Saturday, September 27, 2008

An excerpt from a sicha of the Rebbe:

(The Rebbe discusses a Ma’amar of the Previous Rebbe and raises an apparent difficulty in the order that the five levels of the Neshama are listed. The Rebbe continues:) In reality, it is not possible to ask about the [Previous] Rebbe any questions concerning the order of “above to below” or “below to above”: It is known that the purpose of the Rebbeim [of Chabad] is to serve as a preparation for the coming of Moshiach, when “The glory of G–d will be revealed, and all flesh will see together [that the mouth of G–d has spoken].”[2] This means that G–dliness will be visible—“they will see”—with the physical eye. The preparation for this is that a physical body, that is visible to eyes of flesh, responds to everyone face to face, since the response of a Rebbe is a fulfillment of “The spirit of G–d spoke in me, and His word was on my tongue.”[2] He would speak mostly in Yiddish, and sometimes mix in a word from English or Russian, and the like. And as far as the concept of nimna ha’nimna’os [see below] is concerned, no questions are possible at all. Thus, it is also not possible to ask any question concerning the order (of the items listed in the Ma’amar), because he transcends the limitations of above and below.

Sefer HaMa’amarim Basi LeGani, Vol. 1, p. 281, from a sicha of Shemini 5710 (edited).

Explanation: 1. The term nimna ha’nimna’os means literally “the one for whom impossibilities are impossible.” This is a term used in Jewish philosophy to describe Hashem’s ability to reconcile opposites and perform an act that is logically, conceptually impossible. Whether Hashem possesses this quality is a point of debate amongst Jewish philosophers; the Rashba holds that He does, and Chassidus follows that opinion.[3] The Rebbe says here that since G–dliness is revealed in the Previous Rebbe, he also possesses the divine power of nimna ha’nimna’os. Thus, in essence one cannot ask a question on his actions, because the G–dliness that infuses them means that they need not conform to the rules of logic. 2. It should be noted that in that sicha the Rebbe does in fact go on to answer his question concerning the unusual order of the levels of the Neshama that were described (see there). 3. This is one of many sources where the Rebbe describes the level of a Rebbe as being inherently beyond our comprehension. 4. Here the Rebbe says a wondrous thing: The reason that the Rebbeim were sent into this world was to reveal G–dliness in preparation for the revelation of G–dliness in the age of Moshiach. A similar idea is found in the famous letter[4] in which the Baal Shem Tov describes how his soul ascended to the chamber of Moshiach, and the Baal Shem Tov asked Moshiach, “When will the master come?” “When the wellsprings of your teachings are disseminated outward,” Moshiach responded. As is well-known, the Rebbeim of Chabad explain that this means that we prepare the world for the coming of Moshiach by revealing and widely disseminating the teachings of Chassidus. Since only a Rebbe can reveal Chassidus, and the main revelation of Chassidus as a preparation for the coming of Moshiach is performed by the Rebbeim of Chabad,[5] it follows that it is the Rebbeim of Chabad who perform the main preparation of the world for the coming of Moshiach. However, here the Rebbe is teaching a different, albeit complementary idea: The very presence of the Rebbeim in the world, and even their interaction with people in a setting that did not involve teaching sublime concepts—“(the Rebbe) responds to everyone face to face ... he would speak mostly in Yiddish, and sometimes mix in a word from English or Russian, and the like”—reveals “the spirit of G–d” to the world in a way that prepares it for the revelation of “the glory of G–d” via Moshiach. This implies that the degree of the intensity of the revelation of G–dliness via the Rebbeim of Chabad is so great that it is able to make us fit for the ultimate revelation of G–dliness after the redemption arrives. Moreover, so intense is this revelation that it is associated with the divine quality of nimna ha’nimna’os, which, as is known, is a quality associated with the very Essence of Hashem—Atzmuso uMehuso yisboreich—as is implied in the responsum of the Rashba and discussed in many places in the Ma’amorim of the Rebbe (e.g., here). Hashem’s Essence is the level that will be revealed when Moshiach comes, for then the world’s purpose will be fulfilled—that it become a dwelling place for Hashem’s very Essence.[6] Thus, the revelation of G–dliness via the Rebbeim, who reveal this level to the extent possible before Moshiach comes, prepares us for the revelation of this level by Moshiach himself after he brings the Redemption. May it take place immediately!

