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

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The call of the hour: Learn about redemption and Moshiach

On this day, the 6th of Iyar 5751 (1991), the Rebbe called for every Jew to engage in the study of Torah in areas related to Moshiach and geulah as the most “straight path” to bring Moshiach:
What is the straight path—the easiest and quickest method from all of the ways of Torah—that the Jewish people as a whole should choose, now that they have finished their [divine] service in order to accomplish the revelation of Moshiach? ...
is about to arrive, but he is yet to actually arrive. Thus, every single Jew should invest a final effort to bring Moshiach (not through pure Malchus, which is the role of king Moshiach himself, but rather) through Malchus of Tiferes. This refers to the concept of Moshiach, Malchus, as it is found in Torah, Tiferes. For as mentioned, through Torah (which corresponds to the role of Moshiach as a teacher) one elicits and reveals the lofty lights of the redemption (which corresponds to the role of Moshiach as a king) in an internally-felt manner.
Put simply,
Tiferes is the idea of Torah study, and Malchus of Tiferes refers to studying Torah in areas related to Moshiach and the redemption as they are explained in numerous sources (it is easy to find them—through indices, which are plentiful in this generation, arranged according to the order of the alef-beis in the appropriate entries: redemption, Moshiach, and the like):

  • the Written Torah, especially “in the words of the Prophets ... for all of the books [of the Prophets] are filled with this matter [the belief in the redemption]”[1];
  • the Oral Torah, and especially in the tractate of Sanhedrin, and at the end of the tractate of Sotah (since the redemption will come through the revelation of the true purpose of the exile, it fits nicely that the signs of redemption are discussed at the end of the tractate of Sotah, which is connected with the exile), and in Midrashic sources;
  • the inner dimension of the Torah, beginning from the Zohar, of which it is written: “With this book of the Zohar we will go out from exile with [divine] mercy.”[2]
  • especially the teachings of Chassidic philosophy, through which “the master will come—this refers to the king Moshiach”[3] as found in the teachings of the Rebbes of Chabad;
  • especially in the teachings—the Chassidic discourses and Likkutei Sichos—of the Leader of our Generation.[4]
This is a foretaste and a preparation for the study of the teachings of Moshiach, of whom it is written, “A new teaching shall come forth from me.” He will teach the entire Jewish people the inner dimension of the Torah, the deeper mystical reasons for the Torah, thereby bringing them to know G–dliness [and fulfilling the exhortation] “Know the G–d of your father.”[5] As Rambam rules: “In that time ... the Jewish people will be great sages and know hidden things and comprehend their creator ... ”[6]

This increase in Torah study in topics related to Moshiach and the redemption is the straight path to accomplish the revelation and arrival of Moshiach and the redemption in actuality.

My intent is a call to action, and surely people will encourage and publicize this everywhere:

In order to accomplish the immediate revelation and arrival of Moshiach, every single Jew—men (both Torah scholars and businessmen), women, and children, each one on his level—should increase in Torah study in topics related to Moshiach and the redemption in particular.

It would be even better if this study would be held in public, with [at least] ten people participating. For in addition to the greatness of “ten [Jews] who sit and occupy themselves with the Torah, the Divine Presence rests in their midst,”[7] there is an extra advantage when topics related to
Moshiach and the redemption are studied in public in terms of the excitement and joy that one feels in the heart, for in this way one’s yearning and anticipation for the coming of Moshiach becomes steadily more strong.
Thus, even those who wish to study in depth, and with scholarly debates (and even formulate novelties in Torah in topics related to
Moshiach and the redemption), with calmness and careful deliberation through learning on their own, or with a study partner, should strive (from time to time) to take part in the study in which ten people take part, so that they will also attain the special quality of Torah study among ten Jews.
Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 11:2.[2] Zohar 3:124b. Cited and explained in Tanya, Iggeres HaKodesh, Epistle 26.[3] Kesser Shem Tov, #1. The Baal Shem Tov writes in a famous letter addressed to his brother-in-law, Gershon Kitover, that he ascended to the chamber of Moshiach, where he asked him, “When will the master come?” “When the wellsprings of your teachings are disseminated outward,” Moshiach responded. The Baal Shem Tov’s teachings are the teachings of Chassidus.[4] This is clearly a reference to the Rebbe himself, for although often the Rebbe uses the term “the Leader of our Generation” to refer to the Previous Rebbe, in this case the Rebbe refers to Likkutei Sichos, a set of books only authored by the Rebbe.[5] I Chronicles 28:9.[6] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 12:8.[7] Avos 3:6. See Igeres HaKodesh end sec. 23. Hisva’aduyos 5751, Vol. 3, p. 160, 163-164.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The purpose of a Jew's life: Iskafya and Is’hapcha

As soon as a person becomes self-aware, he realizes that his own worst enemy is himself—his evil inclination (also known as the Bestial Soul).

