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

Sunday, September 28, 2008

On Kabbolas Ol

Kabbolas Ol Malchus Shomayim” (or “Kabbolas Ol” for short) means accepting of the yoke of divine sovereignty. It sounds holy, but for many people it is a dirty, and even a taboo word. Why does it have such a bad reputation? 
People think that Kabbolas Ol means surrendering one’s individuality and becoming a robot. They may not say it outright, but they feel that Kabbolas Ol is anti-self, anti-personality. “Enter the cage, and if you don’t fit, we’ll knock you in until you do, until you fit the mold, and you’re boxed in good and proper. On with the assembly line!”

However, the truth is the exact opposite.
Not only does Kabbolas Ol not prevent the person from reaching his potential, but it is the key to reaching it.
Kabbolas Ol is like the petrol in the Jew’s tank. It is like the foundation of the building; without its foundation, the building will fall; it’s only a matter of time until a hurricane comes, and the building collapses.
So, too, in life: When the Avodah is based on intellect or emotions, but not on Kabbolas Ol, then a challenges and difficulties arise, the person will not have the inner strength to persevere. It will make no difference how advanced his intellect is or how intense and deeply-felt his emotions are. They will not last; they cannot last.
In this way Chassidus[1] interprets the Talmudic statement, “When a daughter comes first, it bodes well for sons”[2]: If one’s avodas Hashem begins with the daughter—the feminine aspect of Kabbolas Ol, then it bodes well for sons—development of fear and love of Hashem based on reason.
Chassidus discusses this idea in connection with the verses in Tehillim 27[3] we say “be’zois ani botei’ach”—“in this one I trust.” What is the “this one he refers to? The commentators disagree: Rashi says that it refers to the beginning of the kapitel, where King Dovid says that G–d is his light,while the Malbim says that it refers to “achas sho’alti,” King David’s request to sit in G–d’s house continuously.
However the Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek[4] interprets it as self-contained, and referring to something apart from the preceding verses. It is saying “be’zois ani botei’ach.” He cites several interpretations of zois, “this one,” and then concludes with explaining that since zois is written in the feminine, it refers to the notion of fear of Hashem and Kabbolas Ol. The verse is saying, “In Kabbolas Ol I trust”: Security in avodas Hashem comes only through Kabbolas Ol.
In contrast, it is written[5]U’chesil loi yovin es zois”: “A fool doesn’t grasp zois”—the greatness of Kabbolas Ol. (Incidentally, this is in stark contrast to the perspective of secular society, which looks down on a believer. In that world, the greater the skeptic and heretic, the greater the intellectual he must be; the greater the believer, the more of a fool. Chassidus teaches that the exact opposite is the case.)
To further illustrate this concept: The Alter Rebbe once sent a Shadar[6] to two Chassidim to collect tzedakah. Normally the Alter Rebbe would prescribe for Chassidim how much they should give. This time, however, the Alter Rebbe told the Shadar not to ask for a specific amount.
The Shadar came to the first Chossid and told him that the Alter Rebbe had said that he should donate tzedakah. The Chossid asked how much, and the Shadar was silent. The Chossid said, “If the Alter Rebbe didn’t specify an amount, then that means he must want everything!” So he searched and gave him everything he owned.
When the second Chossid heard that the Alter Rebbe had not specified an amount, he decided that he would not give anything to the Shadar. Instead, the next day he would travel to the Alter Rebbe, and ask how much to give. So the next day he travelled, and the Alter Rebbe indeed told him how much to give.
A while later the Alter Rebbe sent the Shadar to the same two Chassidim, this time with the instruction that they should leave their house. The first Chossid immediately packed all his belongings into a wagon, sold what he could, and left without any clue where he was going. The second Chossid, however, decided that the next day he would travel to the Alter Rebbe and ask why he should leave, and where he should go. He was willing to leave, but he felt that he needed to be told so directly, explained why, and told where to go.
Soon after the first Chossid left there was a fire in the city, and the second Chossid barely made it out of the inferno with his wife and children.
Which Chossid was smarter? At first glance, the one who asked for clarification and explanation.
However, this is a mistake. The first Chossid was no simpleton. They were both Chassidim of the Alter Rebbe—learned, devoted Chassidim. Still, all the scholarship and rapturous prayer of the first was based upon Kabbolas Ol, and therefore his end was fortunate, while the second Chossid lacked that foundation, and his end was less fortunate.
Men darf zein ois-zich bichdei tzu zein zich. Only by giving ourselves up can we find and be ourselves, and truly realize our hidden individual potential.
To sum up: A Jew should not be Torah-observant or follow the path of Chassidus because he derives intellectual and emotional satisfaction from this lifestyle. Rather, his intellectual and emotional predilections should be secondary. That’s not to say that they’re unimportant, but that they are not the highest, foremost value in his weltanschauung. His highest value is performing the task that his Master and King, the Creator and Director of the universe, assigned for him. If that task turns out to be intellectually and emotionally gratifying as well, then so much the better, and the person should thank G–d for His kindness in granting him this sense of fulfillment. But even if it doesn’t, he doesn’t complain or lose his enthusiasm, because he knows that it’s not about what he needs, but about what he is needed for. Yet paradoxically enough, precisely this approach is the surest way to attain fulfillment in one’s personal life as well.

