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

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Don't dress like a chossid if you don't want to act like one!

A distinctive dress code identifies one as a member of a particular group throughout the world, and the world of religious Jewry is no exception. 

It is minhag Chabad to wear a kapoteh on Shabbos (as discussed earlier). Since a person is largely defined by his clothes, it has become communally accepted that by choosing to wear this garb, one is in effect declaring that one identifies as a Chabad chossid; conversely, by choosing not to wear such garb, one fails to truly identify himself as a Chabad chossid.

Now I’m not quite sure why this is the case, and moreover I question whether it’s correct to make this the measure of identification. However, what is clear is that it is popularly regarded as such. So someone who takes upon himself to wear a kapoteh, which is generally a distinctive Chabad garb, is viewed by others, rightly or wrongly, as someone who wants to be viewed as a Chabad chossid, and thus for all intents and purposes, is a Chabad chossid

Now, since the wearer of this garb knows that this is what others will think, even if he has some other intention in wearing this garb, that is irrelevant; he must consider the way he will be perceived by others. Thus, we find that according to Halacha one is considered to be desecrating Hashem’s name whenever one does something that others will perceive as wrong; even if one has a valid reason for doing so, it is a chillul Hashem, and one’s intentions are irrelevant.

So when someone who wears a kapoteh talks during the minyan, in addition to desecrating the name of Hashem, he is desecrating the name of the Rebbeim of Chabad, and the path in the service of Hashem that they have propounded. However, when he talks during the minyan and does not wear a kapoteh, he is desecrating the name of Hashem in general and his actions are of course wrong and indefensible, but he is not desecrating the name of the Rebbeim of Chabad. In this respect, his actions are less worse.

If you know that you’re going to talk in Shul, don’t come. And if you must come, at least don’t wear a kapoteh. Because if you show no respect for Shul, then your kapoteh and the declaration of affiliation that it signifies is meaningless and worse.

The same goes for those who trim their beards. Now, although many halachic authorities forbid trimming one’s beard, many using very harsh language, it is true that according to some, it is permitted when done in a certain way. However, those who have taken upon themselves to be chassidei Chabad are bound to follow the halachic rulings of the Rebbeim of Chabad, and since the Tzemach Tzedek maintains unequivocally that trimming one’s beard is forbidden min haTorah, one who identifies as a Chabad chossid and trims his beard violates a severe sin.

The same also goes for women who dress immodestly, and those who allow some of their hair to be exposed by wearing a tichel or the like, instead of following the Rebbe’s clear directive to wear a sheitel. And so on.

I am not claiming to be perfect myself, or claiming that all those who don’t fall short in these areas are perfect or anything approaching it. What I’m saying is simple—if you have chosen to openly, consistently, and most significantly, premeditatedly flaunt the minimum standards of observance of Shulchan Aruch expected of a Chabad chossid, then do yourself and everyone else a favor and don’t identify as one. 

Because by doing so, not only are you sinning more than if you had not so identified, you are causing others to sin. When the atmosphere in the community is such that talking in Shul, trimming, dressing immodestly, and so on, is acceptable, then those who are already weak follow the bad example of those individuals, some of those who are stronger are weakened, and in general, the entire community is dragged into the mud.

I’m sure many of you will brand me intolerant. So be it. But, I say to these flagrant violators, what about your intolerance? Your intolerance for the clear rulings of Shulchan Aruch, disrespect for the standards of the community that you so proudly claim to adhere to, and disrespect for the Rebbe and his teachings, to which you declare yourself to be so loyal? What about your selfish, stubborn refusal to consider the spiritual damage you wreak upon your environment? What about your insensitivity to the sincere religious feelings of those who truly want to serve Hashem in the community, and their desire to live and raise their children in a wholesome atmosphere of G-d-fearing Jews and devoted chassidim?

If you must do these things, please, I beg of you, stop identifying yourself as formal members of the Chassidic community. If you must, dub yourself a “friend of Chabad.” Come and learn Chassidus, attend farbrengens and the like, and grow at your own pace. If and when you reach the point in your spiritual growth at which you are ready to follow the required standards of behavior, then your choice to openly and proudly identify yourself as a chossid will elevate both yourself and the community. 

Until then ... leave the kapoteh at home.

(See also this letter of the Frierdiker Rebbe, which expresses a sentiment similar, and perhaps even stronger, than that in the above article.)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Gradual Growth for Beginners

Gradual Growth for Beginners

Rabbi Y. Oliver

How does one go about teaching Jews coming from an assimilated background how to adopt Torah observance? It involves understanding where they are coming from.

For them (especially if they are older), even a small change from their regular schedule of observance usually requires a tremendous internal effort. Thus, demanding that they take on everything at once, or even many things at once, or even several things at once, may be so overwhelming that they will end up doing nothing, as the Gemara states, “One who grabs too much ends up with nothing”.[1] This could mean that they will not listen in the first place, or it could mean that they will listen and do as expected, but will over time come to feel resentful, and that the change in their lifestyle was forced.

