Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Simply Tsfat In Concert

On Monday night, I had the privilege of seeing Simply Tsfat in concert. They were absolutely fantastic, and if you ever get a chance to see them live, I highly recommend it.

At the concert I bought a copy of their newly-released CD Never Give Up! and have been enjoying listening to The Baal Shem Tov's Niggun. The liner notes for this track state, "We were told that this niggun goes all the way back to the circle of the founder of the Chassidic movement, Rebbe Israel Baal Shem Tov. It is sung in Breslev Tsfat for the second part of L'Cha Dodi song Erev Shabbat."

A Picture From My Family's Shtetl - Week 29

Trying To Replace Worry With Trust - Part II

Three weeks ago, a major snowstorm dumped 12 inches of snow on our neighborhood and knocked out our power at 4:00 a.m. I refused to worry about the lack of electricity or dropping temperature in our home. Instead, I went outside and shoveled our driveway once the sun came up.

At about 10:45 a.m., our power was finally restored. While we were still stuck in our cul-de-sac until the snow plow came in the late afternoon, we spent a delightful day outside playing in the snow, sledding, and making a snowman.

Taking a step back and looking at the power outage in hindsight, our inconvenience really only lasted a few hours. I realize now that the snow storm was all a test to see whether I would once again resort to worrying; a test to verify whether my bitachon was real or just wishful thinking.

Trying To Replace Worry With Trust - Part I can be found here.

A Long Distance

When someone trembles, shakes, and sways to make others aware of his piety, that's a sign that he is still a long distance from G-d.

(Imrei Chai)

Monday, February 27, 2006

Patches & Pavlog's Dogs - My View Of The American Political System

I gave up on the American political system shortly before the 2004 Presidential Elections. While I will always still vote, I will never again vote for a candidate running for President. I will just write in a name on the ballot as I did in November 2004.

For over 200 years, Americans continue to fall for the same trick every four years by believing the promises of politicians who tell them that they are now going to institute real change and revolutionize the way Washington does business. The vast majority of Americans, however, do not realize that by voting for a candidate they are merely perpetuating a flawed system. When they are voting for the "lesser of two evils", they are still voting to ensure that one "evil" is in power.

Like NASCAR drivers, politicians should be made to wear suits that have sponsorship patches indicating the companies and special interests who gave them money. This would allow the American public to understand that these politicians are not exposing their own ideas or representing them, rather they are just puppets for their wealthy donors.

The only real difference between Democrats and Republicans is the spelling of the name of their party. It is thus despicable when a Jew believes the political propaganda and pledges his allegiance to a party; believing that only his party's policies are consistent with halacha.

Politics and religion simply don't mix. One cannot mix non-kosher food with kosher food without contaminating the old whole vessel. Just as one should stay away from bribery and dishonest business dealings, a Jew should stay far away from politics.

A Quote That Should Be Chiseled Into The Walls Of The Capitol And The Knesset

Be careful in your relations with the government; for they draw no man close to themselves except for their own interests. They appear as friends when it is to their advantage, but they do not stand by a man in his time of need.

(Pirkei Avos 2:3)

Friday, February 24, 2006

A Project To Print Degel Machaneh Ephraim In My Family's Shtetl

The Sudilkover Rebbe, Rabbi Aryeh Wohl, a descendent of the Degel Machaneh Ephraim and also Rabbi Ephraim of Sudilkov (son-in-law of Rebbe Yaakov Shimshon of Shepetovka), recently revealed to me his project to reprint the sefer Degel Machaneh Ephraim. He is slowly and methodically working on this new printing; hoping to correct many of the errors that have made their way into the text over time and add footnotes that will help to better explain the text. Upon completion of his project, the Sudilkover Rebbe plans to print this sefer in my family's shtetl in Ukraine. It will be the first time Degel Machaneh Ephraim has ever been printed in the shtetl where the Degel resided.

People wishing to help sponsor this important project can send tax-deductible donations to:

Friends of Haben Yakir Li, Inc.
5515 18th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11204

* Please make a note in the check's memo field that the donation is for the Degel Machaneh Ephraim project.

