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

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Obeying the Rebbe

Obeying the Rebbe
Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

The Previous Rebbe related the following story:
The Rebbe Maharash had two chassidim: The first would start “from below to above,” while the second would start “from above to below.” The first would start with action. He did everything in actuality, with self-sacrifice, and then the understanding would come. The second began with the understanding, and the action only followed later.

Once the Alter Rebbe sent a messenger to these two chassidim to ask them for money. The messenger came to the one whose divine service was “from below to above,” and told him, “The Rebbe needs money.” “How much?” the chossid asked. “The Rebbe didn’t say,” the messenger replied. The chossid gathered all the money he owned, and gave it to the messenger.

Then the messenger went to the second chossid, to the one whose divine service was “from above to below,” and told him, “The Rebbe needs money.” “How much?” the chossid asked. “The Rebbe didn’t say,” the messenger replied. “I’ll travel to Liozna, and ask the Rebbe how much I should give, and I will give.”

The messenger returned to the Alter Rebbe, and placed on the table the sum of money that he had gathered. “Where is the money of the other chossid?” the Alter Rebbe asked. The messenger related that chossid’s answer.

The Alter Rebbe became lost in thought, and said: “Before the deed, or afterwards?”

The next morning, the first chossid came to Liozna, went in to greet the Alter Rebbe, and the Alter Rebbe told him: “You need to leave the place in which you are living.” The first chossid returned home—he had not yet prayed the morning prayer—sold all his possessions, took his family, and left behind the city in which he lived, even though he didn’t know his destination. Still, if the Rebbe said to travel, he had to travel.

The second chossid work up in the morning, and thought, “Why should I travel before prayer? I will pray, and then at 11 am, I will travel to the Rebbe.

In the meantime, a large wind broke out, lightning flashed, and burned down the entire street. Only with difficulty did the second chossid manage to save his family.

After relating this story, the Rebbe Maharash added. These are two different kinds of obedience. They both obeyed, but the first one obeyed immediately, while the second would first consider the matter carefully (“yishuv ha’daas”), and then act.

After retelling this story, the Previous Rebbe added: “One must study this story and feel its content. This is just as important as Chassidus. Just as one toils to understand Chassidus, so must one toil to obey.”

Sefer HaMa’amarim 5710, pp. 193-194.
The lesson from this story is very clear. Some imagine that since the path of Chabad means understanding everything one does according to Chassidus, the focus of a chossid must be cerebral and not action-oriented. And so when the Rebbe issues a directive, such a person will reflect upon it in his intellect first, and do the action later on.

In fact, the reverse is the case: For a true Chabad chossid, when the Rebbe issues a directive, the first thing on his mind should be action. His question should not be “what exactly is the profound reason behind this?” but “How can I carry out the Rebbe’s instructions as soon as possible, and as fully as possible?” Only once the job is complete can the chossid stop to reflect upon the significance of the directive according to Nigleh, Chassidus, and so on.`


Dedicated in the merit of a speedy release for the captives Yonasan ben Malka (Jonathan Pollard), Sholom Mordechai Halevi ben Rivka (Sholom Rubashkin), and Zeva Rochel bas Chaya (Wendy Weiner Runge).

Also dedicated by Braunstein and Rona families for Shlomo ben Pesach on 8 Sivan.

Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for (at least) $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeit of a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Considering our impact upon others

Considering our impact upon others
Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

“Why should I care about the impact my actions might have upon others?” some ask. “It’s not my problem. Let them mind their own business!” The Rebbe responds:
Those who don’t behave modestly do not only defy the path of Torah. Their behavior contravenes basic decency, basic morality, and simple common sense.

When one behaves immodestly by exposing a part of the body that ought to be covered, one’s intent is to provoke the evil inclination—the wicked side of the other person.

This does not bring the other person to work better. Nor will it stimulate his mind, and make him smarter. Nor will it improve his character traits by positively affecting the respect he accords to his parents, brothers, or sisters, or even for his own wife. Nor will it influence him to donate more charity.

What is the impact of dressing in violation of the requirements of modesty? If until now, the other person’s wicked side was hidden, or not excited and aroused—one provokes that person and inflames that side.

And then one shares in the [responsibility] for the wickedness of the other person. One doesn’t benefit in any way, because it’s the other person’s wickedness—the other person fulfills his desire, whether through gazing, or in another form. Yet it is worthwhile to do everything, as long as one provokes another person—and not his good side, but his wicked side.

One does damage, may G–d save us, and not only to one’s own Divine Soul, but also to another person, and still another—in fact, to everyone one meets. What an utterly degenerate path—may Hashem protect us.

Sichos of 12 Tammuz, Balak, and 14 Tammuz 5730
(kudos to Rabbi Moshe Wiener, shlita, for sending me the Hebrew original)
Obviously, the principle in the above address applies not only to the realm of modesty.

