Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Spirit of the Law--Sukkos part 1

Hilchos Sukkah 134:1-2

1. “…It is a mitzvah incumbent on each person to exert himself personally to build his own sukkah and place the s’chach on it. Even if he is a distinguished person, he should not feel that this is beneath his dignity since performing the mitzvah of sukkah himself is a great honor…”

Building a sukkah must be done not only on a physical level but on a spiritual level as well, and the main way to accomplish this is through prayer. Rebbe Nachman teaches that we should pray for even the most minor-seeming physical need, and we should certainly pray to attain our far more important spiritual goals. There are really two main ways in which we engage in prayer: one is most accessible when we don’t have emotional energy and are in a “down” phase, while the second is more appropriate for when we are feeling spiritually healthy and “up.”

What is the first path like? Once, on the first night of Sukkos, Rav Nachman of Tulchin remarked to his mentor, Reb Nosson of Breslov, zt”l, “After working so hard today to build the sukkah, I feel able to taste much more of the holiness of the sukkah!”

Reb Nosson responded, “However, you still haven’t tried to cry out to Hashem the whole day, ‘Ribbono shel olam! Master of the universe! Please give me a taste of the true holiness of the Sukkah!’ Imagine what kind of taste in the mitzvah of sukkah you would be feeling after such a prayer!”[1] So the first way is to keep pleading with Hashem as much as I can: “Please give me a taste of the holiness of Sukkos!”

But the tool of prayer becomes so much more powerful when we learn more deeply about the meaning of the mitzvah, and then transform what we have learned into prayer. As Rebbe Nachman taught, this transformation generates the most lofty sha’ashuim, pleasure and joy, on High. To help us open our minds to the deeper levels inherent in the mitzvah, let’s contemplate a lesson from Likutei Halachos…

Reb Nosson explains that one of the purposes of sukkah is to internalize the imminence of Hashem even when we feel very distant from spirituality. This is why we are obligated to eat and sleep in our sukkah. (Admittedly, the custom is not to sleep in the sukkah outside of Israel for a variety of reasons. It is important to note however that a number of great Rabbonim and Tzaddikim slept in their Sukkos regardless. One luminary who slept in his sukkah regardless of the weather or the presence of hostile non-Jews was the Vilna Gaon). Now, as we all know, how we eat and how much we eat (or overeat!) is one of the main causes of our feeling distant from Hashem. Similarly, when we sleep, we are experiencing a mini-death, one that usually, and unfortunately, can make us feel further from Hashem as well. It is only a very unusual person who will feel connected to Hashem while eating and sleeping. Since the sukkah is a living space almost always far more vulnerable than our usual home, eating and sleeping in it is meant to help us feel greater closeness to Hashem while we are engaged in the mundane world and at our most vulnerable. It is this very vulnerability that underscores our great dependence on Hashem, our need to rely on Him and trust in His protection. While dwelling in the ‘shade of faith’ (tzilah d’meheimenusa, as the Zohar Hakadosh writes), our sukkos elevate the acts that cause us to feel distant from Hashem by their very nature.[2]

Many say that the Torah of Ishbitz and the teachings of Rav Tzaddok HaKohen, zt”l, are a kind of continuation of the concepts found in Likutei Halachos, and so it seems that a little interjection of the Ishbitzer Rebbe, zt”l, wouldn’t be out of place here…

The Mei Hashiloach, zt”l, explains that the true meaning of the mitzvah of sukkah is to, “…leave one’s permanent dwelling and reside in a temporary one.” We must leave behind our natural tendency to think that the physical world is an independent and fixed reality and realize instead that it is just a transient mask that conceals Hashem’s presence. This is not a mere intellectual exercise; we must feel that each new moment of existence for every single creation emanates directly from Hashem. This is the foundation of all Divine service.

During his younger years, the Beis Halevi, zt”l, learned in a designated room in his father-in-law’s house. His father-in-law, a chossid of Rav Moshe of Kovrin, zt”l, had agreed at the beginning of their relationship that he would never disturb his son-in-law’s study for any reason whatsoever.

