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

Friday, August 30, 2013

"Sharing the Burden" Through Torah Study

“Sharing the Burden”
Through Torah Study

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

Complementary Roles

The Gemara states:[1]
Rabbi Abba bar Kahana said: Were it not for David, Yoav would not have done battle, and were it not for Yoav, David would not have engaged in Torah. As it is written, “David performed justice and righteousness for all his people, and Yoav ben Tzeruya was in charge of the army.” What does it meant that “David performed justice and righteousness for all his people?” [He was able to,] because Yoav was taking care of the army. And what is the meaning of “Yoav was in charge of the army?” So that David could perform justice and righteousness for all his people.
Yoav and David HaMelech were partners who each valued the other’s contribution. David HaMelech knew that since the Jewish people had enemies, and since Torah instructs us “We do not rely on a miracle,”[2] he needed an army of soldiers led by a mighty general to lead the battles against the enemies of the Jewish people. This general was Yoav.

But David HaMelech himself did not go to war, although he was fully capable of doing so. He chose, instead, to remain behind in order to study Torah and teach it to the people.

Yet Yoav had no complaints. He knew that David HaMelech’s contribution was indispensable. “Were it not for David, Yoav would not have done battle.” He did not view David HaMelech’s choice as shirking responsibility, never mind as cowardice, G–d forbid. He knew that most fundamental principle of the Jewish faith: Success at any endeavor comes not from one’s efforts, intelligence, and strength, but from divine blessings—“it is the blessing of Hashem that gives us wealth.”[3]

Yes, accomplishment require a human investment, for Hashem created the natural order and desires that we follow its laws. But one who relies on his own power and does not combine reasonable efforts with prayers for divine assistance denies the existence of Hashem as “the One Who sustains the entire world with His goodness, grace, kindness, and compassion”[4]—as the Provider of all our needs. The Torah warns us against this: “And you may come to say in your heart that your strength and the might of your hand made you this wealth, but remember that it is Hashem, your G–d  Who endows you with strength to perform deeds of valor.”[5] In particular, “war does not belong to the mighty.”[6]

So Yoav knew that in order to triumph over his foes, he needed divine blessings, and that this depends upon Torah study. But not the Torah study of the soldiers, for a soldier must focus his attention on the technicalities of warfare and cannot simultaneously analyze intricate Talmudic debates. Rather, the material efforts of the soldiers must be complemented by the spiritual efforts of the full-time Torah scholars, for “Torah protects and saves”[7]—Torah study brings protection and safety not only to those who study it, but to the Jewish people as a whole, and therefore to its protectors in particular.

Foolish Bravery

An analogy for this division of roles can be drawn from the army itself. Consider the chief general who sits calmly in his protected headquarters, poring over one classified intelligence report after another, calculating how the war ought to be fought—with what tactics, with which weapons, when to attack, how many soldiers to deploy, and countless other complex considerations. In the course of his duties, he instructs that others be dispatched to the battlefront, while he remains hard at work.

One day, his son and best friend approach him in outrage and accuse him of hypocrisy and cowardice: “How can you do this?! You send us and many others to face mortal danger, while you remain far from harm’s way in your cushy office chair, reading all day? Shame on you! As the verse puts it, ‘Will your brothers go to war while you sit here?’”[8]

Filled with guilt, the general concedes to the pressure, considering himself guilty of reprehensible double standards. He bows his head, clears away all the classified documents, closes down the headquarters, dons army fatigues and a gun, goes to the front, and fights.

Not only would no one benefit from this “sacrifice,” but it would lead to certain defeat and horrendous loss of life, may G–d save us, for both the soldiers and the civilians whom they are protecting.

So, too, on the broader, national level, in order for the army, the general, and everyone else involved in the material war effort to succeed, spiritual war efforts are necessary—devoted, full-time, G–d-fearing Torah scholars.

Spiritual Desertion

But when the Torah scholar lacks fear of Hashem and forgets what his Torah study accomplishes, he can become so captivated with awe for the heroic soldier that he desires to quit learning. He wants to let everyone know that he, too, can wield a gun, earn a medal, and perform daring feats of military prowess.

Just as one who is assigned to the front and abandons it is termed a deserter, so are Torah scholars assigned with the mission of studying Torah day and night who abandon their post, don army fatigues and a gun, and go to fight, also deserters. Since Jewish military victory depends upon the merit of Torah study, instead of benefiting the war effort, these young men jeopardize it and bring disaster upon the Jewish people, may G–d save us.

Unsung Heroism

In a sense, the Torah scholar is faced with a more difficult challenge than the soldier. Soldiers are lionized. They are given honorable mentions in the newspaper, awarded with marks of distinction, and their exploits and victories are publicly recounted and rhapsodized. They are national heroes.

But far away from the action of the battlefield, the Torah scholar sits and learns without fanfare. His efforts to protect the Jewish people (studying Torah all day is very difficult, as anyone who has done so, or attempted to do so, can testify) confer upon him no elevated status and glory; he goes unknown.

If anything, he is punished for his choice, subjected to constant insults and condemnation by his less religious brethren, who scream at him in self-righteous indignation: “Will your brothers go to war while you sit here?” And not only doesn’t his vital contribution earn him an honorable mention in the media, but the media regularly spews vitriol against the full-time Torah scholar and incites the populace to despise him, branding him a leech and a drain upon society, one who selfishly refuses to “share the burden.”

An Invisible Lifeline

There is a response to their complaint, albeit one that some don’t appreciate because they don’t want to.

The Torah is a “Torah of light”[9] in which Hashem reveals sublime, perfect teachings that illuminate our daily lives with moral clarity and direction. The Torah tells us: Look beneath the material reality.

Even the soldier himself depends upon others whose involvement is not visible. For the soldier to stand and shoot, many other army personnel and others are required to assist the war effort from the sidelines by providing food, technical know how, logistical direction, discipline, funding, and so on.

Likewise, the soldier needs spiritual help from behind the scenes in order to be alive. After all, all his training and weaponry will be of no avail if he is not alive. And the true source of life and safety is Hashem, Who grants us life through His holy Torah, which is “our life and the length of our days.”[10] So for the soldier to be alive, he must be infused with life through the life-giving studies of the Torah scholar.

[1] Sanhedrin 49a.
[2] Toras Kohanim on Vayikra 22:32.
[3] Mishlei 10: 22.
[4] Grace After Meals liturgy.
[5] Devarim 8:17,18.
[6] Koheles 9:11.
[7] Sotah 21a.
[8] Bamidbar 32:6.
[9] Mishlei 6:23.
[10] Evening prayer liturgy.


