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

Thursday, December 29, 2011

On the Greeks' demand that the Jews write heresy


(See my article concerning Hei Teves here.)

(This post comes in continuation to the posts here and here.)

This also sheds light on the Greeks’ demand of the Jewish people: “Write for yourselves on the horn of an ox that you have no portion in the G–d of Israel.”[1] Here, too, in the case of the Greeks’ agenda to force the Jewish people to write words of heresy, we see how their oppression of the Jewish people was primarily spiritual.

But what is the significance of “the horn of an ox,” and what led the Greeks, who were highly intelligent, to think that this act of coercion would somehow influence the Jews to give up their connection with the holiness of Torah and Mitzvos, G–d forbid?

The answer is related to the different supernal origins of the Jewish people and the nations.[2] There are four “faces” in the supernal divine chariot,[3] and the souls of the gentile nations stem from the level known as “the face of an ox.” More precisely, their souls are derived from the “horn” of this supernal ox. Just as a horn is considered secondary to the animal itself,[4] so does the horn represent the lower, external level of G–dliness from which the souls of the gentile nations (and the entire natural order, for that matter) are derived, which is related to the divine name of Elokim, which represents nature.[5]

In contrast, the souls of the Jewish people are derived from a transcendent or “internal” level of G–dliness, the name of Havayeh, as it is written, “For his nation remained the portion of Havayeh.”[6] This is alluded to in the verse, “And He [Hashem] blew into his [Adam’s] nose a soul of life.”[7] Vigorous blowing represents expending one’s inner strength.[8]

This is why the Greeks specifically wanted the Jewish people to write this statement on the horn of an ox. They wanted the Jews to degrade themselves to receive their sustenance from the same external[9] level of G–dliness from which the gentile nations derive their sustenance, the Name of Elokim, and in so doing they would forfeit their special bond with Hashem and his Torah and Mitzvos, which would lead them to assimilate with the non-Jews, G–d forbid.

Based on Sefer HaMa’amarim 5729, p. 86 ff. To be continued...

_______________________________________________________
[1] Bereshis Rabba 2:9.
[2] Torah Ohr, Vayeshev 30a. Ohr HaTorah, Chanukah 300a ff.
[3] Discussed in Yechezkel 1:1-3:27. Obviously, there is no physical chariot or ox in the higher spiritual realms, and these are anthropomorphisms, as is common in the Kabbalistic teachings.
[4] Chullin 117b.
[5] Cf. Tanya, Igeres HaTeshuvah ch. 4.
[6] Devarim 32:9.
[7] Bereshis 2:7. Since, as Kabbalah teaches, Adam possessed a Jewish soul, this verse sheds light on the nature of the Jew’s special soul.
[8] Tanya, beg. ch. 2.
[9] Likewise, the Greeks sought to influence the Jews to engage in secular studies, known as “chochmos chitzoniyus,” lit., “external wisdoms.”


This post was dedicated by Yerachmiel “Mitch” Belzer and family, as a merit for Malkah bas Neyereh. Also dedicated by Rabbi Shmuli Markel and family (Shmuel Leib ben Esther and Sara Rochel bas Chayah Nechomoh).

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Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for (at least) $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeitof a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Chanukah: Only pure Torah study prevents assimilation

Only pure Torah study prevents assimilation

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

As long as the Jewish people remain in exile, “in every generation, they [the gentile nations] rise up against us to destroy us.”[1] In some ages, our enemies sought to destroy us by slaying the Jewish body, G–d forbid. In the time of the Greeks, however, their method was to entice the Jewish people to adopt the Greek culture and assimilate into their society, with the ultimate goal of bringing them to cease to exist as a separate nation, G–d forbid.

Thus, the Medrash relates[2] that the nations came to their wise man, Avnimos, and asked him whether they could prevail upon the Jewish people to assimilate with them. Avnimos replied: “Go and frequent their houses of pray and houses of study. If you find children chirping with their voice [in Torah study], you will not be able to defeat them. But if not, you will be able to defeat them.”

However, teaching children Torah only has the power to protect Jews from such harm if it is taught in a pure, uncompromised manner, permeated with fear of Hashem. Such an education will bring the Pinteleh Yid, the core of the Jewish children’s pure Neshamos, to be revealed in their hearts, endowing them with the inner fortitude to be faithful to Hashem and His Torah for their entire lives.

May we draw strength and inspiration from Chanukah to each do our part to promote a pure, uncompromising Torah education for every single Jewish child throughout the entire year!

Adapted from the Previous Rebbe's Sefer HaMa’amarim 5689, pp. 115-116.

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[1] Haggadah.
[2] Yalkut Shimoni, remez 115.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Countering the Greeks’ agenda to secularize Mitzvah observance

Countering the Greeks’ agenda to
secularize Mitzvah observance

Rabbi Y. Oliver

(This post comes into continuation to the previous post.)

The same was true of the Greeks’ approach to Mitzvos: They sought “to lead them astray from the Chukim of Your will.”[1] Now, there are three kinds of Mitzvos:

· Eidos: Mitzvos that were established to commemorate a specific event, e.g., Shabbos, Pesach, or Sukkos. On its own, human intellect wouldn’t realize how important these Mitzvos are, but once Hashem commanded us to keep them, we can come to understand and accept the reason behind them.

· Mishpatim: Mitzvos that human intellect can appreciate on its own, such as honoring one’s parents, giving charity, and so on.



· Chukim: Laws that have no rationale, and that we perform simply because Hashem so commanded us. Of these laws it is said: “The Satan and the nations ridicule the Jewish people, saying, ‘What is this Mitzvah, and what rationale does it have?’”[2]



The Greeks didn’t mind the first two categories of Mitzvos, Eidos and Mishpatim, because they can be explained rationally. But they vehemently opposed the observance of “the Chukim of Your will,” because the Chukim are suprarational.

This can be explained on a deeper level. As discussed, the essence of the conflict between the Jewish people and the Greeks lay in a titanic struggle between faith and reason. We explained this above vis-à-vis the struggle over how to view Torah, and the same conflict existed in how to view Mitzvos. The Greeks sought to bring even the suprarational Mitzvos to conform with reason, while the Jews fought to make pure faith permeate all the Mitzvos, to have even the rational Mitzvos performed in a way that transcends reason.

To explain, the Greeks would even have allowed the Chukim if they could be kept in a rational manner. But if the Chukim have no reason, how could they be fulfilled rationally?

This would be a kind of “argument from authority.” An intelligent person can accept the advice of a renowned world-class expert even if he doesn’t personally understand the expert’s rationale. He realizes that in order to understand the topic to the degree of depth that the expert has attained, he would have to spend many years of in-depth study, for “many years inform one with wisdom,”[3] and so in this case, it is only rational for him to rely upon the expert’s vastly superior knowledge. All the more so, an intelligent person can accept that since Hashem created the universe, and His intellect is infinitely greater than ours, it is perfectly reasonable for me, a puny human, to obey the Creator’s instructions even when I do not understand them, and even when my mind tells me the opposite.