Once, Rav Moshe came to visit at his follower’s home. Although the Beis Halevi’s father-in-law wanted his Rebbe to meet his son-in-law, he couldn’t see how it would be possible to introduce them since this would mean interrupting the Beis Halevi’s constant study. On the day his Rebbe was going to leave, Rav Moshe finally had an idea. He couldn’t interrupt his son-in law…but someone else could! When he noticed that the Beis Halevi had left his room for a moment, he placed Rav Moshe’s luggage inside.

When the Beis Halevi returned and resumed his study, the Rebbe knocked at the door. “What do you want?” the Beis Halevi asked.

“My bags are here. May I come in?”

The Beis Halevi was just then learning the final section of Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim. Rav Moshe asked, “What about the first subsection? Do you manage to fulfill it?”

The Beis Halevi answered, “I work on ‘shivisi Hashem linegdi samid’ (‘I will place Hashem before me always’) fifteen times a day. But I’m always troubled that although the Ramoh says that imagining being in the all-knowing presence of the King immediately fills a person with fear, it takes me time to feel it.”

The Rebbe explained, “That is because you are thinking with your head. Fear of heaven resides in one’s heart, and it takes time to reach from your head to your heart. That’s why the Ramoh says to, ‘…place it on his heart’—not on his head!’”

2. “…Regarding the walls of a sukkah, there are many complicated halachos which not everyone knows… For this reason, it is better to make a four-walled sukkah. If one can’t afford this, he should at least make a sukkah of three full walls…”

At the beginning of Maseches Sukkah, the Gemara teaches that one must have at least two walls and a tefach (handsbreadth) of a third wall that are at least ten tefachim high, and not higher than twenty amos (cubits). Since there are many complexities regarding how to arrange the walls, it is best to have at least three full walls. (It is even better to have four walls so that the wind should not shake the sukkah or extinguish the Yom Tov candles, as the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch explains here.)

Two full walls and a third wall of a tefach width has a very special spiritual significance. The Arizal explains that in the verse, “His left arm is below my head, and His right arm embraces me,” (Shir HaShirim 2:6) the left alludes to the attribute of justice, and the right alludes to the attribute of mercy. This is why “the left arm” represents the Yomim Noraim, the season of judgment. Conversely, “the right arm” represents Sukkos, the embodiment of Hashem’s loving protection. We can see this love in the halachic parameters of a sukkah. While sitting within it, we dwell in the loving embrace of the Divine Presence. As we see from the Gemara, the Torah requires two proper walls while the third can have a width as small as a tefach. The two walls symbolize the upper segment of the arm and the forearm, and the remaining tefach represents the hand. This loving embrace is extended to every Jew, for Hashem’s “right arm” is always extended to accept the sincere repentance of any Jew, no matter what he or she might have done. Many gedolei Yisroel adopt a similarly forgiving attitude toward their fellow Jews, choosing to overlook their flaws and focus instead on the fact that we are all Hashem’s children, and all beloved to Him.

Rav Chaim Brim, zt”l, recounted that the Belzer Rebbe, Rav Aharon Rokeach, zt”l, was once walking on Shabbos with his gabbai when they suddenly ran into a group of Jewish men, women, and children. The people were singing as they strolled, and as they passed, the Rebbe turned to his gabbai to forestall any comments. “Hush! Don’t say anything to them—they must be singing because they are enjoying the holy Shabbos.” Rav Chaim explained, “Now, if they really meant to rejoice in the holiness of Shabbos, why didn’t the gabbai see this himself? The truth is that their singing had nothing to do with kedushah at all. But the Belzer Rebbe could only see the good in other Jews. He silenced the gabbai because he didn’t want this spoiled by the other man’s interpretation of their behavior. He also meant to say, “Don’t say a word, they don’t know any better. How can you judge them? On the contrary—say as much good about them as possible!”

[1] Avaneha Barrzel

[2] Likutei Halachos, Hilchos Shabbos 7:54

Your Dream Sukkah

Your Dream Sukkah

Seeing as it's Sukkos, I'm going to preface Micha's writing with an observation. I have a friend, an American, who has been married to an Englishman for years. Something some of you may have noticed is that many Orthodox Jews, particularly those living in Israel, choose to decorate their sukkos with the kinds of glittery and flashing accoutrements that those of us who grew up in the U.S. associate with a distinctly non-Jewish festival that tends to fall out around Chanukah time.

