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

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

True pleasure

Many people regard spirituality as drudgery and torture. When will shul be finished already? Why am I not allowed to eat that? But in reality, relating to Hashem is the greatest pleasure of all:

“My flesh yearns for you” (Tehillim 63:2). Rashi comments: “This expression connotes desire, and it has no comparison.” [The simple meaning of this is that there is no word found in Tanach that is similar to this one.] The Baal Shem Tov interprets that the pleasures of the flesh that a person desires by the nature of his body that Hashem endowed in him from birth are no comparison at all to the pleasure that King Dovid, peace be upon him, desired in his flesh for G–dliness.

Sefer HaMa’amarim 5703, p. 178.
Here Reb Hillel Paritcher is quoted in the name of Reb Mordechai Yoel, the grandfather of Reb Chaim Avrohom Duchman, as saying:

If those who indulge in lusts were to know the tremendous pleasure in matters of G-dliness that can be attained through study of
Chassidus, and especially through learning the holy Tanya, they would abandon all their lusts and pursue only the holy Tanya.

However, in
Shemu’os V’Sipurim, Vol. 3, p. 229, Reb Hillel Paritcher is quoted as saying:
If those who indulge in lusts were to know the tremendous delight in tasting matters of G–dliness, they would abandon all their lusts and pursue G–dliness.
It amounts to the same thing. The most intense pleasure is pleasure in G–dliness. Thus, we find that the reward of the Neshama in Gan Eden is the pleasure it derives from the revelation of G–dliness that it experiences there.

Similarly, we find that the highest level of love of G–d, one experienced only by perfect
Tzaddikim, is known as ahava be’taanugim, “love of pleasures,” (see Tanya ch. 9) and it is a foretaste of the intense pleasure that the soul will experience in Olam Haba, the age of resurrection.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Iskafya in Medrash

The Razo, obm.

(self-restraint) is not necessarily related to eating and fasting, though it is often erroneously viewed as such.

Reb Zalman Aharon Shneersohn of blessed memory, known as the
Razo, was the oldest son of the Rebbe Maharash. He once approached a young man who would afflict himself by fasting, and told him the following analogy:
A community leader lived for several years in a small village, and then moved to another village. Once he came to visit his former residence, in which a public bathhouse had been built shortly before his arrival. He inquired where the funds had originated from, and was told that the means of every member of the community had been assessed, and each was taxed according to his ability. Some paid a great sum of money, but even all the poor paid. The community leader was shown the objects that had been given to the community in lieu of cash.

The former community leader said to his replacement: “Heed my advice! What you are doing is not right. Those who gave large sums should give an additional amount, as should those of average means, and the poor should be exempted from the tax, because from them you will only receive objects useless to you.”

“The same is true here,” Reb Zalman Aharon said to the young man. “The person is called a ‘small city’ (
Koheles 9:14; Nedarim 32b; cf. Tanya ch. 9) and every organ in the body dwells in this city. When one wishes to place a tax, there are wealthy ‘citizens,’ such as thought, speech, the faculty of hearing, and the like. Then there are poor ‘citizens,’ such as the rest of the body, which one would tax by imposing fasts and afflictions. The result of this is that the entire body becomes weakened. Thus, you would be better off leaving the poor organs and demanding a great deal from the wealthy ones: the eyes, ears, mouth, and so on. The results will be far greater.”

Shemu’os V’Sipurim, Vol. 1, p. 271.
This story was the basis of a whole approach to serving Hashem that was promoted by Reb Shlomo Chaim Kesselman, the great Mashpia in the Yeshiva of Tomchei Temimim (the Chabad Yeshiva) in Kfar Chabad:
Along with Reb Shlomo Chaim Kesselman’s demand for Avodas HaTefillah [prayer at length accompanied by lengthy meditation on Chassidic concepts], he would also demand Iskafya, and some chose to begin with Iskafya in eating. They would eat nothing, and fast for several days. Reb Shlomo Chaim couldn’t stand this.

He once told one of the students in
Tomchei Temimim [the Lubavitcher Yeshivah] who asked for a path in serving Hashem: “The first thing necessary is Iskafya—but not in eating, for relatively speaking, that is the easiest thing. One should exercise Iskafya in speech, in using one’s eyes, and everything that one desires strongly [“altz voz es vilt zich”], one should not do.

