Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Returning The Next Day

Stumbling and almost falling down.

Navigating a path covered with snow and ice.

I struggle.

Yet, I return to the same path the following day.

The sun's warmth has completely cleared the path.

Free of impediment, I walk forward.

I understand the message.

If it is Your will, in just one day You can change everything.

In one day, You can clear my path and help me to proceed to my destination.

6 Nissan Links - ו ניסן

(Painting by Rabbi Elyah Sukkot)

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Equanimity

A Fire Burns in Breslov: Respecting Your Rebbi—On Pesach Too!

A Simple Jew: Elevating Thought

Dixie Yid: Pesach

Just call me Chaviva: Why Am I Converting Orthodox?

A Waxing Wellspring: Nisan day 6

A Simple Jew: March 31, 1998

Bahaltener: Карлинер нигуним №1

At A Distance

Hashem why do you stand at a distance and conceal Yourself in times of distress?

(Tehillim 10:1)

Monday, March 30, 2009

Question & Answer With A Talmid - How To Prepare For Pesach

(Painting by Toby Knobel Fluek)

A Simple Jew asks:

When I asked the Sudilkover Rebbe for advice how to prepare for Pesach, he recommended that I learn the Pesach section in Yesod v'Shoresh HaAvodah.

What unique insight does the Yesod v'Shoresh HaAvodah provide on this yom tov that is not contained in other seforim?

A Talmid answers:

First, a little background about the sefer Yesod V’Shoresh Ha’Avodah is in order. The author, Rav Alexander Ziskind of Horodna ZY"A, who passed away in 1804, was a great Rov and tzadik, well versed in the revealed and hidden portions of Torah. His sefer has universal acceptance among Chassidim, non-Chassidic Ashkenazim and Sefardim. Tzadikim have said that just learning the sefer brings one to Yiras Shomayim. (See the 2 volume menukad edition which contains a biography and the praises Gedolei Yisroel had for the sefer and author.) In the sefer, he goes through the order of the day, Zmanim and then the last section contains mussar and guidance on many different subjects.

Yesod V’Shoresh Ha’Avodah, I believe is a most important sefer to learn, since it teaches one how to perform the mitzvos with simcha. He goes through the basic intentions of the mitzvos, and although he does quote much Zohar and Arizal, he does not explain things in an esoteric fashion, though he will let us know that there are great secrets behind the subject matter. After learning this one could and should try to learn other Seforim Hakedoshim to get even more of an understanding and enjoyment of the Yom Tov.

A common theme throughout Yesod V’Shoresh Ha’Avodah is that one should not do mitzvos by rote, but rather they should be done with the proper intention and with simcha. He will often say that one should say something along the lines of “I am performing this mitzvah in order to fulfill the mitzvah that Hashem commanded me and in order to bring nachas ruach to my Creator”. Often, a piece of Chumash, Gemara, Zohar or Kisvei Arizal will be quoted to explain the intent behind the particular mitzvah. However, he explains everything in a manner everyone can understand. He will often say, such as by Sefiras HaOmer, that there are great Kabbalistic secrets in a particular item but since not everyone can understand them they should have emunah that there are great secrets involved, and he should say “that this mitzvah should be in the Eyes of Hashem as if I have in mind all the kavanos that the Anshei Keneses Hagedola intended”. He says further that when one says the Sefira he should have in mind that the words that leave his mouth are making great tikunim in the Holy Upper Worlds and they should bring nachas ruach to Hashem

Another example: in the section on Chodesh Nisan, he teaches that from the first day of Nisan we should be exceedingly happy that the days of Pesach are coming and we will be able to bring “nachas ruach” to Hashem with the many mitzvos we will perform… Everyday we should anticipate and desire with joy that we are coming closer to the days of Pesach; we should be more joyful as we get the closer. He takes through the preparations for Pesach, the tefilos, the Seder, Sefiras HaOmer, Chol Hamoed and the final days of Pesach.

There is also much practical advice given. He instructs us that besides the actual Haggada we should explain more details to our families as to the miracles that happened in Mitzraim, as described in the Gemara, Medrashim and other Seforim. We should also look into all the seforim we can for more insights into Yitzias Mitzraim. This advice, simple as it sounds, will of course make the Yom Tov much more meaningful. We can’t just read the text of the Haggada and expect everyone to get excited. We need to explain to each on their own level. (Of course, if everyone is hungry, do this during the meal. Don’t be a tzadik at the expense of someone else.)

It is a sefer that will change the way you observe Yom Tov, by injecting in yourself a greater appreciation for the mitzvos being performed. I would have a hard time explaining what a steak or a glass of Bordeaux tastes like to one who never tasted it. Similarly here, I would suggest that everyone learn the section on Pesach and taste it for themselves. There are only about 20 pages on Pesach (plus another 3 on Hallel). It’s a small amount to learn and it help you observe Pesach like you never have before.

5 Nissan Links - ה ניסן

(Picture by E. Richardson)

Lazer Beams: Picture of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov?

Rabbi Micha Golshevsky: Extra Stringencies

A Simple Jew: Created Anew

Sofer of Tzfat: Two Day Mezuzah Sale

Korbanos Today

Even though there are no sacrifices today, nevertheless, tzaddikim in every generation bring near holy souls of Israel through their pure prayer and their Torah, which they speak in absolute truth, with devotion of the heart, in awe and love.

(Degel Machaneh Ephraim)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Question & Answer With Yitz - Travelling To A Tzaddik

A Simple Jew asks:

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught that a person who makes up his mind to travel to a tzaddik will find that he immediately he looses his initial enthusiasm once he actually starts off on his journey; that it takes tremendous determination to overcome these mental obstacles.

Have you ever experienced this phenomenon when going to see tzaddikim?

Yitz of A Waxing Wellspring answers:

So many people in the Modern Orthodox world in which I grew up look down on the idea of a Tzaddik, especially going to ask a Tzaddik for advice, it's practically unheard of to seek out a Tzaddik's advice for anything but a purely spiritual matter. That is at least until there are no other alternatives, and it couldn't hurt. I'm not explaining this in any way to disparage any segment of Jewish society, (Heaven forbid) simply to explain the background of my upbringing.

Growing up I heard a few stories of Tzaddikim and their amazing insight and knowledge. I was privileged in that my father visited a number of times with Rav David Pinto of Lyonnes.

Still it wasn't until much later that I encountered any Tzaddikim on my own. Once I had made aliyah and studied Hassidut pretty intensively, I was encouraged by my Rav to meet with a particular Tzaddik.

I was privileged to meet with this Tzaddik a few times. It was unusual in the extreme. In the beginning, what most impressed me was how I could see in his eyes that he was simultaneously overjoyed and on the verge of tears.. always. He didn't call himself a Rebbe, or a Mekubal, he explained he is simply a Saba, a Grandfather, and he has all of Am Yisrael in his heart. (From my Rav I know that this Tzaddik's Torah knowledge is tremendous, but the Tzaddik himself emphasizes that he isn't a Rav, only a Saba.)

All I can say is that every time I go to see this Tzaddik, I need to shoot down an almost endless stream of excuses and reasons not to cancel the visit, not to turn around, not to give up---he's only an hour and a half drive away; and the thought of going to see him is exciting and terrifying.

Every time I want to see him, I worry that he will see all of my flaws all of my failures, everything I've done wrong; and every time I go he is so happy to see me. I'm learning from him so much about simplicity, about being sincere and uncomplicated. Until I met him I never could have imagined what the Baal Shem Tov was really like, or how there could ever be a Reb Zusha (from Anapol) in this world.

He's taught me important lessons in what Torah lishmah (for its own sake) is. He's taught me patience and perseverance and inspired me in my direct relationship to HaShem through prayer. [He's also warned me to stay far away from my dreams] And you know, I'm so taken aback and belittled every time I see him, that I don't think he knows my name because I've never told him.

Simply from knowing him my whole perspective has changed, I can recognize holiness all the more for having seen it with my own eyes.

