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

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Why work?

Why work?
Or: The Deeper Significance of the Weekdays

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

When we examine our mundane lives, it seems that the true spiritual experience is to be had on Shabbos, when we are able to withdraw from our mundane concerns and devote ourselves to Torah study and prayer. After all, what could be spiritual about the rat race of pursuing a livelihood and the numerous tasks of cooking, cleaning, and the like necessary to maintain a household?

Yet Chassidus, known as the “inner dimension of the Torah”, sheds light on this aspect of the inner dimension of our mundane lives. It explains that in fact, everything we do during the week, even the most mundane activity, has an underlying spiritual purpose.

The main purpose of our divine service during the weekdays is to create a birur, a spiritual separation and refinement, of the impure spiritual energy that permeates the physical world known as kelipas nogah. The Jew accomplishes this goal through engaging in various kinds of work, which are encompassed by the thirty-nine categories of work forbidden on Shabbos, known as melachos.

The melachos are closely related to eating, for, among other things, they encompass all the stages necessary in the process of preparing food—from the earliest stage of sowing the seeds, to the final stage of baking or cooking. And since the goal of all the efforts necessary to prepare the food is that it be eaten, eating food is the culmination of this step in refining Kelipas Nogah (albeit only the first stage; see below).

This parallels the process of refinement that takes place during physical eating, in which the stomach and the liver process the food. The higher-quality nutrients are extracted from the food’s inferior aspects and are absorbed into the body, even rising up to the level of the superior faculties of the mind and heart. The inferior aspects, however, are eliminated.

Likewise, when one eats in the proper way, the sparks of holiness that lie in the physical are extracted from the “shell” of the forces of the Kelipah, which is rejected.

The above is the first stage in the weekday birur of Kelipas Nogah. However, a further birur of Kelipas Nogah occurs when one uses the energy from the food one eats[1] to recite the weekday prayers.

Prayer is compared to eating, for just as eating involves birur, so does prayer.

The highlight of Tefillah is the Shema, in which one declares Hashem’s absolute unity, and that one is willing to give up one’s life for it.[2]

This creates a birur comparable to that of eating:

When the heart and mind of the Jew become inspired with the desire to become subsumed in the sublime G–dliness that lies at the source of the Jew’s soul,[3] this parallels the way that the energy of the food becomes absorbed in the body’s higher organs.

Likewise, Tefillah draws one closer to Hashem, and this experience humbles the person and impresses upon him just how distant he is from Hashem during the rest of the day. This realization crushes his ego and eliminates a significant amount of the Kelipas Nogah within his Bestial Soul.

This is the reason that Tachanun follows the earlier parts of the Tefillah, for once one has reached the sublime spiritual heights, he senses his lowliness all the more, and turns to Hashem and begs for forgiveness.

We can carry the comparison to digestion further. The more thoroughly the food is digested, the more nutrients are separated from the food for constructive use, and the more the waste matter that is eliminated is truly bereft of any beneficial components. Likewise, the more attention one devotes to Tefillah, the more one’s intellect and emotions become inspired to submit to Hashem, and the more one comes to realize one’s lowliness before Hashem.

This is the meaning of “The belly of the wicked is lacking”[4]: “The wicked” refers to the forces of Kelipah, which are “lacking” the sparks of holiness that were extracted through the Jew’s efforts to accomplish the weekday birurim.

Sefer HaLikkutim, Shin, pp. 93-94.
[1] Cf. Tanya, beg. ch. 8, “be’ko’ach achilah ha’hi.”
[2] In the original, “limsor nafsho be’echad.”
[3] In the original, “le’ishto’avo begufa de’Malko.”
[4] Mishlei 13:25.

Dedicated by Reb Yisrael Meir Rafael and family.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Jews and Non-Jews: Complementary Missions Given at Sinai

Jews and Non-Jews:
Complementary Missions Given at Sinai

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

It may come as a surprise, but according to many opinions,[1] before the giving of the Torah at Sinai, the Jewish people had the halachic status of non-Jews. Their basic philosophical beliefs about the oneness of Hashem, His providence, and so on, were no different from those that Jews believe in today (on the contrary, we are continuing the mission to carry on these sacred beliefs, with the help of Hashem). Moreover, the Jewish people existed as a separate nation ever since the time of Yaakov, all of whose sons were Jews. We even knew Torah, for all the forefathers sat and studied Torah,[2] and passed it on to future generations. And yet the Torah tells us that they were not real Jews until much later on, when the Torah was given at Sinai. Why?

