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

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rosh Hashanah: Also about spiritual blessings

It is written: “For it [Rosh Hashanah] is a decree for Israel, a [day of] judgment for the G-d of Yaakov” (Tehillim 81:5).

“Decree” refers to Hashem’s judgment concerning material blessings, while “judgment for the G–d of Yaakov” refers to the judgment concerning the amount of G–dliness and spiritual blessings the person will receive in the coming year (Likkutei Torah, Rosh Hashanah 55d ff.; Sefer HaMa’amarim 5710, p. 15).

So on Rosh Hashanah not only are we judged for material blessings, but also spiritual ones. Now, at first glance, this seems difficult to comprehend. Isn’t every person granted free choice in spiritual matters?

The answer: In any given situation, one can choose whether to follow the path of Hashem, or otherwise. But which situation the person will find himself in is beyond his control:

-He may be trapped in a place where he can’t wear Tefillin for many months. He may even be a Jew who unfortunately was never taught that he is obligated to lay the Tefillin. Or he may be free to not only lay Tefillin himself, and with full awareness of its deeper meaning, but he may also have the opportunity to encourage other Jews to lay Tefillin.

-He could be so harried that he barely ever has a moment to study Torah. Or he could have the privilege of being in a Yeshivah environment, in which he is free to study Torah all day.

-He may never have the opportunity to davven with a minyan. He may be able to davven with a minyan, but never have mental clarity and the ability to focus on the meaning of the words of prayer. Or he may have a clear head, and the opportunity and ability to davven at length for hours on end.

-He might be forced to work together with crooks or criminals, and have to fight valiantly to maintain his integrity. Or he may be earning a great deal of money without confronting any temptation to dishonesty.

On Rosh Hashanah we beseech Hashem: Please, don’t test us; on the contrary, make it easier for us to learn, to davven, to perform Mitzvos. Bring people into our lives—friends and acquaintances, mentors and leaders—who will act a positive influences on us. Bring people into our lives whom we can guide on the right path. Bring us many opportunities—pleasant ones—to come closer to you. Bring us close to You so that our sins are behind us, and so that if we must be tested, we no longer be tested with sin, but with the opportunity to push ourselves further to do still more good deeds.

And most of all, send us Moshiach NOW!

Monday, September 26, 2011

On the Human Subhuman and the Spiritual Living Dead

On the Human Subhuman and
the Spiritual Living Dead

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

Hashem urges us: “See, I have set before you today life and goodness, death and evil” (Devarim 30:15).

When the Torah urges us to choose “life and goodness” and not “death and evil,” it is not coming to dismiss a materialistic lifestyle—never mind a sinful lifestyle. What rational person would think that we exist in this world in order to pursue wealth and honor, and indulge our animalistic urges? We are not animals—the wondrous intellect that Hashem implanted in us makes it patently obvious how superior we are to animals. Did He then give us intellect so that we could indulge in even more pleasures than the animals, outdoing the animals in our depraved lusts?!

One who lives such a life, one in which his mind is enslaved to his animalistic desires, degrades himself to the level of an animal, and is essentially subhuman. He fails to consider that if he was supposed to devote his life to pursuing animalistic pleasures, Hashem would not have given him an intellect that enables him to transcend his Bestial Soul and submit to the will of Hashem.

Rather, when we use the intellect with which we have been blessed, we will naturally come to realize that the world and everything in it does not exist for our self-gratification, but for a higher purpose—to serve Hashem. Thus, true life is only life that revolves around the spiritual.

If so, what is Hashem coming to tell us by urging us to choose life and goodness and avoid death and evil?

We are talking about a more insidious evil here, one that plagues someone who is fully frum. A Jew could live a life of Torah and Mitzvos, but lack interest and enthusiasm, to the point that what is in fact an awesome privilege seems like an onerous burden. Concerning this the Torah tells him: Although you are fulfilling the letter of the law—and so in a certain sense, you are living a spiritual life—with all due respect, this is a spiritual life that is dead. Choose “life and goodness”—choose to live in a way that Torah and Mitzvos excite and inspire you. And then you will be truly alive.

Based on the Previous Rebbe’s Sefer HaMa’amarim 5700, p. 90.
Also, see this article.

Dedicated by Yissachar Naftali Schneiderman as a merit for a refuah shelaimah for Aidel Rivka Bas Chaya Sara and Esther bas Aidel Rivka.

Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for $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, September 25, 2011

Monarchy, Democracy, and Rosh Hashanah

Monarchy, Democracy,
and Rosh Hashanah

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

Monarchy—a difficult concept

The awesome day of Rosh Hashanah is almost upon us. The central focus of this day is accepting Hashem upon us as king (“kabbolas ol malchus Shomayim”).

