Friday, May 30, 2008

Question & Answer With Chabakuk Elisha - The Reflection We See

(Picture by D. Eagle)

A Simple Jew asks:

People who have problems with each other often share a similar temperament or common aspect of their personalities. While these people may not recognize it, it is usually apparent to others who witness their interactions. It is taught, however, that these people are simply recognizing a negative character trait in the other person that they too possess. Do you think this is always the case? Also, can you think of any examples from your life in which you realized that another person that you had problems with was merely reflecting an aspect of your personality that you were less than proud of?

Chabakuk Elisha answers:

Way back when I was a bochur in yeshiva, I noticed a strange thing about my ability to rationalize: The human mind is capable of rationalizing incredible things (even really bad things) but deep down we generally know what's right and wrong – the question is only how often we really analyze our behavior. But, being that we don't like to analyze our actions, we generally avoid it – however, we're constantly faced with opportunities to judge the behavior of others, and we say things like, "Wow, what so-and-so did was wrong," or "What a nice thing to do," etc. As a bochur I noticed (and I still do) that I would have a far easier time finding a limud zchus for actions that I would never consider doing than I was at finding rationales for things that I could see myself doing. I found this odd; after all, if I could imagine myself doing something like that, shouldn't it be easier to rationalize for others?

Later, I realized that it was my conscience judging me when I saw something that I had done, or could see myself doing, in someone else. When that little voice had an opportunity to speak up in a more objective setting it would get in the way and say, "no, you know this is wrong," while if it was something that I wouldn't think of doing, my conscience wouldn't get involved and it was easier to rationalize for someone else.

This I think is the key to the issue you're raising. As you mentioned, the Baal Shem Tov taught that that the world is like a mirror: if you see shortcomings in your fellow, you should know that they are truly your own. In fact, R' Nachman of Breslev famously taught a parable along these lines called "The Chandelier of Imperfections" that expresses the idea quite lucidly. In Chabad I've heard an additional twist: that either you share that flaw, or that you have been designated to fix it (the point being that the flaw is "yours" – either internally or externally, but nevertheless yours). But, like many Chassidic similar teachings, this teaching of the Baal Shem Tov needs to be understood properly or it can be easily confused, and for clarification I'll try to explain it the way that I understand it. After all, does that mean that if I see Reuvain rob Shimon, I am then a thief? If I see someone beat their child, am I then a child abuser?

My understanding of this teaching is that since we aren't impartial or objective about ourselves, G-d sends us messages and lessons throughout our lives to highlight shortcoming that we need to address – because, in truth, we are full of shortcomings of every variety (which is why we say every "Al Cheit" imaginable on Yom Kippur – as we have generally violated them all at least to some degree). And the reason that I might have a harder time if someone does something I might share in some way is because there is a guilty part of me that is uncomfortable being judged. It's me that I'm mad at.

Therefore if I see a fault in someone else, let it be a lesson to me to find that flaw in myself and address it. This is a perspective on life, and I would think that it's always true and applicable. The idea is that things don't happen without reason, and if you notice or become aware of someone else's shortcoming, that should have some productive relevance in your life (along the lines of what you discussed here and here, because we can (and should) turn everything into a positive.

And to take it one step further, Chazal teach (and this is emphasized by the Baal Shem Tov) that we are our own judge; G-d sends us cases that are similar to things that we have done, and it is our judgment of those objective cases that "pasken" our fate. Thus, aside from being an impetus to judge others more favorably, by realizing that the shortcomings of others are really hints to our own shortcomings, we end up living in a healthier reality: a reality that is positive and productive instead of judgmental, destructive and cynical. It's provides us with constructive critique and opportunities for introspection and guides us towards favorable and honest assessments. If we take this view seriously, we're really helping ourselves – a very positive use and opportunity created by what may be considered witnessing something negative.

25 Iyar Links - כה אייר

(Picture courtesy of

Life in Israel: Kever Yosef (video)

Zchus Avos Yogen Aleinu: Reb Aizel Homiler Does a Jew a Favor

Avakesh: Satmar Cobler from Bukhara ( бухарский сапожник )

Do Not Remember

The sins of my youth and my transgressions, do not remember; what is worthy of Your kindness, You remember for me, for the sake of Your goodness, Hashem.

(Tehillim 25:7)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Garments We Wear

Rabbi Micha Golshevsky answering my question about wearing an atara:

If you want to change what your Rebbe said you need his ok.

I tend to have reservations about an atarah even on a Shabbos Talis because of this story:

Pesachim 111 brings tells that the demons taunted a mistaken Sage by singing, "He dresses like a chacham, but does not even know how to bless…!" We see from this anecdote, one among many in the Gemara, that the Sages could be identified by the unusual robes that they wore. Rav Tzaddok HaKohen zt"l explains that the special garments worn by the Sages were an outward manifestation of their inner state. Thoughts, words, and deeds that are sourced in the Torah itself are called the "garments of the nefesh, the soul," and since the Sages were completely immersed in the Torah, the quality of those "garments" was of a very exalted level. This was why their physical garments in this world were different than the common man's—they symbolized their inner state of attachment to Hashem and their dedication to His Word.

Once, one of the companions of the one who came to be known as "the Saraph" of Strelisk zt"l, dressed his friend in the kind of beautiful garment normally reserved for a Rebbe. Rav Uri of Strelisk was eventually called "the fiery angel" because he prayed with such ecstatic fervor.

Their master, Rebbe Shlomo of Karlin HY"D, sensed that this change of clothes was responsible for a deterioration in the quality of his disciple's prayers, and ordered that he change back to his usual clothing.

"This is another way to explain the statement of those 'jokers' in Pesachim 111b: Because he put on garments like the Sages normally wear, he lost his ability to say baruch properly!"

Usually, one wears an Atarah because it is their custom and they don't need to change to it or it the custom of most of those where he davens. The rule is - changing for no clear reason is dangerous.

However, as the Rashbam says in several places, there is an exception to every rule. Before I changed from my original Litvish dress to a long coat and round hat I was very slow to be certain that this change really and truly helps my personal avodas Hashem. If not why change? I am not saying there is no reason; merely that I would definitely not have changed.

I first put on a round hat and bekeshe for Shabbos (after quite a bit of heartfelt searching for around six months.) Over a year later I knew for sure that Chasidic dress helped my avodas Hashem so I put on a long jacket and round hat for every day. Around two years later I put on a streimel.

In my personal opinion, in order to change you need to be sure that this will help your avodas Hashem. In addition, if you asked someone great you need to explain and get his haskomah.

Rav Nosson explains that every good thing ties one to good paths of holiness and purity while every sin one does ties one to bad pathways as the Mishna says, "Each Mitzvah leads to another while every sin brings another in it's wake." Tzitzis strengthen the good ties of holiness and purity while at the same time breaking all the bad knots to impurity." We should feel different every time we put on our talis, let alone our tefilin which Rav Nosson explains fill one with holy vitality of living life to the fullest by making a completely new beginning every second of the day.

Hashem should help us yearn for the awesome levels of talis and tefilin which empower us to break the bad ties and strengthen the good and live life to the fullest!

