Friday, December 26, 2008

Putting Chassidus into practice

Our Sages say, “Study is not the main thing, but action” (see Ethics of the Fathers, 1:17). How does one put into practice one’s study of Chassidus?

The Rebbe Rashab once said to Rav Disslin, of blessed memory: “Our sages said, ‘Study is not the main thing, but action.’ In Chassidus, the ‘action’ is prayer at length.”

Shemu’os V’Sipurim, Vol. 1, p. 118.

Explanation: Study of Chassidus alone is “Haskalah”—abstract philosophy. The goal of the Haskalah is Avodah—to refine one’s middos (character traits). Arichus HaTefillah accomplishes this for it involves lengthy meditation on Haskalah with the goal of bringing this awareness to affect and refine one’s emotions, thus imbuing one’s service of Hashem with genuine, deeply-felt inspiration.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Tefilla of Shabbos

The Previous Rebbe said:

The Rebbe Rashab writes in a letter that young married men rationalize their neglect to davven at length on Shabbos, saying that they want to positively influence their family members. He writes that this is a nonsensical claim.

Sefer HaSichos 5696, p. 115.

Suggested explanation: Of course it is necessary to influence one ‘s family, but that can be performed at other times. On Shabbos there is a special opportunity granted from above for Avodas HaTefillah, the service of prayer, so that should be the emphasis of the Chossid’s divine service on Shabbos. Since this task is very time-consuming, it is possible that no time will remain for influencing one ‘s family. However, this will constitute an indirect influence that will be even more powerful than a direct one.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hisbonenus is unpopular!

Reb Shmuel Gronem Esterman, renowned Mashpia in the times of the Rebbe Maharash and the Rebbe Rashab, taught:

Chassidus explains that Leah and Rochel correspond to thought and speech, respectively. It is written, “G–d saw that Leah was hated” (Bereishis 29:31). This means that people are willing to learn Chassidus verbally, but are lazy when it comes to thinking Chassidus. The verse continues, “and He opened her womb [whereas Rachel was barren].” This means that the birth and revelation of the divine light comes specifically through thought. This will suffice for an understanding person.

Shemu’os V’Sipurim, Vol. 1, p. 180.

Summary: If we want G–dliness to shine in our souls, it is not enough to learn Chassidus; we must engage in Hisbonenus—meditation on concepts in Chassidus.

Comment: The reason that Hisbonenus is typically more neglected that study is apparently that it is much more difficult, as discussed here.

Prayer is very hard

I don’t know if you’ve ever observed it, but some people have a natural “feel” for Avodas HaTefillah (“The service of prayer”). They are very rare, but they exist. They have an intense, personal, passionate relationship with Hashem, and when they davven you can see how they gei ois, they lose themselves. Just as someone with a high IQ has an innately superior ability to grasp Torah, so do these fortunate, sensitive souls possess an extra aptitude for Avodas HaTefillah.

They have a head start, but for the average person relating to Hashem doesn’t come naturally at all. If anything, for the rest of us Avodas HaTefillah is the most difficult part of serving Hashem. It’s really, really hard. Obviously, it’s easy to rattle off the words. But to davven properly, with a true feeling that one is standing before Hashem and pouring one’s heart out to Him, with some real sense of Who He is, requires intense effort. It requires lengthy study and then Hisbonenus (meditation) that leads to an expression of love and fear of Hashem during davenen. Even merely concentrating on the meaning of all the words is very hard. It thus makes a lot of sense that davenen is said to correspond to the attribute of Gevurah, strictness (see here). Because it’s grueling. That’s why it’s, well, generally not popular. Thus, those who excel at davenen are, and probably always were, fewer than those who excelled in Torah study or acts of kindness.

But let’s ignore statistics, ignore what’s hard and neglected, and ignore the superior level of others. Let’s seek a true, genuine relationship with Hashem, our Creator, Who chose us and blessed us and revealed His awesome greatness to us in the sublime teachings of Chassidus, especially Chassidus Chabad. When this is forefront in our minds, all other considerations vanish. We will want to get to know G–d in a personal way, and then we will want to davven. And if we try hard, success is guaranteed.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Fear of G–d must come through Avodah

For Chabad Chassidim, it is not enough to be a G–d-fearing Jew. This fear of G–d must come through Avodah, effort. Concerning this, the Rebbe relates:

A Chossid once asked the Tzemach Tzedek to bless his son with a good memory. “He should remember everything he sees and hears when among the Rebbe and Chassidim, and automatically he will be a G–d-fearing Jew. The Tzemach Tzedek responded, “It has been already over 50 years that my grandfather (the Alter Rebbe), my father-in-law (the Mitteler Rebbe) and I have been toiling that Chassidim should be G-d-fearing through Avodah, and not automatically.”

Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 3, p. 800.

Nowadays the desire for publicity can be used positively

The Previous Rebbe says that times have changed, and the desire to publicize is not inherently, irredeemably superficial, as it was once regarded; rather, this inclination ought to be used to spread positive, holy messages:

Today’s generation of Chassidim has an inclination to expansion and exposure, which would once have been regarded as chitzoniyus (lit. “external,” superficial behavior). Nowadays it is hard to say that this is chitzoniyus. I would suggest that this expansion and exposure be used to publicize everything that we have discussed.

