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Wednesday, June 02, 2004

AN CONDENSATION OF RABBI SHNEUR ZALMAN'S "TANYA"
Rabbi Yaakov Feldman
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PART ONE: Introduction through Ch. 8

1. This first section begins by introducing the idea that while some of us Jews are utterly wrongful by nature and others of us are fully righteous, the great preponderance of us are somewhere in between. And it behooves us each to know just where we stand on that continuum. Before we can do that, though, we'll have to understand our spiritual makeup.

2. RSZ's first insight for us into that is his statement that we're each comprised of two "predilections" or spirits: one toward rank animalism and another toward pure G-dliness (Ch. 1).

3. The G-dly spirit, we're taught, is a veritable portion of G-d (Ch. 2) and it's comprised of ten elements in all: three “mind" elements and seven “heart" elements (Ch. 3). There are three "garments" connected with it, too: our thoughts, speech, and actions (Ch's. 4-5). We learn that our G-dly spirit is elevated when its garments are used to fulfill mitzvot; that our mind is united with G-d's very will and wisdom when we study Torah; and that our hearts come into play when we infuse the love and fear of G-d into that (Ch. 4).

4. Our animalistic spirit is also comprised of ten mind and heart elements (Ch. 6) and three garments (Ch's. 7-8). But it's *derived* from the four "husks" and the "other side" (Ch. 1) rather than directly from G-dliness. The four husks that it's derived from are actually comprised of two subsets, though: three utterly impure husks and a single "luminous” one that straddles the border between holiness and unholiness (Ch. 7).

5. Now, since the luminous element of our animalistic spirit can function in either holiness or unholiness and we have it within us to determine which one it will, it stands to reason that there'll be times when we lapse into unholiness (since we nearly all fall sway to the animalistic spirit's urgings). So, how do we rectify things when we do? And what's the difference between what we do when we lapse into outright unholiness and when we succumb to more subtly wrongful things, like partaking of perfectly acceptable things to excess (Ch's 7-8)?

(c) 2004 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

(Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org )

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Get your own copy of Rabbi Feldman’s translation of “The Gates of Repentance” by logging onto http://www.aronson.com/jbookstore/ and typing in "The Gates of Repentance".
Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has translated and commented upon "The Gates of Repentance", "The Path of the Just", and "The Duties of the Heart" (Jason Aronson Publishers). And his new work on Maimonides' "The Eight Chapters" will soon be available from Judaica Press.
His works are available in bookstores and in various locations on the Web.
Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes on www.torah.org entitled "Spiritual Excellence" and "Ramchal".


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Tuesday, June 01, 2004

A CONDENSATION OF RABBI MOSHE CHAIM LUZZATTO'S "DA'AT TEVUNOT"
Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Part One: G-d Wants Man to Perfect Himself In Order to Enjoy His Beneficence

1. We're taught that G-d founded the universe upon justice, goodness, and design (see Deuteronomy 32:4). But our experience seems to contradict that, so in order to convince of us of it, we'd need to backtrack and understand a number of things about ourselves and the world that would explain how it's true -- and why we don't perceive it as being so.

2. What we'll delve into then is our makeup (which won't be explained until later on), what's expected of us (see #3 below), and our raison d'etre (see #10 below).

3. What's expected of us, at bottom, is to perfect ourselves along and the entire universe.

4. But why would we have to do that? In order to answer that, we'd first have to determine why G-d created us in the first place, but we can only explain that after first defining G-d.

5. So in sequence:
a) we'll start off by defining G-d (#6 below),
b) we'll then uncover why He created us (#7 below), and we'll go on from there to explain
c) what we're expected to perfect about ourselves (#10 below).

6. The truth of the matter is that we *can't* define G-d -- as He is in His Essence, at least -- since we can't begin to fathom that. But what we *can* grasp to some degree is how He presents Himself in the universe and interacts with us, since that's clarified by the Torah and the Tradition. Hence, G-d is defined as the ultimate beneficent Being (since He gives all and needs nothing in return).