Question & Answer With Avakesh - Drinking From The Well

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew asks:

In his book Sabbath Peace, Moshe Braun wrote,

There is a well, the source of all blessing,
and the stone, the illusion of difficulty,
covering it. On the Sabbath, the stone is
removed, and all who desire to drink freely.

In what ways have you experienced this phenomenon?

Avakesh answers:

First we must unpack the metaphor. I don't currently have access to Rabbi Braun's book but the reference appears to be to when Yakov removed the big stone from the well, from which all flocks drink, at which he met his destined bride, Rachel (Bereishis 21:2-3). The Torah tells us there that Yakov found a well on the mouth of which lay a great stone. When he saw Rachel, he singlehandedly rolled this stone away. Zohar in many places, including on the spot, tells us that the symbols of well, wife and Shabbos are related through being expressions of the sefira of Malchus. The idea is that every day of the week relates to a particular sefira, counting down from Bina to Malchus. Friday then is the expression of Yesod, a day on which the world prepares for Shabbos. Yesod is a masculine sefira, associated with Yosef and it gives, feeds and sustains. On Thursday night and Friday we function in the giving capacity as we prepare for Shabbos - cook, set up the meals, study, immerse in the mikve. The latter is significant because every going to the mikve (daily morning, before Shabbos, before Yom Tov, Erev Rosh Hashana, Erev Yom Kippur) demarcates a transition in Kedusha and so, the progression from Yesod to Malchus is marked by a visit to the mikveh before Shabbos.

Shabbos itself has both the qualities of Yesod and of Malchus. As Malchus is called "wife" and, "well", so those terms also apply to Shabbos (see Shaarei Orah, Ch. 1). Shabbos is the source, the well of blessings for the entire week. The transition from Yesod to Malchus takes place on Friday night - hence, Eishes Chayil, marital union and so many other features of the Friday night 'seder" echo the unification between the masculine and feminine elements (See Pardes 23: Shabbos, for the disagreement whether Shabbos is Malchus or Yesod, Shaarei Orah, Shaar 2, Chemdas Hayomim, Ch1 and others).

This implies that the process of preparing for Shabbos starts already on Friday. The first corollary of that is that to the extent of one''s ability, the transition into Shabbos begins Thursday night and intensifies as Shabbos approaches. It takes preparation; Shabbos is not something that just comes and happens. Shabbos is something that we must prepare for, something that requires our active committment and invovlement. This is why on Friday afternoons, as the sun set, the students of the Holy Ari dressed in white and they would walk to the outskirts of town and sing psalms of welcome to the Shekhinah who was envisioned as the Queen Sabbath, Israel’s bride. They would then symbolically escort the bride back to the synagogue, singing to her the bridal song Lecha Dodi, composed by Rabbi Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz.

Whenever Malchus transitions in, and comes out of the protective cloud of Chashmal, the kelippos, the powers of impurity, congregate and attemtp to draw vitality from it (Shaarei Hakkavonos, Birchas Hashachar). This is called in the evocative language of Kabala, the Great Stone. "There is another stone, which is called Great Stone. When it stands on the opening of the WELL, Israel is subjugated under it.... and your reference is, "and Yakov approached and rolled off the stone from the opening of the Well" (Shaarei Orah, Shaar 1)."

What the methaphor implies is straightforward enough. It teaches us that Shabbos requires advanced preparation, and that Erev Shabbos is a transition time between two expressions of holiness, with its blessings, overflow, kindness, redemption and Shekhina, all personified by the "pulling together" of the marriage on Friday night. The man is the Yesod and woman is the Malchus around the Shabbos table. At the same time, during this transition, we not only give but also receive and, as a couple, rise to be enveloped in the holiness of the Seventh Day. But... we must also be vigilant for this is precisely the time when bad things can happen. Precisely at the time of the greatest ascent, is the possibility of a great fall. Anger, marital discord, and a host of other problems are just waiting to happen as Shabbos approaches. A Simple Jew has written of the fact that anger tends to flare most in domestic situations just before Shabbos. It is common also for other trials to arise at that vulnerable point. The metaphor of the great Stone that is stoppering the Well is not a vain one but reflects the realitities and exigencies of Shabbos Avodah.

You might be tempted to interpret Rabbi Braun's parable in the New Age terms - just let it go, don't fight, lay back and let the enjoyment and holiness surround you. But this is not the real lesson. What the parable teaches us is something different. On the contrary, it cues us into the active part that we must take in preparing for Shabbos and also how determined we must be avoid the pitfalls to which transitioning into the greater holiness of Shabbos exposes us.

24 Iyar Links - כד אייר

(Picture by F. Howie)

Sfas ha-Nachal: Why Breslov? Chassidus and Personal Value

Daf Yomi: Spirit of Foolishness

Letters of Thought: Sefiras Haomer -B'nusach Lakewood

A Fire Burns in Breslov: For the Sake of Heaven

Decisiveness + Analysis =

"How much time do I spend analyzing and worrying about something that I want to do?", I asked my wife.

"You don't spend anytime at all.", she replied.

"And, what percentage of the time am I successful accomplishing what I was trying to do?"

"60 - 70%"

"Ok, how much time do YOU spend analyzing and worrying?"

"A LOT!"

"And, what percentage of the time are you successful?"

"Almost 100%"

"So at the end of the day, we are often both successful, but I just have spent much less mental energy in the process. 70% eh? That was about my grade point average throughout school and college..."

This recent interchange between my wife and I one Shabbos morning illustrated the different approaches we have to problem solving. I am 100% pure energy with some minimal simplistic thinking, and my wife is 100% brilliant analysis with a lot of second guessing of her analysis. Each one of these approaches on its own may become a recipe for disaster, but put together - the decisiveness with the careful analysis - ensures that we make excellent decisions more often than naught.

Their Sincere Efforts

In today's educational systems, too much emphasis is placed on academic excellence. The students who retain the material and excel in their exams receive praise and attention, while the others slip through the cracks and feel unaccomplished. This is not the proper approach when it comes to Torah. Children must understand that their sincere efforts to understand are inherently valuable regardless of the results. The rewards for Torah learning are given for the hard work, not for the bottom-line achievement. Parents and educators must therefore make a point of emphasizing the importance of the work and effort, rather than focusing their attention only on the final result. Even if a student does not correctly answer all the questions on the exam, he must still be made to feel proud and accomplished for the effort he exerted in studying the material.

(Rabbi Eli Mansour)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Unlocking A Sefer

(Illustration courtesy of

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

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

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

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

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

To Change Or Not To Change, That Is The Question

This sale has got me thinking about this again....

Writing Off Today

Exert yourself to the fullest and never make the mistake of writing off today.

(Reb Nosson of Breslov)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Question & Answer With Dixie Yid - Confronted Each Day

(Picture by Graustark)

A Simple Jew asks:

ודובר אמת בלבבו ...and speak the truth within his heart

Seeing these words in the siddur each morning reminds me of this and this. I am grateful that these words confront me before I start the day and help keep my thoughts, speech, and actions in check. Without them, I would be more prone to following the illogical logic and rationalizations of my mind.

Is there a verse in the siddur or in sefer you learn regularly that serves a similar function for you?

