Thursday, January 19, 2012

Identity: A Year Later

Answering the question I posed a year ago, I would now say,

"I am not a chassid, but my Rebbe says that I am. That said, my Rebbe also says that he is not a chassid."

Friday, January 13, 2012

Do you really believe He hears you?

I have been taking a break from regular posting for the last two years in order to devote time to my book project, yet I have still been receiving numerous requests to post something over the past few months - both while I was in Uman and also during my annual visit last month to Boro Park to meet with the Sudilkover Rebbe.

In response to all of these requests, I would like to share the contents of a letter I received from the Rebbe:

Before Rosh Hashanah, the Sudilkover Rebbe sent out a letter containing his blessing for the new year along with a request that each person resist the urge to talk to others in shul during davening. It is known, the Rebbe wrote, that our main avodah in Elul and Tishrei involves the mitzvos bein adam l'chaveiro (mitzvos pertaining to our interaction with our fellow man). Indeed, these mitzvos should be the focus of our generation for the rest of the year as well in order to rectify the sinas chinam that destroyed the Beis HaMikdash.

Yet, how are these two ideas connected? If mitzvos bein adam l'chaveiro should be the focus of our generation, what is the purpose of placing our primary focus on a mitzvah that appears to fall into the category of bein adam l'Makom (between man and G-d)?

The Maggid of Koznitz wrote that a person who talks to others during davening can be compared to a person speaking with a king and suddenly diverts his attention to say, "Your Majesty, I can no longer speak with you, I must speak with someone that I desire to speak to." This, the Maggid of Koznitz taught not only causes the Shechinah to depart from him but also prevents the tefillos of the entire congregation from being received. From this story, the Sudilkover Rebbe said that it is apparent that talking to others during davening is not just an aveira bein adam l'Makom, it is also an aveira bein adam l'chaveiro.

The Sudilkover Rebbe wrote that he heard from the previous Lelover Rebbe (Rabbi Shimon Noson Nuta Biderman of Lelov) that the words "this time" (בעת הזאת) in the verse, "For if you remain silent at this time, relief and rescue will arise for the Jews..." (Esther 4:14) refer to the time of prayer. And as such, the Lelover Rebbe said that this verse teaches that if a person makes himself silent during davening, relief and rescue will come to the Jewish people both in gashmius and ruchnius.

Furthermore, the Sudilkover Rebbe pointed out that the word "this" (זאת) has the same numerical value as the three things that the Machzor says averts an evil decree, "Fasting, Voice, Money" (צום קול ממון). With this in mind, the verse from Megillas Esther can now be read to teach that when people take it upon them selves during this time of teshuvah not speak to others during davening, then relief and recue will certainly arise for them and their descendants.

After reading and reviewing the Rebbe's letter and also the advice of the Degel Machaneh Ephraim, I resolved to put it into practice. I davened each day not to be put in situations where someone would try to talk to me during davening or the reading of the Torah.

I was fortunate to speak with the Rebbe this week on this topic at length. During this time, the Rebbe told me some amazing personal stories and stories from other tzaddikim regarding the importance of not talking to others during davening. At the end of our conversation, he asked some questions that have remained with me and given me pause,

"If we are given 22.5 hours a day when we are permitted to speak with others, why must we encroach on the 1.5 hours that are set aside solely for our conversation with Hashem? Isn't it He alone who provides for all our needs? If we really believe Hashem hears the words we say, how could we ever even think of speaking to others when we are standing before Him in His house? We need to stop speaking to others when we are speaking to Him!"

The Sudilkover Rebbe finished by saying that if we are to display any type of chutzpah before Hashem, it should only be the type of chutzpah that the Degel Machaneh Ephraim wrote about - chutzpah to hold a strong conviction in the efficacy of prayer at specifically those times when we may have doubts.