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     Sichos In English -> Books -> Mysticism -> The Tree of Life — Kuntres Etz HaChayim

Overview

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

Chapter XI

Chapter XII

Chapter XIII

Chapter XIV

Chapter XV

Chapter XVI

Chapter XVII

Chapter XVIII

Chapter XIX

Chapter XX

Chapter XXI

Chapter XXII

Chapter XXIII

Chapter XXIV

Chapter XXV

Chapter XXVI

Chapter XXVII

Chapter XXVIII

Chapter XXIX

Chapter XXX

Chapter XXXI

Chapter XXXII

Chapter XXXIII

The Tree of Life — Kuntres Etz HaChayim
A classic chassidic treatise on the mystic core of spiritual vitality
by Rabbi Shalom DovBer Schneersohn of Lubavitch


Overview

Translated by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger

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 Chapter I  

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Worlds in Transition

It is a world which none of us has ever seen. And in truth, it would be difficult for many us even to picture what it was like. For when we speak of the shtetl, we mean far more than the actual physical environment. In the shtetl, Jewish life filled the atmosphere so powerfully that you could feel it in the air. The pulse of the community beat according to the Torah’s rhythm.

As Russia prepared to enter the twentieth century, the Rebbe Rashab saw that world disappearing, but he wanted to insure that the transition from shtetl to city life and the entrance into an industrial society would not hollow away the Jews’ inner spiritual vitality.

For this reason, in 5657 (1896), he founded Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim,[1] the central Lubavitcher yeshivah. He envisioned the yeshivah as a focal point for Jewish life throughout Russia, for the energy and enthusiasm stemming from this inspired environment of spiritual growth would ripple inside and out of the Jewish community.

The first students of Tomchei Temimim dedicated themselves to the spiritual purpose which the Rebbe envisioned for them, and within a few short years, the influence of the yeshivah was being felt everywhere in Russia. In one town, a rabbi ordained by Tomchei Temimim would change the direction of his entire community. In another village, a yeshivah student coming home for the holidays would inspire others to join him when he returned to the yeshivah. And in Lubavitch itself, the constant stream of visitors to the Rebbe was motivated by the sight of a growing community of young men invigorated by the light and energy of Chassidic teachings.

But the success of the yeshivah soon created a problem. There were students who were attracted to it because they saw in Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim, a bastion of traditional Jewish scholarship, a place where they would not be challenged by the inroads secular thinking was making in the Jewish community. Many of these students were not aware of — or had not fully grasped — the Rebbe Rashab’s intent when he founded the yeshivah.

They wanted to go to yeshivah to study the Talmud and its codes; they were not interested in anything more.

The Rebbe was.

To clarify his purpose in founding the yeshivah, the Rebbe Rashab wrote Kuntres Etz HaChayim. The text was first printed in 5664, years after the founding of Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim. In it, the Rebbe Rashab explains at length the purpose for Creation as a whole and the role of the Torah in bringing that purpose to fruition. He explains the proper approach to Torah study, and then gives specific directives with regard to the students’ conduct in Tomchei Temimim.

A Second Transition

In 5706 (1946), six years after the Previous Rebbe relocated the Chabad-Lubavitch center and Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim in America, he reprinted Kuntres Etz HaChayim. In his letter of introduction, he explains that the publication of the text was intended to emphasize that the transition from Europe to America was only geographic in nature, for “America is not different.”

He states clearly that the advice given by the Rebbe Rashab in Kuntres Etz HaChayim was not only for his immediate time, but for all time. In particular, he addresses his words to yeshivah students, encouraging them to envision themselves as a source of influence, amplifying the spiritual consciousness in the communities in which they live. Kuntres Etz HaChayim would serve as a fundamental resource in this endeavor, for its focus on the Torah’s G-dly core makes it possible to preserve and augment the spiritual heritage of the past while making the transition to a new framework of reference.

A Transition in Process

The Rebbe would mention Kuntres Etz HaChayim frequently in his sichos. And on the Rebbe Rashab’s birthday, 20 Cheshvan, 5751, the Rebbe patiently distributed a copy of Kuntres Etz HaChayim to every man, woman, and child in the Lubavitch community. This wasn’t merely a sentimental gesture.