Dixie Yid answers:

I would have to say that the pasuk that gets me every time is Devarim 4:39, "וְיָדַעְתָּ הַיּוֹם, וַהֲשֵׁבֹתָ אֶל-לְבָבֶךָ, כִּי יְהוָה הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים, בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל וְעַל-הָאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת: אֵין, עוֹד." "And you shall know this day, and enter it into your heart, that Hashem is G-d in the Heavens above and on the earth below, there is no other." To me, this pasuk just captures everything that I know I should internalize into my life. It seems to me to be just about the most central pasuk in the Torah (though I know every pasuk is equal). I feel that if I internalized everything here, I would be a complete Tzadik. Every phrase of this pasuk is so rich, which is one of the reasons I think of it so much, and I want to break it down phrase by phrase.

וְיָדַעְתָּ הַיּוֹם - "And you shall know this day" - This teaches two things. One is that I must intellectually know about Hashem's 1) presence, 2) immediacy and 3) providence. It also means that the knowledge is a knowledge for "this day," today. My knowledge of Hashem must be immediate and fresh, not like something about which I would say "Oh, I know that already!" Since knowledge of Hashem is so easily forgotten at every moment, it's a knowledge which is always "new" to me in my effort to keep my knowledge current with the reality.

וַהֲשֵׁבֹתָ אֶל-לְבָבֶךָ - "And enter it into your heart" - Intellectually knowing of Hashem's presence, even as difficult as it is on a constant basis, is easy compared with making that knowledge part of my conscious and emotional reality. The knowledge of Hashem must penetrate the iron curtain between my mind and my heart. Seforim like Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh and Bnei Machshava Tova are great guides for how to practically accomplish this goal.

כִּי יְהוָה הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים - that Hashem is G-d - Elokim means "powers." There are many powers that we see "controlling" things in the world. There's nature, money, power, connections, the mortgage company, the landlord, the boss, the college, the hanhala of the yeshiva/seminary, etc. etc. etc. This part of the pasuk teaches me that it is only Hashem who is G-d. None of those other powers really control me or my life. We have to remember that all of those other "powers" are merely garments or vessels for Hashem's controlling hand.

בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל - In heaven above - Hashem is G-d over all of the heavenly worlds and His Presence and Existence is "mesavev kal almin," surrounds all worlds and is above and transcending our physical existence.

וְעַל-הָאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת - And on the earth below - The more challenging phrase of this part is to realize that not only is Hashem the G-d of heaven, but that He is even present in our low and physical existence here on earth. This is the element which I alluded to earlier when I mentioned that we must know not only that Hashem exists and that he controls everything with His Divine Providence, but also that His presence is immediate and close. I must remember that Hashem is not only the transcendent G-d, but He is also the immediately present G-d who is "memaleh kal almin," fills all worlds with His presence.

אֵין עוֹד - There is none other - Again, we must remember that אֵין עוֹד, מִלְּבַדּוֹ (Devarim 4:35), there is nothing other than Hashem. Everything else besides Hashem is merely a garment or vessel for the only true, root existance which is Hashem. In that light, all of the kleinekeit'n, the small things, of this world no longer have the power to sway me from where my mind and my actions should be.

It seems to me that the major yesodos, foundations, of Yiddishkeit are contained in this amazing pasuk. So it is one that I very much enjoy thinking of because it covers so many areas and it is so deep that it amazes me every time I think of it.

22 Iyar Links - כב אייר

(Picture by Z. Krncevic)

A Fire Burns in Breslov: The Waters of the Mikveh

Chabakuk Elisha: The Tzaddik & Bamidbar

Zchus Avos Yogen Aleinu: Coffee In A Tallis And Tefillin

Shas: Method

Even When You Know

You should encourage you friends so that they too will let nothing bring them to despair. You can still give encouragement to friends, even when you know in the secrecy of your own heart all the problems which are afflicting you.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Question & Answer With Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin - Karliner Chassidus

A Simple Jew asks:

How does the Karliner approach to Chassidus differ from the approach of other groups?

Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin answers:

I think this post is even more relevant in light of some of the items discussed in the past weeks on your blog about different drachim in avodas Hashem. I do not claim to be an expert on this subject; I will only write what appears to me based on my personal experience and learning. I ask mechila if I misrepresent any of the Rebbes teachings.

I would like to begin by quoting R' Avraham Elimelech Shapiro’s, the Grodzisker Rebbe (whose mother was the daughter of R' Asher the 2nd of Karlin), haskama to the sefer Divrei Aharon (a likut of Torahs from the Rebbes of Karlin/Stolin). He prefaces his remarks about the derech of Karlin by writing that all of the Rebbes had different paths within the larger path of the Baal Shem Tov and the Magid, yet they all wound up at the same destination. Each one found particular nekudos through which he thought was the best way to reach the intended destination in avodas Hashem. I think this is important vis a vis the previous discussions as to whether there is one authoritative derech of Chassidus. The answer is obviously, “no.” Everyone connects differently, yet they all lead to the same place. With that said, the Grodzisker explains that most of the Torahs of the Rebbes of Karlin Stolin revolve around three nekudos: 1) simcha 2) lo lachpotz b’gadlus she’ainam lfi midaso (not to desire levels of ruchnius which are higher than where one is holding) ) 3) lo l’ramos es atzmo (not to fool oneself).

While these are points mentioned in many different chassidusen, and in Yiddishkeit in general, there is a heavy emphasis in Karlin. Of course, there are other elements mentioned by the Karlin/Stoliner Rebbes such as ahavas chaverim, hiskashrus etc…. but I am not sure this distinguishes them from other groups. Rabbi Leshem also referred to the Piacetzner Rebbe’s Mavo Shaarim (chapter 5) where he explains two drachim of Chassidus, a) avodas hamoach and b) avodah bkoach ubemunah peshuta. While explaining the latter, the Piacetzner frequently quotes from the Rebbes of Karlin and I also will draw on some of his insights.

A brief background: Karlin is a fairly old Chassidus. R' Aharon HaGadol, who is said to have seen the Baal Shem Tov as a child, was a talmid of the Magid of Mezerich and was sent to spread Chassidus in Lithuania, the center of hisnagdus. It is said that R' Aharon haGadol began to cry when the Magid informed him of his assignment as the persecution against Chassidim in those areas had reached levels of violence. (See Lithuanian Hasidism by Rabinowitsch for more detail). R' Aharon haGadol was successful in spreading Chassidus and Chassidim were hence called in the polemics of the misnagdim, “Karliners”. Even the Baal haTanya was referred to as a Karliner. R' Aharon haGadol was nifter at age 36 in 1772 and left behind his main talmid, R' Shlomo Karliner. R Shlomo Karliner was the Rebbe of R' Asher Stoliner (1760-1826) (R Aharon haGadol’s son), R' Mordechai of Lechovitch (1742-1810), and R' Uri of Strelisk. It is said that “shrayen in davenen”, the screaming by davening comes from R' Shlomo Karliner. (After R' Shlomo Karliner was killed in 1792, the Stoliner and the Lechovitcher used to go to R' Boruch of Mezihboz.) R' Asher’s son, R Aharon II (1802-1872), the Bais Aharon, is known as the Alter Rebbe (Admor haZaken) of Karlin. From Lechovitch, we have Koidenov. The Lechovitcher and Stoliner were mechutanim. Their grandson was R' Shlomo Chaim (1797-1862) the first Koidenover Rebbe, who was very close with his Uncle the Bais Aharon. R Moshe Kobriner (1784-1858), was a chassid of the Lechovitcher as well as the Koidenover until he made his own chassidus. Slonim comes from Kobrin. The derech haavodah that we see in Karlin Stolin, Koidenov, and Slonim are all rooted in Karlin, albeit with some minor changes here and there. This explains why I may illustrate the aforementioned nekudos with stories from the Lechovitcher.

