Elevating Intrusive Thoughts to Their Source

In Keser Shem Tov the Baal Shem speaks of the inyan of Machshovos Zoros, “Foreign Thoughts,” that enter the mind during davening and other aspects of avodas Hashem. In short, he says there that they all have their source in the Aibishter, since there is no place lacking His presence, and therefore we can elevate those thoughts. He states also that there are thoughts which are to be pushed away, and that the difference can be determined through the nature of the thought, which requires some amount of training of the intuition.

Many Sifrei Chassidus talk about this inyan, because it is common to most people. The Baal HaTanya says that even Tzaddikim are inclined to Machshovos Zoros, such as when davening with the tzibbur (congregation), hence why Tzaddikim should remain isolated much of the time, so they don’t pick up the thoughts and feelings of others. The Ateres Tzvi says in Sur MeRa that various forms of these thoughts have their roots in the highest of holy places, and that we return them there through davening with kavonno, particularly with the Kabbalistic Kavonnos, for those who are able to do this. Rebbe Nachman states that the best way to deal with intrusive thoughts in tefillah is through simply focusing on the holy words of the prayers, and through this the thought will go away.

The Baal Shem HaKodosh speaks also of Kabbolas Ohl Malchus Shomayim, Accepting the Yoke of the Heavenly Kingdom, particularly in regards to repeating words of Sh’ma if one didn’t say it properly with kavonoh. He brings that through repeating words, even if it is to repair saying without kavonoh, shows that one doesn’t believe Hashem truly fills the world with His Presence, and there is nowhere that He isn’t. Even if words of tefillah are said without kavonoh, the reason is to make a Tikkun in some other place that perhaps you can’t focus on yourself.

Now on the daily level, this is a huge problem for most people. It is easy to fall into the trap of saying “אית אתר פנוי מניה” “There is a place that is turned away from Him,” chas v’sholom, Rachmono litzlon. There is no place in the entirety of Hashem’s Creation that is able to exist without His constant influence and infusion of Light. We see various forms of meshigas (craziness) in the news, or in our own personal lives, then come to think that Hashem isn’t also there. The reality is that Hashem completely fills the entirety of His Creation and encompasses it all. The purpose of everything is that Hashem wishes to grant us His kindness, as it says in the Gemoro, the Zohar, and other places; as well as to bring us to the Y’Mos HaMoshiach, the time of Moshiach, to accomplish the purpose of Creation. From the Seder B’reishis, which we say every night by Kiddush, one can learn the concept of Y’Mos HaMoshiach, and realize how Shabbos is M’ain Olam Haba, המבין יבין. Ultimately, Hashem runs absolutely everything, there is no place in the world without Him. Even though we have a concept of Tumah, and various things that are forbidden from the Torah and Chazal, even those things have Netzotzos HaKedoshim, those Divine Sparks, that are specifically elevated through our avoiding them.

Divine Yichudim Through Common Speech

In Sefer Keser Shem Tov, the Baal Shem Tov learns out from the Mishnah in Maseches Kesubos about people seeing a marriagable age woman speaking with a man on the street that speech is a very powerful thing. He says that even when one is out on the street, being involved with Olam HaZeh, even then at all times one’s speech is by way of Yichudim (Divine Unifications). This is particularly interesting when we consider that Rebbe Nachman says in Likkutei Moharan that one can serve Hashem even through being m’vatel Torah, through not learning Torah, and that conversing with friends is important. Even mundane matters can be utilized for a holy purpose, specifically in reference to the Tzaddik.

