Posts

,

THE RESCHEDULED REDEMPTION

Every once in a while, a unique and remarkable soul is sent into the world to renew mankind with a previously unrevealed light.

Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, known as the Arizal, was one such soul. During his brief two years in Tsfat five hundred years ago, he succeeded in revolutionizing the understanding of the Zohar, the classic work of kabbalah. The constellation of kabbalah, the Arizal and Tsfat, made redemption almost irresistibly imminent. Against the historical backdrop of the Spanish expulsion and widespread messianic expectation, everyone living in Tsfat at the time awaited the final redemption. The only problem was, at the last moment, it was suddenly rescheduled for some unspecified date in the future.

Today, much mystery and misconception surrounds Jewish mysticism, the wisdom of the kabbalah, as well as those who profess knowledge of its secrets. The Zohar, the most famous book of kabbalah, was authored by R’ Shimon bar Yochai, who lived two thousand years ago during the Second Temple era. According to Rebbe Nachman of Breslev, every word of the holy Zohar has but one theme: how the upper worlds connect with each other in order to draw down shefa, the “oil of abundant holiness” into the world. Shefa is the fundamental spirtual vitality upon which the entire physical world depends for its sustenance. In order to understand the significance of the Arizal’s time in Tsfat, we must understand a little about the true nature of kabbalah and the anatomy of redemption.

THE SOURCE OF THE KABBALAH

Many people think kabbalah is a mysterious book of magic used by Jewish wonderworkers. The truth is, kabbalah is an ancient body of wisdom that was primarily transmitted orally.

However, Sefer Yetzira, a kabbalistic work that predates even the Zohar, was attributed to the patriarch Abraham. Later, the wisdom of kabbalah was handed down directly from God to Moses on Mount Sinai as part and parcel of the Torah. It was then maintained as a secret oral tradition passed from teacher to student for generations under the strictest of guidelines for fear of its holy power being misused. This tradition took written form during the era of the Second Temple when R’ Shimon bar Yochai garbed its wisdom within the book called the Zohar, literally meaning the “Book of Splendor.” In so doing, he drew the holy light of kabbalah further down into the world. Some time later, the book disappeared and remained concealed until the late thirteen century when it was rediscovered by R’ Moses de Leon, and much controversy arose about its disappearance and reappearance. The Zohar itself was originally a collection of midrashim which was later organized according to the weekly parsha. Thus today, it is a detailed commentary on the Five Books of Moses and contains extensive discussion on the elements that comprise life in this world. It speaks about creation, the soul’s anatomy, the Messiah, suffering, the destruction of evil, reincarnation, tikkun, the Shechina, the system of ten sefirot, fulfillment of the 613 commandments, and Torah study. One of the benefits of learning Zohar is that it gives a person the desire to learn all parts of the Torah (Sichot HaRan 108). After the Zohar resurfaced, it became more widely available and thus more difficult to understand correctly for those lacking a high level of Torah knowledge. When the Arizal arrived in Tsfat for his brief sojourn, he introduced an entirely new system to understand the complexity of the Zohar, today know as “Lurianic Kabbalah”. He succeeded in condensing and systemizing the wisdom of the kabbalah even further, making it more accessible to a greater range of people. For this reason, the Arizal was considered the greatest kabbalist since the days of R’ Shimon bar Yochai.

THE ARIZAL

R’ Yitchak Luria was given the appellation “Ari”, which means “lion” in Hebrew. The final three letters “zal” represent a Hebrew acronym, zichrono l’vrocha, “may his memory be a blessing”. “Ari” is also an acronym standing for “Eloki Rabbi Yitzchak”—the godly Rabbi Yitzchak. Concerned that this name might be taken out of context, later generations said that the Hebrew letter aleph at the beginning of the acronym stood for Ashkenazi, a reference to his family’s Germanic roots.

The Arizal was born in Jerusalem in 1534 and moved to Egypt in his early childhood. By the time he was eight years old, he was recognized as a prodigy, expert in all areas of the revealed Torah including the Bible, Mishnah, Talmud, Midrash, and Aggada. At the age of seventeen, he obtained a written manuscript of the Zohar and spent days, even weeks, engrossed in a single passage until he had grasped its deepest meaning.

In time, after tremendous exertion, he understood the conversations of both trees and birds, as well as the speech of angels. By looking at another’s face, and even by one’s odor, he could discern everything the individual had done and what they would do in the future. He knew people’s thoughts, often before the thought even entered their minds. He knew the future, and was aware of everything happening here on earth, as well as what was decreed in heaven. He knew the mysteries of reincarnation, who had lived previously, and who was here for the first time.

The life story of the Arizal took a intriguing turn when he made his appearance in the Holy City of Tsfat. It was here a relationship was forged between him and another fascinating individual that was meant to catalyze nothing less than the redemption of the world.

R’ CHAIM VITAL

Concealing his gifts completely, the Arizal moved to Tsfat from Egypt during the summer of 1570. He came with the express purpose of teaching a young scholar by the name of R’ Chaim Vital who, the Arizal knew, was to become his main student and disciple. It wasn’t until six months after the Arizal arrived in Tsfat that R’ Chaim Vital finally met him. R’ Chaim, an acknowledged master in kabbalah himself, later wrote that one reason it took so long to meet his master was because he initially thought his own knowledge of kabbalah surpassed that of the Arizal. R’ Chaim Vital was a most unusual individual, an esteemed Torah scholar and an outstanding expert in alchemy, astronomy, astrology, and kabbalah, even before he met the Arizal. At the time of their first meeting, R’ Chaim was only twenty-seven years old; the Arizal was thirty-six.

