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

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Chof Kislev: Overcoming the inner misnagid

Chof Kislev: Overcoming the inner misnagid

Rabbi Y. Oliver

The Yom Tov of Rosh Hashanah of Chassidus lasts for two days. Chassidim mark not only Yud-Tes Kislev, but also Chof (20) Kislev, and even refrain from reciting Tachanun on that day. What event occurred on Chof Kislev that is so significant that it warrants that this day be regarded as a day of liberation and celebration on a par with Yud-Tes Kislev?

On this day the Alter Rebbe, en route to his home, got stuck in the house of a misnagid who caused him tremendous pain through his callous and derogatory questions and challenges. Finally, after much searching, the chassidim found the Alter Rebbe and escorted him out.[1]

Thus, on Chof Kislev, we celebrate the fact that the Alter Rebbe was freed from the house of the misnagid. But how can being stuck for three hours, and in the home of a Jew, compare with suffering in prison for fifty-three days?

This demonstrates that for the Alter Rebbe, this experience was so painful that it was comparable, and in a sense even more difficult, than the imprisonment.

For when a Jew, chosen and elevated, opposes the forces of holiness, it is much worse than when a non-Jew does so.

What is the lesson from this?

Every one of us has two types of evil inclination: One that is comparable to a non-Jew[2]—the non-Jew within us, that seeks to entice us to commit various sins, G-d forbid. But then there is another evil inclination, one that is “Jewish.” It allows one to study Nigleh, to follow Shulchan Aruch, and even to follow various stringencies, but it insists that one do so as a misnagid. It resists studying Chassidus, and most of all, it resists the inner change that Chassidus can bring. It distracts the person in whatever way possible from taking the time to develop himself or herself as a chossid, and always has up his sleeve a sophisticated explanation for how something else takes priority. 

And even when the person does follow many practices in the path of Chassidus, this inner misnagid seeks to limits the extent of the involvement, to limit the constant inner growth that is a vital part of being a healthy chossid. For some, it entices the person to study only avodah’dike maamarim (those that focus on personal growth) and not haskalah’dike maamarim (which focus on intellectually grasping Hashem’s greatness). Others suffer from the opposite malady. For some, it encourages them to davven, but not learn; to others it does the opposite. And so on.

Chof Kislev shows how much the inner misnagid is a part of our inner exile, and what a great accomplishment it is, with Hashems help, to overcome the inner misnagid, and thereby accomplish a true inner redemption, thereby bringing the true and complete redemption for the entire Jewish people and for the entire world.

[1] For the full story, see Beis Rebbi, Heilmann, (Hebrew edition), p. 66.
[2]  Cf. Shabbos 105b.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A chossid is a frummer

The term chossid predates the Chassidic movement. Literally it means means “a pious Jew.” The Talmud [Niddah 17a] identifies the chossid as the highest level of divine service. This is discussed in connection with the prohibition of allowing one’s cut nails to fall on the floor, as for Kabbalistic reasons, this may cause a pregnant woman who steps on them to miscarry. A wicked person casts away his nail clippings, not caring about the damage his carelessness may cause to others. A righteous person buries the clippings, while a chossid burns them. He does so despite the Talmudic warning that destroying a part of one’s body may have an adverse spiritual effect on a person. He would rather bring upon himself certain damage than allow the remote possibility that the nails he cut may at some point be unearthed and come to harm others.

This is also one of the qualities of a chossid in the sense of a member of the Chassidic movement. Chassidus comes to promote a higher standard of observance, and so in addition to all the other aspects of being a chossid, a chossid is devoutly religious. Not only is he particular to follow everything in Shulchan Aruch, but he strives to go “beyond the letter of the law.” And he does so because the path of Chassidus infuses him with passion in his service of Hashem. Since the chossid yearns to come close to Hashem, he is constantly on the lookout for new ways and opportunities to draw yet closer, even if it involves spending time, effort, and money.

