialism, hedonism, and apathy to faith and even ridicule of it (see here). In this "doubled and redoubled darkness" the Jew is prone to lose his or her way, G-d forbid.

But when we are accustomed to devoting time daily to davven and learn in the beis ha'knesses and beis ha'medrash (and their equivalent as appropriate for women and girls)we keep ourselves spiritually attuned and fortify ourselves (see here). Then even when we descend into the hostile environment of the outside world, we will not lose our way, for we remember the experience of being in an environment of G-dliness and purity.

This also explains why it is so important for bochrim to attend Yeshivah, for girls to attend seminary, and for chassidim to go to the Rebbe (or, until Moshiach comes, the places where the holiness of the Rebbe resides--770 and the Ohel) at least once a year.

Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for (at least) $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeit of a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Teshuvah: Regaining Our Passion for Truth

Teshuvah: Regaining
Our Passion for Truth

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

The greatness of youth is its idealism. A resolute, unremitting, unashamed refusal to compromise one’s standards and principles, even in the face of tremendous hardship and opposition—nay, specifically in such circumstances.

There are two kinds of compromise.
1.       Externally-imposed compromise. This is when one is apparently forced into a compromise. He would never act this way otherwise, he says, but what can he do? He is left with no choice. His circumstances dictate that he lower his standards, cut corners, settle for less. Life is not a fantasy and he can’t live in the clouds. He must grow up and live in the real world, which means that sometimes he must do things he finds objectionable for the sake of some purportedly greater cause.
2.       Self-imposed compromise. As time goes by, he starts slipping. He used to be careful to observe every single custom meticulously, every dikduk kal, but now it seems like so many ... minutiae. Of course, he’s still frum, but it no longer seems so crucial to be so ... farfrumt and farchnyokt as it did back when he was young, headstrong, and naïve. After all, almost no one else truly lives like that their whole lives, except for a handful of social outcasts, people who never grew up. He’s matured steadily over time, and maturity means mellowing out, being more “chill,” not taking yourself so seriously, and learning to have a little fun. And if it means cutting a corner, then no harm is done. No one else cares, nor will they find out, anyway. And as for Hashem? He’s all-forgiving, so He won’t mind either, surely.
Even in the first case, when the compromise was externally imposed, the person adjusts to his compromised state, and comes to feel that compromise is no big deal, and perhaps not even shameful. In any case, he learns to accept compromise as a normal part of life. And then, over the course of time, it is very likely that he will decline from the first kind of compromise to the second, G–d forbid.

When we live a life in which we are ever-cautious not to fall prey to all-too-human weakness, and persist in maintaining our personal standards courageously regardless of how others around us are acting, and the direct or indirect pressures that they may be placing upon us, then we are truly alive.

This is much more attainable when a person is physically young, because he has not yet gone out into the “real world” and had to spend all day in the company of spiritual sellouts, in external circumstances that test him, that play with his mind and wear him down until he starts to truly believe the lie that the materialistic society sells him from every direction that he has no choice but to compromise—to sin “just a little.”

But there is no such thing. You can’t sin “in moderation.” Nor can you compromise “in moderation.” No, once you start down that road, know that you’re making deals with terrorists, dancing with the devil, and inevitably “one sin brings another in its wake.”[1]

So then the relentless downward spiral—yes, the slippery slope—begins, and you go from being tainted to becoming slowly but surely corrupted. Our sages warn, “When one sins once, and again, he feels as if it is permissible.”[2] What he earlier recognized as a sin, he starts to view as a mere compromise, and then what he had previously viewed as a compromise becomes completely acceptable. And then he becomes even further desensitized, so that from feeling “as if it is permissible,” it becomes felt to be outright permissible, until it even becomes a Mitzvah! (See also here and here.)

Don’t fall into this trap.

But if you are no longer in your early twenties, chances are that you have, and that your idealism has declined (assuming you were fortunate enough to go through a stage of youthful idealism in the first place).

