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

Thursday, December 29, 2011

On the Greeks' demand that the Jews write heresy

(See my article concerning Hei Teves here.)

(This post comes in continuation to the posts here and here.)

This also sheds light on the Greeks’ demand of the Jewish people: “Write for yourselves on the horn of an ox that you have no portion in the G–d of Israel.”[1] Here, too, in the case of the Greeks’ agenda to force the Jewish people to write words of heresy, we see how their oppression of the Jewish people was primarily spiritual.

But what is the significance of “the horn of an ox,” and what led the Greeks, who were highly intelligent, to think that this act of coercion would somehow influence the Jews to give up their connection with the holiness of Torah and Mitzvos, G–d forbid?

The answer is related to the different supernal origins of the Jewish people and the nations.[2] There are four “faces” in the supernal divine chariot,[3] and the souls of the gentile nations stem from the level known as “the face of an ox.” More precisely, their souls are derived from the “horn” of this supernal ox. Just as a horn is considered secondary to the animal itself,[4] so does the horn represent the lower, external level of G–dliness from which the souls of the gentile nations (and the entire natural order, for that matter) are derived, which is related to the divine name of Elokim, which represents nature.[5]

In contrast, the souls of the Jewish people are derived from a transcendent or “internal” level of G–dliness, the name of Havayeh, as it is written, “For his nation remained the portion of Havayeh.”[6] This is alluded to in the verse, “And He [Hashem] blew into his [Adam’s] nose a soul of life.”[7] Vigorous blowing represents expending one’s inner strength.[8]

This is why the Greeks specifically wanted the Jewish people to write this statement on the horn of an ox. They wanted the Jews to degrade themselves to receive their sustenance from the same external[9] level of G–dliness from which the gentile nations derive their sustenance, the Name of Elokim, and in so doing they would forfeit their special bond with Hashem and his Torah and Mitzvos, which would lead them to assimilate with the non-Jews, G–d forbid.

Based on Sefer HaMa’amarim 5729, p. 86 ff. To be continued...

[1] Bereshis Rabba 2:9.
[2] Torah Ohr, Vayeshev 30a. Ohr HaTorah, Chanukah 300a ff.
[3] Discussed in Yechezkel 1:1-3:27. Obviously, there is no physical chariot or ox in the higher spiritual realms, and these are anthropomorphisms, as is common in the Kabbalistic teachings.
[4] Chullin 117b.
[5] Cf. Tanya, Igeres HaTeshuvah ch. 4.
[6] Devarim 32:9.
[7] Bereshis 2:7. Since, as Kabbalah teaches, Adam possessed a Jewish soul, this verse sheds light on the nature of the Jew’s special soul.
[8] Tanya, beg. ch. 2.
[9] Likewise, the Greeks sought to influence the Jews to engage in secular studies, known as “chochmos chitzoniyus,” lit., “external wisdoms.”

This post was dedicated by Yerachmiel “Mitch” Belzer and family, as a merit for Malkah bas Neyereh. Also dedicated by Rabbi Shmuli Markel and family (Shmuel Leib ben Esther and Sara Rochel bas Chayah Nechomoh).

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 yarhtzeitof 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, December 27, 2011

Chanukah: Only pure Torah study prevents assimilation

Only pure Torah study prevents assimilation

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

As long as the Jewish people remain in exile, “in every generation, they [the gentile nations] rise up against us to destroy us.”[1] In some ages, our enemies sought to destroy us by slaying the Jewish body, G–d forbid. In the time of the Greeks, however, their method was to entice the Jewish people to adopt the Greek culture and assimilate into their society, with the ultimate goal of bringing them to cease to exist as a separate nation, G–d forbid.

Thus, the Medrash relates[2] that the nations came to their wise man, Avnimos, and asked him whether they could prevail upon the Jewish people to assimilate with them. Avnimos replied: “Go and frequent their houses of pray and houses of study. If you find children chirping with their voice [in Torah study], you will not be able to defeat them. But if not, you will be able to defeat them.”

However, teaching children Torah only has the power to protect Jews from such harm if it is taught in a pure, uncompromised manner, permeated with fear of Hashem. Such an education will bring the Pinteleh Yid, the core of the Jewish children’s pure Neshamos, to be revealed in their hearts, endowing them with the inner fortitude to be faithful to Hashem and His Torah for their entire lives.

