Friday, October 19, 2012

3 Cheshvan ~ R' Yisrael of Rozhin

Torah scroll crown from the court of Rabbi Israel Ruzhin

The mere mention of the word "Ruzhin" is enough to conjure up stories of fabulous wealth and undreamed of treasures. Indeed, the Rebbe of Ruzhin was already a legend in his own lifetime. All of his personal belongings, even his everyday cutlery, were made of the most expensive materials. The buttons on his bekeshes were made of solid gold, studded with diamonds,
and his pillowcase was woven from pure gold thread. Even though the reasons for the Rebbe's conduct were not understood by most people, he was regarded as one of the greatest tzaddikim of his time.

As a small child his phenomenal level of kedusha was noticeable. When he was only a few years old he would often cry bitter tears but would refuse to disclose the reason for his crying. When his father told him that as a father he has the right to decree that his son tell him the reason for his tears, he answered, "I am thinking to myself how many times I have lifted up my hands today not for the sake of heaven."

Wherever the Rebbe went crowds came to see him. The Rebbe travelled in a beautiful carriage drawn by four white horses. On one occasion, the Rebbe was asked how he keeps himself from having haughty thoughts when he sees the many people pushing to see him. The Rebbe answered the question with a parable.

There was once a king who ruled over a country which was too big for him to control by himself. He therefore appointed a governor over each province. One day the king decided to visit one of his faraway provinces that he had never been to before. When the king arrived he asked the governor to accompany him for a stroll through the main street of the area. As they walked down the street together, crowds began to push each other to get a better view of their governor. The king, however, was not recognized by anyone. In the commotion to see the governor, the king got pushed and shoved around along with everyone else. Can you imagine how embarrassed the governor must have been? His importance came only from the king, he must have felt terrible to see that the kiwas getting pushed around. "Similarly", ended the Ruzhiner, "When I see the way people try to honor me, I think to myself, if only they would honor Hashem like this as well, and it makes me so upset that the idea of becoming haughty doesn't even occur to me!"

Although from the outside it appeared that the Rebbe enjoyed all the comforts of this world, nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, the Rebbe afflicted himself terribly, denying his body even the basic necessities. This point is illustrated by the famous story of the Rebbe's boots. The Rebbe used to wear a magnificent pair of boots. It was rumored that even the Czar of Russia was jealous of these boots. Made of solid gold and studded with diamonds and other precious stones, they were the envy of all who beheld them. Once on a bitterly cold night the Rebbe went out in his boots to sanctify the New Moon. The Rebbe stood for a long time in the snow davening. When he left, the chassidim noticed blood where he had been standing.

An investigation of the Rebbe's boots revealed that they had no sole. Every time the Rebbe wore them he was really walking barefoot and when he stood on the snow his feet became stuck to the icy ground, causing them to bleed when he left. When this story became known, even those people who had until then been opposed to his extravagant life style, bowed their heads in deference, acknowledging that the Rebbe's every action was only for the sake of Heaven and not for his own pleasure.

On one occasion he commented that when the time came for him to be born, his soul did not want to descend into this lowly world until the body promised the soul that it would not partake of this world, only what it would need for its basic survival.

The Rebbe sought to lighten the heavy burden of the Jews as much as possible. When it was decreed that all the Jews had to change their way of dress to that of the non-Jews, most of the authorities of the time held that a person should give up his life rather than change his mode of dress. When the Rebbe was asked what he held, he answered, "Jacob received Isaac's blessing when dressed in Esau's clothes."

On one occasion the Rebbe spoke about the final geula and said that it would begin with the gradual emigration of Jews to Israel. Just as in the times of Ezra there was no miraculous redemption as in Egypt, similarly in our times if the generation will not be worthy, the redemption will also take place in a natural way.

The countries of the world will decide to give the Land of Israel to the Jewish people as a land of their own, and the Jewish people will come back and rebuild the land. There will be great miracles but they will be hidden in the circle of nature, and after this we will see the final redemption. As the Rebbe finished these words he sighed and said, "Of course it bothers us that the geula should start in such a way, but we have no more strength to wait. However it will be, let it start already."

