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

Monday, March 30, 2009

Maintaining the balance

Generally speaking, we find two different and opposite messages in the holy books.

Sometimes we are told how great, special, and beloved to G–d the Jewish people are. At other times we are told how puny and insignificant we are, for our physical world is the lowest of the low compared to all the higher spiritual realms (
Tanya, ch. 36), and how low we are on account of our bestial soul’s natural attraction to the physical, never mind our desire to sin (ibid., ch. 29).

Likewise in terms of our generation as a whole: Sometimes we are told how our generation is spiritually lower than all generations that preceded it, comparable to the dead skin at the sole of the foot. But at other times we are told how our generation is superior, for we are the ones to bring the final Redemption.

The same is true of our individual divine service. Some Torah sources convey how infinitely precious every Mitzvah is, and how much is accomplished spiritually every time we learn Torah, and do even the most apparently minor good deed. Other sources make us feel that no matter how much Torah we have learned and how many
Mitzvos we have performed, it will always be insignificant when compared with how much more we could have accomplished, or the amount of Torah left to learn, or the number of Mitzvos left to perform, or the amount accomplished by others greater than us today, or by earlier generations.

In some sources we are told that we should recognize our good qualities, while other sources emphasize how we should feel inferior to everyone else.

Some sources put down even the greatest
Tzaddik, while others express the inherent greatness of even the greatest rasha (wicked Jew).

Some sources emphasize that it is always possible to do
Teshuvah (repentance) for “Nothing can stand in the way of Teshuvah” (cf. Talmud Yerushalmi, Pe’ah 1:1), while other sources imply that one’s Teshuvah is never truly complete (cf. Tanya, ch. 29).

So which is it? Are we supposed to feel high or low, proud or humble, worthy or worthless, special or insignificant?

The answer is both very simple and very complex: It depends. It depends on the person—on his current state, on his environment, his background, and his level. The key is to maintain a balance, and this is accomplished through giving the correct medicine for the correct disease.

This can even be understood in the way a Jew should conduct himself in the secular world:

A rich entrepreneur doesn’t need praise for his business acumen. He needs to be told that only G–d is “the one who gives you strength to perform deeds of might” (
Devorim 8:18). The same goes for a brilliant general, or a famous musician.

In contrast, a person starting a small business, a young recruit into the army, or a budding pianist, needs encouragement. He needs to be convinced that G–d really has endowed him with the talents that he needs to succeed. And even if he won’t reach fame and riches, he will make a substantial impact upon others. However, if he compares himself to the people at “the top,” and considers (often rightly) how unlikely it is that he will reach their success, he is liable to feel discouraged, and give up altogether.

The same is true of serving G–d. The Jew who struggles mightily to attend a
Minyan, but barely makes it, needs to be praised profusely for his efforts. If he is told that his accomplishments are pitiful, this may well cause him to feel like a failure, which will weaken him so much that he will lose his drive to go to the trouble to attend the Minyan.

Conversely, the Torah scholar who learns all day but starts to let it go to his head, needs to be denigrated. He needs to be made to feel how ignorant he is compared to other scholars, how he is only realizing a minute fraction of his true potential, and how his apparently trivial sins are much worse than the severe infractions of others (see
Tanya, end ch. 30).

Moreover, even during the one day a person may experience different moods, and here, too, this advice holds. At one point he feels weak and unaccomplished—then he needs to be uplifted and supported. But later on, after he prays at length, learns in depth, or contributes to
Tzedakah in great quantities (or all the above), and considers that most others are not nearly as assiduous, sincere, or generous, he should belittle himself and his good deeds, as explained above.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Don't slide down the slippery slope

I once heard the following analogy at a farbrengen:
Once a burly Russian traveled to a market, but arrived several hours too early, so he fell asleep sprawled out over his merchandise.

As he was sleeping, he felt a tug on his foot. Someone was pulling off his boot. He waited, thinking to himself: “I’m a big, strong guy; as soon as he finishes taking off my boot, I’ll sock it to him.” But the stranger only removed part of the boot. “Ha!” the man thought. “He realized that I would hit him, so he left,” and he went back to sleep.

A while later, he felt a tug on his other boot. He waited again, imagining how forcefully he would punch the thief if he would dare to take off the boot. But again the thief left the boot partially on. “A smart thief!” the man thought. “He realized again that it’s unwise to start with me!” And he fell asleep again.

