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

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Tefillah: Rising up from the lowest levels

The verse states concerning Yaakov: “And he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was fixed in the earth, and its head reached the heavens.” This alludes to Tefillah, which is called a ladder. The Jew starts at the lowest rung of the ladder of Tefillah—“the earth”—and rises ever higher, until he can reach the most sublime spiritual heights—“the heavens.”

The above-mentioned verse uses the word artzah for earth, although it is usually spelled aretz. Artzah, with an additional hei, alludes to the very lowest level in the earth.

This teaches us that even when the Jew is struggling not only with the standard natural state of animalistic selfishness that most of us feel upon waking, but with sins that have caused him to sink to a nadir of spiritual degeneracy, may G–d save us, Tefillah has the power to pull him out and elevate him to the most sublime spiritual level.

Nevertheless, Tefillah can only raise the person up if he is inspired to invest the effort that Tefillah requires. But if he is on a low level, how can he reach the state of yearning for G–dliness that will inspire him to climb up the rungs of Tefillah?

The solution is for one to reflect upon this very fact—that he is on a low level, both with regard to his thought, speech, and action, and with regard to his intellect and emotions. Even the essence of his soul may be trapped in the forces of impurity. This realization transforms him into a vessel for change, inspiring him with a yearning to invest the effort to rise up the ladder of Tefillah.

Adapted from Sefer HaMa’amarim Melukat—Nissan, pp. 181-182.

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sin Detracts from Our Bond with Hashem

Sin Detracts from Our Bond with Hashem

Rabbi Y. Oliver

(This is continuing from the previous post.)

In addition to the specific kind of wicked deed that each of the negative emotions entices one to commit, all negative emotions seek to make the Jew susceptible to sin in general, for, as our sages say “A person does not sins unless possessed by a spirit of foolishness.”[1] This “spirit of foolishness” comprises the negative emotions within the Bestial Soul, which are “foolish”—they seek to entice the person to sin by concealing from him the truth of the nature of sin.

The “spirit of foolishness” uses falsehood to entice the person to sin in many ways. One of its prime ruses is the claim: “Sin will not impinge upon your bond with Hashem.”[2]

Every Jew harbors an innate love and yearning for Hashem (the ahavah mesuteres[3]) that makes it intolerable for him to allow his bond with Hashem to be weakened, never mind severed, G–d forbid. In the words of the Alter Rebbe, “A Jew doesn’t want to, and cannot, become separated from G–dliness.”[4] And since “Your sins separate between you and Hashem, your G–d,”[5] by nature, a Jew cannot bring himself to commit a sin and thereby sever his connection with Hashem.

Yet this only means that the Jew cannot bring himself to knowingly sever his connection with Hashem. However, his evil inclination, called “the sly one,”[6] can delude him into imagining that sin will not detract from his bond with Hashem, and it is this outlook that makes him capable of sin.

This person has entered a state of spiritual delusion, and this enables him to fall into a vicious cycle of sin without concern for the spiritual repercussions. After all, he is a Jew regardless, he tells himself, and so he can still perform Mitzvos. Despite what happened, he will still come to shul the next morning, don his Tallis and Tefillin, and davven. His relationship with Hashem will not be affected.[7] 

On a more severe level, and often as a tragic result of not having received a proper Jewish education, this spiritual denial may also be accompanied by various foolish heretical rationalizations. He doesn’t keep kosher, he claims, because “Kosher was only necessary in the past for health reasons, but now that we have advanced in our medical knowledge, it is no longer necessary,” G–d forbid, and the like. The main thing, he declares, is “to be a Jew in your heart,” or simply a “good person”—according to whatever that means by the currently popular definition of secular society, of course. And yet at the same time, he identifies as Jewish, often proudly; he affiliates himself with certain “Jewish” causes and groups; and he adheres to certain Mitzvos and age-old Jewish customs.

In any case, it is indeed true that “Even one who has sinned remains a Jew,”[8] and since Jewishness means possessing a Jewish neshamah, even a sinner has a neshamah. However, it is only the neshamah’s essence (also known as the soul-level of yechidah) that remains completely unaffected by sin;[9] its lower levels, however, are severely damaged by sin[10], may G–d save us. (Concerning the levels of the neshamah, see here).

In fact, at the time that one commits a sin—even a relatively minor rabbinic prohibition—these lower levels of the neshamah become completely severed from G–dliness, and even more distant from Hashem than the forces of kelipah, may G–d save us.[11] And even afterwards they remain stained and wounded, and the process of cleansing and healing them thoroughly through teshuvah (repentance) may be long and arduous.