It is astounding that according to his own account, R’ Chaim was a disciple of the Arizal for less than eighteen months, yet during this brief period, he managed to gain an astonishing mastery of the Arizal’s kabbalistic system. Given their short-lived relationship, the amount of information that must have passed between them defies imagination. Like many great masters, the Arizal rarely, if ever, recorded his own teachings, instead entrusting the task to a close follower. In this case, R’ Chaim Vital. He was the great organizer of the Arizal’s system and spent decades writing, organizing, rewriting and reorganizing countless versions and editions. R’ Chaim’s writings comprise over a dozen large volumes, each intricately compiled and written in an extremely terse style. Known collectively as the Kitvey HaAri, the volumes include the Etz Chaim (Tree of Life) and Pri Etz Chaim (Fruit of the Tree of Life), as well as the Shemoneh Shaarim (Eight Gates), and deal with everything from Torah commentary to Divine inspiration and reincarnation. The sheer quantity of R’ Chaim’s writings is immense, and if not for him, little if any, of the Arizal’s teachings would have survived.

One of the biggest challenges posed to R’ Chaim, was that the Arizal would suddenly start revealing secrets to him with no introduction, or clear sequence. Since the key in learning kabbalah is knowing where and what is being discussed—which world, which construct—the Arizal’s revelations were a dizzying mass of cryptic unorganized material. R’ Chaim was the only one who was able to successfully present the entire system with proper introduction and sequence. Even so, he intentionally wove into the text stumbling blocks to prevent the uninitiated and unworthy from improper understanding.

Kabbalists are extremely careful to use only the writings of R’ Chaim Vital. A relatively contemporary kabbalist from Yemen, R’ Shalom Sharabi (known as the “RaShash”, d. 1777) was particularly strict, warning in extreme language to completely avoid anything other than the writings of R’ Chaim Vital, since among all the students of the Arizal, only he understood his master’s teachings properly.

THE RESCHEDULED REDEMPTION

Yet, the relationship between the Arizal and R’ Chaim Vital possessed an even deeper dimension. Sometimes, when two people unite in a relationship, one of them may experience a personal redemption. In some cases, both sides experience the same. There are also relationships which effect the redemption of a town, a people, or even a country. In the case of R’ Chaim Vital and the Arizal, their union was meant to catalyze the redemption of the entire world, the advent of the Messiah, and the ultimate perfection of mankind. It was all meant to happen in the city of Tsfat.

R’ Chaim Vital could be termed a “microcosmic man”. He was what the kabbalists call a neshama klalit, a general all-encompassing soul. Usually, a Jew is spiritually from one of the original twelve tribes, the sons of Jacob. But a neshama klalit, or all-inclusive soul, has the spiritual root of all twelve tribes encompassed within one soul. This is a specific quality found in certain souls, and it was true in the case of R’ Chaim Vital. The repair, or tikkun, of R’ Chaim’s soul would blaze a spiritual pathway back to God through which others would be perfected. In this way, the entire world could be drawn back unhindered to God in repentance, ushering in the Messianic era. He was the mysterious paradigm upon which all mankind depended, without anyone knowing. This was the secret to the world’s redemption during the time of the Arizal and the significance of the deep relationship between these two extraordinary individuals.

Since the Arizal had come into the world only to teach and perfect the soul of R’ Chaim, he repeatedly cautioned R’ Chaim not to reveal his teacher’s greatness to anyone. If the Arizal’s true greatness was revealed prematurely, it would prevent him from accomplishing what was needed with R’ Chaim. Untold damage would be caused not only to him and R’ Chaim, but to the entire world. Yet feelings of unworthiness persisted within the heart of R’ Chaim. He felt compelled to reveal his teacher’s sublime level to the great leaders in Tsfat at the time, who were older than he, including R’ Moshe Alshich, R’ Moshe Cordovero (the Ramak) and R’ Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch.

As the Arizal’s fame quickly spread, he was sought by those far and wide for the wonders he performed and spiritual guidance he provided. Others were seeking rectification for their souls. Because of the Arizal’s humility he refused no one.

The Arizal continued to plead with him to be more discreet, even revealing awesome secrets about R’ Chaim’s soul in an attempt to convince him that their relationship served a unique purpose in the world, but to no avail. R’ Chaim was unable to overcome his feelings of inadequacy and continued to publicize the Arizal’s greatness. Within a short while, his time spent with R’ Chaim was greatly compromised.

ALL TOO SOON a deadly plague struck the idyllic holy city. At a mere thirty-eight years of age the Arizal passed away suddenly in the summer of 1572 (5 Av 5332), only two years after the Arizal arrived in Tsfat. No one understood the true significance of the loss more than R’ Chaim. The redemption had been foiled, the dream shattered, at least for then.

During the funeral, Rabbi Chaim almost went mad with grief. When the Arizal’s body was lowered into the grave, he jumped in as well, clinging to it tightly. With great difficulty, others separated him from his master’s body and lifted him out from the grave.

R’ Chaim later wrote, “In my transgression, I wanted to be a ‘foolish chassid’ so I said to my master, ‘If these great scholars aren’t able to learn from you, then neither will I. I want no accusations in heaven leveled against me that I was concerned only for myself and not for these great tzaddikim who also want to learn from you.’”

After the death of his master, R’ Chaim often saw him in dreams, but as the years passed, these visits became less frequent. He settled in Damascus in 1594, teaching and inspiring Jews to return to a Torah-based life, but he was plagued until the end of his life with profound regret and sorrow that the final redemption had not yet come. With the exception of occasional visits to Tsfat, R’ Chaim remained in Damascus until his own death in 1620.

TWO EARTHQUAKES and a series of plagues subsequently devastated the city, and Tsfat went into a deep spiritual and physical slumber, essentially freezing her healing redemptive powers for another time in the future.

Thus the gates of redemption temporarily closed in sixteenth-century Tsfat, home to some of the greatest tzaddikim in Jewish history. Although the Arizal’s time in Tsfat was brief, the spiritual levels attained during this period sustain us until today, as we await the final redemption when we are destined to reach these levels and beyond.