A while later he felt his expensive fur coat, which had been protecting him from the heavy Russian winter, being pulled off him. He was about to jump up and chase after the thief, but then he realized that he couldn’t. In order to move, he would have to put his boots on properly, which would take a minute. He could also take them off, but that would also take time, and he wouldn’t be able to run as well without his boots. Either way, he could not stop the thief from escaping.
Our sages say: “This is the craft of the evil inclination: Today, it will tell him: ‘Do this.’ The following day, it will say: ‘Do that.’ Until ultimately, it will tell him: ‘Go and worship idols’” (Shabbos 105b).

The evil inclination is very cunning. It knows that if it attempts to entice the person to commit a heinous sin, it has little chance of success. So it entices him to commit an apparently trivial infraction. And then another. And another. Each infraction weakens him spiritually in a way that is so gradual that it is sometimes imperceptible. But the cumulative effect of these sins pulls him down until he is so low that when the evil inclination entices him to commit the heinous sin, it is all but impossible to resist the temptation.

As soon as we make the decision to allow ourselves to start “cutting corners,” making concessions, and treating certain Torah requirements and values as unimportant, or less important, we create a “slippery slope” from which it becomes increasingly difficult to escape.

How can we be vigilant against this devious trick of the evil inclination? By adhering to the Talmudic dicta: “Be as careful with a light Mitzvah as with a severe one” (
Avos 2:1) and “Do not sit and weigh up the Mitzvos of the Torah” (Devarim Rabba 6:2).

But when will a person truly feel that every Mitzvah, Rabbinic stricture, and even Jewish custom is precious and must not be overlooked? Only when he feels strongly that every single part of the Torah and
Mitzvos is holy because it is from G–d. This feeling does not come automatically; it must be consciously cultivated.

In particular, the teachings of
Chassidus Chabad—which explain G–d’s greatness in a fully comprehensible way, and teach us the wondrous impact that a Jew makes on the world when he performs Mitzvos—have the special quality of imbuing a person with this sense of the holiness of every single aspect of Torah and Mitzvos.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Looking forward to judgement day

Mourners surround the corpses of Tali Hatuel, 34, who was eight months pregnant, center, and her four daughters, aged two to 11, at their funeral.

Mourners at the funeral of the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva students.

Mourners surround the corpses of Gabi and Rivkah Holtzberg.
Their orphaned son, Moishe (inset), cries in pain.

Today we marking the commemoration of a year since the brutal slaying of the Merkaz HaRav Yeshivah students while studying the holy Torah. And yet again I am reminded of other massacres, of other names, of so many names, so many shattered lives, that I am overwhelmed at the thought of it.
I’m looking forward to the day of judgment.
I want to see justice. Justice for every Jew slain. For every Jew maimed, injured, disfigured, handicapped. For every Jew who was physically harmed in any way. For every Jew put in fear, traumatized. For every Jew whose family life or whose mental health was affected. For every Jew bereaved, mourning, hurting—which, in a broader sense, means justice for every single Jew. Justice for the Jewish people, whom they intend to attack by attacking individual Jews. And justice for Hashem, Whose people they dared to harm.
It’s not that I like seeing people in pain—I don’t. But I like seeing justice carried out against the enemies of Hashem and the Jewish people. “When the wicked are destroyed, there is joy” (Mishlei 11:10). And I want it to be justice “measure for measure” (Sanhedrin 90a).
When we refer to a Jew who has been murdered because he was a Jew, we call him a kodosh, a “holy one,” and we say “may Hashem avenge his blood.” I’m looking forward to the fulfillment of this. To the day when the true value of the Jewish people will be revealed, that they are Hashem’s Chosen, and all the scum who dared to harm them will receive their just desserts in a most public manner, for all the world to see. And we will see the final fulfillment of Torah’s words “Sing aloud, nations, of His people; for He does avenge the blood of His servants, and does render vengeance to His adversaries” (Devarim 32:43). May it happen today, with the coming of Moshiach.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The key to Hiskashrus after Gimmel Tammuz

The Chasam Sofer taught:
As Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai lay sick on his deathbed, his students came to see him. When he saw them, he began to cry. They asked him why he was crying, and he replied: “There are two roads before me, one to Gan Eden and one to Gehinom, and I don’t know on which road they will lead me” (Berachos 28b).

The Chasam Sofer asks: Why did he cry in the presence of his students? Isn’t it more appropriate to weep tears of Teshuva in private? Furthermore, did the great Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai truly doubt whether he would enter Gan Eden?

Rather, the Chasam Sofer explains, Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai knew that his place was in Gan Eden. However, when he saw his students, those who ought to continue in his path, he doubted whether after his passing they would indeed do so; thus, he wept specifically before them, saying, “I don’t know on which road they”—my students—“will lead me.”

When the students sensed their teacher’s pain, they asked him to bless them before his passing. He declared: “May G–d grant that your fear of Heaven equal your fear of beings of flesh and blood.”