The problem with going to see a Tzaddik, when it comes down to it, is that until you've met a Tzaddik, you don't know what it is you are missing; and once you know, you're afraid to find out what you are missing. Encountering a Tzaddik is encountering reality, and facing reality can be scary, even while it is comforting.

It is very hard for us to realize that HaShem is really present and watching us, and involved in our lives at every moment. Visiting a Tzaddik makes that reality momentarily visible.

People rarely realize that the yetzer hara is no more than training wheels -- How can Hashem give you free will and at the same time make sure you won't go entirely crazy and seriously harm yourself? The answer to that question, as far as I understand it, is the yetzer hara. It guides us to do all of the really important things (pursue parnasa, wife, children, health, etc) for all the wrong reasons. We spend the first thirteen years (12 for women) of our lives with only a yetzer hara. It's become an integral part of us. Yet, once we take on the burden of serving Hashem, we are supposed to let go of the ego, the yetzer hara, and serve Hashem with our yetzer tov, our Godly soul.

This act of purging the yetzer hara is a labor intensive job, only the bravest and most determined can make real progress. One of the main powers of the yetzer hara is the ability to make us forget, it's a blessing and a curse. We can learn to use this power as a blessing -- we can ignore (i.e. forget) our failings and redouble our efforts when we are struggling to forge some connection with Hashem. Yet, it's the same power that makes us forget our awareness of Hashem in the present, in the day to day.

Going to the Tzaddik is encouraging, and the more we become in touch with the well-being of our Godly soul, the more we desire it, but it's also overwhelming, because, like Yom Kippur, it makes us question what we've really done, and reminds us of how much there is left to do.

I've learned that it's the yetzer hara, and not the truth, that makes me feel too ashamed and unworthy to go see a Tzaddik. Hashem is our loving and accepting father, no matter what we do, He loves us. He wants us to accomplish everything there is for us to do, but His love is not conditional upon it. A true Tzaddik aspires to a similar level of Ahavat Yisrael.

For me, the best advice is Rebbe Nachman's that you need to have chutzpah to develop a relationship with a Tzaddik. To me, this applies even when the Tzaddik gives you advice you don't want to take, you can always talk it over, until either you win them over to your way of thinking or (or more often) they convince you to come around to theirs.

My other secret is that I go to the Tzaddik to share with him smachot and good news, because so many people go (and rightly so) seeking help and comfort from life's hardship, I like to go and just make the Tzaddik happy :) (not that he needs me to be happy, just that that's how I'd treat my grandfather!)

2 Nissan Links - ב ניםן

(Picture by W. Dulawan)

Breslov.org Blog: Schmooze on Getting Ready for Passover

Solitude / Hisbodedus: "Tract on Contemplation"

Mystical Paths: Counting on You for Passover

No Greater Reward

There is no greater reward than that a person delights in performance of a mitzvah. This is a very great thing. Even if there were no other reward, this would be enough. How much greater is it, then, seeing that the reward for a mitzvah done joyfully is infinite.

(Toldos Yaakov Yosef)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Guest Posting By "Ben Aharon" - Rosh Chodesh Nissan & Inner Renewal

(Picture by A. Summey)

The Jewish calendar is based on the waxing and waning of the moon -- every month we observe that after the moon seems to disappear, it reappears and becomes full again. This can help us understand one of the most famous sayings of the Rebbe, Reb Nachman of Breslov, zy’a: "Ein shum ye'ush ba-olam klal, there is no such thing as despair!" God's mercies are immeasurable, and no situation in the world is hopeless. Just as the moon seems to disappear and then a short time later reappears to become a full moon again, so too a person has the potential to rise from the lowest spiritual level to the highest.

This is alluded to beautifully from the verse in the Torah that defines the day of Rosh Chodesh Nissan as the beginning of the year: "Ha-chodesh ha-zeh lachem (הַחדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם)" (Shemos 12:1). This verse also defines the special sanctity of the day of Rosh Chodesh, the first of every month. The word "ha-chodesh" is the exact gematria of "ye'ush" or despair: 317. Then the Torah says "ha-zeh lachem," meaning this is a lesson for you -- teaching that instead of giving up hope, you must take a lesson from the moon and turn the יאוש into הַחדֶשׁ, "despair" into the paradigm of "Rosh Chodesh," by starting afresh (התחדשות) and striving to fulfill your potential.

"It Is Difficult To Fathom..."

Excerpt from the Kol Menachem Chumash:

According to the Chabad custom the peyos (hair on the circumference of the head) may - and indeed should be trimmed with scissors. This is based on the precedent of the Arizal of whom it is explicitly documented that he trimmed his peyos with a scissors. Thus, it is difficult to fathom why a person who follows in the path of the Arizal would grow his peyos long (Igros Kodesh vol. 20, pp. 9-10).

1 Nisan Links - א ניסן

(Picture by M. Davies)

Zchus Avos Yogen Aleinu: Niseim - 1 Nisan

Chabad.org: Nasi for First of Nissan

Tracing the Tribe: The Bagnowka Project: Photos, videos, maps

Dixie Yid: The Atheist, the Bear & My Four Year Old Comedian

Nachal Novea: 2009 Pesach Campaign

Rosh Chodesh Nissan

I heard from my grandfather [the Baal Shem Tov] that once, in the month of Nissan, he told the famous Maggid of Mezritch, "Right now we have to pray, because the first of Nissan is the New Year for Kings, when all the rulers and officials in the world are appointed. At this moment, some rulers who are not good are being appointed, and we must pray on behalf of Israel.

(Degel Machaneh Ephraim)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Guest Posting By Rabbi Dovid Sears - What Our Eyes Have Seen

"...With trials, signs and wonders, with war and a mighty hand, and an outstretched arm and awesome manifestations, as the Lord your God did for you in Egypt -- before your eyes!" (Passover Haggadah)

The Midrash HaGadol explains that the plagues were "measure for measure" punishments -- midah keneged midah -- and then discusses how this was the case in detail. However, the fact that the Jewish people witnessed divine justice was particularly important -- for it removed the bilbulei emunah, doubts in matters of faith, that had assailed them during their afflictions at the hands of a remorseless oppressor.

I recently met a Holocaust survivor in the local mikveh, who mentioned a terrible incident he had experienced as a young man in the concentration camp. While lying on his bed in the barracks, a gypsy inmate suddenly entered the room and for no apparent reason clubbed him in the head with a piece of wood. He said that he suffered from dizzy spells as a result of this near-fatal blow for months afterward. (This attack was particularly surprising because as a rule, gypsies and Jews were friendly with one another.) But he never sought vengeance.

Then the day of liberation finally arrived. Allied troops entered the camp, and the prisoners were freed. He leisurely strolled through the grounds, watching what was going on, when he noticed a few Russian soldiers near a fence. One of them broke of a thick wooden slat and, for no apparent reason, approached a nearby inmate and smashed him over the head, knocking him unconscious. Then he picked the man up and tossed him into a shallow pool of water, where he drowned.

Drawing closer, the Jewish inmate saw that it was the very same gypsy who had so viciously clubbed him long ago. Thus, he lived to witness God's midas ha-mishpat, divine justice, "as the Lord your God did for you in Egypt -- before your eyes!"

29 Adar Links - כט אדר

(Picture by S. Santikarn)

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Hisbodedus and Nullification of Ego

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Reb Levi Yitzchak on “Nothingness”

Solitude / Hisbodedus: The Hermit and the Bear

Chabad.org: Kosher Meditation (video)

A Fire Burns in Breslov: Spirit of the Law: Month of Nissan

Revach L'Neshama: The Magic Of Shabbos Clothing

Beyond BT: How to learn Hebrew


When a person writes he puts his soul into his writing. Therefore, by looking at a person's writing the true tzaddik can know about a person's soul, his soul's inner essence, his emuna, and the root of his emuna.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Question & Answer With Rebbetzin Yehudis Golshevsky - The Next Mitzva

(Painting by L. Kotliarker)

Below is an excerpt from an e-mail that I received from a reader named Deborah who asked me to help her find someone to answer a question about starting to wear a sheitel.