Simcha - There are many statements about how with simcha one can overcome anything. It is said that one who has not seen Simchas Torah by the Bais Aharon has never seen seen a real celebration of Simchas Torah. The Hakafos would last the entire evening. Even today the hakafos go until at least 2 in the morning. The Bais Aharon said that the joy of dancing on Yom Tov is a higher madrega than the highest madregos of davening (Bais Aharon, L’isru Chag). There are countless other statements that can be found about simcha.

Not to look for hasagos - As the Piacetzner writes, the ikkar in Karlin is avodah, the effort one makes or as the Rebbes called it harivanya. One must put in chius into the avodah. It is not about intellectual contemplation that will lead to emotion, or grasping spiritual concepts. There is a maaseh from the Lechovitcher where he asked a Lubavitcher chassid: Do you think the world is built on sechel?! Al n’haros yechonneneha. The world is built on a lechtigkeit! A lechtigen davenen, etc…. ( although n’haros means rivers in lashon hakodesh, nehora means light in Aramaic).

There is also a maaseh that a chassid came to visit the Bais Aharon after he baked matzos Erev Pesach. The Bais Aharon turned to the chassid and said that: before my father (R' Asher Stoliner) all of the worlds and taanugim were open before him. He wanted nothing of it. He said : “Ribono Shel Olam, I want to serve you only with harivanya (labor and toil)!” And this derech he was m’kabel from R' Shlomo Karliner.

Not to fool oneself - At the Bris of the Bais Aharon, R/ Asher Stoliner asked the Lechovitcher, who was Sandek and had krias Hashem, to give a brocha to his son. The Lechovitcher gave the following brocha: Don’t fool yourself, don’t fool G-d, and don’t fool people. There is much talk about emes, not having ulterior motives in doing mitzvos, etc…

While this is only roshei perakim, perhaps this material will spark further discussion. There is much more to say about each of these points and why they are so important. May the merit of these Tzadikim protect us and inspire us in our avodah!

Perfect Unity

Hashem gave us 613 mitzvos, but how can anyone observe them all? Many mitzvos are addressed specifically to kohanim; especially in this bitter exile we are unable to observe all the mitzvos that relate to Eretz Yisroel, and since we have no Beis HaMikdash we cannot fulfill the mitzvos of bringing sacrifices. However, if we love one another and are united we all share in each other's mitzvos and the Torah each of us has studied. The Gemara states that engrossing yourself in the laws of the sacrifices is tantamount to bringing a sacrifice, and studing the construction of the Mishkan is equivalent to taking part in the building of the Beis HaMikdash. Thus if your heart leans towards studying Kodashim and someone else is attracted to studying Moed, both of you share in each other's studies. Similarly, one person is more meticulous is observing one mitzvah, and another is more scrupulous in another mitzvah, yet each is included in the observance of the other in perfect unity. When Jews are united and love one another then Hashem pays each the reward of observing the entire Torah.

(Maor Vashemesh)

Friday, May 23, 2008

Lag B'Omer With Rav Kenig In Monsey

(Pictures by Jack Klein)

ל''ג בעומר

The Biggest Aveira According To My Father

What is the biggest aveira according to my father?

Putting up a plaque or award that you received on the wall for others to see.

From an early age, this idea was ground into me and I have never been able to shake it. When I was recently honored and given a large framed plaque for my performance at work, I simply took it home and put it in the closet. Acting according to my father's logic, I knew that I didn't need to display a signed certificate to attest to the fact that I am a good worker since I know inherently that I am.

The only honor or plaque that I care to display is the yarmulke on my head. Without me even having to say a single word, it tells everyone who sees me that I do not seek to take away any honor from Hashem, I only seek to bring Him honor.

I have found that all my thoughts on true humility, however, fly totally in the face of the culture of my workplace. On one hand, I have the teaching of the Degel Machaneh Ephraim who said that humility is a prerequisite to truth. And on the other hand, I have co-workers who exhort me to display my new plaque just as they do on the "Love Me" walls of their offices and cubicles.

I know better than to confuse low self-image and humility. I know that I AM worthy of putting up the plaque. It is just not my nature to do so.

In just one simple sentence, Rabbi Yakov Horowitz provided the rationale why my plaque will remain in the closet:

"Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less."

אף שאינו מבין כלל מה שאומר


לשון הזוהר הקדוש הוא מסוגל לנשמה אף שאינו מבין כלל מה שאומר


All the pain and torture I endured in my lifetime were worth suffering just for the opportunity to visit Meron once in my lifetime.

(Klausenberger Rebbe)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Another Questionable Story?

There is a story printed in the biographical appendix of Degel Machaneh Ephraim about the Degel and Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Rimanov that strikes me as being of questionable veracity since in this story the Degel carries himself in a royal manner and utters a seemingly disparaging comment that is very uncharacteristic of him.

While Rabbi Tal Zwecker told me that the part of the story about Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk is originally found in Eser Tzachtzachos and Seder Doros HeChadash, the most recent printing of Degel Machaneh Ephraim contains the introduction to the story as well. The story goes like this:

Many tzadikim came to Sudilkov in Volhynia to derive pleasure from the shefa emanating from there. It is told that even from distant Galicia the holy tzaddik, Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Rimanov came up to visit the Degel Machaneh Ephraim. When he arrived, he sent one of his talmidim to inform the Degel about his arrival. The Degel responded coldly, "The border dwellers are all rebbes; I don't want to see him!"

Despite this, the talmid went and informed Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Rimanov that he could go in to see the Degel. The Degel was then trimming his fingernails in preparation for Shabbos, and he sat with his back toward anyone who entered. After he finished washing his hands from a golden pitcher, he stretched out his hand behind him to greet the guest, simultaneously asking,

"Are you a student of Reb Elimelech? Could you tell about one of your teacher's wonders?"

"That I cannot do precisely," answered the Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Rimanov. "But this I can tell from my teacher. That there is an artery in the ear that can be perceived to be pulsating only at the time of a person's death. And I saw it pulsating in my teacher every time that he prayed Shemoneh Esreh!"

Only then did the Degel turn his face to him and greeted him anew with a smiling countenance. After additional conversation, the Degel became attached to Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Rimanov with love, and they were inseparable for that entire Shabbos

It strikes me that the first part of this story is questionable as other stories about the Degel have proven to be. Why would the Degel who was known for his humility act in an pompous manner and give Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Rimanov such a cold reception?

I plan to ask this question to the Sudilkover Rebbe in the future and will post his answer at that time.

כשאדם הוא יחידי

Truth Springs Up From The Earth

Those who want to get nearer to the truth must crouch down to the dust and raise it up from there.

(Degel Machaneh Ephraim)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Question & Answer With Yirmeyahu - Burning Within

A Simple Jew asks:

In Imrei Pinchas, Shaar Toras Adam, 79, Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz taught that a holy spark falls and burns inside a Ger. It compels him to complete his Geirus and actually does not give him any choice in this matter. Only after his Geirus, is the Ger given free choice.