This is the meaning of the precise wording of the Ve’al HaNissim prayer, which states that the Greeks sought “to lead them [the Jewish people] astray from the Chukim of Your will.” The Greeks would have allowed the Chukim if they had been kept in a rational manner, as explained. What they opposed was the Jews’ stubborn performance of the Chukim on account of “Your will”—without any reason at all, nor even the reason that Hashem knows better, but simply because Hashem so commanded.



While the Greeks sought to make even the Chukim intellectually agreeable, the Jewish people strove to promote the exact opposite approach—to bring even the rational laws, the Eidos and Mishpatim, to be performed like the Chukim.[4]



Yes, we ought to use our intellect to study and internalize the logical reasons behind the Eidos and Mishpatim. However, we should not do so because intellect itself so dictates. Likewise, Hashem is not instructing us to follow intellect because it has some kind of inherent value, G–d forbid. Rather, even when we use our intellect, as in the performance of these Mitzvos (and in Torah study, and so on), we ultimately do so simply because Hashem commanded us. Thus, at their essence, even the rational Mitzvos are suprarational. And therefore, had Hashem commanded us to do something else to serve Him—even something totally non-intellectual, like chopping wood—we would have done so with the same enthusiasm.[5]



Put differently, in every act of performing a Mitzvah, one should submit oneself to Hashem with two intentions:[6]

The individual intention: One should delve into the significance behind each individual Mitzvah, and remind oneself of its reasons and become inspired by them as one performs the Mitzvah. This is the external aspect of the Mitzvah.

The general intention: As one performs the Mitzvah, one should be mindful that one is performing a divine command. This command is the essential core of the Mitzvah that is common to all Mitzvos—Eidos, Mishpatim, and Chukim alike; positive and negative commandments alike.[7] Since this involves obeying without (or before) understanding, this intention involves a certain self-sacrifice, a surrender of the ego and self that goes against human nature. This is the “Chok” aspect of every Mitzvah, which makes all the Mitzvos essentially suprarational. Although it may be difficult, a Jew is capable of this self-transcendence because of the natural love of Hashem (ahavah mesuteres) that flows from his Jewish Neshamah. Thus, all our observance of Torah and Mitzvos depends upon the foundation of suprarational self-sacrifice—an ability that enables the Jew to give up his life when faced with the challenge of dying al kiddush Hashem.[8]

It was this inner core that came to the fore in the resistance of the Maccabees. The Jews understood that the only way to fight against the Greeks’ war against faith was by intensifying their devotion in the very area that the Greeks sought to eradicate—by arousing their own inner potential for suprarational self-sacrifice.

And so the Jews started a war of the few against the many and the weak against the mighty.[9] Since the Jews’ chances of winning in this insurrection were so minuscule, their behavior was not rational; some would call it a suicide mission. Rather, it was an expression of suprarational faith, and so it was the fit response to the Greeks’ efforts to eradicate the suprarational.

Based on Sefer HaMa’amarim 5729, p. 86 ff. To be continued...

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[1] Ve’al HaNissim liturgy.
[2] Rashi on Bamidbar 19:2.
[3] Cf. Iyov 32:7.
[4] Sefer HaMa’amarim 5698, p. 175.
[5] Likkutei Torah, Shelach 40a. Sefer HaMa’amarim 5666, p. 54.
[6] Likkutei Torah, ibid.
[7] Tanya ch. 30.
[8] Cf. ibid. end ch. 25.
[9] Ve’al HaNissim liturgy.



This post was dedicated by Reb Kasriel and Zippi Oliver in honor of 30th yahrtzeit of Shmuel ben Yosef Tzvi on 18 Kislev.


Also dedicated by Rabbi Levi and Chani Kurinsky in honor of the tenth wedding anniversary of Levi Yitzchok Halevi ben Chana Brocha and Chana Bas Yocheved Rivkah on the 1st night of Chanukah, and the birthday of Chana Bas Yocheved Rivkah on the 5th night of Chanukah.


Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for (at least) $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeit of a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Countering the Greeks' Agenda to Secularize Torah (G-d forbid)



Countering The Greeks’ Agenda to Secularize Torah, G–d forbid

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

The Greeks sought “to bring them [Jewish people] to forget Your Torah.”[1]

The wording here is precise: The Greeks did not oppose Torah study per se; on the contrary, since Greek culture valued intellect as the greatest good, and they recognized the beauty, depth, and complexity of Torah—as it is written, “for it is your wisdom in the eyes of the nations”[2]—they held Torah study in high esteem as a most sublime, profound intellectual pursuit. In this sense, they were willing to allow and even encourage the Jewish people to study Torah.

Rather, they opposed Torah study with the belief that it is “Your Torah”—that it is divine. Torah is not just another wisdom among many; it is more than even a very advanced wisdom, more advanced than all others. Likewise, Torah is not a tool for intellectual gratification and development, G–d forbid—although it does carry those fringe benefits as well.

Rather, although it involves the intellect, Torah is fundamentally different—it is holy intellect. In these ostensibly intellectual teachings, Hashem reveals to us His will and wisdom, which are infused with a sublime level of G–dliness that transcends intellect altogether. And so by studying Torah, the Jew is able to unite with Hashem, as it is written, “Three knots are tied to one another: The Jewish people to Torah, and the Torah to Hashem.”[3] This means that by grasping the technical details of Torah,[4] the Jew fuses his mind and soul with a level of pure G–dliness that completely transcends intellect.

It was this submission to the suprarational that the Greeks so vehemently opposed, and which they sought to prevail the Jewish people to forget—even, if necessary, through brute force.

But before they resorted to force, how did they seek to contaminate the Jews’ Torah study? By systematically enticing them to become preoccupied with secular wisdoms and to view amassing secular knowledge as a highly desirable pursuit of inherent ethical value.

In this way, the Jews came to treat these wisdoms as on a par with the wisdom of Torah (lehavdil). Once Torah wisdom is treated as the equal of secular wisdom, the student loses the sensitivity to the Torah’s inherent holiness, and views it as a purely intellectual pursuit, may G–d save us.

This is the deeper reason that when they broke into the Beis Hamikdash, the Greeks made a point of contaminating all the oil that they could find. Oil represents wisdom,[5] and the Greeks fought with all their might to contaminate the holy oil of Torah with the impurity of secular wisdom, and thereby influence the Jewish people to treat Torah as if it were no different from other wisdoms, G–d forbid.

The Greeks’ success at contaminating the pure oil in the Beis Hamikdash represented the fact that unfortunately, they had been largely successful at their mission of secularization, and many Jews in that time succumbed to the intensely powerful lure of Greek wisdom. At first they studied it as outwardly religious Jews, and then they dropped Jewish observance altogether, defecting to the ranks of the anti-religious Jewish Hellenists, who eagerly took up the battle-cry of the Greeks to “modernize” the “old-fashioned” and “superstitious” Jews (G–d forbid).[6]

However, it is written, “one nation will prevail over another nation”[7]—“when one rises, the other falls.”[8] Although in context, this verse is discussing the conflict between Yaakov and Esav, the same principle can be applied to other spiritual conflicts. Thus, when the Maccabees fought vigorously back and promoted Torah study, they prevailed over the Greeks and the insidious infiltration of Greek wisdom in the Jewish community.