Examples of the above include following Chassidic customs that involve a stricter standard of observance: wearing two pairs of Tefillin; woolen Tzitzis; a full, untrimmed beard; and scores of other customs too numerous to mention.

By the same token, a chossid is extra careful to avoid anything that may somehow involve or remotely lead to sin.

The Chabad chossid in particular attains this sensitivity by studying the lengthy explanations in Chassidus of Hashem’s greatness and reflecting upon them, thus infusing him with a sensitivity to G–dliness and a desire to come as close to Hashem as possible. Since he knows that every extra observance constitutes a chance to come yet closer to Hashem, he seeks them. Conversely, this same sensitivity makes him naturally all the more careful to avoid sin, by undertaking chumros, extra precautions against sin (provided that doing so doesn’t simultaneously create an unacceptable leniency in some other area).

Thus, one of the answers to the oft-asked question, “What is a chossid?”  is: “A chossid is a frummer (one who is very religious).”

Based on Kuntres Inyanah Shel Toras HaChassidus, p. 1.

Holy vs. unholy kindness

Holy vs. unholy kindness

Rabbi Y. Oliver

According to Chassidus, no emotion is inherently good or bad. Not all severity is bad, and not all kindness is good (see here). This article will discuss Chessed (kindness), and show how to differentiate between Chessed of holiness and Chessed of Kelipah.

Chessed of Kelipah is driven by self-interest. It may stem from a lust for honor, power, influence, fame, or praise. Yishmael epitomized this kind of Chessed.

In contrast, Chessed of holiness stems from a feeling of bittul (humility). A humble person feels completely unworthy of his prosperity, and thus feels an urge to give away his possessions to others, whom he regards as far more notable and deserving of having such resources than he.

Hence Avraham, who epitomized Chessed of holiness (see here), declared of himself, “I am but dust and ashes.”[1] It was this feeling that drove him to be kind to everyone, even the primitive pagan desert nomads.

This difference also manifests itself in the source of the kindness. Since Chessed of Kelipah is selfish, it will only motivate one to give when it is convenient. Once all one’s own needs and desires have been provided for, if excess funds remain, the person may be willing to donate them to charitable causes instead of using the money to indulge in a life of luxury (and even then, only with a selfish intent, as mentioned).

In contrast, one who operates according to the Chessed of Kedushah is not only willing to forgo luxuries; he is even willing to give up his own necessities, if he sees that others desperately need them.

One should constantly introspect and examine one’s motives in sharing with others to determine whether they are truly worthy, and stem from Kedushah, or they are spurred by self-interest, and stem from Kelipah.

Charity need not involve the physical; one can also give spiritual charity, as our sages say: 
“The only rich person is one wealthy in [Torah] knowledge; the only poor person is one poor in [Torah] knowledge.”[2]This is when the more spiritually “wealthy” and blessed person shares his or her knowledge of Torah and Mitzvos, Chassidus, and proper conduct with others.

But unfortunately, spiritual charity can also be driven by ulterior motives. Although one is conveying spirituality, one may be motivated, at least on the external, conscious level, by an unworthy desire. 

Likewise, one can give in a selfish manner, with a feeling of superiority to the recipient, and/or with the intent of some kind of personal gain. Or one can give in the opposite way, out of a sense of humility and unworthiness, and a sense that others deserve this wisdom more than oneself.

Here, too, one’s motives will be reflected in the way in which one gives. A selfish giver of the spiritual will only ever be willing to share with others once he has satisfied his own legitimate spiritual needs. If he then finds that some time and energy remain that he can devote to assisting others, he is willing to do so. However, he will never help others at the expense of his personal growth.

Needless to say, it is foolish to take this concept to an extreme and completely neglect one’s personal growth because one is so preoccupied with helping others. This is analogous to a philanthropist who gives away all his money to charity and must then turn to becoming a beggar. Rather, it means that the person is willing, from time to time, as needed and appropriate under the circumstances, to forgo his own spiritual necessities when he sees that others desperately need his guidance.

