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

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Vital Need to Spread Chassidus in Print

The Vital Need to Spread Chassidus in Print

Rabbi Y. Oliver

When the Baal Shem Tov asked Moshiach, “When will my master come?” he answered, “When the wellsprings [of your teachings] break forth to the outside.” Thus, the coming of Moshiach depends upon the wide dissemination of Chassidus.

Although delivering classes in Chassidus is very important in this regard, it appears that the medium of text is the key to disseminating these teachings on a large scale. As the Rebbe writes:
It was with great joy and satisfaction that I received the report from our mutual friends, the young men who arrived from Shanghai, that you undertook the proposition to devote yourself to raise the means to print the texts of our holy teachers, the teachings of the living G-d, in Shanghai.

As is self-evident, I conveyed the matter to my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe shlita, who was exceedingly happy to hear this ... I am certain that, to you, it is unnecessary to elaborate on the immense merit generated by giving thousands of Jews the opportunity to study texts that contain the teachings of our Rebbeim. I would like, however, to touch on one example mentioned in the words of our Sages.

Our Sages relate that the entire difficulty of exile began as a result of lashon hara, undesirable speech, spoken by the spies [sent by Moshe]. Through this they brought calamities on themselves and on generation after generation that followed including our own generation.

The Talmud (Erchin 15b) relates that the advice to correct [this flaw] is through Torah study, as it states: "The remedy for the tongue is the Tree of Life." And "the Tree of Life" refers to the Torah.

The enormity of the punishment for undesirable speech—which is heard only by people in a specific place and at a specific time—gives us some appreciation of the great merit and reward that one receives for speaking [words of] Torah in a particular place and time. And from that we can extrapolate the magnitude of the merit and reward for printing [words of] Torah. For then the text and the words of Torah it contains reach people in all other lands. And the text remains and is studied tens and hundreds of years after it was printed.

I conclude with the wish that this great merit will sustain you in all that you need, and that you will continue to participate in similar projects. ...

From a letter of the Rebbe of 16 Menachem Av, 5706.
Understandably, assisting this endeavor also brings one tremendous personal blessings, as the Rebbe writes:
By helping publish a Torah text and disseminating it … motivating change, helping people find the proper path and resolve their problems ... the reward for this manifests in this world—with abundant material and spiritual good.
The Rebbe also states that awareness of the tremendous privilege one has to enable the publication of words of Chassidus should lead one to tremendous joy:
The tremendous greatness of printing Chassidus is evident, for when one prints one-and-a-half, or two thousand copies of a sefer [holy book] of Chassidus, words of Chassidus reach two thousand Jews, for surely the [presence of] the holy book will move the person to open it and delve into it. When one then prints two thousand copies of another sefer, one disseminates the wellsprings of Chassidus in a doubled manner, and more.

Thus, even a moment’s reflection on the greatness of this privilege will surely bring the person to great joy.

Hisva’aduyos 5749, Vol. 4, p. 324.
Please contact me to support my writing and publication of the teachings of Chassidus.

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. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Please join me in disseminating Chassidus

Dear Friend,

As you may know, for the last two-and-a-half years I have maintained a website, www.a-farbrengen.blogspot.com. On it I have produced a consistent output of high-quality articles and essays on various topics related to the teachings and the lifestyle of Chassidus. I have also distributed these postings via a growing e-mail list to subscribers worldwide, and you have been one of my loyal readers.

Do you like what you read? The articles I write require a lot of time and effort—for research, writing, and then reviewing.

My intention, with Hashem’s help, is to compile these articles into a series of books.

However, in order to continue this noble and holy work, I require significant financial assistance. Even once, with Hashem’s help, these writings are published in book form, the income from these books will be negligible when compared with the amount of money that I need to provide for my family.

Please make a donation in order to help support these efforts to publicize the teachings of Chassidus.

For just $36, please sponsor an article in honor of your loved one/s. I would suggest that you sponsor an article regularly in honor of your anniversary, in honor of the birthdays of your various family members, and in honor of the yohrtzeits of your departed loved ones. This donation can also be made lirefuah sheleimah, or in honor of a bris, wedding, or the like.

Please click on the Donate image below in order to make a secure donation via PayPal:

Or, to send me a check, get in touch with me via email (rabbioliver@gmail.com) for my contact information.

Thanks in advance,

Yours sincerely,

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ahavas Yisrael: Not just a slogan

It appears to me that Ahavas Yisrael (the Mitzvah to love one’s fellow Jew) has become a slogan, and not of the positive kind. The purpose of a slogan is to remind us of something, but at the same time it causes us to forget, because the constant repetition of the idea makes it so routine that the opposite happenswe forget what it actually means and why it was so important to emphasize in the first place.