See also this letter of the Rebbe posted here, which touches on the topic:
You ask why Lubavitch Chassidim do not serve in Tzahal. Obviously you are misinformed, for many do and many have attained high rank in the defense forces on active duty; and not only in the Chaplaincy, as you thought. As for those who serve in the Chaplaincy, clearly that is where they contribute most to Tzahal and the security of the country, since keeping the morale of the defense forces on the highest level is of primary importance. It would be a poor judgment on the part of Tzahal  to press one who is qualified to be a Chaplain into service as a private, as it would be to force one who is qualified to be a colonel to serve as private instead.

While on this subject, let me mention a further point, though you do not refer to it explicitly, namely, the exemption of yeshivah students from military service. As you may know, this exemption was recognized and agreed to by the founder of Tzahal, the late D. Ben Gurion. It is based on the fact that a yeshivah student can accomplish more to the security of the country by continuing his Torah learning than by military duty. Anyone who is familiar with the Sedra Bechukosai and is not prejudiced can see this clearly.

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 26, 2013

Light Prepares for Darkness

Light Prepares for Darkness

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

I recently spent a few days in the country, where at night even the streets are much more poorly lit than in the city, and in the fields there is almost no light. Yet during my time here, I have not needed to walk around at night, only during the day.

Last night, for the first time, I had to make my way across several large fields in order to reach my destination, with only some faint streetlights in the distance and a glimmer of moonlight and starlight to help me find my way.

Although I did trip a few times and veered onto a minor detour, I managed. Why? I had gone down that path often enough during the daylight hours that the little light that shone was sufficient to direct me.

Perhaps the lesson is as follows. When one is in an environment of spiritual light, of holiness and purity, such as a beis ha'knesses (synagogue) or a beis ha'medrash (Torah study hall), the way is clear. In contrast, the outside world is a place of intense spiritual darkness (see here), rife with fraud and deception, ignorance of Hashem's Word, materialism, hedonism, and apathy to faith and even ridicule of it (see here). In this "doubled and redoubled darkness" the Jew is prone to lose his or her way, G-d forbid.

But when we are accustomed to devoting time daily to davven and learn in the beis ha'knesses and beis ha'medrash (and their equivalent as appropriate for women and girls)we keep ourselves spiritually attuned and fortify ourselves (see here). Then even when we descend into the hostile environment of the outside world, we will not lose our way, for we remember the experience of being in an environment of G-dliness and purity.

This also explains why it is so important for bochrim to attend Yeshivah, for girls to attend seminary, and for chassidim to go to the Rebbe (or, until Moshiach comes, the places where the holiness of the Rebbe resides--770 and the Ohel) at least once a year.

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, August 20, 2013

Teshuvah: Regaining Our Passion for Truth

Teshuvah: Regaining
Our Passion for Truth

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

The greatness of youth is its idealism. A resolute, unremitting, unashamed refusal to compromise one’s standards and principles, even in the face of tremendous hardship and opposition—nay, specifically in such circumstances.

There are two kinds of compromise.
1.       Externally-imposed compromise. This is when one is apparently forced into a compromise. He would never act this way otherwise, he says, but what can he do? He is left with no choice. His circumstances dictate that he lower his standards, cut corners, settle for less. Life is not a fantasy and he can’t live in the clouds. He must grow up and live in the real world, which means that sometimes he must do things he finds objectionable for the sake of some purportedly greater cause.
2.       Self-imposed compromise. As time goes by, he starts slipping. He used to be careful to observe every single custom meticulously, every dikduk kal, but now it seems like so many ... minutiae. Of course, he’s still frum, but it no longer seems so crucial to be so ... farfrumt and farchnyokt as it did back when he was young, headstrong, and naïve. After all, almost no one else truly lives like that their whole lives, except for a handful of social outcasts, people who never grew up. He’s matured steadily over time, and maturity means mellowing out, being more “chill,” not taking yourself so seriously, and learning to have a little fun. And if it means cutting a corner, then no harm is done. No one else cares, nor will they find out, anyway. And as for Hashem? He’s all-forgiving, so He won’t mind either, surely.
Even in the first case, when the compromise was externally imposed, the person adjusts to his compromised state, and comes to feel that compromise is no big deal, and perhaps not even shameful. In any case, he learns to accept compromise as a normal part of life. And then, over the course of time, it is very likely that he will decline from the first kind of compromise to the second, G–d forbid.

When we live a life in which we are ever-cautious not to fall prey to all-too-human weakness, and persist in maintaining our personal standards courageously regardless of how others around us are acting, and the direct or indirect pressures that they may be placing upon us, then we are truly alive.

This is much more attainable when a person is physically young, because he has not yet gone out into the “real world” and had to spend all day in the company of spiritual sellouts, in external circumstances that test him, that play with his mind and wear him down until he starts to truly believe the lie that the materialistic society sells him from every direction that he has no choice but to compromise—to sin “just a little.”

But there is no such thing. You can’t sin “in moderation.” Nor can you compromise “in moderation.” No, once you start down that road, know that you’re making deals with terrorists, dancing with the devil, and inevitably “one sin brings another in its wake.”[1]

So then the relentless downward spiral—yes, the slippery slope—begins, and you go from being tainted to becoming slowly but surely corrupted. Our sages warn, “When one sins once, and again, he feels as if it is permissible.”[2] What he earlier recognized as a sin, he starts to view as a mere compromise, and then what he had previously viewed as a compromise becomes completely acceptable. And then he becomes even further desensitized, so that from feeling “as if it is permissible,” it becomes felt to be outright permissible, until it even becomes a Mitzvah! (See also here and here.)

Don’t fall into this trap.

But if you are no longer in your early twenties, chances are that you have, and that your idealism has declined (assuming you were fortunate enough to go through a stage of youthful idealism in the first place).

So now you need to uncorrupt yourself. Start with some brutal honesty. Idealism and truth-seeking always demand it, and honesty with oneself is needed first and foremost.

Stop living in denial. Admit it, you sinned. You didn’t merely “compromise” or “make mistakes” due to “circumstances beyond your control.” You’re not a passive victim, a helpless object, a leaf blown by the wind. That’s nonsense. Hashem gave you free choice. You were tested, and you failed. Yes, the test may have been very, very difficult. But so what? You’re still fully responsible for your conduct. And when you compromised, you corrupted, debased, and dehumanized yourself.

Now that’s not to say that everything you do is wrong; on the contrary, it is quite possible that most of your behavior is worthy. But that is neither here nor there. Grow up. Mitzvos don’t excuse aveiros.
Once you have truly accepted that you sinned (see here), then you can do Teshuvah, be cleansed, and change your ways. Then idealism—and its corollary, unapologetic disdain for compromise in all its ugly and insidious manifestations—can return.

