Friday, September 12, 2008

פרשת כי תצא

I recently heard an interesting vort.

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.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Elul Chizuk 3

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

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Elul 2

Why is it that many times when I try to do Teshuvah and come closer to Hashem, I find myself falling lower than before? Why do I find myself tripping up on nisyonos which only a short while ago I would never have dreamt of falling into?

Tzaddikim have revealed to us the inner workings of our world. In their words, we find a parable which shine light on this issue.

In many places in the world we find that the water, although seemingly clear, is really "stony", full of minerals and such. But when you first look at it, it seems clear. It is only after it's boiled do the minerals rise to the top, and then someone has to stand by the pot taking off the layers of minerals which develop on top.

So too, even though we might think that we're okay, there really lies inside of us potentially harmful middos and tavos. Only when we light within us a fire of kedusha, does the heat cause all the "minerals" to rise up. All of a sudden, I discover that I do have the potential of getting angry and upset. I realize that I do have ta'avos.

But instead of getting disappointed, now is the time to stand by the flame and start removing the stones. Say to Hashem, "Thank you for letting me know what my shortcomings are, only now can I start working on them!"

May Hashem help us to understand His hints, and truly purify ourselves before Him.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Thoughts on Elul 1

It is well known the acronym that has been given regarding the upcoming month of Elul:
א'ני ל'דודי ו'דודי ל'י
I am for my beloved, meaning Hakadosh Baruch Hu, as my beloved is for me.

Many of us approach Elul with the first half of this passuk very well. I am all for Hashem. We start of Elul with great plans of how we are going to spend the remaining time until Rosh Hashana doing teshuvah, improving ourselves and changing ourselves. We hope to achieve new heights and goals.

But how many of us actually pull through with our dreams for Elul? A lot of times, a little bit into Elul and we see our plans dashed, together with the fire of teshuvah that we started out with.

Or better asked, how many of us don't even bother to dream, because we know that there's a chance of failure?

Maybe its time we started realizing the second have of the passuk:
ודודי לי
My Beloved is to me.
My Beloved is still with me, even in my failure. ה' לי ולא אירא Hashem is with me, so I do not fear to dream, I do not fear to set goals, I do not fear to strive.

I know that Hashem takes great pleasure and pride from every step I take, and even if my teshuvah is far from perfection, even if it has become the exact opposite of what I had in mind, but I always know: My Beloved is with me.

With this second half of the passuk in mind, may Hashem help us that we should have the strength to hold strong to the first half, and be zocheh to Teshuvah B'Emes.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Living with Temimus

I apologize for the short break in posting that we've had. I just got back from Eretz Yisroel, where it was difficult for me to find time to write. But, as Tzaddikim have taught us, every break in Kedusha signifies a new potential, and here too, I'd like to share a feeling I had about being in Eretz Yisroel.

It is said over that a chassid once heard his Rebbe discuss the great holiness of Eretz Yisroel. The chassid then asked, which aspect of Eretz Yisroel was the Rebbe refering to? The Rebbe replied, Eretz Yisroel itself. The simple houses and buildings and streets of Eretz Yisroel are holy unto themselves.

A lesson that we may learn from this story is as follows: Many times we do a Mitzvah or something for our Yiddishkeit and closeness to Hashem, yet we don't feel as if something happened or changed. Because of that lack of feeling, we might come to disregard that mitzvah, and not appreciate it for what it's really worth.

But the truth is, the true worth of something is irrelevant and regardless of our present feelings towards it. Because of many reasons, Hashem might decided in His infinite wisdom that we should not feel it the true awesomeness of what we have accomplished. It might be that we are not yet on the spiritual level required in order to have these feelings, or it may be a form of a test, amongst other reasons. But holiness is intrinsic, totally independent of our own personal perceptions.

When we realize this, we can then appreciate things on a much deeper level than fly-by feelings. We can now live with the p'nimiyus of the mitzvah in evry situation. May Hashem help us to serve Him with truth.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Why Chassidus?

Anonymous asks:

I'm a regular yeshivishe guy who learns mussar. Is there anything that could be attained through living with chassidus that can't be attained through living with mussar? I mean torah giants who have walked the world in recent generations such as R'schach, R' Avigdor Miller, R'Brus, R' Shmuel Berenbaum all of blessed memory. And there are many living today all of whom that are not connected with chassidus. Rather they choose mussar to live with. How in the world can we reach greater heights than these individuals?

First of all, I'd like to thank you for asking your excellent question.

I used to take part in a chabura of yeshivaleit who would come together once a week in order to discuss chassidus. Although there was an official shiur, much of it was geared towards encouraging the participants to voice those questions which were really bothering them in Yiddishkeit. This was in order to direct the discussion in the way which would be the most meaningful to all those involved. I hope this blog will also be directed into discussions through questions such as this one.