Since one connects to Hashem on the conscious level through the revealed parts of the neshamah, the damage done to these parts of the neshamah is indeed very detrimental to one’s relationship with Hashem, and keeping this in mind is one method of overcoming the temptation to sin.

May we all recognize, each one of us on his or her own level, that any deviation at all from the will of Hashem will detrimentally affect our relationship with Him, and may this recognition give us the inspiration to commit ourselves to obeying His will without compromise.

Based on Toras Menachem 5718, Vol. 22, pp. 88-89.

[1] Sotah 3a.
[2] Tanya ch. 14. Cf. ibid. chs. 24, 25.
[3] Ibid. chs. 18, 19.
[4] Hayom Yom 25 Tammuz. Cf. ibid. 21 Sivan.
[5] Yeshaya 59:2.
[6] Cf. Hayom Yom 23 Sivan.
[7] Sefer HaMa’amarim Toras Shmuel 5640, Vol. 2, p. 369.
[8] Sanhedrin 44a.
[9] Cf. Hayom Yom 11 Shevat: “He may be missing in one area or another, but the Modeh Ani [i.e., the essence of the Neshamah] of a Jew [always] remains whole.”
[10] Cf. Sefer HaMa’amarim Melukat, Vol. 1, p. 151 ff.
[11] Tanya ch. 24.

This post was dedicated in honor of my dear father, tzu langer yoren, Reb Kasriel ben Yehudis Oliver, as a merit for success in his personal life.

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, January 17, 2012

On developing positive emotions

On developing positive emotions 

Rabbi Y. Oliver

Everyone possesses both good and bad middos, emotional character traits. Some exist innately, from birth, while others are learnt from others, whether by direct inculcation, or by example.

Moreover, “Hashem made this one”—the side of impurity—“opposite this one”[1]—the side of holiness. So not only do both kinds of emotions exist, but they parallel one another. For example, although kindness is typically positive, it can also take on an evil form. Strictness is often negative, but it can also come out positive—and so on (see here).

Altogether, every person possesses seven emotional traits: The seven positive traits, which correspond to the seven branches of the Menorah in the Beis Hamikdash,[2] and their seven negative counterpart emotions, which correspond to the seven wicked nations that inhabited the land of Canaan until the Jews conquered it.

Actions are dictated by emotions. Intellectual awareness alone will not bring forth a commensurate action. Emotions constitute the energy and drive that bring intellectual convictions down into action.

Thus, one’s emotions are very important: By developing positive, holy emotions, one spurs oneself to good actions: Love of Hashem inspires one to perform positive Mitzvos, while fear of Hashem inspires one to refrain from violating negative Mitzvos.[3]

Conversely, negative emotions naturally draw the person to commit wicked deeds—sins—or permitted deeds with only selfish intent, without the desire to serve Hashem. Likewise, they entice the person to be idle and not exert oneself to perform Mitzvos to the extent of one’s capabilities. And just as we were commanded to expel the seven nations from the Land, so are we commanded to banish our negative emotions from within, so that that they not lead us to sin. Then we can truly “settle the Land” within by cultivating positive and even holy emotions.

May Hashem grant us much inner strength to overcome and banish the negative and selfish emotions within, and develop and ingrain within ourselves positive and holy emotions. This effects an “inner redemption” which hastens the coming of the true and complete redemption through our righteous Moshiach—may he come to redeem us today!

Based on the Rebbe's Toras Menachem 5718, Vol. 22, p. 88 ff. See continuation here.

[1] Koheles 7:14.
[2] Torah Ohr 32b.
[3] Tanya beg. ch. 4.

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.

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, January 12, 2012

Where does our heart lie? II

(The following post was continued from an earlier post on this topic here.)

When the Jew channels all his desires to serving Hashem, he becomes a vessel for G–dliness to enter him. Moreover, he also becomes a vessel for material prosperity, which also comes only from Hashem’s blessings. As our sages say, “An empty vessel holds.”[1]

However, our sages continue, “a full vessel does not hold.” This means that when the person is full of desires for physical pleasures and indulgences for their own sake, rather than to connect to G–dliness, he is “full,” for he desires to receive from Kelipah. Thus, he is not a vessel to receive blessings from Hashem.

Rather, one should work at refining oneself so that he does not desire worldly pleasures. He accomplishes this by reflecting upon how these desires have distanced him from G–dliness. Moreover, he should reflect upon the fact that his craving for the physical reflects a certain sense of entitlement. He thinks, perhaps subconsciously, that he somehow deserves to indulge all his desires. But when he reminds himself that he has not served Hashem as expected, he realizes that he deserves nothing. These thoughts lead him to a broken heart, and this breaks his desires for physical pleasures.

