Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic
Why So Harsh
A chassid of the Alter Rebbe, very rich, learned and a baal tzedaka, became a pauper upon his fortune taking a turn for the worse, incurring large outstanding debts as a result. In addition, he had initially committed to help relatives marry off their daughters and providing for their dowries-- not to speak of his own daughters, engaged and soon to get married. He poured out his heart to the Alter Rebbe, who paused in profound dveikus, and then said: “”you have told me everything you need, but have not spoken about what you are needed for...” Upon hearing these sharp words, the Chassid fainted and, upon being revived, threw himself into intense service of G-d through complete application on davening and learning, to the point of forgetting his troubles. Two Shabosim passed and the following Monday the Rebbe summoned him, instructing him to return home and resume his business. Within a short time, he was blessed with great success, recouping all is losses, repaying all his debts and being able to keep all his above-mentioned commitments. We have to understand why the Rebbe had to first kind of shatter him, prior to his becoming blessed with tremendous success?
Two Levels Of Hatzlacha
This question can be connected to another question. In reference to Yossef’s stay (in this week’s Sidra) both in Potiphar’s house as a slave, and subsequently his stay in prison, the Torah relates that in both instances he was exceedingly successful in all his undertakings. However, there is a notable difference between the two texts. Regarding his success in Potiphar’s house it states that G-d made successful whatever came “in his hand”, while this mention of “his hand” is missing in the description of his success in jail.
The reason for this difference can be understood from a statement of the Tzemach Tzedek (Ohr HaTorah on these verses, that “success (hatzlacha) is mazel, luck-- just like we call a successful person a bar mazel, (one endowed with mazel)”. There comes a point when upon seeing how constantly successful an individual is, everyone looks at his success as miraculously beyond the norm of nature. This is demonstrable by the continuous, ongoing success that this individual has in undertakings that come to “his hand”. It is obvious from the quantitative dimension of his success. He has “golden hands”, so that whatever he touches “turns into gold”. In this type of success, his hands and what he undertakes with them, are blessed with inordinate success. Although it is clear to the objective onlooker that such success has to have a divine source, the vessel through which this success flows is the person’s hands and actions.
A higher form of success is that which is so qualitatively wondrous that, from the very onset, the human mind has to recognize the divine origin, the Hand of Hashem, of such success, and needs no strings of repeat successes to demonstrate that it is so. Even one single instance of such success is already readily seen for what it is -- wondrous, blessed success, of divine origin. In this type of success, there is no need to fashion a success-vessel based on human hands and actions through which the success will flow. On the contrary, the person experiences the huge success without having to lift even a finger, let alone a whole hand. Indeed, it is as if the individual and his actions are inconsequential and non-existent, with the mazel just coming his way.
Slave vs. Prisoner
When Yossef was Potiphar’s slave, he was not thoroughly batel (nullified to his master). True, the Gemara does say that “the hand of a slave is like the hand of his master” and “whatever a slave acquires belongs to his master”--indicating thereby the intense element of bitul (nullification) that a slave has towards his master. However, this very terminology indicates the other side of the coin, i.e. that the slave is not totally nullified. On the contrary, he still has “a hand”, except that it is subjugated to the master. He is able to acquire--so he is a somebody after all-- but once he has acquired it, it belongs to the master. When the verse states that Potiphar saw that he was blessed with success and that G-d was with him in all that he undertook (in spite of Potiphar being idolatrous, so how did he know to attribute the success to G-d?) it was, says Rashi, on account of Yossef constantly mentioning the name of G-d at every turn, “the Name of Hashem was habitual in his mouth”. Here too, as much as he was batel to Hashem, his mouth, just like his hand, was still a metzius (an existential, non-nullified, entity), and was an additional means of eliciting and being a vessel for the divine success: his speech (constantly saying Baruch Hashem or the like) as well as his hands, were fitting, measured vessels for the measured flow of the G-dly blessing of hatzlacha.
In contrast, a prisoner has no “hands”, does not accomplish anything, and, at most, performs only forced labor. In a sense, he has lost his whole “metzius” –existential self--and it’s as if he does not exist altogether. Although this is applicable to any prisoner, in the case of Yossef (or any tzadik, such as the Alter Rebbe who became incarcerated and then released on Yud Tes Kislev)) the state of imprisonment elicited within him a reciprocal spiritual state of utmost bitul and became a reflection thereof.
