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

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Kedushah vs. Kelipah

In general, there are two kinds of spiritual energies: holiness, or Kedushah, and unholiness, or Kelipah (sometimes referred to as the “Samech-mem”). These are inherently spiritual realities that exist beyond and independently of the physical world. As such, they are not directly perceivable by regular mortals, whose domain is the physical world.

Everything physical depends upon a certain spiritual energy for it to exist as it does. It is thus taught, “There is no blade of grass down below that does not have an angel on high that strikes it and tells it to grow.”[1] So there are two kinds of physical beings in the world: Those that receive their spiritual sustenance from holiness, or Kedushah, and those that receive it from unholiness, or Kelipah. There is no middle ground, and so any physical being that is not holy necessarily receives its sustenance from Kelipah.[2]

To restate it, Kedushah and Kelipah involve two parts, respectively: there is the spiritual energy, and then the physical entities in the world that draw their sustenance from that energy.[3]

The forces of Kelipah possess a tremendous amount of energy, energy that sustains all the beings in the world that draw their sustenance from it, from all the four kingdoms of domem (inorganic things), tzomei’ach (plant life), chai (the animal kingdom), and medabeir (mankind). However, their energy is not their own—it is derived exclusively from holiness. Hence, the
existence of Kelipah and those physical things that receive their sustenance from it, is not a true existence, and so they are compared to darkness, which has no substance.[4]

This is also why the Kelipah is compared to the gnat, whose entire existence is derived from sucking life from other creatures, and which lacks any capacity of its own to give.[5] Similarly, the Kelipah is compared to the leech,[6] whose life depends upon sucking blood from its host.

Likewise, the Kelipah receives a certain minimum amount of sustenance from Kedushah that enables it to maintain its existence. However, the Kelipah is not satisfied with this; it greedily yearns to boost its strength as much as it can. Since it lacks any energy of its own, its only way of growing is by drawing extra energy from Kedushah, which it accomplishes by preying on those who draw their sustenance from Kedushah.

The Kelipah sucks this extra energy from Kedushah by enticing the Jew to violate one of the 365 negative commandments.[7]


[1] Bereshis Rabbah 10:6.
[2] Tanya ch. 6.
[3] Cf. ibid. ch. 24, beg.
[4] Ibid. ch. 29.
[5] Ibid. ch. 24.
[6] Toldos Avraham Chaim, ch. 9.
[7] Tanya chs. 4, 37.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Yiddishkeit and Chassidus: For our own benefit

Original painting by Chana Rivka Hawkins

Someone once wrote to the Rebbe asking for permission to be “released” from the Rebbe’s directive to recite the daily Tehillim and study the daily portion of Tanya. The Rebbe responds:
You write in your letter that you are so overloaded with learning commitments that you are only careful to study the daily portion of Chumash with Rashi, but you do not recite the Tehillim as it is split up into the days of the month, or the daily study portion from the Tanya. You ask if you can be released from these two latter requirements.

I am surprised at you, for these study portions should not be kept as a favor to someone else, but for your own benefit. In this they are similar to all matters of Torah and Mitzvos, which are for the benefit of the person who studies Torah and observes the Mitzvos. Thus, it follows that being released from adhering to these study portions also “releases” one from the positive outcome that these study portions bring.

Igros Kodesh, Vol. 14, pp. 288-289.
A not-so-amusing story is told. Once a not-so-bright truck driver came to a bridge that had a sign that said: Warning! Trucks above eight feet high must not go further!” Knowing that his truck was nine feet high, the truck driver looked to the right and to the left, carefully searching for any observers, or a camera. Once he was sure that no one was looking, he pressed his foot down on the accelerator ...

Some people have a certain attitude (and perhaps we all have it to some extent) that since Torah and Mitzvos are a duty from Hashem (and they are indeed), Hashem is asking us to do them for Him, and not really for ourselves. The consequence of this is that when we feel up to doing things for Hashem, we are careful to keep the Mitzvos, but when we are not in the mood, our observance is lacking.

