Thursday, August 28, 2008

Making a start

The Rebbe here encourages someone to davven according to the directives of Kuntres HaTefillah, and complains that this person has not even begun doing so:

I hope that you are guarding the time, to fill it with content of Torah and Mitzvos, Nigleh and Chassidus and carefulness ("hiddur") in observance of Mitzvos in general, and in Avodas HaTefillah, which is one of the foundations and primary aspects of this, as explained in many places in Chassidus—such as in Likkutei Torah, Parshas Bolok[1] and in Kuntres HaTefillah at length—and it appears that you have not even begun in this.

Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 19, p. 513.

We have to start. "All beginnings are hard,"[2] but once we start, we break through a very significant barrier—we have set out on our journey.

[1] 70d.
[2] Mechilta
to Shemos 19:5.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

No excuses

An important lesson can be derived from this sicha about spreading the Noahide Laws:

The challenge is raised, “Is disseminating the Noahide Code the only thing we lack? There are other important things.”

Obviously, this challenge is absurd. Such an attitude can bring one to refrain from observing all the Mitzvot of the Torah, for no matter which Mitzvah arises, he will always claim to be busy with another!

This claim can even be used to exempt oneself, may G–d save us, from adhering to all the 613 Mitzvot, including the Mitzvah of accepting upon oneself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven.[1] He will claim that since he is busy with something else, he cannot engage in accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven!

He may even claim to be busy doing a fellow Jew a favor, or concerned with how to prevent a Jew from stumbling and acting inappropriately. If he engages in accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, the favor performed for that Jew would be incomplete, he claims. He wants to think about that Jew, the favor, the value of a Jew’s material needs, and the like—leaving no time for contemplating the Kingdom of Heaven!

One need not search in books to discover this. This phenomenon actually exists. Experience shows that when one turns to certain Jews and asks them why they don’t engage in prayer, or perform similar Mitzvot between man and G–d, they respond that they prefer to perform Mitzvot between man and his fellow!

Sometimes the person is not merely attempting to slip out of it. He indeed donates a lot of charity, and assists Jews in a manner of “with all your heart and with all your soul.”[2] Nevertheless, to use this fact not to pray to G–d and not to accept upon oneself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven is contrary to Torah. He does a disservice both to himself and to those whom he assists, whom he uses to exempt himself from accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven!

Although “One cannot act as an agent to commit a sin,”[3] this simply means that this is not considered agency in the full halachic sense. However, by instructing someone to sin one certainly violates the prohibition, “do not place a stumbling block before a blind man.”[4] Indeed, the Code of Jewish Law[5] rules that although “One cannot act as an agent to commit a sin,” it is still forbidden to instruct a Jew to violate the Code of Jewish Law, on account of “do not place a stumbling block before a blind man.” [Similarly, he inflicts spiritual harm upon those whom he uses to exempt himself from Mitzvot between man and G–d.]

Just as this concept applies to accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven in general, it also applies to numerous other areas, albeit more subtle. However, this example illustrates how far such a line of reasoning is liable to lead.

Hitva’aduyot 5747, Vol. 2, pp. 616-617.

[1] By reciting the Shema.

[2] Deut., 6:5.

[3] I.e., an agent cannot claim innocence by attributing guilt to the dispatcher—Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin, 42b—in this case, using the recipients of one’s charity as an excuse not to perform Mitzvot between man and G–d.

[4] I.e., do not facilitate violation of a sin—Leviticus, 19:14.

This principle exists in an extreme form, where Jews dismiss religious observance because “I’m not a religious man, etc.” This attitude is really easy to poke fun at, because it is so transparently false. But as the Rebbe says at the end of this sicha, the same principle applies on a more subtle level too. When we simply neglect one area on which we are supposed to be investing effort, and tell ourselves that it doesn’t matter because we’re working on something else instead that is also of merit, we fall into the same trap. The truth is that we are fully capable of doing both, and this is just a way of excusing our laziness. We use G–d to ignore G–d.

As Chassidim, the same principle applies to instructions and wishes of the Rebbeim in all areas.

For example, I have heard the same claim made in all seriousness concerning Hisbonenus: “I can’t do it because I don’t have the time.” Why not for at least five or ten minutes, I ask? If not every day, why not at least once a week? No response. The answer is simple. The person is simply not interested in investing the necessary effort (and it is indeed very hard), so he finds an excuse.

