Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Behar-Behokotai (Hasidism)

BEHAR: Truth and Faith

This week we turn to a teaching of one of the earliest and most important Hasidic teachers: Rav Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezhirech, the closest disciple of the Baal Shem Tov and the one who essentially organized the Hasidic movement and promulgated its teaching for the generations that followed. His major work, Maggid Devarav le-Ya’akov (Koritz, 1781), was the second Hasidic book to be published, only one year after Toldot Ya’akov Yosef. The book is not arranged by the order of the weekly Torah portions, but is a collection of homilies on various topics with no particular discernable order. (The late Prof. Rivka Schatz Uffenheimer published a critical edition of this work in 1976, in which she attempts to determine exactly where one teaching ends and the next one begins—a point that was by no means self evident; her introduction to this edition elucidates some of the textual problems involved in the manuscripts). The following teaching, §145, discusses the theme of faith on the basis of a pair of verses in our weekly portion:

In the verse, “And if you shall say, ‘What shall we eat in the seventh year…’ Then I shall command my blessing [in the sixth year, and it shall make enough crops for three years”; Lev 25:20-21]. And one might ask: Why is it written, “And if you shall say….,” etc.? It could have just said, “And I shall command my blessing…” One might say, that it is known that by engaging in Torah and mitzvot Israel draw down abundance into all the worlds. But there is another means by which they are able to draw it down, and that is by faith. As our Rabbis said, “By virtue of their faith Israel left Egypt.” And of Abraham it is said, “and he had faith in the Lord, and it was considered to him as righteousness” [Gen 15:6]. For at the beginning he did not believe so much, for he said, “and I go barren” [ibid., v. 2], but afterwards he believed with perfect faith.

The mitzvah of the sabbatical year virtually epitomizes faith: a man refrains from sowing his field or tending his crops, and relies upon God to provide sufficient bounty the previous year, plus a little wild outgrowth during the seventh year, for him and his family to eat. Thus, the classical midrashim also describe those who observe the shemitah year punctiliously as “might ones who keep His word.” It is hardly surprising, then, that the Torah anticipates that there will be those who indeed ask: ”What will we eat…?”

The Maggid uses this passage to convey a basic Hasidic message: the centrality of faith, which it portrays as a way of bringing down the Divine blessing, tantamount to the study of Torah—or even more so. This split, between learning and piety, between intellect and emotion, or, in the classical formulation, between Torah and Yirah (fear of God), is the most basic one of all between Hasidism and Mitnaggedism (in terms of emphasis only: both groups agree that both are necessary).

And it says in the Zohar, “This is truth (emet) and this is faith (emunah).” And one needs to explain the reason why it is called thus, and why by means of faith one can bring about abundant flow. And this may be explained according to the passage in the Zohar: “The hairs of the head are soft, the hairs of the beard are tough, for it is to suppress harsh judgments.” That is, that the Holy One blessed be He sanctified all sevens, such as the Shabbat or the sabbatical year, and similarly regarding the thirteen tikkunim of the beard, he sanctified the seventh one, which is “and truth” [an allusion to the thirteen attributes of Divine mercy, found in Exod 34:6-7; the seventh of which is the phrase “and truth”]. And all is dependent upon it, and within it are included the six higher tikkunim [i.e., the six higher sefirot], and there is located the main suppression of judgments, for that attribute is called “the shining face of the king.”

Like many Hasidic teaching, this one moves back and forth among several levels: Kabbalistic symbolism, historical symbolism of Jewish history, and the application of the ideas in the concrete religious life of the individual. The “hairs” of the divine beard, mentioned in the Zohar, symbolize Divine mercy, but they are “tough” so as to overcome the stringent “judgments”—i.e., negative forces that would hinder the flow of Divine abundance. Further on in this teaching, we speaks of the interplay between “truth” and “faith”: a pair that symbolize the two sefirot of Tiferet and Malkhut (= masculine and feminine elements), which serve as central conduits of Divine blessing.

