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

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Torah-true inspiration

Although a Jew should obey the commands of the Torah even when feeling low, true performance of Torah stems from a profound inner feeling of inspiration. This involves using all his internal faculties (kochos) in serving Hashem. This principle holds true concerning all of Torah and Mitzvos, but in this article I will illustrate it using the example of Torah study, which should permeate one’s emotions, intellect, willpower, and pleasure:

Emotions (middos): Arouse an intense love for Torah that drives you to study and teach Torah as much as possible, whenever possible. You will then also love those who devote themselves to studying and teaching Torah, and support them financially or otherwise as much as possible. You will also love holy seforim and feel a close, personal attachment with holy seforim in general, and with your personal Torah library in particular. Likewise, you will feel afraid to become separated from Torah by neglecting its study, chas vesholom (“bittul Torah”).

Intellect (sechel): Saturate your mind with Torah to the extent that it permeates your mental space completely. Even when it is necessary to discuss mundane things, as soon as some relevance can be drawn between what your are discussing and a Torah teaching, immediately notice and comment on that relevance. In almost every thought process, strive to draw connections with pesukim (verses) of Tanach, with maamarei Chazal, stories, and sayings of chassidim, and so on. Ultimately, you will reach the point where your mind is trained to think according to the daas of Torah, such that your every decision and opinion correctly conforms with what the Torah truly wants of you.

Willpower (ratzon): Cultivate an intense urge to study and disseminate Torah, to the point that you overcome all obstacles lying in your way.

Pleasure (taanug): Regard Torah study as a delight, and not just because of its intellectual profundity, but also because you appreciate its purity and holiness. Approaching a bookshelf of seforim will then evoke the feeling of gazing upon a smorgasbord of spiritual delicacies, an enticing array of mouth-watering sublime treats. Likewise, any opportunity to support Torah study and disseminate it will bring you profound personal pleasure and satisfaction.

Once all these deeper faculties are directed towards the sacred, this naturally leads to thought, speech, and action of Torah and Mitzvos that flow from genuine passion and inspiration. 

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Moshiach: A Cheshbon Nefesh

A Jew is supposed to regularly make a cheshbon nefesh, a personal reckoning of whether he is living up to the standard of behavior expected of him (albeit only at specifically designated times—see here). Since many of the Rebbe’s most recent and frequently repeated directives to us were related to the belief in the coming of Moshiach, the effort to hasten and prepare for his arrival, and so on, I have compiled below a list of questions to ask oneself in the process of such a cheshbon nefesh.

One who is constantly, fully aware and infused with the passionate conviction that these are indeed literally our last moments in exile will be sure that today is the day, the long-awaited blessed day in which Moshiach will finally come, in which the entire world will reach the purpose for which it was created.

Do I constantly feel that today is the day?

In order to be truly ready for 
Moshiach, I must bring my thought, speech, and action to conform totally with Torah (Sefer HaSichos 5751, Pinchas).

Am I careful with my every thought, speech, and action?

Right before the holy day of Shabbos, activity intensifies to prepare the home for Shabbos, often at a frantic pace. We are conscious that soon no more preparation will be possible. Likewise, the age of
Moshiach is compared to Shabbos, and our current age was granted in order to enable us to prepare for the age of Moshiach, an opportunity that we will no longer have after Moshiach arrives (see HaYom Yom, 3 Av).

Is the pace of my preparation intensifying? Do I sense the value of the time allocated to me in order to prepare?

Only Hashem can decide to send
Moshiach. Moshiach is waiting for Hashem to give him the go-ahead. Hashem, the King of all kings, blessed be He, grants me a private audience with Him every day—in fact, thrice daily—during which I am granted the opportunity to plead for my every wish.

Is the coming of Moshiach today on my wish list?

