Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Unlocking A Sefer

(Illustration courtesy of

There once was a rabbi whose bookshelf was divided so that some of the books were on open shelves and others were kept on shelves behind glass cabinet doors. A vistor asked the rabbi why he kept his sifrei Nigleh (Chumashim, Mishnayos, Gemaras) behind glass cabinet doors and his sifrei Chassidus and sifrei Kabbalah on the open shelves. The rabbi responded that his sifrei Nigleh were open to everyone and that is why he had to keep them protected behind glass. His sifrei Chassidus and sifrei Kabbalah, however, were located on open shelves because they were still closed books to those who opened them.

During my meeting with the Sudilkover Rebbe, I told him that I once tried to learn Toldos Yaakov Yosef but quickly came to the realization that I understood very little; that this sefer was definitely "in the stratosphere" as Rabbi Lazer Brody had told me in the past. The Sudilkover Rebbe smiled and said that he too had an extremely difficult time learning Toldos Yaakov Yosef and understood very little when he attempted to apply himself to learn it.

In the introduction to his new book, Rabbi Tal Zwecker cited a few occasions where great Chassidic rebbes expressed how they had difficulty understanding a sefer because of its great profundity:

The Rebbe Rav Mendel Rimanover used to say that only on the eve of Shabbos, after immersing in the waters of the mikveh, could he understand a shtikel, a piece, of the Noam Elimelech. The holy Komarna Rebbe, who was himself a great kabbalist, writes in Derech Emunah that “the holy sefer Noam Elimelech is completely refined pure light, exceedingly deep if you can merit understanding even one of its teachings.”

After reading the introduction in Rabbi Zwecker's book and also remembering my conversations with both the Sudilkover Rebbe and Rabbi Lazer Brody, I felt somewhat comforted in the fact that people much greater than myself also had similar problems unlocking a sefer. Rather than beating myself up for the 90% that I do not yet understand, I could now view the fact that my understanding of Degel Machaneh Ephraim had increased from 1% to 10% as an extremely positive accomplishment.


At May 29, 2008 at 5:43:00 AM EDT, Blogger yitz said...

While learning sefarim that are in the "stratosphere" may have a profound effect on our neshamos, we should also try to learn those sifrei Chassidus that are more accessible to our puny understanding. Those that come quickly to my mind are the Sefarim of the Piaseczno Rebbe, as well as Nesivos Shalom of the Slonimer, and Modzitz sefarim [Divrei Yisrael, Imrei Shaul, Imrei Aish].


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