In other words, his students were asking him to bless them and endow them with the strength to be able to continue in his path even after his passing. To this he responded, “May G–d grant that your fear of Heaven equal your fear of beings of flesh and blood.” What he meant was: Even after my soul departs from my body, and I will be in a state of “heaven,” I hope that you will treat me as “a being of flesh and blood,” just as if I were still alive.

Iyunim U’biurim Bimegilas Esther, p. 56.
The lesson for Chassidei Chabad today is clear. 

The key to maintaining our Hiskashrus after Gimmel Tammuz is relating to the Rebbe with the same serious devotion as if he were still alive. The Rebbe has surely granted us the ability to accomplish this, for indeed, the Rebbe is still with us just as he was before Gimmel Tammuz, albeit in a hidden fashion. (For explanation, see here, where the Rebbe said as much after the passing of the Previous Rebbe.) 

Thus, reminding ourselves of this inner reality endows us with the strength to maintain our deep bond with the Rebbe despite his (temporary) concealment. Also , see here for a similar teaching.

Monday, March 23, 2009

27 Adar: Now It's Our Job

27 Adar: Now It’s Our Job

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

On 27 Adar I, 5752 (March 2, 1992), the Rebbe suffered a stroke on his right side, Rachmana litzlan, while davvenen at the Ohel. On the same day two years later—which was, of course, an open display of Divine Providence—the Rebbe suffered another stroke, this time on the left side of his holy body, after which he lost consciousness.

After 27 Adar, everything changed. The Rebbe stopped coming down to davven in shul, and farbrengens also stopped completely (except for 16 Tishrei 5753, when the Rebbe came down to a farbrengen in the big shul). After a while the Rebbe began to come out, but not on his regular dais. Instead, a special balcony was built on the west side of 770 for this purpose.

The biggest change during this period was that although from time to time the chassidim were able to see the Rebbe, they were not able to hear him.

Many of the sichos in the years before 27 Adar contain clear hints of guidance for chassidim concerning the periods after 27 Adar and Gimmel Tammuz. What to do about not hearing the Rebbe was also forewarned. In the sicha of the parsha of Bo, shortly before 27 Adar, the Rebbe clearly alluded to the possibility of such a scenario, and taught the chassidim how to deal with it:
Even during his lifetime, the [Previous] Rebbe suffered physically, and this adversely affected his spiritual affairs. This includes the fact that in his last years he was in a condition of “a heavy mouth and a heavy tongue (Shemos 4:10),” similar to what is written of Moshe Rabeinu. This [adversely] affected the manner in which he said Chassidus and disseminated Torah, Judaism, and the wellsprings [of Chassidus] outward.

In fact, the doctor (who was a professor, which is more than a regular doctor) even asked him: “How come your suffering had to express itself in your faculty of speech, such that you are not able to carry out your mission in this world as you would wish?! The [Previous] Rebbe is the one who is so devoted to spreading Torah and Judaism and the wellsprings [of Chassidus] outward. Hashem should have allowed him the full ability to carry this out to the maximum extent, by allowing him maximum control over his faculty of speech, for speech is the primary way to spread Torah and Judaism (by delivering Chassidic discourses, issuing directives, and so on). On the contrary: since he is so devoted to this work, he should have been granted even greater strengths than other people!

“If so,” asked the doctor, “how is it possible that despite all this, we see the opposite?” ...

This is not just a
logical question of a doctor—how come the Nasi HaDor is not able to fulfill his mission as he would wish—but also a question according to Torah. This is evident from Moshe’s complaint to Hashem: “I have a heavy mouth and a heavy tongue” ... “I am clumsy of lips” (Shemos 6:12) and therefore [Moshe said to
Hashem]: “Please send in the hand of the one whom You will send” (i.e., Moshiach—see sicha of Chayei Sara 5752). To this Hashem immediately responded, “I will be with your mouth”; He did not suffice with this, and added: “Aharon your brother ... will be a mouth for you,” for Aharon brought out Moshe’s words in actual physical speech.

It may be said that the fact that my revered father-in-law, the [Previous] Rebbe, suffered similarly, was similar to what occurred to Moshe in his generation. Since the refinement had not yet been completed, and therefore “the speech was in exile” (and Moshe himself transcended the revelation in speech), therefore Hashem did not heal him, but performed a miracle such that “I will be with your mouth” and “your words will be ready.”

The rectification and fulfillment of this is accomplished in the most complete matter—with the strength endowed by the [Previous] Rebbe—through the souls in bodies, healthy souls in healthy bodies, in this generation, the ninth generation [from the Baal Shem Tov]. We have the power to accomplish the task of “Aharon your brother ... will be a mouth for you,” through concrete verbal expression (such that “the sound is heard in Pharaoh’s house” (Bereishis 45:16)), and in an abundant measure, the words of Torah and instructions, and so on, of the [Previous] Rebbe. ...

