Weekly Cycle

Monday, December 17, 2012

Chomer and Tzurah, Ohr Yashar and Ohr Chozer: Explaining Chassidic/Kabbalistic Concepts Based on the Writings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

In the Rebbe's first Ma'amar for Shavuot, the Rebbe explains the significance of concept that the Torah was created 2000 years before Creation and that it was (and will be) G-d's joy (Sha'ashuah). Within the Ma'amar, the Rebbe explains in passing the concepts of Chomer and Tzurah and Ohr Yashar and Ohr Chozer.

The Rebbe explains that everything in the world is created with material (Chomer) and [spiritual] form (Tzurah). The material aspect of created things is made from the word of G-d, while their form come from the will and desire of G-d. The Torah is connected to the creation of both aspects.

The Rebbe also explains that there are two ways in which G-dliness is drawn down to the world: a light that comes straight down (Ohr Yashar) and a light that is reflected (Ohr Chozer). The same is true for Torah study, and is connected to the two kinds of Talmuds that exist. When one studies something and immediately understands it, that's related to the Ohr Yashar and that the Talmud Yerushalmi (the Jerusalem Talmud). If someone studies something and does not immediately understand it, having many questions on the subject, that's related to the Talmud Bavli (the Babylonian Talmud).

Studying in the way of Ohr Chozer, the Babylonian Talmud, brings one to levels that are higher beyond measure than studying through the way of Ohr Yashar. Yet, we see that that are the Talmud Yerushalmi also has advantages that are beyond measure, as we see from Rabbi Zeirah, who fasted 100 fasts in order to forget the Babylonian Talmud in order to study the Jerusalem Talmud. Both ways are important.

There are two levels of study through Ohr Chozer. First, is study with effort in order to understand what one is study. Second, higher still, is study with effort to understand what actions are needed and a desire to understand the essence of G-d, accompanied by awe and fear of not fully complying with the Divine will.

Torah study through the ways described above, particularly through the second, higher level of Ohr Chozer, brings pleasure (Ta'anug) and joy (Sha'ashua), for us and for G-d Himself.     

Thursday, December 13, 2012

How This World Brings the Soul to a Greater Love and Fear of G-d - Explaining Chassidic Concepts Based on the Discourses of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

In his first Ma'amar for the Torah portion of Ekev, related on Shabat Mevarchim Elul, 5711, the Rebbe explains the verse from the Zohar which states that "three 'knots' are tied together: Israel with the Torah, and the Torah with Hashem, one with each other, all together, level upon level, hidden and revealed.

The language used, tied, knotted (Hitkashrut), implies three separate entities. Would it not be better to speak in terms of Dveikut, which implies complete oneness? The Rebbe explains that the reality of the matter is that once the soul comes down to this world it is no longer completely one with Hashem as it was in the upper worlds.

However, there are advantages to the soul coming down to this world. The Rebbe illustrates this by bringing a verse from the Song of Songs, "Shechorah Ani veNa'avah, Benot Yerushalayim," I am darkened yet I am beautiful, daughters of Jerusalem." Yerushalayim refers to the level of Yirah Shalem, fear of Hashem that is whole, complete. This can only be achieved in the higher worlds. The soul in this lowly world is speaking to those in the higher world, stating that it has been darkened, it no longer has the same closeness and fear, yet it is beautiful, in the sense that in this world the soul can climb even higher. Once the soul is separated from Hashem and placed in a body, it feels that it is distant from G-d, and that it lives in a dry land without water, and that it could even sin, bringing it even further from G-d. This creates within it a thirst and a love for G-d that is higher than before.

The Rebbe also explains that even regarding fear, even though it is impossible that the quantity of the fear be greater in this lowly world, where one does not fully grasp G-dliness, nevertheless the quality of the fear can become greater. Fear of G-d comes from the idea of Bittul, nullification. There are two level of nullification. The first is when the individual believes that the worlds are nothing compared to Hashem, Kula Kamei Kelo Chashiv, and the second is when one realizes that there is nothing but Him, Ein Od Milevadoh. When the soul is in the upper worlds, it is at the first level - it absorbs G-dliness, but to an extent still sees itself as a separate entity. In this world, once the soul realizes that everything that masks and hides Hashem's oneness is a lie, this brings to an even greater nullification than before.

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."