The Rebbe has taught us that in order to prepare for 
Moshiach, we must bring Jews who are not-yet-observant to undertake the performance of Mitzvos, study topics in Torah related to Moshiach and the Redemption, and teach non-Jews to follow the Noahide laws. The Rebbe has instructed us to increase in Tzedakah and good deeds, in study and dissemination of Chassidus, in acts of love toward our fellow Jew, and issued many more directives, all with the goal of preparing us for the coming of Moshiach.

Am I careful to do the things that are auspicious in bringing Moshiach?

Nowadays we live in a state of spiritual darkness and thick concealment of the absolute Truth that “there is nothing besides Him” (
Devarim 4:35). However, when Moshiach comes we will perceive the absolute truth of Hashem’s reality in a tangible manner. One of the main purposes of Tefillah is to foster a desire to behold Hashem’s glory and in order to create a framework in which to express that desire toward Hashem.

Do I davven slowly, carefully, savoring every word, pouring out my heart to Hashem, crying out for the exile to end, with intense yearning to see His revelation when Moshiach comes?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Don't forget the Nasi!

During the beginning of the month of Nissan, you will observe signs hanging in Lubavitcher Shuls that read: “Don’t forget the Nasi!”

The obvious meaning of this is the reminder to fulfill the custom that on each of the first twelve days of the month one reads certain verses related to one of the twelve Nesi’im, the leaders of the tribes (for the precise text for each day, see here).

However, perhaps this exhortation also holds a deeper meaning: “Don’t forget the Nasi!”—the Rebbe, our Nasi and leader.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Following the "chassidishe Shulchan Aruch"

Someone once wrote to the Rebbe (Igros Kodesh, Vol. 10, p. 396) and complained that although he prays with enthusiasm, in the middle of his Tefillah he suddenly feels overcome by heaviness. The Rebbe responded that at such times he should take a break and relax, but that this relaxation should obviously conform both with the Shulchan Aruch and the “chassidishe Shulchan Aruch.”

chossid’s identity as a chossid should permeate every aspect of his life. One might think that if I am already very inspired, why does it matter so much if I relax by, let’s say, reading a newspaper (obviously, we are only talking about perusing articles that contain completely permitted content)? If I am doing the main thinglearning Torah, praying enthusiastically, and engaging in good deeds—is that not sufficient?

No, the way one relaxes
does matter, for even if a given practice is not technically forbidden by the
Shulchan Aruch, a chossid is not satisfied. He is constantly asking himself what is expected of him according to the chassidishe Shulchan Aruch, the higher standard of living and observance expected of a chossid.

In the case of relaxing, although a chossid needs relaxation and recreation from time to time like anyone else, especially when he feels very weak (see the above letter), he will seek outlets for this need that, though perhaps light, still inspire him and draw him closer to Hashem. An example of a method for such relaxation would be reading inspiring stories from Jewish history, stories of Tzaddikim, and of chassidim. Another might be listening to niggunim (Chassidic melodies).

And just as one cannot fulfill the regular Shulchan Aruch without studying it, so does one need to study the chassidishe Shulchan Aruch—which, for a Chabad chossid, can be found in the teachings of the Rebbeim of Chabad—in order to adhere to it properly.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Studying Chassidus before Tefillah

It is the Chabad practice to study Chassidus Chabad, the intricate Chassidic discourses of the Rebbeim of Chabad, before Tefillah (prayer) daily. In this essay I will explain the sources, reasons, and goals of this practice, and I will conclude with an explanation of the connection between this study and hisbonenus (Chassidic meditation).

The earliest explicit source that I have found for this is in
Kuntres Etz Chaim (pp. 52-53), where the Rebbe Rashab writes: “In general, before Tefillah, there need not be any study other than study of Chassidus” (and therefore “those who rise early should learn Chassidus for the entire time before Tefillah”). Obviously, this study serves as a preparation for Tefillah. The reason for this is not discussed there.

