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

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Consult with a Guide, not a Crutch

Consult with a Guide, not a Crutch

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

The Frierdiker Rebbe once responded:
In answer to your question: The Rogatchover Gaon would have said [in response to such a query] “You are an idler. You idled away the time and didn’t learn, and therefore you don’t know, and so you ask what you were able to know [through your own study]. If you wouldn’t have idled away your time and you would have studied, you would know yourself, and you wouldn’t need to ask.” The same applies to your question: It’s easier for you to write a letter and ask than to bother yourself to find the Halacha in Shulchan Aruch, never mind to seek it in the works of the later halachic authorities.

Igros Kodesh Admur HaRayatz, Vol. 6, pp. 70-71.
Perhaps this principle can also be applied to consulting with others who ought to provide spiritual guidance of some sort—one’s mashpia, Rav, or asei lecho Rav (see here for further explanation). Some people, perhaps subconsciously, view their mashpia as the one responsible for their spiritual growth, which they neglect because, they think, why bother? They can visit the mashpia for inspiration from time to time. They neglect to study Halacha because, they tell themselves, they can simply ask their Rav when a question arises. They also neglect introspection and making a personal reckoning, because why bother? They can simply ask their asei lecho Rav to do it for them. And even when they do learn Torah, they learn it in a detached, theoretical way, because they do not foresee any of it having practical relevance, as it has not been uttered by their mashpia, Rav, or asei lecho RavAnd so on. 

Nothing could be further from the truth.

These roles exist to provide not crutches, but guidance. There is a balance required here. You do need these supports and you can’t go it alone, but you still have to do the work yourself. Think of them like a swimming instructor. He doesn’t swim for you. He shows you how to swim, and then he gives you helpful pointers to improve your swimming further, but then you splash and flail around in the water on your own, and eventually you learn to float and dive and swim, and then swim better and faster. Likewise, the mashpia, Rav, and asei lecho Rav are here to guide you in your service of Hashem—they direct and inspire you to learn, fulfill, grow, change, and lead. But once the meeting with the guide is done, you are left to do the learning, fulfilling, growing, changing, and leading yourself.

Thus, the very act of consultation presupposes that the seeker of the advice is a mentch—a Jew striving to improve, who recognizes that the ball is in his court. And even if he lacks sufficient motivation, he recognizes that the fault is in him, and that he alone is to blame for his low performance. The guide then has material with which to work. 

In contrast, one who uses these spiritual guides to excuse himself from exerting effort thwarts them from fulfilling their task, and what is worse, this makes them complicit in
 his misconduct. For then instead of the mashpiaRav, or asei lecho Rav guiding the person to true self-motivated inner growth in his divine service, they facilitate laziness, mediocrity, and failure.

Receiving guidance brings wisdom, clarity, and purpose. But the hard work you have to do yourself—before, during, and after your consultation.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The agenda of Zionism: Redefining Jewishness

The Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish law that defines Jewish observance.

The philosophy of Zionism as originally conceived by Hertzl and his colleagues sought to redefine Jewishness as secular nationalism—identifying with the nation of the Jewish people as a secular entity deliberately divorced from our age-old religious identity.

This led to the identification with and support of the Zionist cause to be regarded as the true expression of Jewishness. Thus, once the State of Israel became a reality, Zionist nationalism evolved into identifying passport-carrying citizens of the State as the “real” Jews, and true Jewish “observance” as defined by loyalty to the state and its laws, and not by loyalty to Hashem and observance of his Mitzvos.

This is antithetical to the way that the Jew had always been defined—as a person born from a Jewish mother obligated by Hashem to observe the Torah and Mitzvos regardless of his location, language, or country of citizenship.

Put differently, if being Jewish is about being an ardent Zionist, then as long as I support the State (or the Zionist cause, before the State existed), I am a good Jew. There is no need for me to adhere to Shabbos, the laws of kosher, or anything else, because now that we have the State, we don’t need any of that old-fashioned superstition anymore. We only ever needed religion to maintain national cohesiveness, but now religion has been rendered obsolete by secular nationalism, which holds us together far more effectively; thus, religion can now be discarded.

In this respect, the philosophy of Zionism is not only a corrupting force, but is even more disastrous in its spiritual impact than non-Zionistic secularism or even than defecting to another religion. One who does not observe Torah and Mitzvos full well that there is a certain religious lifestyle known as Judaism that he is choosing for whatever reason not to follow. He does not imagine that he is in any way adhering to that lifestyle; on the contrary, he is consciously, willfully rejecting it. The upshot of this is that once he reaches a point at which he sees the foolishness of his errant ways, whether through pleasant or painful experiences (may we only know the former, but the reality is that sometimes we end up learning our lessons through the latter, may G-d save us), he typically returns to true Judaism and adheres to it uncompromisingly.