7. Now, since a beneficent Being like Himself would only be expected to have others whom He could benefit, He'd thus "need" to create such beings (suffice it to say that G-d "needs" nothing, but that's beyond this short treatment). Thus, the reason why G-d created us was so that we might enjoy His largesse.

8. And yet in order for His creations to enjoy His beneficence and not be "embarrassed" -- i.e., compromised -- by that, they'd somehow need to *earn* what they receive. So, we're expected to serve Him and to thus perfect ourselves in the process of our own volition in order to truly enjoy His beneficence.

9. But, what's imperfect or flawed about us in the first place, and what kind of perfection are we capable of achieving?

10. What human perfection comes to, essentially, is the ability to adhere onto G-d's Presence and to come to know Him; and what's imperfect about us which we're expected to rectify are the flaws that isolate us from Him. So, our raison d'etre is to indeed adhere onto G-d's presence and to know Him.

11. Next it's important to realize that G-d *purposely* didn't create a perfect universe -- just so that we could perfect ourselves and thus benefit from His beneficence.

12. But, what it is it that enables us to perfect ourselves in the first place? We'll come back to that after having first touched upon a number of points.


(c) 2004 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

(Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org )

********************************
Get your own copy of Rabbi Feldman’s translation of “The Gates of Repentance” by logging onto http://www.aronson.com/jbookstore/ and typing in "The Gates of Repentance".
Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has translated and commented upon "The Gates of Repentance", "The Path of the Just", and "The Duties of the Heart" (Jason Aronson Publishers). And his new work on Maimonides' "The Eight Chapters" will soon be available from Judaica Press.
His works are available in bookstores and in various locations on the Web.
Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes on www.torah.org entitled "Spiritual Excellence" and "Ramchal".


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Monday, May 31, 2004

Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag's "Introduction to the Zohar"

-- as translated and commented on by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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Section 7, Part 2

"In light of His intent when He created the world we can now understand that *there was no need to create anything other than that willingness to accept things*. For it’s all He needed to (create in order to) fulfill His intent to create the world, which was to bestow us with favors."

-- We've only alluded to it till this point but we'll now expand upon our willingness to accept things, since it's a major theme in R' Ashlag's system. It's termed the *ratzon l'kabel* in Hebrew and it can be translated as our willingness, wish, or intent to accept, receive, or take things. At bottom it comes down to our tendency to catch rather than throw, consume rather than produce.

-- But don't make the mistake of thinking that it's fully and exclusively a symptom of our spoiled or self-centered nature, for it goes far deeper. In fact, sometimes it's a rather healthy need at that. Consider inhalation and exhalation. I just naturally will, wish, and intend to accept, receive, or take in oxygen all the time; and I only "give it back" when I exhale in order to be able to inhale again -- or so it seems. But as every schoolchild knows, when I exhale I proffer carbon dioxide into the air which in fact feeds. And besides, if I didn't inhale, I'd die. I likewise ingest food for seemingly selfish reasons, but I'd also die if I didn't (and the body's waste matter is also useful). The list goes on and on.

-- Still and all, though, our wish to take-in rather than give-out *is* selfish and self-serving for the most part. For as we all know, while immaturity and crudeness are marked by selfishness (by an utter exploitation of the *ratzon l'kabel*), maturity and refinement are marked by self*less*ness. And we're called upon to transcend the *ratzon l'kabel* in ways we'll discuss later on.

-- In fact, it's the *ratzon l'kabel* that sets us apart from G-d, who needs nothing and grants everything (as we pointed out). That having been said, though, it's still true that G-d purposefully created the *ratzon l'kabel*, so it must fulfill a role in His plans. In fact it does, and a supremely high one at that: it serves as the medium through which G-d's intention to bestow us with favors plays itself out. After all, if I didn't want to take, then my Benefactor couldn't effectively give (see 6:2).

"Nonetheless the complete fulfillment of His intentions for the world -- which is to say, all the goodness He had in mind for us -- originated directly from His essence. So He (really) didn’t need to create it anew (or, “re-create” it), since it originated in something that already existed, and became the great willingness to accept things that dwells within us (literally, 'in our souls')."