It should be emphasized that everyone should undertake that his study of the teachings of the [Previous] Rebbe should also complete and fill up what was lacking in the dissemination of the wellsprings [of
Chassidus] due to the [Previous] Rebbe’s speech impairment, [and this ought to be accomplished] both through one’s own verbal study, and through disseminating the wellsprings outward, to others.

Hisva’aduyos 5752, Vol. 2, pp. 146-147, 150.
At the time this sicha surely sent chills down the spines of the chassidim, for many sensed (unfortunately, correctly) that the Rebbe was presaging unpleasant future events. Unfortunately, this was what indeed occurred on 27 Adar: the Rebbe’s faculty of speech went into exile.

The lesson for us now, especially after 3
Tammuz, is obvious (especially based on the principle of “he ruled concerning himself” discussed here): For the moment, in our current situation in which the Rebbe’s voice is not heard physically, it is our responsibility to make up for that absence by intensifying in our own study of his teachings—and “in great abundance”—and in our teaching them to others.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Rebbe's public will II

The Rebbe’s Public Will II

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

As discussed here, on Motzo’ei Shabbos Terumah, 5748, the Rebbe clearly alluded to what Chassidim should do after his Histalkus, saying that they should turn to local Chabad Rabbonim for guidance. The Rebbe had also alluded to a possibility of turning to Rabbonim for leadership even during his lifetime (see the sicha: “or it may remain in both ways, etc.”)—which clearly presaged the situation after the Rebbe’s first stroke on 27 Adar.

After the sicha, the Rebbe  immediately began distributing dollars to be given to charity. Rabbi Yehuda Kalman Marlow (of blessed memory), who was then a member of the Crown Heights Beis Din, passed by the Rebbe to receive a dollar, and referred to the beginning of the Torah portion of the week to come, saying: “It is written ‘ve’ata tetzaveh es bnei Yisrael’—‘you [i.e. Moshe Rabeinu] should command the Jewish people” (Shemos 27:20) and everyone knows to whom ‘you’ refers.”
What Rabbi Marlow meant was clear: He wanted to bless the Rebbe, the Moshe Rabeinu of this generation, that there be no Histalkus (in which case the Rabbonim would be charged with the role of practically leading the Chassidim, as the Rebbe had said), nor should it be shared with the Rabbonim. Rather, the Rebbe alone should lead the Chassidim.
The Rebbe responded to Rabbi Marlow, “May this not be in a way of ‘kosis’ [“crushed,” a reference to the continuation of that verse].” To this Rabbi Marlow responded, “May [the Rebbe] have long life [arichus yomim ve’shonim tovos].” “Amen,” the Rebbe responded.
My understanding of this response is as follows. Even after 27 Adar, and after Gimmel Tammuz, the Rebbe is still leading us. The Rabbonim are merely an intermediary through which the Rebbe’s leadership is practically administered, and “one’s agent is the legal equivalent of oneself” (Nedarim 35b). However, we are crushed at the fact that Gimmel Tammuz occured, and that therefore we do not see him and his leadership openly.
May we merit to openly see the Rebbe leading us again, with the coming of Moshiach now!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Realistic illustrations

In p. 49 of this memento, the Rebbe is quoted as having written:

It is not advisable that people should be drawn in an intentionally non-realistic mannervery fat, with an overly enlarged nose, and the likealthough they [the people who draw comics] have become accustomed to doing so. In my opinion, this is a great educational mistake, for with regard to children, the more simple and normal, the better. And in my opinion the same is true concerning adults. However, here is not the place to elaborate.

The explanation of the Rebbe’s view seems to be: When illustrations are unreal and fantastic, although they may be regarded as exciting, they are felt to be less personally relevant. However, when they are presented in a way that is realistic and normal, they have a real and lasting impact.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A chossid needs a Rebbe and a mashpia

Reb Hillel Paritcher once explained that to live the life of a chossid, one needs two vital things:
Every single Jew who wishes to go in the ways of Chassidus needs to be mekushar [bound] with the Tzaddik of the generation, such as the Rebbe. He should also acquire for himself a teacher, who is a chossid, to teach him and explain to him well the teachings of the Rebbe and [to explain to him] all of Chassidus. For the Tzaddik elicits the level of seeing G–dliness into one’s soul [which is the level of Chochmah], while the chossid elicits the level of hearing G–dliness into one’s soul, which is the level of Binah. This will suffice for the understanding person.