That is, for example: when the king’s face is shining and he is joyful and in good spirits and his mercy grows stronger; even if, at the time of his joy, one who is culpable of the death penalty is brought to him, then because of his great joy and augmented mercifulness, his compassion [towards that person] will grow, and no judgment will be imposed there at all. Therefore it is called the shining face, and this is the main source of suppression of judgments. And all of the joy was caused by the king’s son coming before the king, and because of the great pleasure and delight there comes about great joy. And this is Israel, of whom it is said, “my first born son is Israel” [Exod 4:22]; “Israel in whom I took pride” [Isa 49:3]; and it is the attribute of Jacob, as is said, ”You give truth to Jacob” [Micha 7:20].

We find that the Holy One blessed be He rejoices in the attribute of truth [=Jacob= Tiferet], which is the shining face—all because of Jacob’s coming before him, for he is the beloved son. Therefore Jacob’s attribute is called “an inheritance without bounds,” meaning that there is no attribute of Judgment there at all. For every attribute of judgment is called “bounds” or “narrowness” [meitzar], because it limits the thing and contracts it. But when the king’s face is shining, there is no judgment, and it us called “without bounds.” And it is written, “Then let them lay hold of my stronghold, let them make peace with me” [Isa 27:5]—and our Sages rabbis interpreted this as referring to the Torah. But one might say that it also refers to the tikkunim of the beard, which are called “my stronghold,” because they are tough, to suppress judgments.

These two paragraphs explain the workings of faith within the Divine economy, so to speak, to “suppress judgments.”

And this is what said in the Zohar” “One who saw in a dream that he was holding his beard…” because he is united with the attributes of the tikkunim of the beard [i.e., the 13 Attributes of Mercy mentioned earlier], that suppress judgments, he holds onto them entirely—that is, he was shown from heaven that there would be peace, that is, suppression of judgments, because of the greatness of the unification caused by virtue of the attributes, as above. It follows from this, is that the main suppression of judgments is the tikkun of truth, as is said. And only one who can cause all of the above by that tikkun, who believes with faith in God, May He be blessed—because he knows the truth, that the whole world is full of His glory, and the fulness of His abundance is drawn down to every place. We find, that the attributes of faith embody within it the attribute of truth, and causes its action. We thus find, that faith becomes a vehicle to receive truth; and these are the letters VH [of the Divine named]. And this is what is written, “He is truth and He is faith.” And this is seven, alluding to the seventh garment, as is known. And the two are equal in their attribute, and then it is a complete unity. And this is, “He who has complete faith,” as above.

The Maggid now comes full circle, showing how not only “truth” (read as a symbol both for Israel, as the beloved son of God, and of the sefirah of Tiferet), but also “faith,” is a vehicle for bringing down blessing. But, as Rivka Schatz notes here, faith refers specifically to a point emphasized in Hasidic faith: the immanence of God (“that the whole world is full of His glory, and the fulness of His abundance is drawn down to every place”), which make such blessing possible.

But even one who is not so whole in his faith, but is used to correct the attribute of faith, as in observing the Shabbat and the seventh year, may also draw the attribute of truth into faith. And this is, ”If you shall say, ‘what shall we eat’…” in the chapter concerning the seventh year. That is, even if the attribute of faith is not whole and with certainty, for you say, “What shall we eat in the seventh year”; nevertheless, through observing the seventh year, which is the attribute of faith, you can cause an abundant flow. And this is, “and I shall command my blessing,” But because it is not true faith, I shall need to command My blessing, so to speak, and it will not come by itself. Which would not be the case if you believed in wholeness, the abundance would come by itself.

Here he answers his original exegetical question, by positing two different types of faith: whole, complete faith, and what one might call demonstrative faith. The former might be described as the simple, innocent faith of old-time Jews, the feeling of wholeness and inner peace one sometimes sees reflected in the faces of old men in Meah Shearim. But there may also be a situation (and I think that this is really the de facto solution adopted by many modern Orthodox people) in which a person, particularly in the modern age, is beset with certain doubts, and cannot feel within himself the type of almost naive, whole faith of ages gone by, much as he might wish that he could. But he can nevertheless conduct his life performing acts that symbolize faith—such as observing Shabbat and the shemitah year, or other acts. This, the Maggid says, is positive and helpful, and even helps to “bring down the abundance,” but it is not the same as total, unreserved faith. Yet it is a path that can be followed, and is chosen by many today. It is as two-pronged course: a) one demonstrates faith, or the will to faith, in concrete actions; b) these actions gradually build within oneself, to quote from last week’s Torah in another context, a “vessel” for faith.