Source: The Golden Dynasty, The Lives and Times of the Rizhniner Rebbes

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tzedakah miracle in Ir HaKodesh, week of Shabbos Chazon 5772

Reposted from facebook: 
last night i decided to take a walk around 1am. on my way back a sweet old lady approached me asking if i knew where a certain hotel was. i must note that since leaving my house i was filled with this expansive sense of love and suddenly the situation struck me as very odd that an elderly woman was roaming the streets looking for a place to stay for the night. i told her i did not know where the hotel was but i knew of a hostel nearby. we walked there but there was no room. then we tried another hotel, long story, it turned out the rooms there were $200/night, more than the woman had. at this point the woman began looking at stairwells and considering just sitting somewhere for the remaining night hours. the situation was heartbraking. i even offered to let her stay in my room on a mattress, but she did not want to impose. at this point we were in the ultra-orthodox jewish neighborhood of jerusalem, and i thought, perhaps someone knows of somewhere she could rest for the night, perhaps in a syngagogue or house of study. without really thinking i told her to wait and ran after one of the ultra-orthodox men walking the streets. i explained the situation and asked if he knew of a place she could rest, he said began to give up..then he said, that he has money, if that could help. as if to reject it i said no, the only room is $200, but thank you. he preceded as if i had said $5, pulled $150 out of his wallet and handed it to the woman while quoting from the talmud that the temple was destroyed because of a lack of love between people. together we giddily walked to the luxury hotel, only to find out that there were no rooms available! the man then said to the woman that it is not right to ask for charity back after it has been given, so the money is now hers. we considered several other hotels and the man walked off. as soon as he walked off the woman took my hand and we walked into an alleyway. she was beaming with excitement, she said, i will go to the local hospital and sit there for the night, now i have money for the whole week, i can stay somewhere nice while i find an apartment, maybe even save it for shabbos. in other words, hashem orchestrated a miracle..nothing could have turned out better. when i told a friend about this he said i had met the souls of abraham and sarah roaming the streets of jerusalem. now i know why i felt compelled to take a walk, sometimes we are but vehicles for the miracles that are scheduled to take place..
May the inherent righteousness and goodness of all our souls be revealed in full and hasten our full redemption, and may we merit to see the third temple speedily in our days, as one people with one heart.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Mesiras Nefesh for the inner teachings of Torah

"And Pinchas the son of Elazar saw" (Bamidbar 25:7)

Pinchas endangered not only his body (the tribe of Simeon threatened to kill him) but also his soul (what he did was against the sages' will), all to remove G-d's wrath from the people. 

Once, a fire broke out at the home of the Alter Rebbe, and one booklet of Chassidus was burnt. After the fire was extinguished, the Rebbe asked if anyone had studied the booklet. His son, the Mittler Rebbe, answered: But father, you had written on it, 'No one should open this book, not in this world, and not in the world to come!' The Rebbe replied: Where is your mesirus nefesh - your total desire, to the point of self-sacrifice - for Chassidus..?

(Likkutei Sichot 18, p. 319)

To order Dvar Malchut, a weekly collection of the Rebbe's teachings on the parsha in Hebrew, go to

Friday, July 6, 2012

I will redeem you in the end like the beginning; not in haste will you go out...

The following is a passage from the Lubavitcher Rebbe's address on the 13th of Tammuz 5718 (1958), the day on which the Rebbe's father, the Rebbe Rayatz, was miraculously freed from Soviet prison (translated as closely as possible from the Hebrew):

1. The entire matter of geulah (redemption) - even the geulah of the individual, and especially on the day of the geulah of a "neshama klalit" (collective soul), whose personal joy is a collective matter - this is done by the power of the first geulah, Yetziyat Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt; and serves also as preparation and precedent and an additional step to hasten and bring closer the complete future redemption which will come by means of Mashiach.

2. In order for there to be geulah - there needs to be an "opening" (petach), a beginning, which gives strength, like in all matters.

This is the case as well with the exodus, as it says in the midrash, that Egypt was a situation from which even one slave could not escape, in other words, by the laws of nature, there was no way even one person could leave, even by way of smuggling them out, and nonetheless, the exodus from Egypt completely broke the natural order - 600,000 left, walking by foot, women and children included, leaving at the height of day, by an outstretched arm.

And this was an opening and a paving of the way for all matters of geulot which are beyond the laws of nature - there are geulot which are seen only by way of a hint on the worldly plane, and there are geulot that all eyes of flesh see which are the complete opposite of the natural order of things - like the geulah of the release of the Rebbe Rayatz from prison.

When an additional incident of geulah takes place during history, all of the prior redemptions are awakened, and are no longer only in the past.

And as it says in the Tanya, "our actions and service during galut" are the preparation by which we draw down all the matters which will be in the days of mashiach in the true and complete redemption.

When past redemptions are re-awakened, then all the geulot until now, all together, start again to enact in all their power - to bring the complete redemption, the future redemption which will come by means of Mashiach.

2. From the differences between the commencement of redemption - geulat mitzrayim - and the culmination of redemption, the final geulah by means of mashiach - geulat mitzrayim occured in haste (chipazon), while regarding the final geulah it says: 'you will go out, not in haste', but rather in comfort (nachat), as it says in Chasidus.

In the exodus from Egypt, it says: 'the people fled'. Because there was a need to extract them from the 49 gates of impurity, prior to the giving of the Torah, and so they needed to flee.