Without working to refine himself, the person’s natural state is to be wild, ungoverned, and dangerous, driven by selfish and destructive urges, as it is written: “A man is born like a wild ass” (
Iyov 11:12) and “The inclination of man is wicked from his youth” (Bereshis 8:21). In fact, our Sages explain (Talmud Yerushalmi, Berachos 3:5) that the word mine’urav, “from his youth,” can also be interpreted as mine’arav, “from the moment he stirs,” i.e., from the moment a fetus stirs to go out into the world, it is confronted by the evil inclination.

So we are starting life, which is given to us in order to serve G–d, with a handicap. Thus, when a Jew decides to devote himself to serving
Hashem, he has to overcome the resistance of the evil inclination, who was in charge first, and has been in charge all along, until the Jew reached this decision. He must actively push and force himself to think words of Torah, concentrate on the words of prayer, and perform Mitzvos. At the same time he should distance himself from any behavior or environment that may lead to temptation. This is the notion of Iskafya—bending and forcing oneself to do what one would rather not do, or restraining oneself from a forbidden or inadvisable deed that one desires to commit.

This holds true for someone born into a Torah-observant, and even
chassidishe family who for whatever reason never took his heritage seriously, and reached a point of maturity in which he decided to do so.

In a different way, it is also applicable to a newcomer who was introduced to these teachings later in life and desires to embrace them. For although he has become excited about Torah and
Mitzvos, since these teachings and practices are yet to permeate his inner self, part of him still desires to sin.

Regardless of the person’s background, the first step of the one who seeks to serve
Hashem is Iskafya. However, this is only the beginning. The goal of divine service is that with time, not only will one’s external behavior in thought, speech, and action conform with Hashem’s will, but he will even change his inner self, and change his middos, his character traits. This is known as Is’hapcha, inner transformation.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Let the horses go to the water-trough!

Rabbi Mordechai Shusterman a”h related:

As is known, the Toras Shmuel series of the Rebbe Maharash [his Chassidic discourses] was prepared for print in two ways. Part of it was reprinted in square letters, while the other part was copied from the manuscripts transcribed by Reb Shmuel HaKosev, and one who is unaccustomed to reading manuscripts will have difficulty deciphering them.

The Rebbe related to me that once his father-in-law [the Previous Rebbe] said [concerning the reprinting of the
Rebbe Maharash’s works]: “Enough of bringing the water trough to the horse; we should start bringing the horse to the water trough.”

The Previous Rebbe seems to have meant: Why is it always necessary to make it easier and easier for people to learn Chassidus? It’s time people stopped looking for shortcuts and started being ready to expend effort unaided.

In practice, we know that the Rebbe did not follow this approach. The Rebbe instructed that all the manuscripts of
Chassidus, including those of the Rebbe Maharash, be reprinted in easily legible square Hebrew letters; likewise, the Rebbe encouraged other similar “shortcuts” such as indexes (cf. Hisva’aduyos 5751, Vol. 3, p. 164) and, of course, translations.

However, I submit that there is no contradiction (G-d forbid) between this practice and the words of the Previous Rebbe.

For people on a lower level, aids are indeed needed. Some people do not have the patience to decipher a manuscript, so that manuscript needs to be printed in square letters, translated, and the like. Otherwise, these people will simply be deprived of these holy teachings, for they will not study it in its original form. Likewise, they are at the point that they will not pursue other learning opportunities if they are not spoon-fed.

However, many people who should have passed this stage, are still stuck in it. Instead of these devices helping them, as it does for the first category of people, these devices burden them and hold them back from true inner growth. For instead of being ready and even eager to expend effort at serving Hashem themselves, they are constantly on the lookout for the easy way out. They have grown so used to receiving assistance that they are averse to expending effort, especially when it continues for an ongoing period of time.

