Every aspiring עבד ה' appreciates the significance of the adage “קנה לך חבר”, and the terribly painful loneliness of או חברותא או מתותא. For years, I have desired to form a chaburah of individuals whose attempt to guide their life at achieve both יראת שמים and קרבת אלוקים. As members of such a chaburah, I hoped that together we could develop profound thoughts concerning avodas Hashem, both its theoretical as well as its practical elements. We would assist each other in developing the unique ideas and approaches of each member.

Over the years and in different stages of my life, I was fortunate enough to meet such individuals. With current technology, we are attempting to form this chaburah, despite the geographical distance that may separate us. We would like to invite others with whom our ideas may resonate to join us by reading, commenting, and ultimately sharing your thoughts with us. קנה לך חבר, says the Arizal, means that your pen (קנה) should be your friend – as you write, your thoughts become clearer.

The exact parameters of this blog will be defined as we develop our ideas. All entries are guided by five principles:

a) יראת שמים

b) desire for קרבת אלוקים and becoming a better עבד ה'

c) strict adherence to Halacha, including הלכות לשון הרע

d) belief in גדלות האדם, both in oneself and all other people

e) intellectual rigor
Anyone who does not feel passionately about these five principles is asked not to comment, since any comment that does not meet the above-mentioned criteria will not be posted.

About the name of the blog. “השגה” represents the intellectual grasp of any given idea, while “הויה” represents the incorporation of that idea into the person’s weltanschauung. Our goal is to merely discuss theoretical ideas and then return to our daily lives. We want to transform the ideas of the Torah into a living Torah, a תורת חיים.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Introduction to Jewish Meditation

The following course was delivered to Post-high school Yeshiva students.

Types of meditation introduced in this course:
1. Introduction - Relaxation of body and mind.
2. Mindfulness - Learning to be aware non-judgmentally and dispassionately of body, feelings, thoughts, and environment. See the work of Dr. Jon Kabbat-Zinn
3. Dis-identification/Identification - Learning to not identify with the body, feelings and thoughts and identifying with the inner "I." See the work of Dr. Roberto Assagioli. 
4. Identification - Learning to discover the inner "I" and, therefore, Will, through Tai Chi and meditative movements (shuckuling).
5. Guided visualization - Learning to see one's self in a more objective way through visualizing one's self from above and in the context of the universe. See the work of R. Menachem Ekstein
6. Guided visualization - Learning to develop and expand the imagination and, therefore, emotions through visualizing new experiences. See the work of R. Menachem Ekstein.
7. The art of amazement - Learning to fully experience emotions while listening to music or eating an orange. See the work of R. Alexander Seinfeld.
8. Mussar exercise - Learning to chant and be emotionally impacted by a pasuk or saying from Chazal. See the work of R. Tzvi Miller and Alan Morinis.
9. Hisbodenus/Contemplation - Learning to think in learning (especially gemara) in a mediative state. See Alter of Kelm and the writings of Chabad. 
10. Hisbodedus/Personal prayer - Learning to talk to G-d in your own words in a natural setting. Includes singing (kumsitz). See R. Avraham b. ha'Rambam (Hamaspik l'ovdei Hashem) and Rebbe Nachman.
11. Tefillah/Communal prayer - Learning to prayer the formalized prayers with consciousness of one's self in the presence of G-d, slowly with contemplation on words, visualizations,  meditative head and body movements and song.

Recommended Resources

Apatow, Avraham Chaim 
  Bergman, R. Ozer
      -Where Earth Meets Heaven: A Guide to Rebbe Nachman's Path of Meditation
 Brody, R. Lazer
      -In Forest Fields: A Guide to Personal Prayer
 Ekstein, R. Menachem
     -Visions of a Compassionate World (translation)
Ginsburgh, R. Yitzchak
      -Living in Divine Space: Kabbalah and meditation.
 Kaplan, R. Aryeh
      -Jewish Meditation, 
      -Meditation and Kabbalah
      -Meditation and the Bible
     -Outpouring of the Soul: Rebbe Nachman's Path in Meditation
     -Taming the Raging Mind
 Millhauser, Miriam
     -Inner Torah: Where Consciousness and Kedusha Meet
    -Practical Inner Torah: A Guide to Going Within
    - The Breath and Body of Inner Torah
Seinfeld, R. Alexander  
     -The Art of Amazement
 Sutton, R. Avraham
     -Reawakening Spiritual Awareness
 Svirsky, R. Efim 
    -Connection :Emotional and Spiritual Growth Through Experiences God's Presence