SOURCES: Shivchei HaAri; Shivchei R’ Chaim Vital
, ,

WHAT IS MAN? : R. Gedaliah Aharon Kenig

I would like to explain the concept of Man, Adam, according to the kabbalah and the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev. There are two things in the world in which everyone is familiar. One is a matter of belief, and the other, a matter of perception. The matter of belief is that there is a Creator of all, Whose existence is absolute. There was never a time when He did not exist. The matter of perception is that we perceive that creation exists. The creation’s existence is based on “possibility” because there was a time when it did not exist. These two things are opposites.

On one hand, the Creator is without end. He is One in the most absolute sense of oneness and there are no limitations to Him. On the other hand, creation is limited by both time and space. It is known that between any two opposites, there is a connecting midpoint. For example, the colors of black and white stand at opposite ends of the color spectrum. The midpoint between them is the color sky-blue, techelet, which combines both black and white. Likewise, in the concept of space, there is a midpoint between right and left, as well as up and down. So too with the Creator and creation. There is a midpoint which connects them both.

This midpoint is called the Shechina, the feminine aspect of God that dwells within creation. The Creator, Who exists as a unity unlimited by space or time, decreed that in order for the creation to receive the abundance of life and blessing from Him, called shefa, the Shechina will act as the intermediary to transmit this abundance from an unlimited to a limited realm. In this way, all the separate worlds that exist beneath Him, limited by time and space in all of their complexity and detail, are able to be nourished and supported.

The Shechina is the mother and root of the one all-inclusive Soul, which is the storehouse for each individual soul. This individual soul, which comes from the storehouse of the Shechina, was given to the last thing created in this world, man, known in Hebrew as Adam. Our soul yearns for us to be conscious of the tremendous favor and goodness the Creator has granted us. It wants to tell us about our awesome ability and power to unite from this lowly and limited world with our Creator, Who is One, endless and unlimited. Just as the Shechina is the intermediary between the Creator and creation, so is her daughter, the soul, a midpoint between good and bad, holiness and impurity.

Impurity is an extremely fine and subtle concept to understand, since impurity itself actually comes from a pure source. For this reason, it is easy to be confused and think that impurity is holiness, even though it is, in fact, impure. Therefore, the concept of purity, the opposite of impurity, is related to the soul. This is expressed every morning in our prayers when we say, “God, the soul you have given me is pure.” The soul serves as a protective fence to purity since it acts as the midpoint between holiness and impurity. In other words, the fact that we have a pure soul, which stands midway between holiness and impurity, means we have the ability to choose between the two.

THE POWER OF FREE CHOICE

Mankind possessed the ability to choose between holiness and impurity immediately after God breathed the soul into the body of the first man. If one wants, a person can choose to become one with everything good and holy. Or one can choose to become a partner and slave to all that is bad and impure.

If he decides to bind himself with goodness and holiness, then from this lowly world he can ascend to the highest of heights, even rising above the angels with the authority to rule over them. However, if he hands himself over and enslaves himself to that which is bad and impure, he descends to the lowest of depths. He sheds his beautiful spiritual clothing and becomes darkened. At this point, even the smallest and lowliest creature in creation is above him and can be the messenger to bring judgment upon him.

At the beginning of creation God wanted man, who is limited by space and time, to choose goodness and holiness. He wanted man to bind himself to his Creator from this lowly physical world, elevating himself above the entire creation, and rule over it. What happened back then is history. Man was not able to pass the test. Unable to overcome the obstacles, he sinned and fell from his lofty level. Afterwards, he felt tremendous regret and repented, still mankind has not yet achieved the will of God which was to unify Him with His creation. Yet God’s will can never be nullified since it is eternal and without limitation. Therefore, His desire that man ultimately elevate himself will come about in the future when he will become purified. The time will certainly come when man will be elevated above the entire creation, even ruling over the angels.

Delving a little deeper, we can discern that the will of the Creator exists even now. From our limited view we perceive that we have fallen and that our ultimate perfection and purification has been delayed to another time in the future. However, the Creator is above time and exists in a sphere where past, present, and future are one. What we perceive as the future, is for Him the same as the present. This means that our eventual completion and perfection exists now. But to us, bound to the realm of time, we live temporarily amidst awesome pressures coming from two opposite sides: holiness and impurity, light and darkness, good and evil.

As we have said, man has free choice. He is built with strength as well as weakness. With his strength he has sufficient power to overcome all tests, even the most difficult. Yet in his weakness, he can fall from the breath of the smallest wind, from the push of a leaf, and stumble over the most meaningless things.

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE

What can give man hope and strength? When he looks deeply forward into time and yearns greatly for the shining future destined to come, it can vitalize him even now by inspiring him to overcome every obstacle and remove them from his path. As a person progresses step by step, winning another battle with his evil inclination, he becomes further purified and shines more and more. He then tastes everlasting life right now in the present. Furthermore, he has the capacity to purify and enlighten his fellow man, bringing to them the taste of eternal life as well. In contrast, if he becomes influenced by temporary brilliance and things which bring only momentary pleasure, his horizon is narrowed and he enters into a type of prison where he lives with great difficulty, confusing others. His portion in life is then only anger and pain. When he finishes his life, he leaves behind nothing.

It is very hard to describe exactly what spiritual satisfaction means to the person who lives with his soul as opposed to one who lives with his body. However, it is easy to understand when looking at one’s way of life. The first allows his body to control his soul. The second makes his soul dominant over his body. The man whose body controls his soul, dims her light, empties her of all content, and removes her glory. She becomes enslaved and is forced to eat the bitterness of moral impurity. The end of this is only nothingness. But the person whose soul dominates his body, polishes and purifies his soul, revealing her radiant points. He elevates his soul to the Garden of Eden, illuminating her with a wondrous upper divine light until even the physical radiates with light and is attached to everlasting life.