[1] Torah Ohr, Mishpotim 79a. Likkutei Torah, Shir HaShirim 67a. See also Toras Menachem 5711, Vol. 1, p. 30, and Toras Menachem 5712, Vol. 1, p. 135.
[2] Bava Basra 141a.
[3] This kapitel (Psalm) is read from the beginning of the month of Elul until Hoshana Rabba.
[4] Yahel Ohr, p. 98.
[5] Tehillim 92:7.
[6]Shlucha DeRabonon,” a distinguished emissary who would collect money for tzedakah and deliver farbrengens and discourses of Chassidus.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

No more eulogies!

It irks me when a whole farbrengen goes by without the speaker making any mention of the importance of Avodas HaTefillah. All the more so when the person almost never speaks about Avodas HaTefillah altogether. This was always the central topic of a Chassidishe farbrengen!

Yet sometimes when Avodas HaTefillah is discussed, and the (well-meaning) speaker is of a younger age, I find myself wishing that that the topic had not been raised after all. They may mean to inspire, but what they end up saying is about as inspiring as a eulogy. Their words go like this: In past generations Chassidim would be misbonein (meditate) for hours, davven all day, and reach true ahavah v’yirah. But nowadays “times have changed,” and that’s not shayach for us, so let’s at least davven with kavono in pirush ha’milois.

Feh! Pirush ha’milois alone? That is a chassidish’n davenen?! That’s a chiyuv gomur al pi din! That’s basic Halacha. Not for this was Chassidus Chabad revealed!

Granted, one who is lacking in knowledge of the pirush ha’milois, or who knows it but does not make a point of thinking it, should make it a priority to fix this. And one who notices that another Jew is lacking in this area should explain the importance of this to him. But please, don’t call this the Avodah of Chassidus Chabad!

By what right do they dare come along and assert that “times have changed” and Avodas HaTefillah as prescribed in Kuntres HaTefillah and Kuntres HoAvodah is irrelevant (yishtakach ha’dovor ve’lo yei’omeir)? Are they Rebbes that they are able to declare inapplicable the words of Raboseinu Nesi’einu, which are divrei Tzaddikim chayim ve’kayomim lo’ad? When did the Rebbe ever indicate such a thing? On the contrary, those who seek truth will know that the Rebbe explicitly and unequivocally repudiated this misconception (as I’ve proven in this blog here)!

What’s appealing for the yetzer horo about this claim is that it means that we can take life easy. If Avodas HaTefillah is dead, then I’m exempt from it, you’re exempt from it, we’re all exempt from it. Phew. Okay, let’s say a kaddish for Avodas HaTefillah, to pay our respects to times of old, to mourn and “get over” the deceased. Perhaps “the living will take to heart” and have kavono in pirush ha’milois, if we’re having a good day. But Hisbonenus? Arichus HaTefillah? Real ahavah v’yirah? Come on, who’re you kidding? That’s not for our generation, don’t you know? Don’t be a dor ha’shishi’nik! You’ve gotta get with the program! You know, the program of being a pusteh keili! Rachmana litzlan.

It’s true, real Avodas HaTefillah requires many hours of preparation and effort. It’s probably also unfortunately true that most people in our generation are indeed not shayach to the haflo’o’dike arichus and hergeishim of someone like Reb Itche Der Masmid. But it’s not all or nothing. Ahavah v’yirah are obligations, Mitzvos Asei min HaTorah, and Chassidus Chabad teaches that these feelings are attained through in-depth Hisbonenus and a hartzik’n davenen. So perhaps you can’t make the big league. But at least do it on your level! The Rebbe Rashab says this clearly; see here and here.

Of course, talk is cheap. Anyone can write a post on a blog. The only way to truly demonstrate that Hisbonenus and Avodas HaTefillah are alive is to set a living example. No matter how many witnesses come and testify that they saw someone’s death and burial, if the supposedly deceased person shows up in Beis Din, he ain’t dead. He’s chai ve’kayom.

May we all be zoche to set such an example.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

More on love for fellow chassidim

In the HaYom Yom of 24 Teves, the Yom Hillula of the Alter Rebbe, it is written:
אאזמו"ר שאל את הצ"צ: וואס האט דער זיידע געוואלט מיט דרכי החסידות ...
... ויענהו הצ"צ: דרכי החסידות איז, אז אלע חסידים זאלען זיין ווי איין משפחה ע"פ התורה באהבה
היום יום כד טבת
[The Previous Rebbe related:] My grandfather (the Rebbe Maharash] asked the Tzemach Tzedek: What did grandfather [the Alter Rebbe] intend with the “ways of Chassidus” ... ?

The Tzemach Tzedek answered: The “ways of Chassidus” are in order that all chassidim be like one family, with affection, as Torah teaches.

