Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The source of divine limitation

The Medrash says that the divine name Sh-dai comes from the word dai, “enough,” for G–d said: “I am the One Who said to My world ‘enough,’ and to the heavens and earth ‘enough,’ for had I not said so, they would have continually expanded” (Bereishis Rabba ch. 46, Chagiga 12a, cf. Torah Ohr 56c). Thus, this divine name represents limitation, and its energy created the limitation found in all the spiritual realms.

To explain: All existing things consist of a tzura—a “form,” vested in a chomer—a “substance.” The limitation of each entity stems primarily from its chomer.

For instance, in the heavenly bodies, the tzura consists of the soul of the entity, while the chomer consists of a combination of the elements of fire and water. The same is true of the worlds of Yetzira and Beriya.

The limitation in the worlds of B'ya (Beriya, Yetzira, and Asiyah) stems from the limitation within the Sefiros (divine attributes; sing. Sefirah) in the supernal world of Atzilus, which is the highest of the worlds.

Let us explain these divine attributes, and how they come to be limited:

Every Sefirah in the realm of Atzilus contains an Ohr, a “light” (pl. Oros) and a Keli, a “vessel” (pl. Kelim). The Ohr vests itself in the Keli. We can understand this through understanding the middos, the character traits (sing. midda) within a person, which stem from and parallel the Sefiros.

By nature, every midda extends without limit.

Thus, the nature of the attribute of kindness, Chessed, is to be kind and forgiving even to the wicked. Of this our sages say: “How great is His kindness” (Avos 5:2).

Conversely, the nature of the attribute of strictness, Gevurah, is to be harsh and unforgiving even when approached by a sincere penitent. This can also be explained from the perspective of divine Gevurah: it is written that “In G–d’s eyes even the heavens (i.e., the angels) are unworthy” (Iyov 15:15). This means that from the perspective of His pure strictness no sin can be forgiven, no matter how great one’s remorse.

This tendency to unrestrained expression of the character trait is the aspect of the Ohr within it.

However, the Keli of the midda restricts it and prevents it from being expressed inappropriately. For example, it ensures that one’s quality of kindness does not overstep its boundary by displaying kindness to the wicked; likewise, it ensures that one’s quality of strictness not show harshness to one who truly deserves kindness.

The reason that the Ohr expresses the unlimited, while the Keli limits, stems from the inherent nature of these two forces:

The Ohr is by nature simple and undifferentiated (“poshut”); thus, the Ohr of the midda does not discriminate at all in the way it is revealed, for that would entail a certain limit.

In contrast, the Keli is by nature limited and defined; thus, the Keli of the midda serves the role of limiting the midda’s expression.

To put it differently: Since the Ohr of the midda is simple and unlimited, it can’t tolerate any other midda. On this level, each midda wants only its own expression, to the exclusion of all others.

However, the Ohr of the midda is vested in a Keli. This limits the midda’s expression, thereby enabling it to tolerate other middos, and even complement them.

All the above is also true of the relationship between the Oros and Kelim of the Sefiros of Atzilus. It is these Kelim that act as the source for the limitation in B’ya, as mentioned, and this is the idea of the divine name of Sh-dai.

Sefer HaMa’amarim 5671, pp. 57-58.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Kelipos: Forces of impurity

Everything that exists receives its entire vitality from G–d.[1] However, He created two possible avenues for this vitality:
·      Kedushah, holiness, represents a level that consciously submits to G–d[2] and actively reveals His presence.
·      The opposite of holiness is Kelipah, literally a shell. The kabbalists employ the analogy to a shell in order to describe the force that hides the G–dly vitality and purpose that lies within everything, which is akin to the fruit. Instead of submitting to G–d, Kelipah is self-focused and driven.
There are two general categories of Kelipah:
       1. Kelipas Nogah: lit., “The shining shell.” This force is characterized by pursuit of self-interest.
Both good and evil types of self-interest are included in this shell. These aspects are referred to as the tov shebeNogah (the good aspect of Kelipas Nogah) and the rah shebeNogah (the bad aspect of Kelipas Nogah).
The relative proportions of good and evil in Kelipas Nogah depends upon the level in which it is found (note: there is no Kelipah in the world of Atzilus):
  •          the Kelipas Nogah of Beriah is majority good, minority evil;
  •          the Kelipas Nogah of Yetzirah is half evil, half good;
  •          the Kelipas Nogah of Asiyah is majority evil, minority good;
  •          the vast majority of the Kelipas Nogah of the physical world of Asiyah is evil.
For example, the Animal Soul is the source of emotions, and since the Jew’s Animal Soul stems from Kelipas Nogah, it contains good and evil emotions by its very nature.[3]
       2. Sholosh Kelipos HaTemei’os: literally, “The three impure Kelipos.” Aside from a minute spark of holiness hidden very deep down, this level represents total evil and selfishness, without any positive aspect.
Kelipas Nogah also acts as the intermediary between Sholosh Kelipos HaTemei’os and Kedushah.[4]
[1] Tanya p. 74.
[2] ibid. p. 20.
[3] See ibid. ch. 1.
[4] ibid. ch. 37.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Koach HaMaskil and the Koach HaSechel

The soul contains two primary mental powers: the Koach HaMaskil and the Koach HaSechel.