The footnote to these words of the Rebbe Rashab (ibid., p. 52), which was written by the Rebbe (who wrote references and glosses to many works of the Chabad Rebbeim before his succession to the position of Rebbe), references Likkutei Torah, Savo, 53c. There the Alter Rebbe writes:
... The third [preparation for Tefillah (the first two being to donate Tzedakah and immerse in the Mikveh)] is to engage in and study words of mussar [ethical rebuke], and those words of mussar found in the Zohar in particular. For the word Zohar is etymologically related to the word for illumination, for [the Zohar] illuminates the place of darkness; this is the “wisdom of truth” [a term used to refer to kabbalistic teachings]. ... [The Alter Rebbe goes on to speak about the power of this study to arouse simple faith.]
Thus, the Rebbe cites Likkutei Torah as proving the concept of learning Chassidus before Tefillah. The obvious question is: where is Chassidus mentioned there? At first glance, Chassidus is significantly different both from Mussar and from Zohar and “The Wisdom of Truth”—Kabbalah.

In later years the Rebbe explained the connection (Toras Menachem 5713, Vol. 3, p. 17; see also Toras Menachem 5720, pp. 92):
... It is written in Likkutei Torah that one should “engage in and study words of mussar [ethical rebuke], and those words of mussar found in Zohar in particular.”

However, our Rebbeim, our Nesi’im, and elderly chassidim have already said that all the concepts in works of Mussar (such as Reishis Chochmah) and in the Zohar that are needed for one’s divine service were imbued by the Rebbeim into the teachings of Chassidus. Thus, the study of Chassidus contains all these qualities, along the lines of “two hundred includes one hundred” [Bava Kama 74a].
The Rebbe explains that since Chassidus contains teachings of Mussar and Zohar (and much more), it also counts as Mussar and Zohar.

I wish to suggest another, additional and closely related connection between Chassidus and the Zohar. The study of Chassidus, in addition to including numerous actual teachings from the Zohar, accomplishes the same thing as the Zohar. For the Alter Rebbe emphasizes that the greatness of the study of the Zohar is that it illuminates with an intense divine light. Similarly, it is known that the inner dimension of the Torah, which includes both Kabbalah and Chassidus, is known as the “luminary of Torah” on account of the intense divine light that shines through such Torah study. Thus, since Chassidus shares with Kabbalah this quality of providing divine illumination, it also qualifies for the Alter Rebbe’s words in Likkutei Torah.

What indeed is the purpose of this extra divine light that shines through the study of Zohar or Chassidus before Tefillah, by virtue of which it prepares one for Tefillah? This can apparently be explained in light of on an almost identical teaching of the Alter Rebbe (Migdal Oz, p. 426):
I heard from Maharam Halevi Yaffeh, who said in the Alter Rebbe’s name, that there are three methods for warding off foreign thoughts during Tefillah: ... [Tzedakah and Mikveh] Likewise, the language in the book of Zohar has a favorable effect on the soul, even if one does not know what one is saying. Since these three things do not require conscious intent, they are effective in cleansing one of foreign thoughts.
The similarity between this quote and the Alter Rebbe’s words in Likkutei Torah makes it reasonable to assume that it is quoting the same teaching. If so, it emerges that part of the reason for the Alter Rebbe’s recommendation in Likkutei Torah to observe these three practices is in order to ward off foreign thoughts during Tefillah. And since the Rebbe refers to Likkutei Torah as the basis for the custom of chassidim to study Chassidus before Tefillah, it follows that warding off foreign thoughts is also part of the reason for this custom.

Likewise, Reb Aizik of Homil writes (Choneh Ariel, Shemos, p. 64):
... As we heard explicitly from the Alter Rebbe in Liozhna, when there is a blockage of the brain [“timtum ha’moach”—i.e., the mind is spiritual dulled and not receptive reflection on holy concepts], [in order to counteract this] it is effective to read the words of the holy Zohar, even if one does not know what one is saying.
Here it refers to timtum ha’moach and not foreign thoughts, but the two are clearly related, for one whose mind is blocked up is also more likely to be beset by foreign thoughts. Learning Zohar and the like elicits a powerful light that significantly cleanses one’s mind of negative forces (known as “kelipos”) and thereby also repels foreign thoughts.

