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

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Humility leads one to kindness

The Rebbe Rashab writes:
Avrohom’s quality of bestowing kindness upon everyone stemmed from his total self-effacement. He regarded himself as having no importance, as it is written: “I am but dust and ashes” [Bereshis 18:27]. Since he considered every other person his better, he gave everything to others.

Sefer HaMa’amarim 5643, p. 9.
Kindness stems from a feeling of humility. The humble person feels undeserving of his prosperity. His humility also brings him to regard others favorably, and to assume that they are likely more worthy than he. Thus, he craves to share his wealth with others more worthy.

How can we explain this amazing statement, that Avrohom our forefather, the first Jew, genuinely considered all the degenerate pagans who would visit him, his betters?

Perhaps this can be explained based on the Rebbe’s explanation (
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 4, p. 1213) that one should also feel humble before a non-Jew, because he may have good qualities that one does not possess oneself, and in this regard the non-Jew is more worthy.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Love of Hashem

The Talmud (
Sanhedrin 74a) states:

Rabbi Eliezer asked (in reference to the verse (Devorim 6:5), “You shall love Hashem your G-d with all your soul and all your resources”): If it is stated “with all your soul (nafshecha),” why was it necessary to state “with all your resources (me’odecha)”? And if it is stated “with all your resources,” why was it necessary to state “with all your soul”? Rather, [the explanation is that] if there is a person whose life is more precious to him than his money, it says “with all your soul” [so that he be prepared to give up that which is most precious to him]. And if there is a person whose money is more precious to him than his life, it says “with all your resources” [so that he be prepared to give up that which is most precious to him].

Rashi comments:

This means that your love for Him should be more precious to you than everything else that is precious to you.

It would seem that this is not only a lesson about the importance of giving one’s life or resources for Hashemwhat one should be willing to give up. Here, the Talmud teaches us how important it is to love Hashem, and how central this focus should be in our lives. It should both act as a guideline for every single aspect of life, and as a goal to which a Jew should aspire: that his love of Hashem should reach the highest level possible.

Yes, as mere mortals we have natural desires, preferences, and inclinations. And these are not only desires for indulgence (along the lines of the one who values his money above all else), but for constructive things as well (along the lines of the one who values his life above all else). Nevertheless, since all these things are about what
I want, they should be relegated to second-class status. One’s love of Hashem should be the overriding concern in any and every aspect of life.

And here the emphasis is not fear, but love. Fear of
Hashem should precede love of Hashem, of course, as it is the foundation of one’s divine service (see the beginning of chapter 41 of Tanya). This means first and foremost strict adherence to the requirements of halacha. However, following halacha is merely step one. Fear is primarily about not violating the minimum, or, in other words, not sinning and rebelling.

In contrast, love implies going beyond the letter of the law and the call of duty. One who truly feels love does not constantly calculate
whether he is technically obligated to assist his loved onethat would show that love is lacking. Rather, he naturally, of his own initiative, volunteers to help out his loved one. He does not regard it as discharging an obligation, but as a privilege and a pleasure.

Likewise, loving
Hashem means naturally asking oneself: “What can I do to give Hashem pleasure? What will make Him rejoice and be proud that I am His child?” One who doesn’t feel the desire to ask oneself this should at least aim and strive to reach this level. In the meantime it would seem that one ought to at least ask himself this question in a somewhat more forced manner, for it accustoms oneself to this way of thinking.

This is the main thought that should
guide and dominate a Jew’s actions and choices—even if it means forgoing something he would otherwise very much prefer to have.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Four Objections to Newspapers

Four Objections to Newspapers

Rabbi Y. Oliver

Below is a quote from a Yechidus (private audience) of Reb Nissan Neminov with the Rebbe (it should be noted that the Rebbe requested that this Yechidus be publicized) from which we can learn certain hanachos ha’olam (“worldly attitudes”—see here) to be avoided:
... Each person only has a limited amount of time and strength, and [expending effort for unnecessary pursuits] will detract from one’s time for studying Nigleh and Chassidus.

[To explain this, the Rebbe used the following example:] In America one is supposed to read the newspaper, and people imagine that they cannot do otherwise, and cannot be an exception. However, even if only five minutes are spent, time has been lost—never mind if more time was spent. And who will take responsibility that more time will not pass?