May we draw strength and inspiration from Chanukah to each do our part to promote a pure, uncompromising Torah education for every single Jewish child throughout the entire year!

Adapted from the Previous Rebbe's Sefer HaMa’amarim 5689, pp. 115-116.

[1] Haggadah.
[2] Yalkut Shimoni, remez 115.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Countering the Greeks’ agenda to secularize Mitzvah observance

Countering the Greeks’ agenda to
secularize Mitzvah observance

Rabbi Y. Oliver

(This post comes into continuation to the previous post.)

The same was true of the Greeks’ approach to Mitzvos: They sought “to lead them astray from the Chukim of Your will.”[1] Now, there are three kinds of Mitzvos:

· Eidos: Mitzvos that were established to commemorate a specific event, e.g., Shabbos, Pesach, or Sukkos. On its own, human intellect wouldn’t realize how important these Mitzvos are, but once Hashem commanded us to keep them, we can come to understand and accept the reason behind them.

· Mishpatim: Mitzvos that human intellect can appreciate on its own, such as honoring one’s parents, giving charity, and so on.

· Chukim: Laws that have no rationale, and that we perform simply because Hashem so commanded us. Of these laws it is said: “The Satan and the nations ridicule the Jewish people, saying, ‘What is this Mitzvah, and what rationale does it have?’”[2]

The Greeks didn’t mind the first two categories of Mitzvos, Eidos and Mishpatim, because they can be explained rationally. But they vehemently opposed the observance of “the Chukim of Your will,” because the Chukim are suprarational.

This can be explained on a deeper level. As discussed, the essence of the conflict between the Jewish people and the Greeks lay in a titanic struggle between faith and reason. We explained this above vis-à-vis the struggle over how to view Torah, and the same conflict existed in how to view Mitzvos. The Greeks sought to bring even the suprarational Mitzvos to conform with reason, while the Jews fought to make pure faith permeate all the Mitzvos, to have even the rational Mitzvos performed in a way that transcends reason.

To explain, the Greeks would even have allowed the Chukim if they could be kept in a rational manner. But if the Chukim have no reason, how could they be fulfilled rationally?

This would be a kind of “argument from authority.” An intelligent person can accept the advice of a renowned world-class expert even if he doesn’t personally understand the expert’s rationale. He realizes that in order to understand the topic to the degree of depth that the expert has attained, he would have to spend many years of in-depth study, for “many years inform one with wisdom,”[3] and so in this case, it is only rational for him to rely upon the expert’s vastly superior knowledge. All the more so, an intelligent person can accept that since Hashem created the universe, and His intellect is infinitely greater than ours, it is perfectly reasonable for me, a puny human, to obey the Creator’s instructions even when I do not understand them, and even when my mind tells me the opposite.

This is the meaning of the precise wording of the Ve’al HaNissim prayer, which states that the Greeks sought “to lead them [the Jewish people] astray from the Chukim of Your will.” The Greeks would have allowed the Chukim if they had been kept in a rational manner, as explained. What they opposed was the Jews’ stubborn performance of the Chukim on account of “Your will”—without any reason at all, nor even the reason that Hashem knows better, but simply because Hashem so commanded.

While the Greeks sought to make even the Chukim intellectually agreeable, the Jewish people strove to promote the exact opposite approach—to bring even the rational laws, the Eidos and Mishpatim, to be performed like the Chukim.[4]

Yes, we ought to use our intellect to study and internalize the logical reasons behind the Eidos and Mishpatim. However, we should not do so because intellect itself so dictates. Likewise, Hashem is not instructing us to follow intellect because it has some kind of inherent value, G–d forbid. Rather, even when we use our intellect, as in the performance of these Mitzvos (and in Torah study, and so on), we ultimately do so simply because Hashem commanded us. Thus, at their essence, even the rational Mitzvos are suprarational. And therefore, had Hashem commanded us to do something else to serve Him—even something totally non-intellectual, like chopping wood—we would have done so with the same enthusiasm.[5]

Put differently, in every act of performing a Mitzvah, one should submit oneself to Hashem with two intentions:[6]

The individual intention: One should delve into the significance behind each individual Mitzvah, and remind oneself of its reasons and become inspired by them as one performs the Mitzvah. This is the external aspect of the Mitzvah.