Of course, the Maccabees did not merely promote Torah study—they promoted Torah study permeated with pure faith in Hashem, the Giver of the Torah, and it was this Torah study that dispelled the corrupt influence of the wisdom of Kelipah.

The key to approaching the Torah with such faith is cultivating bittul, humility. Of the Torah it is written, “It is not in the heavens, nor across the sea.”[9] The Talmud interprets: “The Torah will not be found among the arrogant and in one who expands his mouth upon it.”[10] No matter how much Torah an arrogant, egotistical person studies, the light of Torah cannot enter him. Only when the student of Torah sincerely humbles himself to Hashem and to the holiness in His Torah is he a fit vessel for the Torah’s light.

And when one studies Torah with bittul, he is also able to study secular studies for the sake of Heaven. He views these studies as fundamentally subordinate to Torah, as having no inherent value, and as serving as nothing but a means to an end (to earn an ample livelihood or as a tool to understand a concept in Torah, and so on[11]). Then his Torah study will remain pure and untainted, and he will not be adversely affected by studying these wisdoms. Thus, we find that many of our greatest sages, notably the Rambam and the Ramban, attained great erudition in secular wisdom.[12] Their bittul to G–dliness was so sublime that they were able to use secular wisdoms themselves for the sake of Torah and divine service.

Based on Sefer HaMa’amarim 5729, p. 86 ff. See the continuation here.

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[1] Ve’al HaNissim liturgy.
[2] Devarim 4:6.
[3] Cf. Zohar 3:73a.
[4] Chassidus refers to this as “levushei hasagah”—“garments of understanding.”
[5] Zohar 3:7b.
[6] Similarly, in more recent times, the Jewish department of the Communist party, the Yevsektsia, which consisted largely of ex-Yeshiva students, were infamous for their ruthless persecution of religious Jews and their tireless efforts to uproot Jewish observance, far outdoing their non-Jewish comrades in their ideological zeal.
[7] Bereshis 25:23.
[8] Ibid., Rashi.
[9] Devarim 30:12.
[10] Eruvin 55a.
[11] Cf. Igros Kodesh, Vol. 3, p. 123 ff.
[12] Tanya end ch. 8.


This post was dedicated by Reb Kasriel and Zippi Oliver in honor of the birthday of Yehudis Fraida Tsap (Yehudis Fraida bas Hindeh Zeldah Bracha) on 8 Kislev. Also dedicated by Rabbi Shmuli Markel and family (Shmuel Leib ben Esther and Sara Rochel bas Chaye Nechomoh). May we be immediately reunited with the Rebbe!


Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for (at least) $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeit of a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chanukah: A titanic conflict of wisdoms


Chanukah: A titanic conflict of wisdoms

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

Oil represents wisdom,[1] and so the oil of the Holy Temple represents the wisdom of Torah, while the Greeks’ efforts to contaminate this oil represents their efforts to bring secular wisdom to be dominant. Thus, the struggle between the Maccabees and the Greeks was essentially a struggle between two kinds of wisdom, each of which seeks total domination.

Although secular wisdom can be very profound, Torah wisdom is so vastly superior to it that the Zohar comments[2] on the verse, “And I saw that there is an advantage to wisdom over foolishness”[3] that King Solomon was describing the greatness of “wisdom”—Torah, over “foolishness”—secular wisdom.

Thus, secular wisdom is associated with the evil inclination, which is called an “old and foolish king,” while wisdom of Torah is associated with the good inclination, which is called an “unfortunate, wise child.”[4]

To explain, wisdom of holiness engenders bittul—self-effacement and humility, while wisdom of Kelipah engenders yeshus—egotism and arrogance. This also translates itself into one’s interaction with others: yeshus leads to conflict and division, while bittul fosters harmony and unity. The reason for this difference is as follows:

The underlying purpose of wisdom of holiness, Torah, is to explain how the universe was created yesh mei’ayin, something from “nothing”—i.e., from pure G–dliness. Moreover, even after being created, everything in the universe depends absolutely upon this G–dliness for its ongoing existence, and so even now, the true reality of the universe is G–dliness.[5] The awareness of our total dependence upon G–d permeates everything we do with faith in Divine Providence. Likewise, since this wisdom focuses on bittul, studying it imbues one with bittul—with the willingness to nullify oneself, i.e., humility. Thus, Torah wisdom is indeed true wisdom.

In contrast, wisdom of Kelipah, secular wisdom, explains not the ayin, pure transcendent G–dliness, but the yesh, the egotistical world that feels itself to be independent from its source in G–dliness and self-sustaining, G–d forbid. Since this wisdom focuses on yeshus, on the universe as it feels itself independent from G–d, studying it imbues one with yeshus—with arrogance and a sense that one does not truly need G–d (G–d forbid). Ultimately, this leads to heresy—total denial of G–d and rejection of His providence, may G–d save us. Thus, secular wisdom is indeed true foolishness.

This manifests itself in the different impact of these wisdoms on the student’s intellect and emotions. In general, intellect seeks to transcend personal bias and focus on the topic at hand in an objective way, which is the idea of bittul, while emotions focus on subjective, self-centered considerations, which is the idea of yeshus.

Since Torah engenders bittul, it imbues an even greater measure of bittul in the intellect, bringing one to true objectivity, and it even elevates the self-focused emotions to a state of bittul.

Conversely, secular wisdom, which engenders yeshus, brings the emotions to be even more self-focused than they would have been otherwise—i.e., it fosters coarseness and wicked character traits. What’s worse, it even corrupts the otherwise truth-seeking intellect to a state of selfishness and arrogance.

This is the reason that many great gentile sages were notorious for being extremely corrupt and decadent. Their wisdom did not translate itself into more refined behavior; on the contrary, they were more immoral than others of average intellect. The reason is, as explained, that secular wisdom instills and bolsters coarseness and arrogance.

(It should be noted that the above explains the natural impact of each of these wisdoms. However, if one learns Torah without fear of Hashem, G–d forbid, it may become an “elixir of death,” having a very negative effect on the person[6]; conversely, if one is strong in one’s fear of Hashem and studies secular wisdoms in the appropriate way, with the right intentions, they can be beneficial.[7])

Based on Toras Menachem 5714, Vol. 1, p. 300 ff.


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[1] Zohar 3:7b.
[2] ibid. 3:47a.
[3] Koheles 2:13.
[4] Ibid. 4:13. Koheles Rabba, ibid.
[5] Cf. Tanya, Sha’ar HaYichud VehaEmunah, chs. 1-3.
[6] Yoma 72b.
[7] Cf. Tanya, end ch. 8.


This post was dedicated by Reb Kasriel and Zippi Oliver in honor of the birthday of Sara Rochel Tsap (Sara Rochel bas Hindeh Zeldah Bracha) on 11th Cheshvan. Also dedicated by Shmuli Markel and family (Shmuel Leib ben Esther and Sara Rochel bas Chaye Nechomoh). Also dedicated lizchus Rabbi Yossi Soble (Yosef Yitzchok ben Menucha Chaya) and family. May we be immediately reunited with the Rebbe!

Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for (at least) $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeit of a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How to Climb the Ladder of Prayer

(This article is presented in honor of 19 Kislev.
For articles on 19 Kislev from previous years, see here and here.)