That student responded openly to Reb Shlomo Chaim: “I can’t do that” [the implication is that he felt that he was able to practice
Iskafya in eating, but not in the other areas in which he was instructed]. Reb Shlomo Chaim responded, “You are dismissed; you will not be an oived [person who works on self-improvement through Avodas HaTefillah; Reb Shlomo Chaim famously specialized in providing guidance in this area], not today, or ever.” Some say that he expressed of that person, “Even when plants grow on his hand, he won’t be an oived.”

Reb Shlomo Chaim expressed on many occasions: “You want to fast? Do
Medrash! Medrash is an acronym for machshovoh—thought, dibbur—speech, re’iyah—seeing, and shemiyah—hearing. Strive to fast in these four areas. Fasts and mortifications break the body but not the evil inclination; in order to fight against the evil inclination one must fast in Medrash. [It goes on to say that Reb Shlomo Chaim would regularly quote the above analogy of the Razo, with slight variations from the way it is written above.]

In my own words: True Iskafya involves breaking oneself so that one becomes refined deep down. The effective way of accomplishing this is by focusing on Iskafya in areas related to one’s inner self, instead of sufficing with an Iskafya that is superficially satisfying but in reality totally ineffective, and thus a distraction from one’s true task.

Clarification: In my humble opinion, I don’t think that this means that one should never excercise Iskafya in eating, because there are clear sources that indicate that one should practice Iskafya in eating (see, for example, Tanya ch. 27). Rather, it means to say that eating should not be the main focus of Iskafya, and perhaps it would constitute much less than it would have in the past. For instance, it might mean refraining from eating two servings of dessert, and sufficing with one, instead of refraining from any, as it might have meant in past times. In any case, the main focus of ones Iskafya nowadays should be internal.

Friday, December 26, 2008

It's simple: You didn't have enough

Sometimes the solutions to our problems are easier than we realize:

Reb Abba Pliskin related in the name of Reb Meir Simcha Chein that three things are guaranteed to have an impact: Chassidus, mashkeh (alcohol), and money. Chassidus makes you refined, mashkeh makes you inebriated, and money makes you crazy.

Thus, if one of these things did not have its effect, this demonstrates only one thing—that the person didn’t have enough: He didn’t drink enough, or didn’t amass enough money, or didn’t internalize enough Chassidus.

What I like about this aphorism is that it flies in the face of the modern trend to complicate everything. To be sure, there are many truly complex, multifaceted issues that require much study and investigation for one to truly grasp, and such issues are often oversimplified by less discerning people. However, the opposite is also true: Not every issue is complex, and sometimes in pursuing our intellectually-driven desire for sophistication we stray from the truth and reject the simple and straightforward, but true answer.

More conventional wisdom dictates that if you’ve tried a certain approach and it hasn’t worked, it’s time to change your approach, and this is indeed often the case ... but not always. The evil inclination is very crafty. Sometimes this argument is itself a ploy to distract the person from the task that he ought to be doing. The true cause of the person’s failures is his personal weakness and lack of diligence, but he lacks the integrity to admit this. Thus, in an effort to save face and conceal his embarrassing shortcomings, he blames outside causes.

When a doctor prescribes that medicine on a certain schedule, it will only work when taken exactly at the proper time, according to the prescribed dosage, and so on. Likewise,
Chassidus is the medicine prescribed by the expert spiritual doctors of our time, the Rebbeim. Studying Chassidus and following the ways of Chassidus in a serious way is intensely demanding, but when pursued with perseverance, it is infinitely rewarding. Put simply, it works. Therefore, if a person shirks his duties and therefore lacks the inspiration needed to press on in these dark times, this aphorism underlines the fact that he only has himself to blame.

Monday, December 22, 2008

“Boiling hot” teachers

The Mashpia, Reb Shmuel Levitin, once related the following story at the Rebbe’s table:

The father of Rabbi Klatzkin of Lublin, along with another person, left the Yeshivah of the Chasam Sofer in Pressburg and came to Lubavitch, for they desired to hear a Chassidic discourse—only to learn that in that period the Tzemach Tzedek had not been delivering Chassidic discourses.

A while later there was a celebration in Lubavitch, in whose honor the Tzemach Tzedek delivered a Chassidic discourse. However, the two above Chassidim did not know about it, for no one thought to inform them, and they were not privileged to hear the discourse. They were greatly pained by this, so they arranged a private audience with the Tzemach Tzedek, complaining that they had not been privileged to hear the discourse. The Tzemach Tzedek instructed them to study the book of Tanya with Reb Hillel Paritcher. They said to him, “a keli sheini (second vessel) does not cook.” He responded, “Reb Hillel is a keli sheini that is yad soledes bo (lit., “hot enough to cause one’s hand to recoil”).”

