Emunah Based on the Teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

Archive for April, 2011

Various Minhagim related to Sefiras HaOmer Part I

This is the period of time in which the students of Rabbi Akiva died, and therefore it is not appropriate to increase in our happiness (simcha) and in so doing, we observe an element of mourning outlined below:

1. We don’t get married.

2. We don’t have haircuts.

3. We don’t dance.

4. We don’t play musical instruments.

There are also those that don’t make a shehechiyanu, or wear new clothes.

There are a few differences in our observance of which days to implement these levels of mourning.  Today, the majority of Ashkenazim in fact observe some of these levels (for example not having haircuts) for the entire period of Pesach to Shavuos.

What is included in the levels of dance?

1. Even though the Poskim only mention dancing, the agreement of the Poskim is in fact to include the playing of, and listening to musical instruments (including recorded music) in this prohibition.

2. Specially recorded compilations of vocals-only music are also prohibited.  However, if they are not tunes that promote simcha, but rather arouse the soul, it is permissible for those who need it.

3. Listening to recorded Chazanos (Cantorial music) without musical instruments is permitted for those who need it, but not in public.

4. Singing is permissible, but there are those that prohibit singing in a group of people, however they allow singing songs that arouse the soul.  It is permissible to sing Zemiros on Shabbos and Motzei Shabbos even in a group.  It is also permissible to sing together with the children in Cheider.

5. With regards to recorded stories, shiurum etc which are sometimes accompanied by interludes of music, it is permissible to listen to them provided the intent is the content and the music is only incidental.

When and where is it permissible to play and listen to music?

1. Seudas Mitzvah (Bris Milah, Pidyon Haben, Barmitzvah day itself).

2. There is a difference of opinion amongst the Poskim as to whether or not it is permissible when completing a Tractate of the Talmud, where that is the practice.  There are those that permit it, but the stringent will be find blessing in refraining from doing so.  However, it is certainly permissible to sing in a group, even happy melodies.

3. It is not permissible to play musical instruments at an engagement party or meal.

4. With regards to a Hachnasas Sefer Torah which is accompanied by musical instruments (recorded or live), one needs to ask a Posek if it is correct or not during the Omer, as it is a public gathering and in many cases it is not specifically necessary to hold it during the Omer.

5. “On-hold” music is permissible when it is not the intent to listen but rather to speak on the phone.  It is however, appropriate for the owner of the phone or system to change the on-hold music if possible. This would also apply to those with real music ring-tones on their cell phones.

6. One who is learning to play a musical instrument, if it is for purposes of earning a living, then it is permissible.  However, for enjoyment it is prohibited.  Even only parts of a song (for example just playing the melody or just the chorus) is also not permissible.  Only with regards to small sections of such musical parts, is there room in which to be lenient.

7. Children who are learning to play a musical instrument or the teacher, should ask a Posek as the Halacha could change according to the situation.

8. Listening to music while exercising – if the lack of music will reduce the level of exercise, then it is permissible.  However if it is to increase one’s enjoyment while exercising, then it would be prohibited.

9. Listening to music in order to keep one awake behind the steering-wheel  of a car while driving – if there is no alternative means in order to keep one awake, then it would be permissible to listen to recorded music.

10. One who is accustomed to listening to music at work, and a lack of it would reduce his ability to produce, should consult with a Posek on how to act accordingly during the Omer.

11. Children of the chinuch age should be taught all the relevant laws above, however, if there is a great need, there is room in which to permit listening to recorded music temporarily, but not as usual on a regular basis.  Either way, it should never be in public.

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Various Minhagim related to Sefiras HaOmer Part II

By HaRav Shimon Anshin shlit”a

A. Making a Shehechiyanu

From the Halachic perspective, there is nothing to prevent a person from saying a bracha of Shehechiyanu during this period, which is not comparable to the three weeks of mourning (bein Hametzarim), where one has to actively prevent himself from making a Shehechiyanu. The days of the Sefirah are only a remembrance to mourning the students of Rabi Akiva that passed away.

However, there are those that hold not to make a Shehechiyanu – i.e. not to eat a new fruit or wear new clothing.

In Practice, one who has a previous minhag not to make Shehechiyanu because of the minhag of his community, or he clarified the Halacha himself making the stringency not to say Shehechiyanu, then he should not change his minhag.  However, if the reason that a person made such a stringency is because he only thought that it was the Halacha not to make a Shehechiyanu, then it is permissible for him to change his minhag allowing him then to make a Shehechiyanu going forward.

One who in fact has no minhag whether or not to make a  Shehechiyanu, has no obligation to prevent himself from making a  Shehechiyanu.  However, in regards to a new fruit, if one can wait to make the Shehechiyanu on Shabbos, then he will find blessing.

Even according to those who hold not to make a Shehechiyanu, they do in fact hold to make a Shehechiyanu on Shabbos, Chol Hamoed Pesach and Lag B’Omer.  There are also those that permit making a Shehechiyanu from Rosh Chodesh Sivan onwards.   It would appear then, that anyone who has a specific need, can make a Shehechiyanu throughout the period of the Sefirah.

