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Monday, December 10, 2012

Spiritual Ascent and Heavenly Descent: Explaining Basic Chassidic Concepts Based on the Writings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

With G-d's help, here is another short excerpt explaining Chassidic/Kabbalistic concepts, based on the writings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

In one of his first Ma'amarim, the Rebbe explores why the Torah portion of Bechukotai uses the words, "Vehitalachti BeTochachem," "I shall walk within you." Vehitalachti is a reflexive form of the verb "to walk." A simpler way of writing, "I shall walk" would be, "Vehalachti."

The Rebbe explains that Vehitalachti refers to two kinds of connections to G-d: ascent and descent. The Rebbe uses the metaphor of a mountain, and the differences between one that needs to climb up the mountain versus one that descends.

To ascend a mountain, the Rebbe explains, one needs to know the paths and ways, to have the proper clothing, and to be particularly strong. When it comes to going up the "mountain of G-d," the paths and ways are the Torah and mitzvot. One must learn Torah properly, with the proper intention (Lishmah), and not for any alterior motive. First and foremost, one must have fear of Heaven. When it comes to mitzvot, it is also not enough just to perform the act, but one must make sure to perform it in a way that actually accomplishes what was intended (also Lishmah). The Rebbe gives an example that one can be performing the mitzvah of honoring one's parents while actually embarrassing them. Furthermore, the Rebbe explains that knowing the "ways" up the mountain refers to knowledge of G-dliness, which will automatically bring to love and fear of G-d. In the process, one must elevate not only the G-dly soul, but the animal soul as well. The proper "clothing" refers to the "letters" of one's thought, speech, and deed. These requirements apply to going up to Heaven, going up from the Lower Garden of Eden to the Higher Garden of Eden, and the infinite levels that the Garden of Eden in fact contains.

Going down the mountain, on the other hand, does not have any of these requirements. All that is needed is to be able to be "Metzamtzem," to be able to make oneself smaller. Here to there are different ways in which Hashem descends to us. Using the metaphor of a king, one can only get closer to the king in accordance to one's position. Some people make it only to the entrance way, some to the inner hallway, and some to the king's room itself. However there are times when the king himself reveals himself to all his subjects in his royal garments. These revelations are so strong that all are nullified to his power. This is comparable to the Redemption from Egypt and the Giving of the Torah. At other times, he visits his subjects with ordinary day-to-day garments. The relationship with the King when he is wearing ordinary clothing is actually greater and more personal than when He is in his royal garments. This is comparable to the mitzvot, which are G-d Himself enclothed in the physical world. 

Both the ascent and the descent have advantages. Although the ascent is limited to one's potential and service, the connection is more fully internalized (Pnimi). The revelation that comes from descent is unchanged from its source above, but is only absorbed in a more "surrounding" way (Sovev) and is not fully internalized. 

[Both kinds of connection are important, and both are reflected in the year itself. May we merit to be able to relate to G-d in both ways, and reach the full meaning of the verse, "Vehitalachti BeTochachem," "I shall walk within you."

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