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

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Chassidus: A Philosophy and a Lifestyle

Chassidus: A philosophy and a lifestyle

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

The derech of Chassidus consists of both a philosophy—“the study of Chassidus” and a lifestyle—“the ways of Chassidus” (see here). The two are more than necessary, complementary aspects of a Chassidic lifestyle—they are interdependent and inextricable.

The teachings of Chassidus inherently necessitate that one follow a Chassidic lifestyle, and so the lifestyle is the fulfillment of those teachings. Conversely, one who follows the lifestyle but neglects to study the teachings—of course, each person according to his or her individual level—will in one way or another be lacking in the lifestyle as well.

To explain, the core of Chassidus is to promote a pure belief in the unity of Hashem. Now, belief in divine unity is by no means a novelty of Chassidus. However, before Chassidus was revealed, divine unity meant that His existence is simple, a unity that transcends all parts. Moreover, Hashem is the only Creator—He doesn’t share His control over the universe with any other force, nor does He have any helpers, and therefore one’s prayers should be directed to Him alone.

Yet according to this worldview, the world exists. True, it exists because Hashem created it, but now that the deed is done, the world is in fact real. But Chassidus takes divine unity further, teaching that not only is Hashem the one and only deity, but He is the only being in existence. In reality, “ein od milvado”—nothing beside Him exists.

(This statement raises many questions, naturally, such as 1. How can Chassidus declare that the world doesn’t exist if the Torah says that Hashem created the world? 2. How can I reconcile the belief that only Hashem exists with my tangible observation of the vast array of multiplicity in the world? 3. Doesn’t the Torah itself recognize the world’s existence by requiring that we keep Mitzvos with physical objects according to certain physical specifications? And so on.

Suffice it to say that these and many other questions on this matter are discussed in Chassidus, and the one who truly seeks Hashem will not suffice with reading almost glib, “standing-on-one-foot” summaries of this incredibly profound concept, for after all, the entire corpus of the literature of Chassidus Chabad comes to explain this teaching, and so the serious student will fulfill his duty to learn. In any case, addressing these questions is beyond the scope of this article.)

One who learns and understands to a significant degree that only Hashem exists reaches a certain inner awareness of this fundamental truth, and this spurs him to desire to live a very different kind of lifestyle from one who lacks this sensitivity. When one realizes that only Hashem exists, and this is in fact the core of the entire Torah, then an onus lies on the person to live a lifestyle that reflects that belief.

According to Chassidus, this is the meaning of the Torah’s mandate,[1] “All your actions should be for the sake of Heaven”: Bring consciousness of Hashem and the devotion to serve Him to permeate every single aspect of your life—without exception. Thus, the Jewish people are called “one nation on the earth,”[2] for our mission is to bring consciousness of Hashem’s oneness down into the mundane world, and into every aspect of it.[3] Then Hashem is not only one in theory, but also in practice.

[1] Avos 2:12.
[2] Shmuel II 7:23.
[3] Cf. Tanya 114a.

Dedicated in honor of the wedding of Shmuel Aaron ben Liba and Malka Aida bas Devorah Forshner on 8 Elul, 5772.

Dedicated in the merit of a speedy release for the captives Yonasan ben Malka (Jonathan Pollard), Sholom Mordechai Halevi ben Rivka (Sholom Rubashkin), Yaakov Yehuda ben Shaindel (Jacob Ostreicher), 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, August 20, 2012

An unflinching reckoning

An Unflinching Reckoning

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

Our sages warn us: “Don’t judge your fellow until you have reached his place.”[1] The Bartenura explains: “If you see that your fellow has been tested and succumbed, do not judge him as guilty until you are tested like him, and you are saved.”

The Torah requires that when we see fault and even sin in our fellow Jew, we give him the benefit of the doubt that his behavior stems from “his place,” which consists of two influences: 1. his external, physical location, which constantly bombards him with temptation; 2. his inner, spiritual “location,” which is his very powerful evil inclination, which constantly bombards him with inner struggles.[2] We discussed this in an earlier post here.

It should be noted that this perspective is only appropriate when viewing another. When viewing oneself, on the contrary, one should not seek to excuse one’s own behavior (with the exception of one who was raised in an atmosphere of secularism, and was therefore genuinely a tinok shenishba, one so completely ignorant of Torah that he or she is not held to blame for his actions).