RETURNING TO LIFE

This is the secret of the resurrection of the dead. At that time, those whose bodies were vessels for the soul and acted according to the Will of their Creator, will rise from the grave together with the soul. They will be purified and ready to serve the Creator forever. Therefore, even those living presently who make their bodies subservient to their souls, and act in accordance with God’s Will, can taste eternal life now. When the time comes for them to die, they are not frightened and it does not cause them pain. On the contrary, they are happy because they know that this is the Will of the Creator, and that the time has come for them to return the gift that was entrusted to them—the soul. Likewise, their burial in the earth does not frighten them because they understand that it is like one who goes from one room to another, a narrow room to a much wider one. By entering the grave, he enters into a type of “laboratory” designed to purify his body from all of its gross physicality, removing all vestiges of impurity. In this way, he will be able to come to life again in order to completely serve his Creator.

This is the meaning of the word Adam, man. The complete Man is one who has reached perfection by purifying the physical matter of his body with divine light while in the world, just as it was in the Garden of Eden.

, ,

MEDITATION, MUSIC & PROPHECY : R. Gedaliah Aharon Kenig

THE GREAT SONG OF CREATION

Rebbe Nachman teaches about a flowing wellspring and a river whose waters are drawn from this spring.[1] The spring is considered the mystery of nekuda, a “point,” because it is described as a specific point from which water flows. This is related to the Hebrew letter yud [ י ] whose shape is a single point. In contrast, the river is described as the Hebrew letter vav [ו] whose shape is an element extending from a point, since a river’s waters extend outward.

Furthermore, the wellspring, represented by the point in the shape of a yud, is the light of wisdom, called chochma. The river, represented by the element extending from a point in the shape of a vav, is the light of bina, understanding, that dwells in the heart. Just as the river is filled and blessed when it receives from the waters of the wellspring, so too the understanding of the heart (bina), is perfected when it receives influence from the light of the mind’s wisdom (chochma).

Rebbe Nachman describes three points of wisdom in the mind, which are three wellsprings of chochma. These three points are the source of wisdom from which the river, representing bina and understanding of the heart, is filled and blessed. We were each created in the image of G-d, in that our minds and hearts are channels for wisdom. Therefore, it is our role to constantly strive for perfection by drawing the waters of blessing from these three points of wisdom in the mind into the understanding of the heart. In other words, it is upon each of us to ensure that the mind (chochma) and heart (bina) are connected through these points which bring an abundant influx of understanding into the heart so it will not lack in any way. This is the perfection of the nefesh (soul).

THE THREE POINTS OF WISDOM
The following describes, in sequence, the three points of wellspring/wisdom in the mind:

  1. The point of wisdom in the rav, tzaddik and sage of the generation, who is the primary source of the waters of wisdom, and who is the all-encompassing influence on the generation.
  2. The point of wisdom in the mind of one’s friend, containing whatever wisdom their friend received according to his or her intellectual abilities, from the rav of the generation.
  3. The point of wisdom in the mind of each person, received personally according to his or her own intellectual capacity, from the wisdom of the rav of the generation.

All three points of wisdom require the use of the spoken word in order to draw the waters of the wellspring (mind/chochma) into the river (heart/bina). This is hinted to in the verse, Pi yedaber chochmot v’hagut libi tevunot, “My mouth will speak wisdom and the meditations of my heart understand” (Psalms 49:4).

The use of the spoken word is expressed through each of the three points in the following ways:

  • Everyone requires an authentic teacher, a rav and sage (chacham) from whom they can learn and receive the true wisdom. For example, [after the Exodus from Egypt] the entire Jewish people received their knowledge of G-d from Moses.
  • In addition, you must speak with your friend with yirat shamayim (fear of heaven), so your heart will be awakened from the point of wisdom that your friend possesses more than you.
  • Finally, to complete everything, you must speak to G-d in order to illuminate your own point of wisdom[2] and draw it into the understanding of the heart.[3] This is called hitbodedut (literally “secluding oneself” to commune with G-d).[4]

When you articulate words in your conversation with G-d, your hitbodedut is then built upon a foundation of truth. This is what connects the point of wisdom in your own mind to the understanding of your heart. The result is a lev tamim, an unblemished, straightforward heart,[5] i.e., a feeling heart vs. one that is sealed shut, unable to feel. In this way, the nefesh is perfected.
This all highlights the central requirement of the spoken word during hitbodedut—speech articulated through using the five parts connected to the mouth: teeth, tongue, lips, throat, and palate. This is true to the extent that it is worthwhile to spend an entire hour in hitbodedut, even if you can only manage to utter a few words.

There are additional requirements of hitbodedut involving time and place. This is because there are specific times and places more conducive to attaining the purpose of hitbodedut.[6] However, there are no specific limitations or requirements regarding body position. It is possible to practice hitbodedut in any position, whether sitting, standing, walking, or laying down—any way that is most comfortable. Since the entire purpose of hitbodedut is to exit from a constricted consciousness to a more expanded one, any position that helps to accomplish this objective is fine.

Anyone who alters these conditions of using the spoken word or placing specific limitations on body position in any way whatsoever, strips hitbodedut of the ability to achieve positive results. Instead of attaining a settled mind, improper hitbodedut brings confusion, irritation and anger, G-d forbid, which of course is completely contrary to the intended purpose. Rebbe Nachman refers to this: “Through hitbodedut and passing one’s time idly, one comes to anger.”[7] He writes elsewhere, “Anger comes from improper hitbodedut.”[8]

This is the answer to many who perform hitbodedut regularly, yet complain they remain far from a settled mind. It is obvious that their practice lacks the above conditions, and they are only acting according to their own opinion as to what constitutes proper hitbodedut.

