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.


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.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tools of Mussar - Hispaalus II

One way to practice mussar is to focus on one trait for a period of time. During this time you can pick one pasuk or ma'amar chazal to think about, to repeat over and over. Here is an example of Hispaalus based on Tehillim 134:2 (thanks to R. Zvi Miller for pointing to this pasuk):   שאו ידכם קדש וברכו את ה

שאו - Lift up, rise above your self-imposed limitations, above petty physicality, higher than the mundane world and the crass.

ידכם - Your hands which represent all of your actions in this world.* Your interactions with people, your involvement in the physical aspects of life. Every glance, every step, word...

קדש - Devote everything, your entire life, to transcedance, to the highest ideals, to holiness.

וברכו - And through this devotion draw down blessing to yourself and to the world.** Enrich the lives of others. Touch another person's soul with a smile. Spread the spirituality which you have merited to taste.

את ה- Your actions will bless the Eternal G-d of Love and Compassion. Transcendence breeds love. Every interaction will be surrounded with an aura of compassion and wisdom.

Below are two audio recordings of hispaalus on this pasuk:

Hispaalus 1
Hispaalus 2

* R. Hirsch on Shemos 30:18 writes regarding the כיור "The ministering priests themselves are continiously reminded that they do not enter the Sanctuary on behalf of the nation on the grounds that their 'doings and goinds' (יד ורגל) in their ordinary life are already sufficiently sanctified to justify their position...This symbolic nature of the priesthood is bestowed on the whole of the rest of their bodies by being clothes in their priestly garments. Only their hands and feet - the principle means of their doings and endeavours - remain unclothed. For these, comes the washing out of the basin." On Shemot 38:8 R. Hirsch continues "It is deeply significant that the vessel [כיור] which was to represent 'the moral keeping holy of one's acts and efforts, קידוש ידים ורגלים, was made out of women's mirros. Mirrors are articles which lay stress on the physical bodily appearance of people being an objection of special consideration. So that it was shown that the physical sensual side of human beings is not merely not exluded from the sphere which is to bsanctified by the Mikdosh, but that it is the first and most essential objection of this sanctification." R. Kook (Eyn Ayah) also views the washing of hands after the meal as an attempt to cleanse ourselves from excessive focus on the self which is often an outcome of eating. Symbolically, we wash the melach sedomis - the salt of Sedom, a place defined by selfishness - off our hands.
** For a new-age twist to this I found that raising my hands during the first part of the pasuk and lowering them down during the second part added an extra dimension to this meditation.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Tools of Mussar - Hispaalus I

R. Yisrael taught that preaching to one's self what is right or wrong is not sufficient for personal transformation. Intellectual awareness,[i] and even meditation, [ii] is only the first step but Man must be confronted at all levels of his being. Thus, the way of mussar is to engage the heart. Therefore, R. Yisrael’s method of hispaalus is to learn mussar with excitement and passion.

In Telz the theory was the same but their method was different. R. Yosef Leib Bloch advocated a calmer emotional arousal. He writes:

“A person should not force himself to learn with enthusiasm. He should not try to coerce his thoughts and energies towards this, because this way is unnatural. Furthermore, when someone "pulls" the enthusiasm forcibly ... he won't succeed, because the other forces and emotions which reside within him won't let one of the forces loose to be aroused and exalted by itself; they won't leave it alone. At this time - more than any other - the yetzer (impulse) that disturbs and hinders thought, stands vigilantly on guard so as not to allow the exalted emotion in man to achieve the pure, inner arousal which this sacred study ought to bring.

“So it is: man does not have the power to arouse his good feelings by forcing his nature; he cannot detach and hold the feeling of enthusiasm and excitement just in order to learn Mussar; he cannot push away at that time all that lives within him, to drive the yetzer from his heart...

“But rather this is the way to learn Mussar: The whole man, with all of his capacities and feelings, the man -as he is - should learn Mussar. He begins to learn calmly and patiently, with a sweet voice and profound observation; he hears every word he utters, examines it and feels it. The study, together with the pleasant and stimulating melody, energizes and brings the whole man to heartfelt inner enthusiasm... Then the whole man becomes exalted - his whole essence, the man with everything in him...”[iii]

In a different place[iv] R. Bloch expands on this approach:

“The most subtle impressions on a person, even if they are hidden from him, are very important…The goal is achieved specifically through these things which do not inspire much emotional arousal (hispaalus) and remain as subtle impressions since these reach to the most subtle “veins” of the soul and arouse them. When we do things more impactful and more identifiable – even when it seems to us that they make a great impression on the person and brings him to great inspiration and emotion – they do not, in truth, make such a great impression. This is because they make an great external impression which first moves the most petty aspects (kochos) of a person, then the impression fills the rest of the person, until the impression does not reach the higher and more subtle aspects of the person.”