This is all only an example of the American lifestyle, from which one can infer with respect to other aspects ...
Below are two quotes from sichos:
Recently it has become a “custom” for married people that they must read the newspaper in order to know what is going on in the world. And one who didn’t manage to read the newspaper himself will ask his friend to tell him the news that he read in the newspaper. And since “By the mouth of two witnesses every cause will be established” (Devarim 19:15), he does not suffice with hearing the news from one person. He asks another person to tell him the news, for the first person may have missed some details.

If only this “custom” would not become standard for those who maintain fixed times for Torah study, and especially for those for whom these fixed time are established in their souls. This is all the more objectionable for
Yeshivah students.

Sicha of Lech Lecha 5742.
When there is confusion in the world and “kingdoms quarrel with one another” (Yalkut Shimoni, 499), a Jew will exert no impact [on the situation] by reading the papers in order to be informed about what is going on in the world. His knowledge of the situation will have no impact either way. Rather, the proper approach is not to waste time for no benefit at all in order to know the details of the situation, or even the general situation. However, one can certainly exert a positive impact on the situation through increasing in prayer, Torah study, and deeds of kindness.

Sicha of 19-20 Kislev 5744.
To sum up in my own words, there seem to be four reasons that the Rebbe opposes reading newspapers and the like:

1. Even apparently benign activities that are expected by modern society, among them the practice of daily reading the newspaper, are in fact spiritually detrimental, for they conflict with the values, expectations, and priorities that a Torah-observant Jew should have.

2. Paradoxically, preoccupation with learning the details of the problems of society in fact distracts the person from doing his or her part to improve and ultimately even remedy those very problems.

3. Since our time in this world is limited, such activities necessarily distract the Jew from the way that his time should be spent, and moreover, they have a certain addictive quality, by which ones energies are spent in the wrong place. In particular, the constant effort to be informed of the news necessarily distracts one from his obligation to constantly “stay informed” of Torah, and to devote oneself to doing good deeds.

Another reason: The Rebbe seems to be
melamed zechus—“assuming the best,” that those reading the newspaper are not reading any forbidden content (i.e., heresy and sexual immorality). However, it ought to be mentioned that newspapers often contain such messages, whether in the article itself, or in the advertisements, and even if not on an outrageously blatant level, on a level that is still forbidden to view. So those who read newspapers expose themselves to the danger that they may unwittingly or even intentionally read such content, G-d forbid. This is a further reason to avoid such a practice. 

(See here for my follow-up to this article.)

Monday, October 26, 2009

The power of audio for kedusha

Although the following appears self-evident, I believe that it deserves to be emphasized.

The potential for using audio technology nowadays is simply amazing. For a relatively small price one can purchase an audio recorder and record audio files at no cost other than the price of the batteries (and with some devices not even that is needed). These recordings can then be distributed with relative ease.

I believe that sadly, in the realm of
kedusha (holiness), and of spreading Yiddishkeit and the wellsprings of Chassidus, this potential is vastly underused.

If Torah is truly precious to us, we will want and yearn to share it and disseminate it, to make every moment of it count as much as possible and have the greatest possible impact.

Many of those who deliver
shiurim, perhaps out of some (sorry to say, misplaced) sense of humility, neglect to record them. The class is then heard only by those attending, while if it were recorded it could have been heard by hundreds, if not thousands of people.

The same goes for listening to
shiurim, especially with light and easy-to-carry devices such as an iPod, which can be purchased at a relatively cheap price and can store increasingly more mind-boggling amounts of audio.

Boruch Hashem, there is no shortage of audio to put on one’s iPod. There is a vast array of Torah audio available for download online and elsewhere, most of it very cheaply if not altogether gratis. This awesome treasure exists for a purpose—so that we make full use of it.

In fact, an audio recording has a certain advantage over a face-to-face
shiur. Often some of the ideas heard in a shiur will not register after being heard once; however, after being heard a second and third time, one comes to fully grasp the teachings.

Moreover, even if one has heard the
shiur several times and fully understands and remembers it, he may attain further insight into the topic discussed, or draw needed inspiration from reviewing it again.