[1] Yeshaya 40:5. [2] II Shmuel 23:2. [3] See Shut HaRashba 1:418, explained in the Tzemach Tzedek’s Sefer HaChakirah 34b. [4] Kesser Shem Tov #1. [5] Toras Sholom, p. 122 ff. [6] See Ohr HaTorah Shir Hashirim, Vol. 2, p. 679 ff. Sefer HaMa’amarim 5662, p. 335. Sefer HaMa’amarim 5678, p. 193.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Previous Rebbe taught:

Chassidus and Chassidim are a “tree of life.” The tree contains the roots, which are connected to the koach ha’tzome’ach (the potential for plant life found in the earth that sustains the roots), the trunk of the tree, and the branches. The roots and the trunk enable the branches to receive their vitality and produce various fruit.

In the Chassidic tree of life, the Rebbeim are the roots, the trunk is Chassidus, and the branches are Chassidim.

Every Chossid is a branch of the tree of life. The roots and the trunk enable Chassidim, who are the branches, to receive an internally-felt vitality (“chayus pnimi”) to produce fruit. “What are the fruit? Mitzvos (Sotah 46a)”—performing a Mitzvah with an internally-felt vitality.

Sefer HaMa’amarim 5708, p. 262


1. This analogy expresses nicely the concept discussed in the HaYom Yom of 24 Sivan, where it is written:

You ask how can you be bound (mekushar) to me when I do not know you personally. ... The true Hiskashrus (bond) is formed by studying Torah. When you study my Ma’amorim, read the Sichos and associate with those dear to me—the Chassidic community and the Temimim—in their studies and farbrengens, and you fulfill my request regarding reciting Tehillim and observing Torah-study times—in this is the Hiskashrus.

It is true that the Previous Rebbe lists several other criteria for establishing Hiskashrus, but the first one is studying Chassidus, about which he says, “The true Hiskashrus is created by studying Torah.” He then lists other things which are also necessary for Hiskashrus; however, 1. they are listed second; and 2. it is not written that those methods create “true Hiskashrus,” only “the Hiskashrus.”

The above analogy (between roots, trunk, and branches and the Rebbeim, Chassidus, and Chassidim respectively) fits nicely with this, for it conveys the concept that the main role of the Rebbeim is to reveal Chassidus, and thus the most crucial way of connecting with them is by studying and internalizing their teachings.

It should be noted that this analogy for the Rebbe-Chossid relationship was specifically said concerning the relationship of the Chabad Rebbeim and their Chassidim. However, this principle may not be relevant to non-Chabad Chassidim, whose relationship with their Rebbeim may not hinge upon in-depth study of the Torah of their Rebbeim, or at least not to this degree. This difference can perhaps also be inferred from the teaching in this post, in which a non-Chabad Rebbe also describes the relationship between the Tzaddik and his followers as one unit—he uses the analogy of the limbs of a body—but does not emphasize the role of the Torah that the Tzaddik teaches as crucial in establishing this bond.

2. As is known, in pnimiyus (the inner aspect) and chitzoniyus (the external aspect) there are many levels. What is pnimiyus compared to a lower level is chitzoniyus when compared to a higher one (see Zohar 1:20a, discussed in Toras Menachem 5711, Vol. 1, p. 208).

For a Chabad Chossid the relationship with the Rebbe and with all of the Rebbeim of Chabad is a very deep one. They are the root of his Neshama. They guide him in reaching the profound intellectual understanding of Hashem’s greatness revealed in Chassidus. But the goal of this relationship is something still deeper: Bringing the Jew to become truly inspired in his avodas Hashem (divine service). This is attained in a far deeper manner through the relationship with the Rebbeim and the study of Chassidus than without it.

This seems to be really another way of expressing the core Chabad idea that the purpose of Haskalah (scholastic achievement in grasping the complex abstract levels of G–dliness explained in Chabad Chassidus) is Avodah (changing one’s middos, character traits, and inspiring one’s actual conduct).