B.  New Clothing

i. There are those that hold not to wear new clothing throughout the Sefirah. This minhag is not mentioned what-so-ever in the Halachic writings.  In practice then, it would depend on one’s minhag as outlined above.

ii. Even according to those who hold not to make a Shehechiyanu on clothing, there are a few days in which to permit it. i.e on Chol Hamoed Pesach, Shabbos and Lag B’Omer itself.

  • Some permit it from Pesach until Rosh Chodesh Iyar, whereas others permit it from Rosh Chodesh Sivan until the end.
  • Clothing that is not deemed important enough on which to make a Shehechiyanu are of course allowed by those that hold this way.
  • For specials needs or times (Bris Milah, Barmitzvah etc), for reasons of discomfort or for reasons of Honor bestowed upon certain important individuals.
  • With regards to a minor below the age of Chinuch, it is obvious that they are excluded and it would appear that even for minors who are of the age of Chinuch, it would be allowed.
  • It would appear then, that those who hold not to make a Shehechiyanu would permit one to buy new clothing on condition that one would only wear it after the Sefirah.

C.  Miscellaneous other Minhagim

i.  One is allowed to buy new utensils and articles even if one would have an element of joy from this.

ii. It is permissible to move into a new apartment. However, there are those that specifically prevent themselves from doing so. One who has no pervious tradition to do this should not be stringent in this matter.

Iii. It is permissible to repair and paint one’s dwelling in these days.

Note: Those in Eretz Yisrael who travel to Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai on Lag B’Omer, should be careful when using or reserving public transport, not to leave immediately following Shabbos (as it falls out this year), because it could cause the driver and those working for the transport company to desecrate Shabbos, Heaven forbid (and this applies even if the Driver is a non-Jew).  i.e. There needs to be enough time that would have passed in order that the driver could have left his point of origin after Shabbos to arrive at the place of pickup.  Moreover, ones need to be careful that one should not prepare for his trip to Meiron during Shabbos itself (“Hachana”).

FAQS on Avodas Hashem – Sefiras HaOmer

Question:

Why do we find that Breslover Chassidim scream and pray with such intensity in the Mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer?

Answer:

The Mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer is seemingly an easy Mitzvah. All we need to do is to say, “Today is … days of the Omer.” But in reality, some of the greatest secrets are contained with it. Each day one specific heavenly Sefirah shines its own individual light in its own way. The Rebbe teaches that even everything which people discuss between themselves every day of Sefira, is in accordance with the light of that day’s Sefirah, even though they themselves are unaware. (See Likutei Moharan I 182)

Of course, we can’t cover the entire subject of Sefiras HaOmer in such a short article. It’s recommended that you take time to study the teachings of the Tzaddikim which provide many practical approaches towards Sefiras HaOmer. But we will still discuss the simple understanding of Sefiras HaOmer as a preparation for the imminent Kabbolas HaTorah on Shavuos. The most important preparation is the yearning and anticipation for the renewal of our Yiddishkeit on Shavuos.

If we would take a good look at what happens in our lives, we would see that what we are missing in Avodas Hashem is essentially the lack of practical guidance. Every day, each of us passes through so many types of experiences, and we don’t find a way to draw close to Hashem from within them. In reality, there is something we can do in every situation, but everyone needs a different individual solution ,depending on the time and the place. One person can’t tell someone else what he needs to do. Every person has to call out to Hashem himself, until He enlightens him with a new understanding of his circumstances, and perhaps a simple, practical idea as to how to properly deal with what he’s going through.

This is preparation for Kabbolas HaTorah. Every day of Sefiras HaOmer, according to the Sefirah of that day, new understandings and pathways open for us in order to help us correct our negative character traits or immoral desires. But everything depends upon our enthusiasm and faith that every day of Sefirah is an opportunity to find new ways to draw near to Hashem. (For further elaboration, see Likutei Halachos, Rosh Chodesh 6:7)

Try hard to use these precious moments of Sefirah. Take a few minutes every day to try awakening your genuine longing for Hashem which you already have in your heart. Verbalize them, and pray and request from Him that He should assist you to approach the holy Torah anew, and to always help you find your proper path.

If you see that despair has already begun to take a hold of you, with thoughts such as, ‘can I even change?’ and ‘what can my prayers help?’, then realize that this is precisely the Avodah of Sefirah; stubbornly standing strong day after day, ‘yes, I’m waiting and anticipating my salvation, and I’m not giving up, I’m counting day after day!’

Question:

Just the thought that I’m going to have to shout so much by Sefiras HaOmer makes the entire Mitzvah burdensome on me. Do I have to force myself to scream?

Answer:

Avodas Hashem is not a competition who can scream louder or for the longest time. There is no duty to scream. It isn’t even a custom … It’s something authentic for someone who understands that we are heading towards something immense.

