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

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Jew's mission: Recovering Hashem's lost gems

The Baal Shem Tov[1] offers the following parable for the spiritual process by which the sparks of holiness came into our physical world:

A king once lost a precious gem from his ring, and many of his subjects—servants, ministers, generals, and so on—volunteered to search for it. However, the king refused to allow them to. Instead, he instructed his precious only son to search for the lost object and return it.

The king did not do so because he suspected that his other subjects might pocket the gem. Rather, he wanted to be able to give the opportunity to his son to find it, so that his son would receive the credit. Moreover, he even dropped his son several hints as to the whereabouts of the gem. But how did the king know so well where the gem was to be found? In fact, it was all a setup. The king had deliberately feigned to have accidentally lost the gem only so that his son would find it, and so that the father could beam with pride at his son’s accomplishment.

Likewise, Hashem deliberately caused the sparks to fall into the physical world, and then insisted that only the Jewish people, of whom it is written, “You are sons of Hashem, your G–d,”[2] be charged with the mission of refining them.

So when a non-Jew uses an object in the world with the intention to serve Hashem, careful to do so in a way that conforms 
both with the letter and the spirit of the Noahide laws, he performs his duty, pleases the King of all kings, Hashem, and civilizes the world and makes it a fit vessel for G–dliness. But refining the lofty sparks of holiness trapped in the physical world is a task and privilege specifically assigned to the Jewish people.

[1] Kesser Shem Tov §194.
[2] Devarim 14:1.

This post was dedicated by Reb Kasriel ben Yehudis and Chana Feige bas Reizl (my parents, tzu langeh yoren) in honor of their 36th wedding anniversary. This post was also dedicated by Reb Menachem Kovacs, who requested that this message be attached:

"Zachor: to mark the 6th anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from Gush Katif and the Northern Shomron; we continue to pray and work for their restoration and for the Ge'ula Shlayma. Thank you."

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, July 24, 2011

The Contribution of Chassidus Over Kabbalah

The Contribution of Chassidus Over Kabbalah

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

At first glance, both Kabbalah and Chassidus explain Hashem’s greatness. And yet, since Kabbalah was  revealed before Chassidus, Chassidus must have come to add something new and more. What?

This is a broad topic, and of course, an article of this length cannot do it justice, but I will discuss one aspect of it below.

Although Kabbalah offers wondrous explanations of G–dliness, when these ideas are examined, the explanations it gives are incomplete. The wisdom of Kabbalah is so lofty that it does not truly descend into human intellect, and so a regular person cannot properly grasp it, even if he is highly intelligent. Who then can grasp it? One who is somehow attuned to a certain level of spirituality that transcends intellect. This exalted spiritual state “fills in the gaps,” enabling one to
“decipher the code,” and properly grasp these rarefied concepts.

There are two ways of possessing this level of spiritual sensitivity.

From above: A Jew who is born with a particularly lofty neshamah may be endowed with the power to grasp these lofty concepts.

From below: A Jew who has invested tremendous effort to rectify all his sins and failings and has succeeded, and has then gone still further and reached an advanced level of self-refinement, may manage to elevate himself to this level.

Until Chassidus was revealed, one who aimed to truly grasp the explanations of the sublime levels of G–d’s greatness found in Kabbalah had to be a fit “vessel” by fulfilling at least one of the above requirements. The revelation of Chassidus, however, made it possible for any Jew to grasp Hashem’s greatness, even without satisfying either of these requirements.

But what is so different and special about Chassidus? What quality does it have that Kabbalah lacks, making it accessible to every Jew? The answer: Chassidus in general, and Chassidus Chabad in particular, brings Hashem’s greatness down into sechel enoshi, human understanding.

How does it do this? It is written, “From my flesh I see Hashem.”[1] This verse encapsulates the entire goal of Chassidus—to explain in great depth and in great detail the faculties of the soul, and how they interact with one another. Since the Jew’s soul descends from the higher spiritual worlds,[2] everything in his or her inner self parallels the higher realms, and can thus be used to understand them. Chassidus therefore uses as its mashal (analogy, pl. meshalim) the soul’s faculties
—“my flesh”—in all their intricacies, through which we are able to “see Hashem”—to understand the nimshal (concept being explained by the analogy) of sublime levels of Hashem’s greatness.

