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.