To what degree can you relate to the teaching from Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz when comparing it to your own life experience?

Yirmeyahu answers:

I have never heard this concept before, but it resonates. I believe we are all familiar with the notion that a convert is born with a Jewish neshamah and I had noted that this implies that conversion is somewhat inevitable since without the formality of conversion one remains mamash an aino-Yehudi.

When I was in high school my youth pastor once quipped, prior to my interest in Torah Judaism as I recall, to the effect that I might have been better suited for an earlier era. While I’m sure it was expressed with a good deal of exasperation, I am not certain that it was meant as an insult. Rather I think it was meant as a recognition that I had personality traits and tendencies which where more appropriate for life under the covenant made at Har Sinai, although in the time that I knew him I had not been sympathetic to Christians who had such practices such as refraining from pork or attending services on Saturday. The connection he perceived was more than superficial.

Of course several years later, once my views developed enough that I would no longer affirm the central tenants of that religion, there was no doubt in my mind that the appropriate step was to embrace Orthodox Judaism. I knew that I wasn’t “required” to in order to obtain life in Olam HaBa, and it wasn’t easy to articulate why I was compelled to do something that wasn’t required. Anything else was just inconceivable.

I suspect that there may be those who find the notion of free will being restricted in such a way to be difficult to accept. The truth is that in any event our circumstances often set the parameters of our free will. I have not seen the Imrei Pinchas inside but I'm not sure that we should understand this to mean that there is not any free will at all prior to geirus. As I understand it, Yevamos 48b sought to explain the suffering of converts on their delaying their conversion. If this is so then we might understand that the geir's free will is only restricted in the same way as that of someone born Jewish, only the former have more say in when they will accept the yoke of the commandments.

To bring it back to the more personal side, I have long felt that the influences and circumstances of my life, and the timing of major events in my life have proven to be a path which led me to where I am today. There is an incongruity between where I started and where I ended up that gives me a great sense of irony, but in retrospect I can perceive a great deal of inevitability as well.

16 Iyar Links - טז אייר

(Picture by I. Abreau)

Modern Uberdox: Whatever you are doing at that moment לקראת שבועות - מבצע הכנסת אורחים

Beyond Teshuva: Inside and Out

HNN: תפילה לרפואתו של הגאון הרב מרדכי אליהו שליט"א

Avakesh: Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu tells and acts the story of Mar Ukva

Rabbi Zvi Leshem: Bechukotai-Lag B'Omer

A Lie

A lie is the most despicable thing in the world. I doubt that even teshuva can atone for a lie. For the teshuva of a liar is itself a lie.

(Rabbi Aharon of Karlin)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Question & Answer With Rabbi Ozer Bergman - "Open To Whatever Was There"

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew asks:

In his book Between a Rock and a Hard Place, Aron Ralston expressed his personal philosophy when it came to climbing mountains,

"I found that I could not set out with the intent of having a particular goal instead was to be open to what that day was giving me and accept it. Expectations generally led to disappointment, but being open to whatever was there for me to discover led to awareness and delight, even when conditions were rough."

How do you think it would be possible to apply this philosophy to one's avodas Hashem?

Rabbi Ozer Bergman answers:

I don't know if Aron Ralston ever read Rebbe Nachman's Wisdom, but it sounds as if he might have. When he writes, “I could not set out with the intent of having a particular goal instead was to be open to what that day was giving me and accept it.” he is reformulating what Rebbe Nachman says in the Wisdom #2: As the day begins it is my practice to place my every movement in God's hands, that everything should be according to His will. This was very good, he said, because there is no worrying, no need to fret if it is “going right” or “wrong” because one is relying on God.

Rebbe Nachman had his avodas Hashem, parts that we can relate to and parts that we will never fathom. He had much to accomplish for himself and for Klal Yisrael at large. But he knew that Hashem is running the show, and that Hashem has His share in fixing each individual and the world at large.

Rebbe Nachman wants us to climb mountains, to ascend the Mountain of God (Psalms 24:3). We have to have goals to improve in our Torah, tefilah and chessed. You want to study a certain amount, or a particular work. You want to pray in a certain place, or at a certain time, with a certain amount of fervor and focus. Yet we know that things don't always work out like we plan or even as we hope. That can be frustrating or worse.

A friend shared with me the following story. For one erev Yom Kippur he made a long to-do list of all things he “had” to do in order to do teshuvah shleimah in absolutely the best possible way. By the time he got to the pre-fast meal, he was an enraged, screaming, raving maniac. This person had gotten in the way, that person had gotten in the way, this took longer than it should have, traffic was unduly long....aaaarghhhh!

We have to be open to what Hashem will offer throughout the day and not insist and force our plan on the day's events. We have to be flexible to Hashem's offers to help us grow, even though we may not have a clue as to how that's happening or what the intended growth is meant to be! We have to let God in. We have to be capable of instantly and willingly surrendering to Him.

This sort of humility and surrender is one the highest mountains there is to climb!

15 Iyar Links - טו אייר

(Picture by D. Anderson)

The Muqata: Seeing through the Fog

Dixie Yid: Don't Bite the Hand that Feeds You

Alice Jonsson: Devon's Story

Breslov Center: Meditation & Sefiras HaOmer

Even When

The greatness of Hashem's love and tender mercy is inconceivable, and totally without limit. Even at the moment when He is at the peak of His anger, He still longs for us to turn to Him and daven. He years to send us His redemption which is the only true salvation. That is why we must force ourselves to daven and entreat before him even when we feel the harshness of His anger.

(Reb Nosson of Breslov)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Question & Answer With Rabbi Tanchum Burton - Meshivas Nefesh

A Simple Jew asks:

I have recently discovered that it is impossible for me to adhere to the Baal Shem Tov's teaching, quoted in Degel Machaneh Ephraim, to imbue my learning with the One without ensuring that I have Meshivas Nafesh or another sefer from Rebbe Nachman along with me. As soon as I feel that I trudging through abstruse material, I put aside the sefer and then open up another one to read Rebbe Nachman's words of inspiration. More often than naught, this completely refocuses me and restores the neshoma into my temporarily lifeless learning.

Is there a reason why you use Meshivas Nafesh every day when giving your shiur in Chassidus?

Rabbi Tanchum Burton answers:

During my work with people whom we call "at-risk" and "off-the-derech", I realized that many of them operate on the assumption that G-d can only be found in shuls and yeshivos, and that since they could not muster the desire to be in such places, they perceived of themselves as existing in a realm completely absent of Him, with no access to Him. The teachings of Rebbe Nachman on teshuvah and hischazkus that were so expertly collated by Reb Alter Tepliker in Meshivas Nafesh communicate clearly the basic teaching from the Tikkunei Zohar lais asar panui minai, "there is no place devoid of Him". The concept of "place" can refer to a physical setting, but it can also refer to what we call "headspace". Many of these people are in a "place" in their own emotional and spiritual lives where they feel distant from G-d either as a result of their alienation from Judaism and everything (and everyone) associated with it, or because of a terrible lack of self-worth. Rebbe Nachman conveys the message that ups and downs are exhilarating, painful, meaningful and necessary; they are the physics of our spiritual lives, but no matter how high one climbs or how low one falls, Hashem is there. The people I have taught have needed to hear that no matter how distant you think you are, how guilty, how dirty, how impure, Hashem is there and He loves you, and is waiting to receive you, and He will savor, as it were, any movement you make to come closer to Him.