Although Kabbalah also employs analogies from the soul to explain G–dliness, it never explains exactly which aspect of them corresponds to the nimshal in what way; it merely states the analogies, no more. If any explanation is provided, it is minimal.

This is one reason that it is considered dangerous to study Kabbalah without 
being truly a vessel for it. The lack of down-to-earth explanation makes one liable to fall into the trap of construing the analogies in Kabbalah literally.

This misconception is called hagshamah—lit., “making material,” or “corporealization.” Its opposite is hafshatah, lit., “divestiture,” or “abstraction.” Hafshatah is the ability to “see through” the details of the mashal to the nimshal of the sublime levels of G–dliness that it is coming to inform us of. Since this is a requirement for studying Kabbalah, we find that the Baal Shem Tov instructed those whom he saw as susceptible to hagshamah—apparently, the vast majority of people—not to study Kabbalah.

Now, let’s explain hagshamah further. On the lowest level of hagshamah, one believes that Hashem literally has a hand or foot, or the like, G–d forbid. A less coarse, but still forbidden level of hagshamah is to believe that Hashem is some kind of limited entity, albeit a very sublime one, such as one of the Sephiros (divine attributes), and to pray to a Sephirah, G–d forbid, instead of to Hashem Himself.[3]

An even more abstract kind of hagshamah, but hagshamah nonetheless, is an incomplete understanding of an analogy, applying aspects of it to Hashem that were not meant to be applied, and neglecting to apply aspects of it to Hashem that were meant to be applied; this is in itself hagshamah, G–d forbid.

And when one “coarsens” Hashem, G–d forbid, while studying Kabbalah, this in turn greatly “coarsens” the student of Kabbalah; in other words, it has a very detrimental spiritual effect upon him (along the lines of the words of our Sages that if one learns Torah inappropriately, it becomes a “potion of death”[4] for him). And this is indeed tragic, for his intention in his studies was surely to become more refined.

This explains further what was quoted earlier that to learn Kabbalah one must either have a lofty neshamah or be very refined, for only then can we be confident that the person will not fall into hagshamah.

In contrast, the analogies offered in Chassidus are always accompanied with explanations[5
] that make clear that not only does Hashem in His Essence (“Atzmus”) have no physical form, but He has no spiritual form either. Likewise, these explanations make clear which aspects of the analogies are relevant, and which are not.

Therefore, the student who has acquired a broad knowledge in Chassidus may be equipped to study Kabbalah as well and understand it properly.[6] Conversely, in our time, Chassidus is vital to protect one from misunderstanding concepts in Kabbalah. So for someone to learn Kabbalah without the explanations of Chassidus and “make his own way” in Kabbalah is presumptuous—he would be presuming himself not in the category of those whom the Baal Shem Tov warned against learning works of Kabbalah lest they commit hagshamah and thereby become greatly coarsened.[7] Moreover, it is not enough to learn texts that explain the deeper meaning of these Kabbalistic concepts briefly; one must also study Chassidus, which explains them in depth.[8] Thus, learning Chassidus before Kabbalah is vital.[5]

Based on Kuntres Inyanah Shel Toras HaChassidus, p. 1.
Toras Sholom, pp. 113, 185. See also the article on p. 20 here.

[1] Iyov 19:26.
[2] Tanya, ch. 3, beg.
[3] Derech Mitzvosecha, Shoresh Mitzvas HaTefillah, 115b. Cf. Shivchei HaBesht, p. 250.
[4] Yoma 72b.
[5] Igros Kodesh, Vol. 22, pp. 58-59. See also Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 30, p. 292, where the Rebbe warns that only one who has actually attained expertise in Chassidus by studying it diligently for many years is fit to issue a ruling on whether Chassidus is similar or different from Kabbalah with regard to the various restrictions on the study of Kabbalah.
[6] Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 35, p. 295.
[7] Igros Kodesh, Vol. 8, p. 223. Also, see ibid. Vol. 13, p. 403.
[8] Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 20, p. 594.