I believe it is clear from much of R’ Nachman’s referring to the Tzaddik, he is referring to a part of each Yid. In Chabad and other Chassidus this is referred to as the Pinteleh Yid. R’ Nachman states in Likkutei Moharan that every Yid has some aspect of the Tzaddik within them, alongside his various reminders to us that every Jew can become a Tzaddik with work. The Baal Shem HaKodosh brings also from the gemoro that one thing we are to learn from Shas is that we all need to thank Hashem for everything, like it says in Maseches Brochos we need to bless Hashem for the things that are bad as much as those that are good, because ultimately everything is good, though it may not seem so according to our level of perception. He brings that Nachum Ish Gam Zu, known for saying “Gam zu l’tovah,” “This is also for the good,” was on the level to recognize that all the Dinim and seemingly evil things have their root in Chesed and ultimate goodness. The Baal Shem says there that this accomplishes a Hamtokas HaDinim, sweetening of judgements.

Even when things seem to be bad, ultimately they are still good. Hashem is not a cruel God, though there are unfortunately many who wish to paint Him as such. It requires tapping into the aspect of the Tzaddik which is a part of every one of us to realize this. The aspect of the Tzaddik is connected to Yesod, which is the last Sefirah before Malchus in reference to the Seder Hishtalshelus (Order of Emanation, loose translation). Yesod functions, l’moshol, like a birthing canal, wherein all the various forces and powers of the higher Sefiros are channeled through it to manifest in the physical world of Malchus. When the world is viewed through the eyes of the Tzaddik, that is the lens of Yesod, a person can see how various influences from Above impact things Below, and can see the roots of various circumstances as they play out in our reality. Through thanking Hashem for good as well as bad, and actively seeking to recognize His hand in everything, we can eventually merit to behold the ultimate roots of Chesed in all things that happen. This is a hard avodah, but it is relevant to every Yid, and over time it becomes easier. Simply through thanking Hashem for His Chesed as expressed through difficulty will lead to sweetening the harsh judgments and lead to revealing the proper intent and goodness underneath.

Every Jew is Royalty

Rashbi says in Maseches Shabbos “כל ישראל בני מלכים הם”, “All Yisroel are children of kings,” in looser translation, every Yid is royalty. It says there in regards to a case of financial halocho that if someone who owes a debt can’t pay, and he has a robe that is expensive in relation to the debt, the robe is given up to pay this debt and he is given one that is proper to his station. R’ Akiva says that for all Yidden it is suitable they should wear such a robe.

The word used in Shas for this is “איצטלא”, which in the Hagohos V’Tziyonim on the side of the daf explains to be some sort of robe with a belt. That this is brought up in regards to the concept of Klal Yisroel being descendants of royalty. Considering what it says in the Torah, that Klal Yisroel is to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, we can perhaps understand more of the true nature of what R’ Shimon bar Yochai says.

The royalty of Klal Yisroel is not like that of the nations. Rather than our royalty being expressed through gaudy, glitzy, clothes what show off physical figure, our clothes specifically cover the body and remind us to be separate from coarse desire. As is known from the Shulchon Oruch we have to have some form of division between our hearts and lower regions, especially the area of Yesod. Really it is proper the gartel, the belt, should be worn just below the heart and ribs, in order that everything lower than the heart, where our less noble functions of digestion and excretion begin, should be separated. The purpose of this is to serve as a reminder that we should focus on higher things during prayer, rather than being concerned with lower needs. Up until the modern era, the basic clothing of a Jewish man was a long robe-like garment that reached the feet, along with a gartel set in the middle of the body. The only reason the gartel was ever placed around the waist was due to a decree by one of the Russian Czars, and unfortunately this has become the common practice. The royalty of Klal Yisroel is expressed through modesty, and our focus on the Torah and our Father, the King of the World, as we try to say at least 100 times a day through various brochos.

Unfortunately, many seem to have adopted the attitude that being a Ben or Bas Melech means that we have to dress as fancy as possible, have a chandelier in every room, and other such things. This is the complete opposite of what Rashbi means when he says we are all royalty. The fact that Hagohos V’Tziyonim specifically includes there the comment about the belt with a robe serves to remind us that our true royalty comes through modesty and focusing on elevated things, rather than things of this world.