Friday, July 9, 2010

Thoughts on Shviras Haluchos

On 17 of Tamuz the luchos were broken, and the days of our aveilus begin. Midrash Tanchuma says that the luchos were very heavy, but they carried themselves. When M”R saw what was happening, the osiyos flew up to Shomayim, and the weight was too much and M”R dropped them. First of all it’s interesting that the osiyos flew up not when the Jews started worshipping the egel but when M”R realized this. See an amazing connection between M”R and the Torah.
But the main point is that the body of Torah (the laws of the Torah) is by itself very heavy. Everywhere you turn, Halacha is there. Nevertheless there is the hashkafas haTorah, the osiyos, which make the guf haTorah very light. But when those osiyos are gone, the guf haTorah becomes very heavy, and at some point there is a shvirah. M”R saw that there was a corruption in the nishmas haumah – three aveiros chamuros were in the hearts of the people, and the egel was used to engage in their hidden desire. For such people the guf of the Halacha was too much.
Sefer Hatodaah also quotes a Yalkut Shimoni that says that when the Zkeinim saw that M”R was about to destroy the luchos, they tried to stop him, and they wrestled with him for it. Chazal say that his koach was greater than theirs. Nevertheless he overcame them only after the osiyos flew up. Why not immediately? Maybe because he represented the nishmas haTorah and they represented agents of guf haTorah since they were responsible of actualizing the Torah. He wanted to show them that when the ruach is gone, there is no guf either.
Chazal tell us that when the ruchani Beis Hamikdosh was destroyed, at that very moment the physical lost its koach as well, and it was a matter of time until it would fall apart.
We spoke at a different time that Hashkafa is represented by strength while Halacha is represented by a sword. A spirit is the strength with which a sword will be wielded, but without strength the sword is a burden. When the bird forgets that wings are for flying and it tries to run with them, they just slow her down.
These three weeks are a time to understand the importance of ruchniyus. It’s a time to examine how we unify the ruach haTorah and the guf haTorah.
Thoughts on Avodas Hashem

It is so easy to lose direction. Totally and absolutely lose our way. A little loss of focus leads to a millimeter-worth of richuk, completely unobservable to a naked eye, only discernible to the most sensitive and most focused individuals. Then another millimeter, and then a whole centimeter. Before a person knows it, he finds himself so far away. The changes are first pnimi. B’chetzonius, very little, if any, change can be perceived. The rot starts in the most hidden recesses of an eved’s being.
It starts with thoughts. A thought enters the mind, an inappropriate thought. Not necessarily an issur, but not a thought that in any way leads to avodas Hashem. It’s an interruption, nevertheless. A fleeting thought is not per se the end of the world. Doesn’t the Gemara tell us that bad thoughts simply can’t be escaped. Granted, long term, as a person works on himself, the nature, frequency, and intensity of these thoughts changes, but on the micro level, they can’t be escaped. The question is what is done with this thought. The problem is the holding on to the thought, engaging in the thought, cherishing the thought, expanding the thought, saving the thought for a later time. The thought begins to grow, gain power and momentum, and in the most inopportune time it comes to us, disturbing the most powerful elements of our avodas Hashem.
At this point, we have already let it go to far. We must use all of the tools that our Sages have provided for us in order to “abort” this process before it proceeds too far. If we do this early enough, little damage is done, and we will have actually grown from this stealthy attack of our yetzer.
Unfortunately, we sometimes let it go. We have this gnawing feeling that things are not b’seder, but we are too caught up with all kinds of engagements, maybe even good engagements. Rav Tzadok begins Resisei Layla defining this world as a place of hiluch, a place of tirda, with only death bringing rest. Nach nafshei.
We forget that lo b’raash Hu, but in a kol dmama v’daka. In that nekuda pnimis without which, as the Gerer Rebbi said, the Satan is ok with all of our Torah and mitzvos. Without this kol, kol hayotze from Har Chorev that is so hard to hear, we along with our Torah and mitzvos are pgarim meisim, ch”v. We feel like the state described in Orot Hatshuva 3, in an arid desert, in chains. Our feelings are crude, our thoughts lowly. We know that Hashem is not within us – which is the greatest chet of all. We don’t even have the koach to cry out – it somehow gets stuck in our throats. Even crying is denied to us. This is our 9th of Av, an absolute churban of ruchniyus of our Judaism, which leads to the inevitable crumbling of the gashmiyus of our Judaism.
We praise Hashem as a mechayei meisim. We are these corpses, and our bones are very dry. We are the ones who ask hopelessly, cynically, “Can these bones possibly live?” It takes tchiyas hameisim, the keys of which have been given to no man, to bring us back to life, to real life of v’atem hadveikim kulchem chayim hayom. We dream for our Elul, thirst for our Rosh Hashana, envisage our Yom Kippur, dream to sit in the bitachon safety of our sukah. The fire of our Chanukah will light up the darkness, and the simcha of Purim will show the true meaning of ein simcha k’hataras hasfeikos. Then comes cheirus, the cheirus of Pesach, Alma Decherusa, Alma Detshuvah. Then, and only then, we finally find our chelek in Torah, our personal chelek. His Torah, our Torah – Toras Hashem and Toraso. We still pray for the dry bones to live…

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Being vs Becoming

My apologies for being absent in the recent blog discussions. Yasher koach to all the contributors.