So now you need to uncorrupt yourself. Start with some brutal honesty. Idealism and truth-seeking always demand it, and honesty with oneself is needed first and foremost.

Stop living in denial. Admit it, you sinned. You didn’t merely “compromise” or “make mistakes” due to “circumstances beyond your control.” You’re not a passive victim, a helpless object, a leaf blown by the wind. That’s nonsense. Hashem gave you free choice. You were tested, and you failed. Yes, the test may have been very, very difficult. But so what? You’re still fully responsible for your conduct. And when you compromised, you corrupted, debased, and dehumanized yourself.

Now that’s not to say that everything you do is wrong; on the contrary, it is quite possible that most of your behavior is worthy. But that is neither here nor there. Grow up. Mitzvos don’t excuse aveiros.
Once you have truly accepted that you sinned (see here), then you can do Teshuvah, be cleansed, and change your ways. Then idealism—and its corollary, unapologetic disdain for compromise in all its ugly and insidious manifestations—can return.

Then your age no longer matters (as much). Passion for the absolute truth of the Torah of truth, and a willingness to fight for it, to sacrifice for it, to die for it and to live for it, to surrender oneself to it with every fiber of one’s being, to do everything in one’s power to live up to it and disseminate it to one and all with confidence and conviction—all these youthful feelings can then thrive again.

And when you translate this truth into your personal life, you are also able to lead and inspire others, to serve as a shining role model, a beacon of truthfulness, integrity, and joyful sacrifice for your family and community, filled with the enthusiasm and vigor of youth.

Adapted from the sicha of 13 Tammuz 5732.

[1] Avos 4:2.
[2] Yalkut Shimoni, Vayikra 25:661.

Dedicated in honor of the birthday of my dear son, Shneur Zalman ben Atarah Arielle, 
on 29 Av.

Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for (at least) $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeit of a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Lift the Veil

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

In an earlier post, we explained the difference between gashmiyus—“physicality” and chumriyus—“coarseness.”

This also explains the lowly state of our world. In reality, within every being in our universe there is a chayus Eloki, a divine vitalizing force, that creates it as it is, maintains its existence, and without which it could not exist. Yet although it is right here within every single being, we do not feel it.

But it wasn’t always this way. In the world’s original state, before the sin of Adam and Chava, “the divine presence dwelt in this lowly world.”  Then one could sense tangibly how the existence of every physical being stems from the chayus Eloki, and so one naturally submitted to that vitality, and therefore to Hashem.

But the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge tainted the cosmos as a whole. It created an intense veil over the chayus Eloki. Chassidus calls this veil chumriyus, and the chumriyus in our world is very great.

However, during the period of exile, we are charged with the mission of rectifying the cosmos though our performance of Torah and Mitzvos, and this gradually diminishes the chumriyus. The veil of chumriyus will be completely lifted when Moshiach comes, and all will “see”  the underlying reality of the chayus Eloki (may it happen now!).

This is true not only on a grand scale, but also on a miniature scale, even before Moshiach comes. We may not yet be able to refine ourselves to the point of literally seeing the chayus Eloki, but though hard work, we are all fully able to reach a far deeper level of inner sensitivity to G–dliness (see here and here).

The principle here is that the more a vessel is refined, the more it can contain. Consider the mind: The more one’s mental capacities are refined and sharpened, the deeper the concepts one is able to grasp. Likewise, the more the person engages in avodah (see here) to refine the coarseness within of the Bestial Soul and the body, the more he becomes open and receptive to awareness of Hashem (see here).

This means that when he meditates upon Hashem’s greatness before prayer, his mind becomes much more receptive, and the concept he reflects upon is truly absorbed and integrated into his mind and heart. Likewise, when he studies Torah, he will sense the divine light within Torah (see here).