Then your age no longer matters (as much). Passion for the absolute truth of the Torah of truth, and a willingness to fight for it, to sacrifice for it, to die for it and to live for it, to surrender oneself to it with every fiber of one’s being, to do everything in one’s power to live up to it and disseminate it to one and all with confidence and conviction—all these youthful feelings can then thrive again.

And when you translate this truth into your personal life, you are also able to lead and inspire others, to serve as a shining role model, a beacon of truthfulness, integrity, and joyful sacrifice for your family and community, filled with the enthusiasm and vigor of youth.

Adapted from the sicha of 13 Tammuz 5732.

[1] Avos 4:2.
[2] Yalkut Shimoni, Vayikra 25:661.

Dedicated in honor of the birthday of my dear son, Shneur Zalman ben Atarah Arielle, 
on 29 Av.

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, August 10, 2013

Lift the Veil

Lift the Veil

 Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

In an earlier post, we explained the difference between gashmiyus—“physicality” and chumriyus—“coarseness.”

This also explains the lowly state of our world. In reality, within every being in our universe there is a chayus Eloki, a divine vitalizing force, that creates it as it is, maintains its existence, and without which it could not exist. Yet although it is right here within every single being, we do not feel it.

But it wasn’t always this way. In the world’s original state, before the sin of Adam and Chava, “the divine presence dwelt in this lowly world.”  Then one could sense tangibly how the existence of every physical being stems from the chayus Eloki, and so one naturally submitted to that vitality, and therefore to Hashem.

But the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge tainted the cosmos as a whole. It created an intense veil over the chayus Eloki. Chassidus calls this veil chumriyus, and the chumriyus in our world is very great.

However, during the period of exile, we are charged with the mission of rectifying the cosmos though our performance of Torah and Mitzvos, and this gradually diminishes the chumriyus. The veil of chumriyus will be completely lifted when Moshiach comes, and all will “see”  the underlying reality of the chayus Eloki (may it happen now!).

This is true not only on a grand scale, but also on a miniature scale, even before Moshiach comes. We may not yet be able to refine ourselves to the point of literally seeing the chayus Eloki, but though hard work, we are all fully able to reach a far deeper level of inner sensitivity to G–dliness (see here and here).

The principle here is that the more a vessel is refined, the more it can contain. Consider the mind: The more one’s mental capacities are refined and sharpened, the deeper the concepts one is able to grasp. Likewise, the more the person engages in avodah (see here) to refine the coarseness within of the Bestial Soul and the body, the more he becomes open and receptive to awareness of Hashem (see here).

This means that when he meditates upon Hashem’s greatness before prayer, his mind becomes much more receptive, and the concept he reflects upon is truly absorbed and integrated into his mind and heart. Likewise, when he studies Torah, he will sense the divine light within Torah (see here).

And then, when he goes out to engage with the outside world, not only will this interaction not adversely affect him by detracting from his sensitivity to G–dliness (as it would otherwise), but it will enhance it:

In the world at large, he will sense the world’s dependence on the chayus Eloki. On a personal level, he will be imbued with the awareness that all his blessings come from Hashem alone; he will notice Hashem’s guiding hand, intimately controlling every aspect of his life; and he will succeed at illuminating everyone and everything in his surroundings with an ever-greater awareness of Hashem’s presence.

Based on the Rebbe Rashab’s Sefer HaMaamarim 5678, p. 85.

Dedicated in honor of the birthday of my dear daughter, Shaina bas Atarah 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.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Overcoming the Dangers of Intense Religiosity (pt. 4)

Overcoming the Dangers of
Intense Religiosity (pt. 4)

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

(This is the last installment of a four-part series. The previous posts: pts. 1, pt. 2, pt. 3.)

We can also observe the phenomenon of well-meaning but misplaced religious feeling in a contemporary context, and on a far more basic level than was described in the previous installments of this essay.

Secular attitudes combined with ignorance of and sometimes outright disrespect for Jewish law have led many to follow practices that are in violation of the traditions of our holy Torah. And although they outright reject the tenets, laws, and customs of the Judaism of their ancestors, they bizarrely claim to be following it.

E.g., some people become enthusiastic about prayer—which is, indeed, a very sublime Mitzvah—but then pray in a mixed service without a mechitzah, or pray using a liturgy that they made up themselves while rejecting the divinely-inspired, required liturgy formulated millennia ago by the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah.

“Why do the fine points matter so much?” they protest. “The main thing is that we’re inspired in serving Hashem, and Hashem isn’t so petty—He loves us and hears us whether we follow a prescribed text or not!”

One recent high-profile example of this may be the “Women of the Wall,” who insist on their “right” to violate the traditional synagogue laws adhered to at Judaism’s holiest site, the Kosel. (My hesitation in including them in this category is that it seems that for many of them, their fervor is in fact political, not religious.)

This is comparable to approaching a human king or a prime minister with an impassioned plea that he spare one’s life, but with the qualification:
I know that your majesty has issued certain edicts, but I’ve decided to flout them: For instance, although I know that you’ve declared that when we come before you, we should follow the dress code that you prescribe, I don’t care—I’ll dress as I please when I come to ask you for a favor. I also know that you’ve explicitly stated that you want us to present our requests to you using a prescribed text, but I insist on expressing my individuality, and asking you for what I want in my own way. Yet I expect your highness to grant my heartfelt request regardless, because after all, you are so very merciful indeed.
How outrageous. What human king would tolerate such a request, never mind accede to it? How much more so is such an attitude completely inappropriate when one approaches the King of all kings, Hashem.[1]

In conclusion, on every level, the Jew should be careful to ensure that his spiritual, inspired feelings for Hashem are not expressed inappropriately, whether in the form of somehow mistreating others, or violating Jewish law. He attains this by strengthening his acceptance of Hashem’s absolute sovereignty and authority—kabolas ol Malchus Shomayim. Then not only will these feelings not result in inappropriate behavior, but they will inspire one to much more careful observance of halacha and much more sincere devotion towards one’s fellow Jew.

Adapted from Sichos Kodesh 5723, p. 54.

[1] A truly courageous rabbi will find the words to make sure his congregants are aware of this. See a letter of the Rebbe on the responsibility of a congregational rabbi to object to changes in Judaism here.

Read this essay in full on Scribd here!

Dedicated in honor of the ninth birthday of beni bechori, Shneur Zalman ben Atara Arielle, on 29 Av. May he grow lTorah, l'Chupah, ulemaasim tovim, and become a chossid, yerei Shomayim, and lamdan!

Dedicated by Reb Yisrael Meir Raphael and family.

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

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Overcoming the Dangers of Intense Religiosity (pt. 3)

Overcoming the Dangers of
Intense Religiosity (pt. 3)

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

Earlier (pts. 1 and pt. 2), we explained the phenomenon of well-meant, otherwise worthy religious feelings being “hijacked” and being expressed in a counter-productive, even harmful manner.

