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

Monday, September 20, 2010

Seraphim: Passionate Love for Hashem

Seraphim: Passionate Love for Hashem

Rabbi Y. Oliver

There are different types of angels, but the highest is the saraph (pl. seraphim). What are the seraphim?

The word saraph is etymologically related to the Hebrew word sereipha, burning up, for the seraphim are composed primarily of the element of fire. This means that their divine service involves becoming so heated up and passionate in their expression of love for Hashem that they burn up completely and cease to exist.

The reason that only the seraphim behave in this way is that they reside in the world of Beriah. Since in this world the Sefirah of Binah of Atzilus shines openly, all the levels in this world experience very profound Binah—intellectual grasp of Hashem’s greatness. This is also felt by the seraphim, and this causes them to become so excited that they burn up.

What do the seraphim comprehend, and why does it excite them? They grasp two levels, one after the other: The first is the divine light that shines into them in a way that they directly apprehend (“Hasogas HaMehus”). This light descends to their level, bringing them great pleasure, excitement, and joy, and sustains their existence, much as food sustains a person.

However, once the seraphim have enjoyed this divine revelation, they come to recognize that it is in fact severely limited and utterly incomparable to its source in Atzilus, which they comprehend in an indirect, abstract manner (“Yedias HaMetzius”).

The worlds of B’ya (Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah, the three spiritual “worlds” below Atzilus) are created from Malchus of Atzilus, the lowest of the Sefiros of Atzilus. However, the light that shines from there into B’ya undergoes tremendous contractions (“tzimtzumim”) before it descends into B’ya, such that it morphs into a fundamentally different and inferior state.

One analogy for this radical change is from a name. A person only needs a name so that other people can refer to him or call to him. But when a person is alone, a name is useless. On a deeper level, the superficiality of one’s name stems from the fact that it is related to the more external part of his soul, the part vested in a body. The essence of the soul, however, transcends the level of one’s name. This is also the reason that one soul can descend into the world in multiple incarnations, each time vested in a different body with a correspondingly different name.

This analogy is associated with the Sefirah of Malchus because the word Malchus literally means royalty, and the quality of royalty is closely associated with the monarch’s name. The reason for this is that the bond between a king and his subjects depends upon the king’s name. Even if the nation has never seen the king, and they often haven’t, they identify themselves as his subjects, and are even willing to give up their lives for him, all on account of their identifying with his name.

Likewise, the light that emerges from the Sefirah of Malchus of Atzilus is similar to a name in that it is only an external light, which is incomparable to the intensity of the light of Atzilus in its own right.

The seraphim comprehend, albeit on an abstract level, the sublime loftiness of the light of Atzilus, and the abject inferiority of the diminished light that they receive. They grasp it so well that they become so intensely consumed with a desire to attach themselves to the superior light of Atzilus that they become burnt up and cease to exist.

By reflecting upon the seraphim (and all the angels)particularly during the blessings of Kerias Shema, in which the angels and their worship of Hashem is discussedwe are able to imitate their feelings of love for Hashem, albeit on our incomparably inferior level.

Based on the Rebbe Rashab’s Sefer HaMa’amarim 5670, p. 232 
Cf. Etz Chaim, Sha’ar Penimiyus v’Chitzoniyus 13, and Malbim on Yechezkel 1:1.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Rebbe and Chossid: Imagining the Reunion

The Previous Rebbe once declared at a farbrengen:
Everyone should remind themselves of ten minutes in which he stood before my father [the Rebbe Rashab], and [consider] the way he is now, and that he will have to appear before my father [when Moshiach comes].
We can surely apply this statement to our current situation, after Gimmel Tammuz. To state the obvious, one of the main problems that we as chassidim face in our time is that we do not see the Rebbe physically. Yes, we are able to visit the Rebbe at his holy Ohel and bask in his physical presence. Yes, we can view pictures and videos, and with an ease and availability completely not possible even a decade ago, and we surely need to appreciate and make the most of this. Likewise, audio of the Rebbe speaking is more available than ever before. And despite it all, at the end of the day, we don’t see the Rebbe himself with our eyes of flesh.

Obviously, part of the interim solution to this problem is to remind ourselves constantly of the truth that the Rebbe taught us again and again when discussing the Previous Rebbe (and especially over the course of the year after the Previous Rebbe’s Histalkussee, for example, here) that a Rebbe never abandons his chassidim, and so we, too, know (see here) that the Rebbe davvens for us, blesses us, guides us, and leads us even now no less than before. In fact, in a sense he leads us even more than before, albeit in a hidden way.

Yet of course, all this is not enough. When the Rebbe is hidden from the chossid (due to our many sins), the chossid should not be satisfied with relating to the Rebbe in a hidden way, because this is not the way that the relationship of Rebbe and chossid ought to be. Rather, he should be filled with an intense desire to be physically reunited with the Rebbe.

The Rebbe himself has set this example for us, for he famously wished at the conclusion of his very first ma’amar (see here): “May we merit to see the [Previous] Rebbe, down here in a physical body and within our immediate reach, and he will redeem us.” Moreover, a chossid should regard it as his personal responsibility to bring this reunion about, as the Rebbe wrote to Reb Avrohom Parizh: “Reb Avrohom, we have to bring the Rebbe back” (Igros Kodesh, Vol. 4, p. 156).