It seems to me that a person can experience distance from G-d in a multitude of ways, including lack of focus and desire while learning, or the obstacle of abstruse material, which has the potential to make a person feel as if the gates are locked before him or her. I think that the reason why Meshivas Nafesh helps you when you are in that situation is because imbuing one's learning with the One does not depend on mystical kavanos, but is rather a function of internalizing a most basic law of spiritual physics, one that is repeated throughout the sefer. The posuk in Tehillim 139:8 is, "If I reach Heaven, there You are, and if I make my bed in Hell, here You are". When you confront difficult or technical material, I imagine that this idea helps you remember that you are not confronting that material alone, armed only with your intellect.

Bound Up Together

At times a person can reach the very gates of holiness. But then he falls away. All of the forces of the Sitra Achra - the Evil One himself - array themselves against him with tremendous force and refuse to let him enter the gates. He feels crushed. He may give up completely. But this is the way of the Evil One and the forces of the Sitra Achra. A man gets close to the gates of holiness. He is on the verge of entering. They spy him and hurl themselves against him with all their force. It takes tremendous strength to stand against them and hold your ground. If you slip or fall or feel confused, you should pay no attention. Be strong, fight back, and do what you can to serve Hashem.

It may take days, it may take many years. In the end be assured that with the help of Hashem you will enter the gates of sanctity. For Hashem is filled with love; He longs for our service. Every twist and turn, even the faintest motion which a man makes to draw himself inch by inch from the grossness of the world towards the service of Hashem - all are collected together. Every step, every gesture, every movement is gathered up and they are all bound up together. They all come to help him at the very moment he needs it most in his time of trouble.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Today At The Kever Of Hillel In Meron

Received via e-mail from Rabbi Shmuel Rosenberg:

The Chassidim Of Vohlynia-Poland-Galicia

"At first glance, the path and teachings of Chassidus taught by the Rebbeim of Vohlynia-Poland-Galicia seem closer to the path and teachings of the Baal Shem Tov's Chassidus than the teachings of Chabad. This applies especially because of the emphasis [placed by Polish chassidim] on miracle-working...

...Now the chassidim of Vohlynia-Poland-Galicia were in the habit of comparing pedigrees. Each of these chassidim was always prepared to state that his own Rebbe was superior to someone else's. The practice of Chabad Chassidim is different: we do not dismiss what others consider holy; we simply hold our own to be dear and precious. We maintain friendly relations, even as we remain conscious of our own qualities...

...The main focus of the Vohlynian-Polish-Galician chassidim was their Rebbeim's lifestyles, their stories, and their deeds."

13 Iyar Links - יג אייר

(Picture by Christopher Flick)

Eizer L'Shabbos:
Lag B'Omer

Sofer of Tzfat: Vegetarian Tefillin

Lazer Beams:
Does Halacha require a person to move to Israel?

Circus Tent:
The Book That Brings It All To Life

Friday, May 16, 2008

Seemingly Unaffected By Traumatic Life Experiences

Story #1:

During a trip overseas, Yaakov Mendel was bitten by a mosquito, became deathly ill, and had to be medevaced back to the United States for emergency medical treatment. With fluid surrounding his brain, Yaakov Mendel's doctors suggested that his family be summoned because his death was imminent. Miraculously, he somehow slowly recovered and aside from no longer being able to fly on a airplane because of the cabin pressure, he has no other adverse health effects. Returning to the workplace after his extended absence, he once again got caught in the details was regarded as a micro-manager by his subordinates; never seeming to care about the lives of the people who worked for him.

After the news reported that the first plane had struck the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, he resumed his work of meticulously editing reports. Although the rest of his co-workers were glued to the television, he continued work diligently even after the news of the second plane. The events being reported didn't seem to concern him since they were occurring in another city. In his eyes the most important thing was meeting the deadline for the reports and accomplishing the task at hand.

Story #2:

Tzvi Hirsh was raised in a religious home and considered himself to be a "religious" person with a strong moral compass. Mid-way through his career, his wife was diagnosed with cancer.

His wife's health rapidly deteriorated and the numerous chemotherapy treatments that she underwent left her bedridden. Their teenage children were forced to attend to her so Tzvi Hirsh could go to work each day and financially support the family.

To the outside observer, however, Tzvi Hirsh displayed no sign of the stress he was going through at home and rarely spoke about his wife's condition to others. He continued to carry himself in an arrogant manner and was often condescending to those working for him. While he never gave words of praise for a job well done to a subordinate, he was quick to criticize their actions and routinely attempted to micro-manage their every tasking. This occurred day in and day out without respite.

Although it is impossible to know all the details of Yaakov Mendel and Tzvi Hirsh's lives or know what is in their hearts, it seems unfathomable that the traumatic life experiences they endured didn't make them into more humane people in their dealing with others. Do you understand how this could be so?

"Don't Be Surprised Every Other Group Claims Something Similar"

(Illustration courtesy of

TZ commenting on "Consider What We Are All Doing Here":

While it is true that the Lubavitcher Rebbe who was much greater than me in all ways said all these things in this Kuntres, we have to remember two things he was the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the leader of Chabad.

That said, off course he is going to say that only Chabad Chassidus teaches you in this special way and that only Chabad Chassidus nourishes the soul etc. He is the leader and representative of Chabad!

In many sichos the Rebbe breaks Chassidus up into two parts: Chabad Chassidus and what he calls Chassidus Polin. This misnomer seems to group all other forms of Chassidus as eclectic and different as they are under one umbrella.

Again with all respect to the Rebbe Z"L anyone who studies Chassidus knows that Noam Elimelech, Likutei Moharan, Kotzk Izbitz Radzin, Ziditshov Komarna, Hungarian/Romanian Chassidus etc. are not the same.

The Rebbe himself must have known this, so why the grouping?

I would assume its as follows.

Chabad claims, and has always claimed, that their Chassidus is the real authentic continuation in the chain of Baal Shem Tov - Maggid - Ba'al HaTanya, etc. (Don't be surprised every other group claims something similar, for example in the introduction to Bais Yakkov Radzin it says the same idea switching the Rebbe Reb Melech for the Baal HaTanya and keeping it going through the Chozeh to the Yid HaKodesh to Izbitz but you get the idea).

In Chabad you have the story told how the Baal Shem Tov and Maggid visited the Alter Rebbe in prison and heard him say over a Ma'amar and said that he says Torah just like they did.

Anyway, Chabad also calls their leaders Nasi something no other Chassidus does, and most Chabad chassidim I have met when they said it says in Chassidus X or Y and Chassidim do X or Y they mean Chabad.

So lets not beat around the bush, Chabad philosophy is clear that Chabad Chassidus is superior, the Lubavitcher says it in his sichos comparing it to Polin and its clear in the Kuntres as well.

However that's Chabad's opinion.

I was not mekabel that this derech is the superior or better one.

Its as valid as any other.

The bottom line follow your Rebbe and your derech.