Now for the big question: How does one avoid falling into this trap?

One root cause of spirituality going awry is the lack of the proper foundation of one’s service of Hashem.

To serve Hashem properly it is not enough to eschew hedonism, to think constantly about Hashem, to be spiritual, and to love Hashem. It is not even enough to fear Him. The same goes for fulfilling the Mitzvos that relate to the sphere of interactions with other people: It is not enough for a religious person to be generous and hospitable, to be humble and forgiving, to be devoted and tireless in serving one’s community. 

Yes, these are all important and even vital elements of a deep, personal relationship with Hashem. Yet all of them can go awry, so none of them comprise the very foundation of one’s relationship with Hashem.

The beginning and foundation of serving Hashem is very (and perhaps even deceptively) simple: Kabolas ol Malchus Shomayim, submission to the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven.[1] This means that one is in a state of constant submission, such that all one’s behavior is part of serving Hashem, and is done with the intention of following His wishes.

With regard to emotional expression, this means that no emotion or desire, however worthy it may otherwise be, should be expressed exclusively because one feels that way.

Rather, even if the emotion coursing through one’s heart is fully appropriate, one should be conscious of its inner core. This very emotion is part of serving Hashem, for through it one fulfills a divine command—the command to feel certain feelings.

For Torah and halacha direct us not only in our actions, but also in proper thoughts and feelings, in “chovos halevavos—duties of the heart.” In this case, not only is it worthy to love and fear Hashem, but in so doing, we fulfill explicit divine commands[2] (which are, in fact, Biblical obligations no less binding than the obligation to keep Shabbos or kosher): “Love Hashem, your G–d”[3] and “Fear Hashem, your G–d.”[4]

This holds true not only for spontaneous, gut feelings (which are much more likely to be hijacked in the manner described above), but even for feelings that emerged, as they should, from a process of study, comprehension, and hisbonenus (“contemplation” or “meditation”). For intellect, emotions, and the (very worthy) process of intellect producing emotions all depend upon the firm foundation of Kabolas ol Malchus Shomayim for their success.

When a Jew’s life is based on this foundation, his entire relationship with Hashem is stable and strong, and then he is able to attain success in his spiritual strivings in all areas and on all levels[5]—intellect, emotions, and thought, speech, and action. Moreover, it ultimately also paves the way for Hashem’s blessings for material prosperity.

If, however, one gets carried away with a passion for a holy pursuit (in whatever area), but lacks the awareness that this feeling is not just self-expression, but a part of serving Hashem and fulfilling a divine command, then no matter how worthy and holy the passion, this person is at high risk. This passion may well devolve into inappropriate feelings and behavior, as explained in the previous posts in this series.

Thus, we find how Nadav and Avihu, who yearned to serve Hashem on a high level, were so intent on their desire to offer up the incense in the Mishkan that they did so when they were not supposed to. They then “came too close to Hashem, and died.”[6] The reason this happened was that their passion to come close to Hashem lacked kabolas ol Malchus Shomayim, the simultaneous desire to submit to Him, and so it ended tragically. Let us not make the same mistake.

Adapted from the Rebbe's Sichos Kodesh 5723, p. 54.

Read this essay in full on Scribd here!
[1] Cf. Tanya beg. ch. 41.
[2] These are counted in the Six Constant Mitzvos binding on men and women equally, as enumerated in the introduction to Sefer HaChinuch.
[3] Devarim 6:5.
[4] Ibid. 6:13.
[5] Cf. Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 1, pp. 104-105.
[6] Vayikra 12:1; Ohr HaChaim ad loc.

Dedicated by Reb Yisrael Meir Raphael and family.

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

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Overcoming the Dangers of Intense Religiosity (pt. 2)

Overcoming the Dangers of
Intense Religiosity (pt. 2)

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

In the previous installment, we discussed how good intentions and holy passions can go awry because of a lack of inner refinement.

A parallel phenomenon is found among the angels. As discussed earlier (see here), although the angels possess vastly superior intellect, they are fundamentally emotional beings, whose core is filled with passionate feelings of love and fear of Hashem, and so they are not truly intellectual in the way that man is.

Starting from Beriyah, each level in Seder Hishtalshelus (the spiritual multiverse—see here) devolves directly from the one above it. So Beriyah devolves into Yetzirah, Yetzirah into Asiyah, and the spiritual plane of Asiyah devolves into our physical world, which is at the bottom of the world of Asiyah. This means that all the beings that exist in Beriyah also exist in Yetzirah, but in a lesser, more egotistical state, and so on.

So when the intense love and fear of Hashem of the angels in the higher spiritual realms (Yetzirah, Yetzirah into Asiyah—no angels exist in Atzilus, the world above Beriyah) devolves into our physical world, which is the lowest of all levels—“the lowest level possible as regards the concealment of divine light, a double and redoubled darkness to the extent that it is filled with forces of Kelipah and sitra achra, which are literally against Hashem, saying ‘I exist, and there is nothing else but me’” (Tanya ch. 36)—these feelings go completely awry:

The angels’ love of Hashem turns into chessed (kindness and love) of Kelipah—the lusts and pleasures of the flesh that we (if we are G-d fearing, do our best not to) see in the secular society around us. (Once, Reb Itcheh der Masmid, a great chossid, had to visit the city of Manhattan (in the ‘20s, I think). His comment: “Do hobn di malochim gut ongemacht”—“here the angels really relieved themselves.”)

Likewise, the angels’ intense fear of Hashem turns into gevurah (strictness and fear) of Kelipah—all the forms of negativity, depression, conflict, hatred, and violence that so pervade the society and culture in which we live.

All these powerful and captivating negative energies that we perceive in the world around us are in fact the devolution—or, as Chassidus calls it, the pesoles, the “waste matter”—of that intense passion of the angels.

However, angels do not have free choice, so they cannot choose to refine themselves in a way that would prevent their passion from leading to anything undesirable. In contrast, although mans capacity for emotion is infinitesimal when compared with that of the angels, he was endowed with overcome his emotions. He does this by choosing to choose to use his intellect in a way that refines himself so that his expression of emotions will not result in a negative outcome.

Stay tuned for the next installment!

Based on the Rebbe Rashab’s Sefer HaMaamarim 5660, pp. 8-9.

Read this essay in full on Scribd here!

Dedicated by Reb Zvi Rona and family l'ilui nishmas Golda Ruth bas Moshe Zvi HaLevi 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.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Overcoming the Dangers of Intense Religiosity (pt. 1)

Overcoming the Dangers of
Intense Religiosity (pt. 1)

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

Whoa. Take it easy.