When Hashem chose us as a nation, He separated us from the nations around us by giving us the Torah and its Mitzvos.In other words, a Jew then ceased being merely a person—in essence, a non-Jew—with a belief system and practices (along with the distinguished lineage of the forefathers) that differed from those of the rest of mankind. The Jew’s fundamental being, core, and every aspect of his or her life, became irrevocably transformed.

Now, at first glance, some (especially those with, through no fault of their own, little Torah-true Jewish education, which is accompanied by the tendency to view everything in Judaism through the critical lens of the values and yardsticks of modern secular culture) may interpret this chosenness as somehow belittling non-Jews. As implying that they are somehow second-rate, unimportant, and even subhuman. As being what in our modern world is a cardinal sin—racist. But this is simply not so.

Let’s explain.[3] The natural order—and not only our physical world, but even the higher spiritual worlds—receive their sustenance from the divine name of Elokim. Thus, our sages say, “The name of Elokim is mentioned thirty-two times in the account of Bereshis (creation).” Now, this includes not only mankind, but even the awesome system of the sun, planets, and stars, which all possess intelligence and rotate constantly out of their excitement in singing the praise of Hashem—they too derive their existence from the name of Elokim. Even the incredibly pure and sublime beings known as angels, which reside in the higher spiritual realms—and not only the lower angels, such as the Ofanim, but even the highest of all, the Seraphim (see here)—they, too, derive their existence from the name of Elokim.

Then there is the name of Havayeh,[4] which represents a level of G–dliness that is supernatural and otherworldly. This is a level so lofty that until the Torah was given, no one had any access to it.[5] Until the giving of the Torah. At this unspeakably awesome, one-time occasion, Hashem chose to infuse the sublime level of Havayeh within every Jew.[6]

(This is the meaning of the Jew’s additional soul, the Nefesh HoElokis, the divine soul.[7] One might ask: Why is this soul is called a divine soul; after all, everything that exists has a soul that is divine, for Hashem created (and continually recreates) everything in existence? The answer is that the soul in all other beings comes from the name of Elokim, while the Jew possesses an additional soul that completely transcends the natural order, one that flows from Havayeh—the divine soul.)

However, this was only the beginning. Hashem then gave us a mission, a mission of the most unparalleled cosmic proportions. He charged us with the task of bridging the cosmic divide between Havayeh and Elokim, by revealing the name of Havayeh in the world.

To this end, He gave us the Torah, which is specifically called the Torah of Havayeh, and the Mitzvos, which are specifically called the Mitzvos of Havayeh. When we study the Torah and adhere to the Mitzvos, we reveal this level in the world around us, and to the gentile nations as well. This was in fact Hashem’s ultimate intent in creation, also known as “making a dwelling place for Hashem,”[8] for Havayeh, in the world and among the gentile nations, who stem from Elokim.

Since this is the ultimate purpose of creation, this mission carries the utmost responsibility and requires the utmost devotion and sacrifice. This is the meaning of Hashem’s statement that He made us “A kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”[9]

A Kohen, a priest, represents someone whose entire life, and every minute aspect of his life, is different from those of others. It is consecrated to Hashem.

And so Hashem gave us the Torah, which is related to the world hora’ah, guidance, for every single minute aspect of a Jew’s life, from the cradle to the grave, is guided by Torah. There is no area of life where Hashem does not provide guidance to his priests, the Jewish people, in His Torah.

This surely applies to the home, which the Jew is charged with making a Mikdash (sanctuary) for Hashem, regardless of where—in the kitchen, the living room, the bathroom, and the bedroom—the Torah guides the Jew how to bring the divine presence into all these places.