[i] See R. Kook, Mussar Avicha, for a criticism of hispaalus.
[ii] See Ramchal, Derech Eitz Chayim concerning the power of hisbonenus.
[iii] Shiurei Da’as, Limmud ha’Mussar.
[iv] Shiure Da’as, Nishmas ha’Torah.
Yir'as Shomayim

I just gave a shiur on Yir'as Shomayim. Since we have been discussing this topic, I would like to quickly mention the definition that I suggested (if anyone is interested in my mareh mekomos, I am happy to send them to you). Yir'as Shomayim is the perspective, both viz-a-viz oneself and the world, that Hashem is the Master of the World, that there is a particular order in the world, and that I can't act in a hefker way, rather only within the confines of that Divine order.
Nothing profound.
System for Learning Machshava

I was recently asked by a chaver a question that I have thought about on and off for a number of years - what is the best way of learning machshava. Should a person learn certain seforim, and if so, in what order? Should a person focus on topics? I would like present this question for discussion.
Since this question can be asked in different ways, let me define the parameters a little. Let's say that we are talking about a self-motivated person, in very late teens or early twenties, with some mastery of the Hebrew language, without much formal training in Jewish thought (besides basic knowledge).

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Inner Goodness Part 2 - Connectedness

When we look at a soul, what do we see? Perhaps the more important question isn’t ‘what do we see’, because we are certainly not looking for an item with form, but rather ‘how does it act’? The Maharal explains that the natures of gashmius and ruchnius are exactly opposite one another. Gashmius is limited to its own finite borders, whereas ruchnius looks to spread and connect to other ruchani entities. In other words, by its nature, ruchnius looks to unite with ruchnius.

Let us add to this notion. One of the laws of ‘spiritual physics’ is that when a soul reaches out in an attempt to connect, it creates a magnetic pull whereby the recipient of this bid will experience a tug in his soul to come closer as well. The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 1:12) shows us an example of H”kbh Himself modeling this for us, “They [the leviim] brought themselves closer to me…they brought me close [to them].” This may also be the yesod that Aharon HaKohen understood and acted with when iniatiing peace between enemies (see Rabbeinu Yonah on Avos 1:12).

At man’s core he is a spiritual creature with a burning desire to experience the taanug of connection. This connection is meant to take place in three ways – to G-d, to other man, to himself. When all the klipos are stripped away and a soul is given the opportunity to shine, this is the nature that will emerge.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Amazing source about Talmud Torah

Rav David quoted the following Menorat Hameor to the Yeshiva:

ספר מנורת המאור - אות [ריג]
והתורה שלומד ומלמד בעולם הזה מבכה עליו, כדגרסינן במדרש תנחומא: מעשה בחסיד אחד שהיה מתיחד במקום אחד והיה למד בו במסכת חגיגה. והיה מהפך בה ומהדרה כמה פעמים, עד שלמד אותה היטב והיתה שגורה בפיו ולא היה יודע מסכתא אחרת מן התלמוד והיה שוגה בה כל ימיו. כיון שנפטר מן העולם, היה בביתו לבדו ולא היה שום אדם יודע פטירתו. באה דמות אשה אחת ועמדה לפניו והרימה קולה בבכי ומספד ותרבה אנחתה וצעקתה, עד אשר נתקבצו ההמון ותאמר להם:
ספדו לחסיד הזה וקברוהו וכבדו את ארונו ותזכו לחיי העולם הבא, שזה כבדני כל ימיו ולא הייתי עזובה ולא שכוחה. מיד נתקבצו כל הנשים וישבו עמה ועשו עליו מספד גדול ועצום והאנשים התעסקו בתכריכיו וכל צרכי קבורתו וקברו אותו בכבוד גדול. ואותה אשה בוכה וצועקת. אמרו לה: מה שמך: אמרה להם: חגיגה שמי. כיון שנקבר אותו חסיד נעלמה אותה האשה מן העין. מיד ידעו שמסכת חגיגה היתה, שנראית להם בצורת אשה ובאה בשעת פטירתו לספד לו ולבכותו ולקברו בכבוד, על שהיה שונה אותה תמיד ושוקד ללמד בה. והלא דברים קל וחמר: ומה חסיד זה שלא למד אלא מסכתא אחת בלבד, כך, הלומד תורה הרבה ומלמדה לאחרים ומעמיד תלמידים הרבה על אחת כמה וכמה:

Rav David asked who is going to accompany us on our last journey.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Yiras Shamayim Part 1

The Rambam in hilchos teshuva chapter 5 explains that through the use of knowledge, one will come to the conclusion that we have bechira, it is not somthing that chazal needed to teach us. However, regarding Yiras Shamayim, one may have thought otherwise. Chazal is therefore teaching us a chiddush when they said that we are in control of Yiras Shamayim.

Yona asked what about the end of the pasuk, loving Hashem? If we are to understand that Yiras Shamayim is the only thing which is in our control, then Ahavas Hashem is not. When it comes to loving Hashem, one can have all the proper thoughts and do the right actions but whether or not one will feel of love, is b'yiday shamayim. However, this is not the case with yiras shamayim.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

הערה on עולם הבא (Corrected and Expanded)

Chazal teach us that the righteous experience rest in neither this world nor the next. While the concept of continual growth and קירבה are incredible, the עצלן within never allowed me to fully appreciate this idea, how could eternity be without rest, how could we strive for an existence of perpetual toil? I believe the question stemmed from my own קטנות. I would like to suggest the following מהלך: There are two components to our growth in life, our battle to be בוחר בטוב and the deep סיפוק which that בחירה produces. Our עבודה is constantly met with opposition, thus in order for us to grow, we must constantly overcome the desire to wave the white flag and become one of the המון עם. Rav Wholbe zt"l explains that the כח המשיכה is unique to mans יצר, we are pulled after our תאוות for the physical while our עבודה in the spiritual realm, despite the deep pleasure which ensues, posses no such pull (עיין עלי שור ח"ב שני היצרים ). Thus, so long as man lives, his growth is frought with difficulty, regardless of the lofty מדרגות he's reached (עיין חובות הלבבות שער עבודת הא-לקים). However,the nature of my question stemmed from an error in a most fundamental point. Our world is unique in that it contains both the physical and spiritual dimensions, two opposites which are miraculously able to coexist in one human body (עיין עלי שור ח"ב כחם של מעשים). Yet, it is that very element of physicality which creates friction when attempting to reach שלמות, while the סיפוק is a product of the spiritual dimension of man. It follows that in a reality which consists of the spiritual alone, the consequence of עבודה will be pure סיפוק, pure קירבת ד' יתברך. In the עולם האמת there is no physical גוף, thus there is no pull to be בוחר ברע, consequently our growth is without struggle. The Malbim, in his commentary on שיר השירים writes, that our difficulty in being משיג חכמה lies in the מחיצה which the גוף erects between our נשמה and the בורא עולם, yet if the soul were to exist independent of the body, everything would easily flow in.

Inner Goodness - Lag Ba'Omer

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai revealed to us that when all the outer layers of Torah are peeled back, what emerges is one basic yesod: H”kbh’s deep, profound ahava for Clal Yisrael (The Zohar writes that were a person to be aware of H”kbh’s great love for him, he would have no choice but to run towards H”kbh with open arms. Any other response would be impossible). All of Torah flows from this root. As Rav Miller once explained to me, this is the fundamental teaching of all of Toras HaSod.

This paradigm is true of people as well. If we can find a way to peel back all the outer layers of a person, to navigate through the intricate web of features that have accumulated closer to the surface, we will discover an inner, vibrant self that is an inexhaustible fountain of love. We catch a small glimpse of this love as we see it manifested in those who appreciate the fire of Lag Ba’Omer, a day when Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai penetrated deeply into himself in order to link his loving soul with the source of all love, Avinu Shebashamayim (a title we have from the teachings of his rebbe, R’ Akiva, Yuma 85b).