And even if the person attends
shiurim, audio technology enables one to “seize the commute” and learn in situations in which learning would be otherwise impossible, or at least very difficult—such as while walking, waiting at a bus stop, or the like. This enables one to use those few minutes here and there, which add up to many hours over the course of time, to the utmost.

This is especially necessary for those who for whatever reason may not be able to attend a shiur in person that day, or live in a place where such shiurim are not available.

Even if one is not mentally in the mood to listen to a shiur, he can still make good use of his time by listening to music that inspires one to love and fear Hashem.

Another important role that audio of
shiurim or of proper Jewish music can play (no pun intended) is to replace any excuse of a need to listen to the radio, which, like everything secular, almost always contains some objectionable content.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Don't take someone else's prescription!

It is self-evident to one and all that newcomers to Judaism should not be taught pilpulim (lengthy intricate and technical explanations) in Shaagas Aryeh, or Hemshech Ayin Beis. Of course, such advanced material would only confuse them, and thus in fact be detrimental. Likewise, it would not be appropriate to encourage them to make a point to follow a particularly stringent halachic opinion that is not widely followed, for this will give them the impression that Judaism overly restrictive.

However, for some reason people don’t naturally sense that the reverse is also inappropriate. A Jew who has committed himself to a
frum lifestyle, and certainly one who was born into it, never mind one who is committed to a chassidishe lifestyle, and certainly one who was born into it, should in general stay away from literature meant specifically for beginners.

This literature is tailored to suit the unique needs of its target audience. For example,
  • It addresses basic questions of faith that its authors can reasonably assume would be on the mind of newcomers, considering the secular environment from which they come.

  • It may contain expressions, concepts, or characters from popular books, movies, or music. It may drop references to the latest scandals and controversies.

  • It may leave out salient information for which a beginner is deemed not yet ready.
All these things are relevant only for those who have been raised with secular culture and immersed in it.

However, I believe that one who had the good fortune to be raised with Torah and Mitzvos—and all the more so, one who was raised with Torah and Mitzvos permeated with the warmth and light of
Chassidus—should not be imbibing this potion:
  • It will only sow unnecessary confusion in their innocent minds, weakening their belief in proper views. Along these lines, see Igros Kodesh, Vol. 19, p. 144: “ ... They confuse the youth with questions and doubts that are not relevant to their experience at all, and then they strive to answer the question, when in fact no one is interested in these technical debates; rather, they seek the absolute truth, without any trace of compromise.”
  • It will introduce knowledge of the depravity of contemporary secular culture that they are much better off without.

  • It will unnecessarily “dilute” them with “worldly attitudes” (for more explanation, see here and related posts).
This is comparable to healing the body. A very sick person needs carefully prescribed medicine in order to nurse him to health. And yet if a healthy person is administered that same medicine, he may well become very sick.

This is not to suggest that there are not problems, and even serious ones, in the world of
frum Jewry and of chassidim that require correction. There certainly are. However, these problems are generally of a different nature, or come in a different manifestation, and so the cure to these problems is thus often very different, just as the medicine that will cure one sick person will not cure another.

(For a similar lesson, see Hisva’aduyos 5744, Vol. 4, pp. 2522-2523.)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tragedies (lo aleinu): A Goad to Teshuvah