About them the Previous Rebbe said: “Let the horses go to the water-trough.” Those horses that are able to go to the water trough, should not be indulged and have the trough brought to them. They should be encouraged to do the work of walking to the water-trough on their own.

Likewise, those
chassidim who are able to serve Hashem on a more advanced level should do so without seeking aids. I’m not declaring that one should never use an aid; it can be a useful timesaver at times. Rather, I’m suggesting that the Previous Rebbe means to say that in general a true chossid should not depend upon them.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Rebbe answers our post-Gimmel Tammuz questions

Many chassidim have questions, valid questions, about how to be a chossid after Gimmel Tammuz, when we cannot physically interact with the Rebbe as we could before Gimmel Tammuz, and especially before 27 Adar.

I have overheard and participated in lengthy discussions on this topic. But with all due respect, there is no need for speculation and philosophizing on the matter. The core question on every
chossid’s mind should be “How does the Rebbe want me to approach this situation?” And the answer is that first and foremost, this can only be ascertained through delving sincerely into his words.

The Rebbe prepared us for this situation in his
sichos throughout the years. In particular, it appears to me (as I have been taught by my teachers) that according to the principle of “he ruled concerning himself” discussed here, the best guide for a chossid in relating to the Rebbe after Gimmel Tammuz is the sichos that the Rebbe delivered during the years immediately following Yud Shevat. In these sichos (for the Hebrew, see here, here, and here) the Rebbe demonstrates how a chossid should relate to a Rebbe after the Rebbe’s Histalkus, maintaining and even increasing his bond. These sichos have even been translated and released by Sichos In English under the title of “Proceeding Together” (see here, here, and here).

I have pointed out some of these sources on this blog, but there is simply no substitute for thoroughly studying these sources inside. In my opinion, these sources are the “manual” for a
chossid in relating to the Rebbe today. I really don’t understand how people who have not learned through these sichos function as chassidim in this time, considering that they lack this crucial guidance. I am not in the least bit surprised when I see people who have clearly not learnt these sichos floundering in confusion.

I do not claim that these sichos resolve every possible question that may arise concerning the relationship of chossid and Rebbe today; however, the core issues are discussed and clarified, thereby providing tremendous strength and encouragement in this time of darkness and doubts. Try it and see!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Talking During Tefillah: A Twofold Solution

Some people complain: “There are people who talk in Shul, both before davvenen and during davvenen. They come late and miss the Minyan, or leave before the Minyan is over, or don’t show up altogether. Or they davven too fast, or after the proper time, or skip parts of davvenen. Something must be done!”

All these complaints are valid, and our
Rebbeim, starting from the Alter Rebbe, screamed in great pain against this contempt for the Shul and davvenen in it. The question is how best to address the problem.

My understanding is that there are two types of solutions, both necessary:

An immediate solution. If someone is talking during davvenen (never mind a group of people), shush him, and if necessary, speak out in protest. “Silence is consent” (Yevamos 87b), and “Anyone who has the opportunity to protest [against sinning] and failed to do so, is termed wicked” (Shavuos 39b). Don’t allow this desecration of a holy place to continue. If he disturbs consistently, inform him unambiguously that unless he changes his ways, he is not welcome.

However, this solution is only symptomatic, for even if the serial talker leaves this
Shul, he’ll probably manage to find another one where no one will make a fuss if he talks. So how do we solve this?

A long-term solution. The core question is: why are people talking during davvenen? The answer is pretty obvious: they’re not the least bit interested in communing with the One Above. So instead of Shul being a time for introspection and spiritual growth, it is seen as an opportunity for a social gathering.

But this begs the question: why indeed aren’t they interested in
Hashem? Socializing is indeed pleasant, but isn’t He the One Who creates them and provides them with their every need? Are they not aware that they were created to serve Him, and that He schuduled the time of davvenen for special communication with Him?

To answer this, they talk for all kinds of reasons, but the root cause seems to be that despite their basic observance (of course, talking in
Shul is a total violation of Halacha, but what I mean is that they generally adhere to the “big three” of family purity, Shabbos, and eating only Kosher food) they have over time become coarse and materialistic, and almost completely lost touch with their true inner selves, the special Jewish soul, the Neshamah. How does one overcome the cumulative effect of years and years of an indulgent, materialistic lifestyle?