Everyone has both a good inclination and an evil inclination, two forces that are in constant conflict over the course of our entire lives.[1] Thus, every interaction we have with others can involve either inclination.

Now, we are all blessed with free choice, and so one who chooses to follow his evil inclination can refuse to be allow himself to be positively influenced by a person who is a good influence; conversely, one who chooses to follow his good inclination can refuse to allow himself to be negatively influenced by a person who is a wicked influence.

However, the fact that the recipient of the negative influence chose to succumb to temptation by his or her own free choice does not absolve the influencer of wrongdoing any more than the fact that the recipient of a positive influence chose to accept this influence by his or her own free choice does not divest the one who chose to exert that influence of any reward and credit.

And so the one who brings others to Teshuvah and spiritual growth will be rewarded, while the one who exerts the opposite influence on others will receive the opposite consequence, may Hashem save us.[2]

Moreover, although we all have the ability to choose “life and goodness” instead of choosing “death and evil,”[3] the struggle might be extremely difficult.[4] The foundation of Torah is “what is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow,”[5] Thus, putting another person through such a struggle is not only a sin against Hashem (of course, evil in and of itself), but also a sin against one’s fellow, a fundamental violation of the commandment to love one’s fellow Jew.

Whether we like it or not, our behavior has a powerful impact upon those around us. It will evoke, or at least apply a certain amount of pressure to evoke, one of their inclinations. Which will it be?

[1] Cf. Tanya chs. 9, 29.
[2] Cf. Avos 5:18—“One who causes the multitude to be meritorious, no sin will come through his hand. One who causes the multitude to sin is not given the opportunity to do Teshuvah.” Moreover, “One who causes another to sin is worse than one who kills him” (Bamidbar Rabbah 21:4-5) for “Spiritual death is worse than physical death” (Derech Chaim 5a; Igros Kodesh Admur HaRayatz, Vol. 3, p. 520; Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 1, p. 111).
[3] Devarim 30:15.
[4] Cf. Tanya ch. 30.
[5] Shabbos 31a.

Dedicated in the merit of a speedy release for the captives Yonasan ben Malka (Jonathan Pollard), Sholom Mordechai Halevi ben Rivka (Sholom Rubashkin), and Zeva Rochel bas Chaya (Wendy Weiner Runge).

Also dedicated by Rivkah Katz and family lizchus refuah sheleimah for her mother, zol gezunt zein, Ettel Nechama bas Baila.

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, June 21, 2012

Gimmel Tammuz--join the Rebbe's holy work!

Dear Friend,

The holy day of Gimmel Tammuz is almost upon us, and so it surely behooves us to take a moment to reflect on the meaning and lesson of this day. The Rebbe gave us an important mission, a call that rings constantly in the ears of his every chossid: "Do everything you can to bring Moshiach!" (see here). 

Now, although the Rebbe called for many, many activities from his followers, and from all Jews, with the goal of completing our task in exile and bringing the final redemption, there was one particular task that he emphasized time and again is the "mission of our generation" (see here, for example)--the dissemination of Judaism in general, and the teachings of Chassidus in particular. In fact, the Rebbe declared in his very first address (see bottom of the page here) that the goal of disseminating Judaism in general, as crucial as it is, is in fact subordinate to the latter--the goal of disseminating the teachings of Chassidus. As the Rebbe taught countless times, based on the promise of Moshiach to the Baal Shem Tov, the mass dissemination of Chassidus is the key to bringing Moshiach.

Although I trust that you, as a loyal chossid of the Rebbe, are surely devoted to this mission, please take a moment to consider supporting my activities, which are exclusively devoted to the above cause (with the help of Hashem). 

For the last four years I have maintained a website, www.a-farbrengen.blogspot.com. On it I have produced a consistent output of high-quality articles and essays--now numbering over 400!--on various topics related to the teachings and the lifestyle of ChassidusPlease make note that many of the topics that I address and the materials that I present are not available in English anywhere else. I have also distributed these postings via a growing e-mail list to subscribers worldwide, and you have been one of my loyal readers.

Do you like what you read? The articles I write require a lot of time and effort—for research, writing, and reviewing. And w
ith Hashems help, I hope to greatly develop this material, and compile it into a full-length book.

There are two things you can do in order join this effort. If you are unable to help me in both, then please consider helping out in at least one of them.

1. Do you have some friends who are looking for a refreshing boost of spiritual inspiration after a long, gruelling day at work, and would like to have the benefit of receiving regular updates in their email inbox to peruse at their convenience? I would imagine you do. Please consider referring them to me so that I can add them to my growing mailing list (which currently numbers 800+). And if every current reader can refer at least five people to me, I can multiply my readership many times, with the help of Hashem.

