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

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Teach Torah Without Compromise

Some people ask: if I am talking to someone who seems less receptive, and I am concerned that he may reject my message altogether, may I “dilute” the meaning of the Torah’s words and misrepresent the Torah, if I think that doing so will make its message more palatable?

The Rebbe addresses this question in the sicha of 12 Tammuz below:
If someone is distant from Torah observance ... we dare not compromise fundamental Torah values and principles with the misguided intention of making the Torah more attractive to people—G–d forbid!

Mishnah says, “Bring them [the lowly creations] close to the Torah” (Pirkei Avos, 4:2). This indicates that we must not do the opposite—lower the Torah to the level of the creations by compromising the Torah’s beliefs and standards.

On the contrary, the secret of success is refusing to compromise the truth, for only through truth do we really inspire people.

Likutei Sichos, Vol. 33, p. 147.
Sadly, there is a plethora of people (and I am not referring to Reform or the like, but to people ostensibly within the “Orthodox” community) who (perhaps with very good intentions, and perhaps without consciously realizing that they are doing so) compromise on the truth according to Torah, and deliver lectures or release literature that contains half-truths, distortions, or partial endorsements of philosophies alien to Torah principles and values.

One should ensure to avoid anything that could be so interpreted in one’s own speech and writings, and be wary of others who are prone to such statements.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Moshiach will reveal the greatness of Tanya

Reb Folle Kahn relates:
Reb Mendel Diskin was a teacher in the Yeshivah of Tomchei Temimim (the Chabad Yeshiva). Once on Simchas Torah the Rebbe Rashab said: “When Moshiach comes, he will sit Mendel with a gaon (Torah genius) of the misnagdim to learn Tanya with him.” At that moment Reb Mendel was sitting before the Rebbe Rashab.

Shemu’os V’Sipurim, Vol. 1, p. 119.
Explanation and lesson: There is a special light in the teachings of Chassidus, and when Moshiach comes, this light will become undeniably clear, such that even those who had earlier opposed it will come to accept and revere it. This is only understandable, considering that the revelation of Chassidus is a foretaste of the teachings of Moshiach. Accordingly, Moshiach will bring even a gaon who had not learned Chassidus to recognize the special quality of one who has learned Chassidus, even if that person is not a genius.

Different kinds of tests of faith

Different kinds of tests of faith

Rabbi Y. Oliver

Earlier I discussed the concept of a test of faith in our current context as Chabad chassidim. However, while we’re on the topic, let us digress to explain the idea of a test of faith in general.

We may not realize it, but we are often faced with tests of our faith in Hashem. Since “knowledge of the sickness is half the cure,”[1] being aware of this phenomenon and understanding how these tests may manifest themselves will surely provide us with a tremendous boost of strength in our struggle to overcome such tests.

The Tzemach Tzedek enumerates various types of tests,[2] and focuses on the test of faith, listing four different forms of this test:

A false prophet: This fellow works miracles and then seeks to entice the many to sin, declaring, “Let us go and worship other deities!”
[3] It is human nature for one’s judgment to be swayed by the influence of the idolatrous miracle worker, for his impact on the world is tangible. Thus, in order to overcome this influence a person must actively intensify his faith in Hashem, and consciously reject and dismiss the false prophet.

The prosperity of the wicked: Although one would think that divine justice should bring prosperity to the righteous and misery to the wicked, in reality sometimes the opposite is the case—Hashem grants the wicked success and prosperity in this world. He does this in order to test us. When the wicked arrogantly declare their superiority over others and defy Hashem, the observer of this pompous display of power must exert himself immensely to bolster his faith in order to remain completely undeterred from his devotion to Hashem and to Torah and Mitzvos.

The mon: The mon, the “bread from Heaven,” would fall daily for the Jews in the desert. However, they were required to finish eating the mon of each day before sunrise of the following day, although this meant that no food whatsoever would remain for the following morning. The only way they could bring themselves not to save some of the mon for the following day “just in case” was by arousing firm faith in Hashem that the mon would fall again the next morning.

Akeidas (the Binding of) Yitzchak (also known as 
The Akeidah”): Reb Menachem Mendel of Horodok asks: At first glance, the main one tested in the Akeidah was Yitzchak, for he was the one to be giving up his life al kiddush Hashem (in order to sanctify Hashem’s Name). But if so, why does the Torah state[4] that Hashem meant to test Avraham, while omitting any mention of it being a test for Yitzchak?