In the coming days and weeks, I would like to explore this inner goodness/love and a possible way to find it within ourselves.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Yiras Shamayim Intro

R' Reuven Leuchter gives a weekly Vaad on Yiras Shamayim. I will post my notes on the vaad each week. When R' Leuchter asks a question in Vaad I will post the question and then the answer in one of the following posts. Please feel free to post your thoughts on the question or anything in general about the vaad.
In contrast to past generations, taavos are pursued as a way of life. western culture is such that those who are brought up with in it are encouraged to go after desires without any hesitance. In addition, yiras haonesh is something which we can not easily relate to. Although we may try and live cut off from these bad influences, they are in the air which we breath. Due to our lack of natural hesitance towards going after our desires and our difficulty relating to onesh, working on yiras shamayim must take a different approach from one which may have been taken in the past generation. We will start with a source from the torah on yiras shamayim. "And now Israel, what does G-d want of you? Only that you fear G-d your Lord" (Deuteronomy 10:12) from here chazal learn "All is in the hands of heaven except for the fear of heaven"(berachos 33b) Why is specifically Yiras Shamayim mentioned? Why not Bechira?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Different Drochim in Judaism

I have a friend who tenaciously defends different drachim in Yiddishkeit, although they greater differ from the derech that he has chosen. I asked him about why he so passionately defends those drochim. He answered me the following:

"I have thought about why I feel so passionately about defending different drachim of Judaism. I think (and I hope that I am being honest with myself) that there are two primary reasons. Firstly, I think that it’s important that all drachim that lead to Hashem, even if do so imperfectly, as long as they lead in the right direction, should exist in the world. There are many ways how Hashem is revealed in the world. Secondly, lemaaseh, these drachim should be available to people who would gain from them. If a certain person needs a certain derech, and other drochim don’t work for him, how can we not be pained that the derech that would lead him to Hashem is not available to him!?!
I understand that these statements need to be refined before they can be used for hadracha maasit, and certainly not every derech is legitimate. Nevertheless, I strongly believe that what I wrote is the truth."

Friday, April 23, 2010

Simplicity and Complexity Part 3

עיין דברים הנפלאים של Bilvavi in Simplicity Before and After Complexity

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Simplicity and Complexity Part 2

What is desired of man given the reality in which he finds himself? How does one approach his own complexity? Should one simply ignore the philosophical dilemmas which have developed in his mind? Is there any purpose in delving into the depths of life and the myriad questions which accompany our journey through it? After all, we do have 13 principals of faith and we may rest assure that they are absolute truth, so why not forgo the complexity and concentrate solely on retaining our childhood simplicity, refusing to let it out of our grasp despite the expansion of the intellect? Yet, perhaps it would be more beneficial for man to divorce himself entirely from his simplistic mode of thought, letting go of the pure assumptions which he held so dear as a child, allowing his belief system to accept and internalize only that which has undergone the scrutiny of his newfound intellect.

I do not believe that either of these approaches to intellectual maturation is the appropriate one. As with anything and everything in life a balance need be found, a balance which allows for the truth of our simplicity to remain while granting the intellect permission to expand the implication of that truth, thereby deepening our understanding and ultimately our experience.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Beginning of Mussar IV – Mussar and Real Life

In the previous posts I described the three-part model of growth that mussar study provides – the ideal, the real and the bridge connecting them. In truth, however, life is not so neat. Growth is less like a ladder and more like a zig-zag or a maze (Ramchal, Messilas Yesharim, Chapter 3). It is a “running back and forth.”

Sometimes we must redefine our ideals, rest from intense self-scrutiny and inner work, or abandon one set of spiritual tools for another set. Sometimes we take a wrong turn or life makes us turn. What, then, is the value of the neat three-part model that mussar study provides if it does not play out in real life? This model gives us a road map, or more precisely, a GPS system. Yes, we take pit-stops and reroute, and maybe even change cars, but the GPS is there all along guiding us to our destination.

Beginning of Mussar III – Creating a Bridge between the Real and the Ideal

After the ideal has been inspired and the real discovered, a bridge, a ladder, must be constructed to enable growth. There is a plethora of modalities in mussar, depending on the school, ranging from behavioral training (hergel) and meditation (hisbonenus) to guided imagery (dimyon) and emotional arousal (hispaalus).