And then, when he goes out to engage with the outside world, not only will this interaction not adversely affect him by detracting from his sensitivity to G–dliness (as it would otherwise), but it will enhance it:

In the world at large, he will sense the world’s dependence on the chayus Eloki. On a personal level, he will be imbued with the awareness that all his blessings come from Hashem alone; he will notice Hashem’s guiding hand, intimately controlling every aspect of his life; and he will succeed at illuminating everyone and everything in his surroundings with an ever-greater awareness of Hashem’s presence.

Based on the Rebbe Rashab’s Sefer HaMaamarim 5678, p. 85.

Dedicated in honor of the birthday of my dear daughter, Shaina bas Atarah Arielle, 
on 22 Tammuz.

Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for (at least) $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeit of a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Overcoming the Dangers of Intense Religiosity (pt. 4)

Overcoming the Dangers of
Intense Religiosity (pt. 4)

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

(This is the last installment of a four-part series. The previous posts: pts. 1, pt. 2, pt. 3.)

We can also observe the phenomenon of well-meaning but misplaced religious feeling in a contemporary context, and on a far more basic level than was described in the previous installments of this essay.

Secular attitudes combined with ignorance of and sometimes outright disrespect for Jewish law have led many to follow practices that are in violation of the traditions of our holy Torah. And although they outright reject the tenets, laws, and customs of the Judaism of their ancestors, they bizarrely claim to be following it.

E.g., some people become enthusiastic about prayer—which is, indeed, a very sublime Mitzvah—but then pray in a mixed service without a mechitzah, or pray using a liturgy that they made up themselves while rejecting the divinely-inspired, required liturgy formulated millennia ago by the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah.

“Why do the fine points matter so much?” they protest. “The main thing is that we’re inspired in serving Hashem, and Hashem isn’t so petty—He loves us and hears us whether we follow a prescribed text or not!”

One recent high-profile example of this may be the “Women of the Wall,” who insist on their “right” to violate the traditional synagogue laws adhered to at Judaism’s holiest site, the Kosel. (My hesitation in including them in this category is that it seems that for many of them, their fervor is in fact political, not religious.)

This is comparable to approaching a human king or a prime minister with an impassioned plea that he spare one’s life, but with the qualification:
I know that your majesty has issued certain edicts, but I’ve decided to flout them: For instance, although I know that you’ve declared that when we come before you, we should follow the dress code that you prescribe, I don’t care—I’ll dress as I please when I come to ask you for a favor. I also know that you’ve explicitly stated that you want us to present our requests to you using a prescribed text, but I insist on expressing my individuality, and asking you for what I want in my own way. Yet I expect your highness to grant my heartfelt request regardless, because after all, you are so very merciful indeed.
How outrageous. What human king would tolerate such a request, never mind accede to it? How much more so is such an attitude completely inappropriate when one approaches the King of all kings, Hashem.[1]

In conclusion, on every level, the Jew should be careful to ensure that his spiritual, inspired feelings for Hashem are not expressed inappropriately, whether in the form of somehow mistreating others, or violating Jewish law. He attains this by strengthening his acceptance of Hashem’s absolute sovereignty and authority—kabolas ol Malchus Shomayim. Then not only will these feelings not result in inappropriate behavior, but they will inspire one to much more careful observance of halacha and much more sincere devotion towards one’s fellow Jew.

Adapted from Sichos Kodesh 5723, p. 54.

[1] A truly courageous rabbi will find the words to make sure his congregants are aware of this. See a letter of the Rebbe on the responsibility of a congregational rabbi to object to changes in Judaism here.

Read this essay in full on Scribd here!

Dedicated in honor of the ninth birthday of beni bechori, Shneur Zalman ben Atara Arielle, on 29 Av. May he grow lTorah, l'Chupah, ulemaasim tovim, and become a chossid, yerei Shomayim, and lamdan!

Dedicated by Reb Yisrael Meir Raphael and family.

Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for (at least) $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeit of a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Overcoming the Dangers of Intense Religiosity (pt. 3)

Overcoming the Dangers of
Intense Religiosity (pt. 3)

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

Earlier (pts. 1 and pt. 2), we explained the phenomenon of well-meant, otherwise worthy religious feelings being “hijacked” and being expressed in a counter-productive, even harmful manner.

Now for the big question: How does one avoid falling into this trap?

One root cause of spirituality going awry is the lack of the proper foundation of one’s service of Hashem.

To serve Hashem properly it is not enough to eschew hedonism, to think constantly about Hashem, to be spiritual, and to love Hashem. It is not even enough to fear Him. The same goes for fulfilling the Mitzvos that relate to the sphere of interactions with other people: It is not enough for a religious person to be generous and hospitable, to be humble and forgiving, to be devoted and tireless in serving one’s community. 

Yes, these are all important and even vital elements of a deep, personal relationship with Hashem. Yet all of them can go awry, so none of them comprise the very foundation of one’s relationship with Hashem.

The beginning and foundation of serving Hashem is very (and perhaps even deceptively) simple: Kabolas ol Malchus Shomayim, submission to the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven.[1] This means that one is in a state of constant submission, such that all one’s behavior is part of serving Hashem, and is done with the intention of following His wishes.

With regard to emotional expression, this means that no emotion or desire, however worthy it may otherwise be, should be expressed exclusively because one feels that way.

Rather, even if the emotion coursing through one’s heart is fully appropriate, one should be conscious of its inner core. This very emotion is part of serving Hashem, for through it one fulfills a divine command—the command to feel certain feelings.

For Torah and halacha direct us not only in our actions, but also in proper thoughts and feelings, in “chovos halevavos—duties of the heart.” In this case, not only is it worthy to love and fear Hashem, but in so doing, we fulfill explicit divine commands[2] (which are, in fact, Biblical obligations no less binding than the obligation to keep Shabbos or kosher): “Love Hashem, your G–d”[3] and “Fear Hashem, your G–d.”[4]

This holds true not only for spontaneous, gut feelings (which are much more likely to be hijacked in the manner described above), but even for feelings that emerged, as they should, from a process of study, comprehension, and hisbonenus (“contemplation” or “meditation”). For intellect, emotions, and the (very worthy) process of intellect producing emotions all depend upon the firm foundation of Kabolas ol Malchus Shomayim for their success.

When a Jew’s life is based on this foundation, his entire relationship with Hashem is stable and strong, and then he is able to attain success in his spiritual strivings in all areas and on all levels[5]—intellect, emotions, and thought, speech, and action. Moreover, it ultimately also paves the way for Hashem’s blessings for material prosperity.

If, however, one gets carried away with a passion for a holy pursuit (in whatever area), but lacks the awareness that this feeling is not just self-expression, but a part of serving Hashem and fulfilling a divine command, then no matter how worthy and holy the passion, this person is at high risk. This passion may well devolve into inappropriate feelings and behavior, as explained in the previous posts in this series.

Thus, we find how Nadav and Avihu, who yearned to serve Hashem on a high level, were so intent on their desire to offer up the incense in the Mishkan that they did so when they were not supposed to. They then “came too close to Hashem, and died.”[6] The reason this happened was that their passion to come close to Hashem lacked kabolas ol Malchus Shomayim, the simultaneous desire to submit to Him, and so it ended tragically. Let us not make the same mistake.

Adapted from the Rebbe's Sichos Kodesh 5723, p. 54.

Read this essay in full on Scribd here!
[1] Cf. Tanya beg. ch. 41.
[2] These are counted in the Six Constant Mitzvos binding on men and women equally, as enumerated in the introduction to Sefer HaChinuch.
[3] Devarim 6:5.
[4] Ibid. 6:13.
[5] Cf. Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 1, pp. 104-105.
[6] Vayikra 12:1; Ohr HaChaim ad loc.

Dedicated by Reb Yisrael Meir Raphael and family.

Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for (at least) $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeit of a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Overcoming the Dangers of Intense Religiosity (pt. 2)

Overcoming the Dangers of
Intense Religiosity (pt. 2)

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

In the previous installment, we discussed how good intentions and holy passions can go awry because of a lack of inner refinement.

A parallel phenomenon is found among the angels. As discussed earlier (see here), although the angels possess vastly superior intellect, they are fundamentally emotional beings, whose core is filled with passionate feelings of love and fear of Hashem, and so they are not truly intellectual in the way that man is.

Starting from Beriyah, each level in Seder Hishtalshelus (the spiritual multiverse—see here) devolves directly from the one above it. So Beriyah devolves into Yetzirah, Yetzirah into Asiyah, and the spiritual plane of Asiyah devolves into our physical world, which is at the bottom of the world of Asiyah. This means that all the beings that exist in Beriyah also exist in Yetzirah, but in a lesser, more egotistical state, and so on.

So when the intense love and fear of Hashem of the angels in the higher spiritual realms (Yetzirah, Yetzirah into Asiyah—no angels exist in Atzilus, the world above Beriyah) devolves into our physical world, which is the lowest of all levels—“the lowest level possible as regards the concealment of divine light, a double and redoubled darkness to the extent that it is filled with forces of Kelipah and sitra achra, which are literally against Hashem, saying ‘I exist, and there is nothing else but me’” (Tanya ch. 36)—these feelings go completely awry:

The angels’ love of Hashem turns into chessed (kindness and love) of Kelipah—the lusts and pleasures of the flesh that we (if we are G-d fearing, do our best not to) see in the secular society around us. (Once, Reb Itcheh der Masmid, a great chossid, had to visit the city of Manhattan (in the ‘20s, I think). His comment: “Do hobn di malochim gut ongemacht”—“here the angels really relieved themselves.”)

Likewise, the angels’ intense fear of Hashem turns into gevurah (strictness and fear) of Kelipah—all the forms of negativity, depression, conflict, hatred, and violence that so pervade the society and culture in which we live.

All these powerful and captivating negative energies that we perceive in the world around us are in fact the devolution—or, as Chassidus calls it, the pesoles, the “waste matter”—of that intense passion of the angels.

However, angels do not have free choice, so they cannot choose to refine themselves in a way that would prevent their passion from leading to anything undesirable. In contrast, although mans capacity for emotion is infinitesimal when compared with that of the angels, he was endowed with overcome his emotions. He does this by choosing to choose to use his intellect in a way that refines himself so that his expression of emotions will not result in a negative outcome.

Stay tuned for the next installment!

Based on the Rebbe Rashab’s Sefer HaMaamarim 5660, pp. 8-9.

Read this essay in full on Scribd here!

Dedicated by Reb Zvi Rona and family l'ilui nishmas Golda Ruth bas Moshe Zvi HaLevi on 22 Tammuz.

Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for (at least) $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeit of a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Overcoming the Dangers of Intense Religiosity (pt. 1)

Overcoming the Dangers of
Intense Religiosity (pt. 1)

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

Whoa. Take it easy.

Is it good to be passionate and intense about goodness and holiness? Yes, undoubtedly. In fact, we are commanded to strive for this state, and not only is one who lacks passion neglectful, but he is at great risk of sliding into sin, for spiritual coldness and apathy lead one to all manner of evil, may Hashem save us.

Yet one must also take precautions to ensure that this intensity of feeling not go overboard and be expressed inappropriately.

The goal of learning about Hashem’s greatness is that this knowledge inspire one to genuine feelings for Hashem—middos (emotions) of ahavah ve’yirah, love and awe of Hashem (see here).