The general intention: As one performs the Mitzvah, one should be mindful that one is performing a divine command. This command is the essential core of the Mitzvah that is common to all Mitzvos—Eidos, Mishpatim, and Chukim alike; positive and negative commandments alike.[7] Since this involves obeying without (or before) understanding, this intention involves a certain self-sacrifice, a surrender of the ego and self that goes against human nature. This is the “Chok” aspect of every Mitzvah, which makes all the Mitzvos essentially suprarational. Although it may be difficult, a Jew is capable of this self-transcendence because of the natural love of Hashem (ahavah mesuteres) that flows from his Jewish Neshamah. Thus, all our observance of Torah and Mitzvos depends upon the foundation of suprarational self-sacrifice—an ability that enables the Jew to give up his life when faced with the challenge of dying al kiddush Hashem.[8]

It was this inner core that came to the fore in the resistance of the Maccabees. The Jews understood that the only way to fight against the Greeks’ war against faith was by intensifying their devotion in the very area that the Greeks sought to eradicate—by arousing their own inner potential for suprarational self-sacrifice.

And so the Jews started a war of the few against the many and the weak against the mighty.[9] Since the Jews’ chances of winning in this insurrection were so minuscule, their behavior was not rational; some would call it a suicide mission. Rather, it was an expression of suprarational faith, and so it was the fit response to the Greeks’ efforts to eradicate the suprarational.

Based on Sefer HaMa’amarim 5729, p. 86 ff. To be continued...

[1] Ve’al HaNissim liturgy.
[2] Rashi on Bamidbar 19:2.
[3] Cf. Iyov 32:7.
[4] Sefer HaMa’amarim 5698, p. 175.
[5] Likkutei Torah, Shelach 40a. Sefer HaMa’amarim 5666, p. 54.
[6] Likkutei Torah, ibid.
[7] Tanya ch. 30.
[8] Cf. ibid. end ch. 25.
[9] Ve’al HaNissim liturgy.

This post was dedicated by Reb Kasriel and Zippi Oliver in honor of 30th yahrtzeit of Shmuel ben Yosef Tzvi on 18 Kislev.

Also dedicated by Rabbi Levi and Chani Kurinsky in honor of the tenth wedding anniversary of Levi Yitzchok Halevi ben Chana Brocha and Chana Bas Yocheved Rivkah on the 1st night of Chanukah, and the birthday of Chana Bas Yocheved Rivkah on the 5th night of Chanukah.

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, December 22, 2011

Countering the Greeks' Agenda to Secularize Torah (G-d forbid)

Countering The Greeks’ Agenda to Secularize Torah, G–d forbid

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

The Greeks sought “to bring them [Jewish people] to forget Your Torah.”[1]

The wording here is precise: The Greeks did not oppose Torah study per se; on the contrary, since Greek culture valued intellect as the greatest good, and they recognized the beauty, depth, and complexity of Torah—as it is written, “for it is your wisdom in the eyes of the nations”[2]—they held Torah study in high esteem as a most sublime, profound intellectual pursuit. In this sense, they were willing to allow and even encourage the Jewish people to study Torah.

Rather, they opposed Torah study with the belief that it is “Your Torah”—that it is divine. Torah is not just another wisdom among many; it is more than even a very advanced wisdom, more advanced than all others. Likewise, Torah is not a tool for intellectual gratification and development, G–d forbid—although it does carry those fringe benefits as well.

Rather, although it involves the intellect, Torah is fundamentally different—it is holy intellect. In these ostensibly intellectual teachings, Hashem reveals to us His will and wisdom, which are infused with a sublime level of G–dliness that transcends intellect altogether. And so by studying Torah, the Jew is able to unite with Hashem, as it is written, “Three knots are tied to one another: The Jewish people to Torah, and the Torah to Hashem.”[3] This means that by grasping the technical details of Torah,[4] the Jew fuses his mind and soul with a level of pure G–dliness that completely transcends intellect.

It was this submission to the suprarational that the Greeks so vehemently opposed, and which they sought to prevail the Jewish people to forget—even, if necessary, through brute force.

But before they resorted to force, how did they seek to contaminate the Jews’ Torah study? By systematically enticing them to become preoccupied with secular wisdoms and to view amassing secular knowledge as a highly desirable pursuit of inherent ethical value.