2. Thank G-d, I am blessed with a beautiful family that I must support. And so in order to continue this public service, financial assistance is needed. Please make a donation in order to help support these efforts.
For just $36, please sponsor an article in honor of your loved one/s. I would suggest that you sponsor an article regularly in honor of your anniversary, in honor of the birthdays of your various family members, and in honor of the yohrtzeits of your departed loved ones. This donation can also be made lirefuah sheleimah, or in honor of a bris, wedding, or the like.

If you are able, please consider making a more substantial donation, to sponsor a series of articles, a full-length booklet, or even an entire book. And if there is a specific subject in Chassidus that is close to your heart, and you would like to sponsor an article discussing that particular topic, I would be eager to do so.

Please click on the Donate image on the right-hand-side of my site in order to make a secure donation via PayPal. Or, to send me a check, please get in touch with me via email for my mailing information.

Thank you, and best wishes for a meaningful and uplifting Gimmel Tammuz. And most importantly, may Moshiach come now, enabling us to spend this year's Gimmel Tammuz in our holy city of Yerushalayim, with the third Beis HaMikdash, with no more joy and sorrow, and reunited with our dear Rebbe (see here), and be privileged to again hear Chassidus from his holy mouth on Gimmel Tammuz of this year!

Yours sincerely,

Friday, June 15, 2012

Meraglim: Breaking Through the Resistance

Meraglim: Breaking Through the Resistance

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

“We cannot ascend to that people,” the spies declared, “for it is more powerful than us [mimenu].”[1] The Gemara states[2] that mimenu can also be translated “than He”—than Hashem.

The spies were not just delivering their conclusion from their intelligence report, and pronouncing that the land was too difficult to conquer in a natural fashion, through warfare. They were denying Hashem’s very ability to employ supernatural means to enable the Jewish people to conquer the Land. Even if He were to leave His vessels there, He would be unable to retrieve them,[3] the Gemara explains. They were uttering heresy.

Now, the spies were no fools. On the contrary, each one was the leader of his respective tribe, a personage of the utmost distinction and stature. Moreover, from all the Jewish people, they had been personally selected by Moshe Rabeinu for this mission, which required keen perception and shrewdness. So if they rejected Hashem’s ability to conquer the Land, they must, it would seem, have had what in their minds was a very compelling justification for such a dramatic statement.[4]

Yet the Torah relates that Hashem’s response was to castigate them, “How long will this wicked assembly provoke complaints against Me?!”[5] Hashem instructed Moshe to convey His rebuke and curse that on account of their spies’ sin, they and all the Jews who believed them would die out in the desert.

Moshe Rabeinu was not told to respond to the spies’ claim by discussing fine points of philosophy with them, and rationally disproving their misconceptions about Hashem’s powers. Moshe did nothing but scream at them and curse them, along with the entire Jewish people (besides the women and the tribe of Levi).

And yet the Torah relates that the next morning, the spies (and all the Jewish people) awoke early, and recanted their heresy,[6] repenting and confessing their guilt, “We are ready; we will rise up to the place of which Hashem has spoken, for we have sinned!”[7] Now, if they had believed that it was simply impossible to enter the Land, even through the greatest of miracles, why would the threat of death have changed their minds? After all, they had been so convinced that the attempt to conquer the thirty-one kings in the Land was foolishly suicidal that they had proclaimed their desire to ... return to Egypt, with everything that that entailed, rather than travel onward toward the Land!

The answer is that a Jew is more than his mind, known as the Nefesh HaSichlis—the Intellectual Soul. A Jew possesses a Neshamah, which is “a part of Hashem from Above,”[8] and this is his true, inner self, and the source of his faith in Hashem. Thus, the Jew’s faith is not external and additional to his being, a result of intellectual proofs; it is fundamental to his very being (see here and here). Jews are “believers, the children of believers”[9]—a Jew is born with a natural, inherent faith in the reality of Hashem and Torah.[10] Of course, a proper chinuch (education) is necessary, but this merely reveals his inherent connection with Hashem.

So what is the origin of the doubts that sometimes fall into a Jew’s mind? They stem from the coarseness[11] within the Bestial Soul. This soul stems from Kelipah, which is a negative spiritual energy that conceals G–dliness.