And I heard that this is also the sense of “Amen,” which is the unifying of [the Divine names] HVYH and ADNY, in the manner of what the Sages said, that this is compared to soldier’s boys [like the Civil War drummer boys?] who coax on those engaged in battle, until the combatants are victorious. For one who answers Amen to a blessing completes the existence of the blessing, and this is the concluding victory. For the one reciting the blessing intends to bring supernal flow and abundance into the lower world, and the one who answers Amen after him says “the thing is true,” and thereby brings truth into faith, which is the lower world. For one can see with one’s own senses, how one person says a certain thing, and another one hearing it is doubtful whether it is true or not. Then, when a third one comes along and decides between them, and says that it certainly is true—that thing is confirmed for the one hearing. Therefore, in the Amen recited over blessings the combination is HWYH and ADNY, for the abundance flows from the upper world to the lower world, from above to below, which is from emet to emunah. But when answering Amen to Kaddish, one raises the lower world to the higher one, the combination is ADNY HWYH, from below to above.

Hasidic texts often make an effort to find mystical significance in the smallest detail of mitzvot, and especially of prayer ritual. Here the Maggid addresses the reason for the seemingly unimportant, everyday practice of answering Amen to blessings recited by the prayer leader, or in other settings. The answer—that the Amen, recited by another party, completes and gives added power to the blessing—is quite interesting and thought provoking.

Holiness: Above and Below

To continue the discussion begun last week (HY IV: Emor): the crux of the issue is, how can the word holiness be used both of mortal human beings, indeed, even commanded as an imperative (“You shall be holy”), and also of God? The laconic statement of the midrash, “My holiness is higher than your holiness” tells us that this is so, but does not really to define what holiness is.

Holiness is an essential quality only of God Himself. With regard to men, places, objects, times, etc., it is only used in a borrowed sense. More that that: the word “holy” (kadosh) itself is not used of God as an adjective at all, but, at the risk of engaging in circular reasoning, I would claim that the definition of kadosh is itself “that property which is Godlike.” The adjective is, so to speak, extrapolated, intuited, inferred from what we know about God, rather than having a pre-determined definition that applies to God. For that reason, if I remember correctly, Maimonides, in his discussion of the positive attributes—those qualities, such as “wisdom,” “strength,” “life,” and the like, which he says cannot be properly attributed to God except in a metaphorical sense—does not include “holiness.”

This insight is also consistent with the halakhic analysis of kedushah of Rav Soloveitchik, ztz”l. (Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz expressed similar ideas, albeit without the finely-crafted halakhic analysis). He points out, in various places, that holiness is never an innate characteristic of any thing, but is created by human action and/or intention. This is the case for a Torah scroll, mezuzah, tefillin, kodashim (animals set aside for Temple sacrifices), etc. Even the Land of Israel, or the city of Jerusalem, acquired their kedushah through conscious, deliberate human acts. Only the site of the altar and of the Holy of Holies is seen as eternally holy, by dint of the presence of the Shekhinah. The holy is thus that which represents, refers to, points to, suggests God’s presence in this world, on the earth. But all this only by analogy; not in the same sense that God is holy. One property that is fairly universal, found in all various definitions of holiness, is that the holy is that which is separate, restricted, limited. Holy things are set aside for the worship of God; holy times are ones in which various activities are prohibited (Shabbat; festival days, sabbatical and jubilee years); God’s holiness is most felt in His transcendence or, as Rudolph Otto put it, in His being “Wholly Other.”