Sudilkover Rebbe - Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel


I prefer a wicked person who knows he is wicked, to a righteous person who knows he is righteous.

(Chozeh of Lublin)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Question & Answer With Rabbi Dovid Sears - Minyan

A Simple Jew asks:

The requirement of a Minyan for Tefilah is derived from the story of the Spies. Why is something so fundamental to our relationship with G-d, such as Minyan and davening, derived from an incident of such failure?

Rabbi Dovid Sears responds:

It is indeed an anomaly. Usually we do not derive halachos from evil or wrong actions. I am sure the meforshim discuss this, however I don't have time to look. Please forgive me.

A speculation: the Meraglim / Spies were not truly reshaim, and their "eidah" had a certain kedushah, despite their erroneous conclusion. In fact, the Midrash Tanchuma states that they were tzaddikim before they set out on their mission and only lost that status when they failed their "test."

The Arizal explains that the Meraglim did not want to enter the Holy Land precisely because of their devotion to Hashem. Kabbalistically, their neshamos were from the "World of Thought," and Eretz Yisrael represents the "World of Speech" -- a lower madreigah. They could not understand how Hashem could really want them to set aside their lofty meditations in order to serve Him through the things of this mundane world, such as agriculture and the burdens of building a nation, etc. Therefore, their minyan was not truly an unholy assembly, but only a misguided one. They did not yet grasp the revolutionary idea of the Torah that the things of this world exist in order to be sanctified -- to serve as what Chabad calls a "dirah be-tachtonim," a dwelling place for HaKadosh Borukh Hu within the limitations of 'olam-shanah-nefesh / space-time-soul.

Thus, we derive the requirement of ten men for a minyan from the incident of the Meraglim not only because of the hekish of "tokh-tokh" (the way Chazal link the two subjects), but because there really is an intrinsic connection. Maybe we can also say that tefilah is more connnected to the "World of Thought" than the "World of Speech" (even though we use speech in davenning) -- because it reaches to the 'Olam ha-Atzilus, the "World of Thought." In the Siddur ha-ARI, this corresponds to the Shemoneh Esreh. This is why we must daven the Shemoneh Esreh in an inaudible whisper (a condition regarding which the Zohar is extremely strict -- see Be'er Heitiv ("le-hashmiya' "), on Orach Chaim 101:2, and even more strongly the Sha'arei Teshuvah ["le-aznav"], same place).

When we pray, we use the holy quality of the Meraglim, which is that of thought and silent deveykus; when we perform mitzvos and help people and improve the world, we rectify their fault.

One Of Seventy Ways

There are seventy ways of interpreting the Torah. One of them is through silence.

(Rabbi David Moshe Friedman of Chortkov)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Back With Vacation Glow

Although my wife was born and grew up in New York state, she never visited New York City. On numerous occasions during the past few years we lamented the fact that we never visited Manhattan together before we had children. On one such recent occasion, the subject came up again at the breakfast table and I suggested that we have her parents watch the kids over President's Day weekend and we spend two nights together in Manhattan. Remembering all the past opportunities missed, and considering the fact that we have never spent a night away from our children since my daughter was born three and a half years ago, my wife immediately agreed.

We anxiously anticipated President's Day weekend and even bought a copy of Great Kosher Restaurants magazine to plan where we wanted to eat. At the same time we were convinced, given our luck, that the great snow storm of 2006 would hinder our trip. On Sunday morning there was not a snowflake in the sky and we took the train to Penn Station.

We had a wonderful time walking around the city, shopping, and eating at Le Marais, Wolf and Lamb Steakhouse, Diamond Diary, and Bagels & Co. The time away together was truly rejuvenating.

Today, as I commuted to work, I realized I still had the vacation glow.