Sefer HaMa’amarim 5708, p. 260.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hisbonenus brings inner change

Hisbonenus leads to Da’as. G–dliness then becomes real, and this translates itself in the person’s behavior. The Rebbe says that Da’as must be widely disseminated:

In general, effort must be invested to accomplish that “the earth be filled with the knowledge of G–d as the waters cover the sea”[1] to the extent possible nowadays: The entire earth, and every single corner of it, should be filled with knowledge of G–d.

The Alter Rebbe explains[2] the advantage of knowledge—da’as—over wisdom and understanding. Knowledge “implies attachment and union. That is, one binds his mind [to the concept] with a very firm and strong bond, and firmly fixes his thoughts [on the concept].”

Then he does not possess abstract intellectual knowledge [of what is moral] and do the opposite; rather, the principle permeates the person in a manner of da’as [leading him to put it into practice].

Hitva’aduyot 5744, Vol. 4, p. 2168.

[1] Isaiah, 11:9.

[2] Tanya, ch. 3.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

"With yearning and intense desire"

The Rebbe deeply yearns that every bochur think Chassidus, and derives tremendous pleasure from their doing so: 

After Yud Shevat Hagadol, Tof Shin Lamed (1970), Reb Shlomo Chaim Kesselman, the famed Mashpia of the Yeshivah in Kfar Chabad, received a Yechidus (private audience) with the Rebbe.

The Rebbe said to him: “How good it would be if it would be possible to demand from every bochur to think Chassidus for ten, twenty, or thirty minutes!” The Rebbe said this in a tone of yearning and intense desire.

The Rebbe expressed interest in one of the Temimim (students in the Chabad Yeshivah). Reb Shlomo Chaim reported that that bochur learns assiduously and thinks Chassidus. The Rebbe responded joyfully, with excitement, “Really, really? He thinks Chassidus as well?” Later on this bochur received a letter of blessing at the Rebbe’s initiative. 

Teshurah L’zecher Reb Shlomo Chaim Kesselman, p. 34.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Rambam: Obligation to learn about Hashem's greatness

Here is the full quote from the Rambam that was mentioned in the last post:

1. It is a commandment to love and fear the venerable and feared Alm–ghty, for it is written, “And you shall love the L–rd your G–d,” and it is also written, “You shall fear the L–rd your G–d” (Devarim 6:13, 10:20).

2. What is the way to love and fear G–d? Whenever one meditates upon the great wonders of G–d’s works and creations, and one sees from them that G–d’s wisdom has no boundaries or limits, one will immediately love, praise, and glorify [G–d], and be aroused with an intense desire to know the Great Name, as David said, “My soul thirsts for G–d, for the living G–d” (Tehillim 42:3). When one thinks about these matters one will feel a great fear and trepidation, and one will know that one is a low and insignificant creation, with weak and minor intelligence compared to the perfect knowledge of G–d, as David said, “When I observe Your heavens, the work of Your fingers ... what is man, that You should remember him?” (ibid. 8:4-5)

3. Based on these things I will explain major concepts of the work of the Master of the Worlds, to enable the understanding person to love G–d. Concerning this love the Sages said that from it one will come to know “the One Who spoke, and the world came to be.”

Here is the Hebrew:

הלכות יסודי התורה פרק ב

א האל הנכבד והנורא הזה--מצוה לאוהבו וליראה ממנו, שנאמר "ואהבת, את ה’ אלוהיך" (דברים ו,ה; דברים יא,א) ונאמר "את ה’ אלוהיך תירא" (דברים ו,יג; דברים י,כ). [ב] והיאך היא הדרך לאהבתו, ויראתו: בשעה שיתבונן האדם במעשיו וברואיו הנפלאים הגדולים, ויראה מהם חכמתו שאין לה ערך ולא קץ--מיד הוא אוהב ומשבח ומפאר ומתאווה תאווה גדולה לידע השם הגדול, כמו שאמר דויד "צמאה נפשי, לאלוהים--לאל חי" (תהילים מב,ג).

ב וכשמחשב בדברים האלו עצמן, מיד הוא נרתע לאחוריו, ויירא ויפחד ויידע שהוא בריה קטנה שפלה אפלה, עומד בדעת קלה מעוטה לפני תמים דעות, כמו שאמר דויד "כי אראה שמיך . . . מה אנוש, כי תזכרנו" (תהילים ח,ד-ה).

ג ולפי הדברים האלו אני מבאר כללים גדולים ממעשה ריבון העולמים, כדי שיהיו פתח למבין לאהוב את השם, כמו שאמרו חכמים בעניין אהבה, שמתוך כך אתה מכיר את מי שאמר והיה העולם.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Hisbonenus leads to Ahavah and Yirah

In a letter the Rebbe encourages:

“ … an increase in love and fear of Hashem (which are the root of the 248 positive Mitzvos and of the 365 negative Mitzvos (Tanya, ch. 4)), which requires an increase in Hisbonenus in topics found in the teachings of Chassidus, according to the ruling of the Rambam, “The honorable, awesome G–d has commanded us to love and fear Him ... What is) the way to love and fear Him? When the person meditates upon His handiwork, and sees in them His wisdom ... and is aroused with an intense desire to know the great G–d ... immediately ... (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, 2:1)

In order for the love and fear to come into expression in actual deed, one must engage in Avodas HaTefillah, as explained at length (along with the various ways of doing so for each and every individual) in Kuntres HaTefillah and in Kuntres HoAvodah, and in many places.

Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 24, p. 495

The more we meditate upon Chassidus, the more we will come to true love and fear of Hashem. Thus, every time one meditates upon Chassidus, he fulfills the Mitzvos to love and fear Hashem—ahavas Hashem and yiras Hashem.