So, like my friend, some of us thought that perhaps the ideal kind of decor would be along the lines of the earthy-woodsy harvest sort of theme. Which rankles those Orthodox Jews who grew up in Europe, where the winter-fest decorations are more in the holly-mistletoe-red berries on the green vine theme.

Which meant that what my friend found "too goyish" was her husband's Jewish ideal, and what he found annoyingly familiar was her Martha Stewart dream sukkah. So perhaps the Chabad custom of just decorating the sukkah as you would your own home is starting to make more sense... Move out your better furnishings, hang some paintings, put down the Kilim, and enjoy the atmosphere. However you choose to decorate, Moadim l'simcha!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Shabbos and Breslov, Part II

Here is the second installation of The Spirit of the Law--Shabbos. Moadim L'Simchah!

p.s. If there is anyone out there who would like to help Micha edit his writing so that it can be uploaded, you would be doing him a great kindness. Of course, it takes time and energy, but it is also Torah study. We can't afford to pay anyone, and Yehudis is too busy with work...

Shabbat and Breslov, Part II

By Rabbi Golshevsky

Last week we learned that keeping the Shabbat demonstrates our emuna, and therefore we can understand why observing the Shabbat is compared to fulfilling the entire Torah. The purpose of Torah is to bring a person to emunah, as the Gemara states: “Chavakuk came and condensed the Torah into one Commandment: emuna, as it states, 'Tzaddik b'emunato yichyeh,' 'A Tzaddik lives by his emuna'" (Makot).

According to the Medrash, the Jewish people will be redeemed in the merit of their emuna in Hashem. Everything boils down to emuna. Rebbi Nachman explains the verse "Vayehi yadav emunah," "His hands are emuna" to mean that one's actions are an expression of one's emuna.

The Shulchan Hamevuar learns from the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh that keeping Shabbat will cause a person to have true emunah and as a result, he will repent for his sins and fulfill the entire Torah. Therefore, when a Jew keeps the Shabbat, it's as if he is keeping the entire Torah. The bond that the person who wants closeness to Hashem achieves on Shabbat will impel him to fulfill the entire Torah.

A person who profanes Shabbat in public falls into the category of an idolater with all its accompanying halachic ramifications. (It is important, however, to realize that this is referring to someone who was raised in a Torah-true environment, and the exact definition of that is ambiguous. Each case must be judged separately.)

A baal teshuva from a virulently anti-Semitic Kibbutz was influenced by the following words of Rebbe Nachman to become religious: “The world says: ‘If one eats pig, he should at least let the fat rest on his beard so that other people will not be fooled by him’. I say, 'If one eats pig, he should not let the fat rest on his beard. He should clean it up.'” This kibbutznik began following Rebbe Nachman's advice and tried to do whatever he could, even if it meant cleaning the fat off of his beard, to improve himself, until he finally became completely observant.

The Lev Eliyahu, zt”l, writes that even if two people do the same sin, there is a vast difference between the one who feels regret and the one who does not feel regret. Hashem does not deny the reward for any good deed. Even one who has regrets the bad he has done is rewarded for these feelings of regret. Feelings of regret show that a person's sin was done without thinking (without daat). But if a person does not regret having sinned, it shows a fault in that person's thought process. He is incapable of seeing where he went wrong.

An example of this is a well-known story that happened years ago in Europe. Two unmarried yeshiva students were caught acting inappropriately with members of the opposite sex. When the Mashgiach spoke to the students, one was extremely contrite and obviously regretted his sin. He wept profusely and begged the Mashgiach not to expel him from the Yeshiva. The Mashgiach allowed him to remain. But when the other student was confronted with his sin, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “What did I do wrong? She went to the mikveh first!" (The boy had carefully planned his escapade, making sure that the girl immersed in the mikveh prior to relations. Since she had gone to the mikveh, he justified his actions and did not feel any remorse.) Although the second boy's sin was technically less severe than that of the first boy, since it was done with daat (as seen by the fact that he justified himself afterwards) he was expelled from the Yeshiva, while the other boy was allowed to remain.

