Thursday, July 31, 2008

Why Are They There?


While other people may question why they should even bother dealing with the people around them, a Chabad shaliach understands with certainty that the Lubavitcher Rebbe sent him to that very location specifically to deal with those people.

Yet, why should it be that it is only the Chabad shaliach who views the world with this unique perspective? Didn't Hashem send each and every one of us to the locations where we now reside and surround us with the people He wants us to interact with?

How often do we stop, look around us, and consider that every single person we see is there because Hashem wants these people to be in our lives? There may be times when we may not care to deal with some of them, yet how can we be so dismissive of them? If there was absolutely no reason for us to come into contact with them during the course of our day, why are they there to begin with?

28 Tammuz Links - כח תמוז

(Picture by Yurr B.)

Modern Uberdox:
Minhagim - the spice of Judaism

Dixie Yid: Spending Shabbos with the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

ILoveTorah.com: Tzaddikim of the other world

Life in Israel: a tzaddik with no kipa

Eizer L'Shabbos: Emergency Summer Campaign

Seventy Languages

Every single statement that emanated from the mouth of the Almighty was divided into seventy languages.

(Talmud - Shabbos 88b)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Question & Answer With Dixie Yid - Following The Chernobyl Derech

(Picture by Azriell)

A Simple Jew asks:

Aside from regularly learning his sefer, to what degree do you feel drawn to follow the derech of the Me'or Einayim? Have you ever contemplated attaching yourself to one of the Chernobyl dynasties, adopting Chernobyl minhagim, or even attempting to follow some of the Hanhagos Yesharos that are recorded and appended to the back of Rebbe Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl's sefer?

Dixie Yid answers:

To be honest, I do not feel drawn, to a great degree, to adopt or discover the minhagim of Chernobyl.

I sense that at this point in my life, you and I think pretty differently from each other on this general issue. While you, my holy friend, tend to work on serving Hashem partly through connecting more deeply with your ancestors' mesorah and minhagim, I'm taking a generally different approach. I think you share this approach in common with Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin. Both of you greatly desired to know more about your roots and worked for a long period to time to reach your goal. And then when you learned where you came from, you learned everything you could about the minhagim of that place and then adopted those minhagim forthwith! I greatly admire both of you for this approach.

For the time being, I would feel hypocritical and insincere if I were to take on the external minhagim (in davening, Shabbos/Yuntif table, chumros, dress, etc.) of such a holy community without even attaining the basics of where I should be on the inside. As I understand it, the most important part of Chassidus is what's on the inside (behavior, thoughts, emunah, speech) as Rabbi Tal Zwecker writes about. While I know that acting in a certain way externally is a positive way to produce an internal effect, it also has the danger of allowing one to feel "religious" without having to do the real work, which is internal.

I'm concerned that I could fall into that trap, and so right now, minhagim-wise, I'm sticking to the original Ashkenaz minhagim that I learned while I was becoming religious. As I wrote about here, while I am inclined to change my minhagim at some point to reflect my connection to Chassidus, my current feeling is that I will hold off on that until I can feel that I won't be putting on airs or acting more religious than I feel that I actually am on the inside.

27 Tammuz Links - כז תמוז

(Picture by Imacri)

ILoveTorah.com: Reminiscing on old times

Sfas ha-Nachal: אונטער דער ערד

Dixie Yid: Rav Moshe Weinberger - The Three Weeks (Audio Shiur)

Living with Chassidus: A Call to Arms!

Zchus Avos Yogen Aleinu: The Easiest Time

Guest Posting By Moshe Lev - How I First Started Learning Chassidus

(Picture by D. Nettley)

Like many people when I started learning Chassidus I did not realize that I was learning Chassidus. I was attending a Chabad House at the time, and did not understand that everything I was learning at the time was filtered through the Tanya. The Tanya is very central to the world view of Chabad and is a beautiful sefer. In it, not only do you find a logical construction of the hidden aspects of Torah, you find some the early recordings of the Chassidic movement before Chassidim really broke into their many vibrate camps. For many years, I have focused on learning more about the beginnings of the Chassidic movement. Rabbi Dovid Sears wrote a wonderful book called The Path of Baal Shem Tov that I highly suggest if you want to understand this era.

My second phase in learning Chassidus came when I came into contact with Breslover Chassidim. Even though I enjoyed studying the Tanya, I never made a firm connection with the Chabad movement, and started searching once again. I was very curious about the writings of Rebbe Nachman and the answers I needed for my spiritual growth I found in his works. Now, I and a group of men meet weekly to study Likutei Moharan.

I have always been drawn to Chassidim, the music, the stories, and myths and the reality of this branch of Judaism and I plan to study the other masters of Chassidic thought as well. Chassidus speaks to me in ways I really cannot explain because I am still in the mist of my journey. Saying that, I think it is very important to remember that the all of the rebbes are trying to reach out to us through their writings and gently lead us on our paths, so we can grow and become the people we are destine to be. For some it will be the Tanya, for some Likutei Moharan, and for others it will be another sefer. It is essential to note that they have something to say and we just need to listen.

Reaching The Gate

Many people have no idea how to reach the specific gate of teshuva through which they can return to Hashem. However, through reciting Tehillim, one can reach the gate of teshuva that pertains to his neshoma.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Guest Posting By Jonathan - Why Many Of Us Feel Filled With Contradictions

(Picture by M. Carbone)

From Kol Demamah Dakah, Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, vol. 10, Rabbi Itamar Shwartz:

The Reisha DeLo Ityadah includes within it all aspects of the Six Thousand Years [of history].

[Translator’s note: Reisha DeLo Ityadah means literally “The Head That is Not Known.” This is the head of the parztuf of Atik, the very highest partzuf, which ascends up and out of the realm of Atzilut. In Shaar Atik of Etz Chaim the Ari describes in an abstract, almost probabilistic way the various combinations of sefirot that may exist within this head. These combinations give rise to Atzilut and all the other worlds below it. Because this head is not garbed within the lower worlds, however, its exact composition cannot be known with certainty.]

At the end of the years of exile, the aspect of the Reisha DeLo Ityadah awakens and is revealed to the souls. All the time, different revelations from the Reisha DeLo Ityadah appear, so the souls continually feel a little different. Actually, what is revealed to a soul from the Reisha DeLo Ityadah are not that soul’s own particular aspects, but rather, what are revealed are all the various aspects of the Six Thousand Years. Therefore at one time, a soul can feel as though it is from a particular root, but shortly afterwards, it feels as though it’s from a different root. Afterwards, it might feel it’s from still another root. It doesn’t know the explanation for this.

One needs to know that it’s impossible to fully understand these [different revelations]. One is obliged to understand, however, that these are revelations from above the vessel. These revelations do not reveal who the self is; but rather, they reveal in the midst of the self possibilities that are not of the self. It is rather like the revelation in the En Sof that each point includes all aspects. So it is here, too: each point can reveal all the aspects of the Six Thousand Years. There is a revelation now into a soul not of the aspects of this world, but rather, aspects of the Reisha DeLo Ityadah. Therefore, the essence of the inner work is to dis-identify with the existence of the self [the ego, “I,” or ani]. When one does not feel the self, one will not feel that the revelation defines who the self is. However, if one does identify with self, they’ll feel that each revelation is defining who the self is — and they’ll be filled with contradictions.

--

In this section of Kol Demamah Dakah, Rav Shwartz is interpreting, I think, the reason for the spiritual confusion of modernity — the overwhelming abundance of choices before us in thought and lifestyles. Today, it is hard to know who we are, because there are so many possible selves available for us to be. Even within our religion, there are dozens of well-known and thousands of lesser-known styles of how to be a Jewish self. This is to say nothing of the dizzying array of non-Jewish choices — choices that our generation, unfortunately, in proportions as never before, seriously considers and chooses. Most of us have tried out many styles of self, each time experiencing something different. I certainly have, immersing myself in one style of learning and then another: mitnagdic, then Chassidic in various schools, then just learning pure nigleh, then only nistar, and so on, diving into each in turn to the point where I felt a connection on a soul-level to its root. But which is my real root? Can I have more than one? Some of these selves contradict the others to a degree. Can these selves be the core of me?