[1] Bereishis 18:27.
[2] Nedarim 41a.

Based on Toras Menachem 5712, Vol. 4, pp. 183-185.

Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for (at least) $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeit of a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

19 Kislev: Rosh Hashanah for Chassidus

It’s Yud-Tes Kislev! Gut Yom Tov! I take this opportunity to express my best wishes to all my friends, all chassidim, and all Jews: l’shonoh tovoh b’limmud haChassidus uvedarkei haChassidus tikoseivu veseichoseimu—may we be written and sealed for a good year in the study and ways of Chassidus (I discuss the difference between the two here).
The Rebbeim refer to Yud-Tes Kislev as Rosh Hashanah, and it’s not just meant as a cute metaphor. Chassidus teaches that on Rosh Hashanah the heavenly court decides all the blessings that the person will receive in the coming year. The degree to which the person is blessed depends upon the extent to which he accepts the yoke of divine sovereignty, kabolas ol Malchuso yisboreich, on Rosh Hashanah.
So, too, in the case of Yud-Tes Kislev, which we are taught is “Rosh Hashanah for
Chassidus.” This title comes to teach us that our success in all areas related to Chassidus stems from the divine blessings bestowed upon us on this day. This in turn depends upon our devotion to accepting the yoke of being a chossid, i.e., committing whole-heartedly and unreservedly to internalizing all the teachings and implementing all the guidance of our Rebbeim, such that we will live our lives in the way that they prayed for and yearned for.
Put differently, we need to ask ourselves two main questions:
1. What exactly does it mean to be a Chabad
chossid? What does he represent, and how is he expected to behave? What practices and standards are expected of him?
Some basic answers to this question: In-depth study of
Chassidus; Avodas HaTefillah in order to internalize the Chassidus one learns and attain true ahavah v’yirah, love and fear of Hashem, and ahavas Yisrael, love of one’s fellow Jew; spreading Yiddishkeit in general, especially through the holy Mivtzo’im (Mitzvah campaigns); spreading Chassidus to every single Jew; more recently we have been told to study and teach others about Moshiach and the redemption, and spread the Rebbe’s message that the redemption is imminent. Then there are various other instructions of the Rebbeim that are too numerous to mention.
2. Are we truly committed? Are we “walking the walk” and doing the things expected of us? And even if we aren’t doing them to the fullest extent, are we taking them seriously? Are they a priority? Are they constantly in our thoughts, or are they an afterthought? Is our commitment and
chassidim real, through and through, or is it wishy-washy? Do we behave as chassidim should no matter what our environment and what our company, or do we say to ourselves subconsciously, “Here I am a chossid, but there I’m not”? If we were stranded on a desert island, would we still act as chassidim just the same?
The answers to these questions naturally depend upon one’s personal situation. The common factor, however, is the need to make a
cheshbon nefesh, an unflinchingly honest self-examination, so that we may know in which areas to improve. This then leads to hachlotos tovos, good resolutions to improve in whatever areas require fixing, and/or to advance yet further in the areas in which one already excels.
Gut Yom Tov

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Chassidus: Study and ways

We will soon celebrate the chassidishe Yom Tov of Yud-Tes Kislev, when we wish one another to be written and sealed for a good year in the study and ways of Chassidus. What is the meaning of this distinction? Below is a simple example of the difference between the study of Chassidus and the ways of Chassidus, and the way that they go hand in hand (on this topic, see also here).
The Previous Rebbe once taught:

G–d runs the world by Hashgacha Pratis, personal Divine Providence. Thus, if someone loses a two-ruble coin and experiences pain, he is a fool. By the same token, if one earns well and therefore straightens his posture [i.e., feels arrogance], he is also a fool. For everything occurs by Hashgacha Pratis. G–d runs the world, and we can rely on Him to guide us for the good and with precise deliberation. We need only ask that this too become manifest in the form of visible, revealed blessings.