Through this, he makes himself a vessel for Hashem’s blessings in all areas, material and spiritual.
[1] Berachos 40a.

Based on Sefer HaMa’amarim 5714, Tonu Rabonon, p. 299.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tefillah: Revealing the Neshamah

Tefillah: “Gluing” our inner selves to Hashem

What is the fundamental purpose of Tefillah, prayer? The word Tefillah is etymologically related to the word tofel, “gluing” and bonding,[1] for the fundamental purpose of Tefillah is to reach Hiskashrus, a deep inner bonding of the Neshamah with G–dliness.

In particular, the focus of this inner bonding is changing one’s emotions, and so Tefillah is called “the service of the heart,”[2] for the goal of Tefillah is to transform one’s heart to love and fear Hashem.

How does the person transform his emotions? This comes through intellectual understanding that is followed by hisbonenus, contemplation on Hashem’s greatness. This is the meaning of the verse, “Know [“da”] the G–d of your father, and serve Him with a complete heart.”[3] The word da refers to Da’as, awareness of G–dliness that permeates the person, which can only be achieved through hisbonenus.[4] This verse is telling us that every Jew is obligated to reflect upon Hashem’s greatness according to his ability, and thereby inspire himself to love and fear of Hashem.

There are different kinds of hisbonenus, each one designed to bring to a different emotion. In Tefillah, each section has its own individual hisbonenus.

Rising up the rungs

These sections (and the specific hisbonenus that accompanies each one) are alluded to in the verse concerning Yaakov: “And he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was fixed in the earth, and its head reached the heavens.”[5] The ladder here alludes to Tefillah.[6] The Jew starts at the lowest rung of the ladder of Tefillah and rises ever higher, until he can reach the greatest spiritual heights.

This implies a fixed order: Just as one can only rise to a higher rung after having passed the lower rung, so, too, one can only rise to a higher level of connection with Hashem in Tefillah after completing the task required of one on the lower level.[7]

In particular, the ladder of Tefillah is said to have four rungs—the four sections of Shacharis, the Morning Prayer: Tefillas HaShachar, Pesukei DeZimrah, Blessings of Shema/Shema, and Shemoneh Esrei.

Tefillah: Revealing the Neshamah

When the person first wakes up, his Neshamah is said to be only “in his nose.”[8] It only encompasses him; it has not become revealed in him at all. Through Tefillah, however, he brings the Neshamah to a state of full revelation in the body. He does this by revealing ever-higher levels of the Neshamah.

There are four levels of the Neshamah (there is a fifth that we will not discuss just yet): Nefesh, Ru’ach, Neshamah, and Chaya, each of which is alluded to in the liturgy:[9] “It is pure” refers to Chaya; “You created it” to Neshamah; “You formed it” to Ru’ach; “You made it” to Nefesh.[10] (On the levels of the Neshamah, see here.)

Each level of the Neshamah is revealed through engaging in the hisbonenus connected with the corresponding section of the liturgy.

Likewise, through each successive section of Tefillah, one rises up to connect one’s soul to a progressively higher spiritual world, of which there are four.

(To be continued...)
[1] Keilim 3:5.
[2] Ta’anis 2a.
[3] I Divrei HaYomim 28:9.
[4] Cf. Tanya end ch. 3.
[5] Bereshis 28:12.
[6] Zohar 1:266b, 3:306b.
[7] Sefer HaMa’amarim 5692-5693, p. 41.
[8] Yeshaya 2:22. Cf. Likkutei Torah, Pinchas 79d. Ma’amarei Admur HaEmtza’i, Vayikra, Vol. 2, p. 757. Hanachos 5577, p. 15.
[9] In the “Elokai Neshamah” prayer, recited in the Morning Blessings: “My G–d, the Neshamah that you gave in me is pure; You created it, You formed it, You made it.”
[10] Sefer HaMa’amarim 5663, Vol. 2, p. 68.