Rav Shwartz is really speaking to my experience here. He sees not confusion or anomie in this scenario, because that is all only on the surface. Rather, in the true spirit of the mekubalim, with their unquenchable optimism, he sees the deep inner workings of the redemptive process. Why are we so confused about who to be, and feel so full of contradictions? It is only because we stand on the threshold of the redemption, when a light from outside of the system of this world has begun to shine down into the system. The light can confuse us because there is as yet no vessel for it; no categories of the self that can encompass it.

Our avodah now, as a result, is actually to dis-identify with all of those selves, all of the versions of the ego. We will then not be confused by the flickering images of that light shining upon our little self. There is no need to to say, “I am this,” or “I am that.” Rather, now it’s time to wake up to a wisdom for which there are no limiting categories; because our soul’s true root transcends the system of this world entirely.

I feel I should add that this is not an antinomian or anti-halachic teaching, as some secular scholars, in the school of Gershom Scholem, have claimed kabbalah tends toward. Rav Shwartz is clear when he states, also in this same sefer: “All of this [sublime understanding of the Reisha DeLo Ityadah] is in the soul’s inner perception. Since, however, we still exist within the worlds of Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah [ABY”A], within the body, we need to behave only according to the halachah, according the dictates of the worlds ABY”A, and not according to the dictates of the Reisha DeLo Ityadah. Herein is the root of the problem: the illumination is not matched to the vessel... It is incumbent upon a person to acknowledge that while the illumination is correct, there is at this time no vessel for it, and thus one cannot conduct oneself according to it... A person, however, who knows how to distinguish which aspect relates to the Reisha DeLo Ityadah and which to the vessel, and does not mix them—he has already been redeemed.”

Aliya - "A Midda Ha-Chasidus"

(Painting by David Avisar)

Rabbi Avraham Chaim Bloomenstiel commenting on Aliya Forum:

In the previous posts there is a mixture of halachic and hashkofic viewpoints (amongst others as well). One can only consider these clearly if the halachic baseline is determined first.

The nature of the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisroel absent the Beis Mikdash is not a clear cut chiyuv. The earliest halachic (non-aggadic) reference is Ramban commenting on Bamidbar 33:53, which is the potential makor of the chiyuv. According to the Ramban, there is a chiyuv d’oraisa to pack up and move to Eretz Yisroel. However, later Rishonim and the Acharonim wrestle with the fact that the Rambam does not include this mitzvah in his enumeration of the 613 mitzvos.

Additionally, the Shulchan Aruch is mum on this issue. While the Mechaber paskens repeatedly that certain mizvos operate differently or apply differently in the Land, there is no actual statement that one must pack up and move there.

Many meforshim have tried to explain the omission in the Rambam. Some explain that yishuv Eretz Yisroel is only a hekhshar mitzvah (see Rashbam to Bava Basra 91a). Others explain that the mitzvah was abrogated with the destruction of the Beis Mikdash (see sefer Megillas Esther on the Rambam – I have several kashos on this deah, though). Then, of course, there is the aforementioned comment of the Tosafos to Kesubos 110b that there is no mitzvah due to the hardship associated with living in the land. Incidentally, this remark doesn’t actually state that there is no mitzvah, only that one is potur due to the hardship. In our days, however, we can legitimately question the applicability of this svora.

The le-maase question of whether one is obligated to pack up and move to Eretz Yisroel was the subject of Teshuvos from both Rav Moshe ztz”l (Igros Moshe, Even ha-Ezer I:102) and Rav Ovadia Yoseif, shlit”a (written in several places, and heard personally many times).

According to Rav Feinstein, the mitzvah of yishuv ha-aretz is a reshus, meaning that one is under no halachic obligation or pressure to make aliya. However, if one did, then he is praiseworthy and accredited a mitzvah. The understanding that there is no chiyuv of yishuv is found in many other Ashkenazi Acharonim: see Rav Yaakov of Lissa to Kesuvos 110b and the Chofetz Chayyim in his Mikhtavim. They both state the halacha is like the Rambam and that there is no chiyuv of yishuv in our days. Such appears to have been the interpretation of the majority of the Ashkenazi poskim.

Among the Sefardim, the poskim tended to read the Ramban literally and hold that the mitzvah of yishuv is a chiyuv. In the early 1980’s Rav Yosef became the strongest proponent of this interpretation and has argued strongly against Rav Moshe.

All in all, that is the halachic baseline: for the Ashkenzaim, according to the rov, yishuv is at best a mitzvah reshus and not a chiyuv ( Rav Kook ztvk”l was a minority in his view). For the Sephardim, it is a chiyuv.

Knowing this, I read Rav Breiter hy”d (of whom I am a BIG fan) as stating that, while there is no halachic chiyuv of yishuv, one must do everything possible to go. In this sense it is a midda ha-chasidus, potentially akin to donning Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin, or going daily to the mikva. Note that he says “Every day of your life, yearn, pray and make a practical effort to live in Eretz Yisroel, or at the very least to walk four steps there.” If we were talking halachic chiyuv, then there would be no “at least.” A chiyuv d’oraisa is a chiyuv (in all honesty, though there is wiggle room to say that concepts of lechatchila & b’dieved do exist by d’oraisa’s that are halachos le-moshe misinai – see the Pri Megadim’s hakdama to hilchos shechita, however here we are talking about a d’oraisa she nikhtav be-kra). One may legitimately say, though, that this midda ha-chassidus is stronger than that of wearing Rabbeinu Tam since it has a makor be-kra, but it is very hard to split hairs in this area.

Practically, then, it means that if your are one who holds of the Breslov shitta (which is Rav Breiter) then you should always endeavor and make it one’s goal to live there. However, since it is a midda ha-chasidus, mitigating factors will be much more influential in creating leniencies.

26 Tammuz Links - כו תמוז

(Picture courtesy of usgs.gov)

A Fire Burns in Breslov: The Kallah and the Mother in Law

Seraphic Secret: Moshe Hammer: A Life Interrupted

Breslov World: Myrtle in the Wilderness

Do Nothing

There is a basic principle in mussar that whenever a person is unsure whether it would be Hashem's will for him to take a certain action, he should refrain from taking that action. This we see in "they encamped in Haradah", for haradah means fear. Whenever a person is unsure whether what he wishes to do is proper or not, he should remain where he is and do nothing.

(Mei HaShiloach)

Monday, July 28, 2008

"Let's Be Honest, Most Of The Heterim Have Fallen Away"

(Painting by Jordana Klein)

Akiva commenting on Aliya Forum:

I did not say one should not plan and prepare, or leap blindly. However, a mitzvah is being ignored, unless one has taken upon themselves the position poskined by the Satmar Rov, that there is no mitzvah of yishuva ha'aretz at this time (without the coming of Moshiach). If one holds such, then just like there is no mitzvah of shemitta outside of Israel, there is no mitzvah of settling the land.

Assuming one is not Satmar, one is relying upon the various heterim that one is not obligated to settle the land due to: danger (not valid in our time, life expectancy in Israel is HIGHER than in the US, including terrorism and army service), famine (not valid for most Americans with some reasonably employable skill, but qualifies for some who have no employable skills), Torah (no longer valid as nowadays almost everyone comes TO Israel to learn), or to find a spouse (and since everyone is in Israel learning, they often find their spouse here).

No, I'm not trying to poskin for the world, and one should always consult one's rav or an appropriate halachic authority. But given current conditions, lets be honest, most of the heterim have fallen away. People aren't coming simply because it's hard, and it's foreign. It is!

But does that negate the mitzvah? In previous generations it was life threatening, barely survivable, or literally impossible. Now it's just really really inconvenient and a seriously huge change, at least for most people (there are lots of really good exceptions - children with special needs, health care problems, and others).

If for whatever reason you can't do it today, for most, you should be planning and preparing, targeting doing it. Otherwise, you're ignoring a mitzvah asay, and I thought we didn't do that!

I know I'm being harsh. And I know there's no major rabbonim standing up about this. But seems to me Ezra HaSofer had the same problem.

The great community of Alexandria, with the shul that fit 600,000 Jews is gone. The great community of Bavel wrote the Talmud, but it's also gone. The great community of America, that nutured and allowed the Jewish people to restore their lives and rebuild Torah and their souls after the Holocaust will one day be gone as well.