Hence, the higher form of success can only come if he person is so totally nullified that the flow of success merely flows unto, rather than through, him, without recourse to his hands, actions, and words of his mouth. This was the kind of success with which Yossef was blessed during his prison stay, when he became no metzius altogether. In contrast, while being a slave and possessing metzius, hands and mouth, these became the measured vessels to receive the measured blessing of success, and therefore, the divine origin of this success, in this case, was evident only by virtue of continued and repeated success in “all that he did” and said.
The Rebbe Knows What Is Needed
The Alter Rebbe recognized that the type of success that this very needy chassid required was the higher type, as he had reached a point where even declaring bankruptcy would not have helped. It could only have helped to cancel his debts but not the moral obligations and commitments which he had undertaken. So, in order to generate within him a total state of bitul to the point of possessing neither hands nor mouth, he had to shatter his metzius, as spiritually lofty (he actually was one of the very prominent students of the Rebbe) that he was. To do so, he questioned his very metzius: “what are you needed for; who needs you and your metzius?” It had the desired effect and he became wondrously blessed with success.
Perhaps what the world and some of its financial woes need today is not so much some bailouts as much as coming to terms with the Divine Guiding Hand, becoming nullified to His Will—and then experiencing success.
Based on Likutey Sichos vol 25 p. 213-219.
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Of Good Leadership
Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic
Of Fallen and Falling Leaders
The current international and national situation is in dire need of true leaders, who couple their leadership abilities with basic human decency and commitment to basic ethical principles. The current phenomenon of various political leaders having to recuse themselves when faced with numerous accusations portends a double message. On one hand, society is waking up to the need of denouncing corruption of all sorts in government circles—which portends the gradual eradication of evil as we approach the Messianic era. On the other hand, these widely publicized reactions serve to underscore the current lack of good leadership in so many arenas. The need of good leadership is even more pronounced within the Jewish people, both on the religious/spiritual plane, as well as on the civil government arena in Israel.
Of Leading and Leaders
Some light can be shed on the topic of leadership from Rashi’s commentary (Gen. 47:7), commenting on the verse: “he (Yosef) led them “vayeNaHaGem” (his brothers’ families, recently settled in Egypt) with bread”. Unkelos, in his Aramaic translation, renders this as “he fed them with bread”. Rashi, though, retains the literal meaning of “leading” -- for this what the Hebrew verbal root of this word, NaHeL, means. Except that leading can be extended to mean “leading in the sense of caring for, and attending to someone’s needs”. Rashi sees this necessary, for otherwise “leading with bread” does not sit well. To support this notion of extended meaning, Rashi first says that the word in question, in the NHL root, is synonymous with the NHG root, which also means to lead and conduct. Hence, the word in the verse “vayeNaHaLem” can be understood as “vayeNaHaGem”. What Rashi is doing here is not merely making a grammatical point; he is actually referring to a verse in Tehilim, which contains this very word “vayeNaHaGem”: “And He (G-d) led them “vayeNaHaGem” as sheep in the desert” (Tehilim 78:52) What clearly emerges from this verse is that leading is not restricted to leading someone in a certain direction, towards a certain destination, but can also be extended to mean “leading and taking care of all their needs”, much like a shepherd leading his flock in the desert and attending to all their needs. This explains why all great Jewish leaders are compared to shepherds leading their flocks. In term of Yosef, this means that he was seeing to it that, not only was bread available in sufficient amount, but also was available in terms of efficient distribution and rationing in order to last throughout the years of famine. Once Rashi thus found this verse in Tehilim, in which the root NHG (synonymous to NHL) has this kind of extended meaning, he proceeds to quote another two verses containing the NHL root and also having this extended meaning: (a) “the one leading her (the nation of Israel)” Isaiah 51:18), where leading obviously means leading the whole nation in an overall, general manner, encompassing all the details pertinent to governing a country -- rather than merely leading in a spatial direction. However, Rashi is not thoroughly satisfied with quoting only this verse (and therefore goes on to quote an additional one), for, to some extent, leading a country is somewhat similar to leading in a direction: the governing body leads the whole country into certain routes leading to some national destination. As opposed to this, leading with bread is a very specific situation, dealing only with bread and sustenance. In order to find a more specific application, Rashi therefore also quotes (b) “He (G-d, my Shepherd) has led me onto the still waters (Tehilim 23:2). This well- known kapitel of Tehilim, referring to G-d as “my Shepherd”, lists the several specific ways in which G-d acts as our Shepherd. The verse quoted by Rashi speaks about G-d specifically supplying us with all our water needs.