And it applies no less to the workplace, where a Jew is charged with the mission of setting an example of scrupulous honesty and integrity, and influencing his environment in a pleasant, peaceful manner, for of the Torah it is written, “Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.”[10] He should influence the Jews around him to adopt Torah observance, and the non-Jews around him[11] to believe in Hashem and Torah, and follow the Noahide Code—the eternal laws and principles of basic morality and decency incumbent upon all mankind.

This is not to say that non-Jews can’t connect to Hashem; on the contrary, they can and must, especially in light of the fact that they are created “in the image of Hashem.” However, the focus of their G–d-given mission is to abide by their Mitzvos, whose fundamental purpose is “yishuv ha’olam”—civilizing society, to settle the world physically and maintain a cohesive, peaceful, just, G–d-fearing social order, as it is written, “Not for chaos did He create it [the world, but rather] He formed it to be settled.”[12] It is this vital role for which non-Jews were assigned. Thus, non-Jews’ mission is related to the natural order, which stems from the name of Elokim, and this is the reason that the Noahide laws are rational laws that stem from the natural world. Thus, in order to accomplish this goal, non-Jews need not perform any of the Mitzvos specifically commanded to Jews.[13]

So Jews have a role—to reveal the name of Havayeh, and non-Jews have a very different role—to ensure the appropriate expression of the name of Elokim, through ensuring that the natural order follows the wishes of Hashem in His Torah.

Is this in a certain sense a lower mission than the mission given to the Jews? Yes. But so what—Hashem can do as He wishes—His will need not conform to the passing whims of the philosophical fads of mortals.

Moreover, every individual has a personal mission, one that differs from that of everyone else. Of these, Hashem clearly assigns different missions to different people—some receive more advanced, risky, responsible missions, and others, less challenging, more everyday ones.

Likewise, we find that only a Levi may sing in the Holy Temple, and only a Kohen may serve in it. I myself, for example, am not a Kohen, and as such I am barred from entering certain parts of the Holy Temple, and not allowed various Kohen privileges. But I am not bothered by that fact one bit, because since Hashem made me a non-Kohen, that role is clearly not what Hashem wants of me, and so I have been deprived of nothing.

Racism, in contrast, means refusing to treat someone with proper decency and respect simply because they belong to a group that one has some kind of animosity towards. However, the “Torah of light”[14] instructs clearly how one should view non-Jews: “Beloved is man, for he was created in the image [of Hashem].”[15] All mankind must be treated with the utmost respect, for they are beloved to Hashem by virtue of their special human intellect, which resembles the divine.

When a Jew assumes his role uncompromisingly and proudly, in addition to the inherent worth of this behavior, he also does a tremendous service for the world and all the gentile nations. He performs his role as priest, role model, and teacher to the nations, to illuminate and uplift them with the sublime spirituality of Havayeh for which he serves as a channel.

However, if the Jew chooses, may Hashem save us, to compromise his Torah observance and behave in inappropriate ways that conflict with Torah, behaviors typical of the secular culture, then not only does he harm himself grievously, but he also does a disservice to the nations by abdicating and thereby withholding from them his holy example, guidance, and the awesome revelation of Havayeh that they could have received through his unswerving allegiance to Torah.

[1] See at length Parashas Derachim, Rabbi Yehuda Rosanes.
[2] Yoma 48b.
[3] Cf. Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 25, pp. 186-192.
[4] Hashem has other names, but these are the primary ones, and the main ones relevant to this discussion.
[5] With some notable exceptions, such as Avraham, on a lower level, and Moshe, on a higher level. Further discussion of this is beyond the scope of this article.
[6] Likkutei Torah, Bamidbar 16d.
[7] See Tanya ch. 2, beg.
[8] Midrash Tanchuma, Naso 16. Explained in Tanya ch. 36.
[9] Shemos 19:6.
[10] Mishlei 3:17.
[11] As per Moshe Rabeinu’s instruction to the Jewish people at Sinai. Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 8:10.
[12] Yeshayah 45:18.
[13] However, it is praiseworthy for non-Jews to adopt certain Jewish practices on a voluntary basis, such as daily prayer, blessings on food, and so on, while other Mitzvos, which were meant exclusively for Jews and would therefore be spiritually harmful for non-Jews, are therefore forbidden for them, such as observing the Shabbos (Cf. Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 10:9. As explained in The Divine Code, Vol. I, Part I, Chapter 3, on “The Prohibition Against Making a New Religion or Adding a Commandment.”)
[14] Mishlei 6:23.
[15] Avos 3:14.