Everything in Avodas Hashem becomes cumbersome when you make a plan for yourself to copy what you’ve seen in others, or even what you’ve seen by yourself in past successes, and you try to make your Avodah look like that. Thus we find entire Tefillos becoming confused just from checking the entire time if you feel anything, or are you crying, are you screaming enough, etc. This is literally a foreign thought in the middle of davening.  The Rebbe teaches in Likutei Moharan II 95, “During the recital of prayers it’s necessary to distance oneself from every form of outside thoughts in the world, and to direct your mind only to the words which you are speaking to Hashem.”

Don’t make any plans, and approach the Mitzvah in an exalted frame of mind, “I am going to bring satisfaction to Hashem in performing this Mitzvah.” Don’t look at anyone else. The Torah writes, “Count for you” – for yourself. Everyone has his own special Sefirah, his own private longing for Hashem. (See Hil’ Pesach 9)

Keep your mind on what you are saying. While reciting the Brachah, concentrate on the simple idea that Hashem has sanctified us with His Mitzvos, and thank Him for inviting you to become sanctified through His Mitzvos. While actually accounting, again keep in mind the simple yearning and anticipation, one day closer to Kabbolas HaTorah. Say the prayers after the Sefirah slowly, without pressure. Just pay attention to the words you are saying.

The more you connect to the straightforward message of the Mitzvah without troubling yourself how you have to scream and how you have to contemplate this and that, etc., the more you will become truly inspired to count the Omer correctly every day. You may even merit a few days out of the Sefirah to actually scream and let out your heart to Hashem.

Our intention here is not to stop you from screaming until you feel you are doing so authentically. Of course, you can come to inspiration through your voice also, and your heart can thereby also be inspired to scream. But the main thing is to connect with the genuineness of the Mitzvah, without looking to scream.

It’s highly recommended that you study a Halacha or two from Likutei Halachos on Sefiras HaOmer. If you need help finding something, you can use the Otzar HaYirah, which summarizes all of Reb Noson’ teachings. Think about what you have learned, and discuss it with your friends, and try to come to an understanding of what your Avodah will be this year throughout the days of Sefirah.

Throughout the day, try to think about what you’ve learned. For example, in Hil’ Pikadon 4 Reb Noson writes that Sefiras HaOmer is a time to internalize that every day in a person’s life is important, even though many times it seems as if a day doesn’t count because of all the troubles and bothers of that day. We therefore say “Today is the … day …” when we count the days of Sefirah, to internalize that every day is counted, and every day can be used to serve Hashem.

Take such an idea, and remind yourself of it throughout the day, and not just during the actual counting of the Omer. ‘Today is a day!’ You will thereby merit a new yearning for Kabbolas HaTorah.

 

“The Power of Rashbi”

As long as he can remember, he has seen them standing alert and at attention, appearing to him like iron statues. He was a child and they were adults and one question filled his entire world – how do they do it? Where do they get the strength from, to stand for so many hours, to march back and forth, to run and to train. Do they never tire? It seemed as if the pangs of exhaustion had been forever banished from their eyes.

As he grew and developed into a young man, so too did his question sprout and evolve, taking on a new form and deepening its roots. Now he understood, that in truth these people have nothing else in their worlds – neither family nor friends. Their lives revolve around one thing only, it is called in their words “His Majesty”. He is a servant boy and not a minister nor a soldier. These people seem so way above his perception – how can he possibly understand them?

Then, one day it happened, he understood. No one knows how his legs found their way to the threshold of the splendid room. In any event, he was there, and even the door itself came to his aid. The small gap between the slightly open door and its frame revealed to him the entire secret. The vision lasted only a few moments, until the door was shut tightly, but for him it was enough to last the rest of his life. He will never forget the look in the eyes of those strong and usually stoic men. The king’s face he did not see, but their faces he surely did, and what he perceived in their glowing eyes had never before appeared in the thousands of pairs of eyes he had glanced at in the past.

The mystery no longer bothered him.  If such a thing exists, if his eyes too would ever perceive whatever otherworldly thing they saw, then sleep would surely never find its place in them either. Of this he has no doubt.  ■

How can it be that as we enter the heart of the scorching summer, amidst the days of the Sefirah, when we have just taken leave of the month of Nissan and set foot upon the highway that escalates all the way to the chag of Shavu’os, that suddenly we find in the torah portion – Yom Ha’Kippurim. It is quite startling to abruptly find the holiest day of the year six months after we left it behind together with the days of Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos.

If we have already begun with the topic of time periods and dates, we discover that we always, for some reason, read the parsha of Acharei Mos – Kedoshim somewhere in the vicinity of Lag B’Omer and the Hillulas Rashbi (The Yartzheit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai). Presumably there is some deeper meaning in this…

All of us, we can safely assume, count the Sefiras Ha’Omer each night. The Sefirah is not merely a bracha and short sentence said in addition to Ma’ariv, it holds a very important, even essential role, so much so that these days have even warranted their very own name and have been crowned with the title “Yimei Ha’Sfirah” (The days of the counting), meaning – days which their very chiyus (life-force) is drawn from the mitzvos of the Sefiras Ha’Omer. What is it that we say in the prayer before the counting ‘Ribboino Shel Olam… (Master of the Universe…)’ that makes every bachur with a heart scream with all his strength, ‘…May we be purified and sanctified’, yes, we are simply requesting exactly this, purity and holiness.