The world in which we live is in the midst of transition. We are moving from an industrial society to an information culture. Familiar signposts are disappearing, and new landmarks are taking their place. In a geographic sense, this transition is not as great as the two mentioned above. But its effect on our lives is perhaps more radical and encompassing. Faxes, word-processing, data bases, the Internet. Isn’t our world far different than it was a number of years ago? And it will be far more different in the years to come, for the rate of change is increasing, almost going off the graph.

As the speed of this transition increases, the message of Kuntres Etz HaChayim is becoming more relevant. For the information society is continually pummeling us with far more data than we have ever had to process before, forcing us to focus more on the material plane and as a by-product, weakening our spiritual sensitivity. Kuntres Etz HaChayim hones us in on the purpose for our lives: to create a dwelling place for G-d. And it concentrates our attention on the teachings of Chassidus as the medium to transform this ideal into actual life.

This spiritual awareness enriches our lives, making it possible for us to appreciate the spiritual dimensions of the changes happening around us. Armed with this inner strength, a chassid does not feel the need to retreat from the world in which he lives. On the contrary, he can embrace his environment, finding circumstances and situations in which every element of existence can be used for a spiritual purpose.

This approach leads to the ultimate transition, the coming of Mashiach. In this endeavor, Kuntres Etz HaChayim is also significant. For one of its goals was to impress yeshivah students to proudly bear the mantle of chayalei Beis David,[2] soldiers of the House of David, whose efforts are focused on transforming the world into an environment conscious of Mashiach and awaiting his coming.

I. The Text’s Themes

Kuntres Etz HaChayim, employs far more technical wording than many other Chassidic sources. There are extensive quotes from the Zohar, the Etz HaChayim, and other Kabbalistic texts, as well as passages from the Talmud and the Midrash. The Rebbe Rashab begins with an abstract Chassidic concept, proceeds to develop its practical applications, and then, on the basis of these theoretical constructs, gives direct, pointed advice to the students of the yeshivah.

The Kuntres begins with the theme of dirah bitachtonim, that our world be transformed into a dwelling for G-d. In such a world, the material plane will continue to exist, but it will see itself solely as a medium for the revelation of G-dliness.

This is made possible through the interplay of three Divine attributes: Malchus (sovereignty), Ratzon (will), and Chochmah (wisdom). Malchus is the medium which brings into being a world which sees itself as a separate entity, for a king is never given absolute sovereignty over equals. It is only when there is a distance between him and his subjects that such a relationship can be established.

In the earthly realms, a nation feels the need for a king, and when they discover a person whose level is “from his shoulders up, taller than all the nation,”[3] they grant him this position. In the spiritual realms, the sequence works in reverse. Because G-d possesses the attribute of Malchus, a framework of seemingly independent existence — entities that feel themselves separate and lower than Him — comes into being, allowing for this attribute to be manifest.

Ratzon, will, is a channel for the expression of the soul’s inner thrust. When a person wants an object, he is entirely focused on his desire. From the person’s standpoint, the object is significant only inasmuch as it fulfills his will.

In the spiritual realms, a world that is created from G-d’s will would not see itself as a separate entity. It would exist only to express G-d’s intent.

Thus the two attributes of Ratzon and Malchus bring about two diverse conceptions of existence. Ratzon makes the world a dwelling, a place where G-d’s essence is revealed, and Malchus causes that dwelling to be in the lower worlds, in a realm which sees itself as separate from G-d.

These two motifs are interrelated and harmonized through the attribute of Chochmah, wisdom. For wisdom recognizes the gestalt of independent existence established by Malchus and yet is sensitive to the purpose expressed by Ratzon. This makes possible the synthesis of the two thrusts; that the independent existence brought into being by Malchus takes on the design of Ratzon, causing the world to become batel, and rise above the level of self-concern.

This bittul is established primarily through Torah study, an expression of G-d’s Chochmah. For Torah study represents an advanced level of bittul. When a person studies the Torah, he has the potential to step entirely beyond the level of self. For the thoughts on which his mind focuses are not his own, but G-d’s.