The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch continues: "…Anyone who keeps the laws of Shabbat is rewarded in this world and the next as we find in the words of the Prophet…"

On these words, the Zer Zahav, (Kamarna) brings the Gemara that says that anyone who takes pleasure in the Shabbat is saved from the war of Gog and Magog. The Baal Shem Tov, zt”l, said that no punishment can befall a person who has true trust in Hashem. We learned last week that Shabbat brings a person to emuna, and emuna brings a person to trust in Hashem (Sefer Hamidot). Therefore a person is rewarded in this world for keeping the Shabbat, since Shabbat observance causes a person to have trust in Hashem, and a person with true trust in Hashem is joyful. After all, if I trust in Hashem as a loving Father, why should I be sad? If I fully trust in Hashem, I cannot be full of myself!

The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch continues, "One who sees a delicacy that will not spoil, should save it for Shabbat. On Erev Shabbat we should awaken early to purchase our Shabbat needs. It is better to purchase these needs on Erev Shabbat than on Thursday" (the Mishna Brura writes that if for some reason a person can only purchase what he needs for Shabbat on Thursday, he should purchase it on Thursday rather than wait until Friday).

In Alim Literufa (letter 251) Reb Nosson, zt”l, writes “The most important thing is to start fresh from Shabbat. In truth we must begin anew every single day. How much more is this true about Shabbat which is the source of vitality for the entire week! Shabbat is a day of teshuva, love and joy amidst our enjoyment of the Shabbat delicacies etc. …Everyone knows how truly distant he is from the holiness of Shabbat. However, despite being distant, each person has the holiness of Shabbat drawn upon him according to the good within him. Although this is invariably true, we still must prepare ourselves to receive the holiness of Shabbat. The main preparation for Shabbat is the desire to remember the (deep significance of) Shabbat every single day, especially on Thursday when all Jews are physically getting ready for the holy day, by running to purchase flour and meat etc. Who can grasp the illumination in the heart (of one remembers and focuses on this fact), of the incredible pleasure this gives our Creator and the rectification it makes in all the worlds! Through Hashem’s help, this is something that every Jew (who prepares for Shabbat) merits! We are very fortunate to have merited this precious and wonderful gift of Shabbat, which was secreted in the vaults of the Almighty! We must prepare for Shabbat with great joy and without sophistication. But we must remember that the main preparation (for the Shabbat) is to prepare our hearts and consider how we can merit to the holiness of Shabbat and beg Hashem for a taste of this. I thank Hashem that I was able to mention the holiness of Shabbat which is the root and source of all holiness! I have much to say about this. The main thing is to strengthen ourselves and petition the Creator for to grant us the privilege of receiving the Shabbat with joy, love, and good will. At the very least, we should distance ourselves on Shabbat from anguish, depression or worry especially worries about making a living. Through this may we merit to draw the holiness of Shabbat into the week, so that we can fortify ourselves with a strong trust in Hashem at all times and take tremendous joy in all our good points through the lesson of Azamra (looking for the good in everything). Everything I have written here is enough to give you vitality every day of your whole life! The holy Shabbat is a method of dealing with any problem one is confronted with his whole life long. …One must stand with (connect to) the holy Shabbat and this will nullify his troubles."

The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch continues: Each Jew is required to do something himself to prepare for Shabbat. Even if a person has fulltime household help, he or she must personally take some action to prepare for Shabbat. Rav Chisda, for example, would slice vegetables. Since it's a tremendous privilege to prepare for Shabbat, a person should never say, “It's not fitting for me to do such menial work."

The Mekor Chaim, zt”l, explains that on Mount Sinai we achieved the highest possible spiritual level through proclaiming (on Shabbat), “naase vinishma.” We were raised above the first sin and we no longer had to die. Later, through the sin of the Golden Calf, we fell from this elevated spiritual level.

When we prepare for Shabbat, we should do so with the intention of correcting this flaw by returning to the level of “naase vinishma.” In addition, we should have in mind our desire to overcome our bad inclinations through making the effort to do something to prepare for the Shabbat. This means that when a person prepares for Shabbat he should do so with the intention of preparing himself in this world to inherit his portion in Gan Eden.