And because all matters are "for Yisrael who are called reishit - beginning', then the 'chipazon d'yisrael' - the 'haste of Israel' - also affected the 'hase of Egypt' and the 'haste of Shechina' (kivyachol) - as it says in Brachot and in the Midrash, that there are three things done in haste: the haste of Shechina, of Israel and of Egypt.

And from this we also understand why regarding the future redemption it says 'you will go out, not in haste' - that this will be the case in the world and also above (kivyachol), the sense of 'comfort', until the level of 'menucha l'chayei olamim' - eternal rest - above the principle of 'they will go from strength to strength'.

So it was in the exodus from Egypt, the people needed to flee, because although the exodus was supposed to extend 400 years, the Holy Blessed One 'medaleg al ha'harim' = 'skips over the hills', meaning that he 'skips over the end', cutting 400 years to 210 years, and therefore, the people needed to flee from Egypt in haste, because galut still had a hold (achiza) on them.

This is not the case for the future redemption, as it says in the gemara, "kalu kol hakitzin' = "all the deadlines have passed", and "the thing depends on none else than teshuva" which is "in one moment and in one instant", there is no longer the hold of galus, and therefore, no need for haste.

4. On the other hand, an opposite point can be learned: When the people were in Egypt, were it not for the Holy Blessed One "skipping over the end", they should have stayed in Egypt many years (r"l); if so there would be a place for saying that they did not have the precious time to take advantage of the service of galut, because galut is not only punishment, but rather there is the principle: "charity G-d did for Israel, that he scattered them among the nations."

This is not the case now, before the future redemption which is coming - becauase "all the deadlines have passed", we must make precious and take advantage of every moment before the days of mashiach arrive, when 'the spirit of impurity I will remove from the earth' - then there will no longer be the principle of 'l'fum tza'ara agra' (according to the suffering is the reward), and there will not be two ways before a Jew to fulfill the command 'choose life', and through his free will he will connect to God's selfhood and essence, for this is the place of free choice, and the source of free choice.

As the Rebbe Rayatz said several times, we must make every moment of galut precious and fill each with the appropriate content of Torah and mitzvot and altogether service of Hashem, because it could be that in one moment, there will be 'the salvation of Hashem is like the blinking of any eye', for there is no barrier other than "one hour" in which Israel returns in teshuva to their father in heaven.

And so it is with the service of each and every individual - there is no time to say, 'I'll change, when I have the time', because these could be the very last moments of galus, and after these will come 'the years about which you say 'I have no desire for them'' - 'night like day will shine', the complete redemption by means of Mashiach.

Shabbat Shalom

Monday, June 25, 2012

British fighter planes on stand-by to attack Syria if Turkey retaliates for downed plane

The Daily Star reports
British fighter planes are on stand-by to launch an attack on Syria after Turkey pledged revenge for the downing of one of its war jets.

President Abdullah Gul ­announced Turkey will ­retaliate against Syria for shooting down a Turk F-4 on Friday.

He vowed his country would take “necessary” action against its neighbours despite admitting the plane may have been in ­Syrian airspace at the time it was fired at.

He said: “It is not possible to cover over a thing like this. Whatever is necessary will be done.

“It is routine for jet fighters to sometimes fly in and out over ­borders, when you consider their speed over the sea.

“These are not ill-intentioned things but happen beyond control due to the jets’ speed.”

A Turkish revenge strike could mean British fighter jets backing their NATO ally in an air blitz on Syria in the weeks to come.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Niggun of Longing

Rabbi Hillel Patchper was sent by the Rebbe Rashab from Lubavitch to the Torat Emet Yeshiva in Hebron in the Land of Israel. After the yeshiva was closed, he was drafted by force to the Russian army. Without kosher food, the dear holy rabbi starved to death (may his memory and zechus protect us and all of Israel). This was the niggun to which he would pray:

Friday, March 2, 2012

The King's Messengers

Shlucho shel adam kemoto – the shaliach of a person is like the person himself” (Kiddushin 41b)

Send for Yourself

From the Torah it is not clear who initiated the sending of the spies to scout out the Land of Israel before Moses was to lead the people in triumphantly. In Numbers 13:2 it appears as if it was G-d's command: "Send for yourself people" (As in "Go for yourself" that was said to Abraham). But how could this command, which ended up so tragically, have originated from God?

Rashi explains: "Send for yourself"--by your own judgment; if you wish. This implies that the success of the spies depended on their inner identification and willingness to surrender to the task at hand.

In the case of a King's messengers, the will of the King is expressed more through the acts of his messengers than by the King's own actions, because in the act of comissioning messengers there is an inner bonding between the will of the messenger and the will of the King who sent them, and this power carries forth throughout the messengers' actions, enhancing the greatness of the King.