Sunday, December 9, 2012

(Updated) Sacrifices, Prayer, and Creating a Dwelling Place for G-d in the Lowly Realms: Explaining Chassidic/Kabbalistic Concepts Based on the Writings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

In the Rebbe's first Ma'amar as rebbe for the Torah Portion of Pinchas, for Shabat Mevarchim Menachem Av (the Shabat that blesses the Jewish month of Av), 5711, the Rebbe delves deeply into the meaning behind the Temple sacrifices and how they relate to prayer.

The Rebbe first points to an apparent contradiction: the Torah makes clear that sacrifices are the key aspect of Divine service, yet the Torah also states that listening to/obeying Hashem is more important than sacrifices. The Rebbe also states that we must better understand the nature of sacrifices themselves. As our sages ask, "If a person sinned, what sin did the animal commit?" 

The explanation of the latter question is that atonement comes when a person meditates on the fact that everything that is now happening to the animal was meant to be happening to him. This is also the concept of prayer being done in the place of sacrifices. 

The Alter Rebbe explains in Likutei Torah that the Olah sacrifices (the burnt elevation offering) involved the sacrificing of flesh, sinews, and bones. Bones are connected to the brain, while the flesh is connected to blood and to the heart. Prayer replaces sacrifices in the sense that concentrating on the nullification of the worlds before G-d is connected to the service of the mind, while arousing the emotional attributes (middot) linked to love and fear is connected to the service of the heart. The Rebbe then states that to some extent there is an advantage of prayer over sacrifices, but sacrifices are just "as if" what happens to the animal happens to the person, while through prayer affects the person's soul directly.

Still, we see that sacrifices are higher than prayer, in that we ask that our prayers be accepted [as sacrifices] and that the Temple be speedily rebuilt and that we may bring actual sacrifices soon. The reason sacrifices are higher is because the holy spark found in the animal comes from a higher source. As we've mentioned before, the lower something is found in Creation, the higher its spiritual source. 

The Rebbe then asks, that if this is the case, then the sacrifices brought in the First and Second Temple should be higher than those brought in the Third Temple, when "the spirit of unholiness will have been removed from the land." At the same time, on a purely spiritual level, prayer should remain higher than Third Temple sacrifices as well. Yet, we see that the Third Temple sacrifices are in fact the highest in all respects. This also requires further explanation.

To understand all of this, it is important to begin by explaining that the purpose of the Creation of all the worlds was that Hashem desired a home in the lowest realms. (Midrash Tanchuma) A home means a place, just like it is for people, when a person's complete essence and substance can be found. The essence of the Ein Sof was to be found there, like our sages' explanation [expounded in the last Ma'amar of the Previous Rebbe] of the verse in the Song of Songs, Bati LeGani, "I've come to My Garden." Gani should be read Gnuni, My wedding canopy. Hashem's essence could be found in this lowly world.

The main service that makes for a dwelling for Hashem in this world is that of sacrifices. In the Garden of Eden, Adam is told to work it and to keep it. The same terminology for "to keep" (LeShamrah) is used regarding sacrifices, "Tishmeru Lehakriv." Sacrifices remove the masks and hiddeness of Hashem, to the extent that G-dliness becomes completely revealed. The animal sacrifices would be consumed by a Heavenly fire. The sacrifices would reach to the "Razah d'Ein Sof," the secret of "the Infinite," higher even to how Hashem is usually referred to in Kabbalah, Ohr Ein Sof (the "Light of the Infinite").

Sacrifices in in Gan Eden also had a higher aspect than those of the times of the Temple, because in Gan Eden there was no evil in the world. The sacrifice's soul purpose was to bring Hashem in the world, and not for the purposes of elevating the fallen sparks after Adam and Eve at from the Tree of Knowledge, which introduced evil into the world and forced them out of the Gan Eden.

Nevertheless, spiritual service after the giving of the Torah contained a higher aspect than the one in Gan Eden. Before the giving of the Torah, the higher worlds and this world were completely separate. The physical could not become spiritual. Once the Torah was given, this barrier disappeared. The giving of the Torah was the bringing down of Hashem's essence, within the Torah itself.

We now see how the sacrifices of the Third Temple will be the ideal. They will have the advantage of the times of the Garden of Eden when there was no evil in the world and their entire purpose was to bring Hashem closer, while at the same time being able to fully bring down Hashem's essence because the barrier that separated the higher worlds from this one was removed at the time of the giving of the Torah.

Monday, November 26, 2012

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.

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