It is used thus also in the purely borrowed sense, of a betrothed or married woman, who is mekudeshet: she is set aside, restricted to being with this particular man. Hence sexual modesty is the first, lowest and most basic level of holiness. Rashi’s comment on Lev 19:2 is: “’You shall be holy’—you shall be separated from that which is licentious and from Sin.” Sefat Emet develops this idea in the last Torah he recited on Kedoshim, in the year before his death (5664; ne’emrah behakhel). Because marital chastity, in the simplest sense, determines yihus, the biological continuity of the covenantal community, it serves as the ground level, the minimal requirement for kedushat Yisrael. Even in Egypt, the Midrash observes, husbands and wives were not promiscuous, in glaring contrast to their non-Jewish neighbors; an idea expressed in both the introduction and the conclusion to Leviticus 18, the chapter of incest and other sexual prohibitions. All of which, the Sefat Emet hints, points not only towards individual holiness, but towards the basis of the holiness of the people as a collectivity.

More on Kedushah

Reader Stan Tenen, who has developed a unique method of interpreting the letters of the Torah as the building blocks of the universe, shared with me what he described as “a letter-level analysis of Kadosh”:

Qof is a vessel. It’s the physical container of whatever follows. Dalet is what happens at a delta, where the river widens, dilates, and dilutes as it spreads out and pours/poors into the sea. Shin is “expression.” So, the root Qof - Dalet - Shin is a physical container that expresses what happens at a delta—the river gives to the sea.

Anything that is Qof - Dalet - Shin is an embodiment of this expression of giving one’s all. We are Qof - Dalet - Shin when we freely give our loving-kindness, and embody at the human level Hashem’s loving-kindness. Obviously, Hashem’s Kadosh is greater than, and subsumes, ours. But ours is still of the same form and function, albeit at a lower level. Kadosh is what happens when loving-kindness is expressed in the world.

BEHUKOTAI: The Torah as the Image of Man

Once again, we turn to R. Nahum of Chernobol, in Meor Einayim, whose homily on the first verse of this week’s parsha offers a striking interpretation of the idea of man being created in the image of God:

“If you shall walk in my statutes [hukim], and shall observe my commandments [mitzvot] and you shall do them, then I shall give you your rains in their due time…” [Lev 26:3-4]. “Statutes” refers to those commandments for which there is no rationale, and “commandments” refers to those for which there is a rationale. And why does it say in the one “you shall walk” and in the other “and shall observe”? Also, what is meant by “and you shall do them”? Once you observe them, surely you shall also do them?! And likewise other questions asked by the commentators, such as why only material reward is mentioned here.

But the truth is, that the Torah constitutes a spiritual plane, composed of 248 spiritual limbs, which are the 248 positive commandments, and of 365 spiritual sinews, which are the 365 negative commandments. And in a human being too there are 248 limbs and 365 sinews.

Now, man was created in the image of God. And to understand this matter, [one must first ask] whether it is proper to say of Him, may He be blessed, that He has any sort of image, Heaven forbid. But the meaning of this is, ”in the image of the Torah.” For the Torah is called God, for it is the contracted form (tzimtzum) within which the Creator, blessed be He, contracted Himself within the Torah, so that man, who is finite and limited, might attach himself to God, may He be blessed, who is without finitude or limit. And it would be impossible for one to be attached to Him. Therefore God, may He be blessed, embodied Himself within the Torah. And man is created in the Divine image, that of the Torah, which is a spiritual plane of 248 positive commandments and 365 negative commandments.

This teaching begins with several conventional exegetical questions; this is followed by a well-known, obvious theological question: How can we speak of man, who is finite, corporeal, and mortal, being created in the image of the ineffable, infinite God? His daring answer merges two midrashic ideas: the Torah is at one and the same time an apotheosis of God, and a kind of archetype for the human being.

The Torah is described in many places in the midrash, not only as the books of the Pentateuch, which it is possible to read within a single day; but as the entirety of the Jewish tradition—Mishnah, Talmud, Midrash, laws, Kabbalah, etc.; more than that, it is a kind of map or blueprint from which the Universe itself was created (“He looked at the Torah and created the world”—Gen. Rab. 1.1); indeed, it is the embodiment of the Divine wisdom, which starts from a single point symbolized by the letter yod of the Divine Name.