Now let me give an answer to your question, as I have understood from my Rabbeim. But I must point out- it is only an answer. Every person approaches Torah in his individual and special way. So although I hope that my answer will be sufficient, even if you don't find it so, please keep in mind that there are many answers and approaches to every question in Torah, and there certainly is a satisfactory answer out there for you.
You are one hundred percent right, that there were, and there are, many Tzaddikim who never learned or practiced chassidus. And that does not take away at all from their Tzidkus.
But what me must understand is, that the question is not which derech will makes bigger Tzaddikim? Or do you need this to become a Tzaddik? The question is, what is the purpose of Chassidus? And will I accomplish that without it?
The Yesod Ha'Avodah of Slonim once remarked, that a Rebbe is not necessarily the greatest person, or even greater than me. But he was given the tools to accomplish what a Rebbe is supposed to accomplish, and others were not.
Chassidus, on the simplest level, is a way to bring every Jew, regardless of who he is, and where he's been, to realize the pnimiyus of the world. How Hashem truly feels about him, and his Torah and Avodah. To realize the importance of Shabbes, of davening, etc. Not just "ta'amei hamitzvos", or "hisorerus" or even "chizuk". All these things may come about through this understanding, but that's not the point. The point is a "pnimiyus'dike kook", a way of looking at the world from the inside out.
Every Tzaddik had and has his way of bringing his followers to a level of understanding. Some, like the Rebbes of Chabad, may have done it through learning Toras HaChassidus. Some taught it by emphasizing different nekudos, such as Shabbes in Vizhnitz or davening with mesirus nefesh in Karlin. Others brought it out through their chassidim spending time with them and watching the Avodah of the Tzaddik, as in Rizhin or Nadvorna. Of course everyone used a little mix of each. And even if the chassid does not know how to define what he's learnt, and he might call it just a "varmkeit", he knows that he has it, and he knows were he got it from.
What's the point of this realization and understanding? As we noted, chizuk and hisorerus you can get in many ways. But if we understand the history of P'nimiyus HaTorah, as it has been gradually revealed to us through various stages. Before the revelation of the Zohar, there were many Tzaddikim and did not know about Kabbalah and P'nimiyus HaTorah. But once the Zohar was accepted by Klal Yisroel, it is obvious to everyone the importance of its teachings and concepts, even if not everybody is fit to learn the Zohar itself. The same may be said of the Ari Z"L. Today, every frum Jew lives with the basic Hashkafa as it was taught by the Ari, even if he never opened a Kabbalah sefer in his life.
We see that throughout the generations, Hashem has been revealing more and more to us of His p'nimiyus, through P'nimiyus HaTorah. This is because, that as we get closer to Moshiach, he wants us to live closer to His P'nimiyus. The closer we come to Moshiach, and to bring Moshiach closer, it is necessary to bring out the P'nimiyus more and more. But how are we, who are not fit to learn Kabbalah in its original form, supposed to understand its light?
Hashem therefore sent us the Ba'al Shem Tov and his Talmidim to teach us how every single Jew can live with P'nimiyus, no matter who he is. Indeed, it is recorded that Moshiach once told the Ba'al Shem Tov in a dream that his coming is dependant on the spreading of his teachings.
We see from here that Chassidus is not a question of becoming a bigger Tzaddik or Lamdan, but to try to live as much as we can according to the P'nimiyus of what Hashem really feels about us כביבול. This still leaves us up to our own free will, but closer still to P'nimiyus Habriah.

I ask that anybody who has any questions or who feels that something needs to be explained better to please post a comment. Thank you.

Who's Searching?