  • The Koach HaSechel initiates conscious, actual intellect. As such, it consists of clearly defined concepts and intellectual sensations. This is a revealed faculty.
  • The Koach HaMaskil, by contrast, contains no specific concepts; rather, it consists of a completely undifferentiated potential for any and all concepts that one may think. This is a hidden faculty.

The thoughts that are later crystallized in the Koach HaSechel originate in the Koach HaMaskil.

Although the Koach HaMaskil contains no defined concepts, it is not altogether formless. Every person’s Koach HaMaskil is different, in that each person possesses certain intellectual talents and aptitudes that enable him to specialize in certain fields and not in others.

There are abstract thinkers who find the concrete difficult, and vice versa. More specifically, people display aptitudes for different fields of wisdom. In the realm of the holy, one can excel in Chumash, Halacha, Talmud, Midrash, or Kabbalah. In secular thought, lehavdil, talents in literature, law, mathematics, physics, or chemistry can be felt. Each person’s aptitudes in the Koach HaSechel stem from the distinctive mental aptitude and capacity of his Koach HaMaskil.

Thus, although the Koach HaMaskil is a hidden faculty, we can infer its character from the Koach HaSechel.

Levels of Memalei Kol Almin Consciousness

Memalei Kol Almin

Memalei Kol Almin[1] is that G–dliness that can be grasped by the human mind. For denizens of higher realms such as angels, this manifestation can be apprehended directly. Denizens of this world, whose senses only relate to raw physicality, are totally unable to apprehend G–dliness directly. But they can still appreciate G–d’s greatness on an abstract level. However, this requires spiritual sensitivity. Thus, the more sensitive one is, the higher the level of G–dliness he can intellectually grasp.

There are several levels of this sensitivity:

Earthly Multiplicity

A person on a very low level can only appreciate G–d through His earthly manifestation. This person reflects upon the multiplicity and complexity of nature, and how every creature contains a unique divine vitality. This is expressed in the verse, “How numerous is Your handiwork, G–d!”[2]

Nevertheless, although created by G–d, since earthly creatures lack a conscious grasp of G-dliness, they are spiritually coarse. The level of G-dliness that one can grasp through them is thus also relatively inferior.

Celestial Vastness

A more spiritually sensitive person can grasp G-dliness by gazing upon the heavenly realms, where G–dliness is not as hidden, for the heavenly spheres possess superhuman intelligence,[3] which they use to comprehend the divine manifestation that they receive.  Their excitement at their knowledge leads them to passionately submit themselves before G–d, and this spurs them to rotate. Their rotation is in fact a form of prostration and self-effacement, for they rotate towards the west because the Shechinah is in the west,[4] and they wish to prostrate before it.[5]

This meditation also involves reflecting upon the enormity of the celestial spheres and the cycle of their orbits. The heavens are not as impressive for their multiplicity, but primarily for their immense scale and vast reach. This is the meaning of the verse, “How great is Your handiwork, G–d!”[6]

Angelic Beings

A still more spiritual person can sense G–d’s majesty through beings even more awesome and sublime: the angels. He reflects upon their profound understanding of G–dliness and their passionate, all-consuming worship of G–d.

Adapted from the Rebbe Rashab’s Sefer HaMa’amarim, 5671, pp. 228-229.

[1] Lit., “filling all the worlds.”

[2] Tehillim 104:24.

[3] Cf. Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah.

[4] Bava Basra 25a.

[5] As it is written, “The legions of the heavens prostrate before You” (Nechemiah 9:6).

[6] Tehillim 92:6.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Torah vs. Tefillah

Whenever one invests effort in serving G–d, he elicits a certain flow of divine revelation.[1] However, there is a difference between the level one reaches via Tefillah, prayer, and Torah.

Prayer centers around the person’s efforts at striving to reach G–d, from below to above. The Zohar[2] thus compares prayer to a ladder, which one climbs up to reach G–d. The level of G–dliness that one elicits through prayer is thus dependent upon and directly commensurate with the amount of effort that he invests.