(Similar teachings can be found in non-Chabad Chassidic traditions. For example, Rabbi Shlomo HaCohen Rabinowitz of Radomsk interprets (Tiferes Shlomo, Rimzei Purim) the following verse concerning Esther and Achashverosh in a similar manner “ובבואה לפני המלך אמר עם הספר ישוב מחשבתו הרעה”—“But when she came before the king, he commanded via letters [lit., “he said with a book”] that his wicked device [lit., “wicked thought”] should be rescinded.” When one “comes before the king,” the King of all kings, in prayer, one should employ “the book,” i.e., Torah study, in order that “the wicked thought will be rescinded,” i.e., to dispel all foreign thoughts, enabling one to pray with clarity and purity.)

Thus, it emerges that the study of Kabbalah or Chassidus illuminates a Jew with a G–dly light, which cleanses him significantly of negative forces in preparation for Tefillah. This is what is typically known as an “Ohr Makif,” an “encompassing light,” a divine revelation that has a general positive effect but does not change the person on an individual, personal level, which is called an “Ohr Pnimi,” an “internal light.” This explanation is also consistent with the Alter Rebbe’s words further in the above quote from Likkutei Torah that the study of Zohar arouses the Jew’s simple faith, for faith is an Ohr Makif quality.

However, it should be pointed out that study alone is not sufficient to bring one to love and fear of Hashem during Tefillah. Indeed, learning Chassidus before Tefillah exerts a positive effect, both in terms of illuminating the person with an Ohr Makif and developing the soul’s faculty of Binah, abstract intellectual knowledge. However, this does not change one’s emotions, for (as explained at the end of Tanya ch. 3) the only way to arouse true feelings of love and fear of Hashem is through the soul’s faculty of Da’as. One can only tap into this faculty through hisbonenus—lengthy meditation upon Hashem’s greatness before and during Tefillah.

Accordingly, the study of Chassidus before Tefillah may also accomplish the goal of providing the person with material for reflection during his hisbonenus. Thus, the Rebbe writes (Igros Kodesh, Vol. 12, p. 241) that since there is an obligation to reflect upon “the greatness of Hashem and the lowliness of man” before Tefillah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 98:1), one should learn Chassidus before Tefillah in order to enable one to engage in such reflection. 

However, what I understand this to mean is that one who has for whatever reason not studied sufficient material in order to engage in
hisbonenus at the time of Tefillah must learn Chassidus beforehand in order to attain this knowledge. However, this is not to say that one must engage in hisbonenus on the same subject matter that one studied before Tefillah; one may reflect upon other topics as well, as long as the concepts that one wishes to reflect upon are clear in one’s mind. Conversely, learning Chassidus before Tefillah still has value regardless of whether one goes on to use the knowledge then gained for hisbonenus, on account of the Ohr Makif that it elicits, as explained above.

It should be noted that it is in fact not desirable to make a habit of engaging in
hisbonenus on the same topic one studied that morning, for the goals of learning and hisbonenus may not coincide: When learning, one learns in order to cover ground, and the maamar (Chassidic discourse) that one learnt that morning one may have learnt for the first time. It is not appropriate to select such a maamar for hisbonenus, for one cannot truly grasp a concept without having studied it thoroughly and reviewed it several times (see Kuntres Etz Chaim, p. 52), and until the concept is fully grasped, one cannot truly use it for 
hisbonenus (see Igros Kodesh, Vol. 20, p. 52; cf. Kuntres HaTefillahp. 12, line starting veaf).

In summary, learning
Chassidus before Tefillah, along with immersing in the Mikveh and giving Tzedakah, illuminate the Jew’s soul with a divine light that prepares him for Tefillah. However, in order for one to arouse true love and fear of Hashem during Tefillah, these preparations need to be followed by hisbonenus.