Aliyah Forum

(Painting by Ron Cohen)

A Simple Jew asks:

Rabbi Yitzchok Breiter wrote,

"Every day of your life, yearn, pray and make a practical effort to live in Eretz Yisroel, or at the very least to walk four steps there. Through this you will achieve patience and be able to advance from level to level, attaining complete holiness. This is the ultimate holy victory a person wins in this world."

Deep in his neshoma, every Jew knows with utter certainty that he should live Eretz Yisroel. Yet many of us are all still not doing so.

Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook wrote,

"When people are asked why they are unwilling to settle in Eretz Yisroel right now, they have all types of cheshbonos (calculations) as to why now is not the time. One says his chesbon is that his children need to finish school or college; another's chesbon is that he has to vest his pension, and so on. If we look in the Torah, though, we will see that before the Jewish people entered Eretz Yisroel, they first killed the King of Chesbon. Once the King of Chesbon is killed, the decision to move to Eretz Yisroel becomes easy."

Do you envision ever getting to the point where you are able to slay your own personal King of Cheshbon? If not, why?

Response from Poster #1:

While it's fair to assume that many cheshbonos are rationalizations, wrong, agenda-driven, and whatnot, can we rightly ask thinking Jews to check their analytical skills at the door before making such a momentous life decision?

In the absence of a genuine Navi telling us to put everything else aside this very moment and make immediate plans to move, we have to try to weigh the relevant considerations thoroughly and without personal bias.

I recall reading some recent advice from the Melitzer Rebbe to the effect that someone moving to Israel today ought to line up a job there ahead of time.

There can also be family issues, such as parents too old to join the move and children too old to integrate easily into Israeli education. There can be very basic issues, such as not having the money to move. Everyone needs to have the desire, but not all can concretize it right now.

Response from Poster #2:

This is a very difficult topic to address. No one wants to speak ill of Eretz Yisroel or to discourage aliyah, but there are (to my mind) good reasons to remain in the United States. Yes, we need to kill the Melech of Cheshbon. Meaning one can actually make a bit of an avodah zora out of his ability to determine what is best. However one does need to think, and going without thinking is not the optimum avodah, just as tefillin without thought is not the optimum avodah.

To our great sorrow, we see with our own fleshidigeh oigen, to borrow a nice Chabad lashon, that many people have serious issues with their children. On my recent trip, I spent hours talking to menahalim in the chadorim of the various communities we were considering. One told me b’zeh halashon “Yesh Noshrim B’Chol Ha’aretz”. “Atah mevin?” “Kein, Ani mevin.”

The great tzaddik Rav Mordechai Schwab once visited his son in Eretz Yisrael. Whenever he saw a car driving on Shabbos, he would comment to the effect that it was an Arab or a doctor rushing to an emergency. His son eventually asked him if he really thought all those cars were doctors and Arabs? He answered that he was saying those things so as not to damage his own sensitivity to kedushas Shabbos. Eleh mai, the answer is to live in a kehilla that is completely shomer shabbos. But those kehillos also have issues, as beautiful as they are.

What can I say? I like that my kids can play baseball. I like that I can go hear a drasha in a modern type of shul if I feel like it. I even like going to a function that allows mixed seating and spending some time (from my hectic schedule) talking to my wife! I like eating OU and I like letting my kids have OU-D when they are at another kid’s house. I actually think it is very good for there middos. Why should they think that the neighbors are less frum then they are?

When I go to work and have to interact with nashim b’l’vush she’aino tzanua, they are just nice goyishe ladies whose computers I have to fix. So what? I do the best I can to not look and veiter g’gangen. But in Eretz Yisroel, Eretz Hakodesh… oy vey. That is a bas Yisroel, the wife and daughter of a Yid!!

Response from Poster #3:

The main cheshbon is the ability to fulfill mitzvos and enable your family to do it. I want very much to move to Eretz Yisroel and once asked my teacher Rav Kenig about it. He answered that one has to do it with the cheshbon to be able to sustain one's family in Eretz Yisroel. Otherwise, as Reb Menachem Mendel Vitebsker wrote, this person will become a burden to community.

I hope one day I will be able to do so. I personally know people who had terrible matzovim in Eretz Yisroel regarding parnossa which forced them to move to Chutz L'Aretz seeking basic means to feed the family. I'm not saying such cases are common, but this is not a joke.

Response from Poster #4:

King of Cheshbon... Cheshbon is Hebrew for "considerations" or "accounting" and I think I get the point. I was considering speaking about the following topic but decided against it: Does being human mean we take chances?

I thought about the spies in Parshas Shelach and how they convince Moshe Rabbeinu that spies are a good idea. But really they were risk averse- they didn't know where they were going and didn't trust in Hashem and Moshe Rabbeinu to just go along with the game plan. Imagine if you step onto a field or court for a team sport without having full faith and confidence in your team and coach, how would that translate into reality? The team would fail more often than succeed. A losing record. You take a chance with any leader in assuming they know what they are doing, and the people upstairs (l'havdil) had good reason to make this guy leader of people.

Animals are risk averse. There was a study done on orangutans to see if they could follow a grape when hidden under several cups. They had to choose the cup with the grape and then they could eat it. When faced with one cup that they knew contained one grape or choosing a cup that might contain two grapes but was mixed up with other cups, they went for the sure thing every time.

Part of everyone's struggle is to find it within themselves to take chances to find out what potential Hashem has awaiting him. Rashi says that when Avraham Avinu is told "lech lecha" or "go for yourself," there is a sense of self -discovery in approaching the unknown. It allows you to reach your true potential because you have to create something from nothing in a way.

That's why I think making Aliyah is a fight with Melech Cheshbon. Going over the books, it just doesn't make sense.

One issue I would raise is that in Rav Kook's time it was a much more infantile stage. Now the State of Israel is looking more like a mid-life crisis than an opportunity to build something new. I wonder if Rav Kook would still feel the same way now. It's easy to point to statements of the builders of the State to inspire people, but we need to make decisions in today's terms- not yesterday's.

Response from Poster #5:

I suppose the reasons we haven't made Aliyah yet comes down to the 3 "f's:" finances, family and frumkeit.

I remember years ago, my brother's sister-in-law asked him if he always intended to make Aliyah. My brother answered, "Yes but not as soon as I did." We should have done as he did. My wife is no doubt correct when she says that we should have made Aliyah as soon as we married.

As time went on and we built a family and bought a house, financial obligations came into play. Day school tuitions don't leave you with too much in your savings. Now as our older children are teenagers and have idea of what they want to be like as adults a new reality hits: they don't want to live in Israel, or don't see it as an ideal. I could blame it on the schools, but given that my support for Israel has mostly been of the political sort, I'm part of the problem.

Finally, there's the matter of frumkeit. Where would we fit in? I can't see myself fitting in either within the Mamlachti Dati framework or within the Chareidi framework. There seems to be a disconnect between American and Israeli Orthodoxy. When we were first married we probably would have adapted more readily; now we are very set in our ways.

We've thought that in about 10 years I hopefully will be eligible to retire. That's what we're shooting for now. I do see complications arising before then. In short, do it when you're young; the more you wait the more you'll put it off.

--
Other relevant past postings on the topic of aliyah can be found here and here.

25 Tammuz Links - כה תמוז

(Picture P. Meadows)

Sfas ha-Nachal: Preparing for the Nine Days

Arutz-7: From Golani Commando Soldier to Judaism

BaalShemTov.com: Parshas Masei

Alice Jonsson: The Practical and the Mystical

Sefer HaChinuch Or Kitzur Shulchan Aruch?


If you had a choice of whether to learn Kitzur Shulchan Aruch or Sefer HaChinuch on a daily basis, what would you choose and why?

Presumptuousness

There is a great presumptuousness in saying that you are not the right one to perform a certain act of service for Hashem, because of your great distance from Him, in comparison with your friends. You must never make these kinds of excuses before Hashem. Man is not his own judge. Who really knows what his true position is before Hashem, or where his actions might take him? Every person is an individual in his own right. No one can be compared to anyone else.