There is, however, a possibility for negative consequences even within Torah study. Since the Torah is enclothed in worldly affairs and operates with the framework of human logic, it is possible that a person will look at it as no more than a system of wisdom, forgetting about G-d, the Giver of the Torah. When the Torah is studied with such an approach, it can become “a potion of death,” encouraging a person’s self-concern. Instead of serving as a tool to bring about the refinement of the world and the person studying, the study of the Torah can inflate the person’s ego and cause him to become more materially oriented.

For this reason, it is necessary for one’s Torah study to include P’nimiyus HaTorah, the inner, mystic dimensions of the Torah, which focuses attention directly on the Torah’s G-dly and spiritual core.

Kuntres Etz HaChayim goes to the mystic core of the issue. Nigleh, the revealed dimension of Torah law, reflects the dimension of the Torah which relates to our material world, while P’nimiyus HaTorah reveals the dimension of the Torah which transcends this framework. In the scheme of the Sefiros, the Oral Law, the fundamental expression of Nigleh, is identified with Malchus, the Sefirah which brings about the limited framework of existence of our world. This Sefirah is described as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. P’nimiyus HaTorah is identified with the attribute of Tiferes, the Sefirah which reveals G-dliness which transcends our material framework. It is thus described as the Tree of Life. Adam’s sin involved partaking of the Tree of Knowledge without first partaking of the Tree of Life.

The Kuntres then relates the above concepts to the themes of yichuda tata’ah, the lower unity, and yichuda ila’ah, the sublime unity. Yichuda tata’ah refers to the manner in which our world sees itself connected to G-dliness: the world exists and yet it is subservient to G-dliness. Yichuda ila’ah reflects an entirely different frame of reference; all that exists is G-dliness. There is no conception of independent existence.

Yichuda tata’ah is the gestalt which should prevail within our Divine service, firstly, because we have to be honest with ourselves and realize our spiritual level. And also, because this was G-d’s intent when creating the world, that the material world should recognize and acknowledge G-dliness within its own context.

Nevertheless, yichuda tata’ah alone is not sufficient. For the positive dimension of yichuda tata’ah — its recognition of the limitations of our world — is itself its drawback. The bittul of yichuda tata’ah does not lift a person above our world’s limited framework of reference. To refer to a classic Chassidic concept: a person whose Divine service is characterized by yichuda tata’ah is still in Mitzrayim, Egypt; he is bound by the limitations of worldly existence.

For this reason, it is necessary for a person to have a taste of yichuda ila’ah, an appreciation of a higher level of spiritual awareness. The experience of this elevated perspective weakens a person’s material disposition and refines the coarseness of his body and his animal soul, mitigating his attraction to worldly concerns. And it strengthens the power of his G-dly soul, empowering it to overcome the body and the animal soul and refine them. Such awareness is encouraged by the study of P’nimiyus HaTorah.

The Kuntres continues to speak against the protestation of humility by people who say: “Who are we? What is our Divine service [worth]? [How can] we experience genuine love and fear of G-d? How can we approach P’nimiyus HaTorah when we are on such a low level?”

It explains that the very foundation of this approach is erroneous. The mitzvos of loving and fearing G-d are among the 613 mitzvos of the Torah, whose observance is incumbent upon every member of the Jewish people. And G-d does not come with over-imposing demands to His creations. He asks of them only what is within their potential. Thus if one would say that it is impossible for every individual to attain the love and fear of G-d, how could he be commanded to express these emotions?

In truth, the Kuntres continues, love and fear are attainable by any and every individual. They are qualities inherent to every Jew. And it is through the study of P’nimiyus HaTorah that these attributes come within our grasp. In the early generations, the Kuntres explains, P’nimiyus HaTorah was hidden, for it was not an absolute necessity for our nation’s spiritual welfare. But from the time of the AriZal onward, and particularly after the revelation of the Baal Shem Tov, it became “a mitzvah to reveal this wisdom.”

The Rebbe Rashab then explains that he founded Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim with the intent of furthering that motif, giving students the opportunity to study P’nimiyus HaTorah with the same concentration as they usually devote to the study of Nigleh.

At this point, the tone of the Kuntres changes. The abstract, scholarly discussion becomes transformed into a direct, down-to-earth message from the Rebbe to the students of the yeshivah. The Rebbe states:

The young men with whom our association was founded knew the purpose of its establishment, and they chose and desired this [as their mission]. They eagerly accepted and carried out [the mission] of occupying themselves with Chassidus… They studied well, and, thank G-d, their efforts brought forth fruit and were crowned with success.