This is the main connection between Shabbat, Gan Eden, and Olam Haba – the Next World, the world that is completely on the level of Shabbat. Throughout our lifetime, we must prepare for ourselves a place in this exalted world as it states in Pirkei Avot, “If I am not for myself, who is for me?” We must take action to repair the damage we have done in our past as well as in the present. For this reason, the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch mentions the rabbis who did something themselves to prepare for Shabbat. We must strive to rectify ourselves through keeping the Torah and performing good deeds. It's a privilege to be able to do something to prepare for the Next World, and Hashem richly rewards a person for that preparation, as the Zohar writes “A person makes his Creator pleasure in this world for a limited time and Hashem rewards him eternally in the next world.”

Rebbi Nachman writes that there is an eternal reward for each and every good deed. Everyone, Jew and non-Jew, is rewarded for their good deeds. The only exception is Amalek, because even their seemingly good deeds are not sincere, and for that reason they will ultimately be destroyed.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Exchanged Children

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For those who haven't seen it yet, we recommend Rabbi Erez Moshe Doron's commentary on Rebbe Nachman's story, "The Exchanged Children." The English version was published by Breslov Research Institute, and can be purchased here. Of course, we're a little bit biased because Yehudis was the translator, and she says that she needs the zechus of having as many people as possible read it. We're not talking about financial compensation here, either.
Enjoy, let us know what you thought.

The Spirit of the Law -- Shabbos part 1

Here's an offering from Micha to draw you deeper into the beauty and power of Shabbos. It's also online at, but it's really hidden deep in the archives over there. Micha will be posting with new pieces from time to time from his wonderful and dearly beloved project on the inspiration that he finds in the Shulchan Aruch.

We'll be posting soon on the main source for that project, the incomparable Likutei Halachos of Reb Nosson of Breslov, zt"l.

For now, here's the first installation of The Spirit of the Law -- Shabbos, part 1. (For the Ashkenazim among us who prefer their traditional havarah, take it easy. The kind person who did the editing for Micha chose havarah Sepharadit for the website where it was originally published. No time to change it need either. Eilu v'eilu.)


Shabbat and Breslov

By Rabbi Golshevsky

The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch states (72:1), “Shabbat is the foundation of emunah. Whoever observes the laws of Shabbat, it is as if he observed the entire Torah. Whoever violates the Shabbat it is as if he transgressed the entire Torah.”

The Arizal writes that each Shabbat the innermost essence of our neshama –- our soul -- is elevated level by level until we reach the same level as Adam HaRishon (Adam, the first man) before he ate from the Tree of Knowledge.[1]

Shabbat parallels the Next World. Just as labor is prohibited on Shabbat, so too will work becomes superfluous in the World to Come. In this world, most people must work during the six days of the week. Why? Because this is a material, physical world, and that fact is the major challenge facing us in our quest to becoming truly connected to Hashem.

But why is it so difficult to correct our faults and focus on the spiritual? The Ramchal, zt”l, explains that that's the way it is supposed to be! Our purpose in this world is to change the negative into positive. That is what we are here for, and for that reason each of us was born with our own individual, tailor-made, challenges. This holds true for both our inner flaws as well as the many difficulties we face in day to day living.[2]

Most people, for example, need money to purchase the things they need, and therefore they need to work to earn that money. When we work to earn a living, we are presented with the difficult challenge of constantly remembering that we were created for a much higher purpose than simply earning a living. It is extremely difficult to overcome our natural tendency to think that we are running the show, that our accomplishments are a result of our talents and efforts. We tend to feel as if we don’t need Hashem; we just need an even break. But the truth is that everything we have –- our paychecks, our homes, our families and loved ones -- is solely a result of Hashem’s blessing!

Remembering and internalizing that knowledge – that although we need to put in our effort, everything we have is really a result of Hashem's blessing – is a major challenge to our avodat Hashem, our Divine Service. (On the other hand, a person who has no need to work to earn a living has a different challenge – to overcome the natural tendency to become idle or arrogant from an abundance of money.)

Reb Nosson, zt”l, explains that one reason why we must work during the week is to rectify our emunah, our faith.[3] One would think that if a person is very spiritual and is living with his emuna, he should not have work! After all, hasn't he already made his tikkun? Yet the reality is often the opposite: People who live their emuna tend to have financial difficulties.