(Reb Nosson of Breslov)

Friday, July 25, 2008

Question & Answer With Rabbi Tanchum Burton - Friendly Barriers

(Picture by K. Swanson)

A Simple Jew asks:


Reb Nosson of Breslov wrote:

The barriers in this world do not only come from the wicked, who try to thwart us with temptations, mockery, and opposition. Obstacles and demoralization can come even from one's closest friends and from people who are genuinely honest. It is not possible to explain this fully in writing, but a sensible person will be able to work it out for himself.

Could you elaborate a bit further on this idea of people close to us unintentionally inhibiting our spiritual growth? Why do you think Reb Nosson did not want to explain it more fully in writing? Have you personally encountered this phenomenon in your life?

Rabbi Tanchum Burton answers:

I think this idea is similar to the previous one. The spiritual makeup of the universe can be divided into two opposing forces, one which causes Hashem's "light" to be manifest, and one which causes it to be obscured. The sides operate in perfect congruity, like a matching pair. Again, the idea of zeh l'eumas zeh asah Elokim, "part and counterpart has G-d made". We refer to these two sides as the Side of Holiness and the Other Side, respectively. The Other Side is not an independent entity that has the ability to go against the Will of Hashem, like a "devil", as other religions believe, but is simply a necessary element to be included in the DNA of the universe in order to provide a context for free will and the observance of G-d's commandments through choice. We do, however, encounter it as evil.

Due to the fact that the Other Side must oppose the Side of Holiness, and because it is a perfect counterpart to the Side of Holiness, it generally manifests itself in perfect congruity to the Side of Holiness. That is to say, there is a "good" and "evil" version of everything in the universe. However, if we look at a given side in terms of its hierarchy of spiritual levels, the higher up you go on one side, the higher up the other side its counterpart will be. Therefore, the more spiritually progressed a person is, the more subtle, or cunning his or her yetzer hara will be. But, no matter where a person finds him or herself in terms of his or her spiritual development, the Other Side manifests itself in the most effective manner possible to fit the circumstance. If it means a forbidden temptation of some variety, then so be it. If it means seemingly well-intentioned advice from family members or even rabbonim, then so be it. It is often so difficult to know when the "vibe" coming at you comes from the Side of Holiness or from the Sitra Achra, that one must constantly pray for the clarity to know the difference. And one must take counsel with one who is wiser.

Now, the problem is, armed with this information, a person can err and develop a type of mystical paranoia and see the people and circumstances around him or her as personifications of the Sitra Achra. If one is not a prophet or prophetess, he or she has no right to play this type of spiritual connect-the-dots, and doing so can be very destructive to one's relationships and sense of reality. One must remain sensible as Reb Noson z"l states. I think the reason he chose not to commit a lengthier description of this process to writing is because everyone's situation is different and bears consideration in its own right.

A Sefer From The Piaceszna Rebbe's Personal Collection - On Ebay


A Shift In Perception

There are two ways of dealing with evil: overcoming it and subduing it, or transforming it, as said here. While the path of overcoming entails a constant struggle, and is based on the perception of inherent evil, the path of transformation entails a shift in perception, an awareness that all perceived evil is in reality only an illusion.

(Rebbe Yaakov Yosef of Polonoye)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Question & Answer With My Yetzer Hara - Shmiras Einayim In The Summer


My Yetzer Hara asks:

After you got rid of your television you are trying to tell me that you are actually attempting to guard your eyes in the summertime; the time of year when shmiras einayim is the most difficult? Do you actually think that you of all people have the will power not to slip in this area at least once or twice a day? Don't you realize what you will miss seeing over the course of your lifetime if you don't use your eyes to see all of Hashem's creations? You never used to have a problem looking at such things - do I need to go back through your historical files and pull up some examples? Why are you making such a big deal of this now? Do you really think you are better than others?

A Simple Jew answers:

Like countless other people, I have gotten trapped by your questions in the past. You craftfully come up with new angles and approaches that catch me off guard and trip me up from time to time. Yet, from your tactics I also learn how to wage a successful battle against you. While my yetzer tov sends a single inclination for kedusha into my brain, you repeatedly nag me with questions and attempt to have me second guess my motives. I will not attempt to answer all the questions you posed above; sometimes no answer is also an answer.

The Tapestries Of Smadar Livne









More of Smadar Livne's tapestries can be seen here.

Hisbodedus In Shul

A person should seclude himself in hisbodedus in shul and speak with his whole heart before the One who knows thoughts.

(Kav HaYashar #23)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Question & Answer With Rabbi Ozer Bergman - Making Room For Hashem's Thoughts

(Picture courtesy of aajaplumbing.com)

A Simple Jew asks:

In your book "Where Earth and Heaven Kiss" you wrote about a simple meditation one can do whereby one temporarily empties his thoughts and makes room for Hashem's thoughts to enter his brain. How have you found that this meditation has been beneficial to you?

Rabbi Ozer Bergman answers:

This, like many eitzot of Rebbe Nachman -- and of all tzaddikim, really -- is a matter of reaction time. That is, too often there is a gap between the onset of "danger" and the realization that it has begun!

By "danger" I mean:

[a] the pressures that one may be feeling that are pushing him/her to a bad psychological place (anger, frustration or worse);

[b] the lure, sometimes blatant, sometimes subtle, that has us losing self-control to some desire or temptation that Hashem has warned us is to our detriment (e.g., smoking crack, eating a cheeseburger, bitul Torah). As my reaction time has improved, the practice of emptying my mind and re-filling it with Hashem's has saved me often.

I started attempting this practice/eitzah about four years ago. I do it when I realize I need it, and once in a while, usually on Shabbos Kodesh. It is from Sichot HaRan #279 can be found in "Where Earth and Heaven Kiss" on page 230-231. (See also Likutey Halakhot, Netilat Yedayim Shacharit 4:3 [end].)

20 Tammuz Links - כ תמוז


Sfas ha-Nachal: Faith and Exegesis, Dogma and Dialogue

Zchus Avos Yogen Aleinu: Tikun Chatzos

Lacking Simplicity

Do not twist and bend things to produce a guileful response that lacks sincerity and simplicity.

(Piaceszna Rebbe)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Simchas Bizyonos

(Picture courtesy of 24hours7days.com)

If I truly understood what I accomplished by suffering bizyonos (disgraces) in silence I would dance for joy every time I someone spoke to me or about me in negative manner. I would arrange a lavish seuda because I would realize that I have removed yet another blemish on my neshoma. I would purchase an expensive gift for the person who disgraced me because this person has given me the opportunity to strengthen my emuna. I would stop thinking about this person while saying the last line of Elokai Netzor and start thinking about them when considering what act of chesed I could do for them. If I truly understood, I would immerse myself in a mikva and put on my kittel in eager anticipation to prepare myself to greet my next bizayon with simcha.

If only even a tiny section of my brain could comprehend the lofty level of the Pnei Menachem of Ger who said that his hobby was to receive bizyonos, or Rebbe of Zlotchov who welcomed them on a daily basis. If only I could internalize the words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe who said, "Opponents are evidence that you are moving forward."

To sweeten the judgments against me, I now thank Hashem in hisbodedus for the person giving me bizyonos. While this thank you may have shades of being disingenuous at the present time, I hope that one day it will indeed be genuine just as my response "very good" is now genuine.

19 Tammuz Links - יט תמוז


ILoveTorah.com: Emunah with Stress

Baal Shem Tov.com: Parshas Matos

Dixie Yid: Bringing Knowledge of "The Purpose" Into Every Mitzvah

Good

When someone meets a friend, and the friend asks how he is, and he replies, "Not good", Hashem says, "This you call not good? I'll show you what not good is" - and all kinds of bad experiences come his way. But when his friend meets him and asks how he is, and he replies cheerfully, "Good, Baruch Hashem," even though in fact things are not good, Hashem then says, "This you call good? I'm going to show you what real good is!"

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Guest Posting By Rabbi Dovid Sears - The Road to Uman

(Picture by moshebyny)

As the summer days pass, Breslover Chassidim and others who heed Rabbi Nachman’s clarion call are making preparations for the annual Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage to Uman, Ukraine, where Rabbi Nachman is buried. However, many people wonder why this event is such a “big deal.” How do we even know that this is what Rabbi Nachman wanted? This classic story from Tovos Zichronos, oral histories preserved by Rabbi Avraham Sternhartz – a great-grandson of Reb Noson, grandson of the Rav of Tcherin, and one of the foremost Breslover gedolim of the twentieth century – sheds light on these issues, while lending chizuk and inspiration to those who aspire to undertake the long and sometimes arduous journey.