This post was written by the author in honor of the third birthday of his daughter, Shaina bas Atarah Arielle, on 22 Tammuz. It was also dedicated by Rivkah Katz and family, so that it be a merit for the refuah sheleimah of HaRav Meir HaKohen ben Rochel Dilkah. Lastly, this post was dedicated by Ephraim Tunick in honor of his mother, Miriam Shaina bas Asher ע"ה.

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, July 20, 2011

The Purpose of Creation: Hashem Dwelling Down Here

The Purpose of Creation:
Hashem Dwelling Down Here

Rabbi Y. Oliver

What is the purpose of creation, and what is the purpose of our individual lives? Why are we here?

According to Chassidus, the answer to this question lies in our Sages’ statement: “Hashem desired to have a dwelling place in the lower worlds.”[1] Chassidus explains that the phrase “the lower worlds” refers primarily to our physical world, which is the lowest of all the worlds. This is the place where He yearns for His Shechinah, the divine presence, to be revealed.

To be specific, within our world, Hashem wishes to have his primary dwelling place in the Beis Hamikdash, as He instructed, “Make for me a Mishkan, and I will dwell amongst them.”[3] On the basic level, this verse means that the Mishkan and the Beis Hamikdash (the latter being a progression from the former) were places appropriate for the indwelling of the Shechinah, and these domains of concentrated holiness then served as beacons of divine light for the rest of the world.

But if so, why does it refer to the Mishkan in the plural, saying that Hashem will dwell “amongst them”? Shouldn’t the verse have used the singular “within it”—the Mishkan?

Here the verse alludes to the fact that in addition to Hashem’s desire to dwell within the Mishkan and Beis Hamikdash, He desires to dwell “among them”—to establish a Mishkan within the heart of every single Jew.

More specifically, there are two elements, or stages, in the Jew’s mission to make a personal Mishkan for Hashem. Hashem desires that the Jew reveal the Shechinah, the divine presence:

1. within his inner self—in his mind and heart, and in his thought, speech, and action;

2. in the world around him, beginning from his home, and spreading out to his community, and the world around him, according to each Jew’s opportunities and talents.

These two tasks were achieved in the most complete way through the Mishkan, and later on, the Beis Hamikdash.

Now that we are in exile, and we no longer have the Beis Hamikdash, we have been charged with the mission of revealing G–dliness within ourselves and the world around us. In this merit, Hashem will return the Beis Hamikdash to us, “measure for measure” with the coming of Moshiach now!

[1] Midrash Tanchuma, Naso, sec. 16.
[2] Tanya ch. 36.
[3] Shemos 25:8.
[4] Sotah 8b.

Based on Sefer HaMa’amarim Kuntreisim, Vol. 2, p. 828 ff. s.v. Basi L’gani.

This post was dedicated by Rivkah Katz and family, in honor of the graduation of their daughter, Dilkah Beilah bas Rivka Leah. This post was also dedicated by Menachem Kovacs in honor of the Yahrzeit of his father, Eliezer ben Shalom ע"ה, on 17 Sivan.

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, July 10, 2011

A Jew? Sin?! Unthinkable!

A Jew? Sin?! Unthinkable!

Rabbi Y. Oliver

The Zohar[1] says that the verse, “Nefesh ki secheta”—“When a Jew sins,”[2] should be read as an expression of incredulity: “How could a Jew sin?!”

Just a second. What does this mean? Unfortunately, the reality is that almost everyone—even those who sincerely strive to do the right thing both in their relationship with Hashem and with other people, do slip here and there and sin, and in both of these relationships. And then there are “sins that a person tramples with his feet”[3]—behaviors commonly regarded as “not so terrible,” which are prevalent even among those who are otherwise observant. These include bittul Torah (neglect of Torah study), lashon hora (gossip), indulgence in permitted pleasures, and so on.[4] So how do we understand the Zohar’s shock?

The Hebrew word for world, olam, is etymologically related to the word he’elem, concealment, for the world conceals the true reality of Hashem. In our world, where Hashem’s presence is the most hidden, the world also conceals the spiritual processes that underlie the physical world around us. Thus, when we only consider things from a coarse, physical perspective, we are bound to reach incorrect interpretations and conclusions.