How to Climb the Ladder of Prayer

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver


The key to ascent—bittul
“And he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was fixed in the earth, and its head reached the heavens.”[1] The Zohar states[2] that this alludes to the ladder of prayer. Prayer is constructed like a ladder, where one starts at the lowest rung and rises ever higher, until one can reach the greatest heights.

In particular, the ladder of prayer is said to have four rungs—the four sections of Shacharis, the Morning Prayer, through which one’s soul rises up through the four spiritual worlds, respectively:
  • Tefillas HaShacharAsiyah
  • Pesukei DeZimrahYetzirah
  • The blessings of Shema/ShemaBeriyah
  • Shemoneh EsreiAtzilus
Every ascent is attained through bittul, self-nullification. Thus, in order for the person to rise up to a higher level, he needs to toil in bittul, nullifying himself to Hashem in the way expected of him while on his current level. In the context of prayer, this means that one starts on the lowest level, the world of Asiyah, and in order to rise to the next level, the G–dliness of the world of Yetzirah, one must engage in the hisbonenus that connects one’s soul with the G–dliness of the world of Asiyah. Then the soul can rise to establish a connection with the world of Yetzirah, whereupon the person must engage in the hisbonenus that connects his soul with the G–dliness of the world of Yetzirah ... and so on.

Tefillas HaShacharAsiyah
We begin prayer with the declaration, “Acknowledge Hashem.” The beginning of prayer is a general, all-encompassing acceptance of Hashem, before one has reached true understanding of Him. This parallels the world of Asiyah, action. This represents the concept that the beginning of divine service is obedience, “we will do” before “we will hear [understand].”[3] At this point one lacks inspiration and enthusiasm, for one when one is just beginning, he has by definition not yet invested the necessary effort to reach such a feeling, for that is a more advanced stage.

Pesukei DeZimrah—Yetzirah
In this section the Jew declares Hashem’s praises[4] with the goal of inspiring and exciting himself from Hashem’s greatness. Although this involves a certain degree of comprehension of Hashem’s greatness, this comprehension is lacking, and the main focus is to arouse a feeling of excitement. The reason that the comprehension is lacking is that in Pesukei DeZimrah we reflect upon how wondrous is Hashem’s creation of yesh mei’ayin, something from nothing, and this is a concept that is fundamentally beyond human comprehension.

It should be noted that according to Chassidus, yesh mei’ayin does not mean that the world was literally created from nothing. Rather, the world was created from a level of G–dliness that is like nothing in comparison to our world, for it exists on a plane of existence that is so vastly superior that we cannot relate to it at all; thus, for us, it is as if it is non-existent.

The reason that we cannot truly comprehend the process of creation yesh mei’ayin is that comprehending something implies internalizing it, and if we would truly understand how our existence stems from a level of G–dliness that is so far beyond us, we would become so overwhelmed that we would lose our sense of independent existence.

Yet although we do not truly understand the process of yesh mei’ayin, reflecting upon it inspires us with wonder and excitement. Thus, Pesukei DeZimrah means literally “verses of song,” for song represents arousing a superficial excitement. Since at this stage one has not reached true understanding, this only refines one’s inner self on an external level;[5] however, this paves the way for one to rise to the next level of inner change.

This also ties in with the second meaning of Pesukei DeZimrah, to “prune,” referring to the “pruning of the thorns”[6] from the Bestial Soul.[7] Just as a vineyard has thorns, which suck the moisture from the ground and ruin the vineyard, so is it with the Jewish people, who are compared to a vineyard. The thorns that obstruct the Neshamah from rising up to the greatest heights are words of idle chatter and mockery, even when spoken without pleasure. Likewise, thinking forbidden thoughts, or looking at forbidden sights, even when one does so without pleasure, contaminates the soul and prevents it from rising to Hashem.

This is the purpose of Pesukei DeZimrah—to excite the Jew with G–dliness and thereby “prune” these Kelipos (negative energies) from him.

This section of prayer corresponds to the world of Yetzirah and connects us with the spirituality of that world, for there the focus of the angels is to sing Hashem’s praises with intense emotional excitement.

Based on Toras Menachem 5712, Vol. 6, p. 137 ff.
Sefer HaMa’amarim 5708, pp. 80-81. Cf. Sefer HaMa’amarim 5668, p. 5 ff.

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[1] Bereshis 28:12.
[2] 1:266b. 3:306b.
[3] This was the declaration with which the Jewish people committed themselves to follow the Torah. See Shemos 24:7; Shabbos 88a.
[4] Cf. Berachos 32a. Avoda Zara 7b.
[5] In the original, one makes a “chakikah kelalis,” an “external engraving.”
[6] Cf. Yeshaya 25:1. Zohar 3:284a.
[7] Likkutei Torah, Bechukosai 47d. Ibid., Nitzavim 51d.


This post was dedicated by Shmuli Markel and family (Shmuel Leib ben Esther and Sara Rochel bas Chaya Nechomoh), and by Yisroel Meir Raphael and family. Also dedicated by Dov Oliver in honor of the yahrtzeit of our grandfather OBM, Reb Shmuel Oliver.

Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for (at least) $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeit of a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The source of Jewish souls in the letters of Torah

The source of Jewish souls in the letters of Torah
Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

(This is a continuation of the posts herehere, and here.)


The Jewish souls’ origin in Torah is also related to the letters in a Sefer Torah, which also number 600,000. Thus, the name “ישראל” is an acronym[1] for “יש ששים רבוא אותיות לתורה.”


The Neshamah of every single Jew stems from his or her corresponding letter in the Sefer Torah, which originates from the source of his or her soul in Torah above.


The Alter Rebbe asks:[2] Aren’t there far fewer letters in the Sefer Torah (to be precise, there are 304,805 letters)? He answers that the number of 600,000 includes the unwritten vowel sounds, each of which indicates a letter. For example, a komatz is an alef, a chirik is a yud, a cholam is a vav, and so on. However, we do not know exactly how to calculate which vowels are counted as letters in order to reach the number of 600,000.[3]


The Rebbe Rashab explains[4] that there are two kinds of letters: Letters of thought and letters of speech. When one thinks, one also uses letters, but these letters are far more abstract and spiritual than letters that come down in the relatively coarse medium of speech.


Likewise, the letters of Torah exist on both these levels: The letters of a physical Sefer Torah are comparable to Hashem’s letters of speech. But at the level of Chochmah of Atzilus, the Torah exists in the form of letters of thought. The Hebrew vowel sounds (Nekudos) are not necessarily written, but they allude to letters that one thinks. Thus, letters of thought include the more rarefied letters that relate to the Nekudos. And so on the level that Torah exists in Hashem’s thought, as it were, there are far more letters—altogether, 600,000. And since “The Jewish people arose in Hashem’s thought”[5]; i.e., the Jewish people stem from the level of Torah as it exists in Hashem’s thought, as it were, therefore the Jewish souls also number 600,000.