Note: See also Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 35, p. 296. Kesser Shem Tov #120Sefer HaMa’amarim 5700, p. 140.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Shabbos is not a day of rest!

The Rebbe Rashab writes:
In general, one should take great care with one’s time on the holy Shabbos to use it for Torah study, and not to turn to turn to foolish matters, G–d forbid. Even during the weekdays one should be careful to avoid this, but to a far greater extent on the holy Shabbos, for the day is holy, dedicated for Hashem our G–d. It was granted to the Jewish people so that they be satiated with and enjoy His goodness. Going for a stroll on the holy Shabbos is completely undesirable. We do not find that anything was permitted on this day other than sleeping a bit more than every day, and enjoying the day through [additional] food and drink.

However, this is provided that one’s intention is to honor the Shabbos. This means that one should feel that this is being done for the honor of Shabbos, and the Shabbos is not a day of rest of Shabbos, i.e., a sense of submission to Shabbos, should rest upon the person. ... However, idling away the time on Shabbos with foolish matters, G–d forbid, is a great sin, may G–d save us. It is especially objectionable to go for a stroll on Shabbos, for then everyone goes for a stroll, [and one will inevitably see women while strolling], and one will not emerge clean from evil, G–d forbid.

Kuntres Etz Chayim, p. 53.
Shabbos is an immensely holy time. Of course one should be happy and enjoy the day, but this happiness and pleasure should be permeated with a sense of deep reverence and love of Hashem that extends to everything one does on this day.

Thus, Shabbos is not a day of rest in the way it is normally understood—a time to take life easy. Indeed, it is a time when one can relax in the sense that he is exempted from his mundane worries. However, the purpose of this exemption is to free up time so that one can devote himself to spiritual pursuits. Shabbos is a day in which one should exert strenuous effort—if anything, even more effort than during the week—but in Tefillah and Torah study.

With this in light, the idea of spending one’s time on Shabbos discussing politics (whether community, state, or federal), current events, or the like, becomes completely repugnant. What a desecration and disgrace it is to indulge in such talk on Shabbos.

Let us go on a Shabbos campaign—a campaign not just to keep the technical laws of Shabbos (which is also necessary), but also to live with the spirit of Shabbos.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Inspiring Through Example

Inspiring Through Example

Rabbi Y. Oliver

The Previous Rebbe related:
The chossid, Reb Pinchas Reitzes was childless. Reb Hillel Paritcher wanted him to divorce, but the Mitteler Rebbe did not agree. [To explain his ruling,] the Mitteler Rebbe said then that with Reb Pinchas’ davvenen [prayer], he had brought countless people to Teshuvah.
[To illustrate this:] In Lubavitch there was a Jew named Nachum Nachumovitch, a wagon driver. He once happened to enter the house of study while Reb Pinchas Reitzes was
davvenen [and observed him]. He became overcome with such excitement that he took a siddur, turned the pages and said the Avodah [the recitation of the service of the Kohanim in the Beis HaMikdash read on Yom Kippur], the Ve’al chet prayer, and prostrated to the floor. For a simple Jew, this was the highest level.

He declared that he and the animal could not be equal, and he no longer wanted to be a wagon driver. Instead, he became a beadle in a Shul.

The Mitteler Rebbe said of him: “This mass of wood is higher than the greatest gaon (genius).”

Sefer HaMa’amarim Admur HaRayatz 5711, p. 277.
What indeed is the connection between having children and inspiring Jews to Teshuvah? The Halachah says that once ten years have passed without one’s wife bearing children (G-d forbid), a man must divorce his wife (Yevamos, Mishnah 6:6), because he carries a Biblical obligation of peru urevu, which requires him to beget a male and a female child (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Ishus, 15:4).