Unfortunately, in our times this concept is foreign to us, for monarchy (in Hebrew, “malchus”) as it was practiced in bygone days is almost completely obsolete. But let us try our best to cast our minds back into the past—the vast majority of human history, in fact—and try to imagine what it must have been like.

Well, these are the basics: A king was an absolute authority, with power over life and death. His subjects typically were very afraid of him and very loyal to him. Why was it beneficial for the king to wield such great power? On the basic level, it was needed to keep the people in line—to maintain law and order.

Appointment of the king by grand coronation

Now, at first glance, monarchy sounds very different from modern-day democracy. But in a very important sense, it was not so different. Monarchy is similar to democracy insofar as it is a consensual relationship. The only way that a person could come to have the absolute power of monarchy is for the people to willingly grant him that power.

But how do the people do this—how do they willingly appoint their chosen candidate as king? It is not enough for them to feel that way in their hearts; rather, they must make an external show of their devotion and allegiance.

For this purpose, the people organize a grand coronation event. All the people rally there, declare that they want this man to accept the mantle of kingship, and affirm their unwavering loyalty to him.

Despite the vast differences between people—“their ways of thinking are different”[1]—all the citizens of the country—men, women, and children—join in this ceremony just the same—the simple subjects, the wealthy landowners, the low-level ministers, until the high-level ministers, who are especially dear to the king. They all prostrate before the king and fully commit to obey him. “Long live the king!”[2] they declare.

If, however, one becomes an absolute ruler without the people’s consent; instead, one seizes power by force, then Torah does not define that as malchus, monarchy, but as memshalah, dictatorship. The king assumes his role only by virtue of the people’s demand.

Monarchy vs. Democracy

Moreover, a true candidate for kingship does not aspire to become king. On the contrary, that is the last thing on his mind—he consistently shuns the limelight, and all he wants is to be left alone. But despite his reclusiveness, the people somehow find out about him, learn of his unparalleled greatness, and realize that he is truly worthy of the position. So they approach him and nudge him incessantly to become their king, with this nudging culminating in a grand coronation ceremony.

When the would-be king sees just how much the people want him to rule over them, this evokes within his heart a desire to do so. This feeling is not tainted by any arrogance or bossiness; rather, it is a feeling of humbly and apprehensively stepping up to a role of tremendous responsibility for the sake of serving the community. This is the hallmark of true leadership.

Here the comparison to democracy ends, for according to the democratic system, the candidate can only become elected if he is filled with ambition and aspires to be the leader so much that he “runs” for elections. Instead of the people convincing him to want to rule, he convinces the people to want him to rule.

Although the aspirant to democratic elections may also have some genuine desire to serve the community, it cannot be claimed that his intentions are pure and not tainted by an element of lust for prestige and power. After all, he doesn’t just want any worthy person to rule—he campaigns for the people to decide that he is more worthy than anyone else for the job.

So clearly, no matter what his rhetoric, the best interests of the people are not the only thing on his mind; rather, there is also a strong element of self-interest in his bid for power and his efforts to remain in his position. This self-interest inevitably taints his leadership, for if the interests of the people conflict with his own, he may succumb to temptation and allow his own interests to trump those of the people. For example, upon seeing that another person is much more fit to rule than he, his selfish craving for power may induce him to deny this and even seek ways to viciously condemn and discredit the one whom he views as a threat to his power.

Of course, monarchy also has its pitfalls, for if the king is unworthy, he can abuse his power far more than an elected president can. Much more could be said on this topic, but here is not the place. In any case, a true king only becomes king because the people convinced him so.

Renewing Hashem’s rule and creation

Likewise, Hashem, the King of all Kings, becomes King when we declare our devotion to Him, thereby inaugurating Him as our King.

The difference, though—of course, one of many—between a human king and Hashem, is that a human king does not create the people; he merely enforces law and order, enabling society to function productively. In contrast, when we speak of Hashem as our King, we mean that He creates the world and rules over every single aspect of it.

This is the theme of Rosh Hashanah. The prayers and customs of this day are entirely devoted to repeatedly pleading of Hashem to rule over us as King, especially when we blow the Shofar. This evokes within Hashem the desire to rule over us, such that he commits to continue creating the world.

But why is it necessary to accept Hashem as King every year all over again?[3]

It is written, “The eyes of Hashem, your G–d, are constantly on it [the Holy Land] from the beginning until the end of the year.”[4] What is the meaning of this apparently unnecessary phrase, “from the beginning until the end of the year”—isn’t that already clear from the word “constantly”?