Is it good to be passionate and intense about goodness and holiness? Yes, undoubtedly. In fact, we are commanded to strive for this state, and not only is one who lacks passion neglectful, but he is at great risk of sliding into sin, for spiritual coldness and apathy lead one to all manner of evil, may Hashem save us.

Yet one must also take precautions to ensure that this intensity of feeling not go overboard and be expressed inappropriately.

The goal of learning about Hashem’s greatness is that this knowledge inspire one to genuine feelings for Hashem—middos (emotions) of ahavah ve’yirah, love and awe of Hashem (see here).

Then instead of simply going through the motions—known as “Mitzvas anoshim melumadah”—one’s heart will be in it:
  • Not only will he no longer view Mitzvos as an odious chore, but since he knows that performing the Mitzvos draws him into a close connection with Hashem, he eagerly looks forward to the opportunity to fulfill them, and does so with great gusto and joy. 
  • Likewise, his awareness that sin separates and distances him from Hashem makes the very thought of sinning repulsive and motivates him to do his utmost to avoid falling in sin. 
The Torah states that this process of inner change is the mission of every single Jew.

To explain, Chassidus teaches that Hashem “made this one,” Kelipah, spiritual impurity, “opposite this one,” Kedushah, holiness. Kelipah and Kedushah (see here) parallel each other. The same is true of the emotions that stem from these two cosmic forces, respectively: The unworthy emotions of the Bestial Soul parallel the worthy emotions of the Divine Soul (see here).

When one succeeds in this process of transforming one’s emotions, the holy emotions replace the unholy ones (see here). In this state, love of physicality is replaced by its counterpart in holiness, love of Hashem. Fear related to one’s physical life (e.g., fear of pain, poverty, shame, and so on) is replaced with fear of Hashem.

However, by their very nature, emotions are egotistical. This holds true not only of the undesirable or at least selfish emotions of the Bestial Soul, but even of the holy emotions of the Neshamah, the Divine Soul.

Emotions are all about personal feelings and desires. One could desire to indulge in hedonistic pursuits or to attach oneself to the loftiest heights of holiness—either way, the ego is involved. Although in the latter case it is expressed in a constructive and virtuous way, it is still necessarily present.

This is especially the case when the emotion is felt tangibly. An emotion could be present but not felt, for it lies under the surface (cf. Tanya ch. 16). But when an emotion is tangibly felt, there is a strong egotistical component even in the holy emotions, and this is bad. This creates the serious danger that when the emotion is expressed, it may devolve into its counterpart in Kelipah. I will provide a handful of more common examples, with the caveat that this is only a very brief treatment of such behaviors, for this process can manifest itself in numerous forms:

Love: Love involves opening up and transcending limitations for the object of one’s love. So when love of Hashem goes awry, one  loses a sense of boundaries, and then openness to and love of Hashem degenerate into dangerous openness and evil love—material indulgence and forbidden pleasures.

For instance, during prayer the Jew becomes aroused with passionate  love for Hashem. After prayer, the intense feeling remains, but it becomes expressed in a more intense desire to indulge the senses, e.g., gluttonous eating.

Fear: Fear drives one to create limits and boundaries out of a sense of caution. So when fear of Hashem goes awry, the person becomes so filled with fiery passion or with a sense of self-limitation and inhibition gone too far that he succumbs to the negative emotions of the Bestial Soul. He may break out in sudden anger, sink into depression, inflict pain and torment upon others, or the like. 

Another manifestation of this egotistical element of fear of Hashem is when the person  shows off his intense desire to avoid sin. Even when he has no conscious desire to do so, and he is simply expressing his genuine emotion of fear of Hashem, the showiness is inappropriate. If his emotions were pure, this self-display would not occur, and this trait stems from his deep-seated condition of spiritual coarseness.

This is an example of what Chassidus calls yenikah lachitzonim, “giving sustenance to negative spiritual energies.” This means that when something holy lacks purity, it unwittingly gives strength to the forces of Kelipah, with often disastrous and tragic results. This expression is also used more broadly to describe anything good and holy that is done in a foolish, inappropriate, or otherwise inadvisable manner and therefore leads to an unfavorable outcome.

In this case, it means that the small element of ego in otherwise worthy and holy feelings is able to be grabbed and used by the evil inclination to feed undesirable emotions.

What is the key to overcoming these dangers? Stay tuned!

Based on the Rebbe Rashab’s Sefer HaMaamarim 5660, pp. 8-9;
Sefer HaMaamarim 5670, pp. 103-104.  

Read this essay in full on Scribd here!

This post was dedicated by Rochel'e and Sholom Ber Odze in honor of the birthday of Yeshaya Yaakov bas Rochel on 24 Sivan. May he have a shnas hatzlocho begashmiyus u'veruchniyus!

Also dedicated by Zvi Rona and family l'ilui nishmas 
Shlomo ben Pesach, whose yahrtzeit was on 8 Tammuz.

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, June 3, 2013

Evil and Free Will

Evil and Free Will

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

This post comes in continuation to the previous two posts on the topic of angels: Of Angels and Men and Programmed Purity Vs. Frail Freedom.

Earlier (in the latter link above) we discussed how man holds the entire Seder Hishtalshelus within himself in miniature, and that this also endows man with the quality of free will, of choosing between virtue and sin, righteousness and wickedness. No other creation has this ability.

To explain, in the highest spiritual world, Atzilus, no evil exists. Even the divine attribute of gevurah, severity, which is apparently negative, exists there in a pure and holy state. However, in the worlds of Beriyah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah, what was the gevurah in Atzilus degenerates partially into Kelipah, an unholy force that conceals over the existence of Hashem. The lower the level, the further the Kelipah declines, until it assumes the form of the evil in our physical world. Likewise, the quality of goodness as it exists in our world stems from the divine attribute of chesed, kindness.

As mentioned, man contains all the supernal attributes within him. This includes both the attributes of chesed and of gevurah. Thus, he also contains that which evolves from chesed and gevurah, namely, the qualities of good and evil. These are the Good Inclination and the Evil Inclination.

It is this dual nature that enables man to have free choice, the ability to choose to act as he wishes.

In contrast, an angel exemplifies a certain pure quality—whether chesed, gevurah, or the like—and it possesses no evil side. As Moshe Rabeinu’s rhetorically asked the angels, “Do you have an Evil Inclination among you?”[1] Since an angel possesses no evil, it is simply unable to be attracted to and tempted by evil, and so it lacks free choice.

Although the verse speaks of the angels “knowing good and bad,”[2] the angels relate to knowledge of evil in a purely abstract, clinical way. This knowledge cannot excite angels with any desire for evil because they do not possess evil within themselves at all. In contrast, man’s Evil Inclination causes his very knowledge of evil in the world to affect him and excite him, and it may well bring him to stray after it.