Reizi Rodal, 10, ע”ה
Moshe Golan, 17, ע”ה
Yanatan Bitton, 17, ע”ה
Levi Hendel, 14, ע”ה
Toby Eagle, 21, ע”ה
Zev Simons, ע”ה
Rochel Simons, 48, ע”ה
Gavriel Noach Holtzberg, 29, הי”ד
Rivka Holtzberg, 29, הי”ד
Yisroel Noach Tzfasman, 24, ע”ה
Rochie Paley, 26, ע”ה
Pesha Leah Azoulay, 20, ע”ה
Chana (Raskin) Wolvovsky, 21, ע”ה
Avrohom Dovid Liberow, 9, ע”ה
Refael Peretz Rivkin, 6, ע”ה
Chaya Mushka Itkin, 3, ע”ה
Shula Swerdlov, 3, ע”ה
Devorie Neuwirth, 41, ע”ה
Rafael Miriashvilli, 25, הי”ד
Revital Efrat Maudah, 35, ע”ה
Menachem Mendel Sadon, 15, ע”ה
Chaya Mushka Ashkenazi, 7, ע”ה
Chaya Gottlieb, 24, ע”ה
Menachem Mendel Browd, 7m, ע”ה
Shloime'le Zaltzman, 7m, ע”ה
Yossi Kadosh, 7, ע”ה
Levi Wolowik, 9, ע”ה
Yossel Tevel, 55, ע”ה
Avrohom Goldstein, 53, ע”ה
Aryeh Leib Misenzon, 25, הי”ד
Nosson Deitsch, 21, ע”ה
Zlata Geisinsky, 49, ע”ה
Chana Weinfeld, 10, ע”ה
Esty Cohen, 33, ע”ה
Yossi Kreiman, 23, ע”ה
Mendy Deren, 36, ע”ה
Levi Deitsch, 34, ע”ה
Shalom Dovber Gerber, 2, ע”ה
Menachem Mendel Orenstein, 45, ע”ה
Menucha Rachel Vaspi, 1, ע”ה
Chaya Kurkus, 47, ע”ה
Hendel Keller, 34, ע”ה
Paz Shusterman, 37, ע”ה

Mochai Schapiro, 35, ע”ה
Chaya Mushka Hershkowitz, 23, ע”ה
Kazi (Kasriel) Benjamin, 25, ע”ה
Shayna Borevitz, 18, ע”ה
Rivka Mas’hid, 17, ע”ה
Stacey Brook, 17, ע”ה
Rivka Durai, 18, ע”ה 

Moshe Abelsky, 49, ע”ה
Noa Basya Lazarus, 1, ע”ה
Menachem Mendel Oberlander, 20, ע”ה
Yehuda Groden, 23, ע”ה
Yosef Yitzchak Tarlow, 28, ע”ה
Yaacov Shlomo Pellin, 31, ע”ה

Shula Friedman, 42, ע”ה
Dorit Giro, 45,
Draizel Merka Altman, 53, ע”ה
Aharon Stawsky, 50, ע”ה

Mira Sharf, 25, הי”ד
Ahron Smadga, 50
, הי”ד 
Shneur Zalman Greenberg, 4m, ע”ה
Yossi Alexandre, 19, ע”ה
Nava Rus Chein, 2, ע”ה 
Sara Leah Overlander, 53, ע”ה 
Alter Hirshel Dovid Strauss, 3m, ע”ה
Mendy Avrahami, 23, ע”ה
Chana Ohana, 18, ע”הZev Aryeh Glick, 22mע”ה
Yossi Kadosh, 7, ע”ה
Yisroel Bodner, 18 m., ע”ה

Nochum Tzvi Potash, 8, ע”ה
Shoshana Rachel Stern, 12, 
Levi Nemon, 21m., ע”ה 
Miriam Baila Goldsweig, 6m, ע”ה
Yosef Raksin, 60, 

We are, yet again, reeling from recent tragedies in the Chabad community. Boruch Dayan Emes.

The various communities of Chabad
chassidim are not separate and independent entities, chas v’shalom. Rather, there is a worldwide Chabad community of which each and every individual community is an integral part. Thus, everything that happens in one community affects all the others, whether for the good or otherwise.

Obviously, any tragedy that befalls a fellow Jew should touch all Jews deeply. But one should feel affected all the more when tragedy befalls a member of one’s own community. This concept is alluded to in the HaYom Yom of 3 Adar 1, which teaches that one should love every Jew, even one whom one has never metbut all the more so a member of one’s own community (see also here concerning the concept that a chossid should feel an extra love for fellow chassidim).

The tragedies in families of Anash, may Hashem save us, are now no longer unusual. They have been recurring every few months now for a number of years, with chilling regularity. There is an unmistakable pattern here, and it begs the question: Without getting into the larger topic of why the innocent and righteous suffer, why evil exists, and so on, how should we respond?

There is a popular notion that associating suffering with sin is
inherently antithetical to the path of Chassidus

This is part of a general misconception that since Chassidus focuses on ahavas Yisrael, positive energy, joy, looking at ones fellow Jew with a good eye, and so onwhich I do not questionanything and everything that smacks of negativity is necessarily wrong and inherently un-Chassidic.

