Question & Answer With Rabbi Tal Zwecker - Avodah For The Common Man
A Simple Jew asks:
In Degel Machaneh Ephraim, Parshas Lech Lecha, the Degel teaches,
"I have heard from my grandfather that everything belonging to a tzaddik, his servants, his house pets, even the objects of his household, are all part of the sparks which belong to the root of his soul. His task is to raise them to their root on high."
To what degree does this teaching also apply to the common man, and what is the application in our daily lives?
Rabbi Tal Zwecker responds:
Your question is very good but it is based on an assumption. The assumption is that the word tzaddik is lav davka, not necessarily the case, but even the common man might see application to him. I believe that there are two approaches in this dispute: namely does the average Jew, the "non"-tzaddik have any "job" to serve Hashem mystically and uplift sparks and meditate on yichudim etc.? Or, is this type of avodah solely reserved for righteous tzaddikim?
To me it seems clear that the Baal Shem Tov's approach was that all Jews even common ones must serve Hashem "mystically", that they should learn and understand that there are spiritually higher worlds that they are unifying when the perform mitzvos and daven. This awareness however contrasts the avodah of a tzadik who not only says leshem yichud before performing a mitzvah as every Jew should say. The tzaddik isn't just aware of the yichudim, he may meditate on them and reflect on them using the classic kabbalah texts such as the writings of the Arizal and the siddurim which contain such Divine Names and unifications. This would be how we can explain:
In a letter to his brother-in-law, Rabbi Gershon Kitover, the Baal Shem Tov relates:
"On Rosh Hashanah of the year 5507 I made an ascent of soul ... I ascended level after level until I reached the chamber of the Moshiach... And I asked Moshiach: "When will the Master come?" And the Moshiach replied: "When your teachings will be disseminated and revealed in the world, and your wellsprings will spread outside regarding those things I taught and then they too will be able to make unifications and have ascensions like you..." (Keser Shem Tov 1:1).
How are we to understand Moshiach's words to the Baal Shem? The Komarna Rebbe's conclusion in Nesiv Mitzvosecha was that we all have to therefore study the Zohar and the writings of the Arizal and learn the Kabbalistic system for yichudim to fulfill this.
However that seems to be the minority opinion. Most other Chassidic Rebbes and their followers although they accept this account and letter as authentic, do not understand those words literally, rather they understand as we explained that one can enact tikkun and rectification including yichudim and aliyos - unifications and ascensions of the soul without the Kabbalistic background and knowledge without using a siddur full of Divine names etc. In fact, the Baal Shem Tov himself teaches in several places this idea:
"He who uses the kavanna the Kabbalistic meditation intentions that he knows in his prayers, is only having in mind those meditations and kavvanos that he knows. However he who says the words with great connection, binding [himself on high] all the possible kavvanos and meditations are included! ...therefore see to it that you pray with intense devotion and concentration and excitement and surely you will succeed in enacting great things in the higher worlds since each word awakens above." (Tzavas HaRivash 14b and also Likkutim Yekarim 17d)
We see the idea that with great binding, excitement concentration etc. we can enact these unifications and achieve "all" the possible kavvanos - Kabbalistic meditations even without being a Kabbalist and using Divine names etc. In fact this teaching makes it sound detrimental to even try to use some intentions since it implies that the simple method achieves more!
Nonetheless in prayer we find that all schools of the Baal Shem Tov's students printed various siddurim trying to achieve the correct nusach Sefard of the holy Arizal. There were siddurim printed with kavanos and Divine names and those printed without. We can assume that those siddurim printed without kavvanos were for the masses and those with kavvanos for the elect tzadikim. In fact the Tzemach Tzedek chastised his chassidim for printing the Baal HaTanya's chassidic discourses in Zhitomir in a siddur with Kabbalistic kavvanos for ashrei since that was against his will. The Chabad tradition is that the Baal HaTanya had 60 versions before him while he worked on his version of nusach Arizal and that he added only those things that in addition to being based on the Arizal also fulfilled criteria such as that they would also fit with the Talmud and decisions of Poskim as Halacha. The Rebbe was very meticulous seeing that the words should contain within them the secrets, however he did not explain these Kabbalistic kavvanos and secrets in order that all could use it. Shaar HaKollel. (See Notes and Introduction to the siddur with Divrei Elokim Chaim from Kehot. )
It seems that this approach is the approach the Baal HaTanya takes namely that the Kabbalistic devotions and intentions may be studied but the average chassid does not and should not use them. He need only use the nusach Arizal and daven with awareness of these things with great enthusiasm and joy and the kavvanos and unifications take care of themselves. In HaYom Yom the Rayatz is quoted as saying that its enough to have in mind that "May Hashem hear my prayers with all the Kabbalistic intentions as found in the books and works of Kabbalah."
Tanya, chapter 28 states:
"Even if lustful imaginings or other extraneous thoughts occur to him during his service of G‑d — in Torah or in prayer with kavanah, he should pay no attention to them, rather he should avert his mind from them immediately. Nor should he be a fool and try to elevate the middot of the extraneous thought, as is known. For such things were intended only for tzaddikim, in whom there do not occur any evil thoughts of their own evil middot, but only from the middot of others."
Contrast this teaching however with the Meor Eynaim, the Chernobyl Rebbe who was a student of both the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezritch. In Parshas Bereshis pg 6 (Meor Eynaim Jerusalem edition) he teaches that Yosef went to look at Potiphar's wife to elevate the beauty of the sefira tiferes in her (this teaching is also found in Noam Elimelech and in Kedushas Levi). However the Rebbe adds, "We find that every person must do this." Stating explicitly that this is meant as a form of avodah for all not just tzaddikim. See also Meor Eynaim, Parshas Lech Lecha (pages 26-27) and Shemos (page 83) where he says explicity, "This is something everyone must do even those on the level of Beinonim."
We see therefore a classic dispute is the avodah of elevating sparks and sefiros, middos solely the realm of tzadikim as Chabad tradition teaches or is it for everyone even beinonim as the Chernobyl tradition clearly indicates?
The seforim seem to support both approaches but the vote has already been tallied in practice the average Chassid follows the Chabad approach. While we study Chassidus and even Zohar and Arizal occasionally this is more to create an appreciation and an awareness to the mystical to excite and enthuse us. However we say leshem yichud and have general intentions in mind to connect to Hashem out of love, joy and sincerity and we hope and pray that all the kavvanos are done and the unifications occur and that we will help bring Moshiach closer as the Baal Shem's teachings spread.