Ahavas Yisrael, on the most basic level, means being really nice to another Jew. Friendly. Warm. Welcoming. Accepting. Kind. Sensitive. Respectful. Genuinely interested in his or her welfare.

To accomplish this, we need to
develop empathy. We need to be able to pull ourselves out of our own natural box and try to to consider another Jew’s feelings and needs. And not out of a dry sense of obligation to Hashem (although this is indeed an obligation), but out of a true feeling that since this Jew is my brother or sister, I should care about him or her and unite with him or her as much as possible.

But by nature we are so distant from other people and so attached to ourselves. We don’t stop thinking about ourselves. I, me. And even when we do (albeit rarely) think about others, most of the time, we only think about how they can somehow benefit us. S
ubconsciously, each person thinks that the entire universe revolves around him or her.

Developing empathy means learning that other people really and truly matter. In fact, they matter just as much as oneself, if not more. And therefore they deserve the same amount of respect and caring that one would want for oneself.

Of course, since developing this feeling means changing one
s innate emotions, it doesn’t come naturally. It requires strenuous, sustained effort. In the parlance of Chabad literature, this effort is termed avodah.

As the Alter Rebbe explains in Tanya ch. 32, the key to
ahavas Yisrael is bringing the Neshama (soul) to dominate in the body. For it is the Neshama that truly unites us, for all Neshamos stem from Hashem, just like all siblings, no matter how different they are from one another, stem from the same parents.

Thus, when a Jew exerts the effort necessary to attune himself to the needs of his
Neshama, then ahavas Yisrael will come naturally. Then Ahavas Yisrael will no longer be a slogan; rather, it will be a normal part of life.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Conditional Pleasure

Conditional Pleasure

Rabbi Y. Oliver

Today, the 16th day of Iyar, is the day that the mon, the food that fell from Heaven while the Jews travelled in the desert, began to fall (in 2448).

It is written that the mon would taste like whatever one wished, no matter what that taste was. If one wanted it to taste like chocolate pudding, or vanilla ice-cream, or hot peppers, he would sense that taste. From bitter to sweet and everything in between, it all depended on what the person wished to feel.

But what if he did not desire any taste at all? It would seem that then the mon was tasteless.

Sometimes a person complains that he lacks geshmak, enjoyment in serving Hashem. He davvens, learn Nigleh and Chassidus, performs Mitzvos, attends farbrengens, sings Chassidishe melodies, hears stories of Tzaddikim, and is still apathetic. He then raises a kasheh (challenging question) that he feels is of awesomely earth-shattering importance: “But Im not inspired!” Then the person starts doubting: “It’s not working out; maybe its not for me, and I need to look elsewhere.”

But in fact, the person has no one to blame but himself and his attitude. Serving Hashem is inspiring, and is able to create the most intense and fulfilling pleasure possible (see the aphorism of Reb Hillel Paritcher mentioned here). The real reason that none of these things are affecting him is simply that he doesn’t truly want them to.

When he genuinely desires and seeks inspiration, he will surely find it, for we have been assured that one who toils will find (Megillah 6b).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Pesach Sheni: A second chance

On Pesach Sheni (see Bamidbar 9:1-14) there were Jews who were ritually impure and unfit to offer the Pesach sacrifice in its time (14 Nissan). They came before Moshe Rabeinu and demanded a second chance to offer it. Moshe consulted with Hashem, Who told him that on 14 Iyar a second chance will be given to offer the Pesach sacrifice. This is Pesach Sheni, the “second Pesach.”

The lesson of Pesach Sheni, as discussed in HaYom Yom, is that es iz nishto kein farfalen—it’s never too late to rectify and make up for one’s misdeeds. According to some opinions, those who were ritually impure had put themselves in this state intentionally—and yet they were given the opportunity to rectify it. Likewise, even if one contaminated oneself by sinning intentionally, he can always rectify the damage he did.

One of the classic ploys of the evil inclination is to make the person feel that his situation is hopeless. He feels that the damage he has done is irrevocable and the opportunities lost are irregainable. He is tainted, corrupted, and irredeemable. History has been written. There is no rewind button, no time machine. Spilt milk cannot be gathered up. As the rhyme goes, once Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.

There is validity to this feeling, for according to the natural state of the world one can only change the present and rectify thing from now on, not the past. Nevertheless, Hashem, Who created nature and therefore transcends it, grants one the power to overcome it. In particular, Pesach Sheni comes to teach that no matter how low the Jew has fallen and how much damage he has done to himself and others, may Hashem save us, he should never lose hope. Hashem has endowed him with the ability to transcend nature. He can change himself, make up for and rectify the past, and start anew.

Even before the person starts working on changing himself, this very awareness should infuse him with the greatest joy. When a sick person who thought that his illness was incurable is told that in fact an effective, affordable cure exists, he jumps with joy. Likewise, when one learns that instead of feeling doomed to be perpetually weighed down by regrets and guilt, the Torah says that he can take out a new lease on life, he is elated and joyous even before he has started to do anything!