When we dig deeper, this attitude to observance holds a shocking implication. It conceives of Hashem as imposing restrictions and obligations on us in order to satisfy some sort of selfish whim of His, without really caring about the burden and difficulty that these strictures create.

However, nothing could be further from the truth. Hashem only gave us the Mitzvos “in order to refine the creations” (Bereishis Rabbah 44:1), to elevate and refine us and bring us to our perfection. Thus, every Mitzvah performed elevates a different limb of the body and the faculty of the soul associated with it; full performance thus elevates the entire body and soul (Tanya ch. 4).

Similarly, some who technically identify with the Chassidic community also subconsciously regard studying Chassidus and observing Chassidic customs as an act of extra piety in which we are essentially doing Hashem a favor, or doing the Rebbeim of Chassidus a favor, and losing out personally.

Again, nothing could be further from the truth. The Rebbeim taught Chassidus and Chassidic customs (e.g., the study of ChitasChumash, Tehillim, and Tanya, as mentioned above) because they sought to reveal special, priceless methods (see here) of refining and elevating our souls and bringing them to perfection. Earlier generations were not privy to these methods, and yet we, although we are far less worthy than they, have been showered and spoiled with an endless treasure-trove of these teachings.

Moreover, these teachings contain an elixir of spiritual life (see here) to help us survive and even thrive despite the intense, doubled, and redoubled darkness at the end of the exile (see here). Choosing to abstain from studying Chassidus or following its ways is choosing to deprive one’s Neshamah of the benefits that it could have gained from doing so, and to deprive one’s body of the material blessings that this would have brought in its wake.

Using the analogy of medicine above, Torah and Mitzvos in general and the path of Chassidus in our generation, are the medicine that Hashem prescribed for our souls. Regarding them as a burden to be done in order to do a favor to Hashem or to those who have been sent to teach his word, the Rebbeim, is akin to a patient who refuses to do his doctor a “favor” and swallow the medicine that the doctor prescribed for him.

The childish immaturity of this attitude with respect to physical health is blatant; let us learn this lesson in connection with spiritual health as well.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Chassidus illuminates the darkness of exile

Original painting by Chana Rivka Hawkins

Chassidus: The Solution for
the Intense Darkness of Exile

Rabbi Y. Oliver

The Rebbe writes:
In the past, there were several paths [derachim] to imbue one’s service of Hashem with enthusiasm. However, we find ourselves in the final generations of “the footsteps of Moshiach,” in which the concealments of G–dliness have increased, and an intense, thick darkness covers the world. 

In this time, this is the appropriate path [derech] for both the many and the individual, a path blazed by our holy Rebbeim, to reach true life in one’s service of Hashem. This is accomplished through studying the inner dimension of Torah, which is the Neshama of the Torah, in general, and by studying the teachings of Chassidus in particular.

Igros Kodesh, Vol. 4, p. 474.
In my own words: Although in earlier generations there were various paths to Hashem, now that heresy and immorality are so prevalent, the Rebbeim have revealed the path of Chassidus and made it possible for Jews to follow it (see here) in order to illuminate this intense darkness. Thus, it is vital that every single Jew follow this path. (Along these lines, see here.)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Yud Shvat: Anniversary of the Rebbe's First Maamar

On Yud Shevat, 5710 (1950), the Previous Rebbe passed away. Now, it is clear that in many respects, the Rebbe assumed the role of the Previous Rebbe’s successor immediately upon the Previous Rebbe’s passing. As the verse says, “The sun sets and the sun rises” (Koheles 1:5), which our sages interpret (ibid, Koheles Rabbah) to mean that there is no gap between the leaders of the Jewish people. The same principle applies to Rebbeim (cf. Hisva’aduyos 5742, Vol. 2, p. 1089; Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 12, p. 147).

However, after many months of the chassidim urging the Rebbe to become Rebbe, on the following year, at the farbrengen marking the anniversary of Yud Shevat, the Rebbe delivered a maamar for the first time, and in so doing, the Rebbe accepted the mantle of leadership officially.