When we were young we also screamed out: ‘today’, maybe at the beginning, around where we say ‘one day’ or ‘two days’, but when we continue to: ‘…… which are one week’, many voices fade out. Honestly, how much can we push ourselves; and just between us, why should we scream out so intensely, what are we missing in life, what’s the big commotion about? Did something happen on Pesach that we have some urgent need to be purified? Were we not okay until now? What was, still is, a wonderful Jewish life; there is no doubt that there are things that need to be rectified, but what’s the big rush? Why does it specifically need to be “be’kedushah shel ma’alah (with heavenly holiness)”, can we not be satisfied with simple, good and flowing Judaism … as it has been until today?

It’s true that we have heard of great people who live in a different atmosphere, we have even seen them at various opportunities. We followed them with staring eyes, and a subtle desire was sparked in the depths of our hearts. ‘Ahh…this is what I would have wanted, to serve Hashem with my entire being and with such passion. It is wondrous to live with an inseparable connection to something so very alive, to invest all one’s capabilities and effort for someone whom one would sacrifice everything for. To approach tefillah without thinking about what one will be doing after he concludes “Oseh Shalom…”, to sink into the words and to forget all of existence.

But then we caught ourselves: ‘Oops, don’t get swept away, take a step back, you’re not built for that’. Since then those holy people have remained in a golden frame on the wall. They even hold an honored place in our hearts. We respect them and their ways –  perhaps in our next gilgul (reincarnation) we’ll try too…

This feeling returns when the first sentence of Parshas Kedoshim appears from amidst the torah reading: “…be holy…”. With Rashi’s explanation (that we should stay clear of sin) we can manage, but when we see the Rambam’s explanation: ‘be holy in that which is permissible to you’, things get a little more complicated. How is it even possible? I’m not there; I have a home, a family, work and a life. How could I ever do it?

One moment, someone already dealt with this, he was called Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai, yes, the one from the holy Zohar. He screamed out and exclaimed: “it (the torah) will not be forgotten from the mouths of his offspring” – the Sefer Ha’Zohar is the surety for this. By inference we understand what would happen without it, Rebbi Shimon told us something new, something that no one else could say, and the others were no simpletons, they were holy Tana’im. The Gemorah tells us about the sages who sat in a vineyard in Yavneh evaluating the situation, and they came to the conclusion that within a few generations, the Torah would become forgotten in a world without the Beis Hamikdash. Rebbi Shimon was very young at the time; he was only “a certain student”.  Yet a few years later, on a separate occasion, he declared that without that which he revealed, the Torah truly would be forgotten – but that after the Zohar had come into the world this would not happen – “for it will not be forgotten from his offspring” (in Hebrew the last letters of this verse spell ‘Yochai’, see the introduction to Likutey Moharan).

But why prophesize such a dark and gloomy future in the fist place? Why were the Tana’im in Yavneh so worried. Are we little children, can we not manage on our own? Look at what we have achieved; there was never a generation in which there were so many holy books in so many splendid editions. When in all of history were there so many learned people in Klal Yisroel. Today every child can deliver a most impressive Dvar Torah. There are even computer programs for accelerated Torah learning and one can get smichah by correspondence. What’s so bad? We’re managing just fine. We can relax.

Yes, it’s true, there is no need to worry – with regard to this no one has any problems, the holy Tana’im knew very well how smart and intelligent we would be in the future, they were not concerned that we would forget or loose information … we can even make a ‘backup’. They were alarmed about a much more dangerous situation, in which the Sefer Torah has long since disappeared and all that remains is the beautiful cover that can be embraced with the arms. They prophesized of a situation in which it is possible to preach and expound the laws of Shabbos and to completely forget that it IS Shabbos today.

They worried about a Judaism that can be intellectually explained but that is empty of fiery Emunah. They worried about a splendid Esrog that costs a fortune yet its owner has a heart that is cold and apathetic, together with a mind that is elsewhere. They knew that only a Beis Hamikdash is what can bring the soul of a Jew to dwell in his body. From there, where the Shechina (Divine Presence) dwelled in a structure made of stone, were sent forth veins of life to the heart of every Jew. It was these that fixed in their minds and hearts the living Zicharon (memory/awareness) and vitality of the Torah. Without the Beis Hamikdash where could this awareness possibly come from?

Rashbi, in his tremendous holiness and tremendously powerful soul, knew something else. He knew that there is a Tzaddik that is so great, that the very Beis Hamikdash itself draws its holiness from Him and that a Tzaddik of this caliber is able to guarantee that indeed, the Torah will not be forgotten. For he already prepared a solution to the problem, he built an ark that can save us from the flood – it is called the ‘Zohar’ and all who have even the slightest contact with it, immediately remember.