In contrast, a Zionist, who has redefined Jewish identity, will never infer from his experiences that he should renounce his current way of life and adopt Jewish observance, because in his mind he is already a very proud, “observant” Jew—a proud citizen of the state. He served in the army, he serves in the reserves, he pays his taxes, he votes, he obeys every law, he sends his children to public schools, to the army, national service, and the reserves, and he passionately marks “Independence Day.” Or, if he is a proud supporter from afar, which is the next best thing to being a citizen, he gives regular handsome donations to the JNF, proudly displays the Israeli flag, has enrolled his children in schools that inculcate Zionist beliefs, and, of course, he too passionately marks “Independence Day.” What more could one ask of him (other than aliyah, of course, his neglect of which evokes in him immeasurable guilt and shame)? His ideology has overtaken him to the point that no amount of personal suffering (G–d forbid) will move him to re-embrace the Judaism of his ancestors.

So in order to reconnect with his true Jewish identity, at some point the Zionist must come to realize the fallacy of Zionist philosophy. This would appear to be at least one of the deeper reasons behind the consistent groveling, lack of leadership, and even corruption evinced by so many of the most powerful Israeli politicians over the years, and their betrayal of the Jewish people through the insane adherence to accursed “peace plans” that involve surrendering Jewish land, money, and guns to the serial murderers of our brothers and sisters and to terrorist collaborators and ideological supporters—as is all documented daily in the popular news outlets.

It would appear that with this Hashem is sending the Jewish people the message that the religion of Zionism is bankrupt and phoney, and in order to be ready to greet the true redemption through our righteous Moshiach, we must return to our true Jewish roots—the laws of the Torah, as codified in the Shulchan Aruch. These laws are divine and therefore timeless, immutable, and the only way for us to be truly fulfilled as Jews.

Based on the Rebbe Rashab’s Kuntres Uma’ayan pp. 46-48.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Living Up to Our Human Potential

Living Up to Our Human Potential

Rabbi Y. Oliver

Every person should strive his utmost to live up to his personal potential. However, before we can discuss living up to one’s potential as an individual with special abilities and talents, we need to discuss living up to one’s potential as a person. This can only be understood in the context of man’s place in the universe vis-à-vis the other levels of creation.

The hierarchy of creation consists of four levels. Working our way up:

domem—“inanimate” objects, which contain a nefesh (“animating spirit”) of the lowest level; this is known as the nefesh hadomem;

tzome’iach—plant life, which, in addition to a nefesh hadomem, also possesses a nefesh hatzomachas, a “vegetative soul”;

chai—the animal kingdom, which, in addition to a nefesh hadomem and a nefesh hatzomachas, also possesses a nefesh habehamis, an “animalistic soul”;

medaber—mankind, which, in addition to a nefesh hadomem, a nefesh hatzomachas, and a nefesh habehamis, also possesses a nefesh hasichlis, an “intellectual soul.”

Each level achieves perfection in two ways:

• by living up to its unique ability, and using the levels of creation lower than its own as a means to that end;

• by making itself available to becoming subsumed within a higher level, and eventually realizing this goal.

The lower levels of creation—domem, tzome’iach, and chai—all perform these roles instinctively and never deviate from them, for they have been programmed to act as they do.

For instance, plants grow, thus fulfilling their unique role of vegetative growth, and they are available for animals and humans to consume, at which point they become subsumed within the level above them. However, none of this involves an act of volition on their part, but the fulfillment of the role that they are hard-wired to play.

However, the highest level of creation, mankind, is granted the power to choose whether to fulfill its purpose, and thereby bring the inferior levels of creation to realize their ultimate designated purpose as well, or to sink into temptation and fail to fulfill its purpose, and in the process drag down the rest of the world into its degenerate state.

In order to fulfill its role, mankind must center all its efforts and aspirations on developing its intellect, the special quality with which Hashem endowed it. Mankind’s lower drives and animalistic energy ought to be harnessed and channeled toward this goal. The development of the intellect, in turn, should be a means to a further end—submission to Hashem. In this way man brings his entire being to become subsumed to Hashem, Who stands completely above him and his defining quality, his intellect.

However, if he neglects to use his lower drives as a tool toward fulfilling the promise of his intellect, and instead becomes preoccupied with sensual indulgence in one or more of the lower levels of creation, he has in a sense degenerated below the rest of creation on two counts.

First, in that the perfection of every being depends upon actualizing its unique potential, and he is neglecting to do so. Thus, he is worse than an animal, because an animal is not to blame for behaving as an animal does, for it cannot do otherwise. However, a human being, who is able to follow the higher calling assigned him and instead sinks to animal-like behavior, has in that sense degenerated to a lower level than the animal.

Second, in that when we bind our souls to an object of our desire, we come to spiritually resemble the thing that we pursue. So one who pursues knowledge of Torah acquires a certain G–dly quality, while one whose life revolves around materialistic possessions degrades himself to the level of domeim. Moreover, since the recipient (“mekabeil”) is necessarily lower than the giver (“mashpia”), it follows that the one who chooses to indulge his animalistic lusts becomes inferior to the level of creation from which he draws this self-gratification. 