In a spiritually healthy Jew, the Bestial Soul willingly submits to the Neshamah’s influence, and thereby becomes elevated to serve Hashem enthusiastically. However, sometimes Hashem tests the Jew by granting the Bestial Soul the strength to challenge the Neshamah in order to conceal its powerful G–dly light. It can do this in many ways, but one of its tricks is to cast into the Jew’s mind doubts in his or her faith. “Maybe it’s not really true ... ” If such a thought enters one’s mind, one must expel it immediately, “with two hands.”[12]

If one sins and continues entertaining the doubt after it fell into his mind, then even if he doesn’t lose faith completely, G–d forbid, the doubt weakens his devotion and prevents him from serving Hashem with joy, for joy depends upon certainty, as the saying goes, “There is no joy like the removal of doubts.”[13]

Now, on its own, Kelipah cannot exist and sustain anything. Its only power to do so stems from the energy that it receives from holiness. And so in reality, nothing that receives its life from Kelipah has true substance.

Likewise, since these doubts emerge from the coarseness of the Bestial Soul, they too have no substance. Although they may vest themselves in apparently rational arguments, in reality they are nothing but the evil inclination in the clever guise of the philosopher of supposedly superior intelligence. Hashem tests every person on his or her level, and for some—and especially for the more intellectually inclined—the test of faith when it seems that reason dictates otherwise, is very difficult.

Chassidus provides the solution for these struggles. Be aware that not only is the Bestial Soul merely Hashem’s messenger to test the person, but it knows very well that Hashem is true; it harbors no doubts in faith at all. Rather, it is acting like a salesman trying to sell a gullible consumer a product that the salesman knows very well is faulty. No matter how convincing the salesman may sound, once you find out that it’s just a scam, you will ignore the salesman’s pitch, and tell him to take a hike. Likewise, Chassidus tips us off that the doubts we may have are not real, for every Jew believes in Hashem; rather, the doubts are nothing but a test from Above.

The Zohar[14] compares this (this was discussed in an earlier post here) to a king who has spent years inculcating his son with proper morals, and wants to test him in order to ascertain whether he had truly absorbed the king’s values. So the king sends a harlot to seduce the prince, and instructs her to “give it everything she’s got.”

On the one hand, she must faithfully perform her mission—to use her every wile to seduce the prince. However, inside she knows that in reality the king wants her to fail, and that only then will her mission have met with success. If, however, the prince succumbs to temptation, then the harlot has failed.

This answers the question concerning the spies. The spies’ doubts only seemed intellectual, but in reality these thoughts were nothing but the unrefined coarseness of the spies’ Bestial Souls seeking to topple them. And so Moshe Rabeinu rebuked the spies harshly, thereby breaking through the coarseness of the Kelipah, and revealing the spies’ Neshamos, which radiated the inner faith that had lain dormant all along, unaffected. No religious debates were necessary, nor would they have succeeded.[15]

So the proper response to doubts is not to address them head-on. Rather, do something tangible to purge the inner coarseness that is giving rise to the doubts.

Likewise, we find that (unlike the approach of many other well-meaning outreach workers) the Rebbe’s general approach to spreading Yiddishkeit is to avoid entering into debates and giving logical proofs. Instead, simply encourage a Jew to perform a Mitzvah. Every Mitzvah he performs breaks through his inner resistance, especially since it requires much inner effort for him to do so, and allows his Neshamah to emerge more and more. Then “One Mitzvah brings another in its wake,”[16] until the resistance is completely removed, and the Jew’s Neshamah comes into full blossom, with the Jew enthusiastically undertaking full observance of Torah and Mitzvos.

I will end with a story that illustrates the above lesson: The Rebbe once related that the Alter Rebbe once came into a shul in Shklov where many Jews had assembled to hear him, including several young Torah scholars who were skeptical about the teachings of Chassidus, and had prepared Talmudic questions to ask him. The Alter Rebbe sang a soul-stirring niggun (melody), and all the questions in the listener’s minds were answered. They ran toward the Alter Rebbe in their eagerness to become his disciples.

Adapted from Tanya ch. 29.

[1] Bamidbar 13:31.
[2] Sotah 35a.
[3] Bamidbar ibid., Rashi.
[4] The commentaries discuss what this explanation may have been, but in this article we will not focus on that point.
[5] Ibid. 14:27.
[6] According to the Alter Rebbe in Mei’ah She’arim 26a, at that point the spies had not yet died, and they took part in this collective renunciation.
[7] Bamidbar 14:40.
[8] Tanya, beg. ch. 2.
[9] Shabbos 97a.
[10] This is in contrast to even the most devout of non-Jews, and even one who qualifies as a “pious gentile” because he accepts Torah and follows the Noahide laws (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 8:11). Yet his or her belief in Hashem is not an inborn phenomenon, but a learned and acquired understanding (Kuntres Uma’ayan, p. 130) that is a function of his or her Intellectual Soul.
[11] In the Hebrew, “chumriyus”—see here.
[12] Tanya ch. 12. It is a sin to dwell upon a thought of idolatry or heresy: “Do not turn astray to go after ... your heart—this refers to heresy” (Sifri on Bamidbar 15:39).
[13] Quoted in Hemshech Mayim Rabim, 5636, beg. Cf. Metzudas Dovid on Mishlei 15:30. Toras Ha’Olah 1:6.
[14] Zohar 2:163a. Cf. Kesser Shem Tov #115.
[15] Our response to the wicked son on the Seder night is also harsh, and doesn’t actually address his question; this appears to be the explanation for this approach.
[16] Avos 4:2.