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Listening to the Spiritual Health Experts

Health experts are constantly coming out with new “revelations.” They reveal to the undiscerning masses of laypeople how many foods that seem harmless are in fact poisonous or at least very unhealthy.

The same goes for spiritual health. What to the less spiritually attuned may seem harmless at first glance may contain elements that, even if not outright forbidden, are inappropriate and spiritually unhealthy and damaging; what’s more, often these things are outright forbidden!

The proper gauge to assess such matters, and to find out which apparently harmless things might in fact be inappropriate or even prohibited, is to delve into Torah. There Hashem expresses His will, and instructs us not only in what is permitted and forbidden, but also in the importance of going beyond the letter of the law, and avoiding the inappropriate and unworthy.

And just as it would be presumptuous of a dabbler in physical health to come out and declare that a practice that experts deem damaging to one’s health, e.g., smoking, is in fact harmless and even healthy, based on whatever “proofs” might seem logical to him or her, so would it be presumptuous of someone whose knowledge of Torah is only on a beginners level to make such critical decisions for him or herself or family without first consulting, without preconceived notions, with Torah texts and with a Torah sage—one who has devoted his life with self-sacrifice to rigorous Torah study with the goal of attaining the expertise in Torah necessary to accurately transmit the word of Hashem to the community.

This is all the more so considering that our sages rule that even a rabbi with full rabbinic ordination (“semichah for dayonus”) and training (“shimush”) who becomes a businessman is thereby disqualified from sitting on a rabbinic court and issuing rabbinic decisions, despite his being an indisputably G–d-fearing Jew.[1] Only a full-time practicing rabbi may issue halachic rulings, because involvement in the business world taints the purity of the person’s judgment on holy matters. How much more so does an ignoramus have no business making such weighty decisions for him or herself, and thereby aggrandize the mantle of halachic authority!

The same goes for matters that are not strictly halachic, but are in one way or another related to questions of what behavior is appropriate for a Jew in his or her individual circumstances. In these matters one should consult with one’s personal asei lecha rav or mashpia (see here) as appropriate, in accordance with the Rebbe’s instructions.

And if the above caution is even true of physical health, although we find that the health experts often change their minds, how much more so when it comes to spiritual health, the conditions for which are taught in our timeless, perfect, immutable Torah. And if this caution is even true of physical health, although the body is temporary and secondary to the soul, it surely applies to spiritual health associated with the soul, which is eternal and primary, and whose health is also the key to material blessings, health, and prosperity.

[1] Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat, 3:13, S’meh. Cited in Igros Kodesh, Vol. 26, p. 345-346Toras Menachem 5720, Vol. 27, p. 223Toras Menachem 5720, Vol. 23 p. 164 ff.

Dedicated by Chana Hawkins in honor of John Wilson.

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.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Reciprocating for the Rebbe's blessings

Reciprocating for the blessings
Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

A chossid once wrote a letter to the Previous Rebbe, eagerly conveying the good tidings that the Previous Rebbe’s blessings to a whole list of people had been fulfilled. The Previous Rebbe replied with a demand:
In response to your second letter, in which you convey at length all those whom Hashem helped, and for whom the replies [of blessing from the Previous Rebbe] brought them success, and the blessings were fulfilled; our great, honorable, and holy Rebbe[1] stated clearly in words of the holy of holies in his holy letters concerning requests for advice in worldly matters.[2] The honorable and holy Tzaddik, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Horodok, of blessed memory, once replied to one of his chassidim who asked him for a blessing for children, that in reward for his faith in Tzaddikim, he deserved the blessing of Heaven for healthy children.

The success of the responses and the fulfillment of the blessings that, with Hashem’s help, and in the merit of our holy ancestors, we [the Rebbes] respond to those who ask, and that we bless them, depends upon the hiskashrus [bond with the Rebbe whom they consult] and personal conduct of those who present the request, and upon their faith—a skilled faith[3]—in the words of our holy Rebbes, of blessed memory.