In the present time as well, there are many young men who follow this path and adapt themselves to this ultimate purpose…. There are, however, many others who… lost sight of this ultimate purpose…. Over the course of time, there came and gathered new students for whom the concept of involvement in Chassidus was foreign to them. Not that they are opposed [to it], heaven forbid, it’s just that Chassidus is an unknown for them. They came to study Nigleh.

This brought an unfamiliar atmosphere into the hall of study…. [This is also reflected in] their conduct. [It is obvious] that their main intent is to study Nigleh, and they study Chassidus only to fulfill their obligation….

Therefore, on this occasion, I want to make it known to you that this is not the purpose of our intent. Not at all.

Instead, the intent of the establishment of our association is for the study of Chassidus, for it is the essence of our lives, and this will grant vitality to your study of Nigleh. And this will make you and your study of the Torah pleasing to G-d, the Giver of the Torah.

In clear and precise terms, the Rebbe outlines — to the hour — the schedule he expects the yeshivah students to keep. He tells the students that anyone who does not uphold that schedule is benefiting from the yeshivah unjustly.

He counsels them against seeking to develop chiddushim (innovative explanations) for the sake of having feelings of accomplishment, and instead delineates clearly how a Talmudic passage should be studied, which commentaries to look into, and what their study goals should be.

And he concludes with a heartfelt prayer which reflects the intensity he invested in the Kuntres:

After all the above statements, I ask you: “Apply your hearts to all the words” stated in this text. May these words be upon your hearts at all times, for it is very difficult for me to make these statements and repeat them continually. Therefore, have these words before your eyes at all times, so that they will not be forgotten by you. For they are your lives and the length of your days, and indeed, they will bring you eternal life.
I lift up my hands to G-d in prayer and in supplication. May it be G-d’s will that the light of the Torah of truth which our ancestors, the holy and revered Rebbeim revealed, will be internalized within you.

A Signed Contract

After the above lines, the Rebbe Rashab affixed his signature to Kuntres Etz HaChayim, something totally out of the ordinary for a text of Chassidus. The chassidim have always said that this indicates that Kuntres Etz HaChayim is a signed contract for the students of Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim, and in a larger sense, for anyone whose life has been touched by the Rebbe and Lubavitch.[4] In this Kuntres, the Rebbe Rashab expresses his commitment to the chassidim and he clearly outlines the manner in which he expects the chassidim to reciprocate.

II. Prefaces and Appendices

When reprinting Kuntres Etz HaChayim in 5706, the Previous Rebbe added supplementary material which further clarified the Rebbe Rashab’s intent and showed the relevance of the text to subsequent times. When reprinting the Kuntres in 5751, the Rebbe preserved the format introduced by the Previous Rebbe which included the following additions and appendices:

A) An introductory letter from the Previous Rebbe[5]

In this letter, the Previous Rebbe explains that the Rebbe Rashab wrote for his immediate time and for all time. Thus the Rebbe Rashab’s advice serves as a beacon of light for all Jews, and particularly, yeshivah students.

This message can help challenge the approach that “In America, everything is different,” i.e., the attitude that compromises can be made in the observance of the Torah and its mitzvos. This, the Previous Rebbe argues, is an entirely wrong approach, for American Jewish youth possess a natural sensitivity to the Torah and its mitzvos. When a word is spoken from the heart, they respond.

Therefore, there is no need for false flattery and sugar-coated messages. American youth are looking for the truth, and spiritual leaders and educators have a responsibility to give it to them. In the future, students will ask: “Why didn’t you tell us the truth,… in its entirety?… Why didn’t you show us how to pray… how to study the Torah… how to observe the mitzvos?

The Previous Rebbe also focuses on the role of a yeshivah, underscoring that it is not merely a place to prepare a student for a profession, how to be a Torah scholar, a rabbi or the like, but rather a place of education where a student is prepared to be a complete Jew in body, soul, and Torah.

B) A Preface, a Letter of the Previous Rebbe, Written in Tammuz, 5692

In this letter, the Previous Rebbe emphasizes the unique role which yeshivah students played within the Jewish community in previous years. The entire Jewish community looked up to the yeshivah students. Every day of the week, these students would eat at different homes. The families would look upon these days as beacons of light, inspiring them to a deeper commitment to spiritual growth.