Once, in a time of distress, great Jewish leaders convened to seek a solution. A simple Jew entered and said: Why are you worrying—G–d is our Father!

Shemu’os V’Sipurim, Vol. 3, p. 116.
In this case, the study of Chassidus involves thoroughly grasping the principle of Hashgachah Pratis as taught in depth in Chassidus.

The ways of Chassidus, however, consist of the effort to bring this awareness to affect one’s emotions, to the point that it informs one’s responses in daily life.

As explained at length in the Rebbe Rashab’s Kuntres HaTefillah and other sources in Chabad teachings, intellectual knowledge can only be truly internalized through the discipline of Avodas HaTefillah, in-depth meditation in prayer according to the Chabad tradition. So as far as cultivating sensitivity to Hashgachah Pratis is concerned, in-depth meditation on this concept before or during prayer will bring the person to sense this awareness to the point that he is neither distraught at material loss, nor elated at material gain. And even if he does not actually attain this goal, he will come ever closer to it.

May we merit to suceed in our efforts in both the study and the ways of Chassidus in the coming chassidishe year.

Monday, November 22, 2010

How the Avos Prepared Us to Receive the Torah

How the Avos Prepared
Us to Receive the Torah

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

Every child who learns Chumash knows the story of the beginnings of the Jewish people. The first Jew was Avraham, followed by Yitzchak and Yaakov, who altogether comprise the Avos, the forefathers, of the Jewish people. And yet despite their lofty status as our Avos, and despite their observance of the Torah even before it was commanded,[1] they did not receive the Torah at Mount Sinai. Why wasn’t the Torah commanded to them?

Now, our Sages state that “The Avos were a chariot [for Hashem].”[2] This is explained to mean that the light of Atzilus (the highest spiritual world) shone into our world through their souls, for their souls were souls of Atzilus. In particular, each of their souls acted as a conduit for a different Sefirah (divine attribute) of Atzilus, to the extent that in a sense (because of course, the Sefiros themselves are utterly spiritual entities), they personified these Sefiros:[3]
  • Avraham personified Chessed, kindness of Atzilus
  • Yitzchak personified Gevurah, severity of Atzilus
  • Yaakov personified Tiferes, beauty of Atzilus
uAlthough this sounds wondrous, what did it accomplish? Our sages compare the Torah and Mitzvos that the Avos observed to an insubstantial fragrance.[4] Although the Avos studied Torah before it was given and kept the entire Torah, all this was done of their own initiative, as an optional undertaking. Only later, when the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, did Torah observance (beyond the Seven Noahide Laws) become a strict obligation for every single Jew.

To explain further, let us digress to discuss a general concept in Chasidic philosophy. There are two directions of influence: When the initiative comes from below, and rises upward; and the opposite, when it comes from above, and descends downward.

Each of these modes of influence has both an advantage and a disadvantage.

When the one below strives to ascend, this refines him in a much deeper and more lasting manner. However, he is only able to rise as high as his limited strength can reach.

Conversely, when the higher one reveals himself to the lower one, since this revelation occurs on the terms of the higher one, the quality and intensity of the revelation is far more powerful. Yet for the very same reason, since the recipient has not truly earned the revelation, it does not last.

Likewise, the ultimate goal of all that came before the revelation at Sinai was for the Jewish people to serve Hashem “from below to above.” However, in order for this to succeed, it had to be preceded by a divine revelation “from above to below.”

This is comparable to the reaction of an average student when a world-class genius attempts to impart to him a phenomenally profound lesson. The student finds the concept so mind-blowing that he enters into a state of shock and speechlessness. Although at this time he is completely unfit to assimilate the concept, this experience does accomplish something. When the teacher repeats the lesson on another occasion, this time the student is no longer flabbergasted. With the novelty gone, the teacher can now go about the lengthy process of explaining the concept to the student.