For instance, consider one whose mouth waters while gazing at an ice cream sundae covered with fluffy whipped cream, sweet chocolate syrup, and a cherry on the top, and then eagerly grabs the ice cream and sinks his lips and tongue into the layers of cold, sugary, chocolatey cream, savoring every nuance of its succulent taste. He becomes in a sense not only equal to the ice cream sundae, but subordinate to it.

When we grasp our role and mission, with the help of Hashem we are able to rise above the weakness and sin of our past, return to Hashem, and discipline ourselves into a purposeful, productive lifestyle of spiritual growth and fulfillment, instead of a meaningless, hedonistic lifestyle of moral corruption and spiritual suicide.

Based on Kuntres Uma’ayan, pp. 63-65.

Monday, April 19, 2010

FAQs about Zionism I

Question: Is the State of Israel good or bad?

: In a nutshell, as I understand it, the Chabad position on the State of Israel is as follows. The State was the embodiment of all the aspirations of nationalist Zionism, which was a secular and even antireligious philosophy designed to replace true Torah-based Judaism with a secular nationalist ideal, G–d forbid. This agenda is false and evil, and delays the true redemption. Chabad thus opposes any identification with the government of the sort that would give the impression that one accepts the evil philosophy behind it.

However, the idea of saving and protecting Jews from danger is legitimate and worthy, and in fact a Torah imperative ("
pikuach nefesh"). The Zionists who set up the State performed a worthy deed in setting up an army to protect the Jews from the hostile Arabs, and in organizing a place for Jews to live to escape persecution. 

Yet this does not mitigate the fact that they simultaneously committed an evil deed by associating this endeavor with promoting their anti-religious, anti-Torah philosophy. Their intentions in setting up the State were therefore a mixture of good and evil.

Practically speaking, the Jews who live there are Jews like any other, and so they need military protection; thus, those who serve in the army do a tremendous Mitzvah in defending Jewish life, regardless of the fact that the government that dispatches them represents the philosophy of Zionism.

Likewise, the Land is holy, and those who settle in it in a holy way perform a Mitzvah regardless of the fact that the government that technically controls the Land embodies the philosophy of Zionism. For in reality the government does not own the Land; rather, it is Hashem’s eternal gift to every single Jew.

: Why don’t you celebrate Israeli Independence Day?

Answer: Among other reasons, because it is simply untrue—the Jews living in Eretz Yisroel today (may they increase manyfold) are not independent from the non-Jews. This reality is so blatant that all one need do is select any random news report concerning Israeli foreign relations, and one will see how the Israeli government grovels in front of the goyim. Moreover, this has been going on in one form or another all along, only in an ever-increasing measure, and especially over the past decade. It has reached such depraved, outrageous proportions that it boggles my mind every time I attempt to get my head around it.

In particular, I am referring to the vile atrocities of surrendering Jewish land, guns, and money to our sworn terrorist enemies, expelling Jews en masse from their homes, and criminalizing the building or renovation of Jewish homes—all out of the craven fear of “what will the
goyim say.” This shows plainly and irrefutably just how much "independence" Zionism has brought us.

Our control over the Land is significant and must be maintained because the Land is holy and G-d-given, and because to relinquish any part of it would severely endanger those who remain. However, the truth must be recognized that this control is only partial, that we are in reality vassals to the United States of America, and thus our titular control does not constitute true independence. (One recent reminder of this was the pathetic way that the IDF scrambled to complete its military operation in Gaza, which was codenamed Cast Lead, before President Obama came into office—lest their actions displease the president and he wield his influence to obstruct their efforts, through withdrawal of aid or the like.) 

: Doesn’t the very existence of the State of Israel constitute the fulfillment of biblical prophecies foretelling the return of the Jewish people to Eretz Yisroel?

: No, we're still in exile. The secular Zionist state is not the fulfillment of any biblical redemptive prophecies, which will only be fulfilled through Moshiach. Moreover, calling the exile redemption delays the coming of the true redemption! Conversely, the first step towards true redemption is recognizing that we are indeed in exile, for only then can we truly pray for the redemption.

In fact, not only are we not in a state of redemption, but in a way the exile is even worse in the Holy Land, for in many places there, may G-d save us, the atmosphere is lacking in fear of G-d (although the numbers of those returning to Jewish observance have been steadily increasing, thank 
G-d). To sin in the Holy Land is considered more severe than to sin in the diaspora, for a sin committed in the King’s palace is worse than a sin committed outside it (Tashbetz, sec. 559).

Monday, April 12, 2010

Chof-ches Nissan

Today is Chof-ches Nissan, the day that the Rebbe delivered the famous sicha in which he charged us with our core mission after Gimmel Tammuz. See my previous posts concerning this day here. Lechaim!