We can now better understand the following words from the prophet Amos:[9]

“Behold, days are coming, says the L-rd G-d, and I will send famine into the land, not a famine of bread and not a thirst for water, but to hear the word of G-d. And they shall wander from sea to sea, and north to east; they will run back and forth seeking the word of G-d, but they will not find.”

On the surface, these words pose a difficulty, since how could it be that “they will not find”? We are witnesses today to the materialization of this prophetic vision and how it engulfs most of the world. An intense hunger and thirst to hear the word of G-d has been awakened among countless people in our times. They wander the face of the earth, from sea to sea, and in every direction to find from whom to learn, and are filled with a tremendous desire for the word of G-d. If this is the case, why don’t they find it?

We are already familiar with the maxim, “If one says, ‘I struggled and I didn’t find,’ don’t believe them.”[10] Nonetheless, how is it possible, after so much wandering and struggle, they are unable to find what they are looking for?

 According to Rebbe Nachman, there are a number of reasons:

  • First of all, most of the world, even among those who struggle in their search for the word of G-d, quickly tire, and quit in the middle. They stop at the first “teacher” who reveals some sort of wonder or supposed “prophecy,” satisfying them enough to remain with this teacher. It doesn’t occur to them to check further to see if they are proper and desirable in the eyes of HaShem, or if they are a type of guide on the level of Moses, who spoke only words of truth and righteousness; someone through whom the Shechina speaks and who is filled only with the awareness of G-d.
  • A second reason one does not find is that the person lacks belief in the idea of the existence of an authentic talmid chacham of the generation, and in addition, has reservations about receiving the inspiration they themselves lack from their friend’s point of wisdom.
  • Lastly, they belittle what they do receive from their teacher and are unwilling to make an effort to actualize the potential of the revelation through pleading to G-d.

HITBODEDUT, MUSIC & SONG
It is essential to establish an incontrovertible fact regarding meditation for those who choose to attach themselves to the One Living G-d. An important aspect of hitbodedut teaches techniques on how to empty the mind of distracting thoughts, even from things which pose no disturbance whatsoever. The purpose of these techniques is to provide the mind with a break from its normal activities, as well as to create a much broader place within the mind capable of receiving spiritual light.

However, it is critical to realize that these techniques to empty the mind are only meant regarding created beings and the creation. There was never an intention to apply these techniques to G-d Himself, Creator and Ruler of all worlds. Since if the mind is emptied even of the thought of G-d, chas v’shalom, the thought process is automatically given over to the domain of desolation, a place of calamity and trouble, where all types of destructive forces dwell and embitter a person’s life. Constant cleaving to the single G-d saves a person from all sin and damage. Therefore, it is dangerous and utterly forbidden to empty one’s thoughts of G-d Himself, even for an instant.

Nothing exists without music and song, since it is the life spirit of everything. The arms of music and song embrace the world and everyone in it every single day.  Each entity in creation expresses its own perfect and unique sound. Its entire being is nothing but a single chord amidst the multitude of chords comprising the all-encompassing song of ultimate perfection−a song built from the myriad of details within all the worlds.

In one of his stories, “The Exchanged Children,” Rebbe Nachman relates that there are chords of wondrous melody hidden within the different roars of wild animals. These chords join together to create a perfect sweet and pleasant song, heard by the noble of heart. The song then ascends on high and is integrated into the greater all-encompassing song of creation.

The great song of creation was composed by G-d two thousand years before the world was formed. Concentrated within it are the 600,000 letters comprising the Torah. Afterwards, He created the worlds and heavenly bodies from the various combinations, crowns, vowel points, and accents of these letters. Together with the Torah itself, it was all given over to Moses on Mount Sinai. From there, it was handed to Joshua, who passed it on to the elders, and from the elders it was transmitted to the Men of the Great Assembly, according to the line of transmission stated in Pirkei Avot. Afterwards, it was passed from generation to generation until today; this is the Torah we have now in our possession.

The Written and Oral Torah, along with the multitude of holy books that explain and renew the Torah for each generation, are part of one entity. All of these works are needed, without exception, for the ultimate perfection of the great song of creation. (It is worth noting that the Written Torah is the “stringed instrument” upon which this song is actually played.)

The Written Torah itself is the concentration of the all-encompassing perfect song, containing many wondrous notes—the 613 mitzvot of the Torah. The countless intricate details of each mitzvah are then revealed through the Oral Torah. The Oral Torah explains the mitzvot, giving them proper context through the thirteen exegetical principles of the Torah, transmitted to us from Moses, who received it directly from G-d.

Every generation possesses faithful expounders of the Torah, occupied solely with generating the necessary chords which compose a perfect song. It is a song of sweet and pleasant notes built from every detail of their commentaries and laws, and integrated as part of the larger song of creation.

We see the ongoing composition and complexity of the all-inclusive great song of creation revealed in the four sections of the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law] and accompanying commentaries. It is also seen in the innovations of science and the wide range of new technology and products in our generation, which benefit humankind and improve the standard of living in the world. Everything attests to the profound intricate magnificence of the great song.

The detailed fulfillment of every mitzvah in the Torah constitutes our divine service. Thus, in a sense, we can call mitzvah observance a form of real “Jewish meditation.” In this context, it is clear that anyone who does a mitzvah or detail thereof, is plucking and strumming correctly on the strings of the instrument. The song then emerges in all of its beauty and is heard throughout the world. Through mitzvah observance, we awaken a living spirit which vitalizes the portion of creation that belongs to us. This dynamic occurs through the will of the Creator to benefit His creation. We can now proceed to discuss prophecy and ruach hakodesh.