Thus, often it is only appropriate to encourage beginners to take upon themselves one solitary Mitzvah. Once they have done that Mitzvah for a while, and feel comfortable doing it, then they can take on another, until they feel comfortable doing that one, and so on.

Thus, those who are in the position of teaching beginners to Torah observance should guide their students slowly, step by step, instructing the student to focus on bolstering their observance of the specific Mitzvah in which he or she has chosen to grow, and not to jump ahead.

On the other hand, the teacher must avoid any words or actions that could be construed as endorsement of non-observance.  Instead, the teacher must make it clear that the changes that the newcomer has adopted are not the end of the journey, but only the beginning.

This is comparable to teaching a child Alef beis. First one teaches an alef, then a beis, and so on. During this process one does not tell the child that an alef is the only letter there is to know, or the only one worth knowing. Rather, one tells him that today an alef will suffice as a beginning, since one can’t learn everything at once; however, with time he will learn more and more letters, until he will master them all. Then, he will learn to combine different letters into words, and he will learn different words, and ideas in Torah, until he will become, with the help of Hashem, an accomplished great Torah scholar.

When one starts with teaching a child an alef, in no way does this constitute compromise. On the contrary, this is the proper way to learn—to start from the beginning, and advance from step to step.

The same principle holds when teaching the Alef beis of Yiddishkeit. One should encourage the beginner to take upon himself one Mitzvah and continue observing it until he feels comfortable with it. Only then should he take upon himself another, additional Mitzvah, until he feels comfortable with that Mitzvah, and so on. Since “One Mitzvah brings another in its wake,”[2] he will ultimately come to full observance, with the help of Hashem and the support of his teacher and, when possible, of his family and community.

Although this approach seems logical and should be altogether simple and straightforward, it is not intuitively clear for someone who has been raised frum, for he has been trained from early childhood to fulfill all the Mitzvos without compromise. 

Certainly once he has reached Bar or Bas Mitzvah, he is told to keep the entire Shulchan Aruch, whether he feels comfortable doing so or not. The idea of consciously choosing to keep one Mitzvah and not others, even temporarily, runs against his grain (and this is the way he should feel). Thus, when teaching the beginner, the teacher raised frum must make a conscious effort to adjust to the vastly different circumstances of his pupil.

Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 33, pp. 145-148.

[1] Rosh Hashanah 4a.
[2] Avos 4:2.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wearing a kapoteh on Shabbos

On Shabbos Bereishis 5711 (1950), the Rebbe said to Rabbi Greenglass of Montreal:
It should become standard for married chassidim to wear silk kapotes on Shabbos and Yom Tov, and I wish to thank in advance those who will do so. The idea that one’s garments on Shabbos and Yom Tov should be silken is mentioned in a Ma’amar of the Rebbe Rashab [1].

In general, the behavior [of chassidei Chabad] should be distinctive, and this should express itself in the fact that on Shabbos and Yom Tov one wears a silk kapote.

I am surprised at those chassidim who do not wear silk kapotes on Shabbos and Yom Tov It appears that the reason for this [failure to observe this custom] is the poverty that prevailed in Russia, which meant that chassidim were not able to wear silk kapotes.

In any case, the time has come that people should start wearing silk kapotes, and over time all married chassidim will come to follow this practice.

Toras Menachem 5711, Vol. 1, p. 53
[1] The following sources are cited in the footnote to this sicha:

Sefer HaMa’amarim 5660-1-2, p. 231 the Rebbe Rashab cites from the works of Kabbalah that on Shabbos one’s garments are connected with the world of Beriah, which parallels chai, the animal world; thus, one’s garments should be made of silk, which comes from the category of chai. (To explain, the four spiritual worlds correspond to the four levels of creation: Atzilusmedaber, mankind; Beriahchai, the animal kingdom; Yetzirahtzomeach, plant life; Asiyahdomem, inorganic matter. Thus, since on Shabbos there is a revelation of the world of Beriah, it is fitting to wear garments made from animal kingdom.)

Likewise, in Sefer HaMa’amarim 5671, p. 247 the Rebbe Rashab mentions the same practice, and also explains that since on Shabbos the world receives from the level of Hashem’s thought, so to speak (the worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah corresponding in Kabbalistic thought to thought, speech, and action respectively), on Shabbos one should wear garments made from chai, while during the week one should wear garments made from tzomeach, plant life.