Moreover, just as thoughts are united with the thinker, so is a Jew united with Hashem by connecting with His thought. To explain, letters of thought are far more united with the soul than letters of speech; thus, although both thought and speech are referred to mere garments of the soul and not its essence, thought is called a “united garment,” while speech is referred to as a “separate garment.” Likewise, “The Torah binds the Jewish people with Hashem”[6] because the Jewish soul is rooted in the level of Hashem’s thought, which is united with Hashem in a far more complete way than the rest of the creations, which stem from Hashem’s speech, as it were.


_______________________________________________________
[1] Megaleh Amukos 186.
[2] Likkutei Torah Behar 41b, 43d.
[3] See the commentary of the P’nei Yehoshua on Kiddushin 30a, for additional solutions.
[4] Sefer HaMa’amarim 5663-5664, p. 309. Ibid., p. 131. Cf. ibid., p. 368.
[5] Bereshis Rabba 1:4.
[6] Zohar 3:73b.

This post was dedicated by Shmuli Markel and family (Shmuel Leib ben Esther and Sara Rochel bas Chaye Nechomoh), and by Yisroel Meir Raphael and family. Also dedicated by Yosef ben Chaim Goldenberg, now in the US Army; may Hashem continue to watch over him with many blessings and for a safe and healthy return to his family from Afghanistan.



Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for (at least) $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeit of a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

More on subdivisions in Torah and Neshamos

More on subdivisions in Torah and Neshamos
Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver


(This article is a continuation to this article and this article.)


As mentioned earlier, each of the four sections of Torah contains 600,000 interpretations on every aspect of Torah. But if so, how is it that we find many more than 600,000 explanations of many concepts in Torah? The answer[1] parallels the above explanation concerning the subdivision of the souls. As explained, the 600,000 Jewish souls are root souls, each of which subdivides into 600,000 individual souls. And so is it with Torah: When we say that there are 600,000 interpretations according to peshat, for instance, this refers to the “root interpretations,” each of which is in turn subdivided into 600,000.


So when it is stated that each Neshamah stems from one of the 600,000 interpretations of Torah, it means that each individual Neshamah (or “spark,” as Tanya calls it) stems from one of the subdivisions of one of those 600,000 interpretations, and this is the “portion in Torah” of that Neshamah.


And just as there are 600,000 interpretations of Torah for the 600,000 root Jewish souls, so are there also 600,000 “root” paths in serving Hashem,[2] which in turn subdivide further into yet more individual paths in serving Hashem appropriate for each individual Neshamah.


In the Preface to Tanya, the Alter Rebbe explains that it may be difficult to find one’s own personalized guidance suitable for one’s own individual path in service of Hashem, and therefore one needs the guidance of a Rebbe in Yechidus. I will explain this concept further in a future post, G–d-willing.


________________________________
[1] Toras Menachem 5719, Vol. 2, p. 112.
[2] Hisva’aduyos 5742, Vol. 4, p. 2018.


This post was dedicated by Shmuli Markel and family (Shmuel Leib ben Esther and Sarochel bas Chaye Nechomoh), and by Yisroel Meir Raphael and family.



Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeit of a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Rosh Chodesh Kislev articles

See my article concerning Rosh Chodesh Kislev here, and my articles concerning the Mumbai massacres, Hy"d here.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Vital Connection Between Jewish Souls and Torah


The Vital Connection Between Jewish Souls and Torah

Rabbi Y. Oliver

(This article is a continuation of this earlier article.)

Now, the Jewish soul stems from Torah.[1] And so just as there are 600,000 root Jewish souls, so are there 600,000 explanations for every verse in the Written Torah. Likewise, so is it for each of the four sections of Torah, called “pardes” (lit. “orchard”)—peshat (the plain meaning, which was just mentioned); remez (the allegorical meaning); derush (the homiletical meaning); and sod (the mystical meaning). Each topic in each of these four sections contains 600,000 explanations. Each Jew has Torah teachings on each of these four levels that altogether create his individual soul.


This also parallels the soul’s root in the four higher spiritual worlds: Atzilus, Beriyah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah. The soul descends from above Atzilus into Atzilus, then down into Beriyah, and so on, until it comes vested in the body of a Jew.


The soul’s descent in each of these successively lower spiritual realms on its journey to reach the physical body involve each of the four sections of Torah, each connected with a particular world, respectively:[2] peshatAsiyah; remezYetzirah; derushBeriyah;[3] sodAtzilus.


It is because the Jew’s soul stems from Torah that he is obligated to study Torah. The Jew’s root in Torah also dictates the degree to which he will understand Torah when he strives to, and the topics at which he will have greater success at studying.[4]


This is the concept of each Jew’s “portion in Torah,” which we pray to Hashem to give us.[5] We ask Hashem to bring us to find and study the explanations in Torah that are in fact the root of each of our individual Neshamos. And even if we don’t merit this now, we are promised that when Moshiach comes, and in Gan Eden, every single Jew will come to study the explanations that create his Neshamah.


Likewise, we find that every Jew has the ability to innovate specific novelties in Torah that other Jews may not be able to innovate. The reason for this is that the particular novelties that each person innovates correspond to that person’s individual “portion in Torah.”


Likewise, every night, while the person is asleep, the Neshamah rises[6] to the Heavenly House of Study, and if one so merits, it is taught the explanation that lies at the root of his Neshamah. However, the extent to which this will be revealed to him will depend on his actions that day; certain worthy actions will merit a revelation of one dimension of the Torah-root of his Neshamah, while other worthy actions will merit a revelation of a different and perhaps higher dimension, and so on—“measure for measure.”[7] This experience refines the Neshamah and raises it to ever-higher levels, at which higher and higher levels of understanding are revealed to it. The Neshamah may undergo this experience despite one having no recollection of it upon awakening.


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[1] Much of the material below is drawn from the Arizal’s Sha’ar HaGilgulim  17Sha’ar Ma’amarei Razal, p. 86Sha’ar Ru’ach HaKodesh, gate 7, p. 108.
[2] Shaar HaHakdamos 1b.
[3] This is one opinion among the Kabbalists; another opinion maintains that remez is connected with Beriyah, and derush with Yetzirah.
[4] Cf. Tanya ch. 4, beginning.
[5] Avos 5:20. Nusach HaTefillah.
[6] Cf. Tanya ch. 29.
[7] Sanhedrin 90a.


This post was dedicated by Reb Pinchas Cylich and family in honor of the yahrtzeit of  R' Yeshaya Yaakov Ben Boruch Yosef  on 28 Marcheshvan, and (lehavdil bein chayim lachayim) the birthday of Binyomin Hirsch ben Feyge Matl, also on 28 Marcheshvan. May he have a shnas hatzlocho begashmiyus u'veruchniyus!


Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeit of a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.

Monday, November 21, 2011

On viewing sin and sinners

The Tanya[1] speaks of a “kal shebekalim,” a person who lives a sinful, corrupt lifestyle. When we view him, we might jump to judge and condemn him for his revolting behavior. But the Torah exhorts us: “Do not judge your fellow until you have stood in his place.”[2]

Although this person’s sins are not justifiable, G–d forbid, they are understandable in light of the excruciatingly difficult situation in which Hashem puts him: 1. His obligation to earn a living necessitates that he spend all his time in a corrupt environment in which he is exposed to all manner of debauchery and crime, and is constantly faced with very difficult challenges; 2. Hashem created him with an intense evil inclination.