The Torah Forgotten from the Jewish People

A horrible prophecy is learned out from Amos, in Maseches Shabbos daf 138b. The b’raisa states that the Torah will be forgotten from Klal Yisroel, rachmono litzlon. Chazal learn this out from a series of peskuim in Amos, all of which are brought there in the gemoro itself. There are examples there given of the situations that will occur, about Tumos and Taharos (subject of impurity and purity), and the people won’t be able to answer. R’ Shimon bar Yochai says in regards to this, “Chas v’sholom the Torah should be forgot from Yisroel! It says ‘For it (the Torah) will not be forgotten from mouths of his descendants.’ How do I explain the posuk ‘They shall roam to seek the word of Hashem and they will not find?’ That they won’t find clear halocho and clear Mishnah in one place.” Rashi explains that the lack of clear halocho refers to the reasoning for halocho, in order that there shouldn’t be machlokes (disagreement).

While it is true that on the surface Torah has not been forgotten from Klal Yisroel, like R’ Shimon says will absolutely not happen, there are things that have been forgotten. From the day the Torah Sh’Baal Peh was written down, a certain dimension from learning Torah was lost, that was learning directly from a teacher face to face. There have been tzaddikim who say that the minhagim of the tzaddikim are an aspect of Torah Sh’Baal Peh, in that they show us how to conduct ourselves. From this idea, we can see that minhagim of Klal Yisroel are included in this, since it says in the posuk, “עמך כולם צדיקים”, “Your people are all tzaddikim.” Unfortunately, in the modern era, many minhagim are forgotten or replaced by what the “mainstream” minhagim are. This isn’t a problem unique to Chassidish or Ashkenazi communities, I’ve heard of this as a problem as well among the various groups of Sefardim. We could say that the B’raisa itself is warning us that our מנהגים הטהורים, our pure customs, will be forgotten in time.

Rebbe Nachman says every Yid should learn Shulchon Oruch every day, so as to be able to tell the difference between Tameh v’Tahor, Issur v’Heter, impurity and purity, what is forbidden and what is permitted. This general principle must also be used to evaluate our minhagim, because sometimes traife minhagim enter Klal Yisroel and pretend to be kosher. There are many known examples of these types of things v’hamayvin yovin. Only through learning Torah, both Toras HaNigleh as expressed through the simple halocho of the Shulchon Oruch, as well as Toras HaNistar as taught by our holy sages: Rashbi, Raavad, Ha’Arizal, R’ Chaim Vital, the Baal Shem Tov, the Baal HaTanya, Rebbe Nachman, and the other tzaddikim and rebbes from the Ashkenazim and the Sefardim, can we truly figure out what minhagim and pathways are truly proper for us. Through learning Torah the soul becomes clarified and cleansed, as well as the body, so in the seforim we can find the proper הנהגות, extra-halachic practices, that we are personally meant to follow. This is also an aspect to what Chazal say that if someone can’t learn or do a mitzvah lishmoh, they should do it anyway and eventually they’ll do it lishmoh; since the neshomo and guf will become pure and more clarified to be a receptacle for Hashem’s Light through learning and doing mitzvos, even if one starts doing these things not lishmoh, the light of the neshomoh will break through the darkness of coarse desire and corporeality and cause a person to really love doing mitzvos and learning lishmoh entirely.

Our great and wonderful Aibishter should bentsh us all with simcha, sholom, and growth in avodas Hashem; we should all merit to see the Geulah Shleimah swiftly in our days.

