Thursday, March 12, 2009

Hisbonenus: the key to overcoming the evil inclination

Every Jew possesses seven emotional character traits, known as middos. In fact, he possesses two sets of them: Seven middos of holiness that stem from his Divine Soul, and seven middos of unholiness that stem from his Bestial Soul.[1] It is these foul character traits that spur him to sin.

However, he need not act on every urge. The person only allows these seven undesirable middos to bring him to sin because he sort of goes crazy. He behaves irrationally. If he would be thinking clearly, he would never come to sin. As our sages say, “A man does not commit a sin unless a spirit of folly has entered into him.”[2]

Sin is wrong, but why is it necessarily irrational?

A Jew does not want to, and cannot separate himself from G–dliness.[3] A sin separates the Jew totally from G–d,[4] and if the would-be sinner would realize this, he would never sin, no matter what. The only reason he sins is that he foolishly convinces himself that sinning will not affect his relationship with G–d,[5] his Jewishness.

The only reason that this “crazy spirit” can possess the person is that G–dliness is not revealed within him. The reason for this is that he doesn’t davven seriously, or not seriously enough. Toiling in prayer reveals G–dliness in oneself and in the world. At the beginning of the day, the soul is said to be only in the person’s nose,[6] and through prayer it is revealed throughout the body and in the world. This protects the person from the “crazy spirit,” or at least endows him with the strength to overcome it.[7]

In fact, prayer has even greater power. Consistently toil in meditation in prayer brings the light of G–dliness to truly shine in one’s mind; this then arouses the heart to G–dliness, and reveals the Divine Soul throughout the person. Then one will never desire to sin at all, for “the strength of the soul is the weakness of the body.”[8] The “body” here refers to the coarse desires of the Bestial Soul. When the Divine Soul dominates through consistent meditation on G–dliness, these desires are weakened to the point that they may not be able to express themselves at all (although they are still present; see Tanya ch. 13).

Based on Sefer HaMa’amarim 5718, pp. 384-385. Sefer HaMa’amarim 5665, pp. 212-213.

[1] Cf. Shaarei Orah, Shaar HaChanukah, 3b.

[2] Sotah 3a.

[3] HaYom Yom 25 Tammuz. This is what the Tanya (ch. 19) refers to as the Ahava Mesuteres, the “Hidden love.”

[4] ibid. ch. 24.

[5] ibid. ch. 14.

[6] Berachos 14a.

[7] See Tanya ch. 12.

[8] Zohar 1:180b. ibid. 140b.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The evil inclination agrees to everything but Avodas haTefillah!

The Previous Rebbe taught:

There is no justice in the claim of some young married chassidim that the time is not yet ripe for them to engage in the chassidic avodah of davenen.

One should realize that this claim is prompted by that smart little fellow (i.e., the evil inclination). He is willing to agree to everything -- that a chassid study nigleh, that he study Chassidus, that he do a fellow Jew a favor, that he be a maskil, or a scholar -- but not that he should engage in avodah.

“You are a liar,” he argues. “You are not really of the right standing. What makes you think you should already be engaging in avodah? That’s falsehood!”

To be sure, there are times when this argument may be true, painfully true. Nevertheless, one must answer the Evil Inclination: “Don’t speak of a blemish which you yourself have!”

Chassidim at large, temimim in particular, and especially ovdim, should seriously engage in the avodah of prayer. There’s certainly no lack of talk; there should be at least a bit of action.

For the Yiddish original, see Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. 3, pp. 1033-1034.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Hisbonenus for women

The story below demonstrates that hisbonenus is desirable for women as well.

A Chossid once went to visit the Rebbetzin Rivka (wife of the Rebbe Maharash). When he arrived, he found that she was in the middle of her prayers, so he waited in a nearby room until she finished. He later related that when she reached the Shema, she meditated upon the word “echod” for twenty minutes.

Le’sheima Ozen p. 83.

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.