The solution is that they need to have experiences that will rekindle the hidden flame of their
Neshamah, so it can overcome the coarse lifestyle into which they have sunken. It should be noted that while the former solution is fairly easy and straightforward, the latter requires tremendous personal sacrifice, and will most likely be exceedingly difficult. However, it is still attainable.

In particular, studying
Chassidus, which discusses the greatness of Hashem and of the Neshamah, has the power to arouse the Neshamah from its slumber and slowly but surely inspire the Jew who has fallen to devote himself to serving Hashem scrupulously. Regardless whether it happens sooner or later, Chassidus is guaranteed to change the person (see here).

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

28 Nissan: The Rebbe pours out his heart

Today is 28 Nissan, the day on which the Rebbe delivered the famous sicha of 28 Nissan 5751. If there was any sicha that presaged our current situation after 27 Adar and Gimmel Tammuz, it was this one. It was in this sicha that the Rebbe declared: “I have done everything I can [to bring Moshiach]; I hand it over to you—do everything that you can.” This sicha can be heard here. The edited transcript can be viewed here. Earlier posts of mine discussing the sicha can be read here and here. 

Below is my free adaptation of the sicha. L’Chaim!
My dear chassidim, I’m frustrated.

For all these years I devoted myself totally to teach you and guide you to live a life in which Hashem, Torah and Mitzvos, Chassidus, and Moshiach, are real. Yet I feel that despite my giving it my all, you aren’t truly interested in all these sublime teachings, in these precious treasures that I’ve been revealing.

After the countless ma’amorim and sichos I delivered and edited, the igros I wrote, the prayers I offered tearfully at my father-in-law’s holy gravesite, and the sea of na’amorim of Chassidus from all the Rebbeim that no previous generation merited that I had self-sacrifice to publish, you’re still not changing! You’re still allowing yourselves to remain in your self-imposed box, in your comfort zone. Why aren’t you going out of your limitations?! You’re still living a life that revolves primarily around satisfying your physical needs and desires, where the spiritual is of secondary importance.

My dear chassidim, in terms of the grand scale, Moshiach is so palpably close. Hashem wants to send Moshiach, and Moshiach wants to come. If you would only want him sincerely, he would have already come! He’s waiting until you want him deeply, to the point at which you can’t hold it in anymore, and you cry out in pain to Hashem, “How long must we be deprived of the Geulah?! We beg of You, enough! Please send Moshiach now!”

But how can you reach this feeling in these dark times? You need to change your inner selves, not just your external actions. Work hard on yourselves so that the Chassidus that you learn fills you with an intense love and fear of Hashem and thus a yearning for the ultimate revelation of Hashem in the final Geulah. These teachings are not supposed to be transcribed and left to sit on a shelf, or even memorized. They are meant to be used, to be applied in a way that they change each and every person on his level, and bring him or her to be truly inspired in serving Hashem. Believe me, it can be done! In fact, that’s really what these teachings are for! I’ve said this so many times.

It’s not that you don’t follow my instructions. You often do. But that’s not enough, and that’s not my ultimate goal. My ultimate goal is that fulfilling these instructions should change you deep-down. It devastates me to see that your hearts are not truly in it. You nod your heads, clap along, and shout amein, but that’s only while I’m egging you on. In private, do you reflect on these teachings? And even if you do, do you do it because you want to, or because you think that in this way you’re somehow doing me a favor? You’re relying on me to boost you from above, to hold your hand, to do the hard work for you. You lack a desire to change on the inside, through your own efforts.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way to solve this problem is by explicitly making it your job to bring Moshiach. Then you can’t leave it all to me. 

So I’m making it very clear: My main task in order to bring Moshiach is complete; I did everything I could. From now on, it’s your job to do everything that you can to bring him. And dont give up until he actually comes!

It’s not necessary to change the entire world. Change yourselves. It doesn’t need to be a lot of people who accomplish this inner change. If even a handful of chassidim meet together and resolve that they must finally bring Moshiach, and discuss ways to accomplish it in a down-to-earth manner, but without compromising the purity of the mission, they will indeed succeed at bringing the final geulah in actual reality. May it happen immediately!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

When You're In Love, You Don't Complain

When You're In Love,
You Don't Complain

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

The Talmud states: “A person [i.e., a Jew] does not mind performing a Mitzvah, whether personally or with his money” (Pesachim 4b).