-- His point is that since all we tend to do (with exception) is take-in and all G-d does indeed do is give-out, it necessarily follows that our urge to take-in is the only thing G-d created outright, out of the blue, which is apart from Him. For everything else comes directly from Him and is a manifestation of His will to give-out -- a purposeful "prop" for G-d's wish to bestow us with favors.

"Thus it becomes absolutely clear that all of creation, from start to finish, is nothing other than (the creation of) the *ratzon l'kabel*."

(c) 2004 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

(Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org )

********************************
Get your own copy of Rabbi Feldman’s translation of “The Gates of Repentance” by logging onto http://www.aronson.com/jbookstore/ and typing in "The Gates of Repentance".
Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has translated and commented upon "The Gates of Repentance", "The Path of the Just", and "The Duties of the Heart" (Jason Aronson Publishers). And his new work on Maimonides' "The Eight Chapters" will soon be available from Judaica Press.
His works are available in bookstores and in various locations on the Web.
Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes on www.torah.org entitled "Spiritual Excellence" and "Ramchal".


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Friday, May 28, 2004

Plans for the future, G-d willing:

Besides continuing on with my treatment of Rav Ashlag's Hakdamah l'Sefer HaZohar, I hope to offer condensations (kitzurim) of two essential works: Ramchal's Da'at Tevunot, and Rabbi Shneur Zalman's Tanya.

What I plan to do is present each work in short, section by section (rather than chapter by chapter), with comments interspersed.

Then I hope to go on to other condensations (mostly from Ramchal).

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

We now complete our countdown to Mattan Torah with this final quote from Messilat Yesharim:

-- From Ch. 26

"Precious reader: I realize that you know as well as I that I have not exhausted all the requirements for piety in my book, and that I have not said all that can be said about the subject. But that is because there is no end to the matter, and we cannot fathom the extent of it. What I have done is mentioned some small part of all the particulars of the beraita upon which I have based this book. It is a beginning which will allow for further investigation into these matters. Their paths have therefore been charted, and their ways exposed to our eyes so that we might go on the righteous path."

"It is obvious that each person must be directed and guided according to his own field of endeavor and his concerns. The path to piety for the one whose whole occupation is Torah scholarship is different from the one for the laborer, which is itself different from the one for the professional person. And that goes as well for all the other differentiating factors between people, each of which is its own path to piety. But that is not so because piety changes -- it is the same for everybody: it involves doing what brings satisfaction to your Creator. But since the individual participant changes, the means to bring him to that end must necessarily be particular to him. A humble laborer could be as thoroughly pious as someone who never stops studying Torah."

"May He, in His great compassion, open our eyes to His Torah. May He teach us His ways, lead us upon His path, and make us worthy to bring honor to His name and satisfy Him."

(c) 2004 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

You can always contact Rabbi Feldman at feldman@torah.org

May this series on Messilat Yesharim, which is offered in loving memory of my recently departed uncle, Chaim ben Avraham Stone a"h, serve as an aliyah for his neshama.

********************************
Get your own copy of Rabbi Feldman’s translation of “The Gates of Repentance” by logging onto http://www.aronson.com/jbookstore/ and typing in "The Gates of Repentance".
Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has translated and commented upon "The Gates of Repentance", "The Path of the Just", and "The Duties of the Heart" (Jason Aronson Publishers). And his new work on Maimonides' "The Eight Chapters" will soon be available from Judaica Press.
His works are available in bookstores and in various locations on the Web.
Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes on www.torah.org entitled "Spiritual Excellence" and "Ramchal".

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Monday, May 24, 2004

We continue our countdown to Mattan Torah with short daily quotes from Messilat Yesharim:

-- From Ch. 26

"The way you obtain [holiness] is with a lot of abstention, with serious reflection upon the mysteries of G-d's great involvement in the world and the secrets of creation, and with the sure knowledge of G-d's exaltedness and praise. Only then will you have become attached to Him strongly and know how to concentrate your thoughts while moving through the world and making use of it. This was the way the priest was supposed to concentrate in order to draw down G-d's blessing of life and peace as he ritually slaughtered sacrifices and received and sprinkled their blood upon the altar. Without all this it is impossible to reach this great height. You would remain corporeal and of-the-earth like all other people."