HaYom Yom, 24 Teves.
In my own words with some explanation:

What are “the ways of Chassidus”? This is a broad term that refers to various practices other than study of Chassidus emphasized as appropriate Chassidic conduct. In particular, the Previous Rebbe says (Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. 3, pp. 848-850) that the ways of Chassidus include Avodas HaTefillah, attending regular farbrengens, singing Niggunim, and telling stories of chassidim and of Rebbeim. It would seem to me that minhogei (customs of) Chabad also fall under this rubric.

The Rebbe Maharash says in the above HaYom Yom that the Alter Rebbe’s intent in establishing the various ways of Chassidus was a yet deeper goal, namely to unite chassidim through these practices, bringing them to a deep love for one another, “like one family.” The analogy with a family appears clear: All chassidim are like children of the Rebbe, their father.

In more practical terms:

1. It is not remarkable that a farbrengen is related to developing ahavas Yisrael and ahavas chassidim, for a farbrengen necessarily involves relating to others. The chiddush here appears to be that Avodah according to Chassidus should not be exclusively self-focused. There should be a sense that engaging in this activity, although it may not directly involve others, should bring one to a deeper identification with all fellow chassidim. Similarly, the act of becoming inspired from a chassidishe niggun and the like or story should be permeated with this feeling of community.

2. When one meets a fellow
chossid one should immediately feel a special affinity, a bond, a warmth, because “we are all the children of one father.” This is comparable to relating to fellow family members, where one feels a natural closeness and not a feeling one needs to consciously evoke. 

Granted, the relationship with family can and should be further enhanced through proper reflection on the nature of one’s shared bond, and the same applies to one’s relationship with fellow chassidim. Still, that is a later stage. The core of the relationship to the community of chassidei Chabad (the statement in the HaYom Yom above was said specifically regarding the Alter Rebbe, so it would seem that one cannot extrapolate that this principle is necessarily applicable when relating to members of other Chassidic circles as well) is that a natural affinity ought to exist between fellow chassidim. If this feeling is missing, G–d forbid, this is a cause for serious concern.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Maintaining inspiration

The way of the world is that when people marry, they naturally fall in their level of spirituality and inspiration. This is not to say that it’s not possible for a married person to be inspired, only that it’s far more difficult, and the degree of inspiration will not compare to the level of that same married person before marriage.

Some married people are still spiritual, but it’s unusual.

To give them the benefit of the doubt, it should be explained that married people, especially older ones, are generally not trying to work on being more spiritual because:

1. they naturally lose the energy, fire, and idealism of youth;

2. spirituality is about growing and changing, and older people typically become set in their ways (“

3. married people spend most of their time thinking (legitimately!) about discharging their material responsibilities and simply have very little time for sublime pursuits;

4. they may be challenged by various sources of distress (may it not befall us) that distract them from pursuing their relationship with

According to the
Gemara in Taanis 5b, this is the meaning of the words of Dovid HaMelech (Tehillim in the Shema Koleinu prayer of Selichos: “al tashlicheinu le’eis ziknah”—“do not cast us away to old age,” not in old age. The Gemara says that this pasuk is saying that while we are young, we should not lose the energy of youth and become old before our time. It should be noted that this is one of four phrases that we open up the Aron Kodesh to read, this point is clearly regarded as the climax of the service. This demonstrates the importance of this request.

Moreover, what is wrong with old age? And why do young and old put forward the same request? Obviously one can be young on the calendar but lack the passion of youth, or old but still feel “young at heart.” As
chassidim say, “the years don’t go according to the passport” (sicha to Machaneh Yisrael, Tishrei 5740s). We ask in Selichos that whether we are young or old, we should be able to maintain this spiritual vivacity, so we can always serve Hashem at our peak.

The Rebbe's love for Chassidim, and vice versa

The Previous Rebbe describes the special love in the Rebbe/chossid relationship:
אהבה איז דער רוח החיים אין עבודת החסידות, דער חוט המקשר חסידים איינעם מיט דעם אנדערען, און דער חוט המקשר רבי מיט חסידים און חסידים מיט'ן רבי'ן. עס איז הן בדרך אור ישר הן בדרך אור חוזר, האט קיינע מחיצות ניט, און עס איז העכער פון דער הגבלה פון מקום וזמן

היום יום כו שבט.
Ahava, love, is the breath of life in the Avoda [divine service] of Chassidus. It is the thread that binds chassidim to each other, that binds the Rebbe to the chassidim, and the chassidim to the Rebbe. Ahava works in a direct way [initiated affection] and also in a reflective way [responding the other person’s affection]. It knows no barriers and transcends the limits of time and space.

HaYom Yom 26 Shevat.
In my own words:

teaches that in the Rebbe-chossid relationship, three types of love should be actively developed:
  • the Rebbe should develop love for the chassidim;
  • the chassidim should develop love for the Rebbe; and
  • the chassidim should develop love for one another.
This could be a love that is initiated, or a love that comes as a response to the other person:
  • when the Rebbe initiates an expression of love for the chassidim, the chassidim respond in kind, or vice versa;
  • when one chossid initiates an expression of love for another chossid, he responds in kind.