Nevertheless, in this case the Mitteler Rebbe considered Reb Pinchas Reitzes’
davvenen so effective in inspiring people to Teshuvah that it was as if he had in fact begotten children—all the Jews whom he had inspired through his example. For one who has sinned is akin to one who has died, for sin casts the soul into the clutches of the negative spiritual forces called Kelipos, which are known as “a place of death and defilement, may Hashem save us” (Tanya ch. 22). Thus, one who has truly reached Teshuvah is akin to someone reborn. And this change is so powerful that it even had Halachic ramifications.

One obvious lesson here is the importance of exerting effort in
davvenen. Let us strive to emulate this great chossid in his sterling example, if only to the relatively lesser extent of which we are capable.

This story also demonstrates the power of simply setting a good example. Sometimes we conceive of influencing others as requiring that we exert direct influence—teaching, encouraging, rebuking, and so on. Granted, such an approach is definitely often proper and necessary. Yet paradoxically, sometimes the most powerful impact comes from simply and genuinely acting as a
dugmah chayah, a living example, without necessarily considering how one’s behavior will affect others.

The reason for this is simple. Preaching often falls on deaf ears because the preacher lacks full sincerity—“talk is cheap.” However, “actions speak louder than words”—when we observe others simply doing the right thing, and especially when they are in an environment or at an age in which such conduct is rare, we are typically more impressed and inspired than we would have been by listening to verbal exhortations to piety.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The power of self-refinement

In addition to our strivings for self-refinement being an integral part of serving Hashem, they carry the fringe benefit of enabling us to overcome our physical enemies.

Dovid HaMelech speaks of two distinct types of foes whom the Jewish people face: “the enemy and avenger” (Tehillim 8:3): The “enemy,” who fights openly, directly, and unashamedly; and the “avenger,” a hidden enemy who schemes to commit vile deeds through stealth (today this is termed a terrorist).

The evil inclination is also referred to as the enemy, and it can be similarly divided into these two types. The open enemy within refers to coarse, vulgar desires, while the hidden enemy is the evil traits that are subtle and difficult to detect.

Yaakov Avinu alludes to these two levels of evil in his words, “ ... That I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow” (Bereishis 48:22). A sword can only slay an enemy who stands nearby, while a bow can even slay an enemy who stands from afar. The sword refers to eliminating the “close,” i.e., obvious and easily recognized unrefined character traits, while the bow refers to eliminating ugly character traits that are “distant,” i.e., subtle and insidious, and therefore unknown.

There is a direct causal correlation between the physical and the spiritual, between our conduct and the world around us. Thus, when the Jew strives to refine himself and eliminate his ugly character traits, both the obvious and the insidious, this results in the elimination of the literal “enemy and avenger” as well.

What a tremendous responsibility this charges us with! Normally we think of ourselves, not being generals or even foot-soldiers in the Israeli army, as powerless in overcoming scourges the likes of PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah, and their ilk. But in reality every single effort that we make to refine ourselves spiritually (and especially through prayer, as I will explain in a future post, with Hashem’s help) strikes these enemies with a powerful blow no less effective than that inflicted by a physical soldier.

Adapted from Sefer HaMaamarim Melukat, Vol. 1, p. 321.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Maintaining the balance II

Earlier we discussed the idea that serving Hashem requires that one constantly balance criticism and praise, a sense of lowliness and a sense of pride and joy, and so on.

One of the ways to attain this clarity is through attending a chassidishe farbrengen. This idea is reflected in the
chassidishe saying that, like the Parah Adumah, a farbrengen “purifies the impure while contaminating the pure” (Yoma 14a).

Some people are “impure,” for they feel that they have degenerated so low through sin that there is no hope for them. They are “purified” and uplifted at a
farbrengen to realize that Hashem loves them and wants them to return, and thus despite everything, their Teshuvah will be accepted, and they can rectify the damage that they have done.

Conversely, a
farbrengen attended by those who imagine themselves “pure,” who are starting to feel complacency and pride at their great scholarship or outstanding accomplishments, has the opposite effect. Such people are “contaminated,” i.e., they are reminded of their shortcomings, and how far they are from where they should truly be.