Since today, Yud Shevat, is the anniversary of that day, let us consider the way that the Rebbe officially became Rebbe. The main thing that the Rebbe did to become Rebbe was deliver a maamar. Why does delivering a maamar make one a Rebbe?

To answer that question, let us ask: What is a maamar? A maamar is not just an explanation of Chassidus. During the delivery of a maamar, a Rebbe enters a state of deveikus (“intense bonding”) with G-dliness to the extent that G-dliness is revealed in him and to the world to the most pure, intense degree possible before Moshiach comes. Put differently, although at any time Hashem reveals Himself through the Tzaddik (see here), still, this reaches its highest point during the delivery of a maamar, about which Reb Hillel Paritcher said that a Rebbe then reaches the level of “The Shechinah speaks through the throat of Moshe” (Zohar 3:232a, Sefer HaSichos 5697, p. 165).

Reb Hillel Paritcher also expressed this by saying that when a Rebbe delivers a maamar, it is like the Giving of the Torah (see Hisva’aduyos 5748, Vol. 1, p. 35).

Thus, among many other things, this day represents the time when chassidim had their desire to experience the intense divine revelation of hearing Chassidus satisfied. May e experience that revelation again in the very near future, and hear the first post-Moshiach maamar, which will surely be far beyond anything we have yet experienced, but for which all of our strivings should be geared to preparing us.

And to borrow the phrase with which the Rebbe concluded that first maamar (see here): “May we merit to see and be together with the [Previous] Rebbe, down here in a physical body and within our reach, and he will redeem us.”

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Caution in influencing worldly people

Hashem urges Yirmiyahu[1] to “extract the precious from the base” by influencing the wicked to repent. Then Hashem warns: “Let them return to you, but you should not return to them.” The Radak explains this warning: “Take care not to revert to their way of thinking when you strive [to influence] them, for they may deceive you with their numerous arguments. Be careful of this—strive to bring them to return to you, and take care that you not revert to [becoming like] them.”

Moshiach told the Baal Shem Tov that the redemption will come “when your wellsprings [i.e., the teachings of Chassidus] are spread outward.”[2] Our Rebbeim have instructed us to devote ourselves to fulfilling this command, and the Rebbe has urged this more firmly and frequently than any of his predecessors, declaring that this is “the task of our generation.”

To be sure, spreading “outward” implies reaching out to those heavily under the influence of secular values and culture, and at least on the outside, very far from holiness. Nevertheless, since we have been instructed to do this, we are surely able to succeed at this task. We should certainly not desist from doing so out of fear that any contact with the secular world will corrupt us.

However, this does not mean that one may have an open, accepting attitude to the outside world itself, and in particular, to the lifestyle and worldview of the people whom one seeks to influence.

On the contrary, secular forces are the mortal enemy of the Jew. Although we should engage with the world, each in his or her own way, we should only do so out of necessity, in order to conquer the world and make it
“a dwelling place for Hashem.”[3] However, if we do so in order to receive from it, we have become subordinate to it (see the end of this post). We are then not only failing to defeat it, we are surrendering to it.

The same applies to involving oneself in worldly matters in order reach out to the as-yet-unaffiliated, to bring them to see “that the light is good.” Although sometimes this may be necessary, albeit to a limited extent, one should do so with reserve and caution. As our sages warn us, “Don’t trust yourself until the day you die.”[4] One should be fully aware that one is entering dangerous, enemy territory, and tread carefully. For if one is not careful, one is prone to get sucked in to the temptation to engage with the secular world not for the sake of transforming it and elevating it to holiness, but of learning the secular ways and emulating them, G–d forbid.

So when one engages with the world and with those immersed in its culture, one should do so not out of a sense of affinity and identification with the world and its anti-Torah values, G–d forbid, but with a sense of repulsion and abhorrence for them (for more on the idea of overcoming the world, see here).