Dedicated by Tzvi and Yehudis Rona and family, as a merit for the yahrtzeit of Golda Ruth bas Moishe Tzvi Halevi on 22 Tammuz.

Dedicated in the merit of a speedy release for the captives 
Yonasan ben Malka (Jonathan Pollard), Sholom Mordechai Halevi ben Rivka (Sholom Rubashkin), and Zeva Rochel bas Chaya (Wendy Weiner Runge).

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, June 12, 2012

Pure pleading

Pure pleading

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

The highest point of Tefillah is the Shemoneh Esrei, in which we beseech Hashem for our needs. In so doing, we recognize and further reinforce the tenet of faith that we are totally dependent upon Hashem for all our blessings, and that only “the blessing of Hashem makes one wealthy.”[1]

But exactly what should you plead for? The simple answer: Whatever you feel that you’re lacking. But how is this defined?

Before analyzing this question, consider whether your goals in life are pure, because if they are tainted, then your prayer will also be tainted.

We can understand this by considering the extreme case mentioned by our sages: A thief can be standing at the entrance to a tunnel, poised to commit a burglary, and yet pray to Hashem to crown his endeavor with success![2] Now, to any normal ear, aside from constituting outrageous insolence, this “prayer” is the height of foolishness and absurdity. For if one is callously violating Hashem’s commandment, how could he reasonably expect Hashem Himself to grant his plea?! It’s akin to asking someone to hand you a dagger so that you can stab him! Of course, you’d naturally regard such a person as irrational and foolish, confident that you would never stoop to such depravity yourself. Right?

Wrong. Many of us are guilty of the same kind of behavior, albeit in a less blatant form.

One example of a self-contradictory request in Tefillah can be presented by the businessman.

The Torah strictly forbids any dishonesty whatsoever in one’s business dealings, calling for the highest standards of integrity.[3] If, however, one is doing business in some sort of questionable manner, then his request to Hashem for success is similarly self-contradictory. Yes, he correctly recognizes that his livelihood comes from Hashem, but he is asking Hashem to bless his efforts ... to defy Hashem’s will!

Moreover, his very request indicates the selfish, G–dless focus of his life. Yes, Torah requires that one work in order to earn a living, and thereby make a vessel for Hashem’s blessings within the natural order, as it is written, “Hashem will bless you in everything that you do.”[4] However (to state the obvious that is all too easy to lose sight of), the work is not the end in itself; it is not the purpose of our creation and brief sojourn on earth. Rather, Hashem declares, “I made the earth, and I created man upon it.”[5] The expression “I created,” בראתי, has the same numerical value of 613, for the purpose of creation is the fulfillment of the 613 Mitzvos.

One who is conscious of the primary importance of Mitzvos will only engage in mundane activities “for the sake of Heaven,”[6] in order to enable him to perform the Mitzvos and refine the sparks of holiness (see here) that lie in his livelihood. Since he genuinely desires to fulfill Hashem’s will, he will not use means to pursue a livelihood that are repugnant to Hashem, and that constitute a rebellion against Him, may Hashem save us.

Adapted from Sefer HaMa’amarim 5687, pp. 120-121.

[1] Mishlei 10:22.
[2] Berachos 63a.
[3] The Gemara even exhorts us (Makkos 24a) to “speak the truth in one’s heart” (Tehillim 15:2) by relating the story of Rav Safra, who was approached in his store while in the midst of praying with an offer for a purchase. But since he was praying, he didn’t respond. The customer raised his bid, thinking that Rav Safra had turned down his offer. When Rav Safra finished praying, he told the customer that he would sell the item for the original amount, because in his heart he had then accepted that lower offer.
[4] Devarim 15:18.
[5] Yeshayah 45:12.
[6] Avos 2:12.

Dedicated in the merit of a speedy release for the captives Yonasan ben Malka (Jonathan Pollard), Sholom Mordechai Halevi ben Rivka (Sholom Rubashkin), and Zeva Rochel bas Chaya (Wendy Weiner Runge).

Also dedicated by the Braunstein and Rona families in honor of Shlomo ben Pesach on 8 Sivan.

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.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Meraglim: Inappropriate Fear of Tests

Meraglim: Inappropriate Fear of Tests

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

The spies were the emissaries of the generation of the desert, and they were the Nesi’im, the leaders of their respective tribes. Thus, when they refused to enter the Land, this reflected on the level of their generation—the entire generation did not want to enter Eretz Yisrael.