Perhaps this can also be connected with what Chassidus says in several places (for example, in Sefer HaMa’amarim 5671, p. 145 and in Hagahos L’dibbur Ha’maschil Posach Eliyahu 5658, p.11) that the main purpose of a fruit tree is to grow fruit, and therefore the entire tree is named for the fruit that it produces—for example, a fruit tree.

Perhaps the same can be said in this case: The purpose and end-goal, of the Rebbe-Chossid relationship that Hashem established is the fruit—that the Chossid reach true inspiration in his avodas Hashem. This is the main thing.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I hope to also discuss sources from non-Chabad Chassidus that discuss the nature of the Tzaddik and the relationship with him. Here is the first; enjoy.

Every single Tzaddik in every single generation corresponds to the level of Moshe, which is also the level of Shabbos. He is able to congregate, connect, and gather all those close to him (“ha’mekuravin”), who are like limbs to a body, and join them together in a way comparable to setting up the Mishkan. They then become a complete edifice (“komah sheleimah”) and a Mishkan and dwelling for the resting of holiness.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Kasover, Ahavas Shalom, Pekudei, s.v. Eileh Pekudei.

Summary: The Tzaddik and his followers are like one body. (Through their devotion to him and his instructions) theTzaddik refines them and unites them with one another such that they become like the edifice of the Mishkan, making them fit for the Shechinah to rest upon them (apparently based on the principle expressed in the verse, “They shall make for me a Mikdash, and I will dwell in their midst (Shemos 25:8)”).


1. If all those close to the Tzaddik are like limbs to a body, it appears to follow that the Tzaddik would be considered the head of these limbs.

2. This teaching fits nicely with the way that the role of the Tzaddik is explained in Toras Chassidus Chabad (especially Tanya chapter 2), in the sense that the Tzaddik is the memutza hamechaber, the “joining intermediary.” By cultivating the relationship with the Tzaddik (the “head”; clearly the analogy is that the limbs of the body must submit to the head) and with one’s fellow Chassidim (the other “limbs” in the “body,” which must all work in tandem) the Chassidim reach a full relationship with Hashem.

3. However, the difference is that for a Chabad Chossid, the emunah in the Tzaddik and devotion to him are (vital but) insufficient; the Chabad Chossid is only fit for the Rebbe to affect his Neshama in this way when he engages in regular Avodah Pnimis as well.

Monday, September 22, 2008

According to numerous sources in Kabbalah and Chassidus, Hashem reveals Himself to the world via Tzaddikim. However, certain people have “forgotten” those earlier sources, and accused the Rebbe of innovating this concept (G–d forbid).
In particular, the Rebbe’s sicha in Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 2, pp. 510-511 has been quoted out of context by some who have a consistent agenda to discredit the Rebbe and Chassidus Chabad in general. I do not wish to repeat the crude, offensive, boorish misinterpretation of this sicha that has been brazenly hurled against the Rebbe by those opponents, nor is there any need to, because their twisted words are unfortunately common knowledge.
What I would like to do is “set the record straight” by demonstrating that anyone who studies the sicha properly will see that:
  1. it is not an innovation at all, but directly based on earlier sources; and
  2. it is not at all saying what they attribute to it.
What’s hard to understand is how anyone—even a total outsider and a beginner to all concepts Chassidic, assuming he’s being intellectually honest, and not simply a coarse scandalmonger—could interpret the sicha as they do. For immediately in the paragraph that follows the Rebbe’s statement concerning the Frierdiker Rebbe that he is Atzmus “as it put itself in a body,” the Rebbe explains exactly and unequivocally what he means in the text itself, and elaborates further the footnotes.
To make this clear, I present the relevant excerpt from the sicha below. The numbers below are my translation of the Hebrew footnotes in the sicha. The [] parentheses and [a] and [b] notes are my clarifications. First is the Yiddish of the sicha, then the translation.
Bemeila iz doch nit shayach tsu fregen a kasha vegn a memutza, vibalt az dos iz Atzmus Umehus alein, vi er hot zich areingeshtelt in a guf.
Ve’al derech maamar haZohar, “man p’nei ho’adon do Rashbi,” oder vi be’eis ha’shlichus iz afilu malach nikra b’shem Havayeh, oder vi Moshe Rabeinu hot gezogt venosati eisev.
Therefore it is not possible to ask any questions about [how it is possible to turn to the Rebbe as] an intermediary [for the purpose of asking him to pray to Hashem on one’s behalf], since this is Atzmus uMehus itself as it put itself in a body.
This is similar to the statement of the Zohar,[1] “Whose is the face of the Master [G-d]? This is the Rashbi.”[2] Or [this can be explained along the lines of the idea that] at the time he performs his mission, an angel is called by the name of Havayeh [one of the Names of G–d].[3] Or [this can be explained along the lines of the idea that] Moshe Rabeinu said, “I [Moshe] will give the grass”[4].