One cultivates this feeling through learning Chassidus and following its ways (see here). This permeates the Jew with the awareness that the true reality of the world is the divine energy that constantly creates it, and its true purpose is only as a means to an end, in order to reveal Hashems glory[5] and thereby be elevated to holiness.

[1] 15:19.
[2] See the renowned letter of the Baal Shem Tov printed at the beginning of Kesser Shem Tov.
[3] Cf. Tanya ch. 36.
[4] Avos 2:5; Berachos 29a.
[5] Avos 6:11.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Chassidus: Hashem's Most Precious Treasure

Chassidus: Hashem's Most Precious Treasure

Rabbi Y. Oliver

The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, passed away on 10 Shevat, 5710.

Towards the end of his life he would edit Chassidic discourses and instruct that they be printed and distributed for study on particular days of note in the Jewish or Chassidic calendar. These discourses were often edited several months in advance. In the case of the discourse entitled Basi LeGani, the discourse that the Previous Rebbe distributed was a longer one to be released in a series of installments. The previously designated date of the release of the first discourse coincided with 10 Shevat, which turned out to be the day of the Previous Rebbe’s passing. After his passing, the later installments were released on the days that he had earlier designated.

In any case, on 10 Shevat of the following year, 5711, the Rebbe based his first Chassidic discourse (which can be heard here) on the one that had been distributed for study a year earlier, Basi LeGani.

Below the Rebbe discusses this discourse:
The Previous Rebbe’s famous discourse,[1] which he distributed with the intention that it be printed in its entirety, discusses the analogy of a king who has “all the precious treasures of fabulous wealth that was collected and amassed for many years, generation after generation, and which was never used for any purpose, but remained hidden and sealed from all eyes. Nevertheless, when he is in the process of winning the war, he squanders all the treasures.”

This analogy is also mentioned in the Chassidic discourses of the Tzemach Tzedek; however, those discourses do not explain this concept at length, with all the minute detail that is found in the discourse of the Previous Rebbe. The Previous Rebbe specifies that these are “hidden treasures” that contain “fabulous wealth” that was amassed by one’s ancestors, and “never used for any purpose,” not even for his ancestors themselves or for their families, and these treasures are even “hidden from the sight of anyone.” Yet in order to win the war, the king opens up all the treasures, and even squanders them.

This appears to require explanation. Chassidic discourses in general are precise in every detail, and only mention the most relevant details. This is surely so in the case of the discourse that was released [to be studied] on the day of the Previous Rebbe’s passing, when “all the deeds, Torah, and service that he performed throughout his life” rise up to their source in the most sublime manner.[2] It is absolutely certain that every detail of this discourse is totally precise.

Accordingly, why did the last discourse given by the Previous Rebbe before his passing discuss so elaborately the concept of squandering all the treasures? In general, why is it important for people like us, simple people, to know about the way that a king acts in general, never mind knowing about the king’s most precious treasures, fabulous wealth amassed by him and his ancestors, if simple people have no clue of the existence of these precious treasures?

The explanation of this is simple. This analogy is relevant to the general activity of the Previous Rebbe, for he began the squandering of all the treasures, by publicizing numerous Chassidic discourses which until this generation were “hidden and sealed from all eyes.” To the extent that the king himself “never used them for any purpose”; nevertheless, in this generation these treasures were revealed.

The Rebbe Rashab[3] once said that there are numerous discourses and topics in the teachings of the Mitteler Rebbe[4] (and thus also in those of the Alter Rebbe,[5] whose teachings are included in those of the Mitteler Rebbe) that still had not begun being worked on. Obviously he was referring to those who are on the level to [truly] “work on them”; in other words, he said this concerning himself. This is similar to the language of the above analogy, “he never used them for any purpose.”

Yet even these hidden, sealed-away treasures were revealed in this generation ... and even squandered, all for the sake of winning the war [i.e., bringing Moshiach]. This generation is the last generation before the redemption, and its purpose[6] is to fight against those who “blaspheme the footsteps of the Moshiach,”[7] and thereby bring the victory of this war. In order to attain this victory all of the most precious treasures have been revealed.