Reb Menachem Mendel answers that although it is indeed a tremendous Mitzvah to give up one’s life, it is unremarkable in the annals of Jewish history. Even the most unlettered and “ordinary” Jews would surrender their lives al kiddush Hashem. Thus, as great a Mitzvah as it is, this test is considered trivial for someone of the spiritual stature of Yitzchak, who, as one of our forefathers, was likened to Hashem’s “chariot,”[5] for he served as a vehicle for the Sephirah (divine trait) of strictness.

Rather, at the
Akeidah the main one tested was Avraham. It was a test of faith to see whether he would doubt Hashem’s words. Avraham had been assured by Hashem that “Your seed will be called through Yitzchak,”
[6] i.e., Yitzchak (and not Yishma’el) would father a great nation—the Jewish people. However, Avraham could have asked a very glaring question: At the time that Hashem commanded Avraham to offer up Yitzchak as a sacrifice, Yitzchak was still single, and if Yitzchak would die now, how could he possibly father the nation which Hashem had promised would be born from Avraham? Moreover, isn’t Hashem eternal and unchanging, as Hashem declares: “I have not changed,”[7] implying that He does not change His mind?

Yet Avraham paid no attention to these altogether logical questions. Instead, he dismissed them totally from his consciousness, and believed with pure and simple faith that if this is what
Hashem was commanding him to do now, it was surely the right thing to do. Passing this test was remarkable even for someone of Avraham’s stature.

Each of the above examples adds understanding to the concept of a test of faith.

  • Both the tests from the false prophet and from the prosperity of the wicked involve external adversaries to Hashem whose success and power is liable to shake one’s faith; the test is then to disregard these external phenomena by reminding oneself of the true, inner reality of divine omnipotence.
  • The test of the mon, however, involved Hashem’s demand that the Jewish people disregard the regular nature of the world due to a specific divine promise.
  • The test of the Akeidah involved accepting Hashem’s words even when there was a logical discrepancy with His earlier statements. This would require simple faith that even though I don’t understand how, Hashem surely knows best and is doing what is right, and hopefully with time, my personal question on His ways and instructions will be answered as well.
It should be noted that a test of faith could involve thought alone—e.g., harboring doubts in Hashem’s justice when one witnesses the prosperity of the wicked; it could involve thought and speech—e.g., expressing words of doubt in Hashem due to observing the miracle performed by a false prophet; or it could involve thought, speech, and action—e.g., clinging to the mon of the previous day due to doubt whether the mon would fall the following day.

On a similar note, a test of faith could involve a large-scale event, e.g., despite witnessing the success of the wicked on 9/11, our faith in
Hashem does not waver. Or on a very small scale, one
’s faith could be tested by his missing the bus and arriving late, in which case Hashem is testing to see whether one will accept this turn of events with equanimity, as a purposeful divine intervention, or become irritated, as if it were a matter of chance.

In any case, the common denominator in all these examples is that a test of faith involves disregarding the immediate reality in which one lives, and reminding oneself of the true, inner reality that
Hashem reveals to us via the Torah, and that the whole reason that Hashem is creating these circumstances in the first place is in order to test our faith in Him.

[1] Cf. Sefer HaSichos 5703 p. 18
[2] Derech Mitzvosecha pp. 370-372.
[3] Devarim 13:3.
[4] Bereishis 22:1.
[5] Bereishis Rabba 47:6
[6] Bereishis 21:12.
[7] Malachi 3:6.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Gimmel Tammuz: A Test of Faith

Gimmel Tammuz: A Test of Faith

Rabbi Y. Oliver

On the holy day of Gimmel Tammuz, every chossid asks himself the crucial question: What is the significance of Gimmel Tammuz for us today?

Of course, one of the greatest difficulties for a
chossid in coping with the situation after Gimmel Tammuz is the fact that we do not see the Rebbe physically.

This is such a colossal event in our lives as chassidim that it begs a question that we should all naturally be asking: 
Why has this happened?

