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

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The sicha for Mrs. LaPine Hy"d

The Rebbe’s sicha after the brutal slaying of Mrs. LaPine, may her blood be avenged, is tragically of timely relevance. Here is the audio of it, for those who understand Yiddish, courtesy of WLCC. Ad mosai!

A kasheh of a child

A kasheh (challenging question) of a child:

I was glued to my laptop, reading articles and watching clips about the tragedy. My two sons, 4 and 2, came over and looked at the screen. I pointed to the picture of the Holtzbergs, and I said to them (in Yiddish, the language I speak with them): “Ir zet di gute Yidden, Chassidim, vos di shlechteh goyim hobn geharget?” “Do you see the good Jews, the Chassidim, whom the evil goyim murdered?” and I broke out in tears. My older son, Shneur Zalman, was confused; my younger son, Moshe, didn’t begin to understand.

My older son asked, “Why are there bad goyim?” “Ich vais nisht”—“I don’t know,” I answered, weeping even more.

Questions on a dream

On Friday morning I am told the news that Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife, along with several other Jews who had been in the Chabad House, had been slain. May G–d avenge their blood.

As soon as I recover from the initial shock, the kashes, the questions against G–d, start to arise. How could this happen ... ? As usual, there are no answers. I look in the faces of those around me and I see the same incredulity, confusion, and deep sadness.

However, by Divine Providence I read a story on Shabbos that I already knew; however, this time I see deeper meaning than I had seen before, that in a way addresses my questions.

As a child studying Chumash, the Ruzhiner would always ask Rashi’s question before learning the commentary of Rashi. When his teacher taught him the verse, “And he dreamed, and behold a ladder was set up on the earth, and the top reached the heaven, and angels of G–d were rising and descending” (Bereishis 28:12), the teacher waited to hear the Ruzhiner ask Rashi’s question: Shouldn’t the order be reversed? Don’t angels descend from heaven, and then rise? But the Ruzhiner was silent. The teacher prodded the Ruzhiner, “Why aren’t you asking Rashi’s question here?” The Ruzhiner answered, “One doesn’t ask questions on a dream.”

In a dream, inexplicable things happen. Dreams don’t have to make sense.

Our golus, exile, is compared to a dream. We may understand some events now and then, but we shouldn’t expect to, or be surprised if we don’t.

Only when Moshiach comes will we understand the reason for the suffering of exile and declare, “I thank you, Hashem, for you were angry with me” (Yeshaya 12:1). Until then, “One doesn’t ask questions on a dream.”

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A chossid goes beyond the letter of the law

The Jew is commanded to follow rigorous laws, as outlined in tremendous length in the Shulchan Aruch. Much of his time and energies go to fulfilling these obligations.

However, this is only the beginning. There is more to Judaism than “the letter of the law”; the Jew should also strive whenever possible to go “beyond the letter of the law.”

In particular,
Pirkei Avos is said to teach mili d’chasidusa, guidelines for pious conduct beyond the measure of the law.[1] We see here from a classical source that that the term chossid refers to the pious one. Similarly, a chossid in the sense of one who follows the path of Chassidus originated by the Baal Shem Tov should behave in a manner of piety.[2]

Granted, even amongst the pious there are many levels of piety, and for various legitimate personal reasons one may choose not to adopt certain
hiddurim and chumros, pious practices. It is also necessary to take into consideration that we live in a spiritually low generation in which certain practices may be inapplicable and even damaging for everyone but a select few. Moreover, it is necessary to receive senior guidance in order to discern between pious practices that are personally appropriate and those that are not.

Nevertheless, the
chossids observance should be inclined in this general direction. For him the law is not a maximum, but a minimum.

Why? Because
Chassidus comes to infuse one’s divine service with warmth and passion, with meaning and inspiration.

In a word, love.

Love of the One Who gives us everything we have, Who chose us and showered us with Torah and
Mitzvos. Who pulled us out of the depths of Egyptian depravity and raised us to the most sublime heights by giving us the Torah. Our Father, our Husband, our Lover.

One who feels love does not make calculations before displaying affection, and deliberate whether the gesture he desires to express is technically obligatory. And if he would, it would demonstrate that there is a definite lack of love in the relationship.

chossid is someone in a deep relationship with G–d. He loves Him. And even if he doesn’t yet love Him as much as he should, he genuinely wants to. Reaching this deep relationship is the deepest, most personal goal of his life.

So not only does he not violate G–d’s will, he does even more than G–d asks of him. He is not seeking to follow a rulebook, but to serve G–d with every fiber of his being. Indeed, G–d prescribed rules; however, 
G–d did not define adhering to the rulebook as the sum total of our relationship with Him.

Thus, violating the rulebook is out of the question. Now, how do I bring myself to an even deeper bond with G–d? Through customs and pious practices.

This principle can be seen in the numerous pious practices accepted in Chassidic circles. In particular, in the Chabad tradition it can be seen (in no particular order) in the tradition to regularly sing
niggunim, soul-stirring melodies of deveikus, deep connection with G–d; in the custom to meditate upon G–d’s greatness in order to arouse one to passionate prayer; and in the profound and soul-rousing Kabbalistic insights taught in the intricate teachings of Chabad Chassidic philosophy.


[1] See Bava Kamma 30a.
[2] See
Kuntres Inyanah Shel Toras HaChassidus, p. 1.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Proving axioms?!