However, when there is hesitation among the people, who feel as if they are heading towards the unkown, and they will need a level of surrender that they have not yet known, they yearn for a King who will understand their weakness but also be able to provide them with strength and resolve. This is the test of Moses: can he activate messengers? Can he bring others to act according to their own internal compass, and in alignment with his will? And to electrify others with his spirit too? Moses has brought them out of Egypt, but can he inspire them with his vision to conquer the land? This was his real test.

Moses prepared his messengers with guidance, but the mission ultimately failed. We learn from Deuteronomy 1:37 that God considered the failure of the mission to ultimately have been Moses' failure. The spies felt that in their current situation, which was under Moses' leadership, they did not have the means to overcome the obstacles that they encountered in the Land during their scouting mission. Sure, they knew Moses as Prophet, Giver of the Torah, Judge and Ruler, clean of sin and of earthly desires, who had led them through the desert of mystical union, rather than through lands of military battles. Yet this experience left them feeling that they did not have enough desire and strength to leave the beauty of the desert, and cope with the inhabitants of the land, who drew from the land lives full of vitality and abundance. The world of the Oneness of Souls did not have the strength to overcome the separation of Existence (or so they supposed), and he who is comfortable in the land of separation will ultimately be victorious in battles fought there.

When the spies said "They are stronger than us" [regarding the Giants], the word "They" can also mean "He" in this context; in other words, the spies were in fact making a statement about God Himself; they sensed that identifying with God did not provide them with enough strength to protest and nullify the gross forms opposite them, and they renunciated that "even in the world to come He will not be able to pull us out of there" (G-d forbid).

But were the spies in fact corect [regarding Moses]? The severity of their sin and Moses' reproach indicates so, but in what did they sin? They sinned in the fact that they did not believe that Moses could, and desired more than anything else, to leave his own boundaries.

Moses achieved 49 Gates of Binah (Understanding), and at his death reached Sha'ar HaNun, the 50th Gate, the level of "no one knew", as Rebbe Nachman explains that Moses' soul departed out of his desire for the land of Israel, when he looked at Mount Nevo as a person desires a thing with infinite longing, until his soul expired from not being able to actualize his yearning. Moses is called "the faithful servant", sustainer, shephard and nourisher of faith in the souls of Israel. How does he sustain them? Through the Da'at (knowledge) that he sows in them. But even though knowledge cultivates faith, nonetheless a person must make a space in one's personality, as a result of the opening of knowledge, in order for faith to take hold. For faith, with all her silence and trasncendence of explanation, is infintely fiercer and more violent than knowledge, which is conditioned by human limitations, and therefore, the climate and immunity of Israel are fit for her.

This is why Moses yearns to move from knowledge of in the desert, to faith above knowledge in the land of Israel. For this the spies needed to believe that Moses of Israel was different than Moses of the desert, that he yearned to leave the word of speech (dibbur-midbar) to the word of the Hint (Remez), by which God had not yet been known, but which marks the place at which Faith shines, where the God's revelation transcends all conceptualizations and limits, and where humanity reaches, by way of knowing-not-knowing, an identification 

with God's validity and force.

This is in relation to the sin of the spies, but as for the leader--happy is the generation whose leader admits that the people's sin is his own. The spies did not believe that Moses could transcend his boundaries, precisely because he does not believe in them truly and purely that they too can trasncend themselves. Moses then sent the spies without full trust that they would complete their mission. He himself failed to fully identify with the Divine permission given to send messengers; and sent them instead as if it were a command. Only by imparting the strength of his own desire to his messengers can they succeed.

Moses was a stutterer, and already at the beginning of his path, it was clear how much he hesitated from being a messenger himself, how much we doubted that he could awaken the people to believe in redemption. Even after the Exodus, until accepting Jethro's advice, Moses assumed that everyone who wanted to speak to God had to go through him first. Moses was not convinced then that his approach, which derived from seeing God and his works, was going to be accepted fully and honestly (at least not to the point of emulation) by those who had not seen visions of God themselves regularly, who were burdened by slavery to physical reality, to its rules, conditions and limitations. Before the Flood, 'from the water I drew him' means that Moses was drawn from another world, from a dimension that was entirely Chesed and revelation, and that was the world he lived. Because of this, he stutters out of fear when he comes to speak things to those to whom this reality is foreign, his heart naturally telling him that he will not completely succeed in his own mission.