However, this is a complete mistake, for, as Chassidus teaches, kindness must always be balanced with strictness, and sometimes rebuke and harshness are necessary, albeit in carefully-measured doses. Rather, the Chassidic way is not to become preoccupied with the negative approach in avodah—not that it be neglected altogether.

In any case, as far as the topic of tragedy is concerned, in an undisputed ruling, the Rambam writes:

It is a positive obligation stated in the Torah to cry out to Hashem in prayer whenever a great calamity should befall the community. … This is counted among the paths of repentance, that when a calamity arrives and people cry out and sound the Shofar, everyone will know that it was because of their wrongdoing that this evil befell them … and this will cause the calamity to be removed from them. If, however, they do not cry out … arguing instead that this event happened to us as part of the natural way of the world and that the calamity happened by chance, this approach is cruel, because it causes people to persist in their wrongdoing and thus brings about further disasters … . Moreover, the Sages ordained that people should fast over every calamity that overtakes the community, until Heaven shows them compassion.

Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Taaniyos, 1:1-4.
The Rambam’s words are clear. When suffering occurs, the community as a whole, and each and every individual, ought to feel that it occurred on account of their wicked behavior, as a punishment for it, and that it is as a sign from Hashem that they must do teshuvah. This attitude is in fact a kindness for the community, for teshuvah will correct the cause of the tragedy, namely their sins, and thereby save them from the terrible result of ongoing sinfurther punishment, G–d forbid.

This is also reflected in the story of Purim. The Rebbe (
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 6, p. 192) uses the above halacha to explain Esther
’s behavior. As soon as she learned of Haman’s decree, she declared that it had in fact been caused by their sins, and called the people to fast and do teshuvah. They heeded her call, and this was the true reason that the decree was averted.

The calamities that we face are the tragedies that have been taking the lives of beloved members of our community, may Hashem save us. According to the Rambam’s ruling, it emerges that the Chabad community as a whole, and every individual chossid in particular, should feel personally responsible for these shocking events.

Moreover, in the above sicha, the Rebbe explains that in her call for teshuvah, Esther even made a point of identifying which particular sin had caused the decree (viz., taking part in the meal of Achashverosh). This appears to demonstrate that in the process of communal teshuvah, the leaders are tasked with drawing the community’s attention to rampant and/or blatant sins that are most likely the cause of the suffering that has befallen the community.

I will not presume to engage in such speculation, as I am not of that caliber. However, I would humbly suggest that our Rabbonimthe true leaders of every Jewish community, especially in light of the Rebbe’s public will discussed hereare the ones fit to make such statements, and if they have not, in my humble opinion, they should be urged to do so.

In addition to the communal reckoning, since a community consists of a conglomeration of numerous individuals, when such events occur, each individual should also conduct a personal accounting, searching carefully within for faults that he or she may have, with the goal of correcting them and thereby safeguarding the community as a whole from such disasters in the future, chas v’shalom.

Most importantly, such teshuvah prepares us for and hastens the arrival of Moshiach now.

May we be comforted for our irreplaceable losses, and know no more sorrow.


ETA: The quote below, from the Previous Rebbe here, is also highly relevant:
Every salvation comes in the wake of a time of distress, and every distress that strikes the Jewish people comes as a punishment for particular transgressions. That is to say: When Jews repent, G-d sends His salvation. His help not only removes the punishment: it also brings them a salvation [beyond that]. It goes without saying that the tribulations inflicted in punishment are proportionate to the transgressions, and the good fortune brought about by the salvation is proportionate to the repentance.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Rebbe's characteristic expressions