According to the
sicha below, it can be derived that at least one reason that Hashem put us in this situation is in order to test our faith in Tzaddikim, and to see whether we will maintain our Hiskashrus (bond) with the Rebbe despite his concealment:
... The strength that the [Previous] Rebbe grants us through the teachings of Chassidus continues even now [after Yud Shevat, the day of the Previous Rebbe’s passing], with no change on his part. Even from our perspective no change has occurred that would justify thinking that the Rebbe is no longer with us, G–d forbid.

Those who knew the [Previous] Rebbe in the course of the thirty years of his leadership know that the Rebbe would not abandon his chassidim and leave them alone on the Shabbos of the Torah portion of
Zachor [which discusses the mitzvah to erase the memory of Amalek], for example, when they need to fight against Amalek.

The only change that has occurred for us is that in the past one could have thought that when he had a private audience with the [Previous] Rebbe, he could relate what he wanted to relate and hide things that he wished to hide. Now, however, it is clear to all that the [Previous] Rebbe knows about our hidden matters as well, for in the past the [Previous] Rebbe was vested in a physical body, while now he transcends the limitations of a physical body, and is entirely spiritual (see
Tanya, Igeres HaKodesh, explanation to sec. 27).

On the other hand, since “A
Tzaddik who passes away is present in all the worlds even more than during his lifetime” (Zohar 3:71b), and “even in this world of action he is more present” (Igeres HaKodesh ibid.) the Rebbe certainly leads the entire world, and chassidim in particular, and arouses divine mercy [through prayer] just as it was until know. On the contrary, he does so with intensified vigor.

Just as every one of us was certain until now that the Rebbe would lead us towards our righteous
Moshiach, so should we be certain now as well.

The event that happened [
Yud Shevat] only occurred from the perspective of our eyes of flesh. It is nothing but a test—one of the tests of “the birth-pangs of Moshiach” that needs to occur before Moshiach arrives—whose entire purpose is to conceal the truth.

The purpose of the test is that we overcome [the difficulty] and pass the test. In so doing we reject and nullify the concealment, and the truth is revealed (as explained in Chassidic discourses).

Thus, by strengthening our bond with him by studying his teachings and fulfilling his directives—both directives issued in public, and especially those directives that were conveyed face to face in
Yechidus—in a concrete manner, we will immediately merit (for we are in the period immediately before the arrival of Moshiach) to see the Rebbe with our eyes of flesh, and the Rebbe will lead us to the Redemption.

Toras Menachem 5710, Vol. 1, p. 16.
According to the principle of “he rules upon himself,” this sicha clearly contains a very practical message for us after Gimmel Tammuz. Below I will present the sicha in my own words, and “translate” it to our current situation:

A Rebbe provides special assistance to the Jew in serving
Hashem, enabling him to attain 
otherwise unattainable heights of spirituality (this is the idea of an “intermediary who joins”). However, when we don’t see the Rebbe and we are unable to interact with him directly, we are liable to doubt the existence of this special bond, G–d forbid, or at least not to accept it to the same extent.

However, the true reality is that the Rebbe, our shepherd, is a true shepherd who surely never abandons his flock, the
chassidim. Those who truly knew the Rebbe during his lifetime will have no doubt about this.

If anything, his
Hiskashrus with his chassidim now is even greater after his Histalkus, for although in reality the Rebbe had known all along about all of his chassidim’s personal problems (see here), before Gimmel Tammuz one could have thought otherwise, thinking that Rebbe is limited by the fact that his Neshamah (soul) is vested in a body, and therefore sought to hide personal information from the Rebbe.However, now that the Rebbe has transcended the limitations of the physical, there is no longer doubt whether the Rebbe knows all of one
s personal problems, and so there is no use in trying to conceal them from him.

So although it may seem that the Rebbe is no longer with us, G–d forbid, in reality he is with us just the same as before. If so, why have we been put in this situation?
Hashem desires to test our faith in Him and in the Tzaddikim that He sends us, and this is part of the purification process by which Hashem prepares the Jewish people for the coming of Moshiach.

May Hashem give us the strength to overcome this test, and thereby merit to see Moshiach now!

(For further explanation of the concept of a test of faith, see here.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Learning Chassidus: Getting one's bearings

Someone wrote to me asking about how to go about learning maamarim (Chassidic discourses, or a maamar in the singular).

