Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Sefirot and the Counting of the Omer (Explaining Chassidic Concepts Based on the Writings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)

With G-d's help, we continue our efforts to explain Chassidic/Kabbalistic concepts, based on the writings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

In his first Ma'amar on Lag Ba'Omer (18th of Iyar, 5711), the Rebbe explains how the Counting of the Omer is connected to purifying and rectifying the animal soul, and that there are two elements: the rectification 
(Beirur)of a person's mind (Mochin) and the rectification of a person's attributes (Middot). In turn, the Rebbe explains that these two rectifications are connected to the bringing of the Omer offering and the counting itself.

The Omer offering is brought from barley (animal food), and the Talmud teaches that a baby does gain the intellectual capacity to speak until he's tasted cereal, which indicates that the Omer offering is connect to the intellect, the Mochin of the animal soul.

After the rectification of the intellect comes the rectification of the [emotional] attributes, both on a daily basis and on a weekly basis. There is a "general" rectification on the level of Makif (surrounding, not penetrating) and a "specific" one that goes into the detail of each of the seven emotional attributes and is properly internalized. The idea of the step-by-step, slow, deeper and detailed rectification is expressed in working on the subdivisions of the emotional attributes, until one's thoughts, speech, and deeds are as they should be. This is the idea of taking each day to work on a subdivision, Chesed shebeChesed, Hod shebeHod, etc. 

The Rebbe also explains what certain subdivisions represent. For example Chesed shebeChesed symbolizes that out of the love one has for Hashem, he loves also what Hashem loves. When one sees someone studying Torah and fulfilling mitzvot with fear of Heaven, that inspires love for that person. Chesed shebeChesed also inspires a person to fulfill the Torah and mitzvot him/herself with great alacrity.

Gevurah shebeChesed means that love for Hashem causes a person to hate those that are against Him. Tiferet shebeChesed is related to love for the beauty and sweetness of the Torah and mitzvot. Netzach shebeChesed is the determination (out of love) to study Torah and fulfill mitzvot against any obstacles, and Hod shebeChesed is related to the idea of fighting with any outside forces that are trying to prevent him from his goal. Yesod shebeChesed is related to a deep soul connection [foundation] to Torah and mitzvot, and Malchut shebeChesed is bringing oneself [and all the above] to a state where all his thoughts, speech, and deeds are solely connected to Torah and mitzvot.

The Rebbe further explains that all the good qualities above have a negative counterpart. The subdivisions of Chesed for example, can be rooted in the love for physicality that takes him away from G-dliness. A person may, G-d forbid, take all the of the above (the love, the hate, the beauty, determination, etc.) and apply it to the physical.

The Rebbe points out that Hod is also connected to the idea of acknowledgment. Hod shebeHod, which is the Sefirah for Lag Ba'Omer, represents a level of acknowledgment that is intrinsic to this characteristic, unrelated to reason or even to the higher emotions. It is the lowest level of holiness - even if one bows during Modim (the prayer of thanks/acknowledgment) without even knowing why, there is still hope for such a person, and he/she is still connected to holiness.

The task of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was to connect the highest levels of holiness to the lowest ones, and that is why his highest revelations, which he revealed on the very day of his passing, were on the day of Hod shebeHod.

[Now that Chanukah and, L'Havdil, Thanksgiving (celebrated together for the first and probably only time in history) are upon us, may we all connect to the idea of Hod, giving thanks, and renew our hope and expectation of the day when the holiness of each and every person will be revealed.

The following are the additions we make on Chanukah to the prayer of Modim mentioned above, part of the Amidah:

On Chanukah and Purim, the following is added.
And [we thank You] for the miracles, for the redemption, for the mighty deeds, for the saving acts, and for the wonders which You have wrought for our ancestors in those days, at this time ---
On Chanukah continue here: 

In the days of Matityahu, the son of Yochanan the High Priest, the Hasmonean and his sons, when the wicked Hellenic government rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and violate the decrees of Your will. But You, in Your abounding mercies, stood by them in the time of their distress. You waged their battles, defended their rights and avenged the wrong done to them. You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the wanton sinners into the hands of those who occupy themselves with Your Torah. You made a great and holy name for Yourself in Your world, and effected a great deliverance and redemption for Your people to this very day. Then Your children entered the shrine of Your House, cleansed Your Temple, purified Your Sanctuary, kindled lights in Your holy courtyards, and instituted these eight days of Chanukah to give thanks and praise to Your great Name.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Yitkafia and Yit'apcha: Explaining Chassidic Concepts Based on the Writings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

This coming Friday is the Yud Tes (19th of) Kislev, which is known in Chabad circles as the "Rosh Hashanah of Chassidut. It marks the liberation of the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, known as the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe stated that Yud (the 10th of )Kislev marks the birth of a chassid, while Yud Tes Kislev marks his brit-milah (circumcision, the removal of the outer barrier).