Why is this so? Rebbe Nachman taught that this is an expression of a concept that appears in the writings of the Arizal. In Rebbe Nachman’s teachings, it is called the "Heichal Hatmuros," or the "Chamber of Exchange."[4] In Kohelet, Shlomo HaMelech (King Solomon) writes that he has seen princes walking and slaves riding. In other words, he has seen good guys suffering, while the bad guys seem to have it good.

When the Jews built the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the Midbar (desert) they were repairing the damage caused by the sin of the Golden Calf. They were using mundane activities to create a House for Hashem! So too, when we go about our mundane activities with a true awareness of Hashem’s loving Presence, we are also building a House for Hashem!

On Shabbat, however, work is prohibited. On Shabbat we were commanded to refrain from building the Mishkan – from mundane activities which are done with a true awareness of Hashem's loving Presence. Throughout the entire week we struggle to bring Hashem’s Presence into our labors. On Shabbat, however, the inner dimension of our soul is elevated to astounding heights. All our accomplishments attain completion on Shabbat. How? Through emuna, and emuna is revealed on Shabbat.

On Shabbat we express our emuna through refraining from the 39 types of labor used build the Mishkan. As a result of tangibly demonstrating our emuna by refraining from work, we attain completion. The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, zt”l, writes that it is only in the merit of refraining from labor on Shabbat that the following six new weekdays are created.[5]

For this reason, throughout history there was always at least one person keeping the holy Shabbat (On a simple level this refers to Adam, Mesushelach, Noach, Shem and Avraham. On a deeper level, Rav Tzadok HaKohain in Pri Tzadik explains this to mean that throughout history there has always been at least one person who truly connects to the deep emunah which can be accessed from within our innermost selves on Shabbat).[6]

Since Shabbat is the ultimate day of emunah, which represents the Next World, we cannot work on the Shabbat. When a person works on Shabbat, it's as if he's saying that there is no spiritual completion in the innermost depths of his soul. He's rejecting the gift of Shabbat and by doing so, he's denying his belief in the Torah.

To be continued…

[1] Note that the Arizal teaches that the outer aspects of our neshamot do not reach such lofty heights. From Siddur HaAri Rav Shabbtai (a student of the Baal Shem Tov) in the beginning of Shabbat, subsection entitled “Kavannat Shabbat B’chlalut.” (Regular edition, Part II, p. 50a. New edition on Shabbat, p. 15-16.) See also Pri Tzaddik, Parshat Matot #12.

[2] See Ramchal in Adir Bamarom p. 393, and in “Kalach” (138) Pitchei Chochmah, #49 (p. 180). This is a very broad topic in the Ramchal. For further study, see Daat Tevunot of Mechon HaRamchal, p. 168-180.

[3] This concept is based on Reb Nosson’s Likutei Halachot, Hilchot Shabbat #4.

[4] The story of the Exchanged Children (tale #10), Likutei Moharan I:24:8, Chayay Moharan 15d #2; Likutei Halachot Birchot Hashachar 3:2. This concept is explained at great length in Likutei Halachot. (See Rabbi Nachman’s Stories as published by Breslov Research Institute, edited and annotated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, zt”l, p. 232-235. (For a further allusion in the writings of the Arizal, see Shaar Hakavanot, Inyan Kavanot Ha’Amida, #6, “al hatsadikim.”)

[5] Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh, Breishiit 2:3.

[6] Based on Pri Tzaddik, Parshat Shmini #1. But see Pri Tzaddik on Shmini Atzeret #44 where he disagrees with the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh for the same reason that he defends him in Shmini.

We're On

After years of procrastinating, dilly-dallying, outright refusal because who has the time, we've finally decided to just jump in amd start posting lessons and musings for anyone who is interested out there in the universe. Those who have been asking us to do this for a while know just who you are.
That said, with Sukkos nearly upon us, it's time to get inspired.

A few years back, Yehudis was the translator of Rabbi Eliezer Berland's lessons and prayers for the holidays for Shuvu Bonim. Get a taste of them here and walk the path of inspiration from the Yomim Noraim through Simchas Torah...