This is also what the torah reading does to us; it is not for nothing that they sent us, in the heat of the summer, a pure breeze of Yom Ha-Kippurim. When the soul is absorbed into the scent of Kedusha and Tahara (purity), when a person finds himself, even for a few moments, in the king’s chamber; when he sees, feels and tastes the sweetness of forgiveness and pardon, when he receives a smile that radiates nothing but love and closeness, then he begins to understand how it is possible to enter into a life of Kedusha. For he who sees the face of the king –  even once a year – and is therefore able to toil three hundred and sixty four days without fatigue and tiredness, to bear the ‘burden’ of the taryag (613) mitzvos and to cling constantly to the holy Emunah.

We count the days every evening and remember that I too left Mitzrayim. I am not just some unholy Jew – I am something else entirely. We also remember that the Mitzvos do have an effect on us, the Torah makes us holy, and it is not something dead but rather entirely alive.

Then, in the middle of the days of the Omer we ascend together to Meiron, to the place from where this awareness is spread across the entire globe. This celebration that casts aside even the most stringent customs of mourning, reminds us that Judaism takes form around the ‘living’ Tzaddikim. It reminds us that even in a world of forgetfulness and confusion, there is a Beis HaMikdash – a true Tzaddik who’s teachings are in our midst.

One need only open a Likutei Moharan, ‘go over’ a piece of Likutei Halachos and talk with good friends who are searching together for true guidance and advice. When one tastes even a tiny spoonful of this, one instantly understands how there can be those for whom the king is their entire lives, and that we too can be like them; even within our simple and quiet lives we can live with the king at literally every moment.

How to be Redeemed this Pesach

Question:

How do we prepare for Pesach?

Answer:

1) First of all, we should remember that through all of the simple preparations for Pesach such as cleaning and shopping, as well as all other accompanying Mitzvos, we build containers for ourselves in which to receive the holiness of Pesach. We should therefore carry them out with joyfulness and liveliness.

2) For sure we should pray and call out to Hashem, be Misboded to destroy the Chametz in our hearts, or at least to ‘nullify’ it and to tell Hashem that we have no interest in it. Even if you see that you don’t have the composure to sit and speak to Hashem, you can still talk to Him in the middle of working. Awaken your heart to Hashem and throw in some words of prayer to Him.

It’s said about Adel, the daughter of the Baal Shem Tov, that she would raise her eyes heavenward in middle of cleaning her house, and say, “How can I give Hashem satisfaction?”

Of course, you should still try very hard to find a set time to speak to Hashem.

3) You should study the Halachos of Pesach as well as the teachings of the Tzaddikim which explain the essence of Pesach and the subject of the Exodus.

4) But even after all of this, you should know that the main thing is to prepare is your heart. Awaken by yourself a new, fresh hope that Pesach is coming and you are about to be redeemed. There is a concept of ‘redemption’. There is a reality in which your entire mind and heart is going to change. From this Pesach on you will start to seek Hashem with sincerity.

This was the main effect of the exile in Egypt. Pharaoh enslaved Klal Yisroel so much that their spirit was defeated and they gave up on ever being redeemed.  The greatest wonder is how even after they screamed out to Hashem and cried from their work, still, when Moshe appeared to announce their emancipation, their hearts were unable to believe anymore that Hashem had really listened to their cries and that He wanted to redeem them. “And they did not listen to Moshe from a defeated spirit and hard work.”

Pharaoh overpowers and holds us captive in this way, even now.  He occupies a person and disturbs him in many ways; the main thing is that he should not have time to consider the possibility of having a free mind. What’s interesting is that Pharaoh will sometimes allow a person to be involved in Avodas Hashem, as long as he doesn’t use his mind to recognize his connection with Hashem, and the joy Above from the simple Mitzvos.

Therefore even though we have to learn about the essence of Pesach and to pray about it, it’s still possible that a person will learn ideas and study essays about the holiday of Pesach, but it all stays by him as nothing more than nice ideas to say over by the Seder. It’s also possible that a person prays to Hashem to be redeemed on Pesach, but on the inside he’s given up. Not necessarily given up on life, but he doesn’t believe anymore that it’s possible for things to be entirely different, that it’s possible to live a life of faith and joy, satisfaction from every Mitzvah, and a constant connection to Hashem.

A person therefore has to fortify himself with the conviction that Hashem certainly needs him, and will not leave him in exile forever. The same way that when Moshe announced the redemption to Klal Yisroel, he couldn’t just take them out because they didn’t believe him. It’s difficult to redeem someone if he himself doesn’t believe that he himself is ready for it.

We have to know that on Pesach an immense light of Geulah is revealed. The problem is that a person is so small in his own eyes that it’s hard for him to believe that this light which has redeemed us in the past is literally renewed every year.