Thus, the perfect man is one who is at one with the image of God: that is, when his physical plane corresponds to the spiritual plane of the Torah, of the Supernal Man. And when he moves a physical organ, he moves and involves the corresponding supernal organ, and this is called “the perfect man,” as in the verse, “Surely man walks about in the image [or: as a shadow]” [Ps 39:7]. That is, he who walks with the image, so that he is one with the image, is called “man.” But when he neglected to do some mitzvah or performed some transgression, he lacks one organ or sinew, and is not whole.

Here R. Nahum elaborates the Torah = human being parallel. The human being is tzelem elohim in a very literal sense: he is structured like God, i.e., the Torah, in his very limbs and sinews. This solution, making the Torah a kind of intermediary or midway point between man and God, provides an elegant solution to one of the perennial problems in Jewish theology: how does one bridge the gap from the wholly spiritual to the material? This problem is in fact one of the classical objections, by both medieval and modern philosophers, to the very possibility of a revealed Torah: how can God, who is incorporeal, make use of a material phenomenon, sound, to communicate with man?

In any event, here the Torah, which is an apotheosis of the Divine, or at very least an expression of the Divine will and an embodiment of the Divine wisdom, also parallels man’s being; on another, more prosaic level, it concerns itself with concrete, worldly things: its mitzvot are concerned with the body, with human biological needs, with the various problems of human society, or with the worship of the Divine through means of concrete, physical acts.

And for what reason were we commanded to do the statutes, which have no rationale? For regarding those mitzvot for which there is a rationale, there is no need for faith in performing them, for a person understands that he needs to behave thus. But as for performing the statutes: he will only do them if he believes that there is a Creator, who said that he must do this and that he needs to perform His will.

Once again, as in the passage we brought last week, simple faith, emunah, is a central them in Hasidism.

And faith is called “feet,” for they are the feet which support the Torah, for first of all he needs to believe that there is a Creator, “He spoke and it came to be, He commanded, and it stood” [Ps 33:9]. As in the dictum, “Habakkuk came and established them on one: ‘the righteous shall live by his faith’” [Makkot 23a; quoting Hab 2:4], for he made the entire Torah stand upon faith.

The Talmudic passage quoted here is the source for the famous statement that there are 613 commandments in toto; but it continues to cite a series of biblical figures who sum up the essence of the Torah in fewer and fewer basic principles, ending with Habakkuk’s extolling of faith (see on this HY II: Balak).

And this is, “If you walk in my statutes,” for the statutes are those edicts for which there is no rationale, and they depend upon faith. Therefore he said, “you shall walk,” for faith is called feet, as explained above. “And you shall do [or: make] them”: that is, make the mitzvot above, so as to complete the supernal plane. ”And I shall give you your rains in their due time”: that is, whatever you do, even in corporeality, shall all be connected with the supernal plane. Even eating and drinking and other corporeal things, all will be connected to the supernal level, May He be blessed.

Here he sums up all of the ideas brought, ending with avodah begashmiut, “service in corporeality,” a constant theme in R. Nahum.


Blogger cylon said...

Many people know the importance of self confidence and try to boost their own by using many different personal development models. Self confidence to most people is the ability to feel at ease in most situations but low self confidence in many areas may be due to a lack of self esteem. Low self esteem takes a more subtle form that low self confidence. So if you are tired of feeling not good enough, afraid of moving towards your desires and goals, feel that no matter what you do it is just never good enough, then your self esteem could do with a boost.

Every day we make decisions based on our level of self-esteem. We also exhibit that level of self esteem to those around us through our behaviour. 90% of all communication is non-verbal - it is not what you say but ho you say it that matters! Your body language, tonality and facial gestures can all tell a completely different story to your words. It is our behaviour which influences others and people react to us by reading our non-verbal communications. Have you ever met someone you just didn't like although on the surface they seemed polite and courteous, or you met someone who seemed to speak confidently yet you knew they were really frightened underneath and just displaying bravado?