It’s best to start with more basic texts such as the
Tanya, Derech Mitzvosecha, Kuntres Uma’ayan, and the like.

Obviously it is best to learn with someone who has a lot of experience and can provide background and explanation for difficult expressions and concepts. However, even if such a
chavrusa (study partner) is unavailable, one should still learn Chassidus.

When beginners to Chassidus encounter enigmatic kabbalistic expressions, they conclude that learning on their own is pointless. However, I believe that this is a mistake. If you come across phrases and terms that you don’t understand, dont give up. Rather, make a note of the question, skip that sentence, read on, and try to understand as much of the maamar as possible. Hopefully an occasion will arise to discuss the question with someone more knowledgeable, but even if it doesn’t, the study was worthwhile. It’s not all or nothing. 

As one develops one’s general knowledge, more and more terms and references will become understood. In contrast, if one gets bogged down with every expression and nuance, one will cover little ground.

It’s like arriving in a new city. First one should get one’s bearings in general, by learning the locations of the main landmarks, such as the
shul, the mikveh, the local kollel and yeshivah, and so on. Once one has the general picture, he can then fill in the details.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Chabad: Constant yearning for inner change

The Rebbe writes:
This reminds me of the aphorism of my father in law, the [Previous] Rebbe, who related that when he began his involvement in business, he asked his father that “he should hot have the attitudes of married people” [in the original, “baalhabatishe hanochos”]. 

When he related this to me, he added, “The attitudes of married people [“baalhabatishe hanochos”] are filthy.” Obviously he meant this in a more subtle sense, for he was referring to married people who observe Torah and Mitzvos fully, and yet, as Chassidus explains, they are in “Egypt”—which represents straits and limitations [the Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, is etymologically related to meitzarim, straits]—their entire lives. For all through their lives today is like yesterday, and tomorrow like today, and even the distant future will be no different. Moreover, they regard the very aspiration for change as crazy; i.e., outside of the realm of healthy intellect. 

[In light of this,] how luminous are the words of the Alter Rebbe in the Tanya (Likutei Amarim ch. 47), who quotes the words of the Mishnah (Pesachim 116b): “In every single generation one must regard himself as if he left Egypt,” and adds, “ ... and every single day.”

Igros Kodesh, Vol. 20, pp. 106-107.
In this holy letter, the Rebbe explains that one of the main dangers of the lifestyle of a married person (discussed earlier here) is that he or she ceases to yearn and strive for change. The Torah constantly urges a Jew to “rise higher in matters of holiness” (Berachos, 28a), and never remain static. However, the lifestyle of a married person (for the various reasons explained above) naturally fosters rigidity and coldness in matters of spirituality, and thus a married man or woman typically regards any deviation from this norm as, well, nuts. The Previous Rebbe regarded this aversion to inner change harshly.

In contrast, a true life of spirituality demands constant positive change and growth. This starts with a deep yearning, and culminates in concrete action.

The Previous Rebbe explains that this feeling was once typical, and calls us to restore this communal attitude:
... Although amongst Chabad chassidim there were different levels of knowledge, they all did Avodah. They worked on themselves. The regular working on oneself was based on the foundation that the way one is today is not good, and we have to become completely different.

I have already told what the
chossid, Reb Gershon Dov [of Pahar], would often say after lengthy meditation, for he had tremendous ability for deep concentration. After the evening prayer and reciting the Shema upon retiring, which would often turn out to be in the late hours of the winter nights, [he could be overheard saying to himself]: “Do you hear, Gershon Ber? We have to wake up completely different.”

It was typical that when Chabad
chassidim would gather for a farbrengen, the Rov (Rabbi of the community) would say about himself, “Am I really a Rov?” ... The melamed (teacher for children) suffered from troubles and did not have money to spend, but [although this may have jeopardized his personal income], he would say about himself, “Am I really a melamed?

Sicha of first night of Sukkos 5710,
printed in
Sefer HaMa’amarim Admur HaRayatz 5711, pp. 66-67.
This demonstrates that in fact the intense dissatisfaction with one’s current level and the constant desire for inner change lie at the core of the Avodah (divine service) that characterizes Chassidus Chabad—the antithesis of “the attitudes of married people” described above.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Preparing for Gimmel Tammuz

The holy, awesome day of Gimmel Tammuz is fast approaching, with all the thoughts and concerns that it reminds us of. We know that our lives us chassidim changed dramatically on this day, with the various challenges that it brought.