Migdal Oz, p. 353.
In my own words: It is not enough to study Chassidus and follow Chassidic customs on one’s own. In order for these things to have their desired effect, one needs two forms of outside help:

1. Hiskashrus (a bond) with a Rebbe. Since the Rebbe himself sees G–dliness, he is able to make makes the G–dliness one connects with through learning Chassidus real; this is the idea of “seeing” G–dliness, as it were (see here).

2. A chossid to guide him and explain the Rebbe’s teachings to him—what is today referred to as a mashpia (as distinct from an asei lecha Ravsee here). This enables the Rebbe’s teachings to permeate the chossid intellectually. This is the idea of Binah, which is the idea of attaining abstract understanding of G–dliness. This is compared to “hearing” G–dliness, just as one hears about something that is distant. 

This guidance also seems to be needed in order to guide the person in applying the teachings to himself personally, for the purpose of learning Torah in general and Chassidus in particular is to affect one personally. On the contrary, this is the true measure of whether these teachings have indeed permeated him.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Esther's irrevocable sacrifice

Most stories have a happy ending. But sometimes they don’t.

Esther said: “And if I perish, I will perish.” The Gemara (Megilla 15a) comments: “Just as I lost my father’s house [from which she was orphaned], so will I lose you [Mordechai].” Why was Esther to lose Mordechai?

When Mordechai heard that Haman’s decree had been issued, he saw that the situation was dire, so he asked Esther to approach Achashverosh and plead on behalf of the Jewish people. Yet acceding to this request involved paying an excruciating price.

In fact, Esther was married to Mordechai. She would go from intimacy with Achashverosh to intimacy with Mordechai (ibid. 13b). How was this permissible? It is known that a woman who commits adultery is forbidden to her husband forever. 

The reason that Esther’s intimacy with Achashverosh was not considered adulterous was that were she to refuse the king’s summons, she would have been summarily executed. Since she was a totally unwilling participant in relations with Achashverosh, she remained permitted to her true husband, Mordechai, just as any rape victim (other than the wife of a Kohen) is permitted to return to her husband.

However, when Mordechai asked her to approach Achashverosh, she knew that this involved incurring an irreparable loss. For approaching Achashverosh would involve initiating intimacy, and this would entail a certain degree of willingness, rendering her forever forbidden to Mordechai. Although it was permitted for her to actively make herself available to Achashverosh (special dispensation is given to allow adultery for the purpose of saving the Jewish people), as a consequence, she would be forbidden to Mordechai regardless.

Esther paid the ultimate price. She forfeited her husband, and not just any husband, but the great Mordechai HaTzaddik. She sacrificed her personal life and marital fulfillment irrevocably for the sake of the Jewish people.

The Jewish people were saved, but for Esther, there was no happy ending. (By the same token, of course, Mordechai made the same sacrifice, for he knew that if Esther would follow his directive, he would forfeit his relationship with her.)

I am reminded of Jonathan Pollard, who has paid such a devastating price for his selfless sacrifice for the Jewish people. Countless Jewish lives were saved, but ever since, Jonathan Pollard’s life has been hell on earth, and there seems to be no end in sight, according to the natural order (may he be released miraculously as soon as possible).

Who knows, one day we may be required to give up something personal that is infinitely precious and irregainable for the sake of saving other Jews. If, G-d forbid, we are given this challenge, may we be blessed with the inner strength to make whatever sacrifice is necessary, and do so with joy.

Jewish pride evokes admiration

When we refuse to conform to the behavior of the world, and stick to our ancient, sacred tradition, this will not be perceived as a fault, but as greatness:

“The governors of the lands ... all supported the Jews ... for Mordechai had become great ... and his fame had spread throughout the lands” (Esther, 9:3-4).

Mordechai’s greatness was witnessed by all the nations in his firm stand in all matters associated with Judaism, such that “Mordechai would neither kneel nor prostrate himself” [before Haman] (ibid., 3:2). Those who erroneously behave in the opposite manner [by compromising in their Torah observance] provoke the gentile nations to publicly express the opposite of love for the Jewish people, may G–d save us! Would that we would never come to such a state of affairs, and this warning would suffice.

Hisva’aduyos 5745, Vol. 3, p. 1714.

In my own words:

Ultimately, by refusing to bow down to Haman, Mordechai became famous far and wide as a champion of goodness and truth.

Some Jews think that in order to gain the approval and support of the nations, the Jewish people need to compromise their standards and imitate non-Jewish behavior.

However, the reality is the exact opposite: The key to earning the respect of the world is showing that we are not ashamed or apologetic of who we are—Jews unswervingly loyal to our timeless mission to study Torah, observe the Mitzvos, and proclaim G–d’s unity to the world.