In contrast, Torah study is primarily a revelation of G–d to man, from above to below. Thus, although it is necessary to invest effort at Torah study, this is merely a prerequisite for this flow of blessing. However, the level of G–dliness that one thereby elicits is completely superior to the person’s efforts, so much so that this flow is not attributed to his efforts at all.[3]

This also explains why the Torah is called a “Torah of kindness.”
[4] Why is the Torah specifically associated with the attribute of kindness? Kindness represents giving something that is unearned, underserved. Although the recipient may possess some worthy qualities, kindness entails giving without paying attention to those qualities, in a way that far exceeds the call of duty. Thus, the level of G–dliness that we elicit through Torah study, which far surpasses our worthiness, is described as kindness.

Thus far we have used the concept of kindness to describe the
origin in the higher spiritual realms of the G–dliness elicited via Torah study. In addition, the concept of kindness denotes revelation (in contrast to strictness, which denotes concealment). This is a second way of explaining the description of the Torah as a “Torah of kindness”: The unique quality of Torah study is that it elicits a raw, completely unfiltered revelation of G–dliness into this world.

In fact, in a sense this revelation of G–dliness via Torah continues the kindness with which G–d created the world. To explain, G–d is inherently good and kind, and this moved Him, as it were, to His first act of kindness—the creation of the chain of spiritual worlds.
[6] This especially required kindness because at the time of this decision there could not possibly have been any worthiness on the part of the recipients, for they had not yet been created.

However, ever since man was created, the worlds have no longer been created through divine kindness. Rather, their continuing recreation depends upon our efforts to submit to divine authority, especially on Rosh Hashanah.[7]

Nevertheless, G–d’s desire for underserved kindness is still manifest in the world—via the Torah. Through Torah study, G–dliness is revealed in this world just as it is revealed in the supernal realms.

However, the Talmud qualifies
[8] that only Torah studied lishmah, for its own sake, and with the intention of teaching it to others[9] is considered “a Torah of kindness.” Otherwise one’s Torah is “a Torah not of kindness.”

In the context of our discussion, this means that Torah study alone will not elicit this awesome revelation of G–dliness referred to as kindness. A certain degree of effort is required to make one a vessel for this blessing, i.e., for this G–dliness to come down upon the person in a revealed manner. The prerequisites are study of Torah lishmah and sharing one’s Torah knowledge with others.

This also explains why the duty to pray is only required at certain times, while the duty to study Torah is constant. A Jew is obligated to spend every spare moment of the day and night[10] studying Torah. Torah study elicits an infinite light, and this is reflected in the requirement of uninterrupted Torah study. Tefillah, in contrast, only elicits a limited light, so the time of obligation is also limited.

Adapted from the Frierdiker Rebbe’s Reshimas Chag HaShavuos 5675, with references and explanatory notes from the Rebbe.

[1] In the language of Chassidus, an Isarusa Dilesata, an “Arousal From Below,” leads to an Isarusa Dile’eila, an “Arousal From Above.”

[2] Zohar 1:266b.

[3] In the original, Isarusa Dile’eila mitzad atzma, “an Arousal From Above that comes of its own”.

[4] Mishlei 31:26.

[5] This G-dly light is revealed despite the fact that we cannot see it, just as a blind person can cause a light to shine that he is unable to see. The reason that we cannot see the light is that the coarseness of the physical world blinds us to it (see Tanya p. 131). However, in the age of Moshiach this coarseness will be removed, and we will openly perceive the reality of what we now accomplish (ibid. ch. 37).

[6] See beg. Eitz Chaim.

[7] Likkutei Torah, Rosh Hashanah 58:1-2.

[8] Sukkah 49b.

[9] This can also be accomplished by lending financial support to others to study Torah.

[10] Yehoshua 1:8.

Two Servants

Consider two types of servants. Both devotedly carry out the master’s instructions, and enjoy doing so, but their motivations differ.

The first servant prides himself at his accomplishments. Human nature is such that a person values and feels fulfilled from something in which he invested personal effort, even if the product of that effort is of objectively poor quality. In contrast, the accomplishments of others bring him no sense of fulfillment, even if those accomplishments are qualitatively far superior.[1] It is this type of pleasure that motivates this servant to obey. Although this servant carefully adheres to his master’s instructions, he is essentially submitting to the master’s wishes, and not to the master himself.

The second servant feels a profound inner bond with his master. His deepest yearning is to bring satisfaction to his master, and his greatest source of personal fulfillment is the knowledge that he has succeeded in doing so. The more he comes to realize his master’s greatness, the more elated he is at his merit to bring the master pleasure.

Similarly, there are two different levels of devotion to G–d:

The first person follows Jewish law carefully and prides himself on his observance, but this pride stems from his comprehension of the meaning of the Mitzvos, and a concomitant sense of accomplishment at his observance. He relates better to the Mitzvos than to their Commander.