But then one needs to start taking the necessary action to rectify the past, which is an individual matter that depends upon the sin that one committed.

However, there is one crucial condition for this rectification, purification, and cleansing. According to the Torah’s account, the Mitzvah of offering the Pesach Sheni was only given to those who came and demanded, ”Why should we miss out?” Similarly, one can’t rectify the past through a rote ceremony or out of a sense of duty. He has to desire it and yearn for it from the depth of his heart.

In summary, Pesach Sheni gives one the encouraging message that the past can be rectified. Once one knows this, however, the onus lies on the person. If he reflects appropriately on this lesson, and truly internalizes it, he will be energized with the confidence that he can and will change, and this will spur him to invest the effort necessary to become a new person, and with the help of Hashem, he will ultimately succeed.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Learning Torah with humility

Learning Torah with humility

Rabbi Y. Oliver

At first glance, both Torah wisdom and secular wisdom (lehavdil) are wisdom, and should be treated similarly. However, this is not so. Since the Torah is divine wisdom, one should approach it in a way fundamentally different, and in some ways even opposite, from the way that one approaches secular wisdom.

In the realm of secular wisdom, no concept is sacred. Every concept must be examined critically and rigorously before it can be accepted. To do otherwise is to fail to employ the principles of reason and the laws of logic in the use of one’s mind.

This process is known as critical thinking, and for the secularist, this is the highest virtue, the greatest badge of honor, the key to greatness, and the only possible method of arriving at truth. Since the human mind is the supreme arbiter of truth, if a given concept stands up to intellectual scrutiny, it might be true; if not, not. Conversely, anyone who accepts any idea without having examined it critically is dismissed as a naïve simpleton.

In Torah, however, every teaching (assuming it was taught by a rabbi of sufficient caliber) is a revelation of Hashem's will and is thus inherently sacred. A corollary of this is the Torah’s perfection, for just as Hashem is perfect, so is His wisdom, as it is written, “The Torah of Hashem is perfect.”[1] Hence, the observant Jew accepts the teaching as absolutely true even before understanding it, and will continue to accept it even in the event that he has great difficulty understanding it.

However, this is not to say that questions will not arise, and that all concepts in Torah will be immediately clear and obvious. On the contrary, Hashem designed the Torah such that it can only be truly acquired through intense effort.[2]

When a question arises on an accepted concept in secular wisdom, one (rightly) entertains the notion that the current theory might indeed be faulty. In contrast, when a question arises in one’s studies in Torah, one’s faith in what the Torah teaches is not shaken whatsoever. Rather, one views the conceptual difficulty as simply one of countless opportunities that Hashem grants the serious Torah scholar to toil in Torah in order to discover the answer to the question. Moreover, the Talmud promises that one who toils will surely ultimately find the solution to his question.[3]

In fact, questions are not only possible in Torah study, they are inevitable. As any serious student of Torah knows, any discussion of a topic (known as a sugya) involves delving into some points in great depth, discussing others in moderate depth, and mentioning still others only in passing. Questions will likely arise on the points not as thoroughly discussed, and in order to resolve these questions and reach full understanding of these concepts, one must expend the effort necessary to seek other sources that elucidate them. Of this our Sages say, “The words of Torah are poor in one place, and rich in another.”[4]

In summary, the believing Jew approaches Torah study with intense awe and humility, and attributes any lack of understanding on his part to a shortcoming in his own puny understanding, not in Torah . Accordingly, on the verse, “For it is no empty matter for you” (“ki lo davar reik hu mikem”), our sages interpret: “It is no empty matter—and if it is empty, it is from you” (“ve’im reik, hu mikem”).[5]
If the Torah appears to the person “empty,” i.e., lacking in wisdom, chas veshalom, he should know that this emptiness is “from you”—due to his own personal deficiencies.

(What deficiencies might prevent one from understanding Torah? As mentioned, if the Jew toils, Hashem promises that he will find the answer to his questions. So his lack of understanding may stem from not having toiled enough. Or he may have only studied the topic from sources that explain it superficially, and not bothered to track down the sources that explain it in depth, which hold the answers to his questions. He may be lacking in fear of Heaven, which prevents him from being a vessel to Torah and truly understanding it. And so on.)

[1] Tehillim 19:8.
[2] Megillah 6b.
[3] ibid.
[4] Yerushalmi, Rosh Hashanah 3:5.
[5] Ibid., Shabbat 1:4; Shevi’is, 1:5.


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.

Monday, May 2, 2011

28 Nissan: "Do everything you can to bring Moshiach!"

Today is the auspicious day of 28 Nissan. See my former posts on the significance of this day here, here, and here. Moshiach now!