Then instead of simply going through the motions—known as “Mitzvas anoshim melumadah”—one’s heart will be in it:
  • Not only will he no longer view Mitzvos as an odious chore, but since he knows that performing the Mitzvos draws him into a close connection with Hashem, he eagerly looks forward to the opportunity to fulfill them, and does so with great gusto and joy. 
  • Likewise, his awareness that sin separates and distances him from Hashem makes the very thought of sinning repulsive and motivates him to do his utmost to avoid falling in sin. 
The Torah states that this process of inner change is the mission of every single Jew.

To explain, Chassidus teaches that Hashem “made this one,” Kelipah, spiritual impurity, “opposite this one,” Kedushah, holiness. Kelipah and Kedushah (see here) parallel each other. The same is true of the emotions that stem from these two cosmic forces, respectively: The unworthy emotions of the Bestial Soul parallel the worthy emotions of the Divine Soul (see here).

When one succeeds in this process of transforming one’s emotions, the holy emotions replace the unholy ones (see here). In this state, love of physicality is replaced by its counterpart in holiness, love of Hashem. Fear related to one’s physical life (e.g., fear of pain, poverty, shame, and so on) is replaced with fear of Hashem.

However, by their very nature, emotions are egotistical. This holds true not only of the undesirable or at least selfish emotions of the Bestial Soul, but even of the holy emotions of the Neshamah, the Divine Soul.

Emotions are all about personal feelings and desires. One could desire to indulge in hedonistic pursuits or to attach oneself to the loftiest heights of holiness—either way, the ego is involved. Although in the latter case it is expressed in a constructive and virtuous way, it is still necessarily present.

This is especially the case when the emotion is felt tangibly. An emotion could be present but not felt, for it lies under the surface (cf. Tanya ch. 16). But when an emotion is tangibly felt, there is a strong egotistical component even in the holy emotions, and this is bad. This creates the serious danger that when the emotion is expressed, it may devolve into its counterpart in Kelipah. I will provide a handful of more common examples, with the caveat that this is only a very brief treatment of such behaviors, for this process can manifest itself in numerous forms:

Love: Love involves opening up and transcending limitations for the object of one’s love. So when love of Hashem goes awry, one  loses a sense of boundaries, and then openness to and love of Hashem degenerate into dangerous openness and evil love—material indulgence and forbidden pleasures.

For instance, during prayer the Jew becomes aroused with passionate  love for Hashem. After prayer, the intense feeling remains, but it becomes expressed in a more intense desire to indulge the senses, e.g., gluttonous eating.

Fear: Fear drives one to create limits and boundaries out of a sense of caution. So when fear of Hashem goes awry, the person becomes so filled with fiery passion or with a sense of self-limitation and inhibition gone too far that he succumbs to the negative emotions of the Bestial Soul. He may break out in sudden anger, sink into depression, inflict pain and torment upon others, or the like. 

Another manifestation of this egotistical element of fear of Hashem is when the person  shows off his intense desire to avoid sin. Even when he has no conscious desire to do so, and he is simply expressing his genuine emotion of fear of Hashem, the showiness is inappropriate. If his emotions were pure, this self-display would not occur, and this trait stems from his deep-seated condition of spiritual coarseness.

This is an example of what Chassidus calls yenikah lachitzonim, “giving sustenance to negative spiritual energies.” This means that when something holy lacks purity, it unwittingly gives strength to the forces of Kelipah, with often disastrous and tragic results. This expression is also used more broadly to describe anything good and holy that is done in a foolish, inappropriate, or otherwise inadvisable manner and therefore leads to an unfavorable outcome.

In this case, it means that the small element of ego in otherwise worthy and holy feelings is able to be grabbed and used by the evil inclination to feed undesirable emotions.

What is the key to overcoming these dangers? Stay tuned!

Based on the Rebbe Rashab’s Sefer HaMaamarim 5660, pp. 8-9;
Sefer HaMaamarim 5670, pp. 103-104.  

Read this essay in full on Scribd here!

This post was dedicated by Rochel'e and Sholom Ber Odze in honor of the birthday of Yeshaya Yaakov bas Rochel on 24 Sivan. May he have a shnas hatzlocho begashmiyus u'veruchniyus!