In this way, the Jews came to treat these wisdoms as on a par with the wisdom of Torah (lehavdil). Once Torah wisdom is treated as the equal of secular wisdom, the student loses the sensitivity to the Torah’s inherent holiness, and views it as a purely intellectual pursuit, may G–d save us.

This is the deeper reason that when they broke into the Beis Hamikdash, the Greeks made a point of contaminating all the oil that they could find. Oil represents wisdom,[5] and the Greeks fought with all their might to contaminate the holy oil of Torah with the impurity of secular wisdom, and thereby influence the Jewish people to treat Torah as if it were no different from other wisdoms, G–d forbid.

The Greeks’ success at contaminating the pure oil in the Beis Hamikdash represented the fact that unfortunately, they had been largely successful at their mission of secularization, and many Jews in that time succumbed to the intensely powerful lure of Greek wisdom. At first they studied it as outwardly religious Jews, and then they dropped Jewish observance altogether, defecting to the ranks of the anti-religious Jewish Hellenists, who eagerly took up the battle-cry of the Greeks to “modernize” the “old-fashioned” and “superstitious” Jews (G–d forbid).[6]

However, it is written, “one nation will prevail over another nation”[7]—“when one rises, the other falls.”[8] Although in context, this verse is discussing the conflict between Yaakov and Esav, the same principle can be applied to other spiritual conflicts. Thus, when the Maccabees fought vigorously back and promoted Torah study, they prevailed over the Greeks and the insidious infiltration of Greek wisdom in the Jewish community.

Of course, the Maccabees did not merely promote Torah study—they promoted Torah study permeated with pure faith in Hashem, the Giver of the Torah, and it was this Torah study that dispelled the corrupt influence of the wisdom of Kelipah.

The key to approaching the Torah with such faith is cultivating bittul, humility. Of the Torah it is written, “It is not in the heavens, nor across the sea.”[9] The Talmud interprets: “The Torah will not be found among the arrogant and in one who expands his mouth upon it.”[10] No matter how much Torah an arrogant, egotistical person studies, the light of Torah cannot enter him. Only when the student of Torah sincerely humbles himself to Hashem and to the holiness in His Torah is he a fit vessel for the Torah’s light.

And when one studies Torah with bittul, he is also able to study secular studies for the sake of Heaven. He views these studies as fundamentally subordinate to Torah, as having no inherent value, and as serving as nothing but a means to an end (to earn an ample livelihood or as a tool to understand a concept in Torah, and so on[11]). Then his Torah study will remain pure and untainted, and he will not be adversely affected by studying these wisdoms. Thus, we find that many of our greatest sages, notably the Rambam and the Ramban, attained great erudition in secular wisdom.[12] Their bittul to G–dliness was so sublime that they were able to use secular wisdoms themselves for the sake of Torah and divine service.

Based on Sefer HaMa’amarim 5729, p. 86 ff. See the continuation here.

[1] Ve’al HaNissim liturgy.
[2] Devarim 4:6.
[3] Cf. Zohar 3:73a.
[4] Chassidus refers to this as “levushei hasagah”—“garments of understanding.”
[5] Zohar 3:7b.
[6] Similarly, in more recent times, the Jewish department of the Communist party, the Yevsektsia, which consisted largely of ex-Yeshiva students, were infamous for their ruthless persecution of religious Jews and their tireless efforts to uproot Jewish observance, far outdoing their non-Jewish comrades in their ideological zeal.
[7] Bereshis 25:23.
[8] Ibid., Rashi.
[9] Devarim 30:12.
[10] Eruvin 55a.
[11] Cf. Igros Kodesh, Vol. 3, p. 123 ff.
[12] Tanya end ch. 8.

This post was dedicated by Reb Kasriel and Zippi Oliver in honor of the birthday of Yehudis Fraida Tsap (Yehudis Fraida bas Hindeh Zeldah Bracha) on 8 Kislev. Also dedicated by Rabbi Shmuli Markel and family (Shmuel Leib ben Esther and Sara Rochel bas Chaye Nechomoh). May we be immediately reunited with the Rebbe!