R. Nachman (Likkutei Moharan, Tanina, 48) warned us that this bridge is a very, very narrow bridge, but the main thing is to not become afraid. In other words, we should approach this daunting task with a sense of curiosity and trust in Hashem that He will guide us to our true selves.
Simplicity Before and After Complexity

There are two types of simplicities: the one that precedes complexity and the one that follows it. If you take a statement "every Jew is the same". This is simplicity before complexity. This opens up many kushyos. What do you mean all Jews are the same, we may ask? There are men and women, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, frum and not. Then we would engage in complexity, and explain at length about neshamos, and shoresh neshamos of Yisroel, etc. After this lengthy we can come back to the very same adage "all Jews are the same", and understand why it really is the truth.
Sometimes a wise man and a fool say the same thing, and former is right and the latter is wrong, because their simplicity is on opposite sides of complexity. Thus when a wise man and a fool say “all Jews are the same”, although they have used identical words, we realize that they mean two completely different ideas. The fool thinks that literally all Jews are the same, while the wise man realizes that certainly there are differences between Jews, but the pnimi, essential common denominator is what’s important, and all of the differences are merely cosmetic. (See Rambam’s Hakdama L’perek Chelek. There, the Rambam discusses different approaches to aggadta. The first approach understands them literally, while the third approach sees the depth behind the statement of Chazal. They see the same words, but come out with drastically different ideas.)
This idea comes up in our learning as well, in a klal-prat-veklal paradigm. At times we depart from an idea just to come back to it, but looking at it from a higher perspective. We are told a simple idea, we delve into it and realize that it’s actually highly complex, and then, once we grasp it fully, we come back to its simple formation. For example, we say “isho mishum chitzav”, namely, that when a person sets something on fire, it’s as if he damage with his hands. As the person does the Gemara, Rishonim, Achronim, he realizes that this yesod is much more complex than it would seem at first (for example, the Nemukei Yosef’s kushya, if isho mishum chtzov, how is it possible to have a candle burning on Shabbos? Isn’t his lighting before Shabbos extending into lighting on Shabbos?). Once he masters the whole sugya, he can come back to the klal of isho mishum chitzav, and that klal, with its nuances, is correct. This is the spiral helix model, you walk round and round on a spiral staircase, ending up at the same place, but constantly from a higher view. A person learns Bava Kama when he is fifteen, twenty, thirty, etc. On one level, he is learning the same Bava Kama, but now he has new insights, to come to understand (much deeper) the yesodos that he learned as a child[1].
Rav Ashlag applies this idea to kavana of briya. In potential (stage 1), people are perfect. We must be created with chisronos so that we can be metaken these chisronos (stage 2) and thus reach our perfection (step 3). We start with perfection and end up with perfection, with a yerida letzirech aliya in the middle.
I received great inspiration from limud hashkafa. I decided that instead of learning hashkafa for a few minutes per day, I would dedicate much longer periods of time, dissecting carefully each sefer to figure out its shita, comparing it to other shitos. At some point, I found the whole process dry and uninspiring. I asked Rav Lichtenstein about this. He told me that there is a theory in aesthetics that when a person experiences the awe of a work of art, and decides to study it in depth, he may temporarily lose the experience of beauty for this work. The theory states that in the long run, when he will take a step back to appreciate the painting as a whole, he will now have a much greater appreciation of the work than he did initially. Sometimes a person gets hispaalus from something, but then he needs yishuv hadaas to grasp it intellectually[2], and then he can get hispaalus from it again. (Rav Kook writes that hispaalus is bad for trying to grasp something. It is good as an experience or to help incorporate a chochma, that a person has already grasped intellectually, into his ratzon/perception.)

This is a major yesod of life in general, and learning in particular.

(The basic idea heard in the name of Rav Hershfeld, Rosh Yeshiva of Schapell's. The details filled in by me.)

[1] Rambam in intro to Moreh suggests a different model. He says that we sometimes have to learn incorrectly to reach the emmes. Therefore the model is: klal → prat →klal` (prime – perfected).
[2] Rav Yisroel Ohr 30 that need yishuv hadaas to understand things intellectually. Also hakdama to Ein Aya and Mussar Avicho.