Non-Jews sense subconsciously that we are spiritually different, so when we maintain that differentness with uncompromising yet refined purposefulness, with proud yet humble perseverance, our holy energies shine brightly, dazzling non-Jews with our fineness and nobility. They are in awe of us, and they stream to us for guidance.

However, when they detect that we are embarrassed at our calling, that we indifferently abdicate our invaluable role and chase after their culture and slavishly imitate it, not only do they refuse to accept us, but they regard us with contempt and derision.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Rebbe's public will

The Rebbe’s Public Will

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

On Motza’ei Shabbos Terumah 5748 (20 February 1988), ten days after the passing of the Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, of blessed memory, the Rebbe shocked the chassidim by delivering a sicha that clearly referred to his passing as a possible scenario, and that prescribed clear instructions concerning how to act in that event. Thus, the Rebbe in effect delivered a public will. The full version of this sicha was printed in vol. 624 of the Kfar Chabad magazine several weeks after Gimmel Tammuz. The Hebrew transcript (adapted for publication) can be found in Hisvaaduyos 5748, Vol. 4, pp. 401,2,3,4 (see pages before and after for the full context).

sicha refers to the expression, “Come, let us consider an accounting of the world,” which is taken from Bava Basra 78b. The Gemara explains this to mean that one should consider “a Mitzvah’s loss against its gain, and a sin’s gain against its loss ... and if you do so, you will be built up in this world and established in the World to Come.” This is a reminder of the importance of calculating one’s actions carefully in anticipation of their consequences after one passes away. Thus, the expression “Come, let us consider an accounting of the world” indicates considering the scenario of departure from this world to the World to Come. The Rebbe related a story of the Tzemach Tzedek that borrows this expression to refer euphemistically but unambiguously to a calculation of what to do in preparation for the Histalkus of a Rebbe. 

This story had never before been printed, and this was the first time that the Rebbe told it in public. The story was not told in full in the
sicha, but the author of Cheshbono Shel Olam relates that in an unpublished manuscript it is written as follows:
In the period before his passing, the Tzemach Tzedek would learn regularly with his son, the Rebbe Maharash, and his grandson, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Kapust (who was similar in age to his uncle, who was the youngest son of the Tzemach Tzedek). Every time they would learn (apparently towards the end of their studies), the Tzemach Tzedek would repeat the Midrashic statement: “Although Yosef and his brothers died, their G–d did not die.”[1] At the time the Rebbe Maharash would not respond, but when he went home, he would weep profusely. The Tzemach Tzedek would also say to them, “Come, let us consider an accounting of the world” (i.e., what will be after 120 years). Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Kapust would ask, “Indeed, what will be?” causing the Rebbe Maharash to become upset at him.
The Rebbe commented on this story, saying that the fact that it reached him indicates that there must be a lesson to be derived:
On that occasion I was surprised. Why was this told to me? Especially since this involved a lack of honor toward the one who said this before the Tzemach Tzedek. However, this implies that this too is related to the concept of “the living shall take to heart.”[2]  

To preface, after the
Tzemach Tzedek discussed “come, let us consider ... ” he lived for many good years, in which his role as leader was widely spread, as were the wellsprings [of Chassidic philosophy], along with all the famous areas of his holy work, to the point that it reached non-Jews. ... Likewise, we saw that other Rebbeim of Chabad also followed the practice of “Come, let us consider an accounting of the world,” and this brought them a long, good life in the literal sense.

So, too, in our case. Since this story was told to us, this demonstrates that “the living shall take to heart” in this area as well.

On account of the length [of the amount spoken] the listeners may miss the main point. Thus, I repeat it: There exists the concept of “Come, let us consider an accounting of the world,” the reckoning of a person. [This means calculating] whether it [the position of leadership] needs to be transferred, or when it needs to be transferred, or it may remain in both ways, along the lines of what we find concerning
Moshe Rabeinu, that while he was still alive, even before the Torah was given, when “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai, he charged his student Yehoshua bin Nun: “Go out, and fight against Amalek.”[3]  

... The answer is thus clear: [When questions arise] one should consult with three
chassidishe rabbonim [i.e., Chabad rabbis who are trained halachic authorities], whether through one of them [who will then discuss it with another two], or with all three at the same time, and the greatest of them, or all three together, will deliver the verdict.