Nitzutzei Ohr p. 47.

Background information: It is forbidden to cook on Shabbos. There are many detailed laws concerning the definition of cooking. When food is poured from one vessel to another, its heat diminishes, and is not normally considered capable of cooking. However, if the food in the second vessel is so hot that one who touches the vessel is forced to remove his hand because of the heat, then it is considered to cook.

Lesson: In the ideal relationship between Chossid and Rebbe, the Chossid hears Chassidus directly from the Rebbe. Thus, learning from a person other than the Rebbe is not the same as hearing from the Rebbe. However, if one’s teacher is sufficiently inspired and dedicated to Chassidus and the Rebbe, one can receive the same inspiration from one’s teacher as from the Rebbe.

This is especially relevant to us now, when we cannot direct connect with the Rebbe in the way that was possible before the third of Tammuz. We must seek truly devoted and ehrliche teachers and learn from them, and it will be as if we had received the teaching from the Rebbe. Likewise, those in a position to teach themselves must ensure that they are “boiling hot” Chassidim, fired up with inspiration and devotion.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Searching for inspiration

Much of the time we learn Nigleh and Chassidus, attend farbrengens, and hear concepts and lessons that moderately impress us. But do these ideas have a truly deep, lasting effect upon us? Usually not. However, sometimes one is privileged to encounter a vort that doesn’t just affect him; it totally changes his life. Such a vort is a kindness from Above. It could be a story, a saying, or a teaching of some sort. Regardless, it affects him so deeply that every time he reminds himself of it, it gives him the boost that he needs to press on.
The first step is to believe that such a vort—an idea so powerful that it can even inspire hard-hearted ‘ol me to change, and to change even in the areas I find most difficult—exists. But then it’s crucial to realize that such treasures are not found through a casual, lackadaisical approach. Like a precious jewel, they are only found after one searches tirelessly.

The only way to become inspired is to want to be inspired and to seek it out. Thus, a Chossid has to constantly seek inspiration. So keep devoting time to listening to inspiring stories, sayings, and teachings. If none of them “does it” for you, that’s okay—but keep searching!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Everyone should spread Yiddishkeit and Chassidus

Disseminating Torah-true Judaism, Chasidic philosophy, and the Noahide Code as widely as possible, without being adversely affected, is not a goal that the Rebbe reserved only for Chabad Chassidim. Rather, he “paved the way” for all Jews to do so. However, this ability is specifically attained through connecting to Chabad Shluchim and Chabad Chassidim in general, the “conduits” through which all Jews connect to the Rebbe:

My father-in-law, the [Previous Lubavitcher] Rebbe, paved the way for all his students and emissaries who follow in his ways, and via them, [these ways reach] to all the Jewish people. He enabled them to occupy themselves with disseminating Torah and Judaism, and spreading the wellsprings of Chasidic philosophy in every place and circumstance—even in “Egypt,” i.e., a place furthermost from G–dliness.

They can perform this in a way that not only does their presence in the “outside” (Egypt) not detract from their attachment to G–d, but on the contrary: They can influence the entire “land of Egypt,” fulfilling the imperative upon Jews “to compel all the world’s inhabitants to undertake the laws commanded to Noah’s descendants ... because the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded them in the Torah and informed us via Moses, our teacher [that these laws are binding on gentiles],” as Maimonides rules clearly.[1]

Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 30, p. 228.
Moreover, not only will one not be harmed by this experience, but he will be elevated to an incomparably higher level:

Even if it sometimes appears initially that this is a mission of Elokim[2]—in a manner of judgment and concealment, especially if concealments arise that cause pain and anguish—from Joseph[3] we receive the power to reveal G–dliness even in the place to which we were assigned, and even to reach (via this descent) a tremendous, lofty level, as symbolized in the verse [concerning the Biblical Joseph], “G–d will add for me another son,”[4] to the point that one reaches an incomparably more sublime level.

By increasing with even greater vigor the service of “Joseph”—disseminating Torah and Judaism and the wellsprings of Chasidic philosophy outward, until the level furthermost from G–dliness, we hasten the true and complete redemption by our righteous Messiah, who will rebuild the Holy Temple in its place, gather the Jewish exiles, and rectify the entire world to serve G–d together, speedily in our days.


[1] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 8:10-11.

[2] This name of G-d represents the divine attribute of strictness.

[3] This is a reference to the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, whose first name was Yosef.

[4] Bereishis 30:24.
May we all merit to fulfill this task.