This is what enables man to have free choice. Since he has evil within him, he is free to choose to sin; thus, when he does good he is not following his natural programming, but acting out of truly free choice, with no compulsion whatsoever.

This is very precious to Hashem, and so one who chooses to do good and not sin is blessed with a sublime revelation of G–dliness. This explains further how meluchah, willing acceptance of divine sovereignty, is only possible for mankind, who possesses free choice, but not for angels.

Based on the Rebbe Rashab’s Sefer HaMaamarim 5660, p. 11.

[1] Shabbos 88b.
[2] Bereshis 3:5.

Dedicated by Rabbi Levi and Chana Kurinsky of Melbourne in the merit of the birth of their daughter, Shterna Sarah bas Levi Yitzchok Halevi, on Shabbos, 16 Sivan – Parshas Beha’alosecha.  Yegadluhoh leTorah, l'chupah, ulemaasim tovim mitoch harchovoh!

Dedicated by Tzvi and Yehudis Rona and family of Sydney as a merit for the yahrtzeit of Pinchas ben Yitzchok HaLevy on 22 Sivan.

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, May 27, 2013

Programmed Purity Vs. Frail Freedom

Programmed Purity
Vs. Frail Freedom

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

(This post is a continuation of this earlier post: Of Angels and Men)

Hashem’s creation is awesomely vast. It encompasses not only our world, but also the entire Seder Hishtalshelus, the awesomely vast system of higher spiritual worlds that ends with our physical universe (see here).

Yet all the beings that Hashem created possess a fundamental limitation: Each one is endowed with a very small repertoire of qualities and character traits. With these few traits each creature is equipped to carry out its individual role, but is unable to perform any other role.

In the animal kingdom we find that each species exhibits a distinct emotional tendency. For instance, the raven is cruel, while the eagle is compassionate, and so on.

So is it in higher spheres: The angels, which are compared to animals,[1] are also limited to the distinctive traits with which they were created. Gavriel, the angel of fire and strictness, is unable to deviate from its nature and be kind, while Micha’el, the angel of water and kindness, is unable to be harsh. Thus, of the supernal angels it is written that Hashem “established them forever and ever; He has established a decree that shall not be transgressed,”[2] for they are unable to change.

This is also the reason that “one angel cannot perform two missions”:[3] since its character is fixed, it is incapable of expressing itself in any other way.

In contrast, Hashem fashioned mankind as a microcosm of the Seder Hishtalshelus, and so his inner self encompasses all levels in miniature. Thus, he is endowed with the entire spectrum of character traits, ranging from the highest to the lowest and from one extreme to another.

We can observe this is in the classic episode of the binding of Yitzchak. Hashem asked Avraham, who personified kindness,[4] to deviate from his nature and act with such harshness as to kill another person—and not just anyone, but his only son. Yes, Avraham was ready to obey because Hashem requested it of him. But how could he have obeyed, if his defining attribute was kindness? The answer is that no matter how much a person excels in a particular trait, he always retains the ability to act differently. Thus, although Avraham excelled in kindness, he could still be cruel.

Conversely, even the criminal guilty of the most dastardly crimes, the sort whom all will agree belongs in an electric chair, is capable of being kind and loving.

This is the reason that when the Torah describes the creation of all the other creatures, Hashem is referred to in the singular—“And Hashem made the firmament”;[5] “And Hashem made the animals of the earth”;[6] and so on. Only in connection with mankind do we find the plural form—“Let us make man.”[7] This alludes to the unique multiplicity that Hashem implanted within the mankind such that his spiritual makeup parallels all the higher heavenly spheres, and thus runs the entire gamut of qualities.

Based on the Rebbe Rashab’s Sefer HaMaamarim 5660, p. 10.

(To be continued, G-d willing.)

[1] Sifri, end of Bahaaloscha; Bamidbar Rabba, end of Naso.
[2] Tehillim 148:6.
[3] Bereshis Rabbah 3:2.
[4] Avraham is associated with love and kindness, as it is written, “Avraham, who loves Me” (Yeshayah 41:9). Moreover, “The divine attribute of kindness said before the Holy One: ‘Master of the Universe, since the days of Avraham, I have not have to perform my job, for Avraham serves in my stead’” (Sefer HaBahir 191, cited in Pardes 22:4).
[5] Bereshis 1:7.
[6] Ibid. 1:25.
[7] Ibid. 1:26.

Sponsored by Pinchas and Feygl Cylich (Pinchos Boruch ben Yeshaya Yaakov and Feiga Matl bas Freidl) in honor of their parents, aleihem ha'sholom: Yaakov ben Boruch, Rayzl bas Pinchos, Yaakov Yisroel ben Shamai, and Freydl bas Mendl.

Dedicated in the merit of a speedy release for the captives Yonasan ben Malka (Jonathan Pollard), Alan Gross (Aba Chonah ben Hava Chana), 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.

Friday, May 24, 2013

On Marital Harmony

On Marital Harmony

Rabbi Y. Oliver

Below is a compilation of translations of letters from the Rebbeim concerning marital harmony. 

One Should Only Rebuke One’s Wife with Soft Words

Don’t speak to your wife with harsh words. This will cause dispute and strife, and your goal will not be attained. Rather, speak with soft, calm words, as one speaks to his friend, and explain how one should not act in this manner, all in a soft manner, and then you will have an impact, and the goal will be fulfilled. This is crucial and very fundamental.

Sefer HaSichos 5703, p. 233.

Promoting Family Unity through Joint Shabbos Meals

One of the first steps toward promoting family unity is to strengthen the custom for the entire family to eat a joint meal on the night of Shabbos.

Letters from the Rebbe, Vol. 3, p. 135.

Benefit of Compromise in Marriage

I hope that over time you will you will reach the conclusion that [in marriage] sometimes one should compromise, and through a small compromise one can gain a great deal.

Igros Kodesh, Vol. 5, p. 81.

Don’t Emphasize Your Spouse’s Faults

Until Moshiach arrives, no one exists without faults. Thus, it is clear that just as one spouse has a fault, so does the other, and just as one would not want one’s own faults to be emphasized, so should one not emphasize and amplify the faults of the other. This is the way all Jews should relate to one another, but this applies all the more when relating to your husband, who is the father of your children.

My intent is not to criticize, but merely to draw your attention to the fact that your situation is not as forlorn as you present it, and it is not unusual, as it appears to you.

Each of you should ignore certain things, and it is preferable for each of you find ways to bring peace in the home. Once this is attained, this is the vessel through which Hashem will provide blessings and success, good health, livelihood, and nachas from children.

Igros Kodesh, Vol. 5, p. 61.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Of Angels and Men

(kudos to in770.com)

Of Angels and Men

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

Meluchah versus memshalah

Chassidus distinguishes between two kinds of rule: meluchah, kingship, and memshalah, domination.