But he who truly wants to be a King must be able to rule like Moses rules when he applied the advice of Jethro. One must believe that every one, when the task is thrust upon them, will find the strength necessary to fulfill it; the identification with the one who sends will awaken this strength. When one comes to lead those who are far with an inner capacity that longs to lifts to them up and awaken in them identification with their King, there must be readiness to 'risk it all' for their hidden qualities, despite the limtiations of their revealed dimension, for without this there is no need in a king who will be exalted and elicit honor and awe; there could just as well be a tyranny. The thirst for the rule of a King is precisely the thirst for someone who will impart trust in the innermost, concealed point, forcing it to appear and draw the entire personality after it. Surely this entails great risk, and threfore there will be mistakes from time to time, as the Zohar states regarding the verse 'that a leader sins'-- Will a leader surely sin? Yes, a leader surely sins!

Moses sent spies but apparently did not believe enough that they could transcend themselves, that without him they could want to lead like him. And because he did not believe in them, they too did not believe in him, that he could too work outside of his own boundaries, and be filled with real desire for the Life of Israel, full of vitality, physicality, and engagement, the opposite of the equanimous, spiritual and unitary Life of the desert.

This is the meaning of: Send--by your own judgment. For there can be no absolute commandment to appoint messengers, for this would deny the freedom of choice of the one who sends whether or not to believe in his messengers. Still, God did want Moses to send them, and the command was God's desire for Moses to rule from his own freedom and readiness to rule, rather than out of obedience alone to the God's will.

The paradox of being commanded by God to choose can be explained as follows: 

Even though I am an entity on own, full of validity, freedom, and power of decision, in all this, I am You, not really separate at all, my Will is like Your Will, wherever you send me, to the hidden stairways and depth of concealment, the essential truth of my being--which appears so separate--is your Being; it only requires a wise and enlightened being to discern that I am nothing but a Hint to You, one who may approach my soul so as to redeem her. After Him we will surely go! 

~ Adapted to English from Yiztchak Ginsburgh, Rucho Shel Mashiach: HaTkufa B'Re'i Ha'Chasidut [The Spirit of Mashiach: The Contemporary Era in the Light of Chassidut], compiled by Yisrael Ariel, (c) 2004, pp. 193-199

The Power of Emunah

The Ratzon of Exile

According to Rabbi Ezra of Girona, the deeper meaning of Jewish history is the transmission and revelation Torah's secrets. Rather than view exile as a catastrophe, from a Kabbalistic perspective, these periods are those in which the inner dimension of Torah is revealed as medicine for people in times of darkness.

This spiral of Jewish history is encoded according to Rabbi Ezra of Girona in the Song of Songs:

Egyptian exile & redemption: Song of Songs 1:5-10
Giving of the Torah 1:10-14
Building of the Tabernacle 1:15-2:8
Desert Sojourns 2:9-3:4
Solomon's Temple 3:6-5:1
Babylonian Exile 5:2-3
Second Temple 5:3-6:2
Exile of Edom 6:3-8:12
Future Redemption 8:13-14

The One Who dwells in the gardens--The companions listen for Your voice; O, that you make it heard to me!

Make haste, my Beloved, and be like to a gazelle or to a young hart upon the mountains of spices [for the gazelle, even when it runs away, always looks back..]

While the (first) Beit Hamikdash was being consumed by flames, Assaf (one of the Levites who served in the Holy Temple) was composing a psalm:

A song to Assaf:
O G-d,
Aliens have entered Your estate
They have defiled Your Sanctuary
They have laid Jerusalem in heaps...
The Midrash asks:
Should not the verse have said “a wail to Assaf,” “a keen to Assaf,” “a lament to Assaf”? Why does it say “a song to Assaf”? But this is analogous to a king who built a nuptial home for his son, beautifully plastered, inlaid and decorated. Then the son strayed off to an evil life. So the king came to the nuptial canopy, tore down the tapestries and broke the rails, upon which the prince's tutor took a flute and began to play. Those who saw him asked: “The king is overturning the nuptial canopy of his son, and you sit and sing?” Said he to them: “I am singing because the king overturned his son's nuptial canopy and did not vent his wrath upon his son.” So, too, was asked of Assaf: “G-d destroyed the Temple and Sanctuary, and you sit and sing?” Replied he: “I am singing because G-d vent His wrath upon wood and stone and did not vent his wrath upon Israel.”
This is the ultimate level of perception of which we are capable in galut: the understanding that despite how terrible and tragic something is in our experience, we know that there is a higher truth, a greater good which it serves. We might eventually discover this greater good, or perhaps never learn what it is; nevertheless, our faith in the goodness of G-d enables us to bear the hardship and pain of the perceived evil in our lives. But we are incapable of recognizing, or even conceiving of, the intrinsic goodness of the “evil” itself.