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, January 5, 2012

Tenth of Teves: Hidden Divine support

What is the positive aspect of the exile? That it brings the Jewish people in proximity to non-Jews, enabling us to fulfill our mission to influence them, which was far less attainable when we lived separately from them, in our own Land. In the Rebbe’s words:
On[1] the Tenth of Teves “The king of Babylonia besieged Jerusalem.”[2] As we have often discussed, the Hebrew word for “besieged,” samach, may be interpreted as etymologically related to the word for support, as in the phrase “He Who supports the fallen.”[3] This represents the idea that the Tenth of Teves provides [the Jewish people with] assistance, for at its spiritual root, it contains a positive aspect.[4]

The same principle applies to Jewish activity to influence Gentiles to adhere to the Noahide Code. For when “The king of Babylonia besieges Jerusalem” in the literal sense [i.e., the Jewish people are in exile], it is easier to influence him in all areas related to observing the Noahide Code, because it is unnecessary to travel to a distant place before he comes to the Jewish people, because he has come close to Jerusalem. This then enables the fulfillment of the deeper interpretation of the word samach [supporting Jerusalem], for when he approaches Jerusalem, he enables the Jewish people to fulfill that which they were commanded, including the command that they were told by G–d “to compel all the world’s inhabitants to undertake the laws commanded to Noah’s descendants.”[5]

[1] Hisva’aduyos 5745, Vol. 2, pp. 1013-1014.
[2] Yechezkel 24:2.
[3] From the Nishmas hymn in the Shabbos liturgy.
[4] See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 20, p. 518 ff.
[5] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 8:10.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Self-sacrifice: Essence and permanence

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

How did the Maccabees respond to the influence of the Greeks, who desired to entice them to sin?

To preface, our sages say, “Dovid and Shlomo were anointed with a horn, and their kingdom continued. Sha’ul and Yehu were anointed with a jar, and their kingdom did not continue.”[1]

Chassidus explains[2] that the horn, which is above the head, represents serving Hashem with bittul and suprarational self-sacrifice, and this mode of divine service stems from the very essence of the Neshamah. Since Dovid and Shlomo displayed this self-sacrifice, their kingdom “continued,” i.e., it lasted in a permanent, eternal way, akin to a horn, which is solid and lasting. For since the essence of the Neshamah transcends change, by tapping into this energy, one brings permanence and eternity into one’s own divine service.

In contrast, Sha’ul personified Binah, understanding, for he had attained a sublime level of intellectual greatness. Now, of course intellect is vital in the service of Hashem; in particular, “The mind dominates over the heart.”[3] However, intellectual study only connects one with a level of G–dliness that is subject to change, and so Sha’ul’s kingdom did not last.

The difference between the kingdoms of Dovid and Sha’ul was not only apparent after time, once Hashem decreed that the kingdom of Dovid and Shlomo would last eternally,[4] while the kingdom of Sha’ul and Yehu ceased. Rather, the difference between their kingdoms was recognizable from the outset: Sha’ul and Yehu’s kingdom was based on reason and intellect, and therefore its end was inevitable, while the kingdom of Dovid and Shlomo was based on bittul and self-sacrifice, and therefore it was immediately apparent that it was destined to last.

This was the Maccabees’ response to the Greeks’ demand, “Write for yourselves on the horn of an ox that you have no portion in the G–d of Israel.”[5] Seeing that the Greeks sought to degrade the Jewish people to the “horn” of unholiness, as explained in the previous post, the Maccabees realized that they must respond in kind, with the “horn” as it exists in the realm of holiness—unyielding suprarational self-sacrifice that stems from the essence of the Neshamah.

Through this approach they were victorious, and they came to “thank and praise G–d’s great name,” which refers to Hashem’s very Essence. Since they served Hashem with the essence of their Neshamos, they were rewarded with a personal revelation of Hashem’s very Essence.

Likewise, in our time as well, the forces of secularism and hedonism “rise up against us to destroy us.”[6] They strive both overtly and subtly to lure us, G–d forbid, to abdicate our special, chosen role as Jews, to give up our precious Torah and Mitzvos, and to assimilate into the non-Jewish society.

The only response to this pressure is mesiras nefesh—to press ahead with uncompromising self-sacrifice, obedience, and devotion to practicing and disseminating Torah and Mitzvos despite all the difficulties that one may face.

Moreover, this approach should be more than merely one aspect of our divine service; it must be the very foundation of our divine service, such that it is recognizable from the very beginning. Only then can we be confident that our efforts will bear fruit that will last permanently.

Through this we will surely merit a miraculous victory over all negative forces in our time, and the ultimate divine salvation—the arrival of our righteous Moshiach, may he come NOW!

Based on Sefer HaMa’amarim 5729, p. 86 ff.
To read this essay in full, see the article on Scribd here.

[1] Megillah 14a.
[2] Ohr HaTorah, Chanukah 301a.
[3] Cf. Tanya ch. 12.
[4] I Shmuel 15:29.
[5] Bereshis Rabba 2:9.
[6] Haggadah.

This post was dedicated in the merit of a refuah shelamah for Rabbi Yoseph Dov ben Freeda and Chanah Freeda bas Feiga Zelda.

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.