This unedited translation belongs to the Breslov Research Institute (BRI), which commissioned me to do a collection of such translations for the forthcoming revised edition of “Uman, Uman, Rosh Hashanah,” a practical guide for travelers to the Breslover Rosh Hashanah Gathering in Uman. It is posted here by the kind permission of Rabbi Chaim Kramer, director of BRI.


That winter [in 1811, following Rebbe Nachman’s passing], as the month of Shevat approached, Reb Noson began to yearn to travel with at least a minyan to the Rebbe’s tziyun (grave site) in order to pray there on Erev Rosh Chodesh. This month is one of the four “Rosh Hashanahs” mentioned in the Mishnah, and the Rebbe had declared, “Gohr mein zakh is Rosh Hashanah . . . My entire mission is Rosh Hashanah.” Therefore, Reb Noson wanted to use this opportunity to encourage the other Breslover Chassidim to start thinking about traveling to Uman for Rosh Hashanah the coming Tishrei, concerning which the Rebbe had spoken so urgently prior to his last Rosh Hashanah.

Reb Noson succeeded in persuading a few fellow Chassidim in the town of Breslov to join him on the journey. There were no trains to take in those days; so he hired a coach and horses and arranged to pay the driver by the day. The driver agreed to go wherever he was told, even if Reb Noson wished to go to Uman in a roundabout way, or to spend the night in one of the villages. When they had travelled only a mile or so from Breslov, Reb Noson instructed the driver to turn toward the village of Sidkovitz, and not to take the usual route through Heisen. No one in the coach understood what Reb Noson had in mind, including the driver, but the latter had to oblige in keeping with their agreement. They arrived in Sidkovitz when it was almost time for the Minchah prayer.

A Breslover Chassid lived in this village, a follower of Rabbi Shmuel Isaac of Dashev, who had come to Uman to be with Rebbe Nachman on his last Rosh Hashanah. Reb Noson told the group that there they could daven Minchah. When they came to this man and he saw Reb Noson and the other Breslovers at his door, he was so happy that he immediately covered the dining table with his best tablecloth and lit candles as on the Shabbos in honor of his distinguished guests, particularly Reb Noson. Full of joy, he placed a bottle of spirits and a bottle of wine on the table, as well as cakes and sweets.

After they concluded the Minchah prayer, they saw that it was still possible to continue on to the next village and spend the night there. However, Reb Noson told the Chassidim, “We have a ‘business partner’ here in the inheritance that was left to us. Nu, we must talk things over with him, so that he should know what a lucrative business this is!”

The host begged everyone to sit and partake of the refreshments he had served in their honor. However, the time to daven Ma’ariv had already arrived. Reb Noson said that it was prohibited to eat a meal before praying. So they prayed Ma’ariv together then and there. The host was greatly inspired by the prayers of Reb Noson and the Chassidim, who davened with fiery enthusiasm and clapped their hands, but he still did not understand why they had suddenly appeared. He thought to himself, “Just seeing and hearing how my fellow Chassidim pray Ma’ariv this way, despite their weariness from the journey, when even in the town synagogue the worshippers don’t pray with such intensity – it would be sufficient!”

After Ma’ariv, they all sat down, and the host invited Reb Noson to taste the good food and drink he had served. However, Reb Noson said, “Before we eat, there is something that I would like to say.”

He arose from his seat and addressed his host. “You were present at the last Rosh Hashanah of the Rebbe’s life, together with the holy assembly. And many of us heard from the Rebbe’s mouth on that Erev Rosh Hashanah that he wanted each one of his followers, wherever they resided, to cry out that whoever wishes to be a truly good Jew, an ‘ehrlicher Yid,’ should come to him for Rosh Hashanah in Uman. He said, ‘I myself had a mind to pick myself up and go away…’ [However, he decided not to do so because he looked forward so much to Rosh Hashanah . . . He told his followers, “I want to remain among you – and you should come to my grave” (Tzaddik #94)].

“At that time, he also said, ‘To me, the main thing is Rosh Hashanah. What can I say? There is nothing greater!’ In the final lesson he delivered on that Rosh Hashanah (Likutey Moharan II, 8), just before he passed away, he spoke about how one must pray to God to be worthy of drawing close to a true leader in order to attain perfect faith. Similarly, in the lesson on the subject of the prostok (‘simple peasant,’ published as Likutey Moharan II, 78), he stated that one must beg God to bring one close to the true tzaddik – and this was on Shabbat Nachamu, when the Rebbe was already gravely ill and knew that he was about to die. Nevertheless, he spoke this way. Plainly, all of these statements and urgings were about our continuing to come to him for Rosh Hashanah, even after his passing, until the arrival of our righteous redeemer! The Rebbe warned us that the Evil One in his deviousness established false leaders in the world, so that one doesn’t know where Moses can be found, or where Aaron can be found, namely the true leaders. For this reason, my beloved friend, we came here to forge a mighty, lifelong bond among ourselves concerning this good inheritance that remains with us!”

Then Reb Noson asked the Chassidim who had come with him to sing “Ashreinu, mah tov chelkeinu, how fortunate are we, how good is our portion (yerushaseinu)!” For the Torah is our inheritance (yerushah), as it is written, “An inheritance (morashah) of the congregation of Yaakov” (Deuteronomy 33:4) -- and their host’s name was Yaakov.

They danced and danced to this song, and then returned to their seats at the table. The host filled a schnapps glasses for Reb Noson, and then Reb Noson shook his hand and drank a “l’chaim” to him. Then he told him, “With this handshake you agree to travel every year for the rest of your life to the Rebbe’s holy tziyun for Rosh Hashanah and be numbered among those who participate in the holy Rosh Hashanah gathering in Uman!” And the host replied, “Amen, may this be God’s will!”

Reb Avraham Sternhartz [who preserved this story] added that during his youth, he met the grandson of this man, who also traveled to Uman for Rosh Hashanah. He told how his grandfather had written in his will that every year his son should come together with his sons to Uman for Rosh Hashanah. (Tovos Zikhronos, pp. 129-130)

===========

May Hashem provide all of the travelers to Uman this year and every year with all of their needs, materially and spiritually; protect them all both coming and going; inspire them and enable them to make a new start in avodas Hashem; and bless them, their families, and all Israel to be “written and sealed for the good, amen!”

18 Tammuz Links - יח תמוז

(Picture courtesy of P. Dyer)

Sfas ha-Nachal: Shiva Asur b'Tammuz

Crown Heights.info: Photo Gallery: 17th of Tamuz in 770

Zoo Torah: Leopard kills Croc

Dixie Yid: What Comes First? Sin or Theological Change?

Alice Jonsson: Sorry, Mister Missionary

Life in Israel: The Satmar Rebbe on extremism

Breslov World: Feige the Prophetess

Can Never Be Erased

It is the same as when nine men are waiting to pray. They may be the greatest tzaddikim. But being nine they are still short of the required minyan for prayer. They are forbidden to utter a single word of the communal prayers. All of a sudden some totally insignificant man comes in from the streets. Whoever he may be, he is joined to them. They are ten. Now they can recite the Kedusha. No sooner than they are finished, this same individual makes his escape and goes back to the streets. But the words of holiness which were uttered before can now never be erased.

(Reb Nosson of Breslov)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Shiva Asar B'Tammuz - 1940

"Truth Can Be Found Only At The Fringe"

Friday, July 18, 2008

Guest Posting By Neil Harris - Bottled Up Inside

(Picture courtesy of baltastudio.com)

Recently while attempting to process the translation of Da Es Atzmecha I've reach bumpy territory. In Chapter 3 - "Finding the Alone", Rav Schwartz writes about the importance of removing negative feelings that we have for others:

When a person is with other people, and he senses negative feelings toward them for whatever reason, he must bring forth the power of the soul through which one can live with himself, and disengage from what is occurring around him. Even if an opponent has caused him distress and harm, and he does not feel he is participating in sinat chinam (baseless hatred), but "required hatred," he must nonetheless find in himself the world called "alone."