But there will come a time when the veil of galut will lift, when the divine essence of existence will shine forth, unobscured by the shell of darkness that encases it today. On that day we shall proclaim, “This, too, is for good.” In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “I shall thank You, G-d, for having afflicted me,” for the quintessential goodness of the “affliction” itself will be revealed.
Based on an address by the Rebbe, Av 20, 5711 (August 22, 1951), adapted by Yanki Tauber

"It is all for the good": Two Levels

Rabbi Akiva taught: A person should always say: “Everything that G-d does, He does for the good.” Rabbi Akiva was once traveling, when he arrived in a certain town. He asked for lodgings and was refused. Said he: “Everything that G-d does, He does for the good,” and went to spend the night in a field.

He had with him a rooster, a donkey and a lamp. A wind came and extinguished the lamp, a cat came and ate the rooster, a lion came and ate the donkey. Said he: “Everything that G-d does, He does for good.” That night, an army came and took the entire town captive. Said Rabbi Akiva to his disciples: “Did I not tell you that everything that G-d does, He does for good? If the lamp had been lit, the army would have seen me; if the donkey would have brayed or the rooster would have called, the army would have come and captured me."


Why was he called Nachum Ish Gam Zu (“This Too”)? Because whatever happened to him, he would say: “This too is for the good!” Once the Jews wanted to send a gift to the Roman Emperor. “Who will go?” they asked. “Let Nachum go, for he is well acquainted with miracles.” They sent along with him a chest full of precious stones and pearls. On the way, he stayed at an inn. During the night, the innkeepers took the contents of the chest and filled it with earth. In the morning, when Nachum saw what happened, he said: “This, too, is for good.”

When he arrived there, he gave the chest to the king. When the king saw that it was filled with earth, he wanted to kill all the Jews and said: “The Jews are mocking me!” Said Nachum: “This, too, is for good.”

Elijah the Prophet appeared disguised as one of the king’s ministers and said: “Perhaps this is the dust of their father Abraham, who would throw dust that turned into spears and straw that turned into arrows?” There was a country which the Roman armies could not conquer; they tried the earth brought by Nachum and succeeded in conquering it. So they took Nachum into the Emperor’s treasury, filled his chest with precious stones and pearls, and sent him off with great honor.


There is a significant difference between Rabbi Akiva’s experience and that of Nachum Ish Gam Zu. Both reacted to seemingly negative events with the confidence that G-d is doing them good rather than evil. But in the case of Rabbi Akiva, the events themselves remained negative: he was left without a roof over his head, in the dark, and he lost his rooster and donkey. The value of these negative events was only that they prevented a greater evil—falling into captivity. Seen in this light, they do not constitute a calamity but a salvation. The fact remains, however, that these experiences were not themselves good, only the implements of good.

This is the ultimate level of perception of which we are capable in exile: the understanding that despite how terrible and tragic something is in our experience, we know that there is a higher truth, a greater good which it serves. We might eventually discover this greater good, or perhaps never learn what it is; nevertheless, our faith in the goodness of G-d enables us to bear the hardship and pain of the perceived evil in our lives. But we are incapable of recognizing, or even conceiving of, the intrinsic goodness of the “evil” itself.

In the case of Nachum Ish Gam Zu, the “negative” event itself was revealed as a positive occurrence. The earth the thieves exchanged for the contents of his chest was more valuable than what they took, achieving far more than would a simple gift of gems to an emperor whose treasury was already filled with the same. The only possibly negative element in the whole affair is the anxiety and fear a person of lesser faith might have experienced; Nachum, of course, experienced nothing of the sort, since at no time did he doubt that only good transpires in G-d’s world. Upon waking in the morning and finding the chest filled with earth, he proceeded to the palace to deliver his gift, confident that all would be shown to have been for good. 
There will come a time when the veil of exile will lift, when the divine essence of existence will shine forth, unobscured by the shell of darkness that encases it today. On that day we shall proclaim, “This, too, is for good.” In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “I shall thank You, G-d, for having afflicted me,” for the quintessential goodness of the “affliction” itself will be revealed.

Based on an address by the Rebbe, Av 20, 5711 (August 22, 1951), adapted by Yanki Tauber

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

22 Shevat: Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Yartzheit

Here are two precious stories about Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka: 

The Rebbetzin, Chaya Mushka, loved flowers. On her 50th wedding anniversary, a women's organization sent an extravagant bouquet of flowers to the Rebbetzin and included a card with requests for blessings for women who were unable to have children. The organization brought the flowers to the Rebbetzin, but took out the card to take to the Rebbe. The Rebbe looked at the card and when he saw that it was addressed to the Rebbetzin he said “this is addressed to my wife; please take it to her.” The Rebbe was informed that these were requests for blessings. So the Rebbe said, “she too can bless”.

The Rebbe explained: In Chassidus there are two kinds of light, memale kol almin and sovev kol almin, a light that fills the worlds and a light that “surrounds” the worlds. When the Rebbe blesses his blessing are a level of "memale," and a person has to do something in this world like a good deed in order to get those blessing to manifest in this world. When the Rebbetzin blesses, her blessings are on a level of sovev and when she blesses a person does not even have to do anything and the blessings materialize in the world.