These two elements—a negative environment, and a strong evil inclination—combine against him such that when he is faced with temptation, the passion to sin burns within him so feverishly that he can only overcome it through a herculean effort. Is it any wonder, then, that he fails?

Yes, he has free choice. By reminding himself that Hashem is watching his every deed, he can arouse himself to fear Hashem and restrain himself from stumbling in sin. Since he could have used this method to resist temptation, his failure to do so is inexcusable. “It was very hard” is just not good enough.

However, this is a thought that the sinner should swell upon in order to recognize his responsibility and do sincere Teshuvah. The observer should also be aware of this, to the extent necessary to ensure that he doesn’t go so far in focusing on the greatness of the sinner’s struggle that he comes to think that restraint is so difficult that he foolishly excuses his own sin, and says from the outset, “I will sin and repent.”[3]

However, when viewing the sinner, the observer should not focus on the sinner’s responsibility, but on reflecting upon how grueling are the sinner’s circumstances.

Moreover, our sages say of the one who observes a sinner, “Be lowly of spirit before every man”[4]—even a terrible sinner. The main reason that he is sinning is that Hashem has chosen to throw him into unfavorable circumstances. Consider that if you were in his circumstances, you would most likely act the same—and perhaps you would be even worse.

Thus, no matter how low the level of the Jew who has sunken into sin, may G-d save us, one must speak with him in a soft, gentle manner.

Adapted from Tanya ch. 30.
_______________________________
[1] Cf. Hisva’aduyos 5742, Vol. 3, pp. 1423-1424
[2] Avos 2:4.
[3] Yoma 85b. Cf. Tanya ch. 25.
[4] Avos 4:10.
[5] Ibid. 1:6.

This post was dedicated by Reb Yisroel Meir Raphael and family.

Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeit of a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Neshamah: The Jew’s True Inner Self

The Neshamah: The Jew’s True Inner Self

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver


The Rambam discusses[1] a case of a husband who refuses to grant his wife a get when the Beis Din (Jewish court) requires it. Although our sages do not usually follow such an approach, in this extreme case, for the wife’s sake, they require that the husband be forced—even, if necessary, by the use of physical force—to release his wife from marriage by issuing her a get.


But, the Rambam asks, how can such a get be valid? Isn’t this a get me’useh, a get given under duress, which is invalid? The Rambam explains that Torah only recognizes an act as coercion when one was coerced into doing an act that Torah doesn’t require. However, if one was coerced to fulfill a Torah requirement, he is considered to have done so of his own volition. For since he is a Jew, his true desire is to perform the Mitzvos. In the Rambam’s words:
... He wants to be a Jew; he wants to perform all the Mitzvos and distance himself from transgressions, and [the] only [reason that he acts to the contrary is that] his evil inclination has overpowered him. So once he is beaten to the extent that his evil inclination has become weakened, and he says I want [to divorce], he has surely divorced of his own volition.
In the language of Chassidus, when the husband refuses to obey the Beis Din, he is being consumed by his Bestial Soul (the term more commonly used in this literature to refer to the Evil Inclination). But his true inner self is his Neshamah, his Divine Soul. When pressure is applied upon the Bestial Soul, it stops obstructing the will of the Neshamah, and the divorce is considered to have been issued voluntarily, for the Neshamah wants to obey the Beis Din.


In other words, although the Bestial Soul is very much a part of the person—in fact, for most of us, it is our conscious self[2]—Torah views it as external and additional; it is not the Jew’s true, inner self. His true self is his Neshamah

The Neshamah possesses a natural love for Hashem that spurs an intense desire to connect with Him, and a natural awe of Hashem that makes him recoil from sin and want to keep a distance from it,[3] even to the point of being willing to give up his life rather than sin.[4] Concerning this, the Alter Rebbe declared: “A Jew neither desires, nor is able, to sever himself from G–dliness.”[5] 


This awareness can also encourage the Jew in his performing the Mitzvah of Teshuvah, of repenting for sin.[6] Since the Jew’s true, inner desire is to serve Hashem, as soon as he sins, he regrets, feels pained, and worries over it. I.e., deep down, he does Teshuvah immediately. I.e., the Jew’s connection with his true, inner self is even more emphasized with regard to Teshuvah than other Mitzvos, for the Jew’s Neshamah not only desires to keep all the Mitzvos, but it actually does Teshuvah as soon as he sins, and so in order to do Teshuvah all the Jew need do is reveal his inner Teshuvah to his external, conscious self.


(For an earlier post on this topic, see here.)
____________________________________

[1] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Divorceend ch. 2.
[2] Cf. Tanya ch. 29: “היא היא האדם עצמו.”
[3] Ibid. chs. 141925.
[4] Ibid. chs. 181924.
[5] Hayom Yom p. 73.
[6] Sefer HaMa’amarim Melukat, Vol. 5, p. 56




This post has been dedicated by Rabbi Dov and Shevi Oliver of Monsey in honor of the yahrtzeit of Rephoel Dovid ben Kasriel, ע"ה, on 13 Tishrei.

Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeit of a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

On the Subdivision of Souls

On the Subdivision of Souls

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver


On the highest level, all Jewish souls exist as one undifferentiated singularity. They are first divided into seven,[1] corresponding to the seven branches of the Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash. Each of the branches corresponds to one of the seven emotional Sephiros (divine attributes—sing. Sephirah) in Atzilus, each of which acts as a “root-soul” for all the Jews in whose souls that particular emotional attribute is primary.

Then there was the division into the twelve tribes, who acted as root-souls in their own way. The number twelve corresponds to the six emotional Sephiros (excluding the last, Malchus), as they go from below to above, and from above to below.[2] After that, each of the seven emotional attributes itself consists of ten sub-attributes, and this is the next division, into seventy, which was embodied in the seventy souls that descended to Egypt.[3]

The souls then subdivided further into 600,000. The Torah relates[4] that at Mount Sinai, there were 600,000 men present between the ages of twenty and sixty. Kabbalah[5] and Chassidus[6] explain that these men possessed the souls of the entire Jewish people, for there are altogether 600,000 Jewish souls. However, these souls are not ordinary souls; they are “root souls,” and so just as a root produces many branches, so do each of these souls subdivide into “sparks,” which also number 600,000.[7] Each of these sparks is a single Neshamah.

