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

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sensitizing Ourselves to Hashem

Sensitizing Ourselves to Hashem

Rabbi Y. Oliver

We come to shul in the morning, and we want to leave somewhat different from the way we came—more refined, inspired, and spiritually attuned. And yet sometimes, although we concentrate on the meaning of the words, and even study Chassidus (see here) and reflecting on concepts in Chassidus beforehand (a.k.a. hisbonenus), we feel as if nothing has changed.

There are a number of responses to this complaint. One is that hisbonenus and davvenen with kavvanah (concentration) have a cumulative effect that is not necessarily immediately discernible. Just as one does not become full from eating one mouthful of food, so can true inner change come only after sustained effort.

However, if one has engaged in hisbonenus consistently for an extended period, say many months, and he still senses no change whatsoever, then that answer is no longer tenable. Rather, one must conclude that the hisbonenus was indeed ineffective, and the reason for this is that the person failed to prepare for it appropriately.

True inner change requires preparation.

Why is preparation so necessary? Because one may be in an intellectually lucid state, and fully capable of concentrating on a secular subject. However, if he is honest with himself, he may recognize that when he tries to davven or study Torah in general, and when he tries to study Chassidus and reflect upon ideas in Chassidus in particular, he feels a certain inner resistance, and even apathy. If one is constantly in this state, then when one looks back at his attempts to meditate upon Hashem’s greatness, he may well feel like all his efforts were in vain, “like water off a duck’s back.”

The reason for this may be that he is in a state of yeshus, of heightened self-consciousness and even arrogance. Preoccupied as he is with himself, he is not receptive to Hashem and to the revelation of G–dliness with which one connects through Torah study and prayer. The reason that he is not receptive is that Hashem reveals Himself only in a place of humility and self-nullification (Tanya ch. 6). Thus, although the person recognizes intellectually the need to engage in spiritual pursuits, as long as he remains in this state, he will emotionally regard any effort at deep spiritual growth as an odious chore to be cast off at the first opportunity. It is no wonder that these efforts do not bear fruit—it is akin to trying to plant a seed in unploughed earth.

So how indeed do we release ourselves from this coarse, egotistical state, and in so doing prepare ourselves for Tefillah and hisbonenus?

The answer is that before one can relate to Hashem through intellectual study, one must arouse within oneself a basic ratzon (desire) to submit and devote oneself to Hashem. This is accomplished through the practice of hoda’ah, acknowledging and accepting Hashem.

In a sense, hoda
’ah affects one emotionally in a much more compelling way than intellectual study of Hashem’s greatness and contemplation of it.

To explain, there are two ways of accepting something—accepting something that one doesn’t understand, and accepting something that one does understand. When one doesn’t understand, and yet accepts, he is much more humbled and awed by the concept. For instance, consider that someone explains that a certain complex mathematical equation enables scientists to calculate the number of grains of sand in the entire world, or the amount of water in all the seas. Now, when one believes and accepts this fact without understanding the equation, he feels awed and humbled. However, if the equation is explained and the listener grasps it fully, although he may be somewhat impressed at its cleverness, since he has mastered it himself, he will not feel humbled by it.

Likewise, when one starts one’s divine service by submitting to Hashem without understanding Him, he feels awed and humbled before Hashem, and this moves him with the desire to devote himself to Hashem.

This is the reason that Torah requires that a Jew start out his day with the declaration of Modeh Ani, “I offer thanks to You, ever-living and enduring King ... ” If recited with the proper intention, this declaration arouses the person’s basic desire to submit to Hashem, and so afterward, his efforts to unite with Hashem intellectually and emotionally are far more likely to succeed—of course, with Hashem’s help.

Adapted from Sefer HaMa’amarim Admur HaRashab 5670, pp. 145.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Consequences of selectiveness in dispensing spiritual privileges

In the time of the earlier Rebbeim of Chabad, and even during much of the time of the Previous Rebbe, there were certain official limitations concerning who was allowed to come and hear Chassidus. Towards the end of his leadership, the Previous Rebbe declared that this had changed:
Once, not everyone was granted permission to enter [to hear the earlier Rebbeim, and the Previous Rebbe himself, deliver Chassidus or the like], and this was beneficial. Those who were allowed to enter felt an uplifted spirit, while those who were denied entry felt a crushed heart.