In this generation the final war is being fought, “the war of the house of David,”[8] whose purpose is to fight against those who “blaspheme the footsteps of the Moshiach” and therefore all the most precious treasures must be revealed and squandered, and there is nothing more to wait for, since we find ourselves very close to “that time” when “There will be no more war.”[9]

Hisva’aduyos 5746, Vol. 1, pp878889.

[1] Sefer HaMa’amarim Admur HaRayatz 5710, p. 132.
[2] Tanya, Igeres HaKodesh, epistles 27-28.
[3] The fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom DovBer of Lubavitch.
[4] The second Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch also known as “The Mittele Rebbe.”
[5] The first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the father of Rabbi DovBer.
[6] See the discourse from the Rebbe Rashab in Sefer HaSichot 5702, p. 141 ff.
[7] Tehillim 89:52. As explained in the above address from the Rebbe Rashab, this phrase from Tehillim alludes to the phenomenon of those who dismiss and oppose the belief in the coming of Moshiach, in the generation immediately before his arrival.
[8] The war of the house of David” refers to the struggle to strengthen and promote the belief in the coming of Moshiach.
[9] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 12:5.
There is so much to be said here.

I wish to focus for now on the analogy from precious treasures, and the emphasis of the Rebbe that Chassidus Chabad is in fact these most precious treasures—the most sublime, profound secrets that would otherwise have been completely inaccessible, and are only being revealed now for the purpose of bringing Moshiach.

We may know about this concept, but how often do we think about it? (I’m talking to myself here too.) How spoiled we are. Di Rebbe’im hobn gegosn (the Rebbes of Chabad poured freely the teachings of) Chassidus, Hashem’s most sublime, hidden secrets, so hidden that no earlier generations were privileged to them, all so that we would learn it and teach it, and thereby bring Moshiach, and ... that is how we treat it?

How much do we learn it? How much do we teach it? And even if we do learn and teach it to some extent, how do we relate to it—as one relates to Hashem’s most hidden treasures, or as merely interesting philosophy, intellectually stimulating, another edifying topic for study amongst many others?

Let’s face the truth: If we’re not running to learn it, we haven’t truly internalized this analogy.

With Hashem’s help, this year on Yud Shevat we’ll truly grasp this message, and this recognition will affect our attitude and conduct accordingly until next Yud Shevat, by which time Moshiach will, im yirtzeh Hashem, already have arrived.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Tzaddik's power to nullify decrees

The Rebbe explains:
The Talmud[1] predicts that the end of the exile will be a time of tremendous suffering for the Jewish people, may G–d save us. Likewise, it is an era of tremendous spiritual darkness.[2]

However, a Tzaddik has the power to nullify these wicked decrees. The Gemara[3] cites the verse, “The Tzaddik rules [with] the fear of G-d.”[4] The Gemara comments: “[Hashem says,] I rule over man, and who rules over Me? The Tzaddik—for I issue a decree, and he [the Tzaddik] nullifies it.”

The Tzaddik’s power to nullify these decrees does not come automatically; it comes through influencing Jews to do Teshuvah. We see this in Hashem’s words to Yirmiyahu: “If you extract the precious from the base, you will be like My mouth.”[5] Rashi interprets “extract the precious from the base” to mean “extract [i.e., transform] a proper person from a wicked person—that you bring him back to good.” Then, Rashi interprets that “you will be like My mouth” for “I will issue a decree, and you will rescind it.” The Targum interprets similarly. Radak says: “That which you decree and say will be fulfilled as if I [Hashem] had said it, as it is said of the prophet Shmuel, ‘Not one of his words fell to the earth.’ [I Shmuel 3:19] Likewise, Metzudas Dovid comments: “You will be like My mouth, for your decree will be fulfilled like My decree.”