Not What It Used To Mean

In my personal opinion the words "pro-Israel" don't mean anything anymore since even the Israeli government is not "pro-Israel". Giving support to a Presidential candidate because he or she supports the Israeli government's policies is thus supporting further withdrawal from Eretz Yisroel.

Recited Joyfully

The blessings on the Torah should be recited joyfully, as a sign of learning Torah lishma. One who recites the blessings with joy will merit children who joyfully aspire to Torah scholarship.

(Shulchan Aruch HaRav 47:1)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

"Consider What We Are All Doing Here"

(Painting by Martina Shapiro)

Rabbi Yitzchok Wagshul commenting on So Much Chassidus - What To Learn?:

There can be no greater authority on this subject than the Lubavitcher Rebbe himself. In his booklet Inyanah Shel Toras HaChassidus, the Rebbe clearly explains the true nature of Chassidus; why it is essential to Hashem’s plan for the universe and for Moshiach to come; and why it was revealed only in these later generations. (This masterly sefer is available in the original Hebrew plus English translation and explanatory footnotes as the book, On the Essence of Chassidus. Also, years ago, in teaching it to college students, I found that the book is relatively incomprehensible to those without adequate background. I therefore made a series of eight explanatory audiotapes with a complete reading of the text and selected footnotes and with even more explanation and background; this set of tapes is available from Purity Press (info @

In the book, the Rebbe explains that, just as the Torah is essentially one with Hashem Himself, so is Chassidus even more so, since Chassidus is the essence of the Torah. Specifically, the Rebbe quotes Kuntres Acharon and Derech Mitzvosecha to the effect that “the essence of Torah is that it is ‘completely united with the infinite light of the Ein Sof which is enclothed within it in a perfect and total unity’” (On the Essence of Chassidus, p. 30). As for Chassidus, the Rebbe says:

“The fundamental nature of Chasidus is a quintessential point, which is completely abstracted and removed from any particular ideas; however, it is by virtue of this quintessential point that all the above-mentioned special qualities exist and are derived. This quintessential point of the effusion of a ‘new light’ from the innermost level of keter, and yet higher, an effusion from the innermost level of atik itself, which is the level of the Ein Sof...that is found in radla [reisha d’lo isyada—‘the head or beginning that is not known’]. It follows then, from this very idea...that all of the distinctive qualities of Chasidus which are explained in various places are but the ramifications of the quintessential point. For since Chasidus is the extension of the state of Ein Sof, it is self-understood that Ein Sof is the essence [of Chasidus], and all other particular aspects are only ramifications and derivatives of it.... Now even though the quintessential point of all parts of Torah is that they are united with the light of the Ein Sof, in truth, the primary expression of this point is in Chasidus. (As was said of (alone) is the effusion of the Ein Sof that is found in radla.)”

Throughout the book, the Rebbe elaborates that Chassidus is the essence of Torah, which is united with the Essence of Hashem, and which unites the essence of a Jew with the Essence of Hashem. In fact, the Rebbe explains that this “essence” state, that of Yechida, is expressed in the universe at large through Moshiach, and that spreading the teachings of Chassidus literally accomplishes this.

Now, regarding what was said in Rabbi Leshem’s comment, consider the following, which is summarized from footnote 8 to the appendix of On the Essence of Chassidus:

Tikkunei Zohar recounts Eliyahu HaNavi’s statement to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai about the Zohar: “Many people in the world will be sustained and nourished from this work of yours, when it is revealed below in the last generation, at the end of days, and on its account ‘you will proclaim freedom in the land.’”

One could ask a question on this — the Zohar was not revealed only in the last generation before Moshiach; why then did Eliyahu HaNavi imply that it is only then that the Zohar will enable the ‘proclamation of freedom in the land,’ i.e., Moshiach’s arrival?

In answer, the Kisay Melech on Tikkunei Zohar (ad loc.) explains that it is only in the last generation “(because the learning of it must be in such a manner that) it sustains and nourishes... wherein its [Zohar’s] profound statements will be clearly explained by the introductions of the they will understand...for although one who studies it superficially has a good reward...nevertheless the virtue on whose account ‘you will proclaim freedom’ is when it will sustain and nourish, and is studied with the explanatory discourses.” (See also introduction by Rabbi Chaim Vital to Shaar HaHakdamos.)

The emphasis on “nourishment” refers to the teaching (see Tanya, end of chap. 5) that, whereas mitzvos are the “garments” of the G-dly soul, Torah is its mazon, “food” and “nourishment.” Just as bread is absorbed and digested only when it is thoroughly chewed and integrated within the person, so “likewise it is with the knowledge of the Torah and its comprehension by the soul of the person who studies it well, with a concentration of his intellect, until the Torah is absorbed by his intellect and is united with it and they become one” (Tanya, loc. cit.).

With this in mind, we can appreciate the Rebbe’s statement (On the Essence of Chassidus, appendix, pp. 108–110):

“Originally, this knowledge [the inner aspect of Torah] had been revealed and known only ‘to a select few, and even then, discreetly and not publicly.’...The dissemination of the inner part of Torah began only with the Arizal....Even then, however, its revelation was not widespread, nor was it diffused in such a manner that ‘it will sustain and nourish’—until the appearance of the Baal Shem Tov. Upon his arrival, and through his efforts, the extensive and all-embracing dissemination of this wisdom to all Israel began. This was in accordance with the response of the King Moshiach (to the question of the Baal Shem Tov, ‘When will the Master come?’): ‘When your wellsprings are dispersed abroad.’ And it was especially after the revelation of Chabad Chasidus through Rabbi Schneur Zalman that it attained the level of ‘nourishment,’ for then Chasidus was articulated in terms of man’s intellectual understanding and in rational language (‘food’). From that point on, this knowledge was disseminated in a mode of continuous progression and increasing light.”

Thus, Chabad Chassidus should not really be viewed as the Chassidus taught by Chabad chassidism; nor, for that matter, should other forms of Chassidus be viewed as the Chassidus of various Chassidic groups. Rather, each form of Chassidus should properly be viewed as a specific step in G-d’s master plan for the universe; for the revelation of Torah over the generations; and for Moshiach’s arrival. Chabad Chassidus, in particular—as the Rebbe explained—is the culmination of this process, the final step in the progressive drawing of Chassidus down to earth. I would venture to say that, in a very real sense, Chabad chassidism flows from Chabad Chassidus, not the other way around.

(None of this necessarily means that a person whose lineage is that of another Chassidic group is obligated to become a Chabad chassid instead. We all have our individual souls, and they each have their specific place in Hashem’s plan— which person is most closely affiliated with what Rebbe, etc. But learning Chabad Chassidus is something everyone should do.)

Now I ask you all, dear readers, to stop and consider what we are all doing here: not only are we engaged in a discussion of Chassidus, the innermost essence of the Torah, we are doing so by means of an internet blog, accessible to literally everyone in the world. Is this not the fusion of ‘the portals of wisdom above’ (i.e., Torah, see below) and ‘the fountains of wisdom below’ (i.e., technology)? It is, indeed, time for Moshiach—now!

The Kabbalah teaches (Zohar I, 117a), “In the sixth century of the sixth millennium, the portals of wisdom above, and the fountains of wisdom below will be opened, and the world will be prepared for the spiritual elevation of the seventh millennium [i.e., the Messianic Era]. . . . This is alluded to in the words (Genesis 7:11), ‘In the six hundredth year of the life of Noah . . . all the fountains of the great depths burst forth.’”