In Sefer HaMa’amarim 5672, Vol. 2, pp. 872-873, the Rebbe Rashab cites this in the name of the Mikdash Melech (a classic commentary on the Zohar written by Rabbi Shlomo Bazuglo).
In addition to the point the Rebbe makes that on Shabbos chassidim ought to wear a silk kapoteh, it appears clear and self-evident that the Rebbe is also making an implied statement that ... on Shabbos chassidim ought to davka wear a kapoteh, and not suffice with a suit.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Changing our surroundings

Sometimes we may choose to deal with unpleasant situations by withdrawing and thereby escaping from that environment. In the letter below, the Rebbe explains that if one is in a position of influence, he must not immediately withdraw when conflict arises; rather, he should persistently work toward fixing the problem in his current environment, albeit in a constructive manner.
... As for what you write concerning praying with a Minyan—this is one of the foundations [of Jewish observance]. It is understandable that the mundane talking that you hear in Shul disturbs you greatly. However, the solution to this is not to davven alone in your home; instead, you should use your influence, and the warmth with which Hashem has blessed you, to influence those around you to behave in Shul, which is a holy place, as one ought to behave in a holy place. When you speak to a Jew—and the core of every Jew [“pinteleh Yid”] always remains whole—and you speak to him with heartfelt words, ultimately you will succeed, and then the merit that will come to the community will be attributable to you.

Igros Kodesh, Vol. 9, p. 303.
Moreover, the HaYom Yom of 30 Adar I states that affecting ones environment is a defining quality of a chossid:
My father [the Rebbe Rashab] said, A chossid creates an environment. If he does not, he had better check his own baggage carefully, to see whether his own affairs are in order. The very fact that he fails to create an environment should make him as broken as a splinter. He must demand of himself: ‘What am I doing in this world?!’”

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Torah: A Body and a Soul

Torah: A Body and a Soul

Rabbi Y. Oliver

The holy Zohar (3:152b) states that the Torah consists of a body and a soul.

The Torah’s body is Nigleh (or Galya) de’Oiraysa, the “revealed” dimension of the Torah (also known as chitzoniyus HaTorah, the “external” dimension of the Torah). This is the field that discusses earthly realities and technical Mitzvah obligations, whether in the form of definitive rulings or abstract debate. It also includes more down-to-earth explanations of Tanach and related ethical teachings.

The Torah’s soul is Pnimiyus HaTorah, the “inner” dimension of the Torah (also known as Nistar de’Oiraysa—see here)—Kabbalah and Chassidus. It describes the mystical meanings that lie within the Mitzvah obligations, and more generally it describes Hashem’s greatness and absolute unity.

So if we are to learn Torah, we need to understand that both the Torah’s body and soul are vital, and though very different, complementary.

Likewise, our Mitzvah observance ought to consist of a body and a soul. The body consists of rigorous adherence to the halachic requirements of the Mitzvah, as outlined in Nigleh de’Oiraysa. Likewise, the soul consists of the inspiration of love and fear of Hashem that drives the person to perform the Mitzvah (see Tanya ch. 4) and profound grasp of the meaning of the Mitzvah (the Mitzvah’s “kavanah”) that accompanies one’s performance of it; these are developed through studying Pnimiyus HaTorah.

Pnimiyus HaTorah is widely regarded as an optional, peripheral adjunct of one’s Torah study. However, based on the Zohar’s statement that Pnimiyus HaTorah is to Nigleh de’Oiraysa as a soul is to a body, it becomes clear that the study of Pnimiyus HaTorah is indispensible. Just as a body cannot function as it should without a soul to animate it, so will Torah study restricted to Nigleh be dry and lifeless.

The same also holds for Mitzvah performance, as the Arizal famously puts it, “A Mitzvah performed without the proper intention is akin to a body without a soul” (Likutei Torah LeArizal, beg. Ekev; Shaloh, 1:249b; Tanya, ch. 38).

Conversely, one should not restrict oneself to study of Pnimiyus HaTorah and neglect the study of Nigleh, for a soul without a body, as lofty as it may be, cannot function in this world. We live in a world of souls in bodies and not disembodied souls. Torah study confined to Pnimiyus HaTorah alone is liable to make a person unstable and out of touch with his own physical needs and those of others. Likewise, since this realm of Torah stems from a level that transcends earthly limitations, exclusive study of Pnimiyus HaTorah will bring the person lose a sense of the boundaries of time and space, quite possible leading to a very unfortunate outcome.

Likewise, Mitzvah observance will be adversely affected by neglecting the study of Nigleh. Just as Hashem placed the soul in the body in order to enable us to perform physical Mitzvos, so will the person who neglects the study of Nigleh be lacking in his Mitzvah observance, for the requirements of Shulchan Aruch are very complex, and in order to fulfill the Mitzvos properly one must study “to know the Mitzvos that one should do and that one should not do.” One who neglects the study of Nigleh can certainly not go beyond the letter of the law in his observance, for “A boor is not sin-fearing, neither is an ignorant person pious” (Avos 2:5).

However, this is only to say that one should study both the inner and revealed dimensions of Torah regularly. The exact proportion to which they ought to be studied is not set in stone. It depends upon the individual and his intellectual, emotional, and spiritual needs.