One can learn about the leadership of a country by observing the words of its clowns.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Friday, February 17, 2006

Guest Posting From Chabakuk Elisha - The Perils of Yisro's Path

This week's parsha begins with the statement that Yisro heard all that had occurred to the Jewish people - which caused him to travel all the way to the desert, where the Jews were. The commentators further explain that he heard about the incredible exodus, the heavenly manna, the miraculous well of water, and the victory in battle against Amalek. Yet, a few verses later we are told that upon greeting Yisro, Moshe tells him (Shemos 18:8) "everything that G-d had done to Pharaoh and Egypt for Israel's sake - all the trouble that had befallen them along the way - and that G-d had rescued them."

So, if Yisro already heard these things, why did Moshe need to recount the entire episode?

Rashi answers this question saying that Moshe did so "in order to draw Yisro's interest and bring him close to Torah (Mechilta)." Meaning that it was not merely to repeat what Yisro had already had heard, but that there was an additional message that Moshe was trying to convey by retelling the miracles that G-d had performed that would "bring [Yisro] close to Torah."

Before we can answer the question of what additional message Moshe sought to convey, and to understand why Yisro would need to be brought additionally close to Torah, we first must understand the worldview of Yisro.

In Sefer Shoftim there is a discussion about a priest of idolatry, who the commentators identify as Moshe's son Gershom. They explain that one of the conditions to Moshe's marriage to Yisro's daughter was that Moshe had to agree to have his eldest son trained in the ways of idolatry - to which Moshe agreed. Yisro made this condition because he believed that one had to first see the falsehood of all other paths before one could truly recognize the truth of G-d and Judaism.

Yisro believed that if one is raised as a Jew without knowledge of any other path, than he cannot truly know that he is on the right path; he is merely doing what he was taught. If a Jew just does what he was taught to do, how is he different than any idolater was is simply doing what he was taught?

Yisro insisted that his grandson Gershom be trained in the ways of the world, so that he could truly recognize G-d, just as he had done. Unfortunately, Yisro's logic was flawed and Chazal related the sad result of Yisro's experiment in Sefer Shoftim.

The risk of Yisro's path is that one may never reach the truth, and may spend an entire life on the false path of idolatry, never reaching the ultimate goal. Perhaps this is what Moshe was telling Yisro in recounting the miracles that G-d had performed even though Yisro had heard it all before.

I think that these two worldviews can also be seen and better understood, in the book of the Kuzari. In this book, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi summed up Judaism for the king of the Khazars:

"We believe in the G-d of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, Who took the Jews out of Egypt with great wonders and miracles, Who sustained them in the desert, Who gave them the Land of Israel, Who split the Red Sea and the Jordan river with great miracles. This G-d sent Moshe to give His Torah, and later thousands of prophets who exhorted the populace to follow the Torah."

The king responded disdainfully, using a logical approach similar to that of Yisro:

"I see that the Jews have no depth of wisdom. You, Jew, should have said that you believe in a Creator, Who organizes and oversees the universe, and Who created you and sustains you, and other such ideas that are universal to all religions. Those ideas are the real reasons to pursue truth and emulate righteousness and wisdom - and not specific miracles that you mention that happened in isolated periods."

But Rabbi Yehuda clarified the depth of his words:

"You are referring to a religion arrived at through logic and analysis - and as such it is subject to much ambiguity - I on the other hand speak of tangible, indisputable events that are the basis of our religion."

[The king responded, "Your words make more sense now; I would like to continue this conversation."]

Perhaps this is precisely what Moshe was telling Yisro: While it once was important to come to recognize G-d though search and analysis, there is no need to reinvent the wheel and search for Him, after He has already been revealed - especially with the inherent risks of the pre-Sinai approach of seeking G-d while in darkness. Instead, the optimal approach for our time is to begin post-discovery. We have already established the truth, now we need to devote ourselves to the study of it.

I will be out of town until next Tuesday and will resume posting on Wednesday.

Telling A Story

You need to be smart to know how to tell a story properly. But you need to be even smarter to know how to listen to a story properly.

(Rebbe Shalom Dov Ber of Lubavitch)

Thursday, February 16, 2006

A Conversation With A Skverer Chassid

Last night, I had a telephone conversation with a Skverer chassid from Brooklyn about minhagim in Ukraine. In the midst of our conversation, this rabbi informed me that the previous Skverer Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Twersky, had the Rabbeinu Tam tefillin of the Degel Machaneh Ephraim. After the Previous Rebbe passed away in 1968, these tefillin were given to the present Skverer Rebbe in New Square, who currently has them in his possession.