Someone who read our first posting had an interesting comment (told to me by a mutual friend, not posted). He didn't understand how it applied to him, as a regular Yeshiva guy. As far as he was concerned, "searching" is an activity for Baalei Teshuva, not FFBs who are well established in their Yiddishkeit. What does a regular frum person have to search for?
I was asked to develop this idea a little further, to help us understand how every one of us has some searching to do. While this is certainly a vast and deep subject, b'ezras Hashem, I will try to touch a little bit upon it.
The truth is, we can ask the same question about the Bein Hametzarim. For many people, the hardest Avodah of the year takes place during these Three Weeks, the Bein Hametzarim. What exactly are we supposed to feel mournful about? On one hand, in a technical sense, everyone knows on his level that we are in Galus. But the fact is, that despite all difficulties, the fact that we are more or less living pretty well where ever we might be, makes it hard to feel it. It's come to a point that we've come to rely on "reminders" here and there to emphasize for ourselves that we are indeed in Galus.
The truth be told, even those of us who are strong in our Yiddishkeit the whole year, have a hard time when it comes the Three Weeks. "What am I missing?" is a common thought, even if we are afraid to speak it out. Listen, I'm learning pretty well, I'm davening and working on myself. Granted, there's no Bais Hamikdash, but what does that have to do with me on a personal level?
The Maggid of Meziritch zy"a once remarked כל הרודפיה השיגוה בין המצרים All who chased Hashem רודף י-ה catch Him by the Bein Hametzarim. This would seem to imply that it is in fact easier to find Hashem during these weeks. Even someone who the whole year has been unable to find Hashem despite all his attempts, during Bein Hametzarim, he will be able to. How do we resolve this concept with the reality which many of us face?
There is a concept which is mentioned throughout all Chassidishe Seforim. This is the idea that everything that has happened to Klal Yisroel throughout all of its history, happens to each and every one of us on a personal level. We each go through a Yetzias Metzrayim, we all have a personal Kabbolas HaTorah, and we all build a personal Bais Hamikdash, which is eventually destroyed, as we are plunged into our own personal Galus. What remains for us is to find ourselves in this cycle. I must point out that at any point in ones life, it is possible to be holding at more than one point of the cycle, but that's for a different discussion.
According to this idea, we might explain, that feeling the cosmic Galus is dependant on feeling the personal Galus. If we would be able to somehow tap into that feeling of Galus inside of us, we would be able to tap into the power of Bein Hametzarim.Why don't we feel that we are in Galus? Why are we, on some level of conciousness, under the impression that all is well?
Everyone knows that the Torah teaches us many Mitzvos, of which many of them are actions which we are obligated to do or not do. In addition, there are many mitzvos which take place in our mind and heart. There are midos which have to be worked upon, as well as nisyonos which have to be surmounted.
Usually, a person feels content when he feels he is living up to what he perceives to be his obligations in Yiddishkeit. That could even be a feeling of content when he feels he is progressing in Yiddishkeit. On the same note, feelings of lack of content stem from a feeling of not progressing and not properly fulfilling our obligations.
But there is something a little deeper than just going through the motions of fulfilling mitzvos, and even in developing midos and positive feelings in Yiddishkeit. There is the aspect of realizing where all of this is supposed to be leading me: Closeness with Hashem. Realizing how Hashem is with me, by me, next to me, holding my hand and leading my steps. Not feeling this is in some respects, to be far from Hashem. To feel this is to be close to Him.
This is our personal Bais Hamikdash, as Chazal have taught us that anyone who has deah- undertanding of Hashem- it is as if the Bais hamikdash was built in his days.
We all have frustrations that we feel from areas in our Yiddishkeit in which we feel lacking. We all have various ways of dealing with it. But what if we realized that the main thing lacking is that knowledge of Hashem? To realize Him even in our lack of perfection? That our feelings of content and lack thereof should not come from our feelings about ourselves?
This is an idea which needs to be developed, with sources etc., but for the time being, we can begin to understand a little what our Galus is, and why we don't feel it.
When we concentrate our Yiddishkeit on "am I living up to it" or "am I producing", then when we produce, we feel okay. What are we missing?
We may feel good about ourselves because we are learning, davening, working on ourselves, etc., but what about seeing Hashem through our learning and working on ourselves.... and even through our davening?
When we realize that something much deeper is at stake, then we realize, I really am in Galus. When a Yid feels that longing, that longing to see Hashem even when his learning is not up to par, and he is struggling with his midos and nisyonos, and davening is difficult.... that is on his level, the longing for Geula.
I know I have touched on many deep ideas in a very hurried manner. With Hashem's help, in the future, we will explore these issues in depth.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Call to Arms!

In the world we live in...
People go about their lives and obligations, running from one errand to the next. People don't take time to stop and think.
We have developed the most advanced forms of communications, but we have yet to learn how to communicate with ourselves.
Sometimes it seems that we are running and running, but what are we running from? It seems like all those places we are running to are just pretexts to cover up the fact that we are really running away from something which is particularly frightening to us.
Could it be that we are running away from ourselves?
Could it be that we are filling up our lives with other people and events, only so we won't be forced to confront ourselves?
What is it that we are so scared of? Who is that enemy which lies inside of us?
More importantly, how do we fight it?

Reb Yisroel Baal Shem Tov was amongst the most important Jewish innovators of the past few centuries. The path of Chassidus which he established teaches a person how to know himself, and how to reveal the true good which lies within each one of us, and how to use that good to confront our real enemy: the feeling of void brought about through not feeling our attachment with G-d.

In this blog, we hope to discuss how the teaching of Chassidus, as it is developed through its Masters throughout the generations, is applicable to each and every Jewish soul, especially in today's generation. We will attempt to show how every one of us can use its light to combat our own individual darkness.

There are two types of soldiers. Those who fight in infantry, as an army. There, although each fighter is certainly an individual, the enemy is a general one, and the fight is the same. Throughout the generations, Chassidus has historically left room for such types of battles. Entire battalions accepted upon themselves to battle a specific form of evil, as a group.

But today, the enemy has become highly specific, and individual. We have seen how lone terrorists and guerrillas have brought down powerful armies. The time has come for the forces of Light and Good to fight back with the same weapons. The time has come for partisans who fight with the Light of Chassidus!