Rather, one should take full responsibility—both for his actions and for his inactions, and in both his relationship with Hashem, and with his fellow. Some actions Hashem expected him to do, yet he inexcusably neglected to do them; conversely, when faced with temptation, he inexcusably chose to sin. Had he been truly permeated with awareness of Hashem’s constant presence, he would not have sinned regardless how great the temptation.

However, the one who seeks refuge in excuses 1. does himself a disservice; 2. deceives himself.

1. He does himself a disservice. Every excuse distances the Jew from Teshuvah, for why should one sincerely regret actions that were simply not his fault? And if his unfortunate circumstances indeed forced him to do wrong, how could he possibly do Teshuvah, and truly change and fix himself? He is a hapless victim of circumstance. Moreover, whenever he is faced with temptation down the line, he will succumb and excuse his inappropriate behavior with more claims that come down to the belief that he is fundamentally incapable of being in control of his life and himself. One with such a mentality cannot ever truly grow and mature in his character traits; on the contrary, he is at constant, high risk of falling into ever more unsavory behaviors.

2. He deceives himself. The Torah is eternal,[3] and so it is not only applicable when all is well, such as during the era when the Beis HaMikdash stood, but in every single time and place, forever, even during the darkest periods of exile. The one who claims to be a victim of circumstance denies this, for he loses sight of the awareness that as difficult as his circumstances may be, they are not some kind of cosmic accident, G-d forbid; rather, Hashem Himself created them, and brought them to the Jew for a reason. Moreover, Hashem declares (what is regardless simple logic): “I only ask of them [the Jewish people] according to their ability,”[4] and therefore He surely endows every single Jew—man, woman, and child—with the ability to overcome whatever tests and temptations he or she may face.

This is vital to recognize now, in the month of Elul. In this month every Jew is charged with making a cheshbon nefesh, a spiritual stocktaking, in preparation for the month of Tishrei. The key to success in this endeavor is simply being ruthlessly honest with oneself, and taking full responsibility for one’s own actions.

Based on the Previous Rebbe's Ani Ledodi, in Sefer HaMaamarim 5700.

[1] Avos 2:4.
[2] Cf. Tanya ch. 30, beg.
[3] Ibid., ch. 17, beg.
[4] Vayikra Rabba 12:3.

Dedicated in the merit of a speedy release for the captives Yonasan ben Malka (Jonathan Pollard), Sholom Mordechai Halevi ben Rivka (Sholom Rubashkin), Yaakov Yehuda ben Shaindel (Jacob Ostreicher), 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.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Positive innovations

Positive innovations

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

The Rebbe has come out with numerous calls for the Jewish people to undertake various new customs and practices not necessarily followed by our’s predecessors. These include (in no particular order, and this is a mere fraction of them): studying ChitasChumash, Tehillim, and Tanya as divided up according to a yearly cycle; studying the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah as divided up into the triennial or yearly cycle; celebrating the Hakhel year; women wearing a sheitel; boys wearing Rabeinu Tams Tefillin from the age of Bar Mitzvah; girls lighting Shabbos candles from age three; lighting public Menorahs; disseminating the laws of Noach to non-Jews; and perhaps most importantly, calling upon all Jews—including women and even children, on their level—to study Chassidus in order to prepare for the coming of Moshiach, along with topics of Moshiach and the Redemption (see here), and so on.

Some have responded to these calls by saying that they refuse to change from the example that was displayed to them by their forefathers—“ma’aseh avoseinu beyadeinu.”

The Rebbe acknowledges that in a certain context, this concern is valid:
It is famous just how careful great Torah leaders of past generations were not to establish new customs—even when there was no concern that doing so would violate the prohibition “do not add” to the Torah,”[1] as is obvious. Great Torah leaders [in particular, the Chasam Sofer—see further] said of this—by way of pun—“New [practices] are forbidden by the Torah.”

The reason for their tremendous caution was in order that there be no opening for students who were lacking sufficient training,[2] or those who didn’t qualify as students altogether, to establish new customs that bring no benefit and on the contrary, are detrimental.

Hisva’aduyos 5746, Vol. 2, p. 187.
What is an example of such an innovation in the context in which the Chasam Sofer said it? In one responsum, he speaks[3] of those who seek to move the bimah (dais) from the centre of the shul to the front of the Aron Kodesh because, they claim, they think it’s prettier and more spacious that way (or in order to mimic the design of a Church, lehavdil), and of this he states: “New [practices] are forbidden by the Torah.”