But, the Previous Rebbe continues, that environment has changed. Instead of the yeshivah students serving as a source of influence, they have become recipients of the popular culture.

The root of the problem is conformity, the perspective that everyone must act the same, that a yeshivah student must look and sound like all others instead of being unique and different. As a result, the yeshivah students are redefining their purpose. Studying Torah for G-d’s sake, to know His will and His wisdom, is no longer sufficient; the study must lead to intellectual speculation of the highest order and impressive abstract analysis. Not surprisingly, this approach brings about a weakening of observance, as the students lose sight of what is holy, and what is mundane.

The scope of the problem increases as these students mature and assume positions as teachers and spiritual leaders, passing their weaknesses on to others. Our history is replete with evidence of the offshoots of such an approach: watered-down observance, ignorance of the Torah, and dwindling Jewish pride.

Kuntres Etz HaChayim provides an alternative to such an approach, directing a yeshivah student to the Torah’s spiritual dimension and opening his heart to the love and fear of G-d. After studying Kuntres Etz HaChayim, the Previous Rebbe concludes, a person will

feel pained: how could he have passed [all] these years… without man’s understanding…. He will recognize that it is P’nimiyus HaTorah that transforms the revealed dimension of the Torah into an ‘elixir of life,’ … leading to the fulfillment of the positive commandments of the unity of G-d, and the love and fear of Him…. He will then establish a fixed time for the study of Chassidus and turn to G-d in teshuvah. And He will have mercy upon him.

C) Appendix A: Rabbi Chayim Vital’s Introduction to Shaar HaHakdamos

In several places within Kuntres Etz HaChayim, the Rebbe Rashab makes reference to this classic Kabbalistic text. Since this text was not easily accessible to people at large, the Previous Rebbe included it as an appendix to Kuntres Etz HaChayim.

Rav Chayim Vital begins his treatise explaining that he is broken-hearted about the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and the exile of Jewish people. He is tormented by the question: Why hasn’t Mashiach come?

In resolution, he explains that the Divine service of the Jewish people has become permeated by self-concern. Nothing is done without the expectation of reward. The Torah has become an ax to use for profit, a means of earning a livelihood and enhancing one’s reputation.

The study of P’nimiyus HaTorah prevents a person from slipping into such an approach. For P’nimiyus HaTorah lifts a person above his material consciousness and puts him in touch with the spiritual core of our existence. In this manner, it lifts a person above self-concern. For when a person becomes conscious of the G-dliness that permeates our world, he will no longer be involved with his petty needs and wants.

In this manner, the study of P’nimiyus HaTorah foreshadows the coming of the Redemption. For in that era, this mindset will spread throughout existence. Even the Torah studied in the present era is considered materially oriented when compared to the spiritual awareness that will characterize that era. And thus our Sages state[6] that the Torah of the present era is emptiness when compared to the Torah of Mashiach.

Nevertheless, the study of P’nimiyus HaTorah cannot exist on its own. Instead, it must be coupled with the study of Nigleh, the Torah’s external legal dimension. Otherwise, such study would be like a soul without a body, spiritual energy without attachment within this material world. On the other hand, the study of Nigleh without P’nimiyus HaTorah is like a body without a soul. Particularly in the era immediately before the coming of Mashiach, people who study Nigleh without P’nimiyus HaTorah prolong the exile.

Rav Chayim Vital notes that our Sages relate that before their deaths, Rabbi Yochanan[7] and Rabbi Abahu[8] were overcome with awe due to self-introspection. On the surface, they were both perfect tzaddikim, completely righteous men whose conduct was untainted. Why were they motivated to tears?

Because at the moment of utter truth, they became intensely aware of a level of soul — and a dimension of Divine service — which surpasses deed and action, to the extent that none of one’s deeds are of consequence. The study of P’nimiyus HaTorah makes one aware of this spiritual level and enables one to establish a connection with it.

Rav Chayim Vital then gives a historical perspective of the mystical tradition, explaining that, over the course of history, the numbers of those occupied in the knowledge of the Kabbalah have thinned. In the era preceding the coming of Mashiach, however, there will be a reversal of this trend, and there will be a profusion of those occupied in this wisdom. The deepest mystic secrets will be known to all, even to young children.