Rather, this verse alludes to the fact that Hashem annually renews the life-force with which he creates the world (and the Holy Land is the subject of the verse, for the entire world receives its life-force through that given to the Holy Land). Each year at “the end of the year”—as the twenty-ninth day of Elul passes, and we enter the night of Rosh Hashanah—Hashem’s desire to create the world recedes, as it were, until it vanishes completely, and although we cannot see it, the world’s very existence is hanging by a thread.

Then, for the next two nights and days, we must devote ourselves to showing Hashem our total commitment to serve Him. We declare, “Our Father, our King!” ... “Be King over us in Your glory,” and so on. And in this way we renew His desire to create the world for the entire coming year, and then this cycle is repeated the following year, and so on.

“Judgment day”

This is how the concept of accepting upon ourselves the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven ties in with the other, perhaps more well-known, theme of Rosh Hashanah—that it is the “Judgment day” when Hashem judges every creature in existence.

As mentioned, Hashem’s decision to rule means that He commits to continue to create the world, and He does so because we submit to Him as King through our divine service on Rosh Hashanah. Now, this decision doesn’t only mean that Hashem decides to continue to create the world and not destroy it, G–d forbid. Rather, He decides the exact nature and amount of blessings that every single person is destined to receive in the coming year, in all areas.

And on what is His decision based? “Hashem sees the heart,”[5] and judges every individual according to their worthiness at the time of judgment.[6] So the sincerity of the individual’s acceptance of the yoke of Hashem’s sovereignty will determine whether Hashem’s ruling will be favorable, and exactly to what degree, and in which areas.

And this is the connection between Rosh Hashanah and Teshuvah. It is absurd to sin and simultaneously commit to serve Hashem. Until the person repents sincerely of his or her sins, they sully his heart and disqualify his profession of total devotion to Hashem on Rosh Hashanah. So on Rosh Hashanah we do Teshuvah, because Teshuvah is vital to accepting Hashem’s sovereignty.

This is also the reason that we are given the entire month of Elul to prepare for Rosh Hashanah. We don’t want to wait until Rosh Hashanah, when we are already being strictly judged, to start thinking about Teshuvah. Rather, we spend the month of Elul doing everything we can to rectify ourselves so that when Rosh Hashanah comes around, we will already be cleansed of sin and fit to commit to serve Hashem with all our heart. 

This is the reason that the atmosphere on Rosh Hashanah, especially according to the school of Chassidus Chabad, is very serious. For on Rosh Hashanah we are standing before Hashem, and He is scrutinizing our hearts carefully. Thus, it is the Chabad custom to spend as much time as possible between the prayers reciting the words of Tehillim with a broken heart, and if one can, avoiding all idle chatter.

May Hashem bless us and write and seal us all for a good and sweet new year in both the material and the spiritual, and may we witness the coming of Moshiach to usher in the true and complete redemption this year, and at its very beginning, NOW!

[1] Berachos 58a.
[2] This declaration was used to appoint Jewish kings; cf. I Melachim 1:31.
[3] The explanation below is taken from Tanya, Iggeres HaKodesh, ch. 14.
[4] Devarim 11:12.
[5] I Shmuel 16:7.
[6] Rosh Hashanah 16b.

Dedicated by Avi Turner and family in honor of the Yahrtzeit of Mordechai Ben Yosef on 15 Av.

Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for $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, September 22, 2011

Refining the Sparks Through the Suffering of Exile

Refining the Sparks Through
the Suffering of Exile

Rabbi Y. Oliver

We have spoken about how when the Jewish people use objects in the world to serve Hashem, they refine the sparks of holiness in those objects.

Another significant way in which the Jewish people refine the sparks of holiness in exile relates to their suffering in their alien environment. Over the course of Jewish history, the Jewish people have been “hosted” by various nations because those nations held sparks of holiness that the Jewish people were expected to refine. When the Jewish people are oppressed by their host nations in various ways, and yet remain firm in their observance of Torah and Mitzvos, they pull out the sparks of holiness in the nations and in their countries.

When the Jewish people have completed their task of refining the sparks within a specific nation, they are released from it, and that nation is left lowly and disgraced, for it has been deprived of its extra life-force—the sparks of holiness that lay within it.[1]

When Adam HaRishon sinned, he caused the sparks of holiness to fall into the forces of Kelipah (see here),[2] and the Jewish people refine these sparks through their suffering in exile. This is the meaning of “All who cause the Jewish people to suffer become the ‘head’ [i.e., the leading nation].”[3] When the gentile nations oppress the Jewish people, we take their “head.” The head, which is above the rest of the body, represents a high level—the lofty sparks of holiness that lie within the nations, that are the true source of their prosperity.