However, the Rebbe says, unfortunately, those who quote this aphorism in order to justify their unwillingness to adopt innovations in their Torah observance of a positive nature introduced by great Torah leaders and Tzaddikim are misguided; on the contrary, positive increases adopted on the advice of truly great Torah leaders must be adopted in order to overcome the additional spiritual darkness of the exile:
With regard to [the Rebbe’s urging for] adding in areas of holiness, some ask: This seems to be an innovation, and “New [practices] are forbidden by the Torah,” along the lines of the aphorism of the Chasam Sofer applied to similar cases. ... It is worthwhile to clarify (although it should be self-evident) that these claims have no basis. First, this is not an innovation, because these two customs are quoted in many holy works of earlier generations, as explained at length earlier.

The only innovation in this suggestion is that in light of the current situation in which we need increased prayer, everyone should adopt the suggestion of our great Torah leaders of past generations: Maimonides, Rabbi Shlomo Luria, the Arizal, the Bach, the Taz, the Alter Rebbe, and more. And this does not in any way entail deviating from one’s prayer liturgy, as explained above at length.

Moreover, this [suggestion that people undertaking a new practice] is not an innovation, for it was customary in every generation that when the darkness of “the other side” intensified, they would add in matters of goodness and holiness, Torah and Mitzvos. This is along the lines of the Gemara’s statement: “When he found a valley [i.e., an open space], he put a fence around it.”[4] [I.e., when Rav came to Bavel, he observed areas in which people were ignorant and neglectful, and so he enacted certain laws to prevent the people from further transgression.]

Hisva’aduyos 5744, Vol. 2, pp. 682-683.
Moreover, the Rebbe adds, these same people who so self-righteously refuse to change in a positive way because they don’t dare deviate one iota from their predecessors’ example are practicing a double standard, for they themselves have often adopted radical changes in their lifestyle of a negative nature, of exactly the kind that the Chasam Sofer zealously opposed:
In connection with the suggestion to adopt the recital of “I accept upon myself the positive Mitzvah to love one’s fellow Jew” and the verse, “Indeed, the righteous will acknowledge Your Name, the upright will dwell in Your presence,”[5] some argue that since they have not done so until now, they do not want to adopt a new practice; or, as they put it: “New [practices] are forbidden by the Torah.”

First and foremost, the claim that one does not want to increase in matters of holiness on account of a “concern” of [inappropriate] innovation has no basis whatsoever.

This aphorism, “New [practices] are forbidden by the Torah”—which is the basis of their claim—is an aphorism of the Chasam Sofer stated in reference to the innovations that some sought to introduce in his era—in undesirable areas.

If that’s the case, let us ask those who declare that they raise the banner of “New [practices] are forbidden by the Torah”: Do they think that the Chasam Sofer started out his day by reading ... a newspaper? They will certainly respond: “G–d forbid to even ask such a question!” And yet they themselves have adopted this new practice, which was never done before—reading a newspaper before Tefillah, and doing business before Tefillah, if only by telephone, and sometimes after going to Mikveh, and sometimes beforehand. So if such innovations are acceptable, why is it forbidden to adopt an additional practice in matters of holiness?!

One cannot ask: “Why wasn’t this done in earlier generations, because when a new sickness develops that did not exist in earlier generations, one must find a new medicine to heal it!

Moreover, and this is the main thing, the recital of these two verses is not an innovation altogether, as explained at length...

Hisva’aduyos 5744, Vol. 2, pp. 668-669.
Likewise, it is also possible that one’s forefathers, although very pious in many areas (in which we would do well to emulate them), in other areas, they may simply not have sufficiently followed true Torah sources, and so not all their actions serve as an example for us:
In response to the request to do activities to draw the redemption near, there is one who responds that he never saw his father or grandfather behave in such a way, to demand from Hashem to bring the redemption. It’s up to Hashem to bring the redemption, and it’s not his way, he claims, to prod Hashem to hurry up!

When it comes to his own personal needs, in his livelihood, there he sees fit to “prod Hashem to hurry up” to give him his livelihood in a certain way, a “double portion, and the like; however, when it comes to the redemption—that’s not his way!