The Avos represented the first stage in the process. They revealed G–dliness “from above to below,” and this began from the relationship of their souls to their bodies. They never needed to engage in the arduous task of refining their bodies, for their bodies were innately refined to the point that they were fit vessels for the intense divine light of Atzilus that shone in their souls.

In light of the above, we can understand the Alter Rebbe’s words concerning the above statement of our sages, “The Avos were a chariot [to Hashem].” On this he comments that “All their limbs were holy and distant from worldly matters, and they acted as a vehicle for Hashem’s will alone throughout their lives.”[5] This means that the souls of the Avos were so lofty that they illuminated their bodies from above.

The impact of the Avos on the outside world was of the same kind. The entire task of the Avos in the world was to shower G–dliness upon it from above, not to refine its gross physicality from below. Thus, they were not endowed with the capacity to infuse holiness into the physical, and so the G–dliness that the Avos brought into the world did not remain in it. This is the reason that they were not commanded to observe the Mitzvos.

However, their spiritual accomplishments paved the way for their descendants to receive the Torah. Through the Torah, the Jewish people were granted the ability to refine the world “from below to above” by their souls refining their bodies, and their performance of Mitzvos refining and infusing holiness into the world.

For further explanation of the topic of “paving the way,” see Our Rebbeim Paved the Way.

[1] Genesis 32:5
[2] Bereshis Rabba 47:6.
[3] Pardes 22:4. Sefer HaMa’amarim 5689, p. 97.
[4] Shir Hashirim Rabah 1:3.
[5] Tanya ch. 34.

Based on Sefer HaSichos 5688, pp. 18-21. Sefer HaMa’amarim 5678, pp. 168-169.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Humility and Appreciating Others

Humility and Appreciating Others

Rabbi Y. Oliver

When a person lacks a true awareness of Hashem (as discussed in the previous post here), he is selfish even as he serves Hashem. Part of this selfishness is a kind of vanity. Not vanity that necessarily involves preening in front of the mirror, but an excessive preoccupation with oneself, a kind of spiritual narcissism. One unfortunate consequence of this feeling is a lack of appreciation for others, and a deficient capacity to love them.

We relate to others from the outside-in. First we notice their external character traits, and then, with time and effort, we become familiar with the deeper ones as well.

Every Jew possesses fine character traits, whether apparent and hidden. (Everyone also has both apparent and hidden negative character traits, but that is not the focus of this article.) As the Talmud states: “There are three indications that one belongs to this nation [the Jewish people]: [they are] modest, compassionate, and generous” (Yevamos 77a).

A narcissistic person is so smitten with his own imagined virtues and preoccupied with satisfying his own wishes and desires that his perception of others is warped. Part of the reason for this is that his arrogance leads to laziness and cockiness, and so he is not motivated to go to the trouble to view others in a true light. Instead, he jumps to conclusions based on a cursory assessment of them. He notices only their faults, which grab his attention immediately. This leads him to dismiss them and want to disassociate himself from them.

Furthermore, since he is filled with a sense of his own importance, he subconsciously regards others as a threat to his ego. This insecurity spurs him to seek their faults, and blinds him to their virtues.

In contrast, a wiser, humbler person, who is permeated with a sense of Hashem’s presence, will see the world in a true, objective light. Aware of the Talmud’s words that every Jew possesses fine character traits, he does not dismiss his fellow Jews as worthless, even when he sees only negative character traits. Rather, he continues interacting with them, secure in the belief that they possesses fine character traits that have simply not yet come to the fore, and committed to waiting patiently and investing the necessary effort to uncover these hidden treasures.

Adapted from the Previous Rebbe’s Sefer HaMa’amarim 5689, p. 88.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Da'as: Developing G-d-consciousness

Binah versus Da’as
We are warned: “Beware, lest you forget Hashem your G–d!”[1] What does it mean to forget Hashem, and what does it mean to remember Him?

Forgetting implies that despite intellectual knowledge and acceptance of a belief, it slips one’s mind and fall away from conscious awareness. This is one’s state when he has only reached Binah, abstract intellectual comprehension. He knew, but he forgot.