D) Appendix B: A Letter From the Rebbe Rashab

The Previous Rebbe also included a letter from the Rebbe Rashab in which he thanks G-d for enabling him to be sensitive to the changes affecting the young men in the Jewish community. For the study of worldly wisdom had pervaded the religious community; yeshivah students were reading secular books and were attracted to this approach. This tainted their study of the Torah and their approach to prayer.

The peer pressure among youth began to run contrary to the spirit of the Torah. When young men would come together, they would encourage decadence. Even those who possessed Torah knowledge were affected; indeed, their Torah became poison within them.

Some of these people became rabbis and educators who, out of their own misunderstanding, perverted others. Anyone whose heart had been touched by the fear of G-d was pained by seeing people being led to a harmful place. These “spiritual leaders” removed their beards, rejected the teachings of the Kabbalah, and advocated leniency with regard to Torah law.

It became obvious that everything depends on the leaders of the educational institutions. Will they have the strength to oversee the students and implant faith and spiritual vitality within their hearts? This was the impetus for founding the yeshivah. It was intended to be a place for study, but more fundamentally, a place “where faith and the fear of G-d will be rooted in [the students’] hearts, to illuminate them with the light of knowledge, so that they would know G-d, and know what G-d demands of them, serve G-d, walk in His ways, that the light of the Torah and its mitzvos shine in their midst so that they will merit, and they will cause others to merit.”

The yeshivah met success beyond all expectations. The students created a positive atmosphere which attracted others. The Rebbe Rashab concludes the letter with the wish that the Jewish community take upon itself the financial burden to support this spiritual undertaking.

E) Appendix C: A Letter From the Rebbe Rashab

The concluding letter in the Kuntres was written by the Rebbe Rashab several years after Kuntres Etz HaChayim was written. In it, the Rebbe Rashab explains the importance of the study of Chassidus and also the practice of darchei haChassidus, the unwritten norms of Chassidic conduct.

The Rebbe Rashab begins the letter by reiterating the importance of the study of P’nimiyus HaTorah as explained in Kuntres Etz HaChayim, stating: “A person does not fulfill his obligation to G-d by studying only the external dimensions of the Torah. For all the halachos of the Torah are enclothed in material matters, and the G-dly light is not apparent… and it is possible to forget about the Giver of the Torah.”

The letter goes on to explain that because the revealed aspects of Torah law are enclothed in material matters, such study can lead a person to become self-oriented. P’nimiyus HaTorah, by contrast, inspires a person to the love and fear of G-d, enables his prayer and Torah study to be permeated by these emotions, and empowers him to refine his body and his natural soul.

This is, the Rebbe continues, particularly relevant in our times. Indeed, we see that P’nimiyus HaTorah was revealed in the present generations although the people of the previous generations were far more refined. Why? Because without the study of P’nimiyus HaTorah, the spiritual darkness of our times and the low level of the souls would leave our people mired in material matters entirely.

From this abstract treatment of the subject, the Rebbe Rashab goes on to speak sharply of the dearth of genuine involvement in Chassidus:

There will be only one individual in a city who will be inspired to study Chassidus… and this too, only at select times, e.g., on Shabbos before prayer…. He will sit down alone, without a friend or companion and focus only on the external dimensions of the subject.… He will glance at the texts…, and immediately afterwards, the concepts will depart from his heart without any influence on the service within his heart [prayer].
Even when a person will be inspired to pray, he will not have anything… to meditate upon and to be the subject of his prayers.
The Rebbe recalls the self-sacrifice the earlier chassidim made to draw closer to P’nimiyus HaTorah. And he speaks about the obligation the chassidim have to the Rebbeim. “With what,” he asks, “are we mekusharim (bonded) to our Rebbeim if not in the study of P’nimiyus HaTorah?

The Rebbe goes on to explain the need for a focus on “the service of the heart — prayer,” that one’s prayer be a process of personal change. The fundamental element in this process is meditation, thinking deeply about Chassidus during one’s prayers. This will arouse the hidden love for G-d which every person possesses within his heart. And it brings about the refinement of a person’s emotional qualities, that a person not be so concerned with his material affairs.