From time to time I’ve heard the complaint, “Oy, 
Shabbos is coming soon, we have to clean and cook,” and especially, Pesach is coming, we’ll be in the kitchen for a week.”

Although this language is in a way understandable, I find it distressing.
Mitzvos, even when they are physically difficult, should not be regarded as a burden. A Jew, who was created in order to serve Hashem, should be happy at the opportunity to perform a Mitzvah—even if doing so involves physical effort, inconvenience, and 
even financial expense.

But how does one reach this level? The truth is that one does not need to create this 
feeling, for a Jew feels this way by nature, as quoted above. This is because every Jew possesses a natural feeling of love for Hashem (see Tanya chs. 18-19, 25). However, due to various negative experiences and influences, he may become desensitized (see here) lose this feeling on the conscious level, thus losing touch with his true inner self. Love is then lacking in his relationship with Hashem, and in order for it to be revived, the Jew needs to work at refining himself.

But why is love of 
Hashem so vital? It cannot be denied that fear of rebelling against Hashem is enough to inspire a person to perform Torah and Mitzvos.

The answer is that although fear of 
Hashem is a necessary starting point, when we serve Hashem out of fear alone, we ultimately come to see serving Hashem as a burden, leading to complaints such as those listed above.

So how can a Jew come to serve 
Hashem out of deep love, such that he is inspired to perform Mitzvos unbegrudgingly? This can only come through knowledge, as we can understand from our relationships with people. For instance, although we don’t know the policeman, we obey him out of fear of the repercussions. This fear is real and effective. In contrast, genuine love comes through knowing and appreciating another person on a personal level.

So how can one come to know 
Hashem, the Object of this love? By studying sources that describe Hashem’s greatness (which have been revealed in our generation in the teachings of Chassidus) and connecting to Hashem in a personal way through prayer, which involves reflecting on all of Hashem’s kindnesses to the person. Slowly but surely, this will lead the person to serve Hashem out of love. Not only will the Mitzvos not then be regarded as a burden, but as a priceless privilege and opportunity.

The same principle holds true concerning a 
chossid’s relationship with the Rebbe.

Some people have committed to be 
chassidim, but sadly their relationship is primarily based on fear, not love. They don’t want to disobey the Rebbe’s directives because they believe that that would be wrong, and/or because they know of stories of others who did so and did not prosper. However, they lack a significant appreciation of what a Rebbe is, and a sense of a personal bond with him.

This feeling of love will not come on its own. It needs to be actively developed. One can accomplish this by learning about the meaning of the concept of a Rebbe (e.g., on 
this blog), his relationship with chassidim, and reminding oneself of all the guidance and blessings that the Rebbe has showered upon oneself personally.

Dedicated by avi mori, Reb Kasriel Oliver and family (tzu langeh gezunte, zisseh yoren) in honor of the Yahrtzeit, on 3rd Adar, of Yehudis bas Reb Dov Ber a''h.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Internalizing the holiness of the Rebbeim

Today is the Rebbe’s birthday, Yud-Alef Nissan. In an earlier post the words of the Previous Rebbe were quoted:

Every Chossid should say a chapter of Tehillim [Psalms] daily in order that the merit of the Rebbeim should be drawn to them, and that they absorb the revelation of light [i.e., the spiritual revelation manifest via the Rebbeim] in an internal manner.

This is of special relevance today, the holy day of Yud-Alef Nissan, when we begin reciting a new kapitel (chapter) of Tehillim, corresponding to the number of years that have passed since the Rebbe’s birthday. This is a suitable time to remind ourselves why we recite this kapitel: In order to assist us to absorb the words of the Rebbeim in general, and the Rebbe in particular, bipnimiyus, in a manner that will fully permeate us.

In other words, even one who already learns the Rebbe’s teachings regularly and significantly follows his directives needs extra blessing in order for the holy energy within these teachings and directives to permeate him deeply, and he accomplishes this by reciting this kapitel (or at least, that is one of the ways to accomplish this). 

May we succeed at drawing strength from this holy day to truly internalize the Rebbe’s holiness.