But imagining, yearning, and praying to see the Rebbe again,
as important as they are, are not enough. Chassidim are bound to the Rebbe through an intense love (see here), and part of love is a desire to make ones beloved happy, and to avoid causing him or her pain. Thus, the desire to be reunited with the Rebbe should also bring us to Teshuvah, to change our behavior such that it conforms with the Rebbes instructions totally, for we realize that not only is the Rebbe pained now when we behave inappropriately (for he surely sees the way we are acting even now), but when we will at long last be reunited with the Rebbe (and it is only a matter of time, im yirtzeh Hashem), he will look at us and look through us and be reminded of exactly how we acted when he was hidden. And we will look back at him.

So lets imagine it, and ask ourselves fearlessly exactly what type of response we will deserve, as painful as that question may be.

We cannot escape the fact that whether the Rebbes response will be one of joyful pride or painful disappointment depends upon the way we choose to act now, in the moments before we are reunited. So lets act wisely and make sure we don’t, as they say, have “egg on our faces” when Moshiach comes.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pure performance of Mitzvos—through Hiskashrus

Reb Itche Der Masmid once used the following analogy to explain the necessity to maintain a relationship with a Rebbe:
When a sheep goes astray in the forest, it knows that it must make its voice heard so that its shepherd will find it and save it. Yet it also knows that crying out may enable carnivorous animals to identify its location and devour it. The animal is stuck, for if it does not cry out, it will remain lost.

The lesson from this is: Performing a Mitzvah may engender a certain sense of arrogance. However, if one doesn’t perform the Mitzvah, he faces an even more perilous option—neglecting to fulfill Hashem’s will.

The solution to this is “Seek Your servant” (Tehillim 119:176). One should seek a true servant of Hashem—the Rebbe—and turn to him. Then one is assured that he will be saved from the danger of arrogance that is associated with performing a Mitzvah.

Yiras Hashem Otzaro, p. 147.
This can apparently be explained in a straightforward manner. A Rebbe is in a constant state of total bittul (self-abnegation), in which his sense of self is only the sense of the G–dliness within him (see here). Thus, by maintaining Hiskashrus (bonding) with him, one is able to significantly connect with his level of bittul to Hashem, and thereby transcend the arrogance that performing the Mitzvah may otherwise cause.

Another related explanation may perhaps be that the reason that a person is able to feel arrogant in his performance of Mitzvos is that he feels distant from Hashem, and lacks a sense of the reality of Hashem’s presence. However, since the Rebbe “sees” G-dliness (see here), by bonding with him we too are able to sense the reality of Hashem’s presence in a very tangible manner (albeit not to anywhere near the degree that he has attained). This feeling humbles us, and so precludes any trace of arrogance.

(Concerning the ability that the Rebbe grants for one to perform Mitzvos in the most complete manner, see also here.)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Moshiach paradox: Preparing and praying

The Moshiach Paradox:
Preparing and Praying

Rabbi Y. Oliver

When Reb Itche Der Masmid would speak of the imminent arrival of Moshiach, he would say, “If only I had another fifteen years to prepare!” In other words, although he was confident that Moshiach would come immediately, since he felt that he wasn’t truly ready, he wished that he could have more time to prepare.

Yiras Hashem Otzaro, p. 144.
Chassidus Chabad teaches that everything a Jew does should be done in a way of pnimiyus, through full preparation, and so every chossid yearns that everything he does be done in a way of pnimiyus, and if it is not, he feels pained. So when he thinks of the coming of Moshiach, a part of him may thus legitimately desire that Moshiach’s coming be delayed so that he can prepare himself further.

However, at the same time, the one’s faculty of emunah will bring him to feel that Moshiach’s arrival is imminent. One feels this all the more now that the Rebbe has declared that “The time of your redemption has arrived!” and that “Ot, ot, kumt Moshiach! (Moshiach is coming very soon)!” Moreover, one davvens sincerely for Moshiach to come immediately because he senses the pain of the Shechinah and the Jewish people in exile. He yearns for the end of the concealment of G–dliness that exile brings, and for Hashem to be revealed in all His glory. He also yearns to be able to serve Hashem in the fullest manner possible—“According to the Mitzvah of Your will” (Mussaf liturgy)—for only when Moshiach comes will we be able to perform all the Mitzvos in the proper manner, and he yearns for the Jewish people as a whole to be able to serve Hashem in this way. 

These considerations override the personal wish that the exile be lengthened so that one can prepare more fully for Moshiach’s arrival. One willingly forgoes personal perfection for the sake of these infinitely greater concerns, and cries out “ad mosai?!”—how long?! Enough of this exile; Hashem, have mercy on us, and send Moshiach now!