Deborah asks:

I have been married now for 16 years and my husband and are only now starting to become more observant. I have been toying with the idea of wearing a sheitel even though we are not yet completely Shomer Shabbos. Would it be okay if I start off wearing a sheitel part of the time as a way to transition myself to wear it full time (as I have done with wearing tznius clothing)? Do you have any advice for me as I slowly wade into the deeper waters in observing the law of covering my hair?

Rebbetzin Yehudis Golshevsky answers:

Dear Deborah,

First of all, I want to wish you continued growth and pleasure in your adventure of expanding your Torah observance. May Hashem bless all your efforts.

You ask if it's okay to gradually work into the observance of the mitzvah of covering your hair, and as far as I can tell, there isn't any difference between the need to take your commitments one step at a time in this mitzvah and any other. In general, spiritual growth (like all real growth) is a gradual process and as you continue to make further commitments, they become easier to maintain. Of course, one must take internal inventory to watch out for complacence (which is another word for stagnation), but barring that pitfall, slow and steady is the way to go.

Be very happy with every bit of good, every moment that you do manage to observe the law to its fullest, and that will give you strength to continue on your journey. This is the path we learned from Rebbe Nachman: focus on the power of good points, and you'll grow into more of them.

I just want to share a story from Rav Godlevsky of Bnei Brak on this subject, because I really love it.

He had a student who was a budding baal teshuvah at the earlier stages of growth. The young man was starting to observe Shabbos, but was still a little shaky. One Shabbos, a group of friends came over and really worked on him to convince him to go to the beach with them. After a lot of pressure, he conceded.

He got into the car with his friends and headed to the beach, where they proceeded to hang out, and eventually they went to go and buy some soft drinks. After buying his cola, the budding baal teshuvah stopped and made a very clear and thoughtful blessing before taking a drink.

His friends couldn't help themselves, and started to rib him mercilessly.

"Oh, what a tzaddik!' "Nice berachah--on the soda you paid for on Shabbos, at the beach, which you got to by car!" And so on.

He answered, "What do I care? I fell and came with you after you pressured me. It was hard for me. But making this berachah is easy--so why shouldn't I do it?" This is what he learned from Rav Godlevsky, who is a real Breslover. No act of sin cancels out a mitzvah, and no mitzvah compensates for a sin. Hashem is not a tyrant--you are responsible for what you don't do, but never let a negative act impinge on your willingness to "chap arein" (take advantage) of an opportunity to do a mitzvah if you can.

This young man kept on his path and grew into a ben Torah.

And I'm sure that you and your husband will also grow into all that you can be if you will follow the same advice.

Maos Chittim

(Picture courtesy of ShalomNewYork.com)

I encourage everyone to give tzedaka for Maos Chittim this Pesach to Haben Yakir Li, an organization run by the Sudilkover Rebbe. Haben Yakir Li will be distributing Maos Chittim to poor people in Eretz Yisroel, especially to families with teens at risk.

People wishing to help can send a their donation to:

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

*Please be sure to write "Maos Chittim" in your check's memo field.

For those desiring brochas, please also include a list of names and the Sudilkover Rebbe will takes these names with him to the kever of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in Meron for Lag B'Omer.

28 Adar Links - כח אדר

(Picture by I. Gerich)

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Reb Eizik’l of Komarno’s Meditation

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Beyond “Object” Relations

Breslov Kollel Online:
Two new programs - study over the telephone

Dixie Yid: Is There One Type of Learning That is Right for Everyone?

Living with Chassidus: Encounters

The Skilled Craft

There is great wisdom of the heart to have the skilled craft of remaining silent.

(Divrei Yisroel)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Question & Answer With Rafi G. - Birchas HaChama

A Simple Jew asks:

It seems like every publication coming out recently centers around Birchas HaChama. Do you think that there has been too much of an emphasis on this transitory mitzvah?

Rafi G. of Life In Israel responds:

I have been seeing so many notices of pamphlets and books being printed about Birkas Ha'Chama and shiurim given about it, that I had stopped paying attention. I said to myself then, "It is happening in another 3 months/2 months/5 weeks - what's the big deal? Why all the preparation?"

On the one hand it is wonderful to see people get so excited about a mitzva. I think the reason for the excitement is because it occurs so infrequently. There is something special about doing a mitzva, anything really but especially a mitzva, that is so infrequent that it does not give you the opportunity to do it by rote. When something is so rare, you think about it, you try to understand it, you try to enhance the experience as much as you possibly can.

On the other hand, the whole mitzva will take about 30 seconds, if stretched out as much as you possibly could, to complete. Not only that, but it is also a bracha that we say for various other natural occurrences as well, so while the event might be rare, our part in it is really "nothing special".

But the truth is that I don't think we are making any more of a big deal out of it now than we did in the past. I remember as a child, I would have been 8 years old, when it last happened, the whole school went outside to say the bracha together. All the shuls performed the mitzva together. They made a big deal out of it also.

While it might feel a bit "over the top", it is human nature to try to appreciate something that is so rare much more than something that is so common. We make the same bracha on lightning, yet I can honestly say that during our last storm, I said the bracha on lightning with not nearly the level of reverence that is leading up to the bracha for Birkas Ha'Chama.

Perhaps we should learn a lesson from Birkas Ha'Chama about how we perform most of the time "Mitzvas Anashim Melumada", and how we can perform the same exact mitzva with reverence and thorough analysis. The way we prepare for and recite the bracha on 14 Nissan this year should remind us that we say the same bracha on many other manifestations of Hashem being the Creator, and that we should treat all those other times with even half the reverence with which we are treating Birkas Ha'Chama.

27 Adar Links - כז אדר

Rafi G.: Understanding The Korbanos

Halacha Yomit: The Chumrot of Chametz

Avakesh: Pesach cleaning: starting early

A Simple Jew: An Unheeded Call

A Great New Book

Sustaining All Of Creation

I heard from my grandfather [the Baal Shem Tov] that when the Holy One, blessed be He, created His world, it was unable to endure. Everything would have reverted to nothingness had He not created the children of Israel. When He did so, the world was able to endure.

The name Yisrael (ישראל) alludes to this. The letter reish (ר) corresponds to the sefira of chochma (wisdom). The letter lamed
(ל) corresponds to the sefira of bina. And the letter alef (א) corresponds to the sefira of da'as. Together, these three sephiros express the Divine Intellect which animates the universe. The remaining two letters yud (י) and shin (ש), spell the word yesh (יש) - somethingness. The world was created yesh m'ayin (something from nothing). These two letters allude to the "somethingness" which enables the world to endure - the Jewish people. The name Yisrael thus indicates that they preserve all of creation, for without them, everything would revert to its original state of nothingness. The "somethingness" of the Jewish people sustains the "somethingness" of the rest of creation. However, this is true when a Jew possesses only enough somethingness to fulfill his role in sustaining the universe. If he has more, none of the above applies.

This was the gist of my grandfather's awesome words. There is nothing else to say, for "all words are spent" due to the depth of the perception and the inability of those who wish to grasp it. According to my limited understanding, the entire Torah is contained in this teaching.

(Degel Machaneh Ephraim)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - Restraint

(Picture by R. Friedman)

While we’re on the subject of “tayvos achila,” I am reminded of the famous wedding of Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Vizhnitz (also known as the Tzemach Tzaddik). During the wedding, it was noticed that his father-in-law, the famed Rebbe Yisroel of Rizhin, wasn’t eating. The chosson’s father, Rabbi Chaim Kosover, went over to him inquire since the food was all absolutely kosher and the highest standards were met. But Rebbe Yisroel of Rizhin quickly replied:

“There’s nothing wrong with the kashrus, chas v’shalom, but I have an arrangement. You see, before I came down to this world, my body met with my soul to prepare for their co-mission, but my soul refused to go.

My body demanded that the soul come, but my soul replied that he wasn’t interested in the lowly and disgusting bodily desires that it would be forced to accommodate. My body, seeing it had no choice, agreed to negotiate and ultimately accepted the conditions that in order for my soul to descend, it would never bother it with base desires – only with necessities. Therefore, unless I need food for survival, I cannot eat.”