So Rashi is saying that by influencing the wicked to repent, one becomes invested with the power to nullify decrees. The Gemara[6] offers a slightly different interpretation of this verse:

“Anyone who teaches Torah to the son of an ignoramus, even if Hashem has issued a [wicked] decree [on the teacher], He nullifies it on his [the student’s] account, as it is written: ‘If you extract the precious from the base, you will be like My mouth.’” Rashi explains “the precious from the base” to mean extracting, i.e., transforming, “a Torah scholar from an ignoramus.”
Although neither of the two sources (Rashi on Yirmiyahu, and Bava Metzia) refers explicitly to a Tzaddik nullifying decrees (discussed in Moed Katan), it is with this strength—bringing Jews to Teshuvah, and the ignorant to become Torah scholars—that the Tzaddik is able to nullify decrees.

[1] Sanhedrin 97b.
[2] Torah Ohr, Ki ata neri.
[3] Moed Katan 16b.
[4] II Shmuel 23:3.
[5] Yirmiyahu 15:19.
[6] Bava Metzia 85a.

Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 4, p. 1257.

1. Why indeed do these actions enable the Tzaddik to annul decrees? Apparently, the explanation is that it is “measure for measure” (Sotah 8b). The sinner or ignoramus has been, in a sense, sentenced to remain in his or her lowly state. When we pull him up and out of his depths, by bringing him to Torah and Mitzvos, then the Tzaddik can rightfully entreat Hashem to respond in kind, and annul the decrees of suffering on the Jewish people.

2. It is noteworthy that the Rebbe wrote this in a letter dated in the year 1942. The significance of this is self-evident.

3. As chassidim, this lesson is very relevant. It is customary for chassidim to write to the Rebbe and ask for blessings. These letters include requests that the Rebbe davven for us and intercede
on our behalf to nullify wicked decrees, whether those of personal suffering, or suffering of the community.

It would appear from the above that it is not enough to simply ask the Rebbe to do this. We need to do our part by devoting ourselves to bringing Jews to Teshuvah, and teaching Torah to the ignorant. Through this we give the Rebbe the spiritual energy with which to nullify these decrees. This ability to grant the Rebbe strength to accomplish his task as Rebbe is apparently supported by the concept that the Rebbe is our Neshama kelalis, the Rebbe’s soul being the “head” and spiritual source of the soul of his chassidim, which are akin to his body.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Jew's Mission: Overcoming the World

The Jew's Mission:
Overcoming the World

Rabbi Y. Oliver

The Hebrew word for world, olam, is etymologically related to the word he’elem, concealment, for the nature of the world is to conceal the reality of G–dliness.[1] The reason for this is that the world receives its sustenance from the spiritual energy of Kelipah, lit. “a shell,” i.e., a force that conceals the true reality of G–dliness.

Our world is “a world of physicality and gross coarseness. It is the lowest of all levels; nothing is lower than it in terms of the concealment of Hashem’s light, and the doubled and redoubled darkness within it. [This spiritual darkness is so intense that] it is filled with forces of Kelipah and of ‘the other side’ that are totally against Hashem and that say ‘I exist, and nothing else exists but me.’”[2]

This also plays itself out in human experience. Since the Kelipah in this world is the “dregs of the coarse Kelipos ... all the events of this world are difficult and evil, and the wicked prevail in it.”[3] (It is no wonder then that the soul only enters the body “against its will”[4]!) Thus, we are warned, “All paths [in this world] should be presumed dangerous,”[5] which Chassidus interprets to refer to the constant spiritual tests that the Jew faces.[6] This necessitates a constant, daily struggle, lest this atmosphere harm the Jew.[7]

This was true even in days of old, when sin was less accessible; it is all the more true in our degenerate times.

What gives a Jew the strength to succeed in this struggle? In our time, we have been granted the power to overcome these tests (see here) through studying Chassidus and practicing the ways of Chassidus (see here). Chassidus permeates a Jew with the awareness that “There is nothing beside for Him”[8] and that until a Jew comes and elevates it, the world is “a place of death and impurity, may Hashem save us”[9] (see here).