[1] 2:38a.
[2] I saw baalei nigleh [Talmudic experts] questioning this [statement from Zohar], and with a tremendous noise [claiming that it contradicts the doctrine that G–d doesn’t have a form, saying], “How is it possible, etc., etc. [and thereby seeking to dismiss the words of the Zohar].” However [this is not only a matter of Kabbalah, for], we find [a statement] similar to this also in the revealed dimension of Torah [i.e., a Talmudic source], in Talmud Yerushalmi, Bikkurim, 3:3: “‘And G-d in His holy chamber’—this refers to Rebbi Yitzchok, the son of Rebbi Lezer in the house of study of Keisrin.”
[3] Tanya, Iggeres HaKodesh end sec. 25.[a]
[4] [Devarim 11:15] See Likkutei Torah, Vayikra 50a.[b]

[a] There the Alter Rebbe writes:
One should not be surprised if a spark from a ray of the Shechinah is called [in the Baal Shem Tov’s Tzava’at HaRivash] by the name Shechinah, for we find that even an angel, which was created [and not a spark of the Shechinah], is called by G–d’s Name in the parsha of Vayeira [“And he [Avraham] said [in reference to the angels who visited him], ‘L-rd, do not pass by your servant’” Bereishis 18:3], according to the commentary of the Ramban [ibid.: “He [Avraham] called them by the Name of their Master [G-d], because he recognized that they are supernal angels, as they are called Elokim and Eilim [names of G–d], and therefore he prostrated to the ground before them.] And as it is written [ibid. 16:13], “And she [Hagar] called the name of G–d, Who spoke with her [where the verse says explicitly in ibid. 16:7 that it was an angel speaking to her],” and there are many similar examples.
[b] There the Alter Rebbe writes:
With this we will understand that which appears surprising at first glance concerning the meaning of [the section] “And it will be if you will listen diligently” [Devarim 11:13], which Moshe said. How did he say, “I [Moshe] will give the grass” [as reward for observing the Mitzvos—ibid. 11:15] as if he is the one giving, G-d forbid, as the commentators ask. For since in Mishneh Torah [Devarim] Moshe is like one speaking for himself [as opposed to repeating the words dictated to him by G–d]—analyze the Ramban in his preface to his commentary on the Torah—if so it should have been written “And G–d will give the grass.”
Rather, the explanation is that the Shechinah is speaking from the throat of Moshe [Zohar 3:232a, ibid. 3:7a], and the spirit of G–d [within him] was what spoke [the words] “I [Moshe] will give the grass,” not that he himself was the giver, G-d forbid. The reason for this is along the lines of what was explained earlier that through the Giving of the Torah the [Jewish people] attained the level of marriage [with G–d], which is the inclusion and complete bittul [nullification] to Atzmus Ohr Ein Sof [the Essence of G–d’s infinite light], until their souls literally flew out from them. Moshe Rabeinu was constantly in a similar state, as it is said, “Go [Moshe] and tell them, return to your tents, and you stand here with Me” [Devarim 5:30]. For he took up no space, and he was not an independent entity [from G–d] at all. Therefore he was able to say “I will give,” for the word of G–d was speaking in him from within his throat.
To sum up, the Tzaddik’s tremendous bittul, total effacement of self to Hashem, enables him to act as a vessel through which Hashem reveals Himself to us. This doesn’t mean that the Tzaddik is the same as G–d, G–d forbid, but on the contrary: because he is so devoted and “nullified” to Hashem, Hashem can reveal Himself through the Tzaddik.