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.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chanukah: A Titanic Conflict of Wisdoms

Chanukah: A Titanic Conflict of Wisdoms

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

Oil represents wisdom,[1] and so the oil of the Holy Temple represents the wisdom of Torah, while the Greeks’ efforts to contaminate this oil represents their efforts to bring secular wisdom to be dominant. Thus, the struggle between the Maccabees and the Greeks was essentially a struggle between two kinds of wisdom, each of which seeks total domination.

Although secular wisdom can be very profound, Torah wisdom is so vastly superior to it that the Zohar comments[2] on the verse, “And I saw that there is an advantage to wisdom over foolishness”[3] that King Solomon was describing the greatness of “wisdom”—Torah, over “foolishness”—secular wisdom.

Thus, secular wisdom is associated with the evil inclination, which is called an “old and foolish king,” while wisdom of Torah is associated with the good inclination, which is called an “unfortunate, wise child.”[4]

To explain, wisdom of holiness engenders bittul—self-effacement and humility, while wisdom of Kelipah engenders yeshus—egotism and arrogance. This also translates itself into one’s interaction with others: yeshus leads to conflict and division, while bittul fosters harmony and unity. The reason for this difference is as follows:

The underlying purpose of wisdom of holiness, Torah, is to explain how the universe was created yesh mei’ayin, something from “nothing”—i.e., from pure G–dliness. Moreover, even after being created, everything in the universe depends absolutely upon this G–dliness for its ongoing existence, and so even now, the true reality of the universe is G–dliness.[5] The awareness of our total dependence upon G–d permeates everything we do with faith in Divine Providence. Likewise, since this wisdom focuses on bittul, studying it imbues one with bittul—with the willingness to nullify oneself, i.e., humility. Thus, Torah wisdom is indeed true wisdom.

In contrast, wisdom of Kelipah, secular wisdom, explains not the ayin, pure transcendent G–dliness, but the yesh, the egotistical world that feels itself to be independent from its source in G–dliness and self-sustaining, G–d forbid. Since this wisdom focuses on yeshus, on the universe as it feels itself independent from G–d, studying it imbues one with yeshus—with arrogance and a sense that one does not truly need G–d (G–d forbid). Ultimately, this leads to heresy—total denial of G–d and rejection of His providence, may G–d save us. Thus, secular wisdom is indeed true foolishness.

This manifests itself in the different impact of these wisdoms on the student’s intellect and emotions. In general, intellect seeks to transcend personal bias and focus on the topic at hand in an objective way, which is the idea of bittul, while emotions focus on subjective, self-centered considerations, which is the idea of yeshus.

Since Torah engenders bittul, it imbues an even greater measure of bittul in the intellect, bringing one to true objectivity, and it even elevates the self-focused emotions to a state of bittul.

Conversely, secular wisdom, which engenders yeshus, brings the emotions to be even more self-focused than they would have been otherwise—i.e., it fosters coarseness and wicked character traits. What’s worse, it even corrupts the otherwise truth-seeking intellect to a state of selfishness and arrogance.

This is the reason that many great gentile sages were notorious for being extremely corrupt and decadent. Their wisdom did not translate itself into more refined behavior; on the contrary, they were more immoral than others of average intellect. The reason is, as explained, that secular wisdom instills and bolsters coarseness and arrogance.

(It should be noted that the above explains the natural impact of each of these wisdoms. However, if one learns Torah without fear of Hashem, G–d forbid, it may become an “elixir of death,” having a very negative effect on the person[6]; conversely, if one is strong in one’s fear of Hashem and studies secular wisdoms in the appropriate way, with the right intentions, they can be beneficial.[7])

Based on Toras Menachem 5714, Vol. 1, p. 300 ff.

[1] Zohar 3:7b.
[2] ibid. 3:47a.
[3] Koheles 2:13.
[4] Ibid. 4:13. Koheles Rabba, ibid.
[5] Cf. Tanya, Sha’ar HaYichud VehaEmunah, chs. 1-3.
[6] Yoma 72b.
[7] Cf. Tanya, end ch. 8.

This post was dedicated by Reb Kasriel and Zippi Oliver in honor of the birthday of Sara Rochel Tsap (Sara Rochel bas Hindeh Zeldah Bracha) on 11th Cheshvan. Also dedicated by Shmuli Markel and family (Shmuel Leib ben Esther and Sara Rochel bas Chaye Nechomoh). Also dedicated lizchus Rabbi Yossi Soble (Yosef Yitzchok ben Menucha Chaya) and family. May we be immediately reunited with the Rebbe!