Nowadays, however, everyone may be permitted entry. For [if only some will be allowed in and not others] the one who enters will feel an inner elevation in the form of arrogance, while the one who does not enter is in a state of coarseness, in which he is distressed that so-and-so went in, and he didn’t.

Sefer HaMa’amarim Admur HaRayatz 5710, p. 245.
I do not believe that the Previous Rebbe is saying that we are not able to respond as was typical in former times, or that no one still responds in this way. Rather, the Previous Rebbe is saying that the generations have declined such that since such a response is much more common, the potential damage outweighs the benefits of such an approach.

However, this sicha can teach us what two of the goals of our efforts at self-refinement ought to be, and provide indicators of whether we are succeeding at our efforts in self-refinement. We need to ask ourselves:

When we receive an honor or distinction of some sort that others do not receive, does it uplift us positively, inspiring us to even greater heights, or does it lead to arrogance?

When we are denied a privilege that is granted to others, do we feel humbled and resolve to change, or do we allow ourselves to be preoccupied with jealousy of them?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

An essential yearning

The levels of the Divine Soul

By way of preface, there are five levels of the Divine Soul. Below they are listed in ascending order of magnitude:
·       Nefesh: the part of the soul vested within the soul’s expression to the outside world through thought, speech, and action
·       Ruach: emotions of love and awe of Hashem, and so on
·       Neshamah: intellectual appreciation of Hashem
·       Chayah: faith
·       Yechidah: the soul’s very essence

Yechidah: An essential, suprarational bond

Chassidus refers to the Jewish soul, the Neshamah, as the Nefesh Ha’Elokis, the Divine Soul. Although this term encompasses all the above levels of this soul, since Hashem is beyond intellect, when the expression “divine” is used in reference to the soul, this denotes the level within the soul that is truly beyond intellect—the level of Yechidah.
Although we may not sense it, the Nefesh Elokis, or Divine Soul, of every Jew possesses an intense yearning to transcend its existence within the body and become subsumed within the Essence of Hashem. This desire is not precipitated by any external stimulus; rather, it is an innate urge that stems from the soul-level of Yechidah, which yearns to become subsumed in its source. (This is in contrast to the soul-level of Chayah, whose desire to surrender to Hashem does stem from an external stimulus.)
In the Jew’s normal day-to-day functioning, the Yechidah (along with the level of Chayah) is usually not manifest; rather, it is primarily the lower three faculties of NefeshRuach, and Neshamah that are externally dominant. Nevertheless, in reality the Yechidah is the most important level of the soul. Thus, the soul’s other, lower faculties are secondary and subordinate to the level of Yechidah.

A natural yearning of all the soul-levels

In fact, the natural yearning for G–d characteristic of the soul-level of Yechidah is present in all the levels of the Jewish soul. Now on a conscious level, when we employ the soul’s faculties, we are surely not in a state of yearning and self-transcendence; on the contrary, using the faculties involves a certain sense of self (albeit a very refined one, as is characteristic of the Divine Soul). 
Yet this is only at the external level of each of the soul’s faculties. However, at the core of each soul-level, it yearns to become subsumed in G–d’s very Essence. Concerning this the Alter Rebbe writes in Tanya 24b: “... the [level of] Neshamah of man, as do the levels of Ruach and Nefesh, naturally desires and craves to become detached and to depart from the body and connect with its root and source in Hashem, the Source of all Life, blessed be He.”) This is the reason that Chassidus refers to the entire soul, on all its levels, as the Divine Soul.