In his countless sichos, the Rebbe uses a number of characteristic expressions, many of which were not typically used before (to the best of my knowledge). As chassidim for whom every word of the Rebbe is precious, it surely behooves us to notice and analyze these expressions, and adopt them ourselves where appropriate. Below I present a partial list of them, along with some suggested explanations in my humble upinion. If anyone wants to suggest other such expressions, or alternate explanations of these ones—please, don’t be shy!
  • Geulah ho’amatis vehashleimo—the true and complete redemption: This appears to be at least in part a rejection of the notion of the “beginning of redemption” advanced by a certain modern group. (Also, see Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 18, p. 131 for two interpretations of the expression complete in this phrase.)
  • Borei olam u’Manhigo—the Creator and Director of the universe: The Rebbe mainly uses this expression in sichos concerning non-Jews, and his apparent intent is to concisely reject the heretical idea that Hashem created the world but abandoned it, or that He is not fully involved with it. Rather, the Rebbe emphasizes, Hashem is constantly controlling everything that happens in the world.
  • Maaseh bepoel—actual deed: This expression comes to stress the need to bring abstract discussion down to earth.
  • Raboseinu Nesi’einu—our Rebbeim, our Nesi’im: This is said in reference to the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid of Mezeritch, and all the Rebbeim of Chabad in order to emphasize that they are all our Rebbeim and Nesi’im even now, although of course, the current Rebbe and Nasi is the main one. For further explanation, see here.
  • Teikef umiyad mammosh—literally at once, immediately: This is said when expressing a prayer for the coming of Moshiach, and this repetitious wording is intended to emphasize that we ask that this request be fulfilled literally now.

  • Pnimiyus HaTorah—the inner dimension of Torah: The Rebbe never uses the expressions that have been traditionally used to refer to “Jewish mysticism”—sod, the secret dimension of Torah, or nistar, the hidden dimension of Torah. See here for a possible explanation.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bridging the chasm between us

Many of us are so “stuck” in ourselves—in our routines, our personal lives, our family, and our immediate daily concerns—that, as legitimate and even necessary as it may be for us to pursue these things, they naturally become a rut from which we can barely see out of. We have boxed ourselves into ourselves, and we have great difficulty simply relating to others who are not part of our little world.

The Alter Rebbe addresses this concern in the book of
Tanya, chapter 32, the chapter famously devoted to explaining the Mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael, loving one’s fellow Jew. There it states that at the core all Jews are one, and yet “the bodies are separate”: The body and the concomitant drive to satisfy one’s selfish material needs (never mind controlling or channeling the urge to indulge one’s more sensual desires) create a tremendous division between us.

The Mitzvah of
ahavas Yisrael obligates us to engage in the lifelong struggle to overcome this distance. This begins with striving for inner self-improvement, by curbing one’s material passions and thereby transcending one’s bodily limitations. In this way one makes the Neshama and its interests and aspirations dominant in one’s life, which sensitizes one to the souls of fellow Jews regardless of the bodily separation.

But how can one tell whether efforts at sensitizing oneself have borne fruit, and have produced a feeling of true love for one’s fellow Jew? Practically speaking, one way of measuring how far one has progressed is to consider whether one eagerly fulfils the Mitzvah to rejoice in the celebrations of fellow Jews, and whether one is genuinely pained when other Jews are in distress or grieving. As
Rabeinu Yona writes:
If your fellow is in distress, feel pained for them ... and rejoice in their prosperity. If you hear about the distress of Jews who live far away, groan and pray for them, and all the more so for those who are close.

Sefer Ha’yira l’Rabeinu Yona, sec. beg. ve’im yovo’u.
Thus, not only should we share in the joys and sorrows of a member of our own community, but those of every single Jew in the world that comes to our knowledge.

It sounds noble and holy, but sadly, if we are to be honest with ourselves, it is very far from reality. When we hear of a child born, how much do we rejoice? When we hear of the passing of an elderly Jew, how much do we mourn? When we hear of a Jew losing his job, how much is our compassion and concern aroused? Indeed, these are very sobering questions.

Nowhere are the material pains of our fellow Jews as obvious as they are today in
Eretz Yisroel, where Jews suffer from rockets, suicide bombings, kidnappings, sniper fire, and the trauma of constant fear of such attacks.