In contrast, Da’as means that what the person recognizes intellectually to be true remains in the forefront of his consciousness even after he has finished figuring it out in his mind, and this then spills over into his emotions, and from there to his behavior, which consist of thought, speech, and action.

There are several verses that express this concept. It is written, “Know (veyadata) today, and take it to your heart, that G–d is the L–rd, in the heavens above and on the earth below, there is no other.”[2] Similarly, King Shlomo was exhorted, “Know (da) the G–d of your fathers, and serve Him with a complete heart.”[3] In both these verses, expressions of Da’as are followed by a reference to the service of the heart. Chassidus interprets this as indicating that only through attaining Da’as can one transform one’s emotions, and attain true love and awe of Hashem.

The faculty of Da’as specifically means internalizing one’s relationship with Hashem, along the lines of the verse, “The ox knows (yoda) its master.”[4] Just as the ox feels a deep-rooted bond with its master, so does the person with Da’as attain a fully internalized and integrated consciousness of his MasterHashem.

The fragility of Da’as
However, the state of Da’as is fragile. The vicissitudes of life, and in particular the preoccupation with earning a livelihood, can easily distract the person and pull him out of a Da’as state, even if he was until then a devout servant of Hashem. This is called hesech haDa’as, a distraction from Da’as.

The detriment of lack of
Da’as is particularly acute when one prospers. The businessman is so caught up in his exuberance at his riches, and in his craving to amass yet more wealth, that he no longer feels Hashems presence. Once Hashem is not on his mind, on some level he attributes his financial success to his own supposedly superior business acumen. He declares, “My strength and the might of my hand has accumulated this wealth for me.”[5]

So losing Da’as means losing the sense of awareness of Hashem’s presence and the concomitant sense of subservience to Him in one’s life. This is liable to bring the person to degenerate further and further, until he can succumb to the temptation to sin. Of this it is written: “[The people of] Yisrael did not know (yoda) ... My nation did not think.” This is followed by, Oh, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity ... ”[6] This does not mean that lack of Da’as alone makes the nation sinful and laden with iniquity. Rather, it means that lack of Da’as will naturally lead to sin.

Thus, the Torah warns us: “Be careful, lest you forget Hashem your G–d!” Don’t allow yourself to slip from a state of G–d-consciousness. Your life as a Jew depends on it.

[1] Devarim 8:11.
[2] ibid. 4:39.
[3] I Divrei HaYamaim 28:9.
[4] Yeshayah 1:3.
[5] Devarim 8:17.
[6] Yeshayah 1:3-4.

Adapted from the preface to the Mitteler Rebbes Sha’ar HaEmunah, pp. 1-2.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In light of the recent tragedies

In light of the terrible tragedies among the Chabad community in recent weeks, I would like to draw my readers' attention to this post: Tragedies lo alenu: A goad to Teshuva May we be comforted with the coming of Moshiach now!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The meaning of "Ohr Ein Sof"

Before the tzimtzum, the “Ohr Ein Sof,” Hashem’s infinite light, shone. (The tzimtzum, lit. “contraction,” was the concealment of that light.) Some have understood “Ohr Ein Sof” to mean “The light of Ein Sof,” with Ein Sof referring to Hashem, the Infinite One. However, this translation is mistaken.

First, Hashem is more than a being that has no endHe has no beginning. He is a primordial being, or a kadmon—a being that never began to exist, but always existed.

Rabbi Moshe Cordovero taught: “Every primordial being is eternal, but not every eternal being is primordial.” Normally, a non-kadmon, i.e., a being that begins at a certain point, must come to an end. However, an entity can break this rule and exist eternally without being a kadmon, for it can be eternal by divine will. Its eternality is then not inherent, but a product of divine “intervention.”

However, if something is a kadmon then it is necessarily also eternal, for something that always existed is not subject to change, and cannot therefore cease to exist at a certain point.