Hearing this response, Rabbi Chaim Kosover also stopped eating. Rebbe Yisroel of Rizhin immediately noticed the affect his words had and asked, “Do you have a similar arrangement?”

“No, no,” said Rabbi Chaim Kosover, “It’s just that now I finally understand something that has bothered me ever since I was young: I always wondered why on Friday night when we sing “Shalom Aleichem” to the angels that accompany us from shul that we send them away. We greet them with “Shalom”, we invite them in with “Boachem”, and we ask them to bless us with “Borchuni.” Then, we immediately send them away with “Tzeischem!” Why don’t we skip the last stanza and have them join us? But now, after sitting with you, I understand: When you are in the presence of an angel you just simply cannot eat!”

The sefer Maor VaShemesh offers another facinating perspective on the whole issue of achila d'kedusha. In his sefer, Rebbe Kalonymus Kalman of Cracow asked why everything had to be rushed during the first Pesach meal and why the Jewish people couldn't have just taken their time. After all, they was plenty of time from the korban until the time of their departure; what need was there for the great haste?

To answer this question, he takes us back to the Garden of Eden. The Torah tells us that Adam was warned (Bereishis 2:15-17):

וַיְצַו יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, עַל-הָאָדָם לֵאמֹר: מִכֹּל עֵץ-הַגָּן, אָכֹל תֹּאכֵל. וּמֵעֵץ, הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע--לֹא תֹאכַל, מִמֶּנּוּ

And G-d commanded Adam, saying, "You may certainly eat from every tree in the Garden. But from the Tree of Knowledge of what is good and bad, you shall not eat from it...

There are those who debate what the specific fruit was that Adam and Chava ate, but that is only regarding what they actually ate – and not as to what the tree was – because from the verse it is clear that it refers to all trees and all fruits. The verse clearly allows Adam to eat from “every tree in the garden” – so the Tree of Knowledge was not a specific tree; it was any tree, or rather fruit thereof, that was eaten for the sake of its taste; for good or bad. G-d permitted all the trees, but eating “to know whether it is good or bad,” is what He prohibited.

This is also why Pesach was eaten in a hurried manner.

By eating slowly we savor the food and its taste. Klal Yisroel at yetzias mitzraim was experiencing redemption and rectification for everything that had been damaged since the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. At this point, they needed to rectify this sin of eating for the sake of pleasure. Thus, eating the Korban Pesach in haste was necessary to achieve this tikkun.

Achila d'kedusha is indeed an extremely high level. Although most of us are not Adam HaRishon or even the Rizhiner, we can surely practice restraint on the level that we’re on. It is well known that in Yiddishkeit we believe that even small acts have significant consequences, and that were taught to live with the attitude that one single minor act may very well be the final straw to bring redemption on the entire universe. So, maybe skipping a course here and there wouldn’t be such a bad idea. As Rebbe Sholom Dov Ber of Lubavitch said, "The avoda of tayvos achila isn’t as hard as it seems, it can simply mean eating a bagel instead of blintz."

Newly Designed - Breslov.org

Received via e-mail from Yossi Katz:

The Breslov Research Institute (BRI) was founded in 1979 in order to begin the monumental task of translating Rebbe Nachman's works into English allowing access to the greater North American public. This truly was a pioneering work as almost nothing of the sort had been done with Chassidish books in general. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan championed the cause and began this holy work. What he accomplished was to pave the way for all future translations by finding ways of translating and bringing concepts written in the Chassidic / Kabbalistic language over to English. This was no easy task as the entire style of Breslover books is very foreign to the native English tongue. Since that time, over 100 titles have been published in many different languages including English, French, and Spanish. BRI even translates many of their works back over to Ivrit. Today, thank G-d, almost all of Rebbe Nachman's original works have been translated and his magma opus Likutey Moharan has but two and a half volumes left, with an estimated siyum to take place be'ezras HaShem in three years.

Although BRI has maintained a web presence since 1997, we have decided to continue the work of bringing access to the English speaking public vis a vis a new website and new web initiatives. We aim to bring a professional, fluid, content rich website to the public, so that if one is looking for Breslov information, they will find what they are looking for. One of the main things we want to do was to have a blog where we would translate some new things, repost some old translations and discuss some of our books. Also, we want to provide a forum for discussing what it means to be a Breslover in day to day 21 century life. Our goal is to get a talented list of contributers and to rotate their articles with the other previously mentioned content. Chaim Oliver who professionally maintains blogs for large corporations, has volunteered to maintain our blog.

One new feature is a digital kvittel to the Tzion. You can fill in your info and one of us will bring it to the Rebbe's Tzion. We also are working on having an up to date calendar announcing the shiurim given around the world. For many years we have had a parsha e-mailing and we invite people to sign up. We have many audio shiurim hosted on our site and we would like to expand the section with more audio shiurim and other forms of media. There is also a "bookshelf" section where you can taste many of our publications. You can also ask Breslov related questions on our website and someone from BRI will get back to you. Lastly, our online bookstore was also redone just a little while ago. You can find all of our English books there and get some goods deals and discounts. Next week be'ezras HaShem our Spanish books will also be available for sale.

We are in need of much help, and are always looking for volunteers and ideas. Our website can only be as good as the effort put in to it, so we truly appreciate anyone who has any experience on the web in helping out. Also, on our website we welcome people to become members of BRI. By joining you partner with us in this great zchus and also get some of our publications and discounts.

It is our prayer that the Tzaddik's teaching should spread and continue helping Jews. We feel humbled and privileged to be able to take part in even a small part of this process. Please visit us on the web at http://www.breslov.org/

24 Adar Links - כד אדר

(Picture by J. Jamil)

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Talmudic Mystics

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Rabbi Nachman On Speech And Silence

Letters of Thought: Honey, You'll Frighten the Kids

Just call me Chaviva: A 'Kashering We Will Go

Rabbi Tal Zwecker: Kedushas Levi on Pikudei & Stories

Bring Some Joy To Your Seder Table!

Here and Here

So Bitter

Sometimes a sin can make a person so bitter that he repents completely.

(Reb Nosson of Breslov)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tayvos Achila & Achila D'Kedusha

I often tell people that I am fat person trapped in a skinny person's body. I may appear skinny on the outside, however, inside I have a ravenous appetite for food and greatly enjoy eating.

Attempting to control my tayvos achila (the desire to overeat) has been something I have struggled with for years. Whenever I am able to subdue it, it regathers strength and comes back and shows me just how powerful it is and just how weak I am.

At the point when I feel that I have satiated my hunger my yetzer hara prompts me to eat more - and then sometimes even desert on top that! I do exercise by running on the treadmill at least three times a week, however, I am running so I can eat more without putting on weight; I am running so I can eat that deep dish pizza, shwarwa in a laffa, or giant helping of bread pudding.

In order to wage a sucessfull counter-offensive against my yetzer hara, I decided that I must adhere to a strict week-day regimen that consisted of three items:

1) Never initiate talk about food or eating.

2) Only to eat while sitting.

2) End each meal while still desiring another bite and leave a bit of food remaining on my plate.

In order to make sure that my plans were not totally off base, I called the Sudilkover Rebbe. The Rebbe first asked me to define tayvos achila. He then asked me a number of detailed questions, including why I thought that this was the tayva that I needed to work on. Hearing my answers, he concluded that I had judged myself too harshly. The Rebbe then told me to call back the next day so he would have a chance to consider a proper plan of action for me.

I called him back the next day and told him about the three item regimen that I had devised. The Rebbe was extremely pleased with these suggestions, encouraged me to abide by them, and then suggested three more:

1) Eat food as it is prepared for you no matter how it tastes, even if you would prefer otherwise.

2) Put the fork down between each bite.

3) Never lower your head to food; sit straight and bring food to your mouth.

Of these total six items, I continue to find that the three items suggested by the Rebbe are the most challenging. In all honesty, I can't say that I have been too successful with his last two items and I am still attempting to abide by them on a consistent basis. Nevertheless, I have found that making it a practice to finish a meal while still desiring another bite has significantly lessened my tayvos achila. I will be sure to report back in the future regarding my progress with these five items and my attempt to turn my eating into true achila d'kedusha.