We thus see that these two synonymous roots, NHL and NHG, have three possible meanings: (a) spatially leading in a certain direction, towards a certain destination (b) leading an individual, group, community or country, in an overall, general way, encompassing all aspects, much the same way a shepherd leads his flock in an overall way, attending to all their needs (c) leading in an extended way, but in a specific manner, addressing a specific need.
G-d has His Map, in which are mapped out all the twists and turns of history (the direction) -- all leading towards the ultimate goal of Redemption (the destination). And along the way, G-d is our true, trustworthy Shepherd, attending to our general welfare and also all specific needs.
American and Israeli Leaders
So… President Trump made his declaration about Jerusalem. As good as it is, do we really need his, or anyone else’s, approbation? The Holy Land, with its Torah-defined borders---inclusive of its capital Jerusalem-- belongs to the Jewish people since G-d’s promise to Avraham. It is up to the Israeli political leaders to fully and unhesitatingly acknowledge this fact and act upon it. Once Israel will have Torah-oriented leaders, many things will fall in place, including the Divine protection of the land’s borders and its inhabitants. To set things straight with the so-called Palestinians, such leaders could imitate what Yosef did then: “He transferred the people from city to city from one end of the boundary of Egypt to its other end”, as a sign that they no longer had any share in the land. (Gen. 47:2, and Rashi ibid). Non-Jews living within the Holy Land do not have equal rights and must leave (or be executed) whenever they act in a criminal manner. While we are seeing the world gradually improving on many levels—as we indeed are reaching the days of the final redemption--we also see that many forces of evil are rallying forth in many quarters to derail it. But to no avail, for the coming of Moshiach is imminent and cannot be thwarted-- speedily in our days.
Based on Likutey Sichot of Lubavitcher Rebbe vol 15 p. 399-403
Published as zechus for Levi Yitzchak ben Chana, soon to be married, Esther Hadassa bas Chaya Feiga Rayzel, Avigail bas Esther Zlata, Menachem Mendel ben Chava Sheina and Devora bas Chava Sheina-----all of whom had their Yom Holedes during the month of Kisslev.
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Fundamental Teachings of Chabad
Upon approaching Yud Tess Kisslev, the Rosh Hashana of Chassidus Chabad
Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic
Torah Source for Continuous Creation
The verse in Tehilim (119:36) states: “Forever does Your Word Stand in heavens”. Says Midrash Tehilim: “with these things (words) through which He created them, through them they all stand (in existence) forever”.
This principle was stressed by the Baal Shem Tov and in Tanya (Shaar Hayichud :2) the Alter Rebbe offers a a fortiori argument from the Splitting of the Red Sea: if a sustaining force (easterly wind) had to constantly (“the whole night”) keep the sea in a split situation, how much more so that the process of Creation ex nihilo (from Ayin- non-existence, to Yesh- existence)-- a much greater change than the water of the sea changing from a flowing liquid to a solid –that kind of a change certainly had to be constantly sustained.
This is all based on the fundamental Jewish belief that Creation has a beginning point, with no preceding physical source-matter of the physical universe.
In our human experience, we usually see two kinds of changes:
- A one-time change, such as moving a heavy table from point a to point b. Once the change has been made, it need not be sustained.
- Changes that have to be sustained, such as the ongoing power that is needed to propel a baseball into the air and keep it flying till it lands.
Now, how should we view the process of Creation, from Ayin to Yesh: could it have been a mere one-time change, as isn’t everything in the purview of G-d? Reason (and various sources) dictate that G-d could certainly have done so. However, the verse in Tehilim indicates that G-d opted to create in a continuously sustained manner, to the point that if the constant Divine power would cease, things would revert to non-existence! Hence, creation in more comparable to the flying baseball than to moving the heavy table. However, Tanya draws the a fortiori argument from Krias Yam Suf (Splitting of the Red Sea) rather than merely saying that if a flying baseball needs sustained flying energy, how much more so does Creation. For starting with such an argument could not stand, since G-d is all-able and could certainly have created in a one-step manner, regardless of how a baseball flies.
G-d so chose…but Why?