Rabbi Chessed Halberstam recounted the following story of an act of ahavas Yisrael of the Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka.

The Rebbe instructed Chessed to take the Rebbetzin to the park, and she used to take bread and feed the birds. The park was in Long Island and they would travel along the Long Island Expressway to get there.

Once the highway was blocked off and they made a detour through the local streets. The route was congested and the traffic moved very slowly. As they were driving, they noticed a group of people gathered outside a house and a number of people crying. After passing the house, the Rebbetzin told Chessed that her father, the Previous Rebbe, told her that everything one sees is by Divine Providence and she asked him to return to the spot where the people had gathered.

They returned, and after a brief inquiry found out that a poor Russian family was being evicted from their home because they were in arrears for the rent.

The Rebbetzin asked how much they were in arrears, and the bailiff answered approximately $8000. The Rebbetzin asked the bailiffs that if she would write a check for $8000, would they allow the family to continue living in the apartment, and they answered in the affirmative. The bailiff asked how he would know if the bank would honor the check and the Rebbetzin told him to call the bank. He called and the bank gave the approval. The Rebbetzin wrote out a check, gave it to the bailiff, and asked him if the same men who took the furniture out of the house could bring it back in. She then quickly took leave of the scene before the family would recognize who their benefactress was. She also instructed Chessed not to tell anyone about what had transpired. Only after the passing of the Rebbetzin was the story revealed.

Tehiyeh Zichra Baruch 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Naturally Aware

Naturally Aware: Developing Consciousness in Light of Kabbalah and Chassidut

adapted to English from the book ‘Natural Awareness’ by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh © 5759 Israel

With the arrival of Chassidut and the revelation of the way of the Ba’al Shem Tov, the way that is equal to every soul, all of Israel can now serve God in the way of ‘the world to come’. 

Until the Ba’al Shem Tov appeared, the world operated on rote. This world is the illusory world--it appears to us that the world is a reality separate from God. Therefore when we take action in a fallen and dark reality such as this, a reality which is “mostly bad and slightly good,” we must direct all our actions (and even every thought and utterance) in order to separate and extract the revealed bad from the hidden good, the illusion from the divine truth.

This is the work of “Sifting” through this world, which at the very basis is done by strictly keeping the laws of the Torah, which create the consciousness of a servant fulfilling the commands of his master, and who has no relation of sense of belonging to the reality in which he operates, rather it belongs completely to his master. So it is when we operate from an awareness of a reality separate from Hashem, we do not identify with the awareness from which the mitzvot derive, rather we do what is commanded out of the innocence of a faithful servant.

In halacha we see, that the essence of the work of Sifting is to remove the waste from the edible, to remove the bad from the good. This is by way of the verse: ‘Avoid evil and do good’ (Psalms 34), i.e. first, move away from evil and thereby turn your attention away from the very existence of evil in order to remove it and move away from it, and only afterwards, after a person is ‘clean’ from evil, focus on the doing good. For only in a clean and pure state will a person’s good actions illuminate in the light of ‘it was good’.

The Ba’al Shem Tov introduced a new way: ‘Avoid evil and do good’ -- Move away from evil; do not address it and do not become involved with it, instead--’do good’--because through doing good, you will naturally and truly avoid the evil that has already clung to you--avoid, i.e. clean yourself, from evil precisely by doing good, for ‘A small amount of light banishes a great amount of darkness’ (Tanya Ch. 12). One should focus less on the reality of the existence of evil--because in these generations, which are weak in relation to the former, we do not have the strength to truly overcome the evil and cope with it head-on (because of this we were given a “high road” from above)--and focus more on the doing of good and the reality of good in every place, and in every act in the world. The good of our holy Torah is the “essence of good” (which has no corresponding evil) whose light is not dimmed by the reality of evil, but rather has the power to completely banish and nullify all negative reality. 

This interpretation of the Ba’al Shem, represents the transition from the work of “Sifting” through this world, to the work of “Unifying” of the world to come. According to the Baal Shem’s interpretation, a person has to sift the good from the bad, to accentuate the good, because then the evil self-nullifies and naturally falls away. From now on we are closer to the secret of sweetening, to sweeten the essence of reality, to see what until now was “illusory”, from the perspective of the world of truth--to see God in each and every thing--there is no place devoid of Him (Tikkunei Zohar 57). 

In this perspective, God unites with his world completely, as Abraham spread Godliness in the world: “And he called there in the name of Havaya God-World [El Olam]”--“God-World” and not “God of the world,” because He is not “God” of “the world” separate from him at its essence, but rather “God World”--everything is truly One. When a person thinks, speaks and performs all his actions from this perspecive, this is the work of Unifying.