The Rebbe taught us to start preparing for Yud Shevat, the Yom Hillula of the Previous Rebbe, thirty days before. Based on the principle that “he ruled concerning himself” discussed here, it would seem that we should do the same when approaching the Yom Hillula of the Rebbe, and perhaps all the more so, considering that he is the Rebbe closest to us. In any case, this is certainly a day that requires tremendous preparation for every chossid, considering its direct relevance to us in this time.

Over the months since I began writing this blog, I have written many blog posts based on sources from our Rebbeim that discuss how to approach our current situation after Gimmel Tammuz. These posts can be viewed here.

May we succeed at our preparations for Gimmel Tammuz in a way that we merit to be reunited with the Rebbe, as the Rebbe put it at the conclusion of his first Ma’amar here, “May we merit to see and be together with the [Previous] Rebbe, down here in a physical body and within our reach, and he will redeem us.”

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The attitudes of married people

The concept of “worldly attitudes” discussed earlier is also sometimes termed baalhabatishe hanochos, “the attitudes of married people,” for married people (no offense or blame intended; and of course, in no way do I mean to suggest that one should not marry, for it is a Mitzvah to marry) are much more susceptible to developing these objectionable “worldly attitudes.”

Several reasons may be suggested for this:
  • their contact with the secular world for the purpose of supporting their family exposes them to heretical and immoral influences that desensitize them to the refined and holy approach of Torah in a way that would not have occurred had they stayed in the walls of the Yeshivah; moreover, even if these influences are not blatantly forbidden, they may subtly or not-so-subtly conflict with what is proper and ideal according to the guidance of the Torah;
  • they have precious little time for Torah study and prayer, so they may “lose their touch” to a certain degree when compared with their level as a Yeshivah student; also, even if they exert themselves greatly, their rate of spiritual growth will necessarily be much more slow than it could have been before;
  • the worry and difficulty of earning a living, raising a family, and coping with various other challenges that life brings (may such challenges be as few and as easily overcome as possible) makes it much more difficult for married people to focus on Torah study and prayer in the little time that they have for it.
In contrast, an unmarried young man (a “bochur”) who is yet to go out into the big bad world, and who devotes his entire day to the holy pursuits of Torah study and prayer as a Yeshivah student, or a married person who does not have to leave the walls of the beis midrash (house of Torah study) and is able to devote most of his time to Torah study and prayer, will typically have attitudes that are in accordance with the approach of Torah (also known as “Da’as Torah”).

How is the married person to overcome the detrimental influence of the world on his attitudes? By submitting himself to the guidance of the Yeshiva students and married Torah scholars, who have devoted their time to holy pursuits, as discussed here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Balancing the spiritual and the physical

There are two opposite ways of serving Hashem, expressed in the verse “and the angels rose (‘ratzo’) and returned (‘shov’).”

A Jew has an extra divine soul, the
Neshama, which is entirely spiritual, and stems from G–d’s Essence. Even after it becomes vested in a body, it is “truly a part of G–d.”[1]
The Jew also possesses a Bestial Soul, which pursues the body’s physical needs and desires.

Neshama naturally regards the body and the Bestial Soul as restrictive and burdensome, and longs to transcend the limitations of the physical and revert to its original state of self-nullification in unadulterated G–dliness. This yearning is called
ratzo, which literally means “rising up.”

However, the Jew is not meant to sever himself altogether from the physical.
Hashem sent the Neshama down into the body for a purpose: to reveal G–dliness in the body, the Bestial Soul, and the physical world,[2] and this requires that one come into close and regular contact with the physical. In order to accomplish this, the person must disregard his ratzo desire to transcend the physical, and force himself to engage with the physical for the purpose of refining and elevating it. In so doing he implements the task of shov, which literally means “returning.” The implication is that one descends and “returns” to one’s G–d-given mission after experiencing the high of the ratzo.