Superior sensitivity

This is also the reason that when a Jew learns explanations of G–d’s unity and greatness—especially as explained according to Torah, in the teachings of Kabbalah and Chassidus—he is able to grasp them well and enjoy them thoroughly, and then, when he meditates upon them, he can arouse deeply-felt emotions of love and awe of Hashem.
Hence, for a Jew, the process of learning about G–d’s unity and greatness is different from the way in which he assimilates a secular concept, lehavdil. It is not merely a technical matter of learning, understanding, and arousing emotions. Rather, since the mind and heart of the Jew’s Divine Soul naturally yearn for G–dliness, they are inbuilt with a heightened receptiveness to G–dliness that is not possible to attain through natural, human intellect and emotions alone. This enables the Jew to reach lofty heights of intellectual comprehension and emotional inspiration inaccessible to non-Jews.

Based on Sefer HaMa’amarim 5670, p. 149.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sincere inner conflict

When we think of sincerity and honesty, we often define them in absolute terms—either we mean it sincerely, or we are faking.

For instance, how is it possible to go from excitement for Hashem during prayer to excitement about worldly pleasures afterward? At first glance, this radical transition demonstrates that one’s excitement about G–dliness was fake, and to a certain extent there is truth to this.

However, we do not consist of a single persona with contradictory urges. Rather, there are two opposing sides within us, and an ongoing battle is being waged between them, with both sides struggling valiantly for total domination. When we consider this, the definition of inner truth and consistency becomes more complicated.

Our Animal Soul naturally yearns for the physical, while our Divine Soul naturally yearns for the spiritual.

During prayer, when our Divine Soul is aroused, we can and should reach an inner state in which we yearn to embrace the spiritual and reject the constraints of the physical. This yearning is totally sincere—sincere from the perspective of our Divine Soul.

Yet afterward, we can crave the physical, to the point that all the inspiration attained in prayer is almost completely forgotten (Tanya ch. 12). This is truthful from the perspective of the Animal Soul.

Tanya ch. 28, Sefer HaMa’amarim 5670, p. 147.

Monday, July 19, 2010

"A Jew Doesn't Expel A Jew"

“A Jew Doesn’t Expel A Jew”

Rabbi Y. Oliver

Jewish hothouses in Gush Katif, may it be speedily rebuilt.

We know that throughout history, the Jewish people suffered mass tragedies in one form or another around the time of the three weeks and the month of Av. We are now marking six years since the euphemistically-termed “disengagement”—the expulsion of 10,000 Jews from their homes, the mass devastation of dozens of Jewish villages, and the surrender of Jewish land to our arch-enemies. 

In contrast, it was Jews who initiated, organized, and implemented the mass expulsion of their fellow Jews from their homes and land, to knowingly hand over their land to our sworn enemies—the Nazis of today, the PLO and Hamas—knowing full well that this act would empower and embolden them. There was not even any political pressure from the US at the time to make such a move (not that such pressure would in any way have justified the expulsion, of course, but its absence makes the expulsion all the worse).

Now, we were sent into golus, and thus it stands to reason that we are still in golus, because of sinas chinam, baseless hatred. The Gemara tells us that there was a specific event that so exemplified sinas chinam that it precipitated the entire exile. This was the episode in which a Jew in Jerusalem expelled another Jew by the name of Bar Kamtza, thus humiliating him. The relevance of this story is clear.

Let us increase in our love for our fellow Jew, which includes our zeal to defend our fellow Jew from harm—even harm inflicted by another Jew.

Although all the pain and suffering that the Jewish people have suffered throughout the ages is very difficult to digest, in a way, I personally find this tragedy worse than others, and thus representative of the nadir of the golus.

In earlier tragedies—such as the Crusades, the Inquisition, the pogroms, the Holocaust, and so on—it was always goyim who initiated their attacks against Jewish life and property. Even the Judenrat, the European Jews who collaborated with the Nazis in sending Jews to be slaughtered in the gas chambers, did not initiate their actions, as despicable as they were. Rather, they acted as they did for fear of their own lives.

And yet a group of Jews, very stubborn and organized, supposedly sworn to the noble task of leading and serving the Jewish people, initiated and carefully planned a mass expulsion of their fellow Jews on a scale so grand that it simply has no parallel in Jewish history.