Even after he is shown sources in the works of great Torah leaders, such as the Rokeach, and the like, he responds that the works of the Rokeach were in print in the time of his grandfather, and yet he never saw his grandfather doing so.

Is that a reason not to obey the ruling of the Rokeach?! First obey the ruling in action, and then you can engage in theoretical discussion [“pilpul”]. ...

As for what you say, “I didn’t see my father and grandfather behaving in such a way,” do you emulate your father and grandfather in other areas as well? If your grandfather would enter your home and see what you do in private, he would cry out in disgust!

Hisva’aduyos 5748, Vol. 4, pp. 163-164 .
In conclusion, we should zealously follow our age-old Jewish customs, for “A Jewish custom is Torah.”[6] Those who are not of sufficient caliber must not innovate new customs (or foolishly try to create their own derech, for that mattersee here). However, true Tzaddikimsuch as the Rebbe, of course, in our timeare the expert “doctors” who can and should institute for the entire Jewish people that certain new practices be adopted because the times demand it—and it can be readily understood that an increase in darkness demands an increase in light, and a new sickness requires a new cure. 

On the contrary, one dare not exempt oneself from carrying out these directives simply because one holds one’s predecessors in such high esteem that one refuses to budge from following their example in every respect. Moreover, this self-professed stalwart for conservatism might do well to take his own advice to heart, and strive to eliminate negative innovations in his own life, and bring his own lifestyle to emulate the atmosphere and average level of fear of G–d found in “der alter heim.”

There can be no doubt that in our times, when the inroads of secularism in our communities have intensified, and additional darkness and spiritual sicknesses proliferate, the Rebbe’s holy instructions on how to we should go about counteracting that darknessinstructions that he directed to all the Jewish people—should be followed and disseminated more than ever.

[1] Devarim 13:1.
[2] In the Hebrew, “shelo shimsu kol tzorkam.”
[3] Responsa of Chasam Sofer, Orach Chaim #28. Cf. ibid, Yoreh Deah #19.
[4] Eruvin 6a, 100b. Chullin 110a.
[5] Tehillim 140:14.
[6] Pesachim 7b, Ramban; Machzor Vitri 503; Menachos 20b, Tosfos.

Dedicated in honor of the birthday of my dear son, Shneur Zalman ben Atarah Arielle on 
29 Menachem-Av. May he have a shenas berachah vehatzlachah begashmiyus uveruchniyus, and grow up to be a chossid, yerei Shomayim, and lamdan, l'Torah, l'chuppah ul'maasim tovim!

Dedicated in the merit of a speedy release for the captives Yonasan ben Malka (Jonathan Pollard), Sholom Mordechai Halevi ben Rivka (Sholom Rubashkin), Yaakov Yehuda ben Shaindel (Jacob Ostreicher), 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.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Night and Day—Body and Soul

Night and Day—Body and Soul

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

“In the beginning, Hashem created the heavens and the earth. ... And there was evening, and there was morning, one day.”[1]

There are many fundamental differences between the Torah and non-Torah approach to time, and this manifests itself on many levels. One of the most immediate is that although all agree that a period of a day consists of a period of daylight and nighttime, the non-Jewish world defines a period of a day by saying that night follows day, while Torah in general, and halachah in particular, rules that day follows night.[2] On a practical level, this is most apparent on Shabbos (and Yom Tov), which begins at sundown and ends after three stars have emerged the following night.

But it applies to every day as well, and we must keep this in mind so that we can approach life with a mindset drawn from Torah, instead of the secular model with which we are surrounded.

This is also evident in the prayers, which are alluded to in the verse, “Night, morning, and noon, I will tell.”[3] We relate Hashem’s praises starting in the evening, with the Ma’ariv prayer; then we continue in the morning, through Shacharis; and we conclude in the afternoon, through Minchah.

But on a deeper level, the Torah is telling us a lesson about our inner selves, of which the external world is a reflection: 
  • Darkness and night correspond to the body, which conceals the Neshamah and the absolute reality of Hashem, and pulls one down toward the physical and coarse.
  • Light and day correspond to the soul, which illuminates spiritually, for it inspires the Jew with the reality of Hashem and a yearning to connect to Him; likewise, it grants him the ability to illuminate the surrounding world with awareness of Hashem and the desire to submit to Him.
Here, too, we find that “day follows night”—Hashem created the body first: “Then G–d, the L–rd, formed the man of dust of the ground,” and only then did He instill the soul into it: “ ... and He breathed into his nostrils a soul of life.”[4]

The same goes for the way in which a Jew should approach self-refinement—refining the body must precede revealing the Neshamah:

Refining the body: This consists of rejecting coarseness and selfish materialism (“chumriyus”) from one’s life and refining the physicality of one’s body (“gashmiyus”—see here for explanation of the difference between chumriyus and gashmiyus) by humbling and subduing the body. This can be accomplished through Iskafya (see here) and through Teshuvah.