Simplicity and Complexity Part 1

Man is born with a natural belief in the Creator of the world. To a child, G-d's existence is pashut and he must be taught to deny that belief (עיין אבן שלמה קכא). I was once sitting at a shabbos table next to a little girl drinking a cup of soda, "Where did those bubbles come from?" I asked. "Who put them there?" "Hashem did" she responded. However, as the journey of life continues, experience becomes increasingly more complicated, leaving less room for simplicity. A child's innocence weans as he enters adulthood, and very often his perspectives on life do not remain in their original state of purity. My goal is not to delve into the influence that experience and psychology have on the belief system of man, but rather to discuss an approach to our עבודה given the reality of our experiential life cycle.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Forest of Means and Ends

There was once a man who had inherited a beautiful garden. Lush, green grass covered the ground like a silk carpet. Trees of all types: mighty oaks, weeping willows, sweet apple and pear trees stood like soldiers in an army formation, every tree carefully placed. The pond in the middle of the garden was visited by birds of all kinds, ducks with yellow feathers, majestic swans, and the dark crows – all came to find food, shelter, and comfort in this majestic garden. The man worked hard to improve the garden even more. He pulled out the weeds from the grass, carefully tended to the trees, fed the visiting animals, and made sure that the pond remained sparkling clean. One day he realized that he no longer had adequate resources to sustain his beautiful garden. He thought long and hard and decided to cut down part of the grass and sell it for animal feed, and this would allow him to keep up the rest of the garden. Soon he realized that this was not enough, and he allowed the lumber company to chop down some of the fruit trees to make furniture. Soon, this was also not enough, so he allowed hunters to hunt some of his ducks, fisherman to catch some of his beautiful fish, and the local farmers to pump out some of his water out of the pond. All this the man did to preserve his garden. It was a small garden now, nothing compared to how he remembered it. No longer did the grass cover the rolling hills – it was a modest plot of land, covered with that same lush grass. The man no longer lost himself in the shadows cast by the mighty trees – a few trees stood scattered on his modest plot of land. His little animal friends visited rarely now: the food was scarce and the hunters often hid in the bushes right outside the garden. The pond was much smaller now, now a vast blue scene stretching as far as the eye could see. The man had given up a lot to preserve a little island of paradise. The problem was that the man was so busy taking care of all those endeavors that were necessary to maintain his garden, he never found enough time to maintain the garden itself. One day, after a long day of renegotiating the contract with the lumber company, the man snuck away into his little garden. The grass had welted – no one had watered it. The trees’ branches grew wild and some had been killed by termites – no one had taken care of them. The animals were no where to be found – no one had cleaned the pond in such a long time. The man sat down on the brown patch of earth where once lush grass once grew and thought for a long time. Why did I sell so much of my garden, he thought, to the farmers and the woodchoppers? Was it now to maintain my garden? But if the means kill the end, what have I accomplished?
We build edifices of gashmius to protect and help maintain and nurture are ruchnius, but then we are too mevuhal to say asher yatzar with kavana. How sad. What’s the point then?

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Beginning of Mussar II - Confrontation with the Self

As previously discussed, mussar inspires us to a loftier ideal; it stirs within us longings for greatness. Yet mussar only begins with dreams. The next step is to examine the real, the self, in all of its good and bad characteristics. At this stage of self-scrutiny the two most important traits are honesty and patience.

The study of mussar is an act of self-revelation – in all of its beauty and ugliness. It is an attempt to look beyond one’s defense mechanisms and peer into the depths of the soul.

However, as important self-scrutiny is, it must stem from the proper motivation. Ramchal (Messilas Yesharim, chapter four) delineates three different motivations that an aspiring eved Hashem may have. Some may serve Him out of their love for Shleimus, others out of a desire for kavod in the next world, and others out of a fear of punishment. Notice, however, that one motivation is missing: Self-hatred.

Growth is a necessity. But the beginning of growth is a patinece born of self-love; that is, caring for one's own being. We want to build ourselves, not run away from a self that we hate. We act as a loving, not an annoyed, parent.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Beginning of Mussar I - Gadlus ha'Mochin

The beginning of mussar is the ability to dream, to have a "subtle inclination from the sensitivity of the soul" pushing one to rise above one's present state, to envision the greatness of Man. Only one who has tasted this vision knows of its sweetness. It is likened to a prophecy in which one sees the true potential that lies within.