Faith in the words of Tzaddikim and hiskashrus with them cannot be merely verbal, or an emotional resolve, to declare, “I am a chossid, I am a mekushar [one bound with the Rebbe].” It must express itself in one’s actions, every man and woman according to their abilities and character, by fixing times for Torah study, caution in observing Shabbos, family purity, educating one’s sons and daughters, and the like.

This was the way of the original chassidim. Yes, they would encourage their acquaintances to become chassidim, but they would also encourage them to consistent good deeds, for on this account, those who would present requests [for blessing] would merit that Hashem assist them and grant their wishes. And as a result of Hashem granting their wishes, they increased further in their striving for fine conduct.

I greatly enjoyed your letter, in which you wrote in detail about those whom Hashem blessed, and their every request was fulfilled. However, I would like to know, also in detail, how each and every man and woman, may Hashem bless them, whose requests were granted—how did they express their gratitude to Hashem by increasing their efforts in their divine service in order to repay Hashem?

Igros Kodesh Admur HaRayatz, Vol. 17, pp. 201-202.
[1] I.e., the Alter Rebbe.
[2] Tanya, Iggeres HaKodesh ch. 22.
[3] In the original, “be’emunas eimun.” See Tanya ch. 42:
“.'וזה נכלל ג"כ בלשון אמונה שהוא לשון רגילות שמרגיל האדם את עצמו כמו אומן המאמן ידיו וכו”
In my own words:

1. True, an essential part of being a chossid is simply identifying as a chossid within oneself and to others. This identification is essentially a public declaration of one’s faith in the Tzaddik and of one’s commitment to follow that Tzaddik’s guidance, and this is all very worthy and noble. However, this identification is only the beginning; in order to be meaningful, it must be accompanied by an appropriate change in behavior.

2. Likewise, when one lovingly encourages a fellow Jew to enter into the relationship of a chossid of the Rebbe—among many other reasons, due to the tremendous spiritual and material benefits that this relationship stands to bring him or her—one must stress (along the lines, perhaps, of the way one would speak to a prospective convert) that this also includes undertaking a great responsibility, for becoming a chossid means genuinely committing to follow a higher standard of behavior, and in an ever-increasing manner.

3. When one approaches a Tzaddik and requests a brachah, its fulfillment depends largely upon the efforts and spiritual state of the one approaching the Tzaddik. Through deep faith in the Tzaddik and consistent adherence to the commandments of Torah in general, and the Tzaddik’s instructions in particular, the brachah has the vessel for fulfillment. (On this topic, see also here and here.)

4. After the brachah that one received comes to fruition, with Hashem’s help, it behooves one to reciprocate for the blessing by “giving back” to Hashem and the Rebbe, by increasing still further in good deeds. One should also encourage others who have seen Hashem’s blessings in general, and the fulfillment of the blessings of the Tzaddik in particular, to reciprocate in this manner, and also report these extra good deeds to the Tzaddik who blessed them.

5. Now, too, after Gimmel Tammuz, nothing has changed. Chassidim or non-chassidim can and do write to the Rebbe—whether by sending the letter to the Ohel, placing it inside one of his holy books, or the like—and receive his blessings in accordance with the efforts they make to be worthy of those blessings. And once the requests for blessing have been fulfilled, one should reciprocate by intensifying still more one’s efforts in Torah and Mitzvos in general, and one’s fulfillment of the Rebbe’s directives in particular.

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Spiritual Sickness

Spiritual Sickness

Rabbi Y. Oliver

During the weekday Amidah prayer, over the course of twelve blessings the Jew beseeches Hashem for his needs. This request presupposes a strong awareness that one is lacking and needy, and totally dependent upon Hashem to provide for one’s every need.

Moreover, in addition to the literal meaning of the requests, there is also a spiritual meaning.

For instance, in the Amidah prayer, we ask Hashem to heal the sick. Now, what is the true root of sickness? The frustration from unfulfilled expectations. This sickness can manifest itself both in unholiness and in holiness.