This enables the individual Jew, and the Jewish people as a whole, to accomplish their task: to elevate the world as much as possible (through Torah and Mitzvos) and in this way prepare it for its purpose, the Messianic Era, when all Kelipah will either be eradicated or elevated to holiness.[10]


[1] Likkutei Torah, Shelach, 37d. Sefer HaMa’amarim 5710, p. 116.
[2] Tanya ch. 36.
[3] Ibid. chs. 6, 24.

[4] Avos 4:22.
[5] Yerushalmi, Berachos 4:4.
Sefer HaMa’amarim 5692-5693, p. 515.
[7] Toras Menachem, Vol. 23, p. 240.
[8] Devarim 4:35.
[9] Tanya ch. 23.
[10] Ibid. ch. 37.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A chassidishe farbrengen fires us up with passion

The Hebrew word for world, olam, is etymologically related to the word he’elem, concealment. The outside world conspires, in one way or another, to cool off a Jew’s passion and enthusiasm in Torah and Mitzvos.

This is the positive lesson from the plague in which water was transformed to blood. Water, which is cold, represents the coldness and apathy in divine service that stems from the influence of the concealment of G–dliness in the world. In contrast, blood, which is hot, represents passion in our divine service. A Jew should transform himself from apathy to Hashem into passion for Hashem.

At a chassidishe farbrengen we strive to heat ourselves up in this way. Moreover, we imbue staying power into this passion. We inspire ourselves with the inner strength not to be affected by the outside world at all—not only do we not fall in sin (G–d forbid), but our passion for Hashem and all things holy will last unchanged.

Along these lines, I heard Rabbi Shabtai Slavaticki of Antwerp, Belgium relate:
Soon after I arrived at the Chabad Yeshivah in Kfar Chabad, I asked the mashpia, Reb Shlomo Chaim Kesselman, why chassidim wish one another l’chaim on mashkeh (alcohol). He explained that mashkeh is different from other liquids. When other liquids are placed in a freezer, the cold atmosphere around them makes them freeze. In contrast, when mashkeh is placed in a freezer, it remains a liquid.

Likewise, at a chassidishe farbrengen, chassidim make a point of wishing l’chaim on mashkeh, because the nature of mashkeh reminds a chossid that he should never allow himself to be affected by his surroundings and “cooled off” from his passion in serving Hashem.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Don't despair, imperfection is not failure

Earlier it was explained that serving Hashem involves both Iskafya, self-restraint, and Is’hapcha, inner transformation.

However, even after years of striving for inner change, at times the person may be unpleasantly confronted with the realization that his inner self is far, very far, from having been transformed. In a moment of temptation or provocation he loses control, and at that moment all his refined and holy thoughts vanish without a trace. He feels the same raw and wild character traits coursing through him that were there “from his youth” and even “from the moment he stirred to leave the womb” (as referred to in the post linked to above).

This discourages him from striving to change himself. He wonders despairingly, “Of what value were all these years of effort?” He feels like a miserable failure, and wishes to “surrender” in the fight against the evil inclination.

Yet these very doubts are in fact a devious ploy of the evil inclination, and for several reasons:

1) Striving to improve one’s character traits is part of serving Hashem. One should not serve Hashem “for the sake of receiving a reward” (Avos 1:3)—not even for the reward of feeling fulfilled at succeeding in refining oneself. One should strive to improve oneself simply because this is the will of Hashem. Of course, if one reaches the point at which he feels confident that his efforts have borne fruit, so much the better. However, this is only a bonus, and not the reason that one should strive for self-refinement.

2) In reality, over time the person has changed. If he examines himself honestly and compares himself as he is now to the way he was before he decided to devote himself earnestly to serving Hashem and improving himself, he will surely notice a significant change. Beforehand, his ugly character traits were far more severe, and over time, the frequency of occasions in which he lost control diminished, as did the intensity of these desires. He has also significantly developed positive, noble character traits that hardly existed before.

Although the person’s old bad traits still emerge from time to time, and this is a cause for concern, this is not a cause for despair. It is simply an indication that more work remains for him to do—and this is why his soul is still in his body.