In particular, before prayer, one should contemplate the lowliness of the body for concealing the absolute reality of Hashem, which brings the person to humility and a broken heart.[5] This is also the meaning of “One should not approach [Hashem] to pray unless one has due seriousness.”[6]

Revealing the NeshamahThis is accomplished through prayer itself (see here), which consists of a series of stages in which the Jew reveals his Neshamah ever more in his body, until, with the help of Hashem, the Neshamah permeates the body completely. and then lights up the outside world as well through good deeds, devoted Torah study, and careful Mitzvah observance.

The main purpose of Tefillah is to grasp the greatness of Hashem and then become inspired with love for Hashem, thereby revealing the Neshamah. Here the focus is positive, and so Tefillah should be recited with joy. 

However, this joy is only possible because it was preceded by the bitterness at one’s lowliness that preceded prayer, for only after bitterness can one feel true joy.[7] (Note: This analogy parallels the analogy of ploughing being a necessary prerequisite to sowing discussed here.)

This is the meaning of “And there was evening, and there was morning, one day.” By serving Hashem through “evening”—subduing the body, and “morning”—revealing the Neshamah with joy, we reveal the reality of one—the unity of Hashem in the world. Thus, the Jewish people are called “one nation on earth,”[8] for they reveal Hashem’s absolute oneness even in this lowly physical world.[9]

This is also the meaning of the verse, “Days are formed, and if only [we could use to the fullest even] one of them.”[10] Each person is given a limited number of days to live, and the purpose of this time is that we reveal “one in them”—the unity of Hashem in every aspect of life. Moreover, the Hebrew word for one, echad, has the numerical value of thirteen because our task is to reveal Hashem’s oneness in the world through illuminating the ten faculties (which, generally speaking, comprise the intellect and emotions) and thought, speech, and action with this awareness.

Based on the Previous Rebbe’s Sefer HaMa’amarim 5700, pp. 142-143.

[1] Bereishis 1:1,5.
[2] It should be noted that there are some exceptions to this rule; for instance, with regard to sacrifices the rule is that the night follows the day; hence, one who neglected to offer a sacrifice during the day may still do so until dawn of the following morning.
[3] Tehillim 55:18.
[4] Bereishis 2:7.
[5] Cf. Tanya ch. 29: 
"וגם ירעים עליה בקול רעש ורוגז להשפילה כמאמר רז"ל לעולם ירגיז אדם יצ"ט על יצה"ר שנאמר רגזו וגו' דהיינו לרגוז על נפש הבהמית שהיא יצרו הרע בקול רעש ורוגז במחשבתו לומר לו אתה רע ורשע ומשוקץ ומתועב ומנוול וכו' ככל השמות שקראו לו חכמינו ז"ל באמת עד מתי תסתיר לפני אור א"ס ב"ה הממלא כל עלמין היה הוה ויהיה בשוה גם במקום זה שאני עליו כמו שהיה אור א"ס ב"ה לבדו קודם שנברא העולם בלי שום שינוי כמ"ש אני ה' לא שניתי כי הוא למעלה מהזמן וכו' ואתה מנוול וכו' מכחיש האמת הנראה לעינים דכולא קמיה כלא ממש באמת בבחי' ראייה חושיית."
[6] Berachos 5a.
[7] Cf. ibid. ch. 26.
[8] II Shmuel 7:23.
[9] Cf. Tanya 114a.
[10] Tehillim 139:16. Cf. Likkutei Torah, Shelach end; Hayom Yom18 Nissan.

Dedicated in honor of the birthday of my dear wife, Atoroh Arielle bas Sarah 
on 22 Menachem-Av. May you have a shenas berachah vehatzlachah begashmiyus uveruchniyus!