Now, surely you will say, quite possibly with outrage, how dare I make such comparisons? No, I am not saying that Mr. Sharon is equal or worse than Torquemada. What I am saying is that I am much more troubled and outraged by a Jew’s callousness than a goy’s.

Because all Jews are brothers. And we are one family. And brothers shouldn’t treat one another like this. In the words of the cry that many of the Jews of Gush Katif and their sympathizers chanted as they were being expelled, “A Jew doesn’t expel a Jew.”

To the extent that we, the Jewish people, allowed this vile event to take place, we are responsible for it, and for the prolongation of the exile that it surely caused.

But this is not merely a matter of feeling sincere remorse for this collective sin, necessary though that is.

Concessions lead very predictably to ever-greater concessions, so ever since the Gush Katif expulsion, there have been various small-scale expulsions, and constant talk of another mass-scale expulsion. Only this time, the threat involves not the expulsion of 10,000 Jews, but 250,000 Jews, G–d forbid—all the residents of the Shomron and Yehuda, and the surrender of their land—our land, the Land of every single Jew—to the Hamas and the PLO, G–d forbid.

Every Jew should shudder with dread at the thought of this unspeakably evil act being inflicted upon our brethren in the Holy Land, and pour out his heart to Hashem that this evil plot be completely and forever forgotten, and do everything in his power to avert it.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Making the World Fit for Divine Revelation

Making the World Fit
for Divine Revelation

Rabbi Y. Oliver

Hashem’s ultimate purpose in creating the world was to fashion a “dwelling place [for Himself] in the lowly realms,”[1] and Chassidus explains[2] that the expression “lowly realms” refers primarily to this physical world, which is the lowest of all realms.

However, as long as the person values the physical for its own sake, he cannot truly bring this goal to fruition in his personal life. For although the world is inherently lowly (as will be explained below), if, at least from the person’s subjective viewpoint as experienced in his mind and heart, the physical is seen to possess qualities that make it of value, to that extent it is not truly lowly.

Thus, only by uprooting from one’s heart any and all desire for the physical does the person make the part of the physical world with which he comes into contact truly lowly, and thus truly fit to be a “dwelling place” for Hashem. However, as long as we elicit G–dliness into physicality that we value, Hashem’s goal of creating a “dwelling place” for G–dliness has not been truly realized.

So one should strive to instill in one’s heart the awareness that all physical things are completely secondary, and worthless in and of themselves—which is indeed the true reality.

One can accomplish this by reflecting on the fact that the world was created from ayin, nothingness, and even now that it has been created, its entire existence depends upon the divine Word that constantly renews its existence. This concept is discussed at tremendous length in Chassidus; in fact, it can even be said that the entire corpus of the teachings of Chassidus Chabad is devoted to explaining this concept, and the divine service of Chassidus Chabad (through Avodas HaTefillah, etc.) is devoted to internalizing this feeling.

These feelings are inversely proportionate; thus, the more one brings oneself to understand and feel the absolute reality of Hashem, and the non-existence of the physical, the less value the physical world and its pleasures will come to have in one’s eyes.

Of course, this is a gradual process; however, the ultimate goal of all one’s efforts at intellectual and emotional self-refinement should be to come to lose any desire for the physical, and to even despise it, and instead to enjoy and desire G–dliness alone. (This does not mean that one should not be involved in the physical, of course, but that one should do so without desiring to do so, for one is permeated with the feeling that the physical is purely a means to an end with no inherent value.)

This is also related to the two complementary forms of divine service, ratzo and shov (see here and here for earlier articles on this concept). Ratzo is aroused primarily through Avodas HaTefillah, and it involves coming to feel the gross limitation and abject lowliness of the body and the physical world, and exciting oneself with a yearning to transcend it totally and become subsumed in pure G–dliness.

This then enables one to succeed at the shov, the inner recognition that should follow the ratzo. This involves recognizing that in order to fulfill Hashem’s will, one must lower oneself to reveal G–dliness within the world, thereby transforming it into a dwelling place for Hashem, even though this means withdrawing from the heady spiritual “high” of ratzo.