This is the deeper meaning of the verse, “One man dominates over another man, to his detriment,”[4] for the detriment of “the evil man,” i.e., the spiritual forces of Kelipah, which give sustenance to the nations who oppress us. When they dominate over us and oppress us, it is in fact to their detriment, for in this way the sparks of holiness are refined from their midst, and then they lose the blessings that those sparks brought them.

To explain further, each nation draws its sustenance from a particular force of Kelipah. Thus, there are seventy nations, corresponding to the “seventy ministers of Nogah”—the seventy spiritual forces of Kelipas Nogah (the level of Kelipah that sustains the physical world in general, but not things that are forbidden for a Jew),[5] from which each of the seventy gentile nations draws its sustenance, respectively.[6]

As long as the Jewish people are being hosted by a particular country in order to refine the sparks of holiness trapped there, the “minister,” the angel from which that country derives its sustenance, benefits greatly, causing that angel’s nation to be blessed with material prosperity.

However, once the Jewish people have finished refining all the sparks there, then, of course, no sparks are left, and so the individual Kelipah from which that nation had drawn its sustenance becomes greatly weakened, causing the nation to which it gives sustenance to lose, or at least experience a significant decline, in its prosperity and prominent position on the world stage.

The Jewish people are then relocated to another country, in order to refine the sparks of holiness that await them there. Once they have refined all the sparks of holiness in all the lands of exile, Moshiach will come and redeem them, bringing them to Eretz Yisrael forever.
[1] Igra DeKallah, Bereshis, p. 496.
[2] Likkutei Torah lehoArizal, Tetzei.
[3] Gittin 56b.
[4] Koheles 8:9.
[5] Cf. Tanya, Iggeres HaKodesh ch. 25.
[6] Cf. Toras Sholom p. 204.

This post was dedicated by Reb Kasriel ben Yehudis and Chana Feige bas Reizl (my parents, tzu langeh, gezunteh, zisseh yoren) in honor of their 36th wedding anniversary. This post was also dedicated by Reb Menachem Kovacs, who requested that this message be attached:
"Zachor: to mark the 6th anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from Gush Katif and the Northern Shomron; we continue to pray and work for their restoration and for the Ge'ula Shlayma. Thank you."
Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for $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.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Refining the sparks within the nations

The Rebbe Maharash teaches:

“Hashem did a charity for us by scattering us among the nations.”[1] Why was this a charity? For by scattering us among the nations, He enabled us to fulfill a special mission: To refine the sparks of holiness hidden within them.

This is the deeper meaning of Hashem’s blessing to the Jewish people, “You will eat all the nations.”[2] Eating represents birur, refinement, and G–d then declared that the Jewish people would ultimately “eat up” and refine the sparks of holiness that lie hidden within the nations and their countries.

This is also the deeper meaning of Hashem’s statement to the Jewish people: “You shall be for me a segulah from all the nations”[3]—from all the gentile nations. I.e., when we refine them, we, the Jewish people, become a segulah, a beloved treasure, for Hashem.

Based on Sefer HaMa’amarim Toras Shmuel 5729, p. 65.

Jews refine non-Jews in several ways. When Jews interact with non-Jews in an upstanding, righteous manner, and make a kiddush Hashem (“sanctification of Hashem’s Name”):

– they[4] act as a “Light unto the nations,”[5] inspiring certain non-Jews to adopt a more refined, wholesome, G–d-centered lifestyle, seeing the shining example set by the Jewish people;

– they inspire certain non-Jews to come and learn from Jews how to serve Hashem as is required for them, by keeping the Noahide laws; moreover, Jews who have the opportunity (especially when they already have connections with non-Jews for business purposes, or the like) even approach non-Jews and convince them to undertake to follow the Noahide laws, and in this way they fulfill Rambam’s ruling[6] that Jews must encourage non-Jews to fulfill their laws;

– they inspire certain non-Jews to convert, for “Hashem only exiled the Jewish people among the nations in order to increase converts.”[7]

[1] Pesachim 87b.
[2] Devarim 7:16.
[3] Ibid. 7:6
[4] In connection with this point and the following one, see Hisva’aduyos 5744, Vol. 3, p. 1813.
[5] Yeshayah 49:6, 42:6.
[6] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 8:10.
[7] Pesachim 87b. See Orchos Tzaddikim, Gate of Truth: “One should not lie to a Jew or a non-Jew, or deceive them in any matter. ... Hashem only exiled the Jewish people in order to increase converts, and as long as they [Jews] behave with them [non-Jews] without deception, [non-Jews] will attach themselves to them [Jews].”

This post was dedicated by Reb Yeshayahu Don ben Chayah Tsipah and Sheila Shulamit bas Sarah Beila in honor of their wedding anniversary, and in honor of the yohrtzeit of Tsvi Horst Lubinizki.

Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for $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.