Since eternality does not necessarily indicate primordiality, while primordiality does necessarily include eternality, it is a much greater praise to say that a being has no beginning than to say that it has no end. This is the first reason that it is incorrect to that the “Ein Sof” in “Ohr Ein Sof” refers to Hashem’s Essence, for Hashem’s Essence is not just unending, it is unbeginning.

Second, describing something as unlimited implies that it is able to extend and reveal itself, albeit infinitely. However, Hashem’s Essence transcends all aspects of extension and revelation, and thus it is incorrect to refer to His Essence as Ein Sof.

Rather, the expression “Ohr Ein Sof” means that the ohr itself is Ein Sof.

Adapted from Sefer HaMa’amarim 5664, p. 30 ff.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The joy of Rosh Chodesh Kislev

The Joy of Rosh Chodesh Kislev

Rabbi Y. Oliver

Chassidim have traditionally celebrated Rosh Chodesh Kislev with tremendous joy. But what exactly is the reason for the joy of Rosh Chodesh Kislev? Is it that the Rebbe recovered? That was definitely a significant element, but still not the entire reason, for although the Rebbe left the office in 770 where he had been undergoing medical treatment, the Rebbe had not yet fully recovered. Indeed, the Rebbe never recited the traditional blessing one recites after recovering from an illness.

Rather, ever since
Shemini Atzeres, although the chassidim hadn’t seen the Rebbe and so they were unable to connect with him directly, they knew that the Rebbe was still with them. Yet knowing this wasn’t enough; their greatest yearning was to see the Rebbe again. And when they did, their joy was so great that of their own initiative they decided to celebrate that day every year, and eat a special meal of thanks to Hashem, both for granting the Rebbe recovery, and for enabling the chassidim to see the Rebbe again.

We can also learn the intense yearning that a
chossid should have to see his Rebbe from the example that the Rebbe set for us at the conclusion of his first ma’amar (and especially according to the principle of 
he rules about himself”) when he wished: “Ve’nizkeh zehn zich mit’n Reb’n doh lematoh in a guf, u’lematoh mei’asoroh tefochim, v’hu yigaleinu“may we merit to see the [Previous] Rebbe down here in a body, and in our immediate reality, and he will redeem us.”

In our current situation, we are still waiting for our own 
Rosh Chodesh Kislev. We know that the Rebbe is with us, showering us with blessings, guidance, and encouragement, now just as before Gimmel Tammuz. Those who are attuned—not because they possess divine inspiration, but because they choose to study the Rebbe’s teachings diligently and devote themselves to fulfilling the Rebbe’s instructions—sense these blessings, guidance, and encouragement in their personal lives. We witness the tremendous expansion and development of the Rebbe’s work and message throughout the world, and we are confident that the Rebbe is guiding us in our mission to prepare the world for Moshiach.

Yet we are not satisfied. “
Retzoneinu liros es malkeinu”—“we want to see our king.” And we draw strength and hope from the miracles that Hashem showed us then: Just as the Rebbe was hidden, and the chassidim were strong in their faith and trust in Hashem, and worked hard to make themselves worthy of seeing the Rebbe again, and were ultimately successful, so can it be for us, and so will it be for us. May it occur immediately!

Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for (at least) $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeit of a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The purpose of creation: Nullifying the self to Hashem

The process of creation involved Hashem creating beings that feel a sense of independent existence from Him. He accomplished this through an extensive process of self-concealment, for divine revelation and a sense of selfhood on the part of His creations are inversely proportional: The greater the divine revelation, the less His creations can feel selfhood; conversely, the greater the concealment of the G–dly light, the more the creations feel independent.

Although Hashem intended to create a world that feels separate and distant from Him, the purpose of the world’s creation is the exact opposite—that the beings He created nullify themselves to Him.

In Chassidic terminology, Hashem transformed the ayin (“nothing”) into a yesh (“something”) so that the yesh would struggle and succeed to turn itself back into ayin—albeit not fully, but partially. This process is known as bittul hayesh, “the nullification of ego.”