Hashem involves a constant, careful balance between ratzo and shov. Although they are opposite forms of divine service, they complement each other:

One who engages in
shov alone and neglects the needs of his Neshama to be inspired and elevated above the physical, runs the risk that his involvement with the world will pull him down into decadence and sin. He is then not only unable to elevate the physical, but he becomes a slave to it. Ratzo enables one to function effectively in the world by elevating one above the natural desire for the physical felt by the body and the Bestial Soul.This enables the shov, which includes the involvement in the physical, to be carried out with the pure intention of fulfilling Hashem’s will, and not because one wishes to indulge the body and the Bestial Soul, or even satisfy their needs.

Conversely, one who engages in
ratzo alone neglects to fulfill his purpose in the world. He deprives the world of the G–dliness that he is able to reveal within it, and, since his divine service lacks balance, he also runs the risk of falling from the peak of spirituality to indulgence in gross physical lusts that will greatly distance him from Hashem.
[1] Tanya beg. ch. 2.
[2] Ibid. ch. 37.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Avoiding worldly attitudes

To one degree or another, we are all affected by the culture of the gentile world around us. As Torah Jews and all the more so as chassidim, we need to be aware of this in advance, and constantly remind ourselves of this fact, so that we can take precautionary measures against unknowingly imbibing values that are inconsistent with Torah through our contact with the world. In Chassidic parlance, the views of the outside world are referred to as hanachos ha’olam, “worldly attitudes.”

Hanachos ha’olam are not only to be found in the heretical and immoral messages of modern secular culture, which are clearly forbidden. The world around us also inculcates us with relatively less coarse values and attitudes, which are still in conflict with Torah. Contact with the world makes these attitudes liable to insidiously creep into one’s psyche, so one must be vigilant against them.

One example of
hanachos ha’olam is discussed in the Previous Rebbe’s Basi Legani discourse here:

... There are several practices that one follows simply because that is what society does [“veileh azoi tut velt”] and he treats these things as immutable law. ... One example is times for eating and sleeping: Society believes that these things must be fixed in their times, such that even when one needs to engage in business activities [that are very time-consuming, necessitating that he miss a meal, or stay up late], these times are usually not subject to change at all. In contrast, fixed times for Torah study and prayer are postponed, have no permanence, and are sometimes even cancelled altogether, G–d forbid. ...
When a Jew conducts himself in a certain way with the sole intention of slavishly imitating the behavior of secular society, even if he does so in an area that involves no transgression or inappropriate behavior whatsoever, this demonstrates that he feels, consciously or subconsciously, that the norms of the outside world are superior to the values of Hashem in the Torah. Then although he is technically an observant Jew, his behavior reveals that his observance is primarily in deed, while his inner self, his mind and heart, are not truly concerned with what Hashem wants, but with “what will the world say.”

Of course, this is not to suggest that it is not healthy and constructive to fix times for eating and sleeping, or to follow various other practices that society expects. The behavior expected by society may well be proper for one to follow. After all, our sages say, “When you come to a place, follow the local custom” (
Shemos Rabba 47:5, Bereshis Rabba 48:14). 

However, even when it is appropriate to follow this behavior, one should not do so out of a conviction that the opinion and practices of society hold inherent value. Rather, one should regard this behavior, when necessary, as purely a means to an end, in order to more effectively serve Hashem, for “All your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven” (Avos 2:12).

Thursday, June 11, 2009

True pleasure requires sacrifice

Earlier, we discussed how the greatest pleasure of all is to be found in drawing close to holiness and G-dliness.

Aside from being inherently true, this is also an argument that one who feels mired in physical lusts can use to convince his Bestial Soul to devote itself to the spiritual.

However, there is a price to pay. In order to experience a higher pleasure, one must be more refined. Just as one who always drinks cheap, low-grade wine will not be able to sense the richness of flavor in fine wine, so must the one who wants to experience holy pleasures divest himself of physical pleasures. To use Kabbalistic terminology: In order for the vessel to absorb a higher light, it must be more refined.