 The study of mussar, which includes shimush talmidei chachamim, has the dual function of inspring this vision and informing it. Concerning the latter function, the soul, the "big mind," the "natural law" planted within man, yearns to be Godly. It yearns to be a source of blessing and goodness in this world. But it lacks precision and form. Mussar, depending on the school of thought, gives color to the pure white light of the soul. 

I don't really understand these matters, but I just wanted to pass on something that was sent to me.

הקו - שיורד האור מאין סוף ב"ה בחלל שהוא כעין צנור דק שהאור יורד בו מהמאציל לנאצל, ובו מתדבקים המאציל והנאצל – ספר כללים ראשונים כלל ו

והנה עיקר התיקון והטובה שאין למעלה ממנה הוא מה שיפתח המקור והנביעו דאור א"ס ית"ש ויתגלה אורו וקדושתו למעלה ולמטה בשלהובין דרחימו בכל המציאות כולו הוא הנועם והזיו והעדן והעונג דכל טוב העתיד הצפון לצדיקים כי מה שיתגלה אורו וקדושתו למעלה ולמטה ברשפי שלהבת יה שלהובין דרחימו דאור הדעת עלאה ויתאחד בזה כל המציאות כולו ליהנות מזיו אורו ושכינתו בהם הנה זהו כל טוב הצפון – ספר שערי הלשם חלק א סימן א פרק א כוונת הבריאה ותכליתה
Development of Personal Thoughts:
Part 5 – Life Events Guide Our Development

A person must grab the opportunities to develop ideas. Profound development of ideas, though, isn’t just a mere intellectual exercise. Can I develop a profound understanding of love if I have never loved? Development of idea, in the fullest sense, must involve all human faculties, both those of the mind and those of the heart. This is why Hashem sends us various experiences that force us to think and force us to feel, and the contemplation of the mind and the heart allows us to develop our unique ideas in an appropriate way.
People want to know what they should think about, which thoughts to develop. This is a complicated question that requires much thought and guidance. Nevertheless, one of the most important guides is life itself. Life sends us experiences that challenge our old ideas, our old outlooks. We are challenged to build greater keilim, since the old keilim can’t contain the flow of life that confronts us. The old schemas don’t work, and we are forced to confront new ones. A person who acquires wealth can ponder the balance between ruchniyus and gashmiyus. A person who has to take time off learning to help his wife with a newly-born child can discover the importance of seder. An individual who visits a friend in the hospital is presented with an opportunity to recognize the yesurin of the world and how lucky he truly is to possess his health. Life is a great guide indeed.
Development of Personal Thoughts:
Part 4 – Personal Struggle – A Sign Of Potential New Idea

In Pinkas Rishon Leyafo 9, Rav Kook writes that at times the person feel lack of contentment with his self, with his growth, it may be because he prepared to develop a new idea, rise to a new level of understanding. His old level of understanding is too limited, too narrow to contain the light that he is on the verge of revealing. When the keilim can not contain the great light in them, they must shatter to allow for greater keilim to come into being, wide enough to contain the new, profound, lights. Chazal tell us that Hashem built worlds and destroyed them. Rav Kook states that the new worlds were more perfected than their predecessors. To bring in the next stage of development, some of the old must fall away. This is why, explains Rav Kook, that when there is a great intellectual “fermentation” (“tsisa”) of ideas, forcing some of the old to seemingly crumble away, we must not fear. Just like a woman suffers in childbirth, our suffering will bring forth great new lights. Every eved Hashem knows very well that more often than not “lifnei gaon – shever”.
At the same time, warns us the Baal haTanya, we must not lose our old madreiga. We are not spiritual anarchists who believe that only with a complete destruction of the old can an improved new world rise. Rise to a new madreiga is an incredible synthesis of old and new, a balance that every eved Hashem must struggle to find.
Development of Personal Thoughts:
Part 3 – Missed Opportunities

In Chadarav, Rav Kook speaks about missed opportunities of developing one’s ideas. A tree blossoms, but before the flowers can bud and grow fruit, a powerful torrent blows off all of the flowers. An opportunity is missed and no fruit will grow. So too, explains Rav Kook, the turbulence of life sometimes pushes us into a tizzy of life’s engagements. Now the budding thoughts that could have turned into profound ideas will forever remain undeveloped. We must seize the right moment, that moment of inspiration, the moment of koved harosh, in order to bring into the world the unique truths to which only we have the access. Chovos Halevavos and Orot Hatshuvah in their introductions speak about the fear of publishing Torah thoughts that even capable individuals experience, and the importance of vanquishing that fear.
לכל זמן ועת לכל חפץ תחת השמים
Development of Personal Thoughts:
Part 2 – Importance of Writing Down Ideas