I used to believe that Chassidus’s main emphasis was on “being” and Mussar’s on “becoming.” By “being” am I referring to shedding one’s outer klipos and embracing the inner self as it is (call it the neshama if you would like). By “becoming” I mean looking towards the future, towards the development of potential, towards what could be. I have come to realize that this divide between Chassidus and Mussar does not exist; both approaches must embrace both concepts necessarily.

It seems that there are times when we must let ourselves simply be, and sit with who we are with a mindset of self-acceptance. However, remaining in this state for too long can lead one to complacency, that I am who I am and that is all I need to be. By contrast, there are times when we must focus on becoming, that the current state simply is not enough. However, an over-emphasis here can become reminiscent of a knight in full armor running forward into battle, completely unaware of where his enemy lies. It is a focus on moving forward without the insight of who is doing the moving. We must push ourselves, but we must make sure it is ourselves that we are pushing.

Indeed, the risk of falling off this tightrope in either direction is frightening. I would like to develop this idea further with the vaad. Comments are welcome.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bein Hameitzarim Avodah

We have now entered a period of unique avodas Hashem. We face an opportunity to harvest tremendous peiros, but it's an avodah that is very complicated. For the next few weeks I hope to post various thoughts about this time period and the avodah lemaaseh that accompanies it. I invite all of the contributors to the blog to write their own pieces as well as to comment on each others ideas. I hope to hear from all of you.
Not Letting Others Bring Us Down

After David slays Goliyat, Shaul inquires who this lad is (Shmuel 1:17:58). Malbim explains that it is clear that Shaul Hamelech knows David since the previous chapter had informed us that David would play music to diminish Shaul’s depression. Nevertheless, David has undergone such a profound change that he is not recognizable as the same person.
This must have been a bitter moment for Shaul Hamelech. He himself had undergone the same change when he had become a navi, but now Shaul was filled with ruach raah which had led to his spiritual downfall. To see David on the rise must have saddened, aggravated, and angered him greatly. This may have been the nekuda that exacerbated the comments of the women that Shaul killed thousands and David killed tens of thousands.
An eved Hashem must stand on guard against this phenomenon. When someone experiences intense aliyah in avodas Hashem, inevitably, at some point, he will experience a major yerida. During this yerida the world appears so dark, so hopeless. He begins to automatically respond with cynicism or worse to any aliya that he witnesses, especially in others, especially when the aliya is reminiscent of his personal aliya. Don’t be naïve...be realistic...come back to earth.
May we never lower others with our embittered nor allow the fallen ones to bring us down.

וירא שאול מלפני דוד כי היה יהוה עמו ומעם שאול סר. ויהי דוד לכל דרכיו משכיל ויהוה עמו. וירא שאול אשר הוא משכיל מאד ויגר מפניו. (שמואל א פרק יח:יב,יד,טו)
Growing Despite the Physical – Growing Despite the Yeush

One of the signs that Shmuel provides for Shaul as a proof that Shaul has been Divinely-ordained to serve as the king of the Jewish people is Shaul’s sudden transformation into a navi. The bystanders are apparently shocked by this development, which gives rise to an expression הגם שאול בנבאים (Shmuel 1 10:1-12).
Shaul Hamelech is granted nevuah one more time, in the end of his life, during his final attempt to capture and destroy the future King David. Once again the people express their surprise at Shaul’s prophetic ability, הגם שאול בנביאים (Shmuel 1 19:24).
It may be that the first time, their surprise was similar to that of Reish Lakish upon discovery that what appeared at first as a beautiful young woman in reality turned out to be R’ Yochanan, the great Amora. How could such physical beauty be associated with such lofty ruchniyus, wondered Reish Lakish? People who are physically beautiful are more likely to be attached to gashmiyus. They are presented with more opportunities to engage in the carnal. The world beckons them. We are told that Shaul is very tall and distinguished. The people were thus surprised that he was able to reach the high madreiga of nevua, which required a major break with gashmiyus.
The second time around, their surprise was for a different reason. Shaul Hamelech was punished with ruach raah. Malbim explains that this was created by the fact that he had ruach Hashem that had left. The vacuum from kdusha itself creates that ruach raah. This person is filled with bitterness, darkness.
When a person never reached a high madreiga, for him to reach it is not as difficult of an endeavor as someone who was so high who had fallen so low. The people were surprised that Shaul Hamelech, an individual who had experienced such am incredible spiritual fall, could still attain the simcha and shleimus of prophecy. It was a true miracle.