The "Great Segula"

In Parshas Pekudei, the Degel Machaneh Ephraim said that it was a great segula (סגולה גדולה) to learn Torah, no matter how small an amount, immediately after davening. In Parshas Ki Sissa [second paragraph], he also mentioned this practice, however, there he referred to it as an eitza (piece of advice). Does anyone know why the Degel specifically refers to this practice as a great segula in one place and as advice in another?

The Degel seems to be saying that learning any Torah could accomplish this. At the end of Parshas Pekudei, however, he taught that there were great secrets of the Torah hidden in the description of the Mishkan and its keilim. Is the Degel thus suggesting that we learn Parshas Pekudei immediately after davening as part of this segula?

The reason that I am interested in this is because the only other place I can recall the Degel mentioning a segula in his sefer is in the Likkutim section where he said that it is a segula to recite the words of the Zohar even if one does not understand the words.

I would greatly appreciate and welcome anyone's insight into these questions to help me better under stand "my sefer".

Containing The Secret Of Man

If a person has not eaten for several days he may die of hunger. When he finally does eat a small bite of bread. it restores his soul. From this we can see that the small bite of food contains within it the secret of man; his G-dly life force.

Comprehension of this fact is what divides tzaddikim and reshaim. Tzaddikim constantly connect themselves to their supernal Source when dealing with any physical item. When a tzaddik eats, he does not do so just to satiate his appetite, he eats to connect himself to his Creator. The rasha, on the other hand, does the opposite.

(Degel Machaneh Ephraim)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Guest Posting By Rabbi Ozer Bergman - How To Learn Likutey Moharan

(Picture courtesy of breslovkollelonline.com)

How do I learn thee? Let me count the ways.

Reb Shlomo Freifeld z"l once told me, "You have to learn Likutey Moharan [amplify voice here] like a Tosfos!"

You can learn it as a musar sefer (the musar of Likutey Moharan would make you cry, said Rebbe Nachman zal; that's why you have to turn the lessons into prayers; Rebbe Nachman's Wisdom #196 [end]). This can also be called a Likutey Tefilot-style, turning the lesson into a prayer..

You can learn it as a kabbalah sefer: kvetch my sefer any way you will, but don't budge [in your behavior] from even the smallest paragraph of Shulchan Arukh! (The compiler of Ein Yaakov, the collected aggadatot of Talmud Bavli, writes something similar in his introduction, namely [I'm paraphrasing here], any interpretation is valid so long as one's intention is to improve his yirat Shemaym and this borne out by his subsequent behavior.)

You can learn it segulah*-style, just reading the words, without even knowing what they mean, just knowing that its words are holy and having a positive impact on you, and on the entire world.

You can learn it in any of Reb Noson's styles: Kitzur Likutey Moharan summary-style; Likutey Eitzot (Advice) i.e., by topic-style; Likutey Halakhot, in-depth, inter-laden with all you know from every and any area of Torah-style.

You can learn it as if Rebbe Nachman z”l himself was there teaching it, whether as your rebbe or as “one of the great tzaddikim of all-time.”

You can learn it with the intention: This contains not just information and ideas. This sefer is a fountain of emunah, yirat Shamayim, kedushah and taharah. I want all of those, in as full a measure as I can now receive them.

But whatever you do—learn it!

*A segulah is a thing or practice that in some mysterious way helps us, even though we may be clueless as to how it works.

© Copyright 2009 Breslov Research Institute

Rabbi Micha Golshevsky of "A Fire Burns in Breslov" has posted another important essay on his website. "A New Man" deals with a spiritual problem that virtually all Baalei Teshuvah and also "Frum From Birth" people who aspire to greater heights in their inner growth must deal with: negative thoughts and other "ghosts from the past."

Question & Answer With Long Beach Chasid - In The Presence Of A Rebbe

A Simple Jew asks:

Although a rebbe is the center of a chassid's life, do you find it ironic that many chassidim candidly express a feeling of being somewhat uncomfortable standing face to face alone with their rebbe? Could you describe your feelings when you have been in the presence of a tzaddik? What is it about the experience that you find disconcerting?

I think that different types of Jews have different connections and experiences with their rebbe and other tzaddikim. A Jew that grew up his whole life seeing his rebbe and other holy tzaddikim may react differently than someone who became religious later in life and meets these same holy tzaddikim. I can only speak for myself and my experiences. If anyone disagrees with what I say, its not that you disagree with me, its just you have different feelings for the same experience. I have met a few rebbes and each one was a different experience. I wouldn't call this experience uncomfortable, but instead a mixture of respect, awe, and inspiration. My meetings with these tzaddikim always end with me searching inside myself to try to raise my commitment to HaKodesh Baruch Hu and His Torah. I can't personally see what's uncomfortable about receiving advice on how to become a better husband, and a better Jew. I view my interaction with these tzaddikim on almost a Pardes level. I'm not sure if that is appropriate but that's how I feel about these experiences.

The Peshat is when you see the rebbe, shake his hand, and wish him a Good Shabbos. The Remez in meeting a rebbe is hearing him give over Torah, and Derash is having yechidus with a rebbe and asking him for advice and blessing. The Sod is something special, its a level of relationship that you can only have with your own rebbe, and this is something I search for whenever I am in the presence of a tzaddik. I couldn't imagine that is an awkward feeling, but the greatest feeling of all. To be in the presence of someone so pure of heart and mind that will help guide you to a closer relationship with Hashem. There are so many Chassidic stories of Chassidim and even rebbes who would travel to tzaddikim. Dangerous trips that would take many days just so be with their rebbe for a Shabbos or a Yom Tov. How could they do this if it made them uncomfortable? When the Sfas Emes was Rebbe the government built a railroad track from Warsaw to Ger exclusively to bring Chassidim to see him. Maybe times have changed now, but I think that if the Chassidim of old could travel to their rebbe with such excitement and anticipation then we should have no problem. From the way I see it, an outside who is coming to meet a rebbe should be much more uncomfortable than someone who grew up with the rebbe. When you come from the outside it feels like the rebbe is scanning your every thought, motion, action, and word to figure out what you are about. I could feel the Nikolsburger Rebbe's gaze pierce right through me. I was so careful with every word. Then I thought to myself, how I'm not as careful when speaking to Hashem, but to a man even if he is a tzaddik I'm careful. I can see how the exact opposite holds just as true. When the rebbe knows you, you have to live up to a certain expectations. It seems that different people respond differently around holy people and although discomfort could be one reaction, I believe it is a minority one.

I still don't have a rebbe yet, and I'm not entirely sure how one makes a rebbe for himself. When I met with the Nikolsburg Rebbe, there was an amazing connection between the rebbe, my wife and I. Was I supposed to tell him you are my rebbe? I'm sure when the time is right, and the rebbe is right I wont be asking myself these questions. The only discomfort I feel around rebbes is discomfort in where I hold and what I do. Anytime I'm around a rebbe I feel during and after the meeting this dissatisfaction in the way I am living my life and how I can being to grow again. Its almost as if the meeting is a shock to the routine treatment of Jewish life.

22 Adar Links - כב אדר

(Picture by G. Childs)

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Beyond Keter

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Maimonides on Secluded Meditation

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Moses and Seclusion

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Rabbi Jonathan ben Uziel

Solitude / Hisbodedus:
New French Language Site

Breslov.org Blog: Suggested Order of Study - Breslover Chassidut


The path of calmness is lofty. It is difficult to realize, and progress on it demands a concerted effort.

(Rabbi Avraham ben HaRambam)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Guest Posting By My Wife - Do Kids Toys Really Need A Hecsher?

I completely see the need for shopping at Judaica stores for items that need to be purchased there and cannot be found elsewhere, like tzitzis, yarmulkes, Jewish educational toys, and seforim. However, let's smarten up and not let retailers convince us that regular toys need a manufactured Jewish stamp of approval. Especially, if this stamp comes at an extreme cost to the buyers.