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, December 14, 2011

How to Climb the Ladder of Prayer

(This article is presented in honor of 19 Kislev.
For articles on 19 Kislev from previous years, see here and here.)

How to Climb the Ladder of Prayer

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

The key to ascent—bittul
“And he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was fixed in the earth, and its head reached the heavens.”[1] The Zohar states[2] that this alludes to the ladder of prayer. Prayer is constructed like a ladder, where one starts at the lowest rung and rises ever higher, until one can reach the greatest heights.

In particular, the ladder of prayer is said to have four rungs—the four sections of Shacharis, the Morning Prayer, through which one’s soul rises up through the four spiritual worlds, respectively:
  • Tefillas HaShacharAsiyah
  • Pesukei DeZimrahYetzirah
  • The blessings of Shema/ShemaBeriyah
  • Shemoneh EsreiAtzilus
Every ascent is attained through bittul, self-nullification. Thus, in order for the person to rise up to a higher level, he needs to toil in bittul, nullifying himself to Hashem in the way expected of him while on his current level. In the context of prayer, this means that one starts on the lowest level, the world of Asiyah, and in order to rise to the next level, the G–dliness of the world of Yetzirah, one must engage in the hisbonenus that connects one’s soul with the G–dliness of the world of Asiyah. Then the soul can rise to establish a connection with the world of Yetzirah, whereupon the person must engage in the hisbonenus that connects his soul with the G–dliness of the world of Yetzirah ... and so on.

Tefillas HaShacharAsiyah
We begin prayer with the declaration, “Acknowledge Hashem.” The beginning of prayer is a general, all-encompassing acceptance of Hashem, before one has reached true understanding of Him. This parallels the world of Asiyah, action. This represents the concept that the beginning of divine service is obedience, “we will do” before “we will hear [understand].”[3] At this point one lacks inspiration and enthusiasm, for one when one is just beginning, he has by definition not yet invested the necessary effort to reach such a feeling, for that is a more advanced stage.

Pesukei DeZimrah—Yetzirah
In this section the Jew declares Hashem’s praises[4] with the goal of inspiring and exciting himself from Hashem’s greatness. Although this involves a certain degree of comprehension of Hashem’s greatness, this comprehension is lacking, and the main focus is to arouse a feeling of excitement. The reason that the comprehension is lacking is that in Pesukei DeZimrah we reflect upon how wondrous is Hashem’s creation of yesh mei’ayin, something from nothing, and this is a concept that is fundamentally beyond human comprehension.

It should be noted that according to Chassidus, yesh mei’ayin does not mean that the world was literally created from nothing. Rather, the world was created from a level of G–dliness that is like nothing in comparison to our world, for it exists on a plane of existence that is so vastly superior that we cannot relate to it at all; thus, for us, it is as if it is non-existent.

The reason that we cannot truly comprehend the process of creation yesh mei’ayin is that comprehending something implies internalizing it, and if we would truly understand how our existence stems from a level of G–dliness that is so far beyond us, we would become so overwhelmed that we would lose our sense of independent existence.

Yet although we do not truly understand the process of yesh mei’ayin, reflecting upon it inspires us with wonder and excitement. Thus, Pesukei DeZimrah means literally “verses of song,” for song represents arousing a superficial excitement. Since at this stage one has not reached true understanding, this only refines one’s inner self on an external level;[5] however, this paves the way for one to rise to the next level of inner change.

This also ties in with the second meaning of Pesukei DeZimrah, to “prune,” referring to the “pruning of the thorns”[6] from the Bestial Soul.[7] Just as a vineyard has thorns, which suck the moisture from the ground and ruin the vineyard, so is it with the Jewish people, who are compared to a vineyard. The thorns that obstruct the Neshamah from rising up to the greatest heights are words of idle chatter and mockery, even when spoken without pleasure. Likewise, thinking forbidden thoughts, or looking at forbidden sights, even when one does so without pleasure, contaminates the soul and prevents it from rising to Hashem.

This is the purpose of Pesukei DeZimrah—to excite the Jew with G–dliness and thereby “prune” these Kelipos (negative energies) from him.