In honor of this day, we will, G-d willing, attempt to explain Chassidic/Kabbalistic concepts, based on the writings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, which trace their back to the Alter Rebbe himself.

The first concept to be explained here are the concepts of Yitkafia and Yit'apcha. In one of his first Maamarim, the Rebbe explains that our Divine service in this world, known as Avodat HaBeirurim (sifting through and elevating the holy sparks of this world) consists of taking what is undesired and associated with the [cosmic] left (the side of impurity) and uplifting them and integrating them into the [cosmic] right (the side of holiness). He further states that this is service of Torah study itself, clarifying what is allowed and what is forbidden and elevating it to the "right."

The Rebbe then states that when it comes to this Divine service, there are two major approaches, Yitkafia Sitra Achra (holding back the evil inclination), and Yit'apcha Chashucha LeNehora (transforming darkness into light). Both have advantages and disadvantages when compared to the other.

The service of  Yitkafia involves the good inclination "dressing" itself into the evil inclination, and overpowering and overwhelming it, until it itself becomes subservient and nullified to the good. Yitkafia is the Divine service of the Beinoni (the "intermediate") and is applicable to every individual. It is compared to an actual war, a struggle exemplified by Jacob's (the good inclination) wresting with Esau's angel (the evil inclination). Vay'avek ish imo – “And a man (angel) wrestled with him.” (Genesis 32:25)

The advantage of Yitkafia is that that the evil must fully acknowledge the good. Its disadvantage is that the evil never really goes away. Like the concept of nullification in Jewish law, sometimes nullification takes place when you have 60 times more of the kosher substance than the non-kosher one, sometimes you have 1000, and sometimes even 10,000. No matter the difference, the non-kosher substance never disappears completely, it is still there to some extent. 

Another disadvantage of Yitkafia is that the interaction between the good and the evil cannot help but slightly weaken the good, just like wen you pour sweet drinkable water over bitter water, the entire body of water now becomes drinkable, but is not as sweet as the original sweet water.

Yit'apcha Chashucha LeNehora involves a revelation of Divine light that automatically transforms the evil inclination into good. Its advantage is that it leaves no trace of the evil. The disadvantage is that the evil does not acknowledge the good inclination - it becomes transformed automatically, in the face of the new light that is revealed. 
The Rebbe compares the difference between Yitkafia and Yit'apcha to the two different ways a litigant can emerge victorious in a court room. One way to defeat the prosecution is by the defense offering arguments that successfully counter those offered by the opposing party. This would be equivalent to Yitkafia, where there is a struggle, a back and forth between the two sides. Another way the defendant can win is if the King himself appears in the courtroom. The revelation of the countenance of the King [and his decision as a matter of equity to side with the defendant] makes both sides work for the defense. This would be the equivalent of  Yit'apcha.

When it comes to our Divine service, we can fight the evil inclination by reading chassidic works that others related to morals and ethics that help us "know the enemy" and properly fight the evil inclination through Yitkafia. [It is worth noting that Yitkafia applies even in the realm of what is permitted, yet susceptible toabuse. One must know when it may be necessary to hold back even when doing something completely "kosher"]. Yit'apcha usually involves a revelation from above, Divine assistance in the form of a Rebbe's encouragement, for example. 

There is an even higher level of Yit'apcha. This level is above understanding and feeling, which comes from the very essence of the person, from his/her innermost desire to abandon all evil in order to be close to Hashem.  A person may not even know what is harmful spiritually and may not know what is G-dly either, but something inside him/her nevertheless pushes the person away from evil and to come closer to G-d. 

[In the coming days of Yud Tes Kislev and Chanukah, may we all connect to this essence, to that pure flask of oil that each one of us carries inside, stamped with the seal of the High Priest, the Kohen Gadol