I would be fascinated to learn how the Degel's tefillin ended up in New Square, New York. In the Toldos section of the 1995 printing of Degel Machaneh Ephraim there is a note that the Degel had three sons: Rabbi Yaakov Yechiel, Rabbi Yitzchok, and Rabbi Yosef. Rabbi Yosef's daughter married the grandson of the Meor Einayim (Rebbe Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl). The Meor Einyaim even traveled to my family's shtetl to attend this wedding. Perhaps it was from this connection that the Degel's tefillin finally made their way to the Twersky family.

I look forward to talking with this rabbi from Brooklyn again next week after has had a chance to find out more information about this subject.

Out Of Exile

The Jewish people must be taken out of exile.

And the exile must be taken out of the Jewish people.

The latter is more difficult than the former.

(Rebbe Mordechai of Ger)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Trying To Replace Worry With Trust - Part I

Overcomming worry seems to be a lifelong battle. At times my yetzer hara tricks me in to believing that I have overcome this trait. Yet, a little time passes and I slip back into my old ways and worry about things that I should not worry about.

Like acid, worry eats away my insides. Worry reduces my intelligence to that of a small child. It drains my strength and leaves me exhausted and overwhelmed.

Over a year ago I wrote, "Intellectually I know why I should not worry over little things, however it is something that it is extremely hard for me to stop doing." Despite my efforts to subjugate my worry this past year, I don't feel any closer to the goal.

Lately, in my morning hisbodedus I have been saying, "Ribbono shel Olam, help me. You run the world, You are merciful and compassionate, and You know what is best for me. May my worry melt away and be replaced with trust in You!"

What I Need

I never needed anything until I already had it. Because when I did not have it I was sure I did not need it.

(Rebbe Yechiel Michal of Zlotchov)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Joshua Berkman of Jointnik's Cafe just sent me a link to an interesting new posting entitled "The Rescuer" about a woman who helped saved Jews from the Einsatzgruppen during the Holocaust.

A Picture From My Family's Shtetl - Week 28

Sonny Boy, Can You Fetch Me My Spectacles?

Since I take public transportation to work, I rarely drive our mini van. When I do drive, it is usually to place I already know how to get to and I do not need to look at the road signs.

A few days ago, my family and I drove to a nearby museum that we have never been to before. Looking at the road signs, I noticed that they were all blurry until I got close to them. I have always had 20/20 vision and considered glasses to be something other people wore. The experience of not being able to read the signs alerted me to the fact that I better make an optometrist appointment to have my eyes examined.

Last Wednesday night, I went to optometrist and was diagnosed as:

OD. -0.75 -0.50 X 080
OS. -0.75 -0.25 X 105

Afterwards, I picked out a pair of frames for my first pair of glasses with my daughters help. Luckily, I will just need the glasses for driving and I do not need to wear them all the time.

A receding hairline, grey hairs growing in my beard, and now eyes that need glasses are unmistakable signs that I am getting older.

A Song And A Parable

A song is like a parable. One has to understand its deeper spiritual meaning, to fathom its application.

(Rebbe Moshe of Kobrin)

Monday, February 13, 2006

Hadran - Plowing In The Winter

Over the weekend, I finished learning Maseches Sukka and today I began Maseches Megillah.

...and this posting is still as applicable now as it was back in November.

I just need to keep reminding myself of Yosef's insightful comment, "The first time through is always the hardest‭, 'plowing the soil‭'. ‬The fruit comes from review‭, ‬when it all fits together and becomes clear in your mind‭."

Tu B'Shevat Links

Tu B'Shevat pictures on Arutz-7 here.

Information on Tu B'Shevat from Torah Tots here.


There are very few among those who rule others who rule themselves.

(Rebbe Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Ishbitz)

Friday, February 10, 2006

Es Ist Geschrift!

Here is something I saw recently while learning:

(Click on the image above to see the whole thing)

v'hamaskil yavin...