I am not an angry person in general, but certain situations and actions of others do bring up feelings of frustration, resentment, and seem to hijack my attempts of Ahavas Yisrael. Initially, I had approached this exercise in by letting my negative feelings for the actions of others sort of bounce off of me, starting around Shavuos time. When a situation would come up, I would attempt to "turn off" my feelings, and focus on the innate goodness within myself, my neshama, and it's connection to Hashem. I thought that things were going pretty good. I remained calm during what could have been stressful confrontations and gave the external impression of not letting things bother me.

As it turned out, this approach didn't work as well as planned. Someone close to me mentioned that I seemed uptight and that I had a lot on my mind lately. I then realized that I was only sweeping up my negative feelings and hiding them in the closet. I wasn't really dealing with them. One of the things that I've found amazing about Da Es Atzmecha is that the author starts off with the premise that we do have struggles with ourselves and what he teaches are not lofty goals to aspire to, but practical ways of thinking, feeling, and growing. It was foolish, on my part, to believe that I could easily take on this approach of retreating to the place called "alone". I decide to adapt my approach.

For me, part of going to a state of "alone" has required me to analyze these situations and confront them on a private level. If somene does something that upsets me and I begin to have negative thoughts creep up, I tell myself, "Stop". I try to identify the problem and the cause of the problem. For example if an adult chooses to use child-like behavior directed at me, I think to myself: This person is making the choice to behave this way. Why, most probably because this person doesn't know any other way to react or communicate a message to me. How this person is acting is really no reflection on me or is an indication of a lacking on my part. It does not have any connection to my neshama or my innate goodness that Hashem has infused me with.

For me, the approach to negativity, as taught in Da Es Atzmecha, goes beyond dealing with people. I have also found that feelings of discouragement or "not feeling that I'm ready to do something" falls under the category of "negative feelings". When confronted with a situation that I might look at from a negative standpoint, I utilize the same technique of finding the true cause of the problem and realizing that my negative outlook really is based on things that have no connection to my neshama.

By taking time to reflect on the situation in a detached way, I feel that I am closer to reaching that level of "alone" that Rav Schwartz writes about. Of course, as the author writes, making time to be alone and focus on developing your soul is key and requires a consistent allocation of time.

--
Neil Harris's blog Modern Uberdox can be seen here.

15 Tammuz Links - טו תמוז

(Picture courtesy of usgs.gov)

HNN: אלפי בני אדם עלו הלילה על קברו של האור החיים הקדוש זיע"א

Life of Rubin: Yitzchok Fuchs - Mizmor L'Dovid

Lazer Beams: The Garden of Peace: Coming Soon!

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz: The Children of Baalei Teshuva

Modern Uberdox: Where Hashem's Shechinah Resides

Chassidus & Kabbalah

Hasidism gives the Kabbalah life by translating it into something meaningful in one’s relationships with others and, most important, something that can quell the strife within one’s own soul and calm the struggle of one’s inner being.

(Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Learning Toldos Yaakov Yosef - Step 1

Sefer Baal Shem Tov - Landsberg DP Camp, 1948

When I asked my friend Nochum, who has learned Toldos Yaakov Yosef for many years, how he approached learning this extremely difficult sefer, he responded:

"My advice if you want to enter the world of the Toldos is to learn a lot of Sefer Baal Shem Tov al Hatorah, and go back and forth using his extensive footnotes. After a few years of that Toldos will become more understandable."

Similarly, A Yid also noted that he found Sefer Baal Shem Tov to be very useful and remarked,

"When learning it one has try to refer to sources, because it often takes quotes out of context leaving the reader to research the rest himself."

Starting last week, I have incorporated learning Sefer Baal Shem Tov, along with these useful English translations, into my weekly learning seder. As I wrote recently,

"If a musician finds that he is inspired by another musician he would be wise to determine who that musician's musical influences were and to listen to them as well. "

14 Tammuz Links - יד תמוז

(Picture by Jochun Ho)

HNN: אודי גולדבסר ואלדד רגב הי"ד

Baal Shem Tov.com: Parshas Pinchas Part 1 & Part 2

Dixie Yid: If the Only Way We Can Sell Our Children Torah

Alef Beis

Learning the alef beis has a holiness comparable to learning Torah.

(Rabbi Schmul Osher Begun)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Me'or Einayim, Parshas Pinchas - Audio Shiur


An excellent audio shiur by Rabbi Benzion Twerski on the Me'or Einayim, Parshas Pinchas can be found below. More of his shiurim on this sefer can be found here.

Pinchas - Part 1 of 3
Running time: 32:26 minutes

Pinchas - Part 2 of 3
Running time: 18:03 minutes

Pinchas - Part 3 of 3
Running time: 28:15 minutes

Question & Answer With Yirmeyahu - More Religious Than You

(Picture by Yisrael Bardogo)


A Simple Jew asks:


Psychologically, to what do you attribute the phenomenon of a religious person casting aspersions on the practices of another religious person who is more religiously observant than himself?

Yirmeyahu answers:

I will take it for granted that we are talking about practices which reflect a sincere avodas Hashem.

The Shefa Chaim on parshas Vayeira (5742) has a discussion which I believe, insofar as I understand it correctly, has an indirect relevance to your question. The Klausenberger Rebbe zt'l explains the importance of staying away from innovation. He says that the wicked take what is established among the B'nei Yisroel as permitted and find new ways to forbid it just as they find ways to "permit" things which the B'nei Yisroel are accustomed to forbid.

"Each person is to accept upon himself not to walk in "new" ways, not to listen or to accept sort of innovation, whether strict or lenient, because any matter of innovation is impure and invalid, and originates in the side of tumah. Each person should grasp only the customs and paths of his fathers without any sort of addition, and to accept upon himself what his fathers and elder did, that he should do likewise." (page 46).

The first "Jewish" magazine I ever read had an article in which the author, who identified as Orthodox, responded to criticism of his earlier article in which he proposed accepting an unequivocally counter-halachic position. In his defense he said perhaps he should have identified as a "1950's" Orthodox Jew, and proceeded to provide a laundry list of things which were considered acceptable to the Orthodox community in America when he was growing up that are now rejected or frowned upon. While some things could be rightly considered superficial, others where highly problematic halachicly. Shemiras HaMitzvos was once very difficult in the United States where all proper infrastructures for Jewish life were insufficiently present. Baruch Hashem we live in a time where we are much more able to keep mitzvos and often the economic ability to add a little hiddur. The fact remains though that the norms which were established in earlier times can and does have an impact on what many consider the norm today.

So while it is easy to take a cynical view of those who are cynical about the avodas Hashem of others, it may be worthwhile to recognize that, though misguided, such an attitude is rooted in the very appropriate aversion to change necessary for the safeguarding of Mesorah. Without a doubt there are many other factors, most of which are probably not useful to dwell on, but it is probably helpful to remember than much if this attitude reflects a discomfort over a “change” from what was accepted even if we can stand back and recognize that the point being referenced was itself a change which needed correcting.

I have been told that the Rebbe zt'l explained that in order to get the full context, the balance of his shiurim, one needs to listen to a whole years worth. The Rebbe generally wished to make the point at hand clear because it was often relevant to what was going on. If there was another side to the issue it would be illustrated when it was relevant. I do not, now, know of the Rebbe’s advice on what to do when one doesn’t have a clear derech which he has received from his parents and teachers. How does one avoid innovation in such circumstances. I suspect, however, that the proper path would be to attach your self to a tzadik. One should observe his behavior and understand it, not merely mimic it. Indeed the Rebbe is very critical of acting strictly on the basis of stories about tzadikim but rather, “a Jewish person must do only things that he knows the reason for doing so and which have a pure source.” (ibid 455). But when we find a guide whose actions consistently reflect “avodas Hashem” and whose practices and minhagim are firmly rooted in our Mesorah, I suspect you have yourself a derech.

So perhaps the best way to get such critical people to come around to a more positive view of punctuality in avodas Hashem is to be very careful ourselves. We need to be careful that we do things for the right reasons. We need to understand why our practice is such. And we need to be careful that we do not randomly and arbitrarily take on practices, but rather follow a coherent path. There are times when perhaps we need trailblazers, but generally one needs to stay on a path well tread.