However, Hashem reveals His all-perfect, all-knowing wisdom to us in the Torah, and so gives us the inside scoop on deeper spiritual realities. Through Torah, the Jew is privy to the true perspective on everything in the world around us, while everyone else is confused, or interpreting worldly phenomena in a way exactly contrary to their true nature.

Similarly, when we approach a Jew, we should look to the Torah, and especially its inner dimension, to reveal to us a Jew’s true nature. By nature, not only does a Jew not sin, but the very thought of sin comes as a total shock. What? A Jew? Sin?? It makes no sense!

Rather, the sin is something superimposed, that comes due to the influences of the Jew’s non-Jewish environment; it is not his or her true inner core and identity. Thus, “Even while [the Jew] sins, his soul is still faithful to Hashem.”[5]

This is also the deeper meaning of the Previous Rebbe’s teaching: “Just as a Jew should know the shortcomings, so should he know his own strengths.”[6] One should know the shortcomings in order to correct them, and the strengths in order to be able to utilize them to perform to the utmost in one’s service of Hashem.

The Rebbe[7] points out the apparent inconsistency of the Previous Rebbe’s choice of words. When speaking of shortcomings, the Previous Rebbe said “the shortcomings,” without identifying the possessor of those shortcomings, while in reference to the strengths, he explains, “one’s own strengths.” The Rebbe interprets that the Previous Rebbe meant to make a statement about the fundamental identity of a Jew. Since a Jew’s virtues are true to the wishes of his Neshamah, they can be truly attributed to him; in contrast, when he sins and falls short, these are not his sins; rather, they are sins that attached themselves to him from without.

So when a Jew sins, he goes totally against his nature.

Let’s explain this more deeply. The Neshamah of a Jew consists of five levels (see here). The lowest is the level of Nefesh, which becomes vested in his body and sustains the Jew’s thought, speech, and action in Torah and Mitzvos.

Now, the Hebrew for “when a Jew sins” is “nefesh ki secheta”—literally, “when a Nefesh sins.” So Chassidus interprets the Zohar’s shock to mean that for a Jew, sin is totally unthinkable not only for the essence of the soul, but also for the four higher levels of the external manifestations of the soul—Ruach, Neshamah, Chayah, and Yechidah. Even for the lowest level, Nefesh—which is technically able to take part in a sin through the influence of the Bestial Soul—although sin is not unthinkable, it comes as a total shock![8]

When a Jew realizes that his sins do not define his true self; rather, they are an external force that somehow became stuck to him, this knowledge helps him keep his spirits up despite his low state. At the same time, it empowers him with the confidence that no matter what he did wrong, he can fix it. He is then motivated to do everything in his power to rectify his sins through sincere Teshuvah, and then Hashem will forgive and favor him as if he had never sinned.[9]

[1] Zohar 3:13b, beg.
[2] Vayikra 4:1.
[3] Avoda Zara 18a.
[4] Tanya ch. 30.
[5] ibid. ch. 24, end.
[6] Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. 4, p. 581.
[7] Hisva’aduyos 5742, Vol. 1, pp. 53-54.
[8] Sefer HaMaamarim, Basi Legani, Vol. 1, p. 46.
[9] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Teshuvah, 7:4.

This post has been dedicated by Rabbi Shimon Cowen and family lizchus Zalman HaKohen ben Sarah, in the zchus of R' Dovid Fishel ben Rochel for a refuah shleima u'krova, and by Menachem Kovacs in honor of the Yahrzeit of his father, Eliezer ben Shalom ע"ה, on 17 Sivan.

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, July 3, 2011

Reaching a Higher Level of Consciousness

Reaching a Higher Level 
of Consciousness

Rabbi Y. Oliver

There are two general perspectives or mental states that one can experience. In the terminology of Chassidus: mochin degadlus, “higher consciousness,” and mochin dekatnus, “small-mindedness.”

When you are in a state of mochin de
gadlus, you see the big picture, the vast plan, and the underlying purpose of everything around you. Hashem’s absolute reality is real, unquestionable, even tangible, and so you view all worldly things as trivial and fleeting. This awareness naturally brings to vibrant passion and zeal in your divine service (see here).