Question:

Last year I also looked forward to Pesach, and I didn’t see myself being redeemed?

Answer:

This is the question which lies deep in the heart and prevents a person from being redeemed. It’s reminiscent of the question, “What is this Avodah to you?”, for which we answer, “If you would have been there you wouldn’t have been redeemed.” We have to renew ourselves with a strong faith that there certainly will be a Geulah.

But a person has to know what the redemption that he’s looking forward to so much is. There are people who place high hopes on the Seder night, that from that day on they will be Tzaddikim or Talmidei Chachimim, etc., and are filled with disappointment when things don’t work out the way they had hoped.

On Pesach we have to yearn and to search to renew our recognition of Hashem, to put more thought and concentration into our davening, to pay attention to Hashem’s greatness, to say the Haggadah with a loud voice and with liveliness, to contemplate the miracles and wonders how Hashem keeps up the entire universe and reorganized the whole system of nature just in order to bring Klal Yisroel close to him, to open our mouths with song, to eat the Matzo with thoughts of Emunah, to believe that the Matzo is the remedy which Hashem gave us to heal our minds and heart, and when a person looks to change the way he sees looks at the world, he automatically merits entering into this Avodah this year according to his abilities.

Again, the main thing is to believe that there is another way to live. Not only that there are people in this world who are living differently, but that you yourself can be different.

Even afterwards, you have to know that after Pesach comes the period of Sefiras HaOmer. There are days in which a person is checked and tested in many ways. Some people have their presence of mind and their power of holy speech and prayer taken away from them. The purpose is not to distance them, but to test them to see if they will be stubborn to go after the truth, and to constantly push away feelings of imaginary distance form Hashem. Thereby, they will merit a true renewal of their constant connection to Hashem.

 

 

 

A Holy Melody

History doesn’t record the date of the first chase after success, because it started before anyone attempted to document it. Everyone pursues success, but what’s the secret of those who achieve it? What’s the ‘magic’ ingredient that they possess? Whatever it is, it’s not something tangible, though it’s presence or absence are most definitely tangibly felt.

What’s the difference between a dead person and a live one, between something growing and something decayed, between alacrity and laziness, between joy and depression? Everything comes from the earth and eventually returns to it. Between birth and death this pile of earth learns to stand upright, walk, talk, eat and drink, think and create, all by means of the life-force that flows through it. So it seems that life-force – spirit, is the most important of all things.

Some may call it ‘joy’, others ‘vitality’ or ‘fulfilment’ – either way everyone is seeking this life-force, this spirit. All over the world people seek it and invest so many resources into discovering it’s source and secret. All pursue one goal – to truly be alive.

How strange it is then that the more the world invests into the manufacture of joy and fulfilment, the deeper it sinks into the depths of depression. People nowadays are great experts on joy and happiness – they can explain every state of mind and diagnose every emotional condition. Whole institutions and thousands of people are dedicated to the study of psychology and the human emotional condition. The topics of ‘happiness’, ‘fulfilment’ and ‘inner peace’ fill chapters and books in modern day research writings and text books. Everyone knows that happiness is the most precious commodity, and most are willing to pursue it all costs. Whether that means taking bitter pills, illicit drugs, deafening one’s ears with mindless music, dancing, running – whatever it takes to get a bit more of this spirit of happiness and vitality. This is true of the world at large. In the Torah world the spirit and state of the soul are also most central and essential issues.

Yet if we enter into the study hall of a Yeshiva during ‘seder’, the set time for learning, we witness a most perplexing phenomenon. All the young men will be busy with the same Tractate, the same topic, and will mostly probably be on precisely the same page, working to understand the same few lines of the Talmud. So why is it that for one boy the book open before him is like a well-spring of fresh water, bent over it enthusiastically, his fingers following every word with his eyes transfixed on the page, while facing him, sits another boy whose eyes are dim, whose face is pale, and who has half his body slumped under the table with his head above supported only by a hand that prevents him from collapsing entirely from boredom?

What did the Gemoro do for the boy whose eyes it lit up with joy and enthusiasm, that it didn’t do for his colleague who can just about manage to turn the pages? Why are the words of prayer a direct pathway to one boy’s heart, whilst to another they’re a meaningless mantra that must be mumbled as swiftly as possible? What’s the secret that makes one person jump out of bed at the crack of dawn, whilst his friend only greets the sun when it’s almost overhead? The answer lies hidden in the Parsha of the Metzora – leprosy.

Tsoraas, (commonly known as Leprosy) is never a pleasant thing, and together with the negative spiritual repercussions that it entails, it brings a person to a very low place indeed. It’s not for nothing that the Sages compared a person with Tsoraas to a corpse. A Metzora (a person with Tsoraas) is excommunicated from life, locked up outside the camp and is forbidden to communicate with anyone. The holy Zohar says Tsoraas entails the ‘closing off of heavenly light,’ – heavenly influx is withheld from the person.