Rebuilding the Beis HaMikdash Now

In the Zohar HaKodosh, daf 230 the inyonim of Ketores, the Beis HaMikdash, and tefilloh are discussed. The Ketores as offered in the Beis HaMikdash had the power to sweeten all the Dinim (harsh judgements), and this was one reason it was offered. The Zohar further states that the Ketores was a great joy to offer, and it was also only brought in such a state. In order to get even close to this level of a Tikkun, we have to daven Mincha with great kavonno, even more than in the morning, since in the morning we’re more naturally happy it’s easier to daven properly. The Beis HaMikdash is even referred to in the word בראשית, through the first letter “Beis,” meaning “house.” Hashem created the world with Chesed like it says in the posuk, and the Beis HaMikdash is related to Binah. How are these two ideas connected? According to the Masok Midvash the Beis HaMikdash is connected with Hashem’s aspect of Imah Iloah (Elevated Mother), which is the sefirah of Binah; Binah channels the Chamisha Chasodim (Five Cheseds) of the Feminine polarity to Zair Anpin, the sefirah of Tiferes and the six sefiros from Chesed-Yesod. Therefore, the Beis HaMikdash was the channel for the forces needed for the world to exist.

Now that there is no Beis HaMikdash, at least not here below, all we can do is daven for it. It says in the Gemoro that one who studies the halochos of the various korbanos (sarifices) and those of the Beis HaMikdash, it is as if they have alone brought the sacrifice or built the Beis HaMikdash. In our current time without Moshiach or Beis HaMikdash, and while there are difficult circumstances, it is clear we all need to spend time learning these halochos. The Baal Ateres Tzvi zy’a brings from the Ari z’l that it’s a huge mitzvah to say the whole Parshas HaKetores with a minyan, slowly, and with kavonno. Many other tzaddikim speak of the power of this to nullify harsh decrees and sweeten Dinim. I believe the Lubavitcher rebbe zt’l said in one of his Sichos that everyone needs to learn Hilchos Avodah in the Mishneh Torah of the Rambam. Along those lines, I encourage everyone to learn a perek of Mishnayos Kodshim every day, at least until Tisha B’Av to understand more what we have lost, as well as to be considered as building the Beis HaMikdash and doing the Korbanos.

Hashem should bentsh us that this will be our last Shiva Asar B’Tammuz in Golus, we should merit to the Geulah Shleimah, and to rebuild the Beis HaMikdash even before Tisha B’Av.

Fast of 17 Tammuz 5780

On the matter of the fast today, Shiva Asar B’Tammuz, the 17th of Tammuz.

The Kitzur Shulchon Oruch says that the key point of fasting is not the fast itself, rather that we should focus on tshuva and being better Yidden. Those who fast all day, but spend their time on narishkait are missing the whole point and making the tofel (secondary, the fast itself) the ikar (key aspect), and the ikar (tshuva) the tofel. In regards to this, I know there are people who can’t fast due to medical conditions or perhaps they follow a posek who says in our current situation what with the coronavirus there are more people included in the category of those permitted to eat. Either way, I just wanted to give a little chizuk for those who have to eat today not to feel guilty: so long as you focus on making tshuva and becoming a better Yid, you’re fulfilling the main purpose of the fast. If we can all do that, and take on extra mitzvos or periods of time for learning, iy’H we should merit to see Moshiach and the rebuilt Beis HaMikdash in Yerushalayim, along with the end of our long Golus.

Nothing Other Than God

אין עוד מלבדו

“There is nothing other than Him (Hashem).”

This is sentence basically communicates the entire essence of Torah, especially as viewed through the lens of Chassidus. For all the various descriptions of the seder hishtalshelus (order of descent of the Divine Light) and advanced concepts as taught in the Kedushas Levi and Tanya, along with the cyclical and profound Torahs in Likutei Moharan, everything ultimately boils down to the fact that there is nothing in the world but Hashem. In Likutei Amarim Perek 36 the Baal HaTanya writes there that regardless of the various levels of “Levushim,” the Garments that conceal Hashem’s Light, even the Sitra Achra and all the wicked aspects of created reality are included in Him. The only cause for those to exist is Hashem’s need to conceal Himself from us so we can have some amount of Bechira (Free Will).