On the other hand, you enter a name brand store like Toys R Us and you must sift through the millions of options for items that are deemed appropriate for your household. I would like to share two recent examples to explain my point:

Our 4 year old son has developed, like most boys his age, a liking for race cars. Often these cars are sold at local retailers for about one to two dollars a piece. Why, on the other hand, do the Mitzvah Match Cars need to be price almost 3 times higher at $15.00 for 5 cars? Does my son really need an ambulance from a Jewish set of cars, or can we just pretend that his regular old ambulance is a Hatzalah ambulance? Let's think about it.....

My next example involves finding clothing for our 6 year old daughter's Madame Alexander Just Like Me Doll. It is challenging to find dolls with tznius clothing at the store, so I checked online and found an expensive alternative labeled Gali Girls Dolls on this site, with doll clothing ranging up to $20.00 an outfit.

So, I decided to do some out of the box thinking. Do I have to buy doll clothing from a retailer obviously catering to the Jewish shopper with a site called Tznius Shopper? Or, can I try something different? So, I checked out Etsy.com a popular online site where crafts people sell their items. And, low and behold, I came upon many sites that sell doll clothing, some for as low as $5.00 an outfit.

These sites offered me exactly what I was looking for at less than half the price of the obviously Jewish retailer. So, I think we must be smart shoppers and not fall prey to over priced items that do not necessarily have to be Jewish stamp of approval (i.e. we need to compare Yossele’s Movingo [$24.95] with Zingo [$11.99]) in order to save our hard earned money for truly important things.

21 Adar Links - כא אדר

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Seclusion and Cleaving to God

Zchus Avos Yogen Aleinu: Noam Elimelech

eBay: Seder Avodah U’Moreh Derech - Slavita 1828

Rebetzin Yehudis Golshevsky: Breslov Chassidus on Pesach

Shoshanna Bauer: Artwork

Vos iz Neias: Jewish Rituals And Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Greater Than A Warrior

The calm one is greater than a warrior, and the self-controlled is greater than a conqueror.

(Mishlei 16:32)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Question & Answer With Rabbi Micha Golshevsky - Motivating People

A Simple Jew asks:

Jaime Escalante was successful motivating inner-city high school students in his class by beginning the year with the announcement that they all were all starting with A's and it was up to them to maintain these grades.

Tanya, on the other hand, begins by telling us that we are not tzaddikim, and that if we struggle tirelessly our entire life we may not even become beinonim.

At the end of the day, how are we come to grips with a realization that the majority of us will remain in the category of being a rasha v'tov lo? Wouldn't it be psychologically healthier for us to concentrate on the teaching of Azamra and focus on our good points?

Rabbi Micha Golshevsky answers:

We must understand the Tanya in proper perspective. First of all, as is well known, the Tanya has always been learned by many Chassidic groups, and is considered by many to be the best explanation of the essentials of Chassidus. It is easy to understand why many refer to it as the Tanya Kadisha. It is the Tanya Kadisha for us all.

Yet we find in the Ba'al HaTanya's introduction that the Tanya was written for his Chassidim when he was no longer able to give them each a personal audience. After listing some potential problems with a written work, as opposed to Torah received orally, he explains why he wrote the Tanya despite such problems, "I speak to those who know me well--all of 'anash' [a common acronym which refers to the Chassidim of a particular group]..." He continues to explain that the Tanya was written as way to give those close to him a private audience and contains the answers to all the questions in avodah that he received from his Chassidim. This relatively short collection of very deep Torah gives over the Ba'al HaTanya's advice to overcome all the impediments of avodah which his Chassidim confronted and often asked about.

In light of this, I would answer your question quite simply: The Tanya was written primarily for the Ba'al HaTanya's Chasidim. By and large, they had a positive outlook and did not require much chizuk--unlike people who are emotionally broken or in a low spiritual state for whatever reason (including inner city high school kids.)

For those who came to the Ba'al HaTanya for advice, the best way to begin the sefer was precisely as he did. Of course, not everyone is in such a positive state, and perhaps the Tanya was not really written for them. Indeed, many people will tell you that the Tanya never “did it for them." It is plausible that lack of chizuk is one reason why.

But then again, people may claim that as a Breslover, I should not be voicing an opinion regarding the Tanya and maybe they are right. To head off such a claim, I would like to point out that Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh essentially agrees with this view.

As I glanced at his book, “Transforming Darkness into Light” I was riveted by a discussion of Breslov vis-a-vi Chabad starting on pg. 126. He points out that the Tanya is subtitled Sefer HaBeinonim for a reason. Although in a certain sense the Tanya comprises its own Sefer HaReshaim in Igros HaTeshuva, there are actually three stages of Chassidus of which the Tanya is the middle tier. Each of these stages corresponds to a different aspect of the Ba'al Shem Tov's famous teaching regarding evil: the first stage of overcoming evil is hachna'ah, submission. Only after attaining submission can one proceed to the second step of havdalah, separation. Finally, one attains works on hamtakah, sweetening.

Rabbi Ginsburgh notes that Chassidim say that the Chassidic “Book of the Wicked” is Rebbe Nachman's Likutey Moharan, while the book of the Righteous” is Noam Elimelech. The Tanya is of course the “Book of the Beinonim.”

Rabbi Ginsburgh then explains: “The approach of Breslov is the underlying bedrock of the spiritual life.” In his opinion, through the teachings of Rebbe Nachman one subdues the evil within and sets the stage for the next step of "separation."

Although I think that is demonstratably true, I was surprised that Rabbi Ginsburgh takes such a dismal view of Breslov's ability to help one after it he attains the level of submission. He writes that Breslov enables people who are not yet emotionally mature come to a state of chizuk so they can "move on" to Tanya; relegating Breslov to domain of "spiritual adolescents." Strangely, in order to support this thesis, he implies that hisbodedus is to help people internalize that Hashem is always with them but not really meant to be a path to "face and rectify" the evil within (havdalah).

This is clearly incorrect since Rebbe Nachman writes that hisbodedus enables one to slowly overcome his character defects, one at a time, until he merits true unity with Hashem. Clearly hisbodedus is in itself a way to focus on and correct character defects.

In any event, this thesis is clearly flawed since there were many Breslovers who became exceedingly great ovdei Hashem. Many people who have never learned Chabad have progressed to "separation" and "sweetening" through the deep advice found in Breslov, especially diligence in properly balanced hisbodedus.

It is true that Breslov has its share of spiritual adolescents, but so does Chabad. Just as Chabadniks will surely explain that the spiritually immature are not really following the Ba'al HaTanya's advice, Breslov's immature do not truly follow Rebbe Nachman's path. Most of those who remain immature in both Breslov and Chabad are people who "do their own thing," without meaningful hadrachah or balance. Such people are often not learning much (or doing much...)

Getting back to your question, Rabbi Ginsburg postulates that the Tanya, as the “Sefer HaBeinonim,” is for those emotionally mature people who can begin to face the darkness within and are “ready to know the full extent of their darker side.”

And there is your answer. Tanya was only meant for those who already have enough chizuk to face the fact that his goal is to achieve the level of a beinoni. To a person with an abundance of chizuk this is a very beneficial attitude since it saves him from falling into arrogance. Of course this path can be very detrimental for someone who is not yet able to face his negative side for whatever reason; especially if he is sensitive. But after attaining an abundance of chizuk we are enabled to face and work on our spiritual failings with a healthy mindset. As mentioned above, this is one reason why many people begin learning Tanya and feel it is "not doing it for them." They lack the necessary chizuk for whatever reason and they are not on the level to learn Tanya.

It is not surprising that many of those who require the powerful chizuk of Breslov find all they need in its path and do not leave it. Interestingly, Rebbe Nachman says that the Torah that can reach the most distant person is actually the highest Torah.

Many people who find what they need in the deep wellsprings of Breslover Chassidus decide to focus the most on the highest Torah of chizuk, hisbodedus, and Rebbe Nachman's powerful advice to advance slowly but surely and reach very high levels.