When one is lacking in “holy fire,” in passion in serving Hashem, he eventually becomes consumed with a “foreign fire”—a negative, self-destructive spiritual energy, that saps the person of refinement and spirituality and excites him or her with a craving for materialistic and forbidden pleasures, may G–d save us.

This then “weakens G–d,”[1] as it were, for it diminishes the divine revelation in one’s soul, and then in the cosmos in general.[2]

So when we beseech Hashem to heal the sick, we also mean to ask that He heal those who are spiritually sick by contamination with impure and unholy materialistic desires.

But then there is a positive, holy kind of sickness, of which it is written, “I am lovesick.”[3] This refers to a powerful, unconsummated love for Hashem.

To explain, there are fifty “gates of divine understanding.” Once one has climbed ever higher in levels of holiness until he has reached the forty-ninth level, he senses the intensity of the fiftieth and highest level, and aches and yearns to attain it, but he lacks the tools to do so. Thus, the Hebrew word choleh, sick person, has the numerical value of forty-nine,[4] alluding to the one who is lovesick for Hashem.

This is the second meaning of our plea to Hashem to heal the sick—that He heal those who are lovesick for Him by granting them the revelation for which they yearn.

These two kinds of yearning are extremes. They represent the two general categories of intense yearnings: for the spiritual and for the materialistic. We may all suffer from one of these at times, albeit to a lesser degree. May Hashem help us to be healed from the state of suffering or even being susceptible to the first kind of sickness, and merit to attain the second kind—along with its cure.

Adapted from Sefer HaMa’amarim 5713, p. 124 ff.

[1] Cf. Devarim 32:18.
[2] Cf. Eichah Rabbah 1:33.
[3] Shir HaShirim 2:5.
[4] Ta’amei HaMitzvos LehoArizal, Vayera. Likkutei Torah, Berachah 97b.

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, May 10, 2012

Shabbos: Utterly transcending the world

Shabbos: Transcending the world
Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

Our sages say, “He who toils before Shabbos, will eat on Shabbos.”[1] On the simple level, this means that in order to eat a ready meal on Shabbos, one should toil to prepare the food before Shabbos. But on the deeper level, this alludes to the relationship between the divine service of the weekdays and of Shabbos. During the week we prepare ourselves spiritually for Shabbos, and so the more one toils to accomplish the divine service required during the week, the higher the level of the Shabbos experience that follows it.

The main theme of Shabbos is menuchah, rest, as our sages say, “What was the world lacking [after the completion of the six days of creation]? Menuchah. When Shabbos came, menuchah came.”[2] Thus, the verse tells us, “And Hashem completed [His work of creating the world] on the seventh day.”[3] But didn’t He complete the creation on the sixth day, as it states concerning the sixth day in the previous verse, “And He completed the heavens, the earth, and all their hosts”? No, for in a sense, Hashem did create something on Shabbosmenuchah.

This is related to the intense divine revelation on Shabbos, for Hashem is called menuchah.[4]

To explain, everything in the world is in a state of constant movement, for it is fundamentally bound by the limitations of time and space. Time is constantly changing—the future is becoming the present, and the present is becoming the past.[5] And space too, which is fundamentally intertwined with time, also involves movement.[6]

Hashem, however, is infinite, and so He completely transcends space—He does not move from one place to another—and He transcends time, a construct that He created. Thus, Hashem is called menuchah, for in His Essence, He is utterly unchanging—the epitome of true menuchah.

We mentioned the verse, “And He completed [“vayechulu”] the heavens, the earth, and all their hosts.” Vayechulu can also imply kilayon, yearning,[7] for after He finished creating the world, on the first Shabbos, Hashem revealed the level of menuchah associated with His Essence, and this inspired all His creations with a yearning to rise up and reach this level of menuchah.

This also explains the deeper meaning of the weekly cycle.[8] In the daily Shacharis liturgy, we speak of Sunday as being the “first day.”[9] Since everything in Torah is precise, if so much time has passed since the first day of Creation, why don’t we count by the number of days since creation, or use some other more precise phrase when counting?

