I grew up in a mixed community, and I had always seen and known about Chassidim. Of course, I was aware that they had different customs than my family had. They took shorter haircuts, and they spoke Yiddish. I even went to tishen every now and then. However, coming from a non-Chassidic home, I never thought twice about whom they are and what they represent. It was not even an aspect of them and us; they simply were a non-issue. Nevertheless, as I wrote in my previous post, after I started reading Chassidic stories, I started feeling that there might be something there, so to speak. Around that time, I remember attending a tish on the seventh night of Pesach. I watched as hundreds, maybe thousands of Chassidim were dancing around in circles around the Beis Medrash. I cannot say that I saw some special joy or light on their faces. However, I remember wondering to myself, what possesses these grown men to dance in circles for hours on end? It can’t be that they’re all crazy. I had been raised with the unspoken premise that whatever any serious Jew had reason to look for was to be found in the tradition of the mainstream Yeshivos. There really isn’t anything that Chassidim have to offer us that we don’t already have. Moreover, we have it authentically. Because of this, the dance of the Chassidim somewhat irked me. According to what I knew and understood, to be spending this night in the way that they were had no point. What in the world were they doing?
I understood that they felt that they were spending their night trying to come close to Hashem. Indeed, they were spending their lives doing that, albeit in a way which I had never known. Could all these thousands of people be honestly and sincerely dedicating their lives to serving Hashem, and all of them be wrong? That night, I realized in a very real way that there must be something in Chassidus today that inspires these people to keep going on in this path. I didn’t make sense to me that these men were spending so many hours in meaningless celebration. There just had to be some sense to all this. I wanted then and there to know what that is. I consider that moment the turning point for me regarding my relationship towards Chassidus. It was from that night on that I opened myself up to eagerly listening to what Chassidim were saying, and what they had to teach me. It’s been a long, turbulent journey since then. But I am forever grateful that Hashem has inspired me to pursue it.
The first thing that inspired me to look into Chassidus was a set of books which I found in my parents’ house. It was a collection of all the stories of the Baal Shem Tov. Several years later, after I was already involved with Chassidus, my friends in yeshiva found that same set lying around yeshiva. They, however, had a totally different impression than I had. They looked at the stories as fantastic bubeh maases and didn’t take them seriously at all. On the contrary, they found in them further “proof” of how ridiculous Chassidus is. What was my impression? I guess it could be summed up by the famous statement of the Satmar Rav, zy”a. whoever believes that all the stories are true, is a fool. But whoever believes that they can’t be true, is an apikores. I don’t know if I believed all those stories. But I was fascinated by the message which they conveyed. While most of my friends got thrown off by the packaging, I feel that I understood somewhat the point of the stories. For example, there’s the story that once, immediately after Havdala, the Besh”t asked one of the talmidim to take out some money to pay for something. Although it was moments after Shabbos, and it was physically impossible that there should be anything in his pocket, the talmid had faith in his Rebbe, and he found money there. I don’t know if the story is true. But the point of the story, that there’s no such thing as anything being possible or not, and that faith in Tzaddikim can accomplish anything, hit me. Or the story about the letter which the Besh”t gave a talmid to deliver, who subsequently forgot all about it. Many years after the Besh”t passed on, the letter was found. It had been written specifically about whatever had been going on in that talmid’s life at the moment when he found it. One of the statements that really hit me was, that the Besh”t once remarked that all the “miracles” which he performed, none of them were done through practical Kabbalah and shemos. They were all accomplished through tefilah alone. He said that he’d be able to turn a lead oven into gold only through tefilah. I heard from this the message of simple faith, that one could daven for absolutely anything, and Hashem answers us. Reb Nachman writes that tefilah is a way of revealing that there are no laws of nature. After seeing this story I was filled with such a simple Emunah that I can really ask Hashem for anything. The absolute simplicity which I felt being conveyed through the medium of these stories really spoke to my heart. They showed me a world in which Hashem was real, not just an idea. Of course, we all know that Hashem is real, but that simple feeling that He’s here for real seems to elude us. These stories had the power to give over that feeling.
We know that Chazal teach us that Hashem went around to all the nations before Kabbolas HaTorah to offer them the Torah. When they asked what's written inside, He told them whatever bad Middah that that nation was the most into. They therefore each refused the Torah. However, Klal Yisroel answered Na'aseh V'N'ishmah. We are ready to accept the Torah even if it runs contrary to our nature. The question is, what would have been the Mitzvah which Klal Yisroel would have had a hard time with? I heard from Reb Pinchas Dovid Bunker of Beitar, that that Mitzvah would have been פן יהרסו. The Neshama of a Yid naturally yearns for Hashem, and cannot bear not being able to come close to Him. This is why many of us find it so hard not to jump to do Avodos which we are not holdinging by. This is why many of us feel terrible when we're prevented from carrying out those Avodos, or are unsuccesful in them. Reb Noson of Breslov teaches that even those Yidden who we think are "Kalteh Yidden" who don't feel anything for Avodas Hashem, are also struggling with פן יהרסו. They think that in order to serve Hashem they need to do who-knows-what. If they would only realize that they can serve Hashem right now in their situation with their present abilities, they would recover their Bren.