PROPHECY & RUACH HAKODESH
The attainment of prophecy and ruach hakodesh can be described as the sublime pleasure of a kiss from the mouth of G-d, that speaks the words of the entire Torah. It can also be described as the delight of attachment to the living G-d. Proper and detailed mitzvah observance prepares a person to attain prophecy and ruach hakodesh. This is because the musical notes that are thereby awakened are connected to the powers of prophecy and ruach hakodesh. The interrelationship between music and prophecy is illustrated by the prophet Elisha. When he wanted to draw upon himself the prophetic spirit, he said, “‘And now bring me a musician.’ And it was that when a musician played, the hand of HaShem came upon him.”[11]

We can now understand the significance of the true leaders of Israel, the mighty ones who safeguard the Torah and its observance. They stand at their holy posts and supervise the vineyard of the House of Israel, aligning the lives of the Jewish people according to the Torah and mitzvot. This prevents any corruption in the movements of the great song, and infuses the spirit of life into the various parts of creation, preparing us to delight in ruach hakodesh and prophecy.

Let us contemplate how to draw the waters of our mind’s wellspring into the river of our hearts to water the trees and surrounding vegetation, so all humanity can enjoy them. We will know how to fulfill the Torah and mitzvot properly, since only through this will the words of our holy prophets be materialized and the world repaired. Every human being will call upon the name of G-d and serve Him in one accord, with the coming of our righteous Mashiach speedily in our days, Amen.

Translated from a talk given in Tsfat.

 

  1. Likutey Moharan 54
  2. Corresponding to pi yedaber chochmot.
  3. Corresponding to v’hagot libi tevunot.
  4. Hitbodedut is considered a form of Jewish mediation.
  5. Known as a “circumcised” heart.
  6. Likutey Moharan 52
  7. Sefer HaMiddot, Hitbodedut 1:2
  8. Sefer HaMiddot, Ka’as 35
  9. Amos 8:11-12
  10. Megilla 6b
  11. II KIngs 3:15

 

UNMASKING HAMAN

It is easy to villainize others. Global wars are waged because of this. On a more intimate level, a simple personal affront can besiege the victim’s heart for years with quiet burning anger. Both levels, collective and individual, are part of a single whole, since everything has an outer and inner reality—a physical and spiritual aspect. Every created entity in the world has a root from which it draws vitality. Anything formed after the root, draws its sustenance from it. Consider a plant: pluck its flower and it is cut off from its source, quickly withering away. Uproot the plant entirely and it dies. The same is true in the spiritual realm, since anything material has a spiritual source. This is one reason why the wisdom found in the Kabbalah is significant, since it identifies the spiritual root of everything in creation.

In mystical writings, Amalek is described as the fundamental root of impurity and the antithesis of faith. When Amalek is condemned in such harsh terms, modern-day sensibilities cringe. On Purim, there is a special commandment to remember who he is—even more importantly, what he is beyond a mere characterization. Yet, in order to remember something, it must be clearly identified.

Haman, the arch-villain of the Jews in the Purim saga, is rooted in the force called “Amalek” (of whom he was an actual descendant). This is why we speak of “Haman-Amalek” in the same breath, since it is the same power. There is no other force in creation that is so unrelenting in its evil. At the highest level, it is considered the antithesis of the Jewish people because it is the spiritual force that actively seeks to obstruct Divine light and blessing to the world. When this happens, it brings a sense of estrangement from G-d, Who is the source of life.

The root of Amalek’s power is deeper than even the first human being, since it precedes creation entirely. The genesis of Amalek originated in the vacuum of the “Vacated Space” that came into being before the world was formed. For this reason, Amalek is called “first”. “Amalek was first among the nations” (Numbers 24:20). The void of the Vacated Space is the source of all doubt and negative characteristics that drive evil in the world. The primordial nature of the Amalek energy is what imbues it with the extraordinary ability to climb so high and “grasp the throne”, so to speak.

The first mention of Amalek in the Torah occurs in Genesis 14:7, when a battle takes place that causes mass destruction by obliterating a large civilian population. This occurred in a location called the “Plains of the Amalekites” despite the fact that Amalek himself would not be born for over a century later. The Midrash explains that death and destruction on such a large scale could only take place on a site connected to Amalek.[1]

On a physical level, the force of Amalek entered the world through Esau, Yaakov’s twin brother, who was blessed with the power of the sword: “By your sword you shall live” (Genesis 27:40). Eliphaz, the oldest son of Esau, had a concubine named Timna who gave birth to Amalek. Haman was a descendant of Agag, king of the Amalekites in the time of King Saul. During the days of Mordechai and Esther, Haman distinguished himself through his intricate plan to exterminate the Jews in the kingdom of Achashverosh.

Cycling through generations, the spiritual force of Haman-Amalek operates anywhere ambitions of large-scale genocide and annihilation rear their head. Although modern-day examples are not difficult to find, what is less known are the inner characteristics of Haman-Amalek. Why is this important? Because despite being rooted elsewhere, a person can be nursing vitality from an entirely different place without even knowing it. We are affected by Amalek’s influence any time we entertain negative thoughts or are party to evil actions, even in the smallest way.

Herein lies the work of every individual to begin to identify these characteristics as alien to goodness in order to disengage and separate from them. Since their influence on the mind and heart can be extremely subtle, the first step is to become more aware of their existence and identify them for what they are.

  • There is no greater trademark of Haman-Amalek than anger, self-importance, and arrogance—different expressions of a single attribute. An arrogant person angers easily, particularly from personal affronts and insults to their honor.
  • Feelings of jealousy and hatred.
  • Status-seeking and being obsessed with “only the best.”
  • Extreme materialism expressed as love of money and material objects, particularly the quality of hoarding.
  • Haman-Amalek seeks to hide and obscure the good point.[2] Feelings of worthlessness are the biggest symptom of this effort. Stubbornly seeking the positive in yourself and others in difficult situations is the only antidote. This also includes finding the good point in any given moment, even in the lowest of places. On a higher plane, it is manifested as forgetting there is purpose to life.
  • Just as Amalek attacked the weary and enfeebled Jews on their journey through the wilderness in the time of Moses, in every generation the same force repeatedly targets and pursues those who are “lost” and on the fringes, injecting them with a sense of hopelessness and despair.
  • It includes the following thoughts: “Everything is the ‘same old story,’” “Prayer is pointless,” and most of all, “There is no hope.”
  • Haman-Amalek is the source of all subtle thoughts of doubt and denial of G-d, including lack of faith in oneself. The name “Amalek” bears the same gematria (numerical value) as the Hebrew word for doubt, safek.