Then there is the perhaps even more painful phenomenon of Jew against Jew:
  • Jews knowingly endangering Jews by handing over guns, land, and money to our sworn enemies (as in Oslo and its follow-up deals), by removing checkpoints, by releasing terrorists with blood on their hands, or who wanted to have blood on their hands, in ridiculous exchanges, and so on;
  • Jews expelling Jews from their homes—“because they had no choice but to follow orders” (as in Gush Katif and Northern Shomron, and more recently in Chevron and other places);
  • Jews mercilessly beating those who simply protest against destruction of Jewish property (as in Amonah, and on other occasions);
  • Jews preventing Jews from building their property, forcing them to live in ghetto-like conditions (as is currently the case in Yehuda and Shomron);
  • ... and the list goes on.
When we hear that our fellow Jews are abused, discriminated against, victimized, demonized, expelled, dispossessed, betrayed, traumatized, injured, or slain, by strangers and even by brothers, it ought to make a difference to us. Not only should we not come up with transparent, pathetic excuses to look the other way (such as “we don’t get involved in politics” or “people will be turned off if we speak about such topics”), but it ought to matter to us, bother us, shake us up, outrage us.

As the Rebbe said many times concerning such events, “When it hurts, you scream!” If we’re not screaming, then it means we’re not hurting. If we’re not hurting, then our love for our fellow Jew is clearly lacking. And this stems from the fact that we fall short spiritually. Although we davven with a Minyan, study Torah, and so on, our heart is not in it. It’s difficult to say it, but we’ve succumbed to a self-centered lifestyle.

Perhaps we need to review
Tanya, chapter 32, and reflect upon its message persistently. Until, with the help of Hashem, it truly sinks in.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Recognizing Spiritual Sickness

Recognizing Spiritual Sickness

Rabbi Y. Oliver

The Frierdiker Rebbe writes:
There are physical sicknesses of which the sick person may not be aware, and of which he learns the truth only after undergoing various tests. Thus, it is vital that the sick person be aware:
  1. that he is sick, and comes to desire and yearn to become well;
  2. that his health can be restored; this should bring him to maintain full hope and trust that with the help of Hashem, it will.
One must follow these conditions, and to an even greater extent, with regard to sicknesses of the soul.

Guidance in applying these two criteria can be found in the Chassidic texts, and it can be applied under the direction of a
chossid who engages in the study of Chassidus and has expert knowledge of the ways of chassidim.

Adapted from Igros Kodesh Admur HaRayatz, Vol. 4, pp. 353-354.
In my own words, with explanation:

Let’s face it. Of course, we don’t like to recognize it one bit. But, and this is nothing personal, most of us are sick.

Sick in the head. Sick in the heart. Sick in the soul.

But this does not occur to us. We must be normal, we reason, because we observe that so many others around us are, it seems, not so different from us spiritually. In fact, we relativize, it often seems that others around us are even worse off. The thought that almost everyone is spiritually sick is depressing, so we push it out of our minds. For if that’s true, how can a cure be found for a problem so prevalent? In such an atmosphere of spiritual apathy and rampant materialism, the thought that a real cure  for our spiritual ailments might exist, and that anyone could actually be truly, deeply inspired, seems altogether unrealistic.

However, those who are more serious in their service of
Hashem are simply the ones who are honest enough with themselves to recognize their lowly state, and motivated enough to do something about it. They have succeeded at passing the crucial stage of self-knowledge, and so they have a chance of true progress.

And how indeed does one come to truly realize the nature and degree of one’s sickness? The Frierdiker Rebbe speaks of the possibility of not detecting a physical sickness until tests are administered. In the spiritual realm, this could correspond to many things, for instance:

  • experiences of failure or damage bring the person to realize his or her faults directly
  • others offer rebuke for one's wrong actions
  • by perceiving faults in others, the person comes to realize that those same faults lie in him- or herself, according to the Baal Shem Tov’s teaching that “a person is a mirror”
To attain this goal through Chassidus, however, seems to involve a different process, one that the Frierdiker Rebbe apparently regards as the most ideal and effective method of recognizing one’s faults. Through Chassidus one refines and elevates oneself to the point that the faults to which one was oblivious in his past coarse state, one now perceives clearly. It seems to me (from my general knowledge of the difference between Chassidus and Mussar) that this is the means of recognizing one’s sickness that the Frierdiker Rebbe refers to in his letter. He explains that guidance in the process of self-knowledge through Chassidus, and advice for an appropriate cure, can be obtained through delving into the teachings of Chassidus under the guidance of an experienced mashpia.