The number 600,000 also stems from the six Sephiros in Atzilus. Every Sephirah contains all ten Sephiros (both the three intellectual, and the seven emotional), and so the six contain 60, and then 600, and so on, until they reach 600,000.[8]

This is the meaning of “A generation passes, and a generation comes,”[9] but there can be no generation with less than 600,000 Jews.[10] These are the same souls, come down into different bodies, and so in this sense the passing generation is the succeeding generation.[11]

________________________________
[1] Torah Ohr 32b.
[2] Sha’ar Ru’ach HaKodesh, gate 7, p. 108.
[3] Bereshis 46:27.
[4] Shemos 12:37, 38:26, Bamidbar 1:46, 11:21.
[5] Zohar 3:273a.
[6] Tanya ch. 37, 48a.
[7] To do the simple math, that’s 360,000,000,000 Neshamos. However, the soul—even the root soul—consists of three distinct levels: Nefesh, Ru’ach, and Neshamah. So when the root souls split up into 600,000 sparks, that’s really all three levels of the soul splitting up. So even in the world of Atzilus, there are altogether 1,080,000,000,000 soul-levels. This number of souls then descends further into each of the three lower worlds, which comes to a total of 4,320,000,000,000 (quoted in Tanya Betziruf Marei Mekomos, Likkutei Pirushim, Shinuyei Nuscha’os, chs. 29-53, p. 756, in the name of Likkutei Hagahos LeTanya, p. 37. But see Torah Ohr 27d.
[8] Sefer HaMa’amarim 5654, p. 106. Sefer HaMa’amarim 5663-5664, p. 311.
[9] Koheles 1:4.
[10] Koheles Rabbah on Koheles 1:4, Yalkut 2:966. Zohar 3:273a. ibid. 4:216b.
[11] Sefer HaBahir 51.


This post was dedicated by Reb Pinchas Cylich in honor of the birthday of Menachem Mendel ben Faiga Matel on 16 Cheshvan. May he have a shnas hatzlocho begashmiyus u'veruchniyus!

Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeit of a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Modeh Ani: Essence facing Essence

Modeh Ani: Essence facing Essence

Rabbi Y. Oliver

The very first thing that a Jew does in the day is to recite Modeh ani:I gratefully thank You, living and eternal King, for You have returned my soul within me with compassion—abundant is Your faithfulness!

Although the word modeh can mean to thank, it can also mean to acknowledge. When a Jew declares Modeh ani, he says: “Hashem, I acknowledge You!”

At first glance, this acknowledgment lacks any depth. After all, the Jew has only just woken up; he’s still shaking the sleep out of his eyes and coming to his wits; he has not yet had the chance to reflect, understand, feel, and internalize anything at all. When a Jew recites Modeh ani, his lack of development and comprehension is akin to that of a newborn child.

This begs the question: Of what value is an acknowledgment when submitted in such a lowly state?

However, Chassidus explains that the opposite is the case: Because it does not involve intellectual comprehension, in a sense, Modeh ani is the highest prayer of all.

There are two levels to the Jew’s soul: its essence, and its manifestations. Corresponding to this, there are two levels of acknowledgment of Hashem: One that stems from the soul’s very essence, and another that stems from its manifestations.

There is a principle in Chassidus that “the manifestations hide the essence.” When you see the superficial aspect of a thing, you lose sight of its very core. For example, when reading words on a page—the “manifestations”—one can come to forget that one is actually staring at ink—the “essence.”

Likewise, as soon as the Jew has reached a certain level of understanding, he can no longer submit to Hashem (at least, not on a conscious level) from the very essence of his soul; his submission must stem from his understanding. He does not submit naturally, because of the essential bond between a Jew and Hashem’s very Essence. Rather, he submits because he understands that he should. He understands Hashem to a certain degree, and yet he also understands that certain things are beyond his comprehension, and so he acknowledges them.

This is the difference between the acknowledgement of Modeh ani and of Hodu laHavayeh, which is the start of Shacharis, the morning prayer.

In Modeh ani, the essence of the soul, “ani,” submits “lefonecho,” “before You”—before Hashem’s very Essence. Because the Jew doesn’t understand anything, his mind and heart do not “get in the way” of the revelation of the soul’s essence. And since the soul’s very essence is manifest, as it were, it connects the Jew with Hashem’s very essence.

In contrast, at the beginning of Shacharis, we recite, “Acknowledge Havayeh, and call out in His name.” “His name” refers to the level of G–dliness that enters nature (which stems from the divine names of Ad-nai and Elokim). So we need to “call,” i.e. summon down into our world this level of G–dliness, so that it can constantly create the world. In contrast, with respect to Havayeh, a level that transcends time and space and is therefore completely beyond us, we must simply acknowledge and accept without understanding.

Yet although one acknowledges, since his acknowledgement actually stems from his understanding—his understanding of the limits of his intellect—it does not permeate his entire being, and thus it only connects him with levels that transcend intellect, but not with Hashem’s very Essence, as when one recites Modeh ani.

Based on the Rebbe's Sefer HaMa’amarim 5714-5716, pp. 337-338



This post was dedicated by Reb Yisroel Meir Rafael and family.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeit of a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Music: The greatest heights, or the lowest depths

The Alter Rebbe explains[1] the Talmudic phrase, “All those who sing go out in song”[2] as referring to the song of the angels. Likewise, the Jewish souls in Gan Eden also sing to Hashem.

From what do the angels and souls “go out” through song? The Alter Rebbe quotes the Maggid,[3] who explains that through song the angels and souls transcend their limitations (albeit exceedingly refined limitations, for they are altogether spiritual entities).

Likewise, although Hashem set up a world of limitation, song has a tremendous power in the service of Hashem; it can elevate the person with such an intense love of Hashem that he rises completely above the limitations of the Bestial Soul and the world in general. This was the reason that the Levites sang melodies in the Beis HaMikdash while the Kohanim were offering the sacrifices.

And since “The prayers come in place of the sacrifices,”[4] in prayer one should also strive to rise above all limitations, until one transcends the limitations of the body entirely, with the soul almost expiring in an overwhelming love for Hashem. (This also explains why it is praiseworthy, when practical, to incorporate song into one’s prayers.)

This expresses the awesome power of music when used as Hashem intended—to bring one to the most sublime levels of divine service.

Unfortunately, in order to enable us to have free choice, until Moshiach redeems us (may it happen today!), “Hashem created this one opposite this one”[5]—every force that exists in holiness must have a parallel force in unholiness.

So just as holy Jewish music has the power to raise one to the greatest heights of love of Hashem, so can unholy, non-Jewish music, degrade the Jew to the depths of evil, may G–d save us. It too casts away limitations, but in the opposite way.

The verse states, “Man is born a wild donkey.”[6] Chassidus explains this to mean that we are born with a Bestial Soul that possesses intense, untamed, and self-destructive character traits. By serving Hashem through prayer, Torah study, and observance of the Mitzvos, one weeds out the negative character traits and harnesses the raw energy of the Bestial Soul to the service of the Divine Soul, as it is written, “With the strength of an ox,” the Bestial Soul, “there is much grain,”[7] constructive benefit for the Divine Soul.

However, listening to goyisheh (non-Jewish) music elicits a desire for perikas ol, a desire to cast off all these constructive “limitations.” This music excites and strengthens the Bestial Soul in a very unhealthy way, causing the Divine Soul to become hidden. All the hard work that one did to live with self-control and establish boundaries is thereby undone. One’s negative character traits resurface with even more intensity, and the raw energy of the Bestial Soul is directed to behaviors that are both spiritually and physically harmful, may G–d save us.

All this would be true of goyisheh music even if it had no words; all the more so, considering that in modern times, the lyrics of this music often communicate immodest and heretical messages.

Based on Sefer HaMa’amarim Basi LeGani, Vol. 2, p. 54 ff.