What was the complaint of the generation of the desert? Why did they not want to enter the Land? Chassidus, as is typical, explains their refusal to enter on a deeper level than the peshat, the basic level of understanding. They were on a very advanced spiritual level, and they had a very profound reason, but they erred in their assessment because they lacked Kabbolas Ol—submission to the divine yoke, and this is the reason that they were so harshly punished.

They didn’t want to enter the land because they feared the detrimental effect that it would have upon them.

First, in the desert, they were enveloped in a cocoon of sublime holiness. They were eating the mon, drinking water from Miriam’s well, and being protected by the Clouds of Glory. They could not bring themselves to tear themselves away from this blissful, pure state, and enter the land of Canaan, where they would fall from their spiritual high.

Second, they were afraid of being tested. One test was related to Hashem’s instruction to observe the Shemitah year by letting the soil lie fallow: Hashem had instructed the Jewish people to enter the Land and “Let the Land rest for Hashem as a Shabbos; for six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops.”[1]

To act with the appropriate bitachon, trust, in Hashem,[2] and not work the Land, required tremendous self-sacrifice, and they did not want to enter such a test.

And even during the other six years, the Jewish people knew that they would have to work the soil, and they were afraid that lowering themselves to this mundane, physical task, and being so preoccupied with materialistic concerns might lead them astray from devotion to spirituality and Hashem.

Why is descending into the realm of the physical so spiritually dangerous? Because it involves getting “down and dirty” in enemy territory—the territory of Kelipah. One gets involved with Kelipas Nogah in order to refine it, and one comes into contact with Sholosh Kelipos Hatemei’os in order to reject it.

According to valid, Torah-based, holy calculations, their reluctance to engage in this activity had validity, and in a sense, it even stemmed from their humility. They were reluctant to enter into a situation in which their devotion to Hashem would be tested. For when you fight against a formidable enemy, you might very well lose. As we beseech Hashem in our prayers, “lead us not to temptation”[3]—and if one genuinely asks Hashem not to put oneself in such circumstances, one will surely not do so of one’s own initiative.

Now, even if one has sinned, all is not lost—ultimately, every Jew will do Teshuvah.[4] However, this is important to remind ourselves of after sin occurs, but we must never allow that awareness to detract from our fear of sin. Firstly, it is inherently wrong to sin, even if one does Teshuvah afterward, [5] for one severs one’s soul from Hashem.[6] Moreover, one has no way of knowing when one will do Teshuvah. One might not even end up doing Teshuvah in one’s lifetime, leaving one’s poor, suffering soul to do Teshuvah in a future incarnation,[7] or only after Moshiach comes. (The tremendous divine revelation of the time of Moshiach will make the Neshamah very embarrassed at being “caught” with the stains of sins for which the person has not done Teshuvah.)

This is why the generation of the desert reported that in the Land they saw the Nefilim, lit., “the fallen ones.”[8] These were angels that had fallen from the higher spiritual realms,[9] and observing this led the members of that generation to believe that by descending to refine a low level, they too might fall drastically in their spiritual level.

But although the fear of being led into temptation has validity, Moshe Rabeinu—who was Hashem’s spokesperson, as it is written, “The Shechinah speaks from his throat”[10]—instructed them to enter the land regardless, in order to engage in the task of refining the sparks of holiness in the material world. This was Hashem’s desire, as Yehoshua and Calev said of entering the Land, “If Hashem desires us.”[11]

And since this is what Hashem desired, even a well-meaning person who refused to obey because of the above concern was considered to be rebelling against Hashem, may G–d save us. This is the meaning of the verse, “Only, do not rebel against Hashem...”[12] Refusing to enter the Land, even on account of an otherwise legitimate concern, constitutes rebellion against Hashem’s desires.

Moreover, Moshe sought to bring them to grasp this intellectually by telling them: “The Land is very, very good.”[13] This implies that by entering the Land and working it, one connects to a level even higher than that revealed at the beginning of the creation, before the sin, when “The world was created whole,”[14] for then it was only written “very good” once,[15] while by descending into the Land, which represents the material world, one comes ultimately to an even higher level—“very, very good,” which refers to an incomparably higher spiritual level.[16]

The reason for this is that the higher the source of the spark, the further down it falls,[17] and so when we occupy ourselves with the lowly, physical world, we refine these exceedingly lofty sparks of holiness. By faithfully performing the task required on the lowly level, we reveal the true reality of the lofty source of the sparks that lie there.

This is why it was not enough to serve Hashem in the desert—they had to enter the land of Canaan, which was a low, degenerate land, and serve Hashem there and thereby bring holiness into it, making it into a holy land, and in this way they refined the sparks there.