Sefer Hachasidim siman 530 comments that anyone who declines to share his Torah thoughts with others, specifically by refusing to write them down, is a thief! Hashem grants us these thoughts as a gift specifically so that we should reveal them to others, and we have no right to withhold these Divine gifts.
In his very first piece of Tzav V’ziruz, the Piacetzner Rebbi states that it’s specifically through the written record of our avodas Hashem and its impact on others do we gain the ability to survive for generations, even after we pass away from this ephemeral olam hazeh. It’s a foothold on this world, a permanent lease on physical existence. As other people “ingest” our thoughts and experiences and develop because of them, we in turn continue to exist in this world. When a Jew quotes a deceased’s talmid chacham’s idea, the chacham’s lips flutter in the grave (Yavamos). His ideas are alive, they are relevant. It’s a tchiyas hameisim.
The Netziv (Introduction to Haemek Davar, section 4) writes that just like when non-Jews discover various of physical creation, they are actually involved in revealing kvod Elokim, so too when a Jew is mechadesh in Torah, he too is involved in such a revelation. The Netziv writes that this obligation involves the mitzvah “lishmor laasos”, the obligation to reveal all of the possible chiddushim that lie hidden in the Torah.
But what ideas should we write? Some ideas are dangerous, and possess no redeeming value. Rav Kook insists that the only tikkun for these ideas is their destruction. Other ideas are often undeveloped, admixed with falsehoods of the dimyon. They are like an unripe fruit whose taste is undesirable until it reaches its final and perfected form. Are we such baalei gaava enough to suggest that our written thoughts are those Divine gifts mentioned in Sefer Hachasidim? The Kotzker writes that not everything that one thinks should one say, and not everything that one says should one record for posterity.
“Then there are those who delight in speaking publicly, relishing the opportunity to spew forth their idiocies, torturing their listeners with their vanities....It was to this that our Sages were referring when they said ‘Every proud man is a fool’.” (Cheshbon Hanefesh, Anava).
How do we know when to write down our thoughts? How do we know if the idea is a true gilui nefesh and not gilui of dimyon? We must daven daily for seyata dishmaya not to stray from derech haemmes. Hashem protects those who walk with Him in tmimus. Such giants as the Chovos Halevavos (introduction) and Rav Kook (introduction to Orot Hatshuvah) doubted whether they should embark on a journey of communicating their ideas to others through written works. Certainly we, the ezovei kir should greatly doubt the value of our written word.
It’s a question that we must confront with koved rosh. Nevertheless, fear must not prevent our development. Ruach Chayim instructs us to wrestle with the words of the Gdolei Yisroel (“havei mis’abek”) but remember the great gap between yourself and those Sages (“b’afar ragleihem”). Coupled with a great deal of humility, yir’as shomayim, and hisbatlus to Hashem - we must learn, we must think, and we must write. Not to gain fame, certainly not to perpetuate cynicism and machlokes, but to fulfill our Divine obligation.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Development of Personal Thoughts:
Part 1 – Two Perspectives on Truth

One of the themes found in the writings of Rav Kook is the importance of developing one’s personal ideas. The Rambam speaks about the importance of a particular order of studying various branches of wisdom in order to grasp those ideas properly. The Rambam’s view of the truth is that truth is one. According to the Rambam, there is no such thing that each person has a potential to see some unique personal (objective) truth. Two individuals on the same level of understanding should grasp identical truth since there is one truth that can be grasped when the individual properly aligns his mind (through proper study) to the truth. Difference in understanding amongst the individuals is simply a product of a clearer and a less clear grasp of truth.
But there is another view in Judaism, the view that states that this creation is highly complex, that multiple truths can exist, sometimes seeming in a paradoxical manner. In this hashkafas hachayim, an individual possesses an ability to reveal a unique truth that only his intellect can grasp. Rav Kook subscribes to this view. From this perspective, the individual bears a great responsibility to develop his ideas because a failure to achieve this means that a certain angle of reality may forever remain unrevealed. It also means that without this development, the person’s true inner personality will remain unfulfilled.