The ego in us is the evil inclination, also known as the Bestial Soul. It makes us feel self-focused and even selfish. When we have to struggle to submit to Hashem despite the fact that the Bestial Soul pulls us in the other direction, we make our inner yesh into ayin; i.e., we nullify it to Hashem, and in so doing, the purpose of the world’s creation is fulfilled.

Adapted from Sefer HaMa’amarim 5643, p. 17.

Dedicated in the merit of a speedy release for the captives Yonasan ben Malka (Jonathan Pollard), Jacob Ostreicher (Yaakov Yehuda ben Shaindel), Alan Gross (Aba Chonah ben Hava Chana), Sholom Mordechai Halevi ben Rivka (Sholom Rubashkin), and Zeva Rochel bas Chaya (Wendy Weiner Runge).

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Our Rebbeim Paved the Way

Our Rebbeim Paved the Way

Rabbi Y. Oliver

The Rebbe related[1] that Rav Yosef Karo once struggled for a long time over a very complex and difficult halachic question, until at long last he reached a resolution. Not long afterward, while sitting in the study hall, he overheard a student of average intelligence study that very topic, pose that very question, and immediately and effortlessly reach the exact solution that Rav Yosef Karo had invested so much time and effort to attain!

Rav Yosef Karo was disheartened. “How could it be,” he wondered, “that I had to struggle for so long, and this beginner grasped the solution immediately?”

When he approached his teacher, the Alshich (or, some say, the Arizal), his teacher explained that on the contrary, through Rav Yosef Karo’s grueling exertion, he had brought the topic down into the world in a way that made it accessible to everyone. This enabled even that average student to arrive at Rav Yosef Karo’s solution with ease!

Sometimes we express wonder at, and perhaps even doubt, our ability to accomplish what the Rebbeim have demanded of us, and this leads us to neglect to strive to implement these directives. Several examples that seem unfortunately prevalent: inspiring others to adopt observance of Yiddishkeit and the ways of Chassidus; studying Chassidus and reaching a truly in-depth understanding of it; pleading sincerely of Hashem to send Moshiach; and publicizing the Rebbe’s message that Moshiach’s arrival is imminent, and therefore we ought to prepare for his coming.

It should be obvious to every chossid that when a Rebbe instructs us to do something, he is not merely sharing with us an idea that he understands intellectually, or has learnt from his experience. He is revealing to us the spiritual reality that he perceives, that now is the time for a certain teaching to be revealed, or for a certain campaign to be launched, and the like.

However, this story expresses an even deeper level of the Rebbe’s powers. The Rebbe doesn’t just see the reality, he makes it. When a Rebbe acts in a certain way, it alters the fabric of the cosmos, making that behavior easier and more accessible for regular folks, for whom such behavior would have been extremely difficult, if not unattainable.

On numerous occasions, the Rebbe described this process as “paving the way.” The analogy of paving can be understood simply. It is perilous to travel through a wild forest, for one may lose one’s way, trip and become hurt, be assaulted by carnivorous animals, or simply encounter an insurmountable obstacle and be forced to turn back. However, when someone comes with a bulldozer and paves a way through the forest, then everyone can pass through with ease.

Similarly, as chassidim, it is inaccurate to define the role of the Rebbeim as merely prescribing and planning out for us our derech (way) in serving Hashem. (It should be noted that although the individual prescription may vary for each individual—see herethe general prescription is the same.) Rather, they have themselves paved the way for us to do it, enabling us to accomplish heights of devotion otherwise unattainable to us. Our focus is thus not on trying to figure out how to serve Hashem, but on faithfully implementing the prescription we have been given, confident in the knowledge that we are not acting with our own strength, but with that provided from Hashem, via the efforts of our Rebbeim.

(On this topic, see the end of the Rebbe’s first maamar here, towards the top of the page.)

[1] See Kesser Shem Tov #256.