We find a parallel concept in our divine service. There are two different kinds of souls:[18] those of Torah scholars, and of businesspeople.[19] Torah scholars correspond to the generation of the desert, whose main task was not refining sparks of holiness, while businesspeople correspond to the generation that entered the Land, whose main task was to refine sparks of holiness.

And yet, each one must engage in the other’s divine service as well. In the context of this article, it is noteworthy that Torah scholars should also give some amount of money to charity, albeit a very small amount.[20] True, the Torah study and prayer of Torah scholars also refines sparks of holiness, and on the contrary, for the Torah scholars, refining these sparks is their main task in the world. However, since the sparks in the physical stem from an even higher source, even Torah scholars must give some charity, in order to refine at least some of these sparks.

Based on the Rebbe's Hisva’aduyos 5746, Vol. 2, p. 626 ff.

[1] Vayikra 25:2-4.
[2] Vayikra Rabbah 1:1.
[3] Morning blessings. Cf. Berachos 60b.
[4] II Shmuel 14:14.
[5] Tanya ch. 25.
[6] Ibid. ch. 24.
[7] Shulchan Aruch Admur HaZakein, Laws of Torah Study, 4:3. Tanya, end ch. 39.
[8] Bamidbar 13:33.
[9] Yalkut Shimoni, Bereshis, 44. Cf. Pirkei DeRebbi Elazar ch. 22, Bereshis Rabbah, end ch. 26.
[10] Cf. Mechilta, Shemos 19:19.
[11] Bamidbar 14:9.
[12] Ibid. 14:8.
[13] Ibid. 14:7.
[14] Bereshis Rabba 14:7.
[15] Bereshis 1:31.
[16] Sefer HaMa’amarim 5567, p. 235.
[17] Likkutei Torah, Re’ei, 12a ff.
[18] Tanya 109a.
[19] Bereshis Rabbah 99:9. Rashi on Bereshis 49:13. Devarim 33:18.
[20] Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Dei’ah 248:1. If one gives less than a third of a shekel to charity in the course of a year, one has not fulfilled the Mitzvah of giving charity.

Dedicated by Reb Yisrael Meir Rafael 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.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Educating for Yiddishkeit by Raising Leaders

Educating for Yiddishkeit by Raising Leaders

Rabbi Y. Oliver

We live in an age and culture in which, for better or worse, the average young person has an independent streak that makes it harder for him or her to obediently follow the example of the older generation. They feel a strong need to forge their own path, to individuate from their parents and elders. How are we to handle this phenomenon, which seems to be at odds with the fundamental goal of chinuch—passing on the timeless beliefs and practices of Torah observance to our offspring?

The Rebbe answers: Use this independent streak to raise children from the earliest years with the goal of being leaders, and encourage them to assume this role wherever and whenever possible.

In the words of the Rebbe:
... There has been a lack of attention given to educating the young generation. And even those who have been involved, wanted to educate the young generation “from above to below”—in other words, to have the youth look up to the elders, who are experienced, and learn from them. The young generation finds this unacceptable, because they want to be independent.

How, indeed, can we influence the young generation? By educating them from early childhood, and also by striving that at a later point, they too will become educators themselves. This is the way to conquer the young generation, and also the middle-aged generation.

This is one of the main purposes of yeshivos. In yeshivos, the students aren’t only taught on the individual level. Rather, the main goal is to imbue in the student the awareness that he has to influence his entire sphere of influence—at first, only a limited circle, and later on, a larger circle—to draw them close to Judaism, to the extent that they not only do they fight a defensive war, but an offensive war; i.e., they too will fight for Judaism.

This is especially prominent in Lubavitcher yeshivos. Lubavitcher yeshivos don’t just teach their students to be frum in their relationship with Hashem and with their fellow Jew. Rather, they teach the students that even while still in yeshivah, they must make use of their talents and opportunities to influence others, and serve as leaders.

Thus, a gathering to support a Chabad yeshivah entails more than supporting a particular group or movement. Everyone who joins in by donating to the yeshivah takes part in supporting Judaism overall, because the students of the yeshivah will develop into warriors for Judaism and leaders of the Jewish people—in New York, in the entire United States, and even overseas.

The students of the yeshivah are the soldiers who will go out to the front of the war for Judaism. Thus, one who supports the yeshivah and enables it to accept additional students, takes part in the war for Judaism in New York, in the United States, and in the entire world.

Adapted from Toras Menachem, Vol. 10, p. 147. Cf. Igros Kodesh, Vol. 19, p. 373.
In my own words, with a bit of explanation:

Practically speaking, in our times, raising children to be G–d-fearing means raising them to lead. Of course, parents should send their children to a proper Jewish school, make sure to provide a home atmosphere permeated with Yiddishkeit, love and fear of Hashem and His Torah, learn with each child one-on-one, and the like. Yet in addition to all these efforts, parents should actively encourage children and teenagers to exert a positive influence on their less-observant peers in an appropriate manner, make sure they take part in outreach activities (mivtzo’im) as much as possible, and imbue in their hearts the aspiration to one day assume a leadership role of some kind themselves.