Also in the work of Unifying, in which Natural Awareness is key, there is a unique order of Subduing, Separating, and Sweetening. Subduing is the existential state of the soul in which it is aware of the lowliness of the human being, and this is what prepares the soul to stand ‘empty’ and ready for the flow of divine awareness into her. Separating in the work of Unifying is the continuous concern with ‘beautifying the mitzvah’ that derives from love of Hashem and love of the mitzvah (which is not identical to the stringencies of the mitzvot that derive from fear). On a higher level, Separating is expressed by the desire of the soul to be reunited back in her Creator, like Rebbe Akiva’s passion: “My whole life, I was sorry over this verse ‘with all your soul’ -- even to the point that he takes your soul. I said, when will this come to my hands, that I can fulfill it?’ (Brachot 61b) The Sweetening of the work of Unifying is the continuous concern with the revelation of divinity in each and every thing in the world, as in the complete surrender of Abraham to walk in the world from place to place and to call the name of Havaya: God-World.

In the work of Unifying, there are three stages: our current period, during which the work of Unifying is to hasten the coming of Mashiach, when the essence of the work is to awaken the upper arousal, interest and desire from above to end the exile and transition to the period of “the days of Mashiach.” This awakening, the arousal from above, awakens by means of the Natural Awareness that searches after the root of Nature and awakens it to realize that revealing Godliness is its own innermost desire.

In the period of “the days of Mashiach”, the essence of the work of Unifying is to fulfill all the commandments as ‘commandments of your desire,’ out of complete perfection, and out of the innermost and highest intention of the miztvot, and thus to unify the world with its creator, by revealing the great and special concern that God has for each and every detail of reality, that he tailored a supernal commandment and special intention, through which God’s light would be revealed, precisely through a particular detail of reality. In this work, the Natural Awareness is awareness of the divine nature of the mitzvot.

In the time of the “Resurrection of the Dead”, the time during which the commandments are nullified (see Tanya, Iggeret HaKodesh 26, quoted later), the work of Unifying is concerned with Godliness Itself and the unification and mating of the different levels and manifestations through which God is revealed to us. The Natural Awareness of a person concerns itself with awareness of God’s nature itself and the direct relationship between God and us.

In the work of Unifying, a person in all of his actions makes the intention ‘for the unification of Kudsha Brich Hu [the Holy Blessed One] and Shechintay [His Shekhinah]’, to nullify the illusory separation between the holiness of God and His light, and the created reality. A person’s intent in the mitzvot is not to sustain his own soul but rather as a chasid fulfills them, ‘who is the Chasid, he who does Chesed with his Creator -- with His nest’ (unifying the Creator [koneh] with the Nest [ken=Shechinah], Tikkunei Zohar, Introduction).

The purpose of the work of sifting is to extract the diamond from the rough (see Jeremiah 15:19), to sift and redeem from exile the 288 holy sparks--the holy “souls”--who fell into reality during the “breaking of the vessels”. In other words, to reveal and bring to light the points of good and truth that are hidden deep within each and every thing in the world, even though it may seem “bad” from a superficial view. A redemption like this, is akin to ‘leaving Egypt’, the exodus of the children of Israel (the holy souls--holy sparks--who were buried in 49 gates of impurity) from the nakedness of the land (Genesis 42), the place of impurity and pollution. 

On the other hand, the work of Unifying is akin to the arrival in the Promised Land, the Land of Israel, “the land which Havaya your God desires, the eyes of Havaya are always on her” (Deuteronomy 11). Here “the air of the land of Israel awakens” a person to see God and His personal hashgacha (providence) over every thing. Here it is revealed that God is everything, and everything is God. Here there are no longer any sparks held hostage in the lower material realms, rather, after being sifted and separated from the bad, they have become like messengers here to elevate the world entirely and to merge it back with God. This is the awareness of the true and complete redemption by our Messiah (may it be speedily in our days).

The way of the Ba’al Shem Tov fulfills the p’shat of the verse “Know Him in all your ways” (Ecclesiastes 3:6), that even permitted things (i.e. non-commanded activites such as eating, drinking, sleeping) be included in the service of God, and a person should know God in each and every experience that divine providence brings him. This way enables a person to arrive at cleaving to and continuous knowing of the Creator. Serving God in this way is the complete and encompassing service that is called in Kabbalah ‘the work of Unifcations’. [This is what Mashiach told the Ba’al Shem Tov when he ascended to heaven on Rosh Hashana. The Besht askd, When will the master come? Mashiach answered, I will come when everyone is able to do the unifications that you perform; i.e. when the work of Unifying (rather than sifting) becomes the normative, popular and known way of serving God].

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