Yet one need not be a "card carrying Breslover" to benifit from Breslov Chassidus. Indeed, Rebbe Nachman actually recommended that when one finds a misnaged "in need" that we give him Rebbe Nachman's eitzos without saying his name. He said, "What do I care if he unknowingly serves Hashem in my koach?"

Chazal tell us that Torah has two properties. It is either an elixir of life or a potion of death. Breslov helps us access the elixir of life aspect hidden in all genuine Torah. Every derech is enhanced through the yesodos of Breslov. Many Chassidim of all stripes get their vitality by learning their particular seforim in light of the hakdamos found in the Breslover seforim. I know people in Chabad, Ger, Slonim, and Ruzhin and many other groups who do not go to Uman and are not noticeably Breslov but their foundation is essentially Breslov. They learn Breslov and this truly sweetens their life and all the other Torah they learn. The same is true regarding Litvisher who learn mussar and Sephardim who learn Ben Ish Chai or anything else. As Rebbe Nachman said: Breslov stands for "lev basar," a heart of flesh.

Hashem should truly grant us a heart of flesh and enable us to truly connect to Him, heart and soul!

20 Adar Links - כ אדר

(Picture by G. Weiss)

A Simple Jew: A Gentle Man

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Four Kinds of Silence

Avakesh: Mishkan

Pearlies of Wisdom: A Final Resting Place

Type Of Music

If you want to know who a person is, ask them what kind of music they like... because music is not about what you have, it's what you are longing for.

(Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach)

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Vegetarian Activist & The Vegetarian Chassid: A Conversation In The Vegetable Garden – Part 2

Continued from Part 1 here.


Another teaching of the Talmudic sages has it that in the future non-kosher animals will become kosher, and humans will be able to eat any animal they want (Midrash Shocher Tov, Tehillim 146). On the other hand, we are given to understand in the Messianic era everyone will be vegetarian. Isn't this a contradiction?

As a vegetarian activist, I believe that by promoting vegetarianism, we are bringing people closer to the time when “the lion will lie down with the lamb.” If people are told they can eat any and all animals, isn't this encouraging them to go in the opposite direction?

Vegetarian Chassid:

The idea that all species are destined to be kosher doesn't necessarily mean that humans will eat them -- although according to that viewpoint, this would reflect the principle of "elevating the holy sparks" that at present are too far submerged in gashmiyus, in physicality, for us to reach.

The idea of their becoming "kosher" goes together with a more far-reaching concept in the Torah: the division between the sacred and the profane, good and evil, and more subtly, other basic dualisms such as inner and outer, etc., all exist primarily for the sake of human free will -- so creation should appear to be a davar nifrad, something apart from G-d and His encompassing Oneness.

However, our sages tell us that in the future, "the holiness of Eretz Yisrael will extend to all the earth" (Sifrei on Deuteronomy 1:1, as discussed by Rabbi Nachman in Likkutei Moharan II, 8), and animals will attain human-like levels of intellect, Jews and gentiles will serve G-d in harmony and compete spiritual accord; the realm of kedushah, holiness, will no longer be at odds with its opposite, but everything will be transformed to the holy -- everything will become a channel for the divine. This also means that the present division between kosher animals and non-kosher ones will dissolve, and they all will become "kosher," i.e., sanctified in the spiritual sense. In the Zohar's language, the Sitra Achara, or "Other Side" of creation, will be nullified.

As for your question about how the Torah's permission for us to eat meat seems to lead us away from the goal of a world without killing and strife, we must understand that the unfolding of the tikkun of all creation takes place in stages. And in each stage different conditions exist, which must be addressed in different ways. Thus, in the words of Koheles (Ecclesiastes), "To everything there is a season . . . a time for war and a time for peace."

As Jewish vegetarians, we must recognize that the slaughter of animals for legitimate human needs is also part of G-d's plan -- and look forward to the day when this stage of creation will come to an end, and humanity will return to the original vegetarian state of the Garden of Eden.

As to whether our adoption of vegetarianism hastens that day, I would say – maybe yes, maybe no. Sometimes taking on things we’re not ready for, or “jumping the gun” in our spiritual practice, can lead to disaster. Rav Kook was worried about this when it came to vegetarianism. In a sense, that’s what Adam and Eve did by eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge on Friday instead of on Shabbos (see Rabbi Chaim Vital, Eitz Chaim 49:3 and elsewhere in the writings of the Arizal). Therefore, personally, I'm not inclined to preach the "vegetarian gospel" to other Jews who don't share my sensitivities. Neither does Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen or Rabbi Jonathan Sacks or most other vegetarian Orthodox rabbis. First, let’s try to keep kosher and learn to eat in moderation, with sanctity. Vegetarianism is a higher level, which is praiseworthy, but which many people might actually resent.


Given the prohibition in Jewish law to cause harm to an animal (tza'ar ba'alei chaim), shouldn't Jews adopt ethical vegetarianism?

Vegetarian Chassid:

Torah-observant Jews do not embrace ethical vegetarianism, because the Torah does not tell us to do so. On the contrary, in the past it required us to perform certain sacrifices, and it goes to great lengths to detail the Jewish dietary laws, which include the slaughter and consumption of certain animals; it also mandates the use of other animal-derived materials, such as the shofar we are obligated to hear on Rosh Hashanah, the parchments we must use for kosher Torah scrolls, mezuzot, Tefillin, etc., and it permits us to slaughter animals for other basic human needs, such as clothing or medicine or medical research.

Ethical vegetarianism exists in Judaism, but it sort of comes out of "left field" -- as we mentioned above, it is a component of the messianic age, echoing the original vegetarianism of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

As Jews, we must do what G-d has told us to do to fix this damaged world and our damaged souls through the mitzvos of the Torah, not just out of our own man-made ethical philosophies or moral sensitivities. Therefore, if a Jew is a vegan but doesn't recite the prescribed blessings before and after eating, or cooks on the Shabbos, or consumes produce of a fruit tree less than three years old, or performs certain types of grafting that the Torah forbids, he or she may be a good and sensitive and kind person -- but nevertheless spiritually destroys creation.

The mitzvos are the healing factor, not our personal ethical sensitivities, as noble and praiseworthy as they may be.


Is true vegetarianism a recognition that man should not take the life of one of G-d's creations simply to indulge his gastronomic desires?

Vegetarian Chassid:

I don't know about that adjective "true." There are many reasons why people elect to be vegetarians. As important as it is, the refusal or reluctance to take life is only one of them.

However, as Jews, we don't regard the consumption of meat as a base indulgence, plain and simple. The Torah permits us to eat meat for many reasons – out of need; or as a concession to desire, hedged around with restrictions; or for the enjoyment of Shabbos and Yom Tov, when it may even be a mitzvah; or for kabbalistic reasons, such as the elevation of the “holy sparks.” Yet as Rav Kook points out, there is something within us that instinctively recoils from killing other creatures, and senses that a system of life that requires one species to eat another cannot be what G-d truly desires for his creation. Therefore, vegetarianism has a certain appeal as an aspect of living in a more perfect, harmonious world. According to many classic commentators, this is what Isaiah means when he states that "the wolf will lie down with the lamb," etc.


Do you think that vegetarianism helps develop a Jew's spiritual sensitivity?

Vegetarian Chassid:

I think that for a spiritual person, vegetarianism may be the result of a more highly developed sensitivity. If this diet has further spiritually beneficial effects on us, I couldn't really say. There are many vegetarians who seem to be extremely hedonistic and "unspiritual" people, whose philosophy might be: "Eat (fruits, whole grains, and vegetables), drink (spring water, plus a little single-malt scotch now and then), and be merry, for tomorrow you die!"

So I would hesitate to say that vegetarianism is intrinsically connected to spirituality. To be edifying, it must exist within a broader view of life and be part of an encompassing spiritual path. It must be the outcome of a genuine feeling of the interconnectedness and holiness of all life. I think that's what Rav Kook envisioned in his writings about vegetarianism and peace.