Dedicated in the merit of a speedy release for the captives Yonasan ben Malka (Jonathan Pollard), Sholom Mordechai Halevi ben Rivka (Sholom Rubashkin), 
Yaakov Yehuda ben Shaindel (Jacob Ostreicher), 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.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Selfish Spirituality

Selfish Spirituality

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

“Don’t be like servants who serve the master in order to receive a reward; rather, be like servants who serve the master without intent of receiving a reward.”[1]

Now, the ultimate reward is the reward of the World to Come, Olam Haba, also known as the Age of the Resurrection; thus, our sages are telling us that we should not even serve Hashem for the sake of reward in Olam Haba.

But why is the desire to receive reward in Olam Haba objectionable? Granted, one can understand how a desire for material reward is lowly, for our world is the lowest world of all, in which G–dliness is completely concealed,[2] and so physical pleasures are the lowest of all pleasures (for more explanation, see here). Thus, Pirkei Avos, the text devoted to encouraging the Jew to aspire to greater piety than the letter of the law technically requires,[3] encourages one to rise to a level at which such incentives are no longer motivating.[4]

In contrast, true pleasure is to be found in sublime spiritual revelation, and that is the soul’s reward after its sojourn in a body, both in Gan Eden, which is a world of disembodied souls, and all the more so in Olam Haba, which consists of living eternal life within a body in a state of pure, essential spiritual pleasure that one derives from being bound up with the infinite light of Hashem, the Source of all life. This pleasure infinitely exceeds any material pleasure. Hashem designated this reward to the Jewish people for their performance of Mitzvos in this world. Moreover, every Jew will surely receive this reward, for “All Yisrael have a portion in Olam Haba”[5]—only rare, extremely wicked Jews are punished so severely that they completely forfeit this portion, as our sages continue, “...and these ones do not have a portion in Olam Haba.”

So if I will anyway receive this reward, why shouldn’t I have in mind that I’m serving Hashem in order to receive it?

The answer is that one should know that Olam Haba, as exceedingly awesome as it is, should not be the entire motivation for the Jew’s performance of Mitzvos.

To explain (see my earlier post on this topic here), every Mitzvah consists of two components:

1. Its status as a divine commandment; this is the same for all the Mitzvos, and comprises the Mitzvah’s very core and essence (“etzem”).

2. The kavanah (lit., intent)—the unique G–dly energy that one elicits in the world, and upon oneself, by performing each of the Mitzvos.[6] This is the (comparatively) superficial aspect of the Mitzvah (known as “giluyim,” manifestations”).

When the Mishnah disapproves of “serving Hashem in order to receive a reward,” it is addressing one who is drawn to keep the Mitzvos because of reason 1. above. He is spiritually sensitive enough to (quite correctly) find that the intense spiritual experience of performing Mitzvos, and the level of G–dliness with which he thereby binds himself, brings him to a state of bliss and ecstasy that is completely unparalleled. And so he rises from level to level, experiencing ever-higher levels of G–dliness in this world, until his soul leaves the body, and he experiences the incomparably greater divine revelation and pleasure of Gan Eden, until he rises still higher and reaches the ultimate ecstasy and purpose of all existence—Olam Haba.[7]

Sounds holy, huh. But for all this person’s spiritual strivings and accomplishments, his piety and profound grasp of Hashem’s greatness, his deeply-felt love and fear of Hashem, and more, he has completely missed the point. In a way, all his spirituality is self-serving, because it is not meant for Hashem alone, but selfishly, to inspire himself so that he can attain tremendous spiritual heights.

In contrast, a true servant of Hashem performs the Mitzvos because Hashem commanded so. Yes, he is aware of the kavanah and reason for the Mitzvah, and he is inspired by it, but that is not what fundamentally drives him to keep the Mitzvos. Practically speaking, this means that he will adhere to the Mitzvah carefully regardless of whether he has personally studied, digested, and become inspired by the kavanah of any particular Mitzvah. The kavanah, the understanding, the pleasure, and the spiritual high—these do not drive him, and so the lack thereof does not weaken him.

Rather, he performs the Mitzvos with bittul, self-effacement, simply because Hashem so commanded him. This is the meaning of the verse, “These are the Mitzvos ... that a man will do, and live in them.”[8] This Jew’s “life” and inspiration is in performing the Mitzvah itself, and thereby connecting to Hashem’s very Essence. And when he desires that G–dliness be revealed in this world, he does not wish it so for his own benefit, but for Hashem’s sake, to bring nachas to his Creator by fulfilling His desire to have a dwelling place in our physical world.[9]

The Rebbe Rashab’s Sefer HaMa’amarim 5654, pp. 234-235.