The above explanation further clarifies why it is specifically through the ratzo that one is able to succeed at the shov, for only through the avodah of ratzo does one lose appreciation for the physical, thus enabling one to succeed at revealing G–dliness within that physicality through the avodah of shov.

Adapted from Toras Menachem 5713, Vol. 1, pp. 25-26, Sefer HaMa’amarim 5670, p. 145, and other sources.

[1Midrash TanchumaNaso 16.
[2Tanya ch. 36.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Understanding the conflicting sides within

The Torah says that our lives are a constant inner struggle, and Chassidus teaches that in order to succeed, we need to thoroughly understand the parties to that struggle. 

In pre-Chassidic terminology, these parties are traditionally known as the Evil Inclination and the Good Inclination. However, Chassidus often also refers to these respective forces as the Nefesh Ha’Behamis, the Animal Soul, and the Nefesh Ha’Elokis, the Divine Soul. If in fact these terms are synonymous, why are additional terms needed?

The answer is that Chassidus, devoted as it is to explaining the inner workings of the soul, seeks to be more precise by adding additional terms in order to refer to different subparts of the same general soul entity. These subparts are the complementary intellectual and emotional elements of the respective souls:

Divine Soul: This refers specifically to the aspect of intellect that has a natural affinity for grasping G–dliness.

Good Inclination: This refers to this soul’s emotions, which consist primarily of love and awe of Hashem.

Animal Soul: This refers to the intellect of the Evil Inclination, which naturally grasps the pleasure of selfish instincts and lusts, and provides the person with the knowhow to satisfy these instincts. In this respect its intellect is animal-like, for an animal too uses its intellect to secure its survival, as it is written, “The ox knows its master, and the mule, its feeding trough” [Yeshaya 1:3]. Similarly, the animalistic intellect grasps the pleasure of selfish instincts and lusts, and provides the person with clever schemes in his quest to indulge in his lusts and commit sins and crime. Concerning this it is said, “They are shrewd to do evil” [Yirmiyahu 4:22].

Evil Inclination: This refers to this soul’s emotions, such as the desire for the physical, the fear of bodily harm, and the like. In the animal soul, the emotions are primary.

Although both souls contain intellect and emotions, they differ in terms of which of the two soul-powers is primary:

The Divine Soul is compared to a human, in which the intellect dominates (or at least ought to dominate) over the emotions. Thus, in the Divine Soul, the intellect is dominant and primary, while the emotions are subordinate to the intellect, and thus secondary.

In contrast, the Animal Soul is likened to an animal (hence the name), whose intellect is entirely subordinate to its instincts and emotions. Thus, just as an animal may be very intelligent, such as a fox, the most clever of the animals, its intellect can only be used to satiate its desires and instincts. Likewise, no matter how highly the intellect of the Animal Soul may be developed, it will use that force as a tool to pursue self-interest, and it will never be able to attain true impartiality and objectivity.

Torah Ohr, 38b.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Vanquishing moral confusion with the light of Torah

The Rebbe writes:
If every person was granted the potential to change worldly events in a positive direction, and even to introduce a novelty, this is surely true of the Jewish nation. Its very existence is a deviation from the order of the world, and it has been assigned with the role of serving as “A light unto the nations (Yeshaya 42:6).”

Since this description is given by our Torah, “a Torah of truth (Blessings on the Torah)” it is exact in all its details. This includes the fact that light represents a force that, although apparently not introducing any novelty, displays and reveals the true nature of the object [being illuminated]. Usually, this light is essential to discern between good and evil, holiness and impurity, health and sickness, and between those who call evil, good, and sickness, health.

Nitzutzei Ohr, p. 83.
There are plenty of very smart, well-educated, and even refined people in the world who search and strive for truth and morality. Yet all around us, we see moral confusion, and in particular the philosophy of moral relativism, the idea that there does not and cannot exist any one absolute truth, universal morality, or grand purpose to the cosmos. Rather, there are many opinions on these matters, all equally valid and equally irrelevant in daily life.