Rashi comments on וישמע יתרו, what did Yisro hear? He heard about Kriyas Yam Suf and the war with Amalek. I once heard from R' Moshe Wolfson the following vort: When Klal Yisroel left Mitzrayim, Doson and Avirom did not want to leave together with them. When they finally did leave, and they made it to the Yam Suf, the Yam had already gone back. Hashem then made a special Kriyas Yam Suf just for them. Afterwards, since they had come late, they didn't make it into the Ananey Hakovod. Therefore the Amalekim started up with them, as Chazal say, that Amalek started with those who were out of the Anan. Still, Hashem allowed Klal Yisroel to win over Amalek in order to save them. Yisro understood from these two events, that even if one comes late, and missed Kriyas Yam Suf, and missed being allowed into the Ananey Hakavod, Hashem will still make a special Kriyas Y"S for them, and a Melchemes Amalek to them. Yisro understood that even if he had already been everywhere, and tried all the Avodah Zoras, it's never too late, and Hashem will do miracles to make sure that he can join Klal Yisroel
Why is it that we find that the non-chassidic pshatim which are given in Chumash and Chazal seem to fit in naturally with the simple understanding of the pesukim, while the explanations given by the Tzaddikim seem "forced"?
In this week's parsha we find כי תצא למלחמה על איביך ונתנו ה' אלקיך בידיך that when we go out to war on our enemies, and Hashem gives them to us in our hands, then we have specific mitzvos etc.
We can also read the passuk as follows: When one goes out to war against the real enemy, the yetzer hara, then Hashem gives us the pesukim to use as ammunition against him. Then, the passuk is given over to the Tzaddik to shape and form for us into the proper weapon.
In Rashi we find: במלחמת רשות הכתוב מדבר the passuk is talking about a voluntary war.
Let us read: When the war is not for real- then the passuk speaks!
On this idea I once heard, what is the difference between a vort and a mussar? A vort is when one has a difficulty with a passuk, and he finds a good midah with which to answer it. A mussar is when one finds a difficulty with himself and he finds a passuk with which to resolve it!
They say in Chabad: חסידות זה לא אוסף של וורטים Chassidus is not a collection of vertlach.
Another passuk which is brought in regard to Elul is ומל ה' אלקיך א'ת ל'בבך ו'את ל'בב זרעך Hashem will circumcise your heart and the the heart of your children.
The heart, which is what feels, what understands, what has the ability to recieve and contain exalted feeling of holiness and closeness to Hashem, is stopped up, cold, and indifferent. Teshuvah is akin to the knife used by a bris milah, which removes the "foreskin" of the heart and its "blockage". It returns a berson to being a living creature, with feeling and understanding, not only in material things, but also, and especially in matters of spirituality and holiness.
Before one does teshuvah, it is as if one doesn't exist, as Chazal say, it is better for man not to have been created than having been created. But when one comes to purify himself and to Teshuvah, he is then preparing himself to have an existence.
In Yoma לח: לט we find an interesting Gemara. Someone who comes to Teshuvah is helped. He is likened to someone who comes to buy a sweet smelling oil, and is told to wait while the storekeeper brings it, in order that they may both enjoy from the sweert smell.
A person who enters the world of Teshuvah may feel deep inside, that he has no existence. There is no reason for him to be, and that someone like him is better off not being in the world, after realizing the wrong of his actions. Teshuvah, then, is the will to once again have existence, a proper existence, to live a life of meaning. To feel good about being in the world and that there is a reason for his life.
At such a point, like Chazal say, one who comes to purify himself is helped- by being told to wait. This waiting, the length of time between the wanting to enter holiness until its realization, when a person feels that he is still "on the outside", is a test. Is he fitting "to be"? Should he be accepted? Shall the gates of holiness be opened fr him also?
Someone who does not know about this test may very easily make a mistake and improperly understand the feelings of distance, and to be pushed away from kedusha. Tzaddikim have already revealed to us, that whenever a person enters Avodas Hashem, then the way it goes is that he is distanced, that it appears to him as if he is being pushed away from above. He feels that he is not at all being allowed in to Avodas hashem. But in truth, all the distancing is really a way of bringing close.
A person needs alot of chizuk, not to feel bad, when he sees how much time, even many years are passing, in which he is trying very hard to serve Hashem, and he is still very far, and didn't even begin at all to truly enter Avodas Hashem.
Even if he sees that he is still full of materialism and lack of feeling in Yiddishkeit, and lts of confusion, and he feels as if he's not being let to do anything that he might want to do for Avodas Hashem.
Even if it looks as if Hashem is not looking his way at all, and doesn't want his Avodah at all, because he sees how he is constantly screaming outand begging Hashem to help him serve Him, and he is still vey far.
On all of this, a person needs alot of chizuk, not to to pay attention to all of this at all. For in truth, all this being distanced in really a way of being brought close.
The most important part of Teshuvah is the desire to do Teshuvah, the want to rectify, and the preparedness to wait. Even if it appears to a person that he is not progressing at all and that he is "not accepted."
The only way to do Teshuvah is if one accepts upon himself that no matter what will be, he will be strong, and keep on going in Avodas Hashem. Many ups and downs must pass over each and every individual, which is impossible to explain how, especially for someone with a history. Therefore, anyone who has mercy and compassion on his own self, must try with all his might to learn and develop in himself this hischazkus.
For this is the main part of Teshuvah, when one knows and believes that Hashem is always with him, everywhere.
The Yetzer Hara's main weapon is truth falsehood. At first he tricks a person into sinning, and then afterwards when he wants to do Teshuvah, he knockshim down and puts into his mind how he is far, and Hashem is not intersested in him anymore, and its impossible to come back. But the truth is Hashem rest with us even in our Tumah (Vayikra 16:16).
This is what Moshe learnt in the fourty days that he was on Har Sinai after the Egel, and Tzaddikim teach us this again every year in the days of Elul: Hashem is with us, with each and every one of us. even with the greatest sinner in the world. And as long as person keeps this in his mind and reviews this in his heart, he for sure has hope.
This is knife through which we need circumcize our hearts: the faith that for every single one of us, whoever it may be, there is hope. And if we'll gird ourselves with patience and continue to want and to try to enter the gates of Kedusha,we will certianly enter.
Adapted from Rabbi Erez Moshe Doron's book, למעלה מן הזמן