The Simplicity of Shabbos

The pure force of simplicity is essential to realizing our potential as Jews; and few things can match the purity and simplicity of singing at the Shabbos table. When we cast our inhibitions aside and sing aloud zemiros of Shabbos, we discover and connect with the very essence of our Jewishness.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Fleishig Bagel Shop?

My posting today can be found over on Beyond Teshuva.

Action, Not Words

Better one deed than a thousand sighs.

(Rebbe Shalom Dov Ber of Lubavitch)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A Horrible Topic - A Heartbreaking Book

Taking a co-worker's recommendation, I bought a copy of this book. Within the first twelve pages, tears started running down my cheeks. The book deals with the darker side of human beings and leaves me both heartbroken and enraged.

Hoover: The Sheitel Macher

Last Wednesday night, our vacuum cleaner stopped working properly. I turned it over and found that the rollers were totally wrapped in hair.

I spent twenty minutes cutting hair out of the vacuum cleaner and showed the pile to my wife, telling her that I now had enough hair to make a clone of her.

My wife didn't appreciate this idea. She suggested that perhaps someone could make a nice sheitel out of it.

During my parent's visit, my mother cut another "sheitel" out of the vacuum cleaner and was actually able to repair the vacuum cleaner by putting a new belt on the motor. She is certainly much better at fixing things than I am.


Habit is dangerous. It creeps up surreptitiously like a thief.

(Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Kotzk)

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A Picture From My Family's Shtetl - Week 27

A Question About Advice

Akiva of Mystical Paths asked:

In Sichos HaRan, #35 and #220, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov warns us of a time of great atheism, to strengthen us against the great temptations in the times before Moshiach. He follows this with #36, stating that "There will come a time when a simple religious man will be as rare and unique as the Baal Shem Tov."

Given that Sichos HaRan #220 talks of spreading atheism in that day, and comparing the generation following the passing of Rabbi Nachman to today I would consider when this was written to be a time of great faith (compared to today), what practical instruction does Rabbi Nachman provide to us to resist these great temptations and further, perhaps more importantly, to provide to our children? Clearly, if (G-d forbid) Moshiach does not come immediately, the challenges will continue to increase. Has the Rebbe predicted with the statement from #36 above that almost none of our children will be left hanging on to their emunah (faith) when Moshiach arrives? (G-d forbid!)

A Simple Jew responded:

Akiva, I am flattered that you would ask me these questions about Rebbe Nachman of Breslov since my knowledge of his teachings is miniscule in comparison with that of my teachers. Even though I learn Likutey Moharan every day, I understand very little. Nevertheless, since my neshoma is drawn to his teachings, I will try to answer your questions.

One of the best sources for Rebbe Nachman of Breslov's advice can be found in the sefer Likutey Eitzos. Likutey Eitzos contains a chapter entitled Hischazkus (Encouragement) that provides guidance relevant to your question about how to strengthen our faith in these days before Moshiach. To begin with, Likutey Eitzos (Hischazkus #17) encourages us to view our present reality with a different set of lenses; with the lenses of simple faith rather than those of sophistication:

"When G-d appears to reject us, His purpose is really to draw us closer. A person who wants to draw closer to G-d often finds that all kinds of hardship and suffering and other obstacles descend upon him, at times with great force. He may start thinking that he is deliberately being rejected. But really these experiences are very beneficial and they serve to draw him closer. The most important thing is to be very firm and resolute, to stand up to the test and not let oneself be deterred by the suffering and obstacles and the sense of rejection. It is a mistake to think that one is being rejected. He should have simple faith that whatever he has to go through is for his own good -- to bring him to strengthen himself and draw even closer to G-d. The whole purpose of this apparent rejection is to draw him closer to G-d."