How can such smart people fail so miserably? Because they lack the tools of discernment that Hashem gave us. No matter how hard they try, they are not able to truly discern between right and wrong, truth from falsehood. They can get it right some of the time, but never all of the time. This is an ability that has been granted to the Jewish people alone, through the teachings of the Torah. Since it is the wisdom of Hashem, Who is the G–d of Truth, it alone is the repository of absolute Truth.

When we are truly aware of the sublime gift that we have been given, we will go out and humbly but confidently share it with Jews who are not yet aware of its true nature, by teaching them how to fulfil their obligations as Jews, and with non-Jews, by teaching them how to serve Hashem according to the Noahide laws.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The corrosive impact of half-hearted worship

The Frierdiker Rebbe taught:
There is a chassidisheh, avodah’dikeh [“geared to self-improvement”] interpretation of the saying: “On account of our sins we were exiled from our Land, and distanced from our Earth [in the Holy Land], and we are not able to ascend ... ”[1]

The Hebrew word for sin, chait, can also mean chisaron, a shortcoming.[2]

The word for land, eretz, is etymologically related to the word ratzon, desire, as it is written in Medrash: “Why is [the Land] called eretz? Because ratzesa, it wants, to perform the will of its Maker.”[3]

Adamah, which means earth, [is related to the word adam, man]. Man is called adam because Hashem created the human body from the earth.[4]

This, then, is the deeper meaning of this saying:

On account of our faults”: This refers to the fault of not engaging in the avodah of Chassidus in a way of pnimiyus [“innerness”]; rather, we relieve our duty with a superficial level of service [“chitzoniyus”], by reading through a chapter of Tanya just as one reads through a chapter of Tehillim, and “the service of the heart”[5] is unheard of. On account of all such shortcomings ...

We were exiled from our Land”: We have gone astray, may G–d save us, and we have completely forgotten the flavor of a true desire [for G–dliness]. [This leads to ... ]

We have been distanced from our earth”: As the days pass, we become distanced further and further from our adam, i.e., from our chassidishe inner self, which is immersed in inner change [“avodah pnimis”]. This may reach the point at which ...

We are not able to ascend”: We are, G–d forbid, no longer able to rise. We have neglected ourselves to such an extent that we can no longer lift ourselves back up.

[1] From the Mussaf liturgy for the festivals.
[2] As in the verse, “I and my son Shlomo were counted offenders”—I Melachim 1:21.
[3] Bereshis Rabbah 5:7.
[4] Cf. Bereshis 2:7.
Avodas haTefillah”Sifri, Devarim 11:13.

Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. 2, p. 541.
In my own words: Learning Torah and davvenen should be motivated by a desire to bring one’s inner self close to Hashem, and ultimately to unite it with Him. Of course, every Jew should feel this way, but a self-identifying chossid is all the more responsible to feel this way.

However, in order to attain and maintain this desire, never mind to actually reach this goal, intense and consistent effort is required. For it is human nature that once one gets into the habit of doing something—anything, even the most precious and rare of activitiesone becomes accustomed to doing it, takes it for granted, and does it automatically and robotically. 

Likewise, even such sublime privileges as studying Hashems supernal wisdom, standing in a private audience with Him in prayer, and bonding with Him by performing His commandments, can become a tiresome chore that one discharges mindlessly.

However, every Jew has been granted the tools with which to counteract this natural tendency, and in our generation, the avodah of Chassidus. This is the idea of striving for inner change through various means, particularly through study of Chassidus followed by avodas haTefillah (see here), attending farbrengens, and so on. When we take the time to do these things, we actively prepare ourselves for the Mitzvos that we perform by infusing this performance with meaning and purpose. We then perform them with fresh enthusiasm, and even though we donned the same Tefillin yesterday, come today we are excited and inspired about donning them again.