In other words, in addition to that which has been discussed recently concerning the imperative to fulfill the instruction of the
Mishnah, “Make for yourself a teacher,”[4] and in matters related to healing, to consult with doctors, according to the statement of our sages on the verse, “And he will surely heal”[5] [“From here we see that a healer is given permission to heal”[6]]. These directives are not related to “Come, let us consider an accounting of the world.” Still, this applies in a similar manner, and with even greater intensity, concerning “Come, let us consider an accounting of the world”: the answer is clear, in a way that leaves no room for doubt, that this is the province of three chassidishe rabbonim 

This applies to several villages and cities, and in every single place there is a committee of the
chassidishe rabbonim of that place—whether for that city, for that neighborhood, or for the entire country—which are all legitimate practices.[7] Wherever there are three chassidishe rabbonim, they are themselves the Beis Din. In a location that has less than three, they can combine rabbis from elsewhere, similar to what is written even concerning the Great Sanhedrin. This task is being assigned to the minds of these people, and they accept the task, the mission, and the strength that is granted them, to deliver the above ruling in their respective locations, and with joy and gladness of heart. ...

As mentioned, this is being said in a clear manner, one that leaves no room for any doubt, even a doubt of holiness. There is not even room to ask about this matter again. This has already been transferred, and it is as if the decision in this matter has already been made. Let this be a clear demonstration of how one should behave for a long, good life, and there will be no room for any confusion. If anyone has further questions on the matter, whatever they may be, in these matters, the answer is already prepared by the
chassidishe rabbonim, in the role of a Beis Din 

[1] Shemos Rabba 81:8. [2] Koheles 7:2. In the year after the passing of the Rebbetzin, the Rebbe would often refer to this verse in his sichos. [3] Shemos 17:9. [4] Avos 1:6. [5] Shemos 21:18. [6] Bava Basra 85b. [7] In the original, נהרא נהרא ופשטיה.” Cf. Mishnah Berurah 423:6.
Summary: In the event of the Rebbe’s Histalkus, the Rebbe made clear in advance that when important questions arise about which people would have consulted with the Rebbe, they should consult with three local chassidishe rabbonim.

: Here it seems to be referring to issues of a more large-scale, communal nature, because the Rebbe specifically says that this directive comes in addition to the existing instructions to “Make for yourself a teacher,” and in matters of health to consult with doctors who are friends, and so on, which are means of resolving questions of an individual.  

: In my experience, this sicha is widely unknown even among Chabad chassidim. I have almost never heard anyone speak about it, in private or in public, and those whom I told about it expressed amazement. In my humble opinion this is the most significant sicha for chassidim in our current situation, for it shows how the Rebbe clearly foresaw our situation, and prepared us for it. This makes it of the utmost practical importance to the Chabad community, and it should therefore be widely publicized.

(The article above is based on Binyamin Lipkin’s
Cheshbono Shel Olam, Machon HaSefer, 5760, pp. 45-48. See the continuation to this post here, and the related post here.)


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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Counter-Intuitive Solution

A Counter-Intuitive Solution

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

Oddly enough, sometimes the most effective way of dealing with a problem is by not focusing on it. At first glance this seems completely counter-intuitive. Who ever solved a problem by ignoring it?

ch. 28 discusses one troubled by forbidden or extraneous thoughts that the animal soul casts into his mind in order to distract him from focusing on his prayers. The Tanya explains that the only way to overcome such thoughts is to simply disregard them completely; instead, one should focus with even more intense concentration on the words of prayer.

Focusing on the thoughts in any form is counter-productive, for the thoughts are comparable to an anti-Semite who persistently harasses a Jew. As soon as the Jew responds—no matter how clever he thinks he worded his comeback—he has lost, for that is exactly what the anti-Semite wants—to grab the Jew’s attention so that he can torment the Jew further.

Likewise, one who attempts to avoid the sin of forbidden thoughts by dwelling on why they are so wrong and sinful finds himself in the process still thinking about the forbidden thought, which in turn brings him to dwell on it further—and so he has fallen right into the evil inclination’s trap. “He who wrestles with a dirty man, becomes dirty himself.”

This principle applies not only to overcoming temptation to sin, but also in relating to past sins. As discussed in Tanya ch.
26, one of the ploys of the evil inclination is to bring one to dwell upon one’s sins and become saddened over them. But wait a minute, isn’t it a Mitzvah to do be sad that one sinned against Hashem, and do Teshuva? How can this be considered a bad thing?

To explain this, the
Tanya states that part of the reason that the Torah instructs us to “serve Hashem with joy” (Tehillim 100:2) is that joy infuses one with strength and resolve in serving Hashem, enabling one to overcome the wiles of the evil inclination. Reflecting upon past sins and how terrible it is to sin naturally evokes feelings of sadness that weaken the person both spiritually and physically, and thus makes him even more susceptible to fall into sin. Since the evil inclination knows this—for it is called the “sly one” (Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. 3, p. 516a), it wants the person to think such thoughts. This is one of the cases in which the evil inclination comes with a “silk kapote” (Igros Kodesh HaRayatz, Vol. 4, p. 394; Sefer HaSichos 5685, p. 83), insidiously assuming a guise of piety in order to ensnare the person.