Parental and peer influences play a major part in moulding our level of self-esteem when we are children and in our early years of adolescence. The opinions of the people closest to us and how they reacted to us as individuals or part of the group was a dominant factor in the processes involved in forming our self esteem.

As adults we tend to perpetuate these beliefs about ourselves and in the vast majority of cases they are ridiculously erroneous. It is time to re-evaluate our opinion of ourselves and come to some new conclusions about these old belief patterns.

Ask yourself some serious question:
Is your long-held view about yourself accurate? Do we respect the sources from which we derived these beliefs? Most of the negative feedback we bought into as we were growing up actually came from people we have little or no respect for and as adults we would probably laugh their comments away! Yet the damage to your self esteem was done when you were very young and you still carry it with you to this day.

Is it possible that even those people you respected, who influenced your self-worth, were wrong? Perhaps they had low self esteem also.

As adults we have the opportunity to reshape our self-esteem. Try to judge accurately the feedback you receive from people you respect. This process will allow you to deepen your understanding of yourself and expand your self-image. It will also show you were you actually need to change things about yourself and were you don't. Many people are striving to better themselves in areas where they are just fine or actually excelling and it is only because they have an inaccurate picture of themselves in their minds due to low self esteem!

Setting small goals and achieving them will greatly boost your self-esteem. Identify your real weakness and strengths and begin a training program to better your inter-personal or professional skills. This will support you in your future big life goals and boost your self-esteem and self confidence to high levels you didn't existed!

Learn to recognise what makes you feel good about yourself and do more of it. Everyone has certain things that they do which makes them feel worthwhile but people with low self esteem tend to belittle these feelings or ignore them.

Take inventory of all the things that you have already accomplished in your life no matter how small they may seem. Recognise that you have made achievements in your life and remember all the positive things that you have done for yourself and others. Take a note of your failures and don't make excuses like "I'm just not good enough" or "I just knew that would happen to me", analyse the situation and prepare yourself better for the next time. If someone else created success, regardless of the obstacles, then you are capable of doing the same! Remember everyone has different strengths and weakness so do not judge your own performance against that of another just use them as inspiration and know that what one human being has achieved so can another!

Surround yourself with people who respect you and want what is best for you - people who are honest about your strengths and will help you work through your weakness. Give the same level of support to them!

Avoid people who continually undermine you or make you feel small. These people are just displaying very low self esteem. As your own self esteem grows you will find that you are no longer intimidated by another's self confidence or success and you can actually be joyful for them! Do things you love to do and that make you happy. A truly happy person never has low self esteem they are too busy enjoying life! By getting busy living your life with passion and joy you will not be able to be self-consciousness.

If you find yourself feeling self-conscious in any situation focus on the fact that others can tell and many of them will be feeling the same. Be honest. People respond to someone better if they openly say "To tell you the truth I'm a bit nervous" rather than displaying bravo or fake confidence that they can see right through. Their reactions to you, will show your mind at a deep level, that there was actually nothing to be frightened of and everything is great. If someone reacts to this negatively they are just displaying low self esteem and very quickly you will find others noticing this! Really listen to people when they talk to you instead of running through all the negative things that could happen in your head or focusing on your lack of confidence. People respond to someone who is truly with them in the moment..

Breath deeply and slow down. Don't rush to do things.

Stop the negative talk! 'I'm no good at that' or "I couldn't possibly do that" are affirmations that support your lack of self esteem. Instead say "I have never done that before but I am willing to try" or "how best can I do that?". Which leads us to the last point - the quality of the questions you ask yourself s very important.
When you ask a question it almost always has a preposition in it. For example, "How did I mess that up?" presumes that something was messed up, a better way of phrasing the question would be "what way can I fix this quickly?", as this presumes you can and will fix it. Or "How am I ever going to reach my goal?" could be rephrased as "what way will lead me to my goal quicker" presumes that you are going to reach your goal! Get the picture? Change the quality of your questions and your results will change!

Practise these techniques and watch your self esteem rise day by day. personal development

6:43 AM  

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