The mind and heart is then immersed in the Mitzvah that one is performing. For example, one recites the beracha on the Tefillin carefully, fully aware that one is speaking to Hashem and that He is listening, and that one is now performing a Mitzvah of Hashem. He focuses on the precise meaning of each word of the beracha, and as he dons the Tefillin, he reflects upon their deeper significance and practical relevance, and of the difference between the symbolism of the head and the hand Tefillin, and so on. And so he does with all the Mitzvos.

Every Jew who has committed himself to be a Chabad chossid knows that as a chossid, he should be striving to improve and ultimately transform his inner self, his intellect and emotions, through rigorous devotion to learning Chassidus and avodas hatefillah. Thus, even if he neglects to do so, deep down, he wants to devote himself to inner change.

He may (and should!) have embarked upon his inner journey as a chossid inspired and idealistic, with ambitious goals for self-transformation, and confident of success. But over the course of time and the repetition of the same sort of thing, and often due to various personal, financial, and social pressures, the once-aspiring chossid may well lose the motivation to push himself to focus, to prepare, and to rev himself up to serve Hashem with genuine feeling through learning Chassidus at length, engaging in hisbonenus, and so on.

And with each time that he learns without reminding himself that he is studying Hashem’s holy Torah, or barely concentrating altogether, or with every time that he davvens without thinking and feeling that he is standing before Hashem in a private audience, and without concentrating on the meaning of the words, he becomes coarsened and corrupted. His animalistic side becomes more and more dominant, and he enters a downward spiral.

The less he exerts effort, the more his motivation to do so seeps away. Once caught in this vicious cycle, he deteriorates further and further until he enters a state of almost total desensitization, apathy, and perhaps even antagonism to all things spiritual. He may remain technically observant, but his observance is nothing but an empty shell. He languishes in this weakened state until he reaches a point at which even when he regrets his neglect and tries to crawl out of his lowly state, he feels that doing so is unattainable. He has reached a nadir at which only an intense spiritual energy from Above, and in particular, the prayers and intercession of the Rebbe, can pull him out of his spiritual coma.

In summary, neglecting avodah leads one to spiritual degeneration. Let us devote ourselves to avodah, thereby not only preventing any such pitfalls, but fixing “our faults” and returning to “our desire” and “our adam”—the Jew’s true inner self.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Lower the age of marriage!

In the letter below, the Rebbe makes clear his position that in general, the age of marriage should be lowered. I have added the relevant excerpt from the Gemara that the Rebbe references:
Here I feel duty-bound to express the profound pain that I have felt for several years now at the fact that when the mass immigration of our Sephardic brethren to the Holy Land, may it be rebuilt, began, it was found “appropriate” to raise the age of marriage in a way contrary to the accepted custom in the lands from whence they came.

If when this said decree was made there was doubt as to which is greater—the benefit or the loss [of this change]—the bitter consequences of this decree during these years on account of our numerous sins, and to our great distress, have demonstrated the tremendous damage of this change. 

Obviously my intention is not to bemoan the past; however, from time to time new suggestions are raised with regard to raising or lowering the age of marriage, and my opinion is definitely evident from the above. If only Ashkenazic Jewry would also become accustomed to marriage at a very young age, in accordance with the words of Rav Chisda* (Kiddushin 29b).
*R. Chisda praised R. Hamnuna before R. Huna as a great man. Said he to him, “When he visits you, bring him to me.”

When he arrived, he saw that he wore no sudra. “Why have you no sudra?” asked he. “Because I am not married,” was the reply. Thereupon he turned his face away from him. “See to it that you do not appear before me before you are married,” said he.

R. Huna was thus in accordance with his views. For he said: “He who is twenty years of age and is not married spends all his days in sin.” “In sin”? Can you really think so? But say [that it means that he], spends all his days in sinful thoughts.

Rava said, and the School of R. Yishmael taught likewise: “Until the age of twenty, the Holy One, blessed be He, sits and waits. When will he take a wife? As soon as one attains twenty and has not married, He exclaims, ‘Blasted be his bones!’”

R. Chisda said: “The reason that I am superior to my colleagues is that I married at sixteen. And had I married at fourteen, I would have said to Satan, ‘An arrow in your eye.’”

Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 22, p. 404.