The key way to break through the illusion and gain greater Daas (experiential Knowledge) of this inyan is through tefillah, simply through prayer. There is a great meditation I learned from a Yerushalmier Breslover chossid, simply to repeat the phrase אין עוד מלבדו at least ten or so times, focusing on the meanings of the words. Through concentration on this to the highest degree, meaning through examining an object or situation and its relation to the Divine, this helps build true Emunah and appreciation for how Hashem completely fills the world, that everything is under His control, and that there is absolutely no separation between us and Him.

The Path of Light

Mishlei 4:18-19 “וארח צדיקים כאור נגה הולך ואור עד-נכון היום: דרך רשעים כאפלה לא ידעו במה יכשלו”

“The path of the Tzaddikim goes forth like a shining light illuminating greater until the proper point of the day (meaning: Chatzos/Noon according to Rashi and Metzudos Dovid). The way of the wicked is dark and they know not on what they stumble.”

The ultimate light is the Torah. Hashem gave us the Torah so that we should have a clear path and guidance so as to how we should attain d’veikus (cleaving) to Him and perform our Tikkun in this world. In order to understand complete fulfillment of the Torah, we must look to the paths of the Tzaddikim and how they went through their lives for some form of inspiration to serve Hashem better. If we can follow their paths, this is even better, but if not we can at least yearn to follow their examples. The wicked stumble over obstacles they cannot see because they do not learn, and even if they do learn, they simply do not understand why whatever they are doing is improper. For those who are unable to learn, the best thing to do is to look up to tzaddikim and read their stories, because this at least will serve as an illumination to their path and protect from grave error. Those who can learn must also look to the tzaddikim, but they also have the additional task of probing in all matters of Torah to understand not just Torah, but the spiritual mechanics of the world so as to understand why something is a stumbling block. After at least part of this is attained, then they need to teach and assist others, and this brings much z’chus upon such a person as it says in the end of the first perek of Bovo Kamo that even better than fulfilling what you have learned is to teach others Torah.

Erev Shabbos Chukas-Balak 5780

A gitten ereev Shabbos! This week is a double-parsha, Parshas Chukas-Balak. There is an incredible amount to discuss on various aspects of these two parshiyos;

What I want to focus on is the last section of Parshas Balak, shortly before the incident of Cozbi and Zimri where Pinchas stabs them with his spear l’kadesh Shem Shomayim (to sanctify Hashem’s name). The famous posuk מה טבו אהליך יעקוב משכנתיך ישראל “How goodly are your tents Yaakov, your tabernacles Yisroel,” is known from Rashi to refer to the level of tznius our ancestors exhibited through the word “Oholecho”, through making sure the openings of the tents weren’t facing each other, as well as the Mishkan for atoning for our sins. In the Gemoro in Sanhedrin Rebbi Yochanan through d’rash brings that “Ohelecho” is a reference to batei midrashim, and that Bilam wanted to curse Klal Yisroel that we shouldn’t have them, or the Shechinah resting upon us, hence the word “Mishkan.” In the next perek, Bilam prophecies to Balak and one phrase he says is translated by Onkelos, “And he will take his reign and say ‘Woe to those who lived through what Kel has granted,” meaning that it will be extremely bitter and terrible for the reshoim (wicked) who live through the destruction that Hashem will bring upon them. Immediately after this, the Yidden then go on to commit the sin of impropriety with the women of Moav, and Pinchas stabs the two worst culprits in front of the whole Klal Yisroel.