Meluchah exists when the people voluntarily appoint a certain person king, committing to comply with his every edict, as in the verse, “They accepted His Kingship willingly.”[1]

In contrast, memshalah exists when one party rules over another against or without that person’s will, typically through the use of force. Although the person submits, he does so begrudgingly. The domination of mankind over the animal kingdom is an example of memshalah: Only once duress is applied does the animal submit, because it lacks the intellectual ability required to choose to submit to man voluntarily.

This is the difference between mankind and angels. Man has free choice—the ability to consciously, freely choose to submit to and obey Hashem, or sin and rebel against Him, G–d forbid.

Angels, on the other hand, are referred to as animals,[2] and so just as animals can only be ruled through memshalah, so are angels only capable of submitting to Hashem’s rule through His memshalah.

To be sure, there is a vast difference between human memshalah over animals and divine memshalah over angels. Animals submit to humans out of fear of punishment, while angels submit to Hashem out of a passionate desire to connect to G–dliness. Yet the angels’ submission is still considered memshalah because it comes naturally and automatically, and the angels are incapable of consciously choosing to connect to Hashem.

Now, this is not to say that angels lack intellect. On the contrary, angels possess a level of intellect far superior to that of mankind.[3] This is even true of the lowest angels, but all the more so of the highest angels, those found in the world of Beriyah, the Seraphim (for more on these angels, see here).

The world of Beriyah is suffused with a revelation of the level of Binah (“understanding”) of Atzilus, the world above it,[4] which grants the Seraphim, who reside in that world, a sublime understanding of Hashem’s greatness. Thus, the Seraphim declare “Holy, holy, holy is the L–rd of Hosts,”[5] because they truly grasp, with their powerful, sublime intellect, how Hashem utterly transcends all the spiritual worlds. This awareness inspires them to an all-consuming love for Hashem and a yearning to become subsumed in that level of pure G–dliness. This feeling is so intense that they become burnt up and cease to exist.

Yet although angels possess intellect, their primary form of relating to Hashem and serving Him is not intellectual, but emotional. Angels are endowed with a powerful ability to experience emotions of love and fear of Hashem. These emotions are not produced by the angels’ intellect, but exist as an inborn desire that defines their very being. This is why angels are compared to animals, which are also naturally programmed to follow their instincts and desires, without any need for or possibility of a prior intellectual process.

Free choice

But if angels possess intellect, and their submission to Hashem results from their intellectual understanding of Hashem’s greatness, doesn’t that prove that they also have free choice?

No, it doesn’t. Yes, angels use their intellect to excite their emotions; however, intellect is merely the trigger. Understanding Hashem’s greatness to whatever extent is necessary for them sets off their existing inborn emotions of love and fear for Hashem, so that excitement is not in and of itself intellectually based.

In contrast, man’s defining characteristic is intellect, and he is capable of using his intellect to create emotions. These emotions exist and are defined entirely by the nature of the intellect that produced them.

This is also the reason that the emotions of angels—and animals—are so powerful. Had their emotions been created by their intellect, those emotions would be much weaker, because such emotions are inherently limited by the nature and depth of the intellect that produced them. But since the emotions of angels and animals exist independently of intellect, the nature and intensity of these emotions is not dictated and limited by intellect, and this enables their emotions to be intense and unbridled.

This explains further why Torah refers to angels as animals, why angels’ possession of intellect does not detract from their lack of true free choice, and why Hashem’s rule over angels is defined as memshalah.

developing worthy human emotions

Although mankind’s core characteristic is intellect, this is not to say that emotions are unimportant. On the contrary, man must not suffice with his intellectual grasp of G–d’s greatness; rather, this knowledge should inspire him to openly-felt emotions,[6] as it is written, “You shall know today and set it upon your heart that Hashem is the L–rd”[7]—“You shall know” must lead one to “set it upon your heart” (for further explanation, see here).

Such emotions (although weaker, as above) are settled and balanced, real and genuine, and will therefore also inspire the person to passionate observance of Mitzvos and good deeds, refined and loving treatment of others, and appropriate caution from falling into sin.[8]

In conclusion, These emotions are superior to those of animals—and in a sense, also to those of angels—because they are produced by the intellect.

Based on the Rebbe Rashab’s Sefer HaMaamarim 5660, p. 8.

[1] Evening Prayer Liturgy. For an earlier post that elaborates on this topic, see here.
[2] Sifri, end of Bahaaloscha; Bamidbar Rabba, end of Naso. Cf. Tanya ch. 36.
[3] Cf. Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, 3:9.
[4] For more on the difference between Atzilus and the worlds below it, the first of which is Beriah, see here.
[5] Yeshaya 6:3.
[6] Cf. Tanya ch. 16.
[7] Devarim 4:39.
[8] It is also possible for emotions of love and fear of Hashem to stem from the Jew’s natural, inborn love of Hashem (cf. Tanya chs. 18-19, 25, et al.), but that is beyond the scope of this essay.

Dedicated by Avi Turner and family l'ilui nishmas Nechama bas Reuven a"h, and by Mrs. Rivka Katz and family  l'ilui nishmas Reb Mordechai Meir haKohen ben Chaim Elazar haKohen a"h.

Dedicated in the merit of a speedy release for the captives Yonasan ben Malka (Jonathan Pollard), Alan Gross (Aba Chonah ben Hava Chana), 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, April 30, 2013

On Defying Anti-Torah Government Edicts

On Defying Anti-Torah
Government Edicts

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

Since the Jew’s observance of the civil law stems from Torah alone, if there is ever a conflict between Torah law and civil law, the Jew follows Torah faithfully in all its minutiae and refuses to even consider doing otherwise. Although, as discussed in an earlier article, “The law of the land is [Torah] law,”[1] this only applies to matters such as “merchants’ customs,”[2] international relations, and the like,[3] which stem from the mazal, the constellation, and higher, the guardian angel, of each country.

However,[4] only the Jewish people were sent into exile, but the holy Torah itself was never subjected to exile, for “The Torah will never change.”[5] Hence, non-Jews have no right to issue laws that somehow interfere with the Jews’ observance of the Torah, and Jews need not and should not honor and obey such laws (see also here).