Likewise, your deep connectedness with higher, spiritual truths makes you ready to have self-sacrifice for a noble cause. You do not care to give up personal preferences and do things that are difficult and demanding, because you believe so deeply in the worthiness of your mission, to which you have been summoned by a higher calling.

However, in a state of mochin de
katnus, you fail to see the vast plan and the deeper meaning behind the world around you. You miss the forest for the trees, and so you get bogged down with material and even trivial concerns. Although you still believe in Hashem and perform the Mitzvos, there is a sense of distance and detachment from the truth of His reality, and this is also reflected in a diminished sense of excitement and inspiration in your divine service. You dwell on superficial, material realities, and lack patience and true joy. You think that material pleasures will bring you true fulfillment, while the thought of efforts at growing spiritually is anything but pleasurable. You are preoccupied with satisfying your immediate conveniences, desires, and needs, and serving Hashem is the last thing on your mind.

Another way of putting it is the distinction between maturity and immaturity. There is a fundamental difference between a mature mentality and a childish one. As the Alter Rebbe writes: “The emotions are commensurate with the intellect, for a child desires and likes petty things of meager value, for his mind is small and too narrow to appreciate more precious things. Likewise, he is angered and enraged by trivialities, and the same goes for [the child’s] boasting and other emotions” (Tanya ch. 6). So the direction of the emotions is dictated by one’s intellect. Thus, the child’s undeveloped mental capacities result in emotional immaturity. This is why a child becomes very excited over sweets and toys, and angered when deprived of them. Conversely, he does not grasp the meaning of wealth and power, and thus he does not truly desire them (cf. Kuntres HaTefillah, p. 16).

Similarly, someone who is physically an adult can be in a state of mochin de
katnus spiritually. They may have little or no interest in Tefillah, Torah study, or anything more than the most basic observance of Mitzvos. Their life revolves around superficial things—amassing wealth, prestige, or satisfying material desires. They do their religious duties mechanically, out of rote, waiting impatiently for the moment they will be “free.” They view anyone inspired about spiritual things with disdain, and dismiss them as “religious fanatics.” Ultimately, one who goes down such a path is at risk of renouncing observance of Yiddishkeit altogether, may G–d save us.

A variation on this theme is someone who is apparently very strong in his or her Torah observance, but approaches it in a way of mochin de
katnus, small-mindedness. This could manifest itself in various ways. One example is a person who follows Halachah meticulously and beyond the letter of the law, which is of course very positive, but falls into severe depression, or gets angry and irritated, whenever he fails even to a minute degree. Or he is obsessively critical of every minute fault in others, and certainly of major ones, but somehow forgets to notice even the minor ones in himself. And so on.

In these cases and many others, the person is not truly thinking about Hashem. He may be keeping Torah and Mitzvos in the technical sense, but he is not truly serving Hashem because he does not think about Hashem; instead, he thinks incessantly about technical rules, do’s and don’ts, all the while missing the main thing—that these rules exist in order to bring us to fulfill our inner potential for goodness and holiness, to refine our inner selves and unite us with Hashem and with all around uswhich is the mochin degadlus perspective.

In any case, keeping Torah and Mitzvos, and especially living according to the teachings of Chassidus, means following a program which, if followed correctly, with the right guidance, is designed to lift up our perspective from mochin de
katnus to mochin degadlus.

So, how indeed does one alter one’s mental state from mochin de
katnus to mochin degadlus, or help someone else to achieve this goal? Well, it should be noted that even before we embark on the journey, we have to fix our eyes on the goal. The first step to change is simply recognizing the urgency of the need and cultivating the desire to fill it. But even once one has the desire to grow and change and rise more and more often to a higher state of consciousness, he should realize that it is a gradual process, and although rising ever higher is attainable, it will be a lifelong struggle, that will involve ups and downs. 

How exactly do we attain it? I will leave that for another post...

This post has been dedicated by Yehoshua Solomon l'ilui nishmas Avraham Eitan ben Getzel Yosef, in honor of the Yahrzeit on 2 Tammuz, and by Menachem Kovacs in honor of the Yahrzeit of his father, Eliezer ben Shalom ע"ה, on 17 Sivan.

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.