Let’s get this straight: If it is indeed something we are instructed to do, then we are granted the opportunity and energy to do it, because “I [G–d] only ask of them according to their ability.”[1]

Thus, even if we don’t yet do all the things that we should, let’s at least come closer to that goal by recognizing that our inaction is no one’s fault but our own. The start of Avodah is not to fool oneself.

[1] Numbers Rabba, 12:3.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A pnimi prepares

The Frierdiker Rebbe defines a pnimi for us:

For a pnimi everything takes place in its appropriate time; he does nothing without preparation. For the prayer is preceded by the “before prayer.” This consists of immersion in Mikveh, and not only the immersion that is strictly required [due to a seminal emission], but even the immersion for the sake of increased purity [as advised by the Baal Shem Tov]. This in turn follows a healthy sleep, one which was preceded by the recitation of the Kerias Shema She’al HaMitoh, during which one must reach a decision that the following day will be different. Even when it comes to divine good one must adopt the approach that tomorrow must be different. After this preparation, one’s sleep is completely different, and his prayer is different.

Sefer HaSichos 5707, p. 99.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Role of Mashpi'im

Really, the ones who are appointed to teach us how to davven are Mashpi’im:

It is the responsibility of the Mashpi’im to teach the students how to davven. Not maamarim on davvening, but how to davven.

Sefer HaSichos 5706, p. 13.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Avodas HaTefilla leads to davening for Moshiach

What is Avodas HaTefilla about? Making the reality of Hashem a reality for you. What do I mean by real? I mean as real as can be without it being literally real, because of course only Moshiach will bring us to that point, as the prophecies predict. In the meantime, we need to do everything we can to peel away the layers of physicality and connect intellectually and emotionally with the true inner aspect of the physical world—G–dliness. Which is accomplished by learning and contemplating Chassidus. The more one does this, the more he sees through the external aspect of physicality. This prepares him for the ultimate revelation of Hashem’s reality.

Moreover, once the person develops a significant inner appreciation of the true reality, the physical world becomes a blatant façade, and then his deepest yearning is to remove this veneer. He looks at it and it disgusts him, upsets him, infuriates him. What is going on here?! he asks incredulously. How can the truth of Hashem—emes Havayeh le’olam[1]—be hidden, and how can the falsehood of the physical world (and I don’t even mean those who oppose holiness, but the very fact that we look at the physical world and do not see the reality of G–dliness) prevail? He refuses cold, dry, rational explanations; he wants only to break through the façade once and for all.

Ad mosai?! he screams, if not in words, in an unceasing inner voice. Al tasteir Ponecho mimeni! [2] Don’t conceal Your face from me! Ad mosai tastir lifnei Ohr Ein Sof HaMemalei Kol Almin, hoyo hove v’yihiyeh b’shoveh, gam b’mokom zeh she’ani olov, kmoi she’hoyo Ohr Ein Sof boruch hu levado kodem she’nivro ho’olom, bli shum shinui![3] Get me out of this world of falsehood! Stop hiding from me Your all-encompassing reality, Your absolute oneness! Hashem, you must abolish this concealment, and “reveal Your face” by sending Moshiach now!

[1] Tehillim 117:2.
[2] ibid. 102:3.
[3] See Tanya ch. 29.

Oived versus Maskil 1

It used to be that when Chassidim would hear someone repeating a Ma’amar (Chassidic discourse), they would ask, “Is he an oived?” If he was an oived, they would listen to it, and if not, not.

Teshurah L’zecher Reb Shlomo Chaim Kesselman, p. 50.

There are two different types of Chabad Chassidim:

  • Oived: Lit., “the one who works.” The one whose main focus is Avodas HaTefillah, internalizing the Chassidus that he learns through lengthy Hisbonenus (detailed meditation) with the goal of refining himself and changing his middos (character traits). He studies Chassidus in great depth, but always with the emphasis at internalizing it.
  • Maskil: Lit., “the intellectual.” The Maskil’s main goal is to reach a thorough intellectual grasp of Hashem’s greatness. He engages in Hisbonenus as well, but this is not the main emphasis in his Avodah.

There are many beautiful Sichos of the Frierdiker Rebbe that discuss the difference between these two paths in Avodah. The common theme in them is the praise for the oived and the denigration of the maskil, sometimes in very harsh language.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Leaving the Avodah for others?