Indeed, it may seem difficult for people on our lowly spiritual level to maintain this elevated state of consciousness. Likutey Eitzos (Hischazkus #18), however, suggests there is a way that we may accomplished it:

"The way to remain firm is by using the power of speech. Even if you fall, be resolute and speak words of truth -- words of Torah and prayer and the fear of Heaven. Talk to G-d. Talk to your friends also, and especially your teacher. Speech has a great power to remind a person of G-d's presence and give him strength even in situations which are very far removed from holiness"

From the above teaching, we see that Rebbe Nachman's advice is three-fold. To strengthen your simple faith you must:

1) Make time for hisbodedus and talk directly to Hashem in your own words*;

2) Attach yourself to friends who bring out the best in you; friends to whom you can speak of your spiritual struggles and accomplishments; and

3) Attach yourself to your teacher (see Rabbi Lazer Brody's posting "Vertigo" for more on this topic).

Finally, you asked, "Has the Rebbe predicted with the statement from #36 above that almost none of our children will be left hanging on to their emunah (faith) when Moshiach arrives?" Akiva, given my little knowledge, I do not feel qualified to answer your question about what will happen before Moshiach arrives. While Rebbe Nachman of Breslov told us that it will be a time of great atheism, he also encouraged us to do everything in our power to ensure that this atheism doesn't take root in our own minds.

I don't think that Sichos HaRan #36 predicts that none of our children will be left hanging on. Rather, Rebbe Nachman predicted that the majority of our people would not be able to maintain their faith -- which tragically is the case today. And maybe that even many of those who remained Torah observant would lack the qualities of simplicity and whole-heartedness, which are the foundation of everything in Yiddishkeit.

* For more on the subject of hisbodedus, I highly recommend the book Outpouring of the Soul.


If we do not arrive at a new insight every day, it is a sign that we also have not acquired of others' old insights.

(Rebbe Aharon of Karlin)

Monday, February 06, 2006

Maaser On Monday

Last week, my supervisor stopped by my desk and gave me a letter that said that I was awarded $1,500 for my performance.

Acknowledging this brocha, I separated maaser and gave tzedakah to Eizer L'Shabbos, a very small but wonderful organization that uses every penny it receives to help poor people.

I certainly hope the Boss gives me many more opportunities such as this to give!

(Click on the image above for more information on Eizer L'Shabbos)

Recognizing One's Worth

If one does not recognize one's own worth, how can one appreciate the worth of another?

(Rebbe Yaakov Yosef of Polonoye)

Saturday, February 04, 2006

From The Mouth Of Our Enemy

A quote from an article in this week's Jewish Press:

"The first time I interviewed Hamas chief Mahmoud al-Zahar," says Aaron [Klein], "I did not bring my yarmulke. I wanted to get out alive. But during the course of our conversation I ended up talking about my Orthodox Judaism. Al-Zahar asked why I didn't wear a yarmulke to meet him. I told him I'd been afraid to. He said he was insulted. He claimed he was a religious Muslim who only had a problem with the state of Israel and not with Judaism. He lectured me about not forsaking my religion or denying my Jewish identity. He said the next time we meet I had better be wearing my yarmulke."

Friday, February 03, 2006

Guest Posting From Rabbi Dovid Sears: Faith and Reason According to Rabbi Nachman

Rabbi Dovid Sears, Director of the Breslov Center for Spirituality and Inner Growth, and author of many books on Jewish thought provided the material for the posting below. It is excerpted from an e-mail interchange between himself and a person studying Breslover Chassidus.


There is a quote from Rabbi Nachman in Sichos ha-Ran 32 (translated by the Breslov Research Institute as "Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom," pg. 134):

"When a person is sincere and unquestioning, then he can be worthy that G-d illuminate him with an aspect of Desire, which is even higher than Wisdom. The attribute of Wisdom is actually higher than Faith. Still one must avoid the wisdom of speculation and rely on faith alone. Faith has great power, and when one follows its path, he can achieve Desire, a level even higher than Wisdom. When one is worthy of Desire, he fells a great longing and yearning toward G-d. This feeling becomes so intense that he does not know what to do. And he cries out. But there is a philosopher in every man's heart. He is the Evil One, who raises questions in one's mind. We must humble him and eject him, strengthening ourselves in faith and emptying the heart of all questions. There are sins that lead a person to skepticism. This can also result from the fact that a person was not conceived in holiness, especially if he himself is guilty of similar sins. All these things are detrimental to one's faith. One should therefore be very much ashamed of the fact that he has doubts regarding belief. Such questions are not a sign of intelligence, but an indication that he was conceived in an unholy state, or that he himself is guilty of such sins. It is these things that cause one to doubt the essence of our faith. Such doubts should therefore cause one to have great shame and heartbreak. G-d's glory fills all the earth, for 'the whole world is filled with His glory.' A person must realize this and remember that these doubts are divorcing him from the Living G-d and uprooting him from the Life of All Life. We need not describe the great shame a person should have because of such doubts. However, with heartbreak and shame he can expel and destroy all these questions."