In addition to the benefit for others, this focus will in itself enable the child to be proud and independent in a positive, constructive way, while at the same time remain humble before Hashem and His Torah, and protected from detrimental outside influences.

In addition to the parents’ own efforts in this direction, it is of crucial importance that they send their children to a school that shares the awareness of the crucial role that making leaders plays in educating children and youth in our time. The most suitable school and yeshivah for this purpose is a Lubavitcher one.

Moreover, it deserves to be emphasized that this instruction applies not only to children and teenagers, but also to those who are in mid-life, and whose devotion to Torah observance unfortunately leaves something to be desired. Their Torah observance can be rejuvenated and filled with new meaning and purpose by their taking an active role in activities of Jewish outreach.

Dedicated by Reb Yisrael Meir Rafael and family.

Dedicated in the merit of a speedy release for the captives Yonasan ben Malka (Jonathan Pollard), Sholom Mordechai Halevi ben Rivka (Sholom Rubashkin), and Zeva Rochel bas Chaya (Wendy Weiner Runge).

Like what you read? The articles I write take a lot of time and effort. Please contact me to sponsor an article for (at least) $36 in honor of the birthday, wedding anniversary, or yarhtzeit of a loved one, or for a refuah shleimah or the like. Also, see here concerning the tremendous merit of supporting the dissemination of Chassidus, and the blessings that one receives for doing so.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The weekdays and Shabbos—two levels of the heart

The weekdays and Shabbos—two levels of the heart

Rabbi Y. Oliver

The altar represents the Jew’s process of “sacrificing” his or her inner self to Hashem. Thus, the Mishkan contained two altars, the outer and inner altar, representing the two general stages in the Jew’s service of Hashem.

On the outer altar, the Jew would offer up animal sacrifices. This represents the refinement of the Bestial Soul, and in our divine service, this corresponds to the Jew’s divine mission during the weekdays—to refine the body and the Bestial Soul. This gives Hashem pleasure, which is referred to anthropomorphically as “a pleasant fragrance.”[1]

The part of the heart that descends to vest itself in terms that will influence the Bestial Soul is merely the heart’s lower level, known as chitzoniyus ha’lev, the external aspect of the heart. This is the significance of the outer altar.

However, the inner altar was used only for incense offerings, for incense represents a higher form of divine service than animal sacrifices.

The purpose of incense is to produce a pleasant fragrance. We can understand the significance of fragrance from the Talmud: “Which is the thing that the soul enjoys, but the body does not enjoy? Fragrance.”[2] This represents a deeper form of divine service, one that involves the penimiyus ha’lev, the inner dimension of the heart. Of this it is written, “May the entire soul praise Hashem.”[3] This refers to the efforts of the soul itself to rise up to connect to Hashem, without having to lower itself to influence the body, the Bestial Soul, and its worldly environment.

Here the goal is not to refine the body and Bestial Soul, but for the Yechidah, the Neshamah’s essence, to bond and unite with the Essence of Hashem.

Although the animal sacrifices on the outer altar also produced a fragrance that brought pleasure to Hashem, as it were, this fragrance did not compare to that produced by the incense on the inner altar, for just as the entire purpose of the incense is to emit physical fragrance, so does it bring a much more sublime fragrance to Hashem.

This is the difference between the way we serve Hashem in the weekdays, and on Shabbos. On the weekdays (see also here) we refine the Bestial Soul through the chitzoniyus ha’lev, while on Shabbos, we transcend all involvement with the physical (which is the reason for the prohibitions of the thirty-nine categories of work on Shabbos) in order to reach a sublime unity of the penimiyus ha’lev and the Yechidah with Hashem's very Essence (see also here).

This is the deeper significance of the concept that the weekdays act as a preparation for Shabbos, for the more successful one is at refining the Bestial Soul through the chitzoniyus ha’lev during the weekdays, the higher the level of revelation of the penimiyus ha’lev that one merits on Shabbos.

Ma’amarei Admur HaEmtza’i, Shemos, Vol. 2, p. 674 ff.
[1] Vayikra 6:14.
[2] Berachos 43b.
[3] Tehillim 150:6.

Dedicated by Reb Yisrael Meir Rafael and family.

Dedicated in the merit of a speedy release for the captives Yonasan ben Malka (Jonathan Pollard), Sholom Mordechai Halevi ben Rivka (Sholom Rubashkin), and Zeva Rochel bas Chaya (Wendy Weiner Runge).

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.