When these two conflicting feelings are combined, one feels the intense desire to utilize every single remaining moment of the exile to prepare as much as possible for the coming of Moshiach, while simultaneously pleading that Moshiach come immediately, even if that means that Moshiach will arrive long before one has finished his personal preparation.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tashlich and Jewish Pride

Tashlich and Jewish Pride

Rabbi Y. Oliver

When the Previous Rebbe first came to Crown Heights in 1940, due to his physical frailty he would not walk to the nearby Botanical Gardens to perform the ritual of Tashlich; instead, he would go on one of the days before Yom Kippur, usually 8 Tishrei (a day especially associated with divine compassion). Each chossid would go to Tashlich separately on the day of Rosh Hashanah when it was convenient for them, or whenever they would go on the following days.

However, when the Rebbe came to Crown Heights the following year, he instructed that everyone walk together in a parade in double file, and sing niggunim (songs) the entire way there and back. It appears that Rebbe’s reason for this was that in those times there were Jews living in the entire area, including many non-religious ones, and this would inspire them. One of the songs that the Rebbe instructed they sing was “volt ich gehat der koiach,” which speaks about keeping Shabbos.

One of Reb Zalman Posner’s relatives told me the following story. In the forties, public displays of Yiddishkeit were unheard-of, and regarded as highly odd. So when the Rebbe first called for the chassidim to sing on the way to Tashlich, Reb Zalman Posner, then a young boy, felt very self-conscious and embarrassed walking with the parade of chassidim to Tashlich. So he was happy when the mashpia, Reb Shmuel Levitin, who was then an elderly chossid, asked Reb Zalman to accompany him on the way to Tashlich, because this meant that he would be lagging behind, and not have to walk with the parade.

On their way back, they walked past an area in which many not-yet-religious Jews lived, and a group of them were standing outside in their Yom Tov finery, but not wearing yarmulkehs. A man approached them and inquired about the reason for the singing. Reb Zalman hesitantly responded that they were singing in honor of the holiday. “Really?” the man said. “You should know that when I heard them singing, it ignited a flame within me.” Reb Zalman realized that Hashem was conveying to him the Rebbe’s wisdom in initiating public displays of Jewish pride.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Rebbe's role vis-à-vis his predecessors

A Rebbe's role vis-à-vis his predecessors

Rabbi Y. Oliver

On the one hand, the Rebbe is our Rebbe now, and the earlier Rebbeim are not; on the other, he is the continuation of his predecessors, who are all our Rebbeim now (see here). I would like to briefly explore the elements of this apparent contradiction (see here for an earlier post resolving this issue).

It would seem that a Rebbe (i.e., a Rebbe of Chabad, as this article is based on Chabad sources that discuss the role of Chabad Rebbeim) plays a number of interconnected roles vis-à-vis his predecessors:
  • a Rebbe teaches the chassidim in his generation the teachings of his predecessors, impresses upon them the relevance of the teachings of his predecessors, and encourages them to study his predecessors’ works (see Kuntres HaTefillah p. 11); this includes printing the works of his predecessors, as took place in earlier generations, and as we witness especially in our generation, in the Rebbe’s campaign to publish all the manuscripts of all his predecessors’ writings;
  • a Rebbe selects specific teachings from his predecessors upon which to lay extra emphasis over others, as per the needs of the time (ibid.);
  • a Rebbe takes the teachings of his predecessors and explains them further, so that the next generation, which is on a relatively lower spiritual level, can understand them (ibid.);
  • a Rebbe reveals profound teachings that were known but zealously hidden until his time, in order to bring Moshiach (see here);
  • a Rebbe doesn’t only teach and explain what was taught earlier, but he has the special ability to innovate new concepts in Chassidus that were perhaps not even consciously known to his predecessors (I was taught this, but I am still seeking a source for it);
  • a Rebbe reveals G–dliness in the world (especially through the Chassidus that he reveals), each Rebbe doing so progressively more than his predecessors and thereby drawing the Shechinah (Hashem’s Presence) ever closer to this world, until the seventh Rebbe, our Rebbe, reveals G–dliness fully in this world (see the Rebbe’s very first maamarToras Menachem 5711, Vol. 1, p. 195), with the coming of Moshiach.
I believe that especially in this dark time after Gimmel Tammuz, it is vital that we understand and internalize the above. This will imbue us with the motivation and passion to devote ourselves to studying and disseminating the teachings of all the previous Rebbeim, and especially those of the Rebbe, and implementing them in our daily lives, thereby bringing Moshiach now!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Unnoticed dollars and unscathed picture

I heard the following story from Yaakov Cohen of the Beis Yisroel neighborhood of Yerushalayim. He is from a Litvishe background, went to the Mir Yeshiva as a bochur, and still identifies as such

When visiting America in 5743, he visited Crown Heights and received dollars from the Rebbe. He has since left these dollars on open display in his parents’ home. Recently, while the family was away on a day trip, Arabs broke into their home and combed every millimeter of the house, stealing anything and everything that they could find of value. There was only one thing that they missed—the dollars of the Rebbe that were on open display!

This strikes me as very similar to the episode in India, where terrorists attacked the Beis Chabad, killing all there (may their blood be avenged) and devastating the entire building—but leaving a large picture of the Rebbe unscathed.

To me, the significance of this is that the Rebbe represents a level of holiness so sublime and powerful that no kelipos, forces of evil, can touch it.