My question: it seems that Rabbi Nachman is making me feeling guilty for having any questions, and discouraging me from asking my questions. Is he advocating repressing all theological questions? As he says above: "He is the Evil One, who raises questions in one's mind. We must humble him and eject him, strengthening ourselves in faith and emptying the heart of all questions." Rabbi Nachman doesn't make any distinction here between questions that have no answer and those that are possible to answer.

On the other hand, in Likkutei Moharan 62, Rabbi Nachman seems to say that it is a "great mitzvah" to use our intellect in order to know how to "answer the apikorus."So, I would like to understand the meaning of the quote from Sichos HaRan, and also how to reconcile this quote with Likkutei Moharan 62.


It seems to me that the Rebbe is saying that the foundation and greater context of questioning must be faith -- even though chokhmah de-kedushah, holy intellect, is actually "higher" than faith. (By this, I assume that he means that faith is related to Malkhus / Kingship, the lowest of the Ten Sefiros, while Chokhmah / Wisdom stands at the top of the ladder. Ratzon / desire is related to the sefirah of Keser, the "Divine Crown," which encompasses and transcends the rest.)

The Rebbe is surely not telling us to stifle or shut off the intellect. In fact, in several places he urges us to study Torah be-'iyyun, in depth, particularly his teachings (see Likkutei Moharan I, 101; Sefer ha-Midos, "Sod," II, 1; also Chayei Moharan 346; Hakdamah me-ha-Baal Mechaber, Bi’ur ha-Likkutim, et al.). Reb Noson and the Rebbe’s other close talmidim were all expert Torah scholars and profound thinkers.

In a related vein, he states in Likkutei Moharan 255 that faith must be accompanied by da'as / knowledge or intellect, or one can come to have faith in the wrong people and the things. This applies to even an ordinary person.

Yet he also teaches: "One who trusts in his intellect alone can come to grave error" (Likkutei Moharan II, 12). Instead, we should fulfill the Torah’s call: "Tamim tehiyeh ba-Shem Elokekha . . . Be simple with Hashem, your G-d" (Deuteronomy 18:3). Cleverness as a pursuit unto itself is the biggest ego trip in the world. After all, the nachash, the snake in the Garden of Eden, was the only creature that the Torah called "clever."

The Piacetzna Rebbe discusses the virtue of temimus / simplicity in Hakhshoras Avreikhim, chapter 15, which is a very "Breslover" chapter. Like Rabbi Nachman, he teaches us to strive for simplicity in the sense of inner wholeness - but this is not synonymous with mindlessness. As Rabbi Nachman also states in his story "The Simpleton and the Sophisticate," the protagonist, the Simpleton, "was not a fool, but had a straightforward, humble approach to things."

It seems to me that the Rebbe wants us to use our minds, but not fall into states of consciousness that estrange us from the intuitive sense of G-d's Oneness that his great-grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov, emphasizes so much. (In fact, the Baal Shem Tov wants us to pause even while we are learning Torah so as not to loose touch with Hashem as the result of engaging the intellect; see Tzava’as ha-Rivash 29.)

As for your concern that the Rebbe does not distinguish between questions that have answers and questions that do not, he actually uses these terminologies in Likkutei Moharan I, 62 ("Vayasev Elokim"), the very discourse you mentioned, and in Lesson 64 ("Bo El Paroh"). In both teachings, the Rebbe encourages us to "know what to answer the apikoros." Yet we must also know that not all questions are answerable, due to the limitations of human reason. Ultimately G-d’s mysteries transcend the intellect. As the Tikkunei Zohar declares: "Les machshavah tefisa Bei klal . . . No thought can grasp Him at all."