Also dedicated by Zvi Rona and family l'ilui nishmas 
Shlomo ben Pesach, whose yahrtzeit was on 8 Tammuz.

Dedicated in the merit of a speedy release for the captives Yonasan ben Malka (Jonathan Pollard), Sholom Mordechai Halevi ben Rivka (Sholom Rubashkin), Yaakov Yehuda ben Shaindel (Jacob Ostreicher), and Zeva Rochel bas Chaya (Wendy Weiner Runge).


Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for (at least) $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeit of a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Evil and Free Will

Evil and Free Will

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

This post comes in continuation to the previous two posts on the topic of angels: Of Angels and Men and Programmed Purity Vs. Frail Freedom.

Earlier (in the latter link above) we discussed how man holds the entire Seder Hishtalshelus within himself in miniature, and that this also endows man with the quality of free will, of choosing between virtue and sin, righteousness and wickedness. No other creation has this ability.

To explain, in the highest spiritual world, Atzilus, no evil exists. Even the divine attribute of gevurah, severity, which is apparently negative, exists there in a pure and holy state. However, in the worlds of Beriyah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah, what was the gevurah in Atzilus degenerates partially into Kelipah, an unholy force that conceals over the existence of Hashem. The lower the level, the further the Kelipah declines, until it assumes the form of the evil in our physical world. Likewise, the quality of goodness as it exists in our world stems from the divine attribute of chesed, kindness.

As mentioned, man contains all the supernal attributes within him. This includes both the attributes of chesed and of gevurah. Thus, he also contains that which evolves from chesed and gevurah, namely, the qualities of good and evil. These are the Good Inclination and the Evil Inclination.

It is this dual nature that enables man to have free choice, the ability to choose to act as he wishes.

In contrast, an angel exemplifies a certain pure quality—whether chesed, gevurah, or the like—and it possesses no evil side. As Moshe Rabeinu’s rhetorically asked the angels, “Do you have an Evil Inclination among you?”[1] Since an angel possesses no evil, it is simply unable to be attracted to and tempted by evil, and so it lacks free choice.

Although the verse speaks of the angels “knowing good and bad,”[2] the angels relate to knowledge of evil in a purely abstract, clinical way. This knowledge cannot excite angels with any desire for evil because they do not possess evil within themselves at all. In contrast, man’s Evil Inclination causes his very knowledge of evil in the world to affect him and excite him, and it may well bring him to stray after it.

This is what enables man to have free choice. Since he has evil within him, he is free to choose to sin; thus, when he does good he is not following his natural programming, but acting out of truly free choice, with no compulsion whatsoever.

This is very precious to Hashem, and so one who chooses to do good and not sin is blessed with a sublime revelation of G–dliness. This explains further how meluchah, willing acceptance of divine sovereignty, is only possible for mankind, who possesses free choice, but not for angels.

Based on the Rebbe Rashab’s Sefer HaMaamarim 5660, p. 11.

[1] Shabbos 88b.
[2] Bereshis 3:5.

Dedicated by Rabbi Levi and Chana Kurinsky of Melbourne in the merit of the birth of their daughter, Shterna Sarah bas Levi Yitzchok Halevi, on Shabbos, 16 Sivan – Parshas Beha’alosecha.  Yegadluhoh leTorah, l'chupah, ulemaasim tovim mitoch harchovoh!

Dedicated by Tzvi and Yehudis Rona and family of Sydney as a merit for the yahrtzeit of Pinchas ben Yitzchok HaLevy on 22 Sivan.

Dedicated in the merit of a speedy release for the captives Yonasan ben Malka (Jonathan Pollard), Sholom Mordechai Halevi ben Rivka (Sholom Rubashkin), and Zeva Rochel bas Chaya (Wendy Weiner Runge).

Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for (at least) $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeit of a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Programmed Purity Vs. Frail Freedom

Programmed Purity
Vs. Frail Freedom

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

(This post is a continuation of this earlier post: Of Angels and Men)

Hashem’s creation is awesomely vast. It encompasses not only our world, but also the entire Seder Hishtalshelus, the awesomely vast system of higher spiritual worlds that ends with our physical universe (see here).

Yet all the beings that Hashem created possess a fundamental limitation: Each one is endowed with a very small repertoire of qualities and character traits. With these few traits each creature is equipped to carry out its individual role, but is unable to perform any other role.

In the animal kingdom we find that each species exhibits a distinct emotional tendency. For instance, the raven is cruel, while the eagle is compassionate, and so on.

So is it in higher spheres: The angels, which are compared to animals,[1] are also limited to the distinctive traits with which they were created. Gavriel, the angel of fire and strictness, is unable to deviate from its nature and be kind, while Micha’el, the angel of water and kindness, is unable to be harsh. Thus, of the supernal angels it is written that Hashem “established them forever and ever; He has established a decree that shall not be transgressed,”[2] for they are unable to change.

This is also the reason that “one angel cannot perform two missions”:[3] since its character is fixed, it is incapable of expressing itself in any other way.

In contrast, Hashem fashioned mankind as a microcosm of the Seder Hishtalshelus, and so his inner self encompasses all levels in miniature. Thus, he is endowed with the entire spectrum of character traits, ranging from the highest to the lowest and from one extreme to another.

We can observe this is in the classic episode of the binding of Yitzchak. Hashem asked Avraham, who personified kindness,[4] to deviate from his nature and act with such harshness as to kill another person—and not just anyone, but his only son. Yes, Avraham was ready to obey because Hashem requested it of him. But how could he have obeyed, if his defining attribute was kindness? The answer is that no matter how much a person excels in a particular trait, he always retains the ability to act differently. Thus, although Avraham excelled in kindness, he could still be cruel.

Conversely, even the criminal guilty of the most dastardly crimes, the sort whom all will agree belongs in an electric chair, is capable of being kind and loving.

This is the reason that when the Torah describes the creation of all the other creatures, Hashem is referred to in the singular—“And Hashem made the firmament”;[5] “And Hashem made the animals of the earth”;[6] and so on. Only in connection with mankind do we find the plural form—“Let us make man.”[7] This alludes to the unique multiplicity that Hashem implanted within the mankind such that his spiritual makeup parallels all the higher heavenly spheres, and thus runs the entire gamut of qualities.

Based on the Rebbe Rashab’s Sefer HaMaamarim 5660, p. 10.

(To be continued, G-d willing.)

[1] Sifri, end of Bahaaloscha; Bamidbar Rabba, end of Naso.
[2] Tehillim 148:6.
[3] Bereshis Rabbah 3:2.
[4] Avraham is associated with love and kindness, as it is written, “Avraham, who loves Me” (Yeshayah 41:9). Moreover, “The divine attribute of kindness said before the Holy One: ‘Master of the Universe, since the days of Avraham, I have not have to perform my job, for Avraham serves in my stead’” (Sefer HaBahir 191, cited in Pardes 22:4).
[5] Bereshis 1:7.
[6] Ibid. 1:25.
[7] Ibid. 1:26.

Sponsored by Pinchas and Feygl Cylich (Pinchos Boruch ben Yeshaya Yaakov and Feiga Matl bas Freidl) in honor of their parents, aleihem ha'sholom: Yaakov ben Boruch, Rayzl bas Pinchos, Yaakov Yisroel ben Shamai, and Freydl bas Mendl.

Dedicated in the merit of a speedy release for the captives Yonasan ben Malka (Jonathan Pollard), Alan Gross (Aba Chonah ben Hava Chana), Sholom Mordechai Halevi ben Rivka (Sholom Rubashkin), and Zeva Rochel bas Chaya (Wendy Weiner Runge).

Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for (at least) $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeit of a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.