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.