The Rebbe talks about the meaning of Tsoraas and the process of purification from it in Torah 3 (I). There he explains where good and bad draw their respective life-forces from, and explains how it is that life can so suddenly become heavy going, how a heart that yesterday found so much fulfilment in a chapter of Mishnayos can today not even bring itself to utter the words.

What lies behind this, the Rebbe says, is nothing other than song – music.

“Because when he hears music from a wicked musician” warns the Rebbe, “it harms his ability to serve Hashem.” And the contrary is also true, “When he hears from a kosher musician then it’s good for him.”

Music is the ‘mochin’ (literally brains or mind) of both good and bad. Jealousy, physical appetites and honour-seeking in themselves aren’t as dangerous as the spirit that fuels them. If not for this ‘spirit’, which the media and other illusion-creators exploit to the full, the vanities of this world wouldn’t be able to entice even the most foolish of men. Around every vanity dances a song – this is what carries the illusion, strengthens it, and establishes it as a credible and powerful force.

When the Rebbe talks about music he uses the word as an umbrella term that encompasses all the various forms of entertainment and distraction that people engage in to arouse their weary spirits. The force that gave birth to all these activities, the thirst for true life and vitality, is also what has given birth to the prevalent frivolity of today’s world. Loshon Horoh, speaking negatively about others, is just a natural outcome of frantic burrowing in feelings of emptiness. In those boring moments all that’s left to do is to seek out some faults in someone else, because perhaps there, gloating in the faults and defects of another, will the soul find some respite.

The Metzora is smitten with Tsoraas because he spoke Loshon Horoh. If a person would hear how the gates of Heavenly influx are bolted shut above him when he speaks a word of Loshon Hora he wouldn’t need any lectures about its severity. He would become an instant expert in the laws of Loshon Hora.

Every Jew has a song in his heart that’s just waiting to find the notes to express itself. The melody in the heart is the life spirit that’s contained in the heart of every Jew. When this melody meets notes of Torah and Tefillah, it strengthens, intensifies and becomes a beautiful symphony. Fear of heaven, rather than being a heavy yoke, then becomes light and pleasurable. It uplifts the soul and enables it to pass smoothly over all the challenges of life. This is how it can be so long as there’s wind (or spirit) in the sails. But when this spirit is quashed and departs, then even the smallest challenge becomes an unbearable burden. This is why it’s possible to see a strong healthy man mumbling his grace after meals feebly, like a worn out old man.

“There’s nothing greater than ‘ONeG’ (delight) and nothing worse than ‘NeGah’ (a plague or leprosy),” (Sefer Yetzira). Many times on the way to the Oneg a person finds himself thrown down into the depths of Negah. True Oneg provides genuine life-force, vitality and spirit, it enlivens the song of the heart which draws from the source of life, coming down like dew to water and quenches the soul’s thirst. But it’s only capable of satisfying our healthy thirst. When we thirst for other things and seek to be satisfied by other music (i.e. entertainments, distractions, etc.) the Oneg transforms into a purulent inflammation; a Negah, and delight transforms into a nightmare.

Though leprosy in its physical form may be very rare nowadays, its spiritual equivalent is a rampant epidemic. Most of mankind is ostracised from the camp of true life, each person suffering from his own form of leprosy – a lack of vitality and spirit. This is the root cause of all the modern day spiritual, emotional and social woes. These are the consequences of the contemporary Tsoraas.

So what can we do? True vitality is a rare commodity. There is only one option left – music. We’re already accustomed to turning to music for it’s healing and soothing power. It can help us forget our pain and raise us above our problems. It uplifts our weary spirits. The Halachic permission given to listen to and engage in music after the destruction of the Temple flowed from the fact that ‘Without this, what will happen to us…?’

But when the Rebbe speaks about the use of music and songs, he says that they only help when they flow forth from a kosher musician, one who sings and makes music solely for Hashem’s honour, with no other motives. Where do we find his tapes? Most of the music we hear is not of this calibre.

But don’t despair. After saying this the Rebbe also provides us with a practical piece of advice to help us out – to learn Torah at night. This, he said, protects us from the harm of non-kosher music. For our problem is, in reality, only an expression of a much greater problem. When a Jew lacks vitality in his Yiddishkeit and Kedushah this means that there’s something lacking in the general Malchus D’Kedushah, ‘Holy Kingdom’. When the whole world is dizzy with enthusiasm for foolishness and vanity, then the Malchus HaReshaah, the ‘Wicked Kingdom’ is rejoicing. To correct this situation we need to build up the Holy Kingdom.

In a nutshell – our problem is speech. Speech forms the spirit and the spirit infuses the words, and both of them together either destroy or build up fear of Heaven and faith, Emunah. When the mouth gets accustomed to spewing words of foolishness and vanity; when words are wasted on the oh-so important matters of this world, or are used to degrade others, then the spirit that blows in the sails of the soul is a foreign one, and  it’s very hard to do even the smallest holy act.

