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.