____________________
[1] Likkutei Torah, Pinchas 77c.
[2] Shabbos 51b.
[3] Likkutei Torah, Berachah 98a. Cf. Sefer HaSichos 5703 p. 111 ff.
[4] Berachos 26a-b.
[5] Koheles 7:14.
[6] Iyov 11:12.
[7] Mishlei 14:4.

This post was dedicated by Reb Kasriel ben Yehudis and Chana Feigeh bas Reizl (my parents, tzu langeh, gezunteh, zisseh yoren).


Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for (at least) $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeit of a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Shalit Deal--Disgraceful and Deadly


The Shalit Deal—Disgraceful and Deadly

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

This is not the normal kind of topic that I write about on my blog, but this time I’m making an exception.

The Israeli government has declared that in a short while it will exchange Gilad Shalit for over a thousand convicted terrorists serving life sentences. Now, saving a captive is one of the greatest Mitzvos in the Torah, but not when done in this way. With all due respect to Gilad’s family and various other well-meaning supporters, this “deal” is evil and obscene:

1. High risk of re-offense, G–d forbid: Letting loose terrorists with blood on their hands endangers Jews who would, G–d forbid, be their next target. This has happened before countless times, and not even the most ardent advocate of this deal doubts will happen again this time. In fact, according to this article, sixty percent of freed terrorists re-offend. Now, this objection would stand even if only one terrorist were to be released; all the more so in this case, when over a thousand are to be released. These excuses for human beings running amok in society is tantamount to hundreds of stabbings, sniping attacks, or suicide bombings waiting to happen, G–d forbid. Once these attacks begin, G–d forbid, I wonder what the pro-deal camp will say, or how Gilad and his family will manage to live with themselves.

2. Rewarding terror emboldens the enemy: When you surrender to terrorists in any way, you show them through your actions that their acts of cold-blooded mass murder pay off. In this case, the Israeli government should have treated this capture as an open act of war and gone on the offensive by occupying the entire Gaza, executing terrorist prisoners, cutting off Gaza’s electricity, taking prominent Arab leaders captive, and so on, until Gilad was released. Instead, the Jews have shown the terrorists that Jews are weak and cowardly, and that abduction is a highly effective method for the enemy to achieve its goals. So now that the the enemy sees that the Jews have capitulated, they know to continue such acts again, and again, and again, G–d forbid, thereby manipulating the Jews in power to cede to their every demand. So this tremendous emboldening of the enemy makes the Jews in the Holy Land in general much more at risk of being captured, G–d forbid.

3. Strikes fear into Jews: Terror means more than cowardly killing people in cold blood. Terror is a strategy and philosophy that advocates using violence to drive terror, i.e., fear, into the hearts of the target population, in order to bring them to capitulate to the terrorists’ demands. So when those in leadership play right into the terrorists’ hands by acting out of fear and a sense of powerlessness, these leaders in effect promote fear among the Jews they were charged with bravely leading and protecting. In the case of this deal, these released murderers will go on to become community icons, bragging to their Arab brethren about their “courageous feats,” inciting others to do likewise, and continuing such activities with even greater zeal, may G–d save us. This increased danger and sense of vulnerability creates an atmosphere of low morale and fear among the general Jewish populace, military and civilian.

3. Destruction of deterrent power: Even once terrorists are in prison, they will know (as they have after past deals, and all the more so now) that it’s only a matter of time until their cohorts capture someone else and use that captive as a bargaining chip; this knowledge encourages them to commit terror, secure that not only will they not be put to death when caught (which is what we should do—see point #9 below), but they may only have to sit a few years (indeed, many of them boasted just that when they were first imprisoned, and to our disgrace, their arrogant words proved correct).

4. Affront to families of victims: What about the many hundreds of grieving families of the victims of these prisoners? They were assured that their slain relatives’ murderers would never see the light of day. How will they feel now, knowing that not only were their loved ones not brought to true justice by being executed, but they are being set free? Why don’t these families at least have a say in these deals? And why were most of them not even politely informed of the court’s decision?

5. Violation of Jewish law: Jewish law unequivocally forbids any deal of this kind, according to the principle of the Gemara[1] that Pikuach Nefesh, saving a life, does not override the prohibition against killing another Jew. Here is not the context to discuss this topic on a more technical level, but Jewish law explicitly prohibits a ransom of this kind.[2]

6. Warped morality: The Midrash warns: “Whoever is kind to the cruel will end up being cruel to the kind.”[3] True, every Jew is priceless: “Whoever saves a Jewish life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”[4] And yet the thought to release hundreds of vicious murderers for the sake of saving one Jew is warped morality; it is misplaced kindness and compassion that stems from Kelipah, the forces of impurity (see here and here). This is why Hashem gave us the Torah, which is called “a Torah of light,”[5] for it illuminates our way in this dark world, “a world of falsehood.”[6] In this context, Torah would have been vital for the Jews striving to free Gilad to approach the matter with moral clarity. Yes, they may have meant well, but without Torah as their anchor, they were bound to sink into a bottomless pit of moral confusion, doing harm when they sought so sincerely to do good. May they come to realize the foolishness of abandoning timeless divine morality in favor of their own highly limited intellects.

7. Farce of the justice system: How is it that unrepentant mass murderers are let loose en masse, but criminals convicted of crimes incomparably less severe must do their time? And this complaint applies all the more with regard to Jews in prison for actions that were perhaps misguided, but were reactions to attacks, motivated out of a worthy desire to protect Jews, such as those imprisoned for throwing rocks back at Arab youth who were throwing rocks at them, and the like.

8. Disgrace before the world community: Jews should be setting an example of proper behavior for all mankind—being a “light unto the nations.”[7] In the case of this deal, they have failed miserably. I cannot imagine any other country negotiating such a disgraceful deal. Look at how America went and occupied Afghanistan as soon as it viewed it as a terrorist threat, and later on, Iraq. The world respects those who respect themselves. Such craven concessions as these lead the nations to look down on Jews in general, and greatly weakens the case of the Jewish people to live in their G–d-given Land.

9. No mercy on mass murderers! Lastly, I can only reiterate the Rebbe’s words[8] warning the Israeli government to execute terrorists. a. This is this the punishment that these scum more than deserve; b. it deters further acts of terror; c. most importantly, it protects, or at least significantly decreases, the likelihood of Jews being abducted, because if there are no convicted murderers being held, there is no one to exchange (not that there will not be Arab criminals in prisons in the Holy Land, but their crimes will not be related to terror, and so there will be less of a desire on the part of the terror groups to free their comrades).[9]

Based in part on the Rebbe’s public talk of Motzoei Shabbos Parshas Bamidbar, 5739.


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[1] Sanhedrin 37a.
[2] See Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 252:4.
[3] Yalkut Shimoni, Shmuel I, 221.
[4] Sanhedrin 37a.
[5] Mishlei 6:23.
[6] Zohar 1:192b.
[7] Yeshayah 42:6.
[9] Here is an article about a rabbi who has spoken out in favor of this approach.

ETA: Thank G–d, Gilad Shalit has returned to the Holy Land! We are overjoyed for him and his family, and we wish them all the best; however, we continue to object to the means by which this was done, and express our concern for the long-term repercussions of this release.

See a similar article here.

This post was dedicated by Reb Yisroel Meir Rafael and family.

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