This section of prayer corresponds to the world of Yetzirah and connects us with the spirituality of that world, for there the focus of the angels is to sing Hashem’s praises with intense emotional excitement.

Based on Toras Menachem 5712, Vol. 6, p. 137 ff.
Sefer HaMa’amarim 5708, pp. 80-81. Cf. Sefer HaMa’amarim 5668, p. 5 ff.

[1] Bereshis 28:12.
[2] 1:266b. 3:306b.
[3] This was the declaration with which the Jewish people committed themselves to follow the Torah. See Shemos 24:7; Shabbos 88a.
[4] Cf. Berachos 32a. Avoda Zara 7b.
[5] In the original, one makes a “chakikah kelalis,” an “external engraving.”
[6] Cf. Yeshaya 25:1. Zohar 3:284a.
[7] Likkutei Torah, Bechukosai 47d. Ibid., Nitzavim 51d.

This post was dedicated by Shmuli Markel and family (Shmuel Leib ben Esther and Sara Rochel bas Chaya Nechomoh), and by Yisroel Meir Raphael and family. Also dedicated by Dov Oliver in honor of the yahrtzeit of our grandfather OBM, Reb Shmuel Oliver.

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, December 8, 2011

The source of Jewish souls in the letters of Torah

The source of Jewish souls in the letters of Torah
Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

(This is a continuation of the posts herehere, and here.)

The Jewish souls’ origin in Torah is also related to the letters in a Sefer Torah, which also number 600,000. Thus, the name “ישראל” is an acronym[1] for “יש ששים רבוא אותיות לתורה.”

The Neshamah of every single Jew stems from his or her corresponding letter in the Sefer Torah, which originates from the source of his or her soul in Torah above.

The Alter Rebbe asks:[2] Aren’t there far fewer letters in the Sefer Torah (to be precise, there are 304,805 letters)? He answers that the number of 600,000 includes the unwritten vowel sounds, each of which indicates a letter. For example, a komatz is an alef, a chirik is a yud, a cholam is a vav, and so on. However, we do not know exactly how to calculate which vowels are counted as letters in order to reach the number of 600,000.[3]

The Rebbe Rashab explains[4] that there are two kinds of letters: Letters of thought and letters of speech. When one thinks, one also uses letters, but these letters are far more abstract and spiritual than letters that come down in the relatively coarse medium of speech.

Likewise, the letters of Torah exist on both these levels: The letters of a physical Sefer Torah are comparable to Hashem’s letters of speech. But at the level of Chochmah of Atzilus, the Torah exists in the form of letters of thought. The Hebrew vowel sounds (Nekudos) are not necessarily written, but they allude to letters that one thinks. Thus, letters of thought include the more rarefied letters that relate to the Nekudos. And so on the level that Torah exists in Hashem’s thought, as it were, there are far more letters—altogether, 600,000. And since “The Jewish people arose in Hashem’s thought”[5]; i.e., the Jewish people stem from the level of Torah as it exists in Hashem’s thought, as it were, therefore the Jewish souls also number 600,000.

Moreover, just as thoughts are united with the thinker, so is a Jew united with Hashem by connecting with His thought. To explain, letters of thought are far more united with the soul than letters of speech; thus, although both thought and speech are referred to mere garments of the soul and not its essence, thought is called a “united garment,” while speech is referred to as a “separate garment.” Likewise, “The Torah binds the Jewish people with Hashem”[6] because the Jewish soul is rooted in the level of Hashem’s thought, which is united with Hashem in a far more complete way than the rest of the creations, which stem from Hashem’s speech, as it were.

[1] Megaleh Amukos 186.
[2] Likkutei Torah Behar 41b, 43d.
[3] See the commentary of the P’nei Yehoshua on Kiddushin 30a, for additional solutions.
[4] Sefer HaMa’amarim 5663-5664, p. 309. Ibid., p. 131. Cf. ibid., p. 368.
[5] Bereshis Rabba 1:4.
[6] Zohar 3:73b.

This post was dedicated by Shmuli Markel and family (Shmuel Leib ben Esther and Sara Rochel bas Chaye Nechomoh), and by Yisroel Meir Raphael and family. Also dedicated by Yosef ben Chaim Goldenberg, now in the US Army; may Hashem continue to watch over him with many blessings and for a safe and healthy return to his family from Afghanistan.

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