I’ve noticed a certain tendency. After finishing Yeshivah people think, if only subconsciously, that solid study of Nigleh and Chassidus, Avodas HaTefillah, farbrengens, and so on, are for the bochrim. But now that they’ve finished Yeshivah, and never mind when they get married, they’ve moved on, “been there, done that,” GRADUMACATED, and all that intense spiritual stuff is far behind them.

The Rebbe addresses this twisted way of thinking here:

Participation in the Avodah with which the Alter Rebbe charged all those connected with him is incumbent not only on bochurim, but also, and on the contrary, perhaps even more, upon the married men and baalei batim (including those who regard themselves as baalei batim). For even after marrying one does not leave behind this status of being a mekushar of the Alter Rebbe [and thus expected to follow his demands in Avodah], chas v’shalom. On the contrary, by marrying one brings another person into this category,[1] and later on, when one has a “blessed upright generation,” one teaches that generation from the outset in this manner, until they don’t know of any other reality!

The Rebbe says clearly: If anything, the demands of the Rebbeim in one’s Avodah Penimis are even greater davka after one marries!

On a similar note (though not so directly related to the topic of the blog), some people think, if only subconsciously, that if one is a Shliach, he should be actively spreading Yiddishkeit and Chassidus, but if not, not. That’s for the Shluchim, right? That’s they’re responsibility!

Nonsense. It’s for all Chassidim. The only difference is that a Shliach is charged with devoting himself to this goal full-time, whereas the rest of us—who are still in the majority, for better or worse—are charged with using our talents to spread the good word in whatever setting we find ourselves.

Yes, we may have to do other things superficially related to this physical world. But what is, or what should be, the true focus of our lives? Not finding a parnoso gashmis (may all Yidden have parnoso in abundance), but finding a parnoso ruchnis. What can we do to improve the state of basic Jewish observance of the not-yet-frum Jews around us, such as Mikveh, chinuch, kashrus, Shabbos observance? Lechaim!

[1] This apparently refers to one’s wife.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Pnimi versus chitzon

A pnimi versus a chitzon. These two expressions should be on the tip of the tongue of every Chabad Chossid. His deepest yearning in life should be to become a true pnimi, and his darkest, most painful thought is that he may be a chitzon. What is the meaning of these terms?

A pnimi is an “inward person.” Someone real, honest, genuine, solid. Someone who realizes that he has to fight a constant inner war with the goal of reaching deep, lasting inner change. He is not focused on the faults of others, but of himself. He does not dwell on the past or the future, but lives in the present. V’chilufeihem b’chitzon—a chitzon, a “superficial person,” is the opposite.

Reb Shlomo Chaim Kesselman was a great Mashpia. He taught in the Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim in Kfar Chabad. Here is a quote from a booklet about him:

The emphasis in his Avodah and in his demands of others was Avodah Pnimis. He succeeded at bringing his students to despise the characteristic of chitzoniyus (“shallowness”). Sentences like “see who I am,” “see what my deeds are” were repulsive. It reached the point that no insulting expression that anyone would hurl, no matter how harsh, would agitate the person and raise his blood pressure as much as when told “you are a chitzon.” Reb Shlomo Chaim Kesselman would emphasize again and again, a thousand times, that Chassidus demands Avodah with oneself, Avodah Pnimis, and a chitzon is not only not an oived, and not “with the swim,” but he is outside the entire picture, and is completely out of touch with the true purpose; he is always nothing but a chitzon.

Teshurah L’zecher Reb Shlomo Chaim Kesselman, p. 27.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Rebbeim are talking to us 1

The Rebbe says:

… He [the Frierdiker Rebbe] continued to publicize this announcement, and instructed that it be published so that it would remain for following generations, and the matter is in print even now. However, one must take the sefer down from the shelf and read it again—but not in a way that one reviews outdated matters, for if the words of Tzaddikim in general stand forever, this applies all the more to something so fundamental that he himself instructed be printed.

Hisva’aduyos 5747, Vol. 2, pp. 619-620 (emphases added).

This is, I believe, a large part of the problem. We may read the words of the Rebbeim and understand them, but we often treat them as theoretical, if only subconsciously. We feel as if they are speaking about and directed to some rarefied ben aliyah, some spectacular oived and maskil from a storybook, when in fact they’re speaking to lil’ ol’ us.

Of course, there is essentially nothing new in this message, it just needs to be said again.