Finding Merit In Everyone

I can find merit in even the worst person - enough to fill many pages. This is because I know what people go through in this life.

(Reb Noson of Breslov)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Sunday Nights: Melancholy In The City

My wife and I went downtown on Sunday evening to try a new kosher restaurant that opened a few blocks away from our old neighborhood. The colorless January evening made me recall all the Sunday evenings I spent alone in the city. It reminded me of a time in my life when freedom was not coupled with fulfillment and happiness.

When I was single, my friends were often busy on Sunday evenings preparing for the week ahead and I was left by myself with nothing to do. To occupy this time I usually went out and took a walk to different parts of the city.

Returning to the city almost a decade later, the city still seemed to be an empty place. As I walked on the same sidewalks that I walked hundreds of times before, I could still sense loneliness and melancholy in the air.

I returned home from the city to see the smiling faces of my children and was comforted with the knowledge that now I am no longer alone.

Torn Clothing

I discovered people in torn clothing who nevertheless had hearts that were intact. But I strove to turn things around: to dress them in fine clothing and tear their hearts.

(Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk)

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Inside A Fortune Cookie

A Simple Jew queried:

A few months ago I ate at a local kosher Chinese restaurant. At the end of the meal, the waiter brought me a fortune cookie that contained this saying inside, "Discontent is the first necessity of progress."

Reflecting upon the fortune cookie's message, it struck me that this sounded a lot like the Alter Rebbe's teaching in Chapter 31 of Tanya about the difference between the destructiveness of atzvus (depression) and the potential benefits of merirus (bitterness).

Could you please explain what the application of this teaching from Tanya is to us in our generation?

Akiva from Mystical Paths responded:

A Simple Jew reveals himself to be anything but. He follows the Baal Shem Tov's aphorism to look for lessons of Torah and see Hashem in everything. Hashaga Pratis (divine orchestration) in a fortune cookie? Absolutely, for those who are looking for it.

The question appears rather straightforward as secular society goes on at length about the dangers of depression, such that a whole division of the medical profession and drugs have been created to 'treat' it. But looking in to the Tanya reveals a completely different depth and perspective on this question.

Chassidus teaches that Torah and mitzvot need to be performed with joy. To quote the Baal HaTanya, quoting from the Talmud Shabbos 30b, 'The Shechina (Divine Presence) abides only in joy...as is the case also in the study of Torah.' Great emphasis is placed on approaching Torah and mitzvot as a privilege and pleasure, not, G-d forbid, a burden.

Yet we are also instructed to spend some time in self reflection. What is our state, what is our lot? How far are we from what we could be? When doing so, it's quite normal to come to a state that's the opposite of joy.

The Tanya teaches us, that's ok if directed correctly. Further, not only is it ok it can be absolutely necessary. For while great levels can be reached with Chesed, the attributes and sefirah of kindness, some heights, or rather, some depths, some drives, can only be counteracted and raised upwards through Gevurah, the attributes and sefirah of strictness / severity.

This is the path of bitterness. By becoming bitter with our situation, how far we have fallen from where we should be, how distant we are from our Father in heaven compared to where we could be, it drives us to strive harder, to push farther, to reach where otherwise we wouldn't. It pushes us to focus on what's important, our connection with the divine, and push away from what's not, the gross needs of the body and the physical pleasures of this world. It doesn't elevate the body or it's natural life force (and the Tanya teaches that only the tzaddikim, the righteous saints, can reach the point of really doing so), but rather brings us to constrain it and provide pure focus on our connection with G-d, our nefesh elokus, which is the best that the benoni (the intermediate man) can achieve.

Learning Kabbalah vs. Learning Chassidus

The teachings of Kabbalah raise you to the Heavens. The teachings of Chassidus bring the Heavens to you.

(Rebbe Schneur Zalman of Liadi)