Anytime these things are felt, one is subject to the influence of Haman-Amalek. The main spiritual work in life is to realign oneself and draw vitality from the source of light, life, and goodness. This is not only possible but mandatory, and called tikkun olam.

The tenacity of “Haman-Amalek” comes from the fact that its influence is woven into the fabric of creation itself, because it predated the world—well before the advent of humanity. Although the work of uprooting this force entirely is ultimately G-d’s war, everyone must do their part by eradicating the “Amalek” within. When it is finally nullified in the world, all barriers to perceiving the Divine will automatically fall away. What was previously concealed will then be revealed for every eye to see, which is the essence of the messianic tikkun.

1. Breishit Rabbah 42:7

2. Otzar HaYirah, Purim 38

What You Never Knew About Esther

Esther is a “precious stone.” She descended into the depths on a secret mission. Her very name means “hidden.” Only when her mission was accomplished did she and Mordechai record the events on a scroll called Megillat Esther. Written with ruach hakodesh (Divine inspiration) the contents of this scroll are read every Purim around the world, testifying to the hidden and miraculous presence of G-d in the darkest of moments. A prototype of hidden redemption, the Purim story is especially relevant to our generation.

Sometimes there are dilemmas so enormous that the mind cannot fathom a way out. In this case, there is only one solution to circumvent everything: Go to the microcosmic source that holds the root of everything. The Foundation Stone1 in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem had this quality, lying beneath the Holy of Holies—a place radiating unparalleled spiritual symmetry and beauty of irresistible attraction. This innermost point was hidden inside Esther, as well as other great tzaddikim and tzidkaniyot throughout history. Redemption during periods of great peril is sometimes brought about through a lone individual. Other times it involves the interaction between a pair of redeemers, as in the case of Mordechai and Esther.

The potency of Esther’s power lay in its hiddenness; it flowed from the all-inclusive good point she possessed. It wasn’t just any good point, it was the microcosmic hub found within every woman who played a redemptive role in Jewish history: for instance, the three matriarchs Sara, Rivka and Rachel, as well as Ruth, Devorah, Yael, Rabbi Meir’s wife Bruria, Rabbi Akiva’s wife Rachel, and many others who remain hidden. Evil individuals seeking to harm or destroy the Jewish people often met their downfall through women who put their body and soul on the line for the sake of the Jewish people. Esther cried out in profound distress, Hatzila Mi-cherev Nafshi—“Save my soul from the sword!”2 The first letters of this verse spell “Haman.”

Since Esther’s innermost point included the root of every soul, she is said to have encompassed Klal Yisrael. She was also the living spiritual paradigm of ishah yirat Hashem—the “G-d fearing woman” (Proverbs 31:30) spoken about extensively in our holy writings. Her humility formed the basis for every salvation, and allowed her to resist the empty lure of fame and recognition—something that would have undermined her success entirely.

A TIMELESS VS TIME-BOUND REALITY

There is another deeper aspect to Esther’s powerful influence that involves time itself.3 All suffering is the result of existing in a realm bound by time. Exile in particular personifies the pain and anguish of life under the constraints of time. We are unable to see the whole picture, something reserved only for the higher timeless consciousness of the World to Come.4

But at extraordinary moments in history the two realms intersect, bringing redemption. The reality that exists above time is miraculous because it suffers no lack or damage of any kind. Everything is whole and complete, and as such, holds the key to all healing and perfection. The essence of the Purim miracle (as well as that of Chanukah) came from this timeless realm and penetrates deeply into our world every year during Chanukah and Purim. It is the same place that Mashiach pulls down his strength to repair a very troubled and diseased earth. Because Esther possessed this microcosmic good point in her generation, by straddling both realms, she was the conduit of salvation for the entire Jewish people during Purim.

When she descended into the depths of evil, the Other Side rejoiced, figuring it had won the biggest prize by capturing the ishah yirat Hashem, the quintessential G-d-fearing woman herself. She now would be lost along with everything else she held within her. Vi-ka’asher avaditi avaditi, “And if I perish, I perish,” she wept (Esther 4:17). Taken into the inner chambers of Achashverosh, she was submerged in the constraints of time—the ultimate expression of exile. However, the profound humility and righteousness of Esther prevented the wicked Achashverosh from accessing her inner essence.5 She nullified herself entirely and remained unaffected by any contact with him. Her purity protected her during her descent, enabling her to elevate and restore the sparks of holiness that fell into the lowest time-bound realm of evil.

Esther’s “capture” and exile to the lowest time-bound realm of Haman and Achashverosh was intended to suppress all hope for redemption rooted above time. This supra-temporal level is where the Jewish people draw their strength. Therefore, since the dimension of time had engulfed Esther, to prevail over her meant prevailing over Israel—since they were all rooted in her soul. Yet she overcame everything through her heroic efforts on behalf of the Jews. In so doing, she prevailed over the time-bound astrological calculations of Haman to annihilate the entire people on the 13th of the Hebrew month of Adar (usually the day preceding Purim, observed as the “Fast of Esther” today). Instead, the tables were completely turned on Haman and his supporters when the day earmarked for the destruction of the Jews brought devastation to Israel’s enemies. The redemptive light of the timeless realm converted everything into good—all in the merit of Mordechai and Esther, the redemptive duo of Purim.