Once, however, we have done a cheshbon hanefesh on our motives, understand why we are doing something and have a grasp on it's parameters to make certain we are not compromising other important values, then we need to ignore the prattle that comes our way. Recently a friend of my six year old son teased him about a minhag of ours. Knowing that he needed a little chizuk I read to him the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch's citation of Pirkei Avos 5:23, to "be bold like a leopard" in our avodas Hashem. When it comes to our avodas Hashem, it doesn't matter what people will say...or why they will say it. More often than not the "pshat" of their attitude will be obvious, but bearing in mind some of the "deeper" reasons may help prevent the yetzer hara from getting a foothold with feelings of anger, hatred, pride or so forth in reaction to such attitudes, which would undermine the gain we put so much effort into achieving.

Searching

Everyone should seek out a tzaddik to work for his own redemption. Even the searching itself is a wonderful thing. In itself it can create enduring good, even for a person who has sinned a great deal.

(Reb Nosson of Breslov)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

There But Not Really There

The Degel Machaneh Ephraim taught that a person must have two abilities if he wants to be able to serve Hashem in absolute truth. First, a person must have the ability to visualize that he is alone in the world with only his Creator. Second, he must be able to join himself to all of Hashem's creations, no matter how big or small, and to all the neshamos of His people.

Back in the days when I was first learning how to daven from a siddur, I often wondered if it would be preferable for me to daven alone so I could better focus on the purpose of what I was doing and not to be distracted by others. Understanding that the halacha clearly says that a person must daven with a minyan, I did not attempt to stubbornly supplant my personal inclinations for Hashem's expressed command. It would take some mind-bending and highly-creative pilpul to be able to misinterpret the Gemara's statement [Yerushalmi - Berachos 5:1], "When one davens at home, it is as if he is surrounded with walls of iron."

While I wrote about a successful three-part strategy that I employed for the Rosh Hashana davening two years ago, it hasn't been until very recently that I started following this strategy on a regular basis. I now attempt to keep the Degel's teaching in mind and imagine that I am alone with the Ribbono shel Olam when I am davening in shul; rarely looking up from the letters printed in the siddur and continually reminding myself that He is listening and knows the intention of my heart.

I have also tried to keep in mind Reb Nosson of Breslov's teaching from Likutey Halachos that a person can transcend place and time by attaching himself to Hashem since He is above place and time. Bringing this idea down into practical application, whether I am on public transportation saying Tehilllim, saying Birkas Hamazon at a restaurant, or davening in a crowded shul, I imagine that I am all alone in another location where I would find it easiest serve Hashem at that very moment.

Following the Degel's advice to be there but not really there at certain times has helped me immensely. The locations I imagine routinely change, and my connection to the Ribbono shel Olam slowly seems to be growing stronger.

מצוה גוררת מצוה וקדושה גוררת קדושה

Solitude In A Full House

At times, when attached to Hashem, you can practice solitude even in a house full of people.

(Baal Shem Tov)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Question & Answer With Moshe David Tokayer - The Ocean's Vastness


A Simple Jew asks:

The sea of Torah is so vast that a person can easily become overwhelmed with the knowledge of how many seforim he has not even begun to learn. Since a person can only learn so much on any given day, what advice would you give a person based on your own experiences so he could feel encouraged and not discouraged by the daunting task in front of him?

When I was very young in Yeshiva, this question was a big problem for me. I would get easily depressed seeing others more advanced or "smarter" than I. I thought, "Why bother? I'll never be like him!" As I grew older, I realized that this type of thinking is straight from the yetzer hara in order to nip me in the bud, so to speak. The yetzer hara does not want us to even begin learning so he puts thoughts of despair in our minds before we even start.

There are several things that I do that make learning easier for me:

1. The very first thing that works for me is to treat my various learning as projects. I find it very difficult for me to simply sit down and learn for a set period of time forever, so to speak. Doing this gives me the feeling of treading water. I need to feel some sense of progress and, for me, this comes when I have projects. My Sfas Emes blog is a good example. I would never have gotten to understand the Sfas Emes the way I do if I were just learning it a few times a week to see what he says.

For many years I was a project leader in charge of developing software applications for large companies. I applied my experience to learning. By treating learning as a project, it becomes an entity with a beginning middle and an end.

For example, I once wanted to learn Maseches Zevachim. I decided that I wanted to know the Maseches well so I did not simply learn it from beginning to end. Instead, as I learned the Masechta, I wrote a summary of the maskanos of each sugya including the various shitos according to Rashi and sometimes Tosefos as well. I wrote it in the form of questions and answers. In order to do this you can imagine that you have to know the material fairly well.

By the time I completed the masechta I had written the shitos of the entire masechta in summary and I had a table of contents of the entire masechta. This came in quite handily any time I needed to refer back to the masechta to look something up.

The point is that while the above seems more difficult than just learning through the masechta, it was actually easier for me because I turned it into a more meaningful project.

2. When I sit down to learn, I don't think about how much I haven't yet learned. Instead I imagine a mountain of gold before me from which I now have the opportunity to scrape off a little bit. Even though I know that at the end of the day, I will not have made much of a dent in the mountain, I still end up rich! The key for me is to work on fully appreciating the Torah that I learn instead of getting depressed about what I haven't learned.

3. Consistency. My father A"H had a chavrusa Friday nights with the same person for years. They finished masechtos learning once a week consistently. Looking at it from the point of view of how much there is to learn, they probably would not have started. After all, how much can you possibly cover once a week on a Friday night. I'm sure they simply learned together because they enjoyed it and they did not think much about how much they needed to accomplish. The hatzlacha usually comes behesech hada'as.

I have a friend who started learning with Mif'al HaShas (30 blatt a month Gemara Rashi and Tosefos and a test at the end of each month) when that program first started about 25 years ago under the auspices of the Klausenberger Rebbe. He hasn't missed a test in 25 years! He even took the test when he had pneumonia, when his wife had babies, etc. As you can imagine, this friend is mamash a yachid bedoro. He can attest to the incredible siyata dishmaya that comes from the mesirus nefesh that this feat requires.

This is an extreme example of consistency. However, I bring it to show its importance and the unbelievable results that come from it.

4. I've saved maybe the most important thing for last and that is that there is a G-d in Israel! The question that I am constantly asking myself is, "What does G-d want from me?" I believe that G-d wants me to serve Him to the best of my ability. Part of that avoda involves learning His Torah. I turn to Him and ask Him for His help because without it, nothing is possible.

אור ליום ב' פרשת פנחס תקמ"א


Degel Machaneh Ephaim, Chalamos:


On Sunday night of Parshas Pinchas 5541, I saw my grandfather in a dream. He brought me right up against his face and hugged me with both hands and kissed me. He said, "Your ring and my ring will go out into the world. My Master of the Name and your good name. You will be a servant of Hashem and learn and speak Torah to Klal Yisroel."

There was a man there among the important guests that would commonly come to the tzaddikim to listen to them. My grandfather nodded his head towards this man as if to say 'so it shall be with certainty'. I was standing on a bench and I saw him nod his head.

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(Picture courtesy of J. Darby)

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Focus

A person's avodah is to get used to thinking about simple matters.

(Rabbi Itamar Schwartz)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Question & Answer With Chabakuk Elisha - Their Gashmius Is Your Ruchnius

The Sudilkover Rebbe, shlit"a
(Picture courtesy of col.org.il)

A Simple Jew asks:

The Sudilkover Rebbe told me, "Everything you do that benefits your children in gashmius, benefits you and your wife in ruchnius." How would you explain this statement?

Chabakuk Elisha answers:

There is a Chassidic saying that goes, "Yenem's gashmius iz dein ruchnius – Someone else's physicality (material needs) is your spirituality" (I've also seen it ascribed to R' Yisroel Salanter). Very often people can subconsciously fall into the erroneous attitude that the spiritual and the physical are two completely distinct realms (and this disconnect has many unfortunate manifestations which we need not discuss here), but nothing could be further from the truth; in Yiddishkeit these two worlds and realities are inexorably linked. To quote another Chassidic saying, "For a few coins in this world, one can buy eternal life" (also quoted in the name of the Vilna Gaon) – i.e. the material world isn't to be shunned, rather, it has a purpose which we are able, and obligated, to carry out. And this role of the material begins with the fundamental principle of the Torah: Concern for others.