[1] Avos 1:3.
[2] Tanya ch. 36.
[3] Bava Kama 30a.
[4] Of course, a beginner, who hasn’t yet reached a true appreciation of the spiritual, must use the Torah’s promises of material reward and punishment to spur him to avoid sin and pursue good deeds. The Mishnah is encouraging the Jew to graduate from this stage and rise to a level at which he has no need for such motivations. Cf. Sefer HaMa’amarim 5659, s.v. Shuva Yisrael.
[5] Sanhedrin 90a.
[6] Cf. Tanya chs. 4, 46.
[7] Cf. ibid., ch. 36: “It is known that the days of Moshiach, and especially the Age of the Resurrection, is the ultimate purpose of the creation of this world; it was for this that it was originally created.”
[8] Vayikra 18:5.
[9] Midrash Tanchuma, Naso 16. Tanya ibid.

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).

Dedicated to Rocheleh Odze (Rochel bas Chana Feigeh) and Dov Oliver (Shlomo Dov Ber ben Chana Feigeh), my dear siblings, on their recent birthdays, tzu langeh, gezunteh, zisseh yorn, filled with material and spiritual success and prosperity.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Intellectual Excitement

Intellectual Excitement

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

Intellect and emotions are directly interlinked. Intellect leads to emotions; emotions develop from intellect. Intellect is the cause (“ilah”), and emotions are the effect (“alul”).

Appreciating this progression is not merely a point of philosophical interest; it is highly practical, and even vital. Torah in general and Chassidus in particular instruct us to work to refine and change our character traits. So one who wants to change a negative emotion or develop a positive one must know that this noble goal simply cannot be accomplished by merely willing it to be so, by furrowing one’s brow and firmly deciding, “Yes! I can, I will, I must feel it!” Rather, one’s resolve to strive for inner change must involve deciding to work on cultivating the intellect in a way that will be conducive to producing the emotion that one aspires to feel. (This principle is also fundamental to the derech of Chassidus Chabad in particular.)

But in order to succeed at this, with the help of Hashem, one needs a deeper understanding of intellect, emotions, and the way they interact. With the help of Hashem, this article will explain one facet of this relationship.

As mentioned, intellect and emotions share a cause-and-effect relationship.

As Chassidus defines the cause-and-effect relationship, the effect exists in a hidden, potential state within the cause, and then, when the cause ceases, this preexisting potential emerges from the cause and evolves into an independent entity—the effect.

Likewise, the emotions exist within the intellect first, and then, when the stage of intellect finishes, they emerge and evolve into actual, tangibly-felt emotions.

However, the emotions within intellect (middos shebe’sechel) are distinctly different from true emotions, which are the emotions as they exist within the heart.

True emotions are fundamentally subjective and egotistical, revolving around one’s personal perception of self-interest. E.g., the main emotions are love and fear. Love is an attraction, a desire to bond with that which I feel is beneficial for me, while fear is a repulsion, a desire to avoid that which I feel is detrimental to me. Either way, the emotion is self-focused.

In contrast, intellect is, or at least strives to be, fundamentally objective and self-transcending, and so the emotions within intellect involve transcending self and connecting to truth. How does this occur? Once the mind truly understands the intricacies of a concept, it becomes impressed and excited at the depth, complexity, richness, beauty, and truth of that concept. “Wow! Awesome!” the intellect exclaims. This is hispa’alus sichlis, intellectual excitement (see this earlier article where I touch on this concept), and these are the emotions within intellect.

On the one hand, this form of intellect is different from raw intellect, which is exclusively concerned with dissecting the technical details of the concept under study, and is characterized by measured coldness. In contrast, hispa’alus sichlis is considered in a sense emotional because the quality of excitement and passion is typical of the emotions. Yet it is not truly emotional, because it is not at all concerned with “what’s in it for me,” and so it is still generally classified within the realm of intellect.

To be continued, with the help of Hashem.

Adapted from the Previous RebbeSefer HaMa’amarim 5700, pp. 134-140.

Dedicated in honor of the birthday of Shaina bas Atara Arielle 
on 22 Tammuz.

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.