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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