All these posts to prove that the emunah in the Rebbe is important, that Avodas HaTefillah is “still” just as important as ever, that the Rebbe is “still” with us just as much as before Gimmel Tammuz ... this is all ekeldik, nauseating. It’s like needing to prove that G–d exists, or that the Torah is from Hashem, or that Eretz Yisroel belongs to the Jewish people. Feh. Hashem is real. His Torah is real. Eretz Yisroel is His eternal gift to us. On the contrary, He is the true reality, and our existence is fake. To have to prove these things ... is feels like a concession to the darkness. It’s like having to prove that one is not an illegitimate child. It can be proven, but the act of doing so is repulsive and degrading.

The same goes for Avodas HaTefillah and emunah in the Rebbe. To non-Chassidim I have no complaints; they can’t be expected to know these things. But for Chassidim ... These are things that ought to permeate the internal life of a Chossid to the point that ... that is who he is. That’s what his life is about. You don’t need to explain something if you’re living it.

But what can I do? We live in such an intense spiritual darkness that it needs to be spelt out that these things are important, and they need to be explained and made available, because otherwise many people simply won’t know, and might well not be motivated to make it their business to know. This is the light that people need, and many don’t even know that they need it, and how much they need it, so we have to explain and prove.

Disclosure: I’m not claiming to be perfect in these areas in terms of fulfilling them in every respect in practice; I’m not by far. It’s just that I’ve reached the point where I don’t have any conflicts about whether these are things I should be pursuing, and so I pursue them, more or less. In other words, they are the foundation on which to build, the axioms. What’s distressing for me is that we have to prove ideas that should be axiomatic. May Hashem have mercy on us, and send us Moshiach to show us NOW the emes Havayeh l’olom, when all ignorance and doubts will vanish.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Appreciating Chassidus

Some ask: “What is the point of investing so much time and effort to study Chassidus Chabad, which discusses Hashem’s greatness in such tremendous detail, if at the end of the day one can never truly understand Hashem? Whatever one understands is only ‘the tip of the iceberg’!”

I responded that Chassidus says that one of the tactics of the kelipa of Amalek is to come in a “silk kapote,” a guise of piety, and try to discourage the Jew from becoming excited from a miracle story. He says: “Big deal! Why are you so excited? Of course Hashem can perform a miracle—he created the entire world and has absolute power over it!”

However, in reality one should become excited from the miracle story, for although we understand intellectually that Hashem utterly transcends all of existence, on our level, which is superficial, that is not our experience. What we see around us is nature, ha’teva, which has the same numerical value as the divine name of Elokim. Thus, a miracle is a ray of light in a sea of darkness, and so it should excite and inspire usand this is the reason that it was shown to us.

The same goes for Chassidus. Granted, from Hashem’s perspective—“Da’as Elyon”—our grasp of His greatness and absolute unity is infinitesimal. Still, the teachings of Chassidus in general, and Chassidus Chabad in particular, represent a divine revelation of a staggering, unprecedented scale when compared with the amount that could be understood before this wisdom was revealed.

Thus, the true reason that this study is neglected is that we don’t appreciate what it is—of course, not fully, but to a significant degree. And even if we once did, we have allowed ourselves to forget, to become distracted by the routine of life.

“Hashem has exposed His holy arm” (Yeshaya 52:10), and if we neglect to study this sublime wisdom and make it part of ourselves, and then disseminate it further, we are neglecting to accept the priceless gift that Hashem has extended to us through His holy emissaries, the Rebbeim. On His initiative, out of His pure, infinite kindness, He has revealed His innermost dimension to us, with the hope that we will allow it to enter and permeate the innermost dimension of our souls. 

Let’s not disappoint Him.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Immediate blessings

Reb Folle Kahn ע"ה relates:

One of the famous Chassidim of the Rebbe Rashab, Reb Shmuel Michel Treinin, lived in Petersburg. Once, one of his grandchildren fell ill, and Reb Shmuel Michel wrote a pan to the Rebbe Rashab and sent it by mail to Lubavitch. He then received a telegram from the Rebbe Rashab summoning him to Lubavitch immediately for a particular reason, so he travelled. When he arrived and came before the Rebbe Rashab, he told tell him about the illness of his grandchild, saying that he had sent a pan to the Rebbe Rashab. He told this because he estimated that the pan had not yet arrived. The Rebbe Rashab said to him, “As soon as a pan is sent, one is already assisted.”

Shemu’os V’Sipurim, Vol. 1, p. 116.

Explanation: Writing a pan is in and of itself a way of a chossid establishing a connection with his Rebbe. Thus, the pan does not need to be seen to arrive for it to be effective. As soon as the chossid writes the pan and sends it, the Rebbe senses it and the chossid is blessed.

: This story is surely very relevant to our time, when we cannot openly see the Rebbe receiving our requests for blessing; although we can bring these requests to the Ohel, one might feel that it does not hold the same sort of as effect and potency as when we were able to receive a response openly. However, this story demonstrates that even without the Rebbe actually receiving the letter, it is fully “registered.” So, too, nowadays—even without receiving an open response, we are confident that the Rebbe has heard our request and is doing his utmost to intercede with Hashem on our behalf.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Coping with the post-Gimmel Tammuz situation

We find ourselves in a very difficult time. We do not see the Rebbe, but we know with certainty that he is still with us, for “a shepherd will not abandon his flock.” In a sense this situation is unprecedented, in that after the Histalkus of every earlier Rebbe there was a successor. However, in our situation the Rebbe continues to be our Rebbe even after his Histalkus.

There is much confusion and ignorance about how to approach the Rebbe/Chossid relationship in this time. I think it is important to search in the teachings of Raboseinu Nesi’einu and compile sources that can provide guidance and encouragement in this trying time, until we are reunited openly with the Rebbe—“ve’lo yikoneif od morecho, vehayu einecho roi’ois es morecha” (Yeshaya 30:20). I hope to do so in this blog.
Please contact me if you know of any helpful sources, especially obscure ones.