17 Adar Links - יז אדר

(Picture by E. Chabrely)

Solitude / Hisbodedus: Spiritual Retreat in the Mountains

Solitude / Hisbodedus: The Mystic Path

"I Needed To Stop Learning Just For The Sake Of Finishing My Daily Sedarim"

Yitz commenting on How To Approach Learning Torah :

The Me'or Einayim points out that the Torah is created new every day, and so you need to read it as if it was entirely new to you - even if you have learned it in the past or even if you are picking up where you left off yesterday. He proves this like so:

All a book contains are letters, there is no inherent wisdom in the letters, they're just letters. Yet, when you read the letters and attempt to connect to Hashem's chochma, then Hashem fills the letters with His chochma and you find meaning.

If you are just reading the letters, then perhaps what's missing is Hashem's chochma.

Since I was young, for some reason, it was always clear to me that learning Torah is more about connecting to Hashem than it is learning anything from the sefer in front of you. I don't know who taught me that.

Think of it this way: Sometimes you want to spend time with your son (or someone else who is important to you) the activity is secondary and is merely a means to the end of spending quality time with that special someone.

So, if you approach Torah learning as "I want to spend quality time with Hashem" and the sefer is just the medium, it comes alive in a whole different way.

Speaking Idle Words While Wearing Tefillin

Whoever is scrupulous in the mitzvah of tefillin to treat them in accordance to their holiness, not to speak idle words or of mundane matters while wearing them, he will live a long life and is assured that he is destined for Olam Haba.

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 10:1)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Vegetarian Activist & The Vegetarian Chassid: A Conversation In The Vegetable Garden – Part I

Based on an email dialogue between a passionate secular Jewish vegetarian activist and a more equivocal Orthodox vegetarian


Some teachings in Jewish religious literature say animals have no intellect and cannot speak. Yet recent scientific studies clearly show that animals are intelligent and some species do have language.

Animals plan and strategize, solve problems, learn from experience, adapt to new situations, and demonstrate other elements of intelligence. Some primates can remember and repeat sequences of numbers faster and more accurately than human college students, and there is no question that dolphins, bonobos, gray parrots and other animals are intelligent creatures.

As for language, some animals have been taught an English vocabulary exceeding a thousand words, and certain birds can tell the difference between languages such as Japanese and English. Studies show that primates can communicate with humans using sign language or by pressing symbols in sequence on keyboards. Certain animals communicate in a range above human hearing, and faster than our hearing can register. So for every note we hear, for example, a bird might hear as many as ten. Other animals communicate in ranges too low for human hearing. And like human children, animals are not born knowing what they need to know to survive and prosper. They must be taught or learn on their own.

Vegetarian Chassid:

The Talmudic sages do not say that animals have "no intellect," but implicitly consider the human intellect as superior. If one occasionally comes across statements from later Jewish religious thinkers that man possesses "sekhel (intellect)" and animals don't, this should not be taken at face value. These authors only mean to say that there is a categorical difference between humans and animals. The donkey of Rabbi Pinchos ben Ya’ir would have remained undistinguished if the rest of its long-eared brothers, too, refused to eat untithed barley, nor would Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa’s donkey have had much claim to fame if other animals commonly refused to eat or drink stolen foods. And despite the unusual intellectual abilities of these animals of the tzaddikim, we do not find that they passed the entrance exams to the local yeshivah.

Jewish philosophers, as well as the kabbalists, define man as "medaber," the "speaking being." At the same time, they and the sages of the Talmud before them acknowledge that animals and birds, too, have some sort of speech. King Solomon is said to have understood that speech. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai even understood the “speech” of leaves rustling in the wind!

You are right that animals also communicate, and some more highly-developed species have their own kinds of language; but you must admit that these communication systems are far less sophisticated than those of humans -- prairie dogs notwithstanding. We must teach those parrots and myna birds our human words. This is not their natural way of communicating with each other. The complex sounds certain animals make are not the equivalent of human speech.

It is fundamental to Jewish thought that despite the encompassing unity of life, there is a hierarchy in creation, and the dignity -- and responsibility -- of humanity stands at the top of the ladder. Yet Judaism places G-d at the center of everything. Thus, our greatest characteristic is that we are created "in G-d's image (be-tzelem Elokim)." As Rav Kook states in his "Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace," we exist not in order to dominate the rest of creation like tyrants, but to recognize and "reconnect" to G-d -- "be-gin de-ishtimodin lei," as the Zohar states -- and to fulfill the great task G-d has given us: to perfect His kingship on earth according to the guidance of the Torah.

We need not reject this idea of a hierarchy for fear that it will lead to wanton exploitation because we, as religious Jews, bring unity and harmony to the entire matrix of life through the mitzvos that we perform and through the compassion that the Torah instills in us.

And if a Jew should behave in a way that violates the mitzvos, or merely remains insensitive to the spirit and intent of the Torah, that individual has failed to understand his mission in life -- even if he puts on talis and tefillin every morning, even if she lights the Shabbos candles and keeps a kosher kitchen, etc. As the Ramban states in his commentary on the Torah portion "Kedoshim" (Leviticus 19:2), the Torah demands that we strive for holiness, and one who does not take this to heart could easily remain a menuval, a coarse and depraved person, without actually breaking the laws of the Torah.


So you consider Orthodox supervisory rabbis and kosher slaughterhouses that mistreat animals to be violating the Torah?

Vegetarian Chassid:

I would hesitate to condemn anyone without carefully studying the facts. However, if it would be proven that such supervisory rabbis and kosher companies have shown a lack of concern for avoidable tza'ar ba'alei chaim – such as by willfully ignoring existing animal welfare regulations, or by making no effort to reduce animal distress indicated by bellowing, or by using electric prodders unnecessarily, etc. -- I would say that yes, they are in the wrong, and that this is a tremendous chillul Hashem, a disgrace of G-d's Name.

This does not make the meat produced treif -- kashrus is an entirely separate matter -- but it does mean that these individuals have failed to recognize and to do what the Torah wants from us. As I've said before, when it comes to tza'ar ba'alei chaim, we have certain explicit laws, such as the prohibition to allow animals to see other animals being killed (Yoreh De'ah 36:14), for example -- and then there is the category of "lifnim me-shuras ha-din," going beyond the letter of the law in order to prevent avoidable animal suffering. Only an achzor and a baal ga'avah, a cruel and arrogant person, would fail to recognize this and act accordingly.


There is a tradition that that prior to their creation, animals agreed to G-d's plan that that they would be slaughtered (see Rabbi Yosef Gikatilla, Sha’arei Orah, Gate 6). In addition, the kabbalists say that eating animals raises their “holy sparks” and their da'as, or consciousness -- so the implication is that we are doing animals a favor by eating them, and this is why they consented to be slaughtered. Most animals, however, are certainly not passive in the face of slaughter – at least when they understand what is going on. They try their best to escape! How are animals' terror and flight responses to be reconciled with the claim that they gave their consent and are being granted a "favor" to serve human needs?

Vegetarian Chassid:

Just because on some awesome transcendent plane the animals collectively agreed to their earthly destiny before they were created doesn't mean that they shouldn't be motivated by the basic pleasure-pain response that characterizes all sentient beings. For example, when I go to the dentist, I know that what he's doing is good for me -- but I still don't like the experience one bit! A wise person knows that everything we go through is ultimately for the good -- "gam zu l'tovah," as the Talmudic saint Nochum Ish Gamzu used to say -- yet our self-preservation instincts still tell us that pain hurts!

According to Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (Likutey Moharan I, 4, based on the Gemara in Pesachim 50a), realizing that everything is ultimately good, whether we experience it as good or bad, is an experience of "World to Come" – the World of Oneness -- right here in this world. But there is a spiritual barrier that separates these two domains or modes of experience, and for this reason, it is difficult for a mortal human being to grasp that sublime reality. Why shouldn't this be the case with animals, too?

Again, practically speaking, I believe that a great deal of animal distress in the meat industry, both kosher and non-kosher, can be eliminated by improving handling and restraint systems. Those who are unwilling to opt for vegetarianism should at least be supportive of proposals for such improvements.

Part 2 continued here.