As Rabbi Y. H. Greenberg (translator of On the Essence of Chassidus) writes in his introduction to Words of the Living G-d (Torah Or and Likkutei Torah adapted into English, published by Purity Press):

“In the quote from the Zohar, above, ‘the portals of wisdom above’ is a reference to the secrets of the Torah, and ‘the fountains of wisdom below’ refers to advances in worldly knowledge like science and technology. Here we see the combination of these two in the service of G-d: not only is Chassidus increasingly available in English today, but technology has advanced to the point where anyone with a Palm pilot, Smartphone, or similar wireless device can log on to websites like and access the most profound mysteries of the Torah wherever they happen to be. Chassidus, clearly explained, is literally in the air. It blankets the earth.

“There can, seemingly, be no greater extension of the wellsprings abroad than that. May it be Hashem’s will, therefore, that [this] be the final step in the dispersal of the wellsprings abroad, and that we immediately merit the reward for such dispersal. As the Rebbe explains in On the Essence of Chassidus, this is nothing less than the revelation of the Messianic Era, about which, as the Prophet Isaiah writes (Isaiah 11:9), ‘the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d, as the waters cover the sea.’”

Question & Answer With Rabbi Zvi Leshem - So Much Chassidus - What To Learn?

(Picture by Dinu Mendrea)

A Simple Jew asks:

Many Lubavitcher Chassidim have told me that the seforim of the talmidim of the Baal Shem Tov and Maggid of Mezeritch and other Chassidic rebbes are often written in terse and fragmented form and contain ideas too lofty to be understood on their own. Furthermore, they maintain that a person cannot truly learn Chassidus without concentrating almost exclusively on the structured and systematic approach to Chassidus brought down by the Baal HaTanya and further elucidated by the rebbeim of Chabad.

What do you think the limitations would be if a person focused learning Chassidus solely from Chabad seforim?

Rabbi Zvi Leshem answers:

It is certainly true that, Baruch Hashem, there is an enormous amount of Chassidic material available, and very few people will be able to master all of it, tafasta meruba, lo tafasta! It is also true that people will generally study those works that they find most inspiring (which is certainly a major point in learning Chassidut), and which will probably be influenced by what they have been exposed to and what their teachers and friends learn. Before actually answering the question, let us analyze it as stated here.

The question is based upon several assumptions: 1: The works of the Besht, Maggid and other Rebbes are too difficult to be understood on their own. 2: Chabad Chassidut is structured and systematic (and therefore more accessible than other Chassidic works). 3: It therefore follows that only by learning Chabad Chassidut will one really understand Chassidic principles, whereas the study of other books is not really worthwhile. 4: I believe that there is a sub-text here as well, which implies that Chabad Chassidut is the only (or at least the most) authentic rendition of the traditions of the Besht and the Maggid, in other words, it is the true Chassidut and therefore it is much more important to study it than it is to study other schools of Chassidic thought. None of these assumptions should be accepted at face value, and therefore the conclusions are also questionable.

The Piaseczner writes in Mevo HaShaarim chapter 3 in the name of Rav Zvi Hirsch of Ziditchev that according to Chassidut all Jews need to learn some Kabalah, for without it one cannot really understand the words of the Besht and Chassidut. I would add that without really understand the early works of Chassidut, such as those in the name of the Besht (since he didn’t write them himself.) the Maggid, the Toldot and Meor Einayim etc, one cannot really understand later Chassidut properly. In this context it is also crucial to analyze quotes in the name of the Baal Shem Tov in the works mentioned, as well as in others such as the Degel. Like many people exposed to Chassidut as adults, my education was based upon what the people around me were learning, so I learned lots of Rebbe Nachman, Tanya, Sfat Emet, Mai HaShiloach and Piaseczna before I ever had a chance to go back and learn the earlier works. When I finally did so, I began to realize that much of how I (and many others) understand the later works is based upon a lot of conjecture and loose readings of Chassidic terms and concepts, which were discussed and elaborated by the Besht and the Maggid, usually based upon Kabalah. Once I had studied these ideas in their original context I was able to return to the later works and understand them much better, since I finally understood what they were based upon. Yes these works are often quite difficult, as are many later works. Does that mean we should give up on understanding them – chas v’shalom!

Regarding the systematic and structured nature of Chabad works, it is certainly true that the Tanya itself is extremely well structured and the Alter Rebbe certainly doesn’t need my haskama. I have also found the kuntresim of the Rashab to be this way as well. However is this true of all Chabad works? I don’t think so. When one learns Lekutai Torah or Torah Or, while they are certainly systematic works, I don’t think they can be called structured in the way that the Tanya is. I also think they (and many Chabad seforim) are very difficult works, often more difficult than other types of Chassidut. Additionally, other Chassidic works can also be shown to contain internal structure and consistency, even if it is not as self-evident as in the Tanya. This is certainly true, for example, of the Piaseczner’s educational writings.

In my opinion, those who study only Chabad Chassdut, are limiting themselves in many ways. Chassidut is a very varied phenomenon. While we tend to read everything through the traditions of the Maggid, it is important to remember that the Besht’s other students (the Toldot being the obvious example) are also holy and crucial, and influenced later works. Within the tradition of the Maggid, the Piaseczner writes in Mevo HaShaarim chapter 5 that the two main trends in Chassidut following the Maggid were Chabad and Karlin, (“avodat hamachshava” and “avoda peshuta b’koach” respectively), which to some extent he is trying to synthesize. If we look at the third and fourth generations of Rebbes, such as the Noam Elimelech, the Chozeh, Reb Levi Yitzchak, the Koznitzer Maggid, Rebbe Nachman and the Alter Rebbe, we see that for all their greatness in Chassidut, they were all very different. And yet they are all authentic representations of the Besht’s path. Why should we close ourselves off from all of their beautiful teachings? Great thinkers within Chabad, such as the last Rebbe zt”l, Rav Steinsaltz shlit”a and Rav Ginzburgh shlit”a did not do so and they quote non-Chabad material as well. The latter two have written extensively regarding Breslov Chassidut in various contexts. Lubavitcher Chassidut, for all of its centrality and importance, is not for everyone. There is a reason why HaShem revealed Torah to the world also through Breslov, Lublin, Pryshischa, Ishbitz etc. In fact, Rav Ginzburgh writes in "Transforming Darkness into Light" that whereas Chabad is for Beinonim, Polish Chassidut (Noam Elimelech) is for Zaddikim, and Rebbe Nachman is for Reshoyim (ayein sham!). It follows that one brand of Chassidut certainly can’t work for everyone and that any one aspect is lacking by itself. I would state additionally that the way that they have woven other types of Chassidut in with their primarily Chabad writings has greatly enriched Chabad Chassidut as well.

In summation it seems to me that even though there is a massive corpus of Chabbad works that one could certainly fill their learning time with, one who does so is cutting himself off from a very rich world of other important ideas and approaches within Chassidut that cannot be ignored. May we merit HaShem’s guidance in our study and internalization of Chassidut and to further the holy work of “yafutzu maayanotechah chutzah”!