“For the Jews there was light, gladness, joy, and honor—so may it be for us.”8

1. Called Even HaShetiyah.

2. Psalms 22:21. This entire chapter in the Book of Psalms is attributed to Esther.

3. Toras Noson on Megilat Esther.

4. Berakhot 34b, et al.

5. R’ Chaim Vital, Etz Chaim, Sha’ar Klipat Nogah 4-5; Ma’amar HaNefesh II:3.

6. From the prefatory verses of the Havdalah ceremony recited at the conclusion of Shabbat, based on Esther 8:16.

What you never knew about the last night of Chanukah : R. Ephraim Kenig

FLOODING THE WORLD WITH COMPASSION

With everything we already know about Chanukah, the 8th night of Chanukah—called Zot Chanukah—represents an utterly new concept.

Chanukah is a holiday that touches everyone since it encompasses all ages. Everyone easily relates to it and feels part of this special time. But what are the deeper dimensions of Chanukah?

The very fact that Chanukah lasts for eight days, already distinguishes it as an unusual holiday. Other holidays such as Pesach and Sukkot are seven days long. (Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah,which falls at the end of Sukkot, is considered by the Talmud to be a holiday unto itself.)

Chanukah, however, is different. It lasts eight days rather than seven. What is the significance of the number eight? Chanukah reaches just beyond the seven-day structure, which signifies the creation of the world. The seven-day week is universally accepted—beginning with Sunday and ending with Saturday—the cycle then repeats itself.

The fact that Chanukah extends beyond these seven days and lasts for eight indicates that Chanukah originates in an extremely high and exalted place. It wasn’t taken from this world at all, but rather from the future perfected world. From there, G-d drew down a type of light to give us a certain momentum—a yearning and hope—to exit from this long exile. This is the essential message of Chanukah, and it is a completely new concept having nothing to do with what transpires during the regular annual cycle. Chanukah draws its power from a place far beyond our conception, infusing us with such great hope, despite our inability to see the “light at the end of the tunnel.” This gives us a point of faith from which to draw, infusing us with a spirit of life. The light of Chanukah is a completely different type of light, since its source is higher than the seven days of creation. It is an eternal and everlasting light beyond any familiar concept of light where darkness inevitably follows. This special light, and its hope, is what Chanukah imparts to us, especially on Zot Chanukah, the eighth day of Chanukah which is the culmination of the festival.

CHANUKAH & THE 13 ATTRIBUTES OF MERCY
According to the Arizal, the eight days of Chanukah correspond to the thirteen Attributes of Mercy. How does this work if Chanukah is only eight days? The first seven days each correspond to the first seven attributes: Keil rachum v’chanun erech apayaim v’rav chesed v’emet. “[1] God, [2] merciful, [3] compassionate, [4] slow [5] to anger, [6] abundant in kindness and [7] truth.”

Zot Chanukah, however, encompasses the remaining six attributes in a single day: notzer chesed la’alafim nosei avon va’pesha vi’chata’a vi’nakeh. “[8] Preserver of kindness [9] for thousands of generations, [10] forgiver of iniquity, [11] [forgiver of] transgression, [12] [forgiver of] sin, and [13] Who cleanses.” It is written that these last six attributes of mercy hold the mazal, the heavenly influence, of Israel. The Gemara states, “Israel has no mazal,” meaning that Israel is not subject to the regular zodiac influences like the rest of the world, but is influenced from a much higher plane, specifically from these six attributes of mercy.

To understand this conceptually, the thirteen attributes of mercy are the spiritual channels G-d uses to direct abundant mercy into the world. This includes not only the mercy He bestows upon us Himself, but also the ability we possess ourselves to have compassion on others both individually and collectively. The truth is that if we could succeed in arousing even a single attribute of mercy, it would trigger such an abundant influx of shefa into the world that it would flood the entire planet with mercy and compassion. Only goodness and chesed would exist without any admixture of harsh judgment or tragedy.

If this is true of only one attribute, the power of all thirteen attributes is astounding. The intensity of Zot Chanukah can now be understood in proper context, since on the last day of Chanukah, six attributes of mercy are activated simultaneously to govern over us. If only we had the ability to contemplate this properly, or perhaps even the desire to grasp it correctly, it would bring such an influx of light and divine mercy into the world that we would immediately exit from exile into the wide open space of redemption, geula. However, this very much depends on us and the extent to which we think and pray about these attributes, while realizing that they operate in the world despite our inability to comprehend them. Even the greatest tzaddikim, who discuss these attributes extensively, admit to their own fundamental limitations in understanding G-d’s unlimited attributes.

It is up to us to be aware and joyful on Zot Chanukah that our mazal is bound up with and dependent upon these six attributes of mercy. Here the beauty, strength, and redemption of the Jewish people must be found.

We should never give up or become tired! Instead, we must awaken ourselves more and more. The name “Chanukah” is from the Hebrew word chinuch, education. Chinuch denotes instilling a brand new idea, introducing it for the first time. This is exactly how we should educate not only ourselves, but our children and family, as well as everyone around us: we should constantly begin anew, as if for the first time. Chanukah, Chinuch. Experience Chanukah with a renewed perspective, with hope and anticipation. Don’t catch yourself saying, “How long have I been praying over and over again for the same thing?!” Whatever happened in the past is over. Begin from this moment with refreshed strength. Say, “HaShem, we have absolutely no complaints against You. Everything is undeserved chesed. You promised redemption. Please bring us the complete redemption!”

With the sheer number of prayers, there can be no doubt that G-d will be left with “no choice,” as it were, except to bring the redemption. He will be “compelled” to redeem us because, the truth is, this is exactly what He desires. He only wants us to show how serious and ready we are for the redemption. Our prayers for redemption should not be from a place of force and demanding the end, but rather with chesed (kindness), rachamim (mercy), and much pleading. G-d will most certainly help us. He won’t leave us much longer in exile. He will hasten the redemption, soon speedily in our days, mamash, Amen. Chanukah Sameach.