This most fundamental cornerstone of Judaism is our relationship with and responsibilities towards our fellow man – as we are told, "To love G-d is to love your fellow" – and this, in turn, begins with those closest to us (as the principle in tzedaka is that "oniyei ircha kodem – the needy in your community come first"). Who is not closer than one's own family? Who is more responsible for one's own spouse or children than their spouse or parent? Thus, it is quite clear that, as the Sudilkover Rebbe said above, "Everything you do that benefits your children in gashmius, benefits you and your wife in ruchnius."

And while we're on the subject I'd like to digress for a moment to the subject of materialism. The Chassidic masters (and I'm sure many others) teach that anything beyond basic necessities is dangerously close to indulging in materialism and a slippery slope towards gluttony, and that the only material possessions that a true oved Hashem possesses are things that are completely meaningless to him. This, of course, is a high level, but it's something we should at least know and be honest with ourselves about. For this reason, there are those that speak of materialism as an evil or at least as the opposite of a virtue, and we should be very cautious when it comes to our own material pursuits, but the opposite is true about what we do for others, because whenever we do something for someone else this problem is minimized and the rule is "the more the better." It is not proper for me to look askance at anyone's possessions but my own.

So, when one may recoil at what he or she might determine as excessive materialism, we need to wonder what motivates that sensitivity – Is it not really "sour grapes" or a difference in preference? Very often we oppose it because we can't afford it ourselves or because we don't like it in the first place. For example, let's say I don't approve of someone's "ostentatious" house or car or whatever. Why does this bother me? Can I legitimately look askance at it? If I had that much money would I be any different? And the fact that I may find it distasteful does not mean that it is a virtue in me, rather it is simply that I have different taste – so, in what way does that make me more noble? To the contrary, we are the same: I buy what I like and can afford, and he buys what he likes and can afford. The difference? Nothing more than opportunity, aesthetics or preference.

Now, with this in mind, it can happen that a spouse and children are forced to live in the unfortunate position of being at the mercy – so to speak – of someone that does not put their concerns first. What I mean is this: I may decide to buy whatever suits me, let's say a sefer, a hat or an esrog for Sukkos; but when it comes to things that, for whatever reason, don't appeal to me personally, like another pair of shoes for my wife (doesn't she have enough shoes already?), or a nifty "blackberry" (who needs such mishegas?), or whatever the item of choice may be – then, as they say, "foggetaboudit."

However, if I am a decent and religious fellow I need to recognize that tzedaka starts at home. My esrog is less important than a new car for my wife, and my nice new set of Shulchan Aruch is less important than camp for the kids, or what have you. As we said above, "Their gashmius is my ruchnius" – because ruchnius is not simply found in the realm of "bein adam LeMakom (matters between man & G-d), rather, the highest ruchnius is found bein adam l'chaveiro (between man and his fellow). When we do someone for another we aren't simply performing a mitzva, we are also overcoming our ego, which is our most formidable challenge as humans. Our ego has much less of a problem when we share with G-d, there is no jealousy (moreover, it can get quite a boost when people marvel at our extra special religious articles), but it is much more difficult to give up from oneself for another human, and put someone else's wants or needs above our own. And when we do something that benefits another we not only overcome the human condition of jealousy (even in its subtlest forms) and as they say in Yiddish "fargin" (tolerate another's gain), but we have served G-d in a higher – and by definition more "ruchniusdiker" – way.

(Disclaimer: I am, of course, speaking here in general terms and common sense must be used. I do not mean that one should buy a non-mehudar Esrog if they can afford a better one, nor do I mean that we should blow money on needless extravagances, etc.)

Dishonest Avodas Hashem

Cursed be he who performs the work of Hashem deceitfully.

(Yirmeyahu 48:10)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

How to Study Likutey Moharan - Rabbi Dovid Sears

Ksav yad of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

Excerpt from
The Tree That Stands Beyond Space: Rebbe Nachman on the Mystical Experience (Breslov Research Institute) :

Continued from Part I here

How to Study Likutey Moharan

It must be acknowledged that many of Rebbe Nachman's lessons are quite opaque. To even begin to get a handle on what is being said, one must study the relevant sections of Reb Noson's Likutey Halakhos, as well as the primary Breslov commentaries such as, Parpara'os L'Chokhmah and Bi'ur HaLikkutim, etc., until the text becomes more clear. One must study a given Torah discourse again and again, reflecting on its possible meanings, becoming attuned to its nuances, and hearing its "music." Rebbe Nachman recommends that we choose a single Torah and "live with it" for several months, until we are ready to move on to the next lesson.

At the same time, one must engage in the practices discussed in a given Torah in order to understand its words. For example, in Likutey Moharan II, 4, Rebbe Nachman discusses the cosmic effect of breaking our innate cruelty and selfishness, and giving tzedakah (charity). By actually giving tzedakah in this way, as the Rebbe recommends, we become powerfully connected to what the Rebbe is saying; thus, we create vessels with which to receive deeper levels of insight into the Rebbe's discourse.

Another principle found in the Breslov oral tradition is that each Torah contains the necessary segulos, the intrinsic spiritual properties, to impart the higher perceptions it discusses. This principle teaches the student to be attentive to what the Torah says and what it does not say, as well as to heed carefully its practical advice. Every facet of the discourse is perfectly fashioned to accomplish its purpose.

This reflects Rebbe Nachman's statement, "My Torahs are made entirely of hakdamos (introductions and prefaces)." Everything is connected to everything else, in an integrated whole. It follows that each part ultimately must be understood in terms of the whole - and each instruction must be followed to reach the goal.

Living the Teachings

Thus, we see that the study of Likutey Moharan is not merely an intellectual process, but a means of spiritual transformation. In addition to textual study and engaging in the requisite practices, we begin to see the world in a different way. We begin to live with Hashgachah Pratis (Divine Providence), using the Torah discourse as a lens through which to perceive the hidden messages God constantly sends us.

This often may take rather dramatic forms. Therefore, it is useful to keep a daily journal of "meaningful coincidences" and how they relate to the Torah we are studying and our reflections on its meanings. This synchronicity can manifest itself in such an encompassing manner that the world we experience seems to become a commentary on the Torah discourse and not the other way around.

Another essential part of studying Likutey Moharan is to engage in hisbodedus -- spontaneous meditation and prayer, preferably at night in a quiet, natural setting. We should devote this special hour to contemplating the discourse with which we are presently occupied, reflecting upon how it relates to the events of the previous day and praying in our own words for illumination and guidance.

Becoming skillful in this process is one of the main purposes of an authentic student-teacher relationship. For nearly two decades I have witnessed how my personal teacher HaRav Elazar Mordechai Kenig, shlita, of Tzefat, Israel, impeccably exemplifies living with the lessons in Likutey Moharan. Whatever happens to him reflects the Torah in which he is immersed. The chiddushim (original teachings) he conceives spring forth from the discourse, and the "meaningful coincidences" one observes in his presence are nothing short of astounding. I have heard Breslover Chassidim speak in similar terms of other venerated teachers.

Reb Noson states emphatically that it is not enough to study texts and interpret them according to your own understanding. You must search for a more advanced talmid (follower of Rebbe Nachman), rooted in the Breslov mesorah, who can serve as a living spiritual advisor. However, finding a qualified teacher with whom you can develop a rapport may prove to be quite a challenge, especially if you do not live in Israel, near the centers of today's Breslov community. Nevertheless, this difficulty should not prevent the beginner from embarking on the path. The Mishnah states, "Appoint for yourself a teacher, and acquire for yourself a comrade..." Even while you are still searching for a teacher, at least find a study partner, and pray to be privileged to find the right teacher. And if a study partner is hard to find -- practice hisbodedus for that too!

"Whoever wishes to follow the spiritual path must remember this well," Rebbe Nachman declares. "Encourage yourself, do the best you can to serve God, and rest assured that sooner or later, after however many days or years, with God's help you surely will enter the Gates of Holiness."

If we are determined, we will succeed, no matter what our past failings may have been, for this is what God truly desires. "Ultimately everything will be transformed to the good."