Indulgence[1] in physical pleasures, even technically permitted ones, cools off the fire and passion one should have for holiness, and spoils one’s refined taste for G–dliness. This is the reason that physical pleasures are referred to as “the river of Shitim.”[2] A river represents water, for pleasures stem from water, which causes plants that provide pleasure to grow.[3] The word Shittim is related to the Hebrew word shtus, foolishness, for physical pleasures are foolish. The reason for this is twofold: Many physical pleasures lead to a bitter end, and even those that don’t stem from a very low source.
We can elaborate on the latter point through delving into the Shabbos liturgy. There we recite, “May all my innards [praise] His [G–d’s] Holy Name.” “My innards” is a reference to the angels called kravayim, innards. These angels are compared to the intestines, which digest the food one ingests, refining the important nutrients from the unneeded ones, and then absorbing the former into the body and eliminating the latter through defecation. Likewise, the angels receive a divine revelation that contains certain elements that are of low quality that they cannot internalize; this is spiritual waste matter. Certain angels are appointed with the task of refining the nutrients from the waste, and eliminating the waste matter. This rejected spiritual energy then falls down into our world, and turns into physical pleasures.

This is the reason that physical pleasure is referred to as foolishness, for in reality it is the waste matter from the higher spiritual realms. The foolishness of the hedonist is even greater when he is aware that physical pleasure will detract from his ability to experience G–dly pleasure. This is tremendous foolishness, for this means exchanging physical pleasure, which is in reality on the level of waste matter, for divine pleasure, which is true pleasure.

Let us be wise and avoid indulgence in physical pleasures, enabling us to develop refined pleasures and thus bring true delight and fulfillment to our soul.

[1] The rest of this post is based on Sefer HaMa’amarim Basi L’Gani, Vol. 1, p. 50.

[2] Sanhedrin 106a.[3] See Tanya ch. 1.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Careful love

In the Chabad world we talk so much about the importance of loving our fellow Jew, every Jew, that sometimes we forget that there are limits.

The Previous Rebbe writes:
We should invest as much energy as we can to have a positive impact on a Jew and revive his inner self. This should be accomplished by drawing him close. However, one should remember that this closeness requires great caution, so that one does not befriend him too much. For just as one influences the other person, so does the other person exert influence on him.

There are several levels [of influence that the other person exerts]. At first one feels pity for the other person, and this leads to finding a
limmud zechus [an attempt to judge favorably someone who appears to be acting unconscionably]. So it should be; one should find a limmud zechus for the other person’s actions. However, the other person should not know about it. Rather, one should do so in private. One should weep profusely and recite a chapter of Tehillim for him, and beg Hashem to have mercy on him.

This is the meaning of love for one’s fellow Jew: Every Jew should do [what is necessary to help] his good friend, but be careful not to become overly close with him until, with
Hashem’s help, the other person reaches a good, upright level, such that it is appropriate to befriend him.

Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. 1, pp. 11-12.
In my own words: Although one should love every Jew ad mitzui hanefesh (“to the very core of life itself”—HaYom Yom 18 Av), this means that one should assist him and do him favors, and truly feel a deep bond with him as one’s brother and sister. However, it does not mean that it is appropriate to befriend every Jew equally. A truly close relationship is always two-way, with each member of the relationship having an impact on the other. Thus, if another Jew behaves inappropriately, one should keep a distance from him, because one is liable to be influenced.

Yet this does not mean that one may not have any contact with the one who is unfit for a close friendship; on the contrary, one should relate to every Jew with warmth and affection. However, one should be careful not to come close to him as one does to a friend who is ones equal, for then one is susceptible to being adversely affected.[1] Also, one expresses love for the Jew whom one fears may negatively influence him by pleading Hashem to have mercy on him and help guide him to Teshuvah (on this topic, see here). This is the true way to express love for this Jew.

Exactly how one puts this into practice needs to be determined in each case individually.


1. The reason that one should not tell the other person of one’s limmud zechus seems to be that he may regard it as an endorsement of his inappropriate behavior (on this topic, see here). However, when speaking to others, and to Hashem, one should seek a limmud zechus for the other person’s behavior.

2. This teaching conforms with the general principle taught in Chassidus that each middah (character trait) in Kedushah, holiness, always involves a balance with its opposite. Thus, Chessed, kindness, must be balanced and complemented by Gevurah, strictness (see here).

[1] Cf. Mishneh Torah, Laws of Teshuvah, 4:24
והמתחבר לרשע מפני שהוא לומד ממעשיו והן נרשמים בלבו הוא שאמר שלמה ורועה כסילים ירוע."