3) Hashem created the person’s evil inclination for a reason—in order for the person to be tested by struggling against it. This struggle is most likely meant to continue for the person’s entire life, until his last breath, for only very few reach the level of the Tzaddik, who has vanquished his evil inclination altogether. Moreover, the very fact that the person can even entertain the thought that such base desires do not befit him indicates that he doesn't know his place, for it is simply not his mission in life to reach the level of Tzaddik, and he is destined to struggle with his evil inclination in one form or another.

Rather, his mission is to perform Iskafya. Every act of Iskafya brings Hashem tremendous pleasure, and draws a powerful divine light upon the person. And the main thing is that he fulfills the purpose for which he was created.

With Hashem’s help, the person’s efforts will also bear fruit, and he will transform his inner self to a certain degree, to the point that he will struggle in more subtle areas than he did before. Yet even if one never reaches this point, or does not succeed to the degree he had hoped and aimed for, it doesn’t matter. The main thing is not the nature of the person’s struggle, but his effort. Thus, the one who exerts great effort to overcome a base desire is in a sense superior to the one who performs exceptionally good deeds without effort. As long as the person is struggling, he is fulfilling his purpose in the world.

Based on Tanya chs. 15, 27, 29, 35, classes from my Mashpi’im, and other sources.

Monday, January 3, 2011

True Life—Bonding with Hashem

True Life—Bonding with Hashem

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

There are two kinds of life—physical life and spiritual life. These two kinds of life need not coexist; thus, one can be alive physically, but dead spiritually.

We can easily understand what physical life is, but what is spiritual life? Spiritual life, which is true life consists of being connected to Hashem, the Source of all life.[1] This is the meaning of the verse, “And you, who cling to Hashem, your G-d, are all alive today.”[2] Only when we are clinging to Hashem do we truly live.

But why does a bond with Hashem create true life? Chassidus defines life as permanence, and its opposite, death, as impermanence. This is the deeper meaning behind the biblical requirement that the preparation of the ashes of the Red Calf involve “living waters.”[3] 

In what sense can water, an inanimate object, be considered “living”? Living is associated with constancy. Thus, Halacha defines water as living if it stems from a river that flows constantly, without drying up.[4] However, a river that dries up even once in seven years fails to qualify as living waters even when it is gushing profusely. Such waters are termed “disappointing waters,”[5] for they seem real, but are in fact fake.

Since Hashem’s existence is permanent and everlasting, He, and everything and everyone bound to Him, are considered truly alive.

This is also what it means for an entity to be holy. A holy object is not Hashem (G–d forbid), but it is not mundane either. Rather, it is bound with Hashem (to whatever degree), and this bond invests it with true life.

How does one connect with Hashem, and bring holiness upon oneself, or upon an object in the world? Hashem grants us the ability to attain this through our acting with bittul, which literally means “self-nullification,” i.e., humility and submission before Hashem.[6]

In contrast, a force of Kelipah (lit. “shell,” i.e., concealment of Hashem) is, by definition, not subservient to Hashem, and is therefore not truly alive. Thus, the forces of Kelipah are called “a place of death and impurity, may Hashem save us.”[7] Likewise, one who is wicked and has thereby made himself a vehicle for the forces of Kelipah[8] is considered spiritually dead, as our sages say: “The wicked, even during their lifetime, are called dead.”[9]

[1] In the language of Chassidus, “Chayei ha’chayim boruch Hu.”

[2] Devarim 4:4.
[3] Bamidbar 19:17.
[4] Parah 8:9.
[5] In the Hebrew, “neharos ha’mechazvin.”
[6] Tanya ch. 6: וצד הקדושה אינו אלא השראה והמשכה מקדושתו של הקב"ה ואין הקב"ה שורה אלא על דבר שבטל אצלו יתברך
[7] ibid. ch. 22.
[8] ibid. ch. 29: וכן להפך נעשה מרכבה טמאה בעת זו להיכלות הטומאה שמהן מושפעות כל
.מחשבות רעות וכן בדבור ומעשה
[9] Berachos 18a. Tanya ch. 19.