"What [also] helps in the attainment of this level is a lot of solitary meditation and abstinence. With this lack of interferences, your soul can more easily strengthen and attach itself to G-d. What detracts from attaining this trait is a lack of knowledge of the truth and the over-association with others. Materiality is attracted to its kind, and is energized and made stronger by association with it. The soul that is seized by it cannot escape from its trappings. But when it is separated from it, the soul can stand alone and ready itself for the indwelling of holiness. It will be accompanied upon the path it wants to take."

"With the help G-d gives you, your soul can be strengthened and made to grow victorious over physicality, attach itself to G-d, and grow whole within you. From there you can grow to an even higher level, 'Holy Inspiration', where your intellect will rise above all human capabilities. That will allow you to enjoy a yet higher form of attachment to G-d. Then the keys to the Resurrection of the Dead will be passed on to you as they were passed on to Elijah and Elisha. That would indicate the great degree of attachment to G-d you would experience. As G-d is the source of all life, the one who gives life to the living, ... one who utterly attaches himself to G-d can elicit from Him life itself, which is the one thing that is attributable to Him more than anything else."

(c) 2004 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

You can always contact Rabbi Feldman at feldman@torah.org

May this series on Messilat Yesharim, which is offered in loving memory of my recently departed uncle, Chaim ben Avraham Stone a"h, serve as an aliyah for his neshama.

********************************
Get your own copy of Rabbi Feldman’s translation of “The Gates of Repentance” by logging onto http://www.aronson.com/jbookstore/ and typing in "The Gates of Repentance".
Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has translated and commented upon "The Gates of Repentance", "The Path of the Just", and "The Duties of the Heart" (Jason Aronson Publishers). And his new work on Maimonides' "The Eight Chapters" will soon be available from Judaica Press.
His works are available in bookstores and in various locations on the Web.
Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes on www.torah.org entitled "Spiritual Excellence" and "Ramchal".

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Sunday, May 23, 2004

We continue our countdown to Mattan Torah with short daily quotes from Messilat Yesharim:

-- From Ch. 26

"The general principle behind holiness is that you remain so attached to G-d that you never separate nor even move from Him no matter what you are doing. Then the physical things you make use of will have had a greater spiritual elevation for your having used them than whatever spiritual descent you would have suffered for using them. But such a state can only come about when your mind is set constantly on G-d's greatness, exaltedness and holiness. Then you will be as one who joined the ranks of the angels while yet in the world."

"We have already pointed out, however, that you cannot manage to do this on your own. You can only be expected to be attracted to it and to attempt it. And even that can only come about after you will have attained all of the traits we have mentioned thusfar, from the initial promptings of caution to the fear of sin. Only then can you approach holiness and be successful at it. If you lack the other traits, you will be a foreigner and a malaprop."

"But after you will have readied yourself in all the ways mentioned, and after you will have further attached yourself to G-d with a strong love and a powerful reverence by recognizing His vast exaltedness you are to then disattach yourself from material matters step by step, and direct all of your movements and actions to the truly hidden aspects of attachment to G-d. A spirit from on high will then descend upon you, and the Creator will dwell upon you as He does for all of His holy ones. Then you will actually be like one of the angels, and all of your actions -- even the most common and corporeal -- will be part of your offering and your service."

(c) 2004 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

You can always contact Rabbi Feldman at feldman@torah.org

May this series on Messilat Yesharim, which is offered in loving memory of my recently departed uncle, Chaim ben Avraham Stone a"h, serve as an aliyah for his neshama.

********************************
Get your own copy of Rabbi Feldman’s translation of “The Gates of Repentance” by logging onto http://www.aronson.com/jbookstore/ and typing in "The Gates of Repentance".
Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has translated and commented upon "The Gates of Repentance", "The Path of the Just", and "The Duties of the Heart" (Jason Aronson Publishers). And his new work on Maimonides' "The Eight Chapters" will soon be available from Judaica Press.
His works are available in bookstores and in various locations on the Web.
Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes on www.torah.org entitled "Spiritual Excellence" and "Ramchal".

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