Friday, April 30, 2010
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
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
Thursday, April 22, 2010
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
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.)
 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).
 Rav Yisroel Ohr 30 that need yishuv hadaas to understand things intellectually. Also hakdama to Ein Aya and Mussar Avicho.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
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 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 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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.