But what we don’t realize is that it takes a conscious effort, a Hisbonenus, to really feel that the Rebbeim are talking to us. (That’s one of the things that a chassidishe farbrengen is for, I believe.) But if we don’t do the Avodah necessary to feel that way, then naturally we don’t take the next step to then think about how to apply the words of the Rebbeim to ourselves and our real lives, and then actually do it. So no wonder we won’t progress much in our Avodah. If you don’t even think that the medicine is for you, you certainly won’t take it.

Hisbonenus: Three Levels

We live in a world of spiritual darkness, of helem vehester, divine concealment. We know that Hashem is the true reality, but we do not feel it. How can we transcend the physical to become truly sensitive to Elokus (G-dliness)? Normally, only through Hisbonenus, which involves in-depth, lengthy meditation on a sechel Eloki, a G-dly concept. (There are certain prerequisites for Hisbonenus, but we will leave that for another post, im yirtzeh Hashem.) In Hisbonenus itself there are three stages, and one must proceed in order for it to work. Otherwise one stands no chance of reaching a true hergesh (feeling) of Elokus. The Frierdiker Rebbe tells us how:

This is the HaYom Yom of 20 Tammuz in Hebrew:
שלושה מיני התבוננות הם: א) התבוננות לימודית - אחר שמבין הענין על בוריו, הוא מתבונן בעומק הענין ההוא, עד שהשכלי מאיר אצלו. ב) שקודם התפלה - ענינה הרגש חיות הענין שלמד, ולא הרגש השכלי כמו בהתבוננות לימודית. ג) שבתפלה - ענינה הרגש האלוקות שבענין שלמד. שלש אלה הם שליבות סולם ההרגשה ורק בחסדי השי"ת עמנו מרגישים לפעמים - "דעהערט מען" - אלוקות בלי שום עבודה כלל, והוא מפני מעלת העצמות שיש בנשמה, אבל מצד העבודה שבכח עצמו מוכרחים שלש הנ"ל.
This is the HaYom Yom of 20 Tammuz in English:
There are three forms of Hisbonenus (meditation):

1. Study-meditation: After mastering the concept thoroughly, one meditates on its profundity, until the intellectual element shines forth for him.

2. Meditation before Tefillah: This is directed toward sensing the vitality of the concept learned, in contrast to sensing the intellectual element emphasized in study-meditation.

3. Meditation during Tefillah: To sense the "G-dly element" in the concept learned.

These are the three rungs on the ladder of sensitivity [to G-dliness]. It is only by G-d's kindness towards us that we may occasionally sense G-dliness spontaneously, without any Avodah at all. This comes about by virtue of the quality of Ultimate Essential G-dhood within the soul. For Avodah by one's own efforts, however, these three forms of meditation are essential.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Rebbe's expectation

There can be no room for doubt. Times have not changed. Here the Rebbe makes clear that all Chassidim are expected to davven according to the Kuntres HoAvodah and Kuntres HaTefillah of the Rebbe Rashab, for an hour or at the very least, half an hour:

With respect to Avodas HaTefillah (the service of prayer, i.e. lengthy prayer according to the Chabad tradition), the Alter Rebbe brings in his Shulchan Aruch as a matter of practical Jewish law that “One who prays should wait in the place that he prays for an hour before Tefillah in order to focus his heart on Hashem ... and one hour after Tefillah ... and the original pious ones would wait for a full hour of the average hours, of which there are 24 in a day.” (Orach Chayim 93:1) He adds, “So would the pious ones and the men of action do: they would seclude themselves and concentrate on their prayers until they reached a state of divestment from physicality.” (ibid. 98:1)

Tefillah should at least conform what is explained in Kuntres HoAvodah and Kuntres HaTefillah. Especially since over time tens of discourses of the Leader of the Generation [in this context, a reference to the Previous Rebbe] have been released concerning Avodas HaTefillah. Let everyone make a reckoning for himself: When was the last time that he davvened with the preface of Hisbonenus?

I don’t wish to point at a particular person and ask him this question, in order not to embarrass him. However, every person knows within himself, and he should think [about this] to himself, when standing in front of the mirror (as is the custom of the country, that before leaving the house one gazes at the mirror to make sure that his tie is straight, because one must be careful to respect people [
kovod haberiyos]) and decide that this message is directed to him: When was the last time that he davvened with the preface of Hisbonenus for an hour, sixty minutes or even half an hour, at the very least!

It can be added that this calculation can be made not only concerning
Tefillah during the weekdays, but even concerning Tefillah of the day of Shabbos: When was the last Shabbos that he davvened with the preface of Hisbonenus?!

Hisva’aduyos 5748, Vol. 3, pp. 214-215.