But if we want to be cured of the plague of Tsaraas there are two simple guidelines to follow. The first is – be quiet. This at the very least cuts off the channels of life-force from the Wicked Kingdom. Stop the negative talk. The second is – learn Torah at night. Such learning builds up the Holy Kingdom. In the night-time hours when the storm winds of this world settle down, a Jew can grasp for himself an hour of true pursuit and toil, an hour when his learning is just for Hashem. Such a genuine act that flows from the pure desire to serve Hashem is capable of rebuilding and restoring the Holy Kingdom. Such learning raises up the Holy Kingdom and revives it. When we do this, we are protected from even the worst music of this world, which then loses its power to bring us down or separate us from the Source of Life.

 

 

 

 

The Ultimate Defense Attorney

The Tzaddik is called a TaMaR (date tree) as the verse says “a Tzaddik will blossom like a tamar”, for the word Tamar is connected to the word TeMuRa (transforming). This is because the Tzaddik transforms everything for the best and turns all the accusations into merits. This is as the sages taught: “if one has even one defending angel from amidst a thousand [accusing angels]… he emerges meritorious.” The deeper meaning of this is that the defending angel is actually created “from amidst” the thousands accusing ones. For the more accusations there are against a person, the Tzaddik vouches for him even more through showing how despite all the bad he has still managed to find some good point in this person.

The explanation of this is that all the accusing angels against a person are actually the very ones that incited him to sin in the first place, as the sages taught: “he (the Satan) is the inciter and he is the accuser.” Therefore when the accusing angels are exceedingly great in number, G-d forbid, the defending angel arises and uses this fact itself for one’s defense but claiming that since one has so many accusations against him he must have had many challenges and incitements from the evil inclination. If so, on the contrary, it is ever so more wondrous that such a person overcame these great and numerous inciters and managed to grab onto good by doing some mitzvah. This is the aspect of “one defending angel from amidst a thousand” – that specifically by way of the thousand accusing angels does the Tzaddik defend him. The novelty is not that such a person sinned so terribly, since he was greatly incited. On the contrary, it is truly amazing that he strengthened himself to do even the slightest bit of good with such great forces fighting against him. Therefore the Tzaddik who follows this path is called Tamar, for he transforms and converts the accusations into merit.

(Likutey Halachos, Techumin 6, section 15)

A person who is preparing to stand trial searches for the best defending lawyer he can find, someone who is capable of arranging his claims in a fashion that emphasize his merit. The defense attorney does not necessarily have to change the facts, but rather shed light on things from a different angle. This is the main difference between the prosecutor and the defender, from what angle they present the case. The great need to search for someone with ‘a way with words’ who can convince the judge of his client’s righteousness is thus evident.

This is not only true with regards to court cases but also to any area in which a person needs to make a claim or present an argument. The best thing is to find a suitable representative who can present things eloquently and convincingly. This is as Reb Nosson teaches: “for even this aspect of merit itself that he (the Tzaddik) is emphasizing on behalf of a certain person, if he would do so without eloquence he would not be able to arouse mercy for him, for surely this merit is known in the Heavenly court even without him. Rather, the main power of the defender to bring about salvation and arouse mercy is through eloquence – by presenting the merit convincingly, with proper claims and articulacy. (Likutey Halachos, Tefillah 4)

It is certainly then surprising how regarding one’s Divine service, when he feels distant from Hashem, that he isn’t in such a rush to find an attorney who will prove his righteousness. One is simply prepared to give in the moment a thought of distance from Hashem arises in thought. For some reason he is willing to concede to the feeling that he is full of sin and has no hope of returning to holiness.

It is not that one has to seek a deceitful attorney who will deny the bad, G-d forbid, for Hashem’s will is that one acknowledges his sins. Nevertheless these thoughts of rebuke generally distance a person even more form serving Hashem and He certainly does not desire this either. Therefore one must seek a fitting advocate who can defend him in the Heavenly worlds, to arouse mercy on high that his sins should be looked at from a different angle; someone who can find one’s merit in the proper manner and arouse in one’s heart a feeling of renewed closeness to Hashem despite his sins.

With this we can understand Reb Nosson’s words in this teaching where he reveals to us that the Tzaddik is the attorney who is constantly involved in nullifying the harsh accusations against us. For every sin creates prosecuting angels, yet when the Tzaddik sees them he uses this to bring one’s merits to light. For one’s many sins are an indication of how greatly one is surrounded by inciting forces of evil and how one lacks the special help from above that is afforded to the righteous and pious. This only emphasizes the worth and value of such a person’s efforts in renewing himself in the service of Hashem. In this way the many falls can be transformed into a solid defense.

We see from this how greatly we must strengthen ourselves against Amalek who strives to discourage us constantly. We should tell him that on the contrary, if I am as bad as you say then my every good point is all the more valuable. We do however need the Tzaddik who is an aspect of the tamar, for it is he who stands above to truly arouse mercy upon the Jewish people, to transform and change the bad into good and to give one a boost back into holiness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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