What can we learn from these various episdoes? First of all, all the brochos that Bilam was forced by Hashem to bless Klal Yisroel with are only possible to be properly fulfilled through learning Torah lishmah, as well as fulfilling the mitzvos. The Tanya says that if someone doesn’t do mitzvos or learn, all the more if he actively sins, he’s called a rosho, a wicked person. The destruction of wickedness is something that is good, but ultimately a painful thing for everyone involved. There is a potential kavono from the brocho in Shmoneh Esreh requesting the destruction of the wicked that is worth consideration: the Shem Havayah there has the nekudos for Keser, meaning that the destruction of the wicked of Klal Yisroel doesn’t necessarily refer to destroying them completely, but rather the part of them that urges them to be wicked. Though to modern sensibilities, the actions of Pinchas may seem extreme and unwarranted, the truth is that he was acting from a place of Chesed expressed through Gevurah. Rather than being fine with a fellow Yid doing such a grave aveirah as znus (whoredom), which would not be a true Chesed since he’s allowing that Yid to absolutely destroy his neshomo, Pinchas destroys the whole situation in the first place through killing both of them, which is ultimately a greater Chesed since it prevented the sin from continuing further, therefore ruining the neshomo of Zimri. This is true kanous (extremism), rather than obsessing over political problems and fighting about those, the goal must be to fight against evil and sin. In this generation it can be confidently said that there is no-one on such a level as to justify physical violence l’shem Shomayim, rather the concept of Pinchas is important to internalize. Sometimes, unfortunately, a Yid has to be harsh on another Yid to help them grow, or at least to not fall. Sometimes something that seems to be pure Gevurah is genuinely coming from a place of Chesed. To go into the various differences would take too long, but let it be said that your average internet rabbi screaming about Gehinnom is not a Pinchas.

The Wonders of Enjoying Shabbos

In the Gemoro in Maseches Shabbos Perek Kol Kisvei (16th chapter) there are various aspects of the mitzva of Kovod Shabbos (Honor for Shabbos) explained, such as amount of seudos (meals) to eat, types of foods, clothes, etc. In the previous perek, interestingly enough, it brings that if a person doesn’t have an extra set of clothes he should find a way to lengthen his weekday garment before Shabbos, according to Rashi in order that it should be similar to the garments of the wealthy, hence rendering honor to Shabbos. This is an interesting rayah (support) for the custom of many who do not wear long clothing, such as what Chassidim wear typically, to wear a bekitshe on Shabbos.

Shabbos, according to Rebbe Nachman in Likutei Moharan in several places, can be rearranged to make the word Boshes (שבת -בשת), which means shame. It says in this gemoro on daf 119b that even if someone has served idols, if that person keeps Shabbos properly all of their sins are forgiven. If you were to take either word and add the letters “Vov,” and “Heh,” you come to the word “Tshuva,” (תשובה) (repentance). Those letters are related to the second half of Hashem’s un-pronounced name, the “Vov” referring to the six lower Sefiros from Chesed-Yesod, and the final “Heh” refers to Malchus. What we can learn from this al pi chassidus is that the true key to honoring Shabbos, which is truly honoring Hashem Himself as it says in the Zohar HaKodosh that Shabbos is one of Hashem’s names, is to realize our insingificance compared to Him. All of our honor for Shabbos must be truly directed towards the Aibishter, rather than simply eating and drinking to satisfy our carnal desires, it must be done with the awareness that it is for the sake of the mitzvah of Shabbos. This part of the gemoro also speaks of how much food should be made and the types to fulfill the mitzvah of Oneg Shabbos, from Rav Chiya who maintains one only needs to add one special dish, and Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav says one should make dishes of spinach, large fish, and heads of garlic. One who delights in Shabbos receives the brocho from Hashem that all of their requests will be answered them, according to this gemoro. This is because complete observance of Shabbos, as well as delighting in Shabbos, leads to the state of Tshuva, wherein our sins are wiped away from us. From this viewpoint, once Shabbos is kept properly with the appropriate mindset, then the Hashpo’os (spiritual energies) we receive on Shabbos can be carried through the week and brought to a state of manifestation in the physical world, as shown through the addition of the letters “Vov” and “Heh” to the word Shabbos to form Tshuva, which is an integral part of Shabbos.

Hashem should help us all to keep Shabbos properly, according to halocho, and we should all be able to properly enjoy Shabbos as is fitting of such a holy and amazing day.