The second person has attained a truly personal relationship with G–d. He loves G–d from the depth of his soul, and yearns desperately to please Him, and this desire motivates his observance of Mitzvos. The more he studies G–d’s greatness, the more intense and deeply felt is his aspiration to bring pleasure to G–d.

One way of discerning one’s level is by asking oneself whether he differentiates between the
Chukim, the suprarational Mitzvos (such as Sha’atnez
[2]) and the Mishpatim, the rational Mitzvos (such as the Mitzvos designed to promote peaceful interactions between people).

If he performs the Mishpatim enthusiastically and the Chukim sluggishly, this demonstrates that his main motivation in his observance of Mitzvos is to attain personal satisfaction.

However, if he is excited at the opportunity to perform any Mitzvah, even those which he does not comprehend at all, simply because he yearns to perform the will of G–d, then he knows that he is devoted to G–d Himself, and not merely to His Mitzvos.[3]

Adapted from the Frierdiker Rebbe’s Reshimas Chag HaShavuos 5675, with references and explanatory notes from the Rebbe.

[1] Bava Metzia 38a.

[2] The prohibition of wearing clothes that contain a mixture of wool and linen.

[3] In the original, this is the difference between the bittul to the ratzon and the bittul to the ba’al ho’ratzon.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Two Stages of Submission

The Midrash[1] says:
[G–d said to the Jewish people] “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Why was this said? Because G–d first said, “I am the L–rd, your G–d.” This is comparable to a king who entered a country. His servants told him, “Make decrees upon them.” He responded to them, “Only when they accept my sovereignty upon themselves can I make decrees upon them. For if they will not accept my sovereignty, they will not accept my decrees either.”
Similarly, when G–d declared, “I am the L-rd, your G–d, Who took you out of Egypt,” the Jewish people accepted G–d’s sovereignty. Only once this basic submission to G–d had occurred were they able to then commit to follow the individual decrees that G–d then issued—the Mitzvos.

This explains why, according to one opinion,
[2] the declaration, “I am the L-rd, your G–d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt”[3]—which commentaries interpret as referring to the imperative to affirm one’s core belief in G–d—is not counted among the Mitzvos. For the 613 Mitzvos are individual commandments. In contrast, the basic commitment to G–d is the all-inclusive foundation of all the Mitzvos. Since it enables one to keep all the Mitzvos, it cannot be counted as an individual Mitzvah.

This is also the meaning of the Jewish people’s declaration before the Giving of the Torah, “We will do and we will hear”

In declaring “we will do,” the Jewish people submitted absolutely and unquestioningly to G–d’s sovereignty, affirming in a general manner that they would obey whatever G–d would command them, no matter what. At this stage, the actual details of the Mitzvos were not relevant.

But it is not enough to submit in a general manner. Thus, the Jewish people also declared, “we will hear.” Here they committed to hear in the sense of listening, turning their ears, and paying attention to the numerous minutiae of the Mitzvos.

Here we learn that Judaism is “in the details.” Jewish law is never vague. It clearly, methodically, defines the appropriate place and time in which every single Mitzvah is to be fulfilled. For instance, Tefillin must be square-shaped and black-colored, with certain kosher types of parchments and ink, which were produced by Jews with the intention of being used for the Mitzvah of Tefillin, and so on.

Being particular to learn and follow the details of Halacha is important not only in order to know how to submit to G–d, but also to enable the person to draw a flow G–dly light upon himself. Only when all the above criteria are fulfilled has the Mitzvah of Tefillin been performed, eliciting a divine light both in the supernal realms, and into the person wearing the Tefillin. The same goes for all the Mitzvos.

This is one of the reasons that the Mitzvos are compared to the organs of the body.
[5] The vitality of the soul only flows into the body when it is healthy and fit, and a wound or the like, G–d forbid, reduces or prevents that vitality from reaching the body. So, too, by performing Mitzvos a Jew serves as a vessel for G–dliness.

Moreover, these two levels of submission are interdependent. Only by undertaking to obey G–d’s every command, without any trace of reservation until he appreciates the reason, can he reach the level of focusing on the details of Halacha. Moreover, the more deeply felt one’s general submission, the more scrupulously he will pay attention to the minutiae of the Mitzvos as well, being particular to perform them all, even the often neglected ones, and in an attractive manner.

Adapted from the Previous Rebbe’s
Reshimas Chag HaShavuos 5675, with references and explanatory notes from the Rebbe.

[1] Mechilta 20:3.

[2] Ba’al Halachos Gedolos.

[3] Bamidbar 15:41.

[4] Exodus 24:7. Shabbat 88a.

[5] See Tanya, ch. 23.