Not only are non-Jews and their legal system unauthorized to override matters of Jewish observance that are a strict obligation or prohibition, they may not even dictate to a Jew how to keep a minhag Yisrael (Jewish custom), or in any way detract from the observance of a minhag Yisrael. The Previous Rebbe made a daring public statement to this effect after he was released from prison and about to be sent into exile. He famously repeated the following timeless words of one of his predecessors:[6]
All the nations on the face of the earth must know that only our bodies have been sent into exile and the servitude of [foreign] rulers, but our souls have not been exiled or enslaved. We must declare openly before all that in all matters relating to our religion, the Torah, the Mitzvos, and Jewish customs, we Jews have no one who can dictate to us, nor may any pressure be brought to bear against us.
In the same vein, the Previous Rebbe once related[7] a powerful story of how the Tzemach Tzedek courageously stood up to the government when it attempted to interfere in Jewish observance:
...In the first session, the Minister of Haskalah instructed the secretary of the conference to present a plan for the curriculum of Jewish children that the minister and his assistants had devised, and he commanded the four who had been summoned—the Rebbe [the Tzemach Tzedek], Reb Itcheleh of Volozhin, Reb Yisrael Halperin, and the scholar, Betzalel Stern, to sign on the plan.

...When the Rebbe [i.e., the Tzemach Tzedek] saw that the situation was dangerous, he stood up and said:

“The government summoned us to hear our opinion, and not to sign on what others have prescribed. I refuse to sign, and resign from my participation in the meeting.”

Lilienthal, who stood next to the Minister, whispered something into his ear, and immediately the minister stood up in anger and said with great fury, “Doesn’t it say that ‘The law of the land is the [Torah] law’?”

The Tzemach Tzedek responded: “‘The law of the land is the [Torah] law’ applies only to monetary matters, such as taxes and property rates. While ‘A Jewish custom is Torah,’[8] and no one has the permission to nullify it.”

 “The custom of women to cover their faces with their hands when they light the Shabbos candles—is that also Torah?” asked the minister.

“Yes,” answered the Tzemach Tzedek, “that too is Torah, as the Talmud Yerushalmi states: ‘The custom of [Jewish] women is Torah.’”[9]
Of course, we have suffered such persecution time and again from various oppressors through the course of history, and in the Jewish calendar, most notably in the time of Chanukah (see here). 

This is of timely relevance in recent months and years, in which the age-old Jewish custom of metzitzah be’peh has come under attack.

[1] Gittin 10b.
[2] Cf. Mishneh Torah, Laws of Selling, 26:8.
[3] Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat, 369:18.
[4] Hisva’aduyos 5744, Vol. 2, pp. 612-613.
[5] Ninth of Maimonides’ 13 Principles of Faith. Mishneh Torah, Laws of the Foundations of the Torah, 9:1.
[6] 3 Tammuz, 5627. Printed in Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. 4, 692a-692b..
[7] Likkutei Dibburim (Ivrit), Vol. 3, p. 610.
[8] Menachos 20b, Tosafos, s.v. nifsal. Maharil, cited in Rema on Yoreh Dei’ah, 376:4. See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 22, p. 56.
[9] Pesachim 4:1.

Dedicated by Menashe Fleisher. Dedicated by Mrs. Rivky Katz and family in memory of Reb Mordechai Meir haKohen z"l ben Chaim Elazar haKohen z"l. May he have aliyas haneshama and be a gutteh better for all of us, especially to "convince Hashem" that we need Moshiach down here, "l'mata m'asara t'fochim," immediately!!!

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.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Going Beyond the Letter of the Law of the Land

Going Beyond the
Law of the Land

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

Our holy Torah instructs a Jew to be scrupulously honest in his or her business dealings, carefully avoiding the Torah prohibitions of stealing and of violating the law of the land. Moreover, since the Torah’s ways are “ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace,”[1] it follows that such conduct will affect one’s environment pleasantly and peacefully.

Moreover, a Jew must set a living example for Jews and non-Jews of proper moral conduct. The Talmud[2] explains:
“You shall love the L–rd your G–d”[3]: The name of Heaven should become beloved through you. One should read Scripture, learn Mishnah, and serve Torah scholars, and his dealings with people should be conducted pleasantly. What do people then say of him? “Fortunate is his father who taught him Torah. Fortunate is his teacher who taught him Torah. Woe unto people who do not learn Torah. This person who learned Torah, see how pleasant are his ways, how refined are his deeds.” Of him Scripture says:[4] “He [G–d] said to me, ‘You are My servant, Israel, through whom I am glorified.’”
Thus, when one deals honestly in business, he sanctifies Hashem’s name in the eyes of all.

Moreover, the Talmud tells of Rabbi Shimon ben Shatach,[5] who, upon finding a jewel hanging from a donkey he had bought from a gentile, returned the jewel to the gentile. His exceptional behavior created an unparalleled sanctification of Hashem’s name.

This teaches us that a Jew should not suffice with adhering scrupulously to the law of the land. Rather, as a Jew, it is proper for him to follow a higher standard than the minimum. He should treat others according to a standard beyond the letter of the civil law, and thereby sanctify Hashem’s name.

This incident occurred during the era of the Sanhedrin, when the Holy Temple stood. Rabbi Shimon ben Shatach had already returned from his exile in Egypt, and was himself a member of the Sanhedrin. Nevertheless, he saw fit to emphasize that one should even sanctify Hashem’s name in the eyes of a member of the nation of Yishma’el. This story also holds a lesson for us, for it is a part of the Torah, which is etymologically related to the word hora’ah, “lesson.”[6]

Moreover, stories have an advantage over other parts of Torah, for it is known that practical Halacha is not derived from the Mishneh and later halachic authorities, but only from an actual halachic ruling.[7] Thus, the very fact that this event occurred means that it serves as a very clear lesson.

In fact, one of the questions that the soul is asked after one’s passing is, “Did you deal faithfully in business?”[8] This implies that even conduct that appears appropriate and just is insufficient; the Torah urges the Jew to act “faithfully” by going above and beyond the law of the land. The importance of such conduct is highlighted by the fact that even after one is no longer able to make amends—after one passes away—one is still asked this question.

Based on the Rebbe’s Hisva’aduyos 5744, Vol. 2, pp. 612-613.

[1] Mishlei 3:17.
[2] Yoma 86a.
[3] Devarim 6:5.
[4] Yeshayah 49:3.
[5] Talmud Yerushalmi, Bava Metzia 2:5.
[6] Gur Aryeh, Bereshis 1:1, in the name of Radak.
[7] In Jewish law, the involvement of a great sage in an actual incident has greater force than the issuance of a theoretical ruling (see e.g. Shabbos 21a, also Rashi loc. cit.).
[8] Shabbos 105a.

Dedicated on the occasion of the birthdays of Rebbetzin Elka Malka Feldman (13 Iyar) and Shamai Elimelech Cylich (12 Iyar) by their loving parents Pinchos Boruch and Feyge Matl Cylich. May they be blessed with a sh'nas brachah ve'hatzlachah be'gashmiyus u'veruchniyus!

Dedicated in the merit of a speedy release for the captives Yonasan ben Malka (Jonathan Pollard), Alan Gross (Aba Chonah ben Chava Chana), 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.