Thus, Krias Yam Suf indicates that G-d opts (in many cases) to continually sustain miraculous changes, leading to the a fortiori conclusion that it was likewise, and how much more so, regarding the wondrous change wrought through Creation.
Can we attempt to offer a reason as to why G-d opted so? Rabbi Shalom Dovber of Lubavitch offers this reason in his Sefer Hamaamarim Mishpatim of year 1,898, p.120: “it is known that in matters concerning Creation, G-d willed that all (aspects thereof) that can be aligned with reason and gradual progression of levels—should be so aligned”. Thus, G-d willed the Creation process to be somewhat aligned with reason so as to facilitate our ability to grasp it and not be overwhelmed by His Infinite Ability. For it makes more sense to the human mind to accept (a) the radical changes of the sustained kind (comparable to the flying ball) vs. those (b) not sustained after the change. While certainly accepting the second type as clear miracles, type (a) still sits better in the human mind. G-d likewise chooses to make many miraculous events be more amenable to intellectual understanding. According to Torah text, the change in the Red Sea from its initial previous liquid state was so by virtue of G-d opting to have an ongoing force (the wind) keeping up that change, rather than being a radical one-time change--thus being a miracle of type (a). If indeed, G-d opted to make Krias Yam Suf, a lesser type of change than Creation ex nihilo, more amenable to the human mind by having it being sustained continuously through the night, how much more so He would make Creation ex nihilo, an unparalleled type of change, in a continuously sustained manner in order to make it more amenable to the human mind!
Another possible reason is that “G-d desired to have a dwelling in the lowest spheres” (Tanhuma Bamidbar:17). According to this approach, we could explain why G-d opted to continuously sustain creation, for, by doing so, He is indeed within the world and has a continuous dwelling within it. If, instead, G-d would have opted not to constantly re-Create but have it continue “on its own” by virtue of the original energy He invested in it, it wouldn't be a dwelling in the full sense of the word. For Chassidus stresses that this Dwelling of G-d is comparable to a person dwelling completely and in a revealed manner within his home, and obviously, to do this, he cannot be distant from home. Likewise, G-d prefers not to be “distant”, subsequent to a Divine initial creative force and momentum, but rather remain constantly involved with His world through re-Creation.
The Different Set-up in Mitzvos
Interestingly enough, in contrast to the above, we notice the common phenomenon of many Mitzvah acts carrying with themselves a resultant effect without having to be repeated, especially as explained and coined "Peula Nimshechet" by the famous Rogotshover Gaon. When we perform such a mitzvah, a certain element of holiness is generated, so that the Mitzvah item itself attains holiness, especially those mitzvahs classified as "tashmishei kedusha", such as a Sefer Torah, Tefilin, Mezuzot etc… From the moment they are utilized in a mitzvah act, or even prepared (see Torah Ohr p.179 and on, and corresponding expanded explanations in Shaarei Orah) as a mitzvah object, they become holy and cannot be discarded. The G-dly holiness (kedusha) has penetrated them, united with them, and conferred them with a holy status. This status stays on by virtue of the initial mitzvah observance phase and does not have to be renewed by some repetition of the original mitzvah act. The mitzvah object once “ignited” stays ignited. We thus see that Mitzvos are in a category all their own, having the ability to uncover the inherent G-dly dimension present from the very outset in the physical objects used in Mitzvah acts. Thus, the greatest power granted us through the Mitzvos is the ability to radically change the face of this earth; and we can do all this without having to resort to heavenly chariots and miraculous grandiose occurrences. The biggest accomplishment is our ability to transform the physicality of this world and reveal within it the tremendous G-dly potential that it holds.
The reason why both these truths (the constant re-creative process /and the resultant Mitzvah holiness) are currently not apparent and felt is due to a state of divine concealment, whereby G-d’s divine constant power is concealed so as to give man freedom of choice. Reflecting on these truths can help a person to never feel alone nor lonely, and feel G-d’s constant proximity and love, and His wanting that man not be thoroughly overwhelmed by miracles.
Based on Sefer HaSichos, Behaaloscha 5751 and Biurim of R. Yoel Kahn on Shaar Hayichud
Dedicated to: Avigail bas Esther Zlata on the occasion of her Bas Mitzvah on Kislev 17.
Menachem Mendel ben Chava Sheina on the occasion of his Yom Holedes on Kislev 17
Devore’le bas Chava Sheina on the occasion of her Yom Holedes on Kislev 12
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