The answer is that since on Shabbos the level of Hashem’s very Essence shines, this elevates the world completely beyond its mundane state. Thus, on the following Sunday, the mundane world is indeed new, both in space and time, and so we start the count anew.

Likewise, on every Shabbos, the Jew who keeps Shabbos as is required is given the privilege to “eat on Shabbos”—to personally experience a special revelation from Atzmus, Hashem’s very Essence. This comes as a reward for his or her divine service during the week—“He who toils before Shabbos,” and renews and invigorates him physically and spiritually in preparation for the coming week.

Based on Sefer HaMa’amarim 5722, s.v. Basi LeGani, pp. 132-133. 

[1] Avoda Zara 3a.
[2] Bereshis 2:2, Rashi.
[3] Bereshis ibid.
[4] Kesser Shem Tov §400-401. Likewise, Hashem is called Shabbos (Zohar 2:88b).
[5] Sha’ar HaYichud VehaEmunah ch. 7. Likkutei Torah, Berachah 98a.
[6] This is all the more so according to modern science, which teaches that nothing is truly stationary; everything in the universe is moving. Likewise, all matter consists of atoms and molecules that are in constant motion.
[7] Ohr HaTorah Bereshis 42b ff.
[8] Likkutei Torah, Shir HaShirim 25a. Ohr HaTorah, Berachah, p. 1891. ibid., p. 1897 ff.
[9] “Hayom yom rishon laShabbos.”

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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Two categories of physicality

Two categories of physicality
Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

Chassidus differentiates between two general categories of the physical: gashmiyus—“physicality” and chumriyus—“coarseness.” The term gashmiyus refers to something that is physical, but not animalistic or coarse per se. To be sure, everything physical conceals the absolute reality of Hashem, and even the higher spiritual worlds, and is undesirable in that sense. However, gashmiyus refers to physicality of a kind that does not actively entice one to sin or otherwise behave inappropriately in any way. For instance, an ordinary table is a physical, mundane item; although it conceals the divine life force that sustains it; however, it contains no further inappropriate element.

Then there is chumriyus, which is coarse gashmiyus. This refers not only to worldly objects related to sin (which are obviously coarse), but also to objects that have some kind of inappropriate or crass element that is liable to desensitize the person and bring one to decline spiritually until he or she ultimately falls into sin.

Of this, our sages teach:[1] “Such are the wiles of the evil inclination: Today he says to him, ‘Do this’; tomorrow he tells him, ‘Do that,’ until he tells him, ‘Go and serve idols,’ and he goes and serves [them].”[2]

The challenge of gashmiyus is to fulfill the Torah’s instructions, “All your actions should be for the sake of Heaven,”[3] and “In all your ways, know Him.”[4] Not only should gashmiyus not be used for sin, G–d forbid, but it should not even be used for personal benefit alone.[5] Rather, all one’s gashmiyus should be used for the sake of serving Hashem, and only then does one rectify it and elevate it.

In contrast, one should in general[6] abstain from chumriyus, and in that way one rectifies it.

As mentioned, Tefillah is “a ladder fixed in the earth” whose “head reaches the heavens.” “Earth—aretz” refers specifically to gashmiyus, not chumriyus. Thus, as a preparation to Tefillah, we must reject chumriyus from our lives.

Then Tefillah acts as a two-way ladder connecting the “earth,” the gashmiyus, with “the heavens,” the spiritual. It functions “from below to above,” by elevating the physical to the spiritual, and “from above to below,” by bringing the spiritual down into the physical.

Based on Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. 3, p. 497.

[1] Shabbos 105b.
[2] See Kuntres Uma’ayan, p. 66.
[3] Avos 2:12.
[4] Mishlei 3:6.
[5] Cf. Tanya ch. 6.
[6] An exception might be when one assesses that permitted chumriyus is necessary in order to save one from sin. An example of this may be the concept of the eishes yefas to’ar (Devarim 21:11), the beautiful gentile woman whom the Jewish soldier lusts after in war, whom the Torah permits the soldier to marry, albeit with certain conditions, in order to save him from marrying her in sin.

This post was dedicated by Rochel'e and Sholom Ber Odze in honor of the birthday of Yitzchak Aizik bas Rochel on 18 Nissan.

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.