Only on certain occasions are thoughts of one’s sins and how to rectify them deemed appropriate: during
Cheshbon Nefesh, a deep personal reckoning. There are certain times designated as appropriate for this, such as when reciting the Shema before going to sleep (Kerias Shema she’al hamitah), Erev Rosh Chodesh (also known as Yom Kippur Katan, the small Yom Kippur), and the entire month of Elul and the Ten Days of Teshuva.

What about sadness leading to weakness? The answer is that when Torah informs us that these times are auspicious for making a personal reckoning, this means that during these times
Hashem grants from above additional strength that enables one to reach a certain amount of sadness over one’s sins in a way that will not adversely affect one’s divine service.

Moreover (as also discussed in
Tanya ch. 26), as soon as one is finished with sadness and teshuvah, he should be confident that Hashem has forgiven him, and this should bring him to tremendous joy, such that by the time he finishes his personal reckoning, and turns his attention back to his regular divine service, he has returned to a state of joy.

However, at all other times one should be focusing not on meticulously assessing one’s exact level and analyzing one
s sins and shortcomings, but on the task at hand: serving Hashem.

(An additional reason for this is that it distracts the person from his main mission. This is comparable to a businessman, whose primary preoccupation should be selling his merchandise. Although he should take stock of his profit and loss, he can only do so from time to time, for if he is constantly engaged in stocktaking, he will certainly never sell anything!)

Then, when one focuses on increasing in Torah and
Mitzvos, these thoughts automatically have no place to enter. And even if they do enter for a moment, they can be rejected easily, just as light is dispelled by darkness—automatically (see Tanya ch. 12). One is then surrounded with an atmosphere of holiness, and finds oneself in a much more pure state of mind and heart than if he would be constantly dwelling on how terrible sin is, how low he has fallen through his sins, and how vital it is to undo his past sins. Thus, this approach also protects him from sin much more effectively.

Thus, when people wrote to the Rebbe asking for advice in how to overcome “sins of youth” (i.e., indulging in lascivious thoughts of women and spilling one
s seed) and how to attain a tikkun (a spiritual rectification that will undo the damage done through the sin) for past sins, the Rebbe advised (e.g., here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and in many other holy letters) the person to divert his attention totally from such matters, and even from rectifying them; instead, the Rebbe advised them, increase in Torah study and in teaching Torah to others.

In this connection,
here (also mentioned in Igros Kodesh, Vol. 22, p. 8) the Rebbe quotes the responsum of the Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, who says (see here) that thinking and worrying about the “sins of youth” naturally leads one to the same undesirable results as those of forbidden thoughts. This is the basis for the traditional approach in the Chabad community not to discuss this sin, or its tikkun, on a regular basis (in contrast to the approach of certain other Chassidic circles).

That’s not to say that a
tikkun isn’t needed, and that one shouldn’t do things to effect such a tikkun. At the same time that the Rebbe advises people to focus their attention elsewhere, and if they are at the right stage, to get married, he then typically prescribes certain practices that serve the purpose of both preventative measures and tikkunim

These include:
  • engaging in assiduous Torah study, especially the study of Chassidus
  • disseminating Torah widely
  • giving Tzedakah regularly and frequently, especially before prayer
  • immersing in the Mikveh daily
  • learning Chitas
  • memorizing some passages of Mishnayos and Tanya, and reviewing them regularly by heart, especially while walking down the street (see Igros Kodesh, Vol. 6, p. 326)
Other pieces of advice that were given that clearly seem to be preventative measures (and not tikkunim), include eating in a healthy way, not eating a lot before going to sleep, avoiding gossip and idle chatter, and having one’s Tefillin and/or Mezuzos checked.

However, one should follow these practices without being preoccupied with the fact that they are a preventative measure or a
tikkun—although of course one is fully aware that this is so, and this awareness is part of his motivation to do them.

The exception to this rule, the Rebbe says in the above letter, is when dealing with people who are simply not aware that it is forbidden to look at certain things and engage in “sins of youth” in the first place (especially since some secular doctors and mental health 
professionals even encourage it)! Or even if they realize vaguely that it’s problematic, they are unaware of the degree of the sin’s severity. When dealing with such people one must speak openly about this sin, in order to teach people that it is wrong. However, once the person has grasped the severity of the sin, the most effective way of overcoming it and rectifying it is as above.