The Rebbe continues, highlighting the importance of using Shabbos as a time for prayer and spiritual advancement. It used to be, he explains, that on Shabbos even businessmen and craftsmen would take time out to daven at length. At present, this is a rare phenomenon. Moreover, even those whose lives center on the Torah daven with the minyan instead of spending hours in a concentrated, meditative prayer.

At the core of this, the Rebbe explains, lies a new preoccupation with self, and a definition of one’s identity by the degree of financial success one can achieve. He calls for a focus on purpose: “Was a person created to eat, drink, and to do business? Each one of us must labor to find his purpose in the world.”

A person was created to search for something higher. Every element of creation seeks to be included in what is above it. Man was brought into being to unite with G-dliness. And yet, young men today are not conscious of this purpose. Not only do they neglect Divine service themselves, they mock those who make an effort to dedicate themselves to prayer.

The reason for this approach, the Rebbe explains, is a lack in the study of Chassidus. If they would study Chassidus in the desired way, their Divine service would also change, for one is dependent on the other.

In that vein, the Rebbe notes that several Lubavitch communities have established communal study sessions in the Talmud and its commentaries. While acclaiming the positive virtues of such efforts, the Rebbe clearly states that this is not the ultimate purpose. For the ultimate purpose of man, particularly in the era of ikvesa deMeshicha, the time when Mashiach’s approaching footsteps can be heard, is avodah, Divine service.

Our Sages[9] state that the world stands on three pillars: Torah study, avodah, and deeds of kindness. Our animal souls, i.e., our conscious selves, accept the performance of deeds of kindness. And they even agree to Torah study, for these activities do not disturb their fundamental thrust, it is only with regard to Divine service that there is a conflict.

In conclusion, the Rebbe Rashab requests that certain basic Chassidic norms be established within Lubavitch communities. First of all, Chassidus should be studied in shuls, even in small groups, or by chavrusas. For studying in public makes a statement and encourages others to join in these endeavors.

Also, a public Tanya shiur should be held between Minchah and Maariv, or directly after Maariv. The focus of the shiur should not be on the abstract, intellectual concepts which Tanya teaches. One should not seek to derive concepts from the precise wording used by the Tanya or other matters of this nature. If possible such study should be forbidden entirely. Instead the emphasis should be avodah, Divine service. Similarly, on Thursday night, Friday night (or Shabbos morning or Shabbos day), and Motzo’ei Shabbos, there should be classes in Likkutei Torah or similar texts. Every maamar should be studied at least twice, and some several times. It is also preferable that the chassidim gather together for study on another weekday night.

Efforts should be made to raise the funds necessary to maintain these shiurim. The rabbi, the shochetim, the teachers, and young men involved in study should be obligated to attend these sessions and should be penalized if they fail to come.

On Shabbos, after Minchah, Chassidus should be delivered by heart by the rabbi or by one of the members of the community who is capable of doing so. He should prepare the material himself first and share it with the others in a manner which will enable them to understand. And words from the heart will enter the heart.

Similarly, chassidim should gather together on all Chassidic festivals for farbrengens at which they will inspire each other to advance in Divine service.

The Rebbe concludes the letter with a prayer that G-d should enable the chassidim to appreciate the ultimate intent of the Rebbeim, that the light of their Torah shine in the inner dimensions of our souls, and that we should merit the coming of Mashiach.

III. Selfless Cooperation

Achdus, unity, was always one of the fundamental thrusts of Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim. Intellectually, the yeshivah taught that all existence revolves around G-d’s desire for a dwelling place in the lower realms. And the social climate of the yeshivah molded the students’ personalities to focus on the manifestation of this purpose.

In such an environment, self is not important. Concern about one’s own achievements is frowned upon. There is a higher purpose and a person’s greatest possible individual attainment is to play an active role in the fulfillment of that purpose.

Such a motif was also evident in the translation of this text. Several individuals collaborated — Rabbi Eliyahu Touger translated the text; Rabbi Aharon Leib Raskin supplied notes and research; Rochel Chana Schilder edited the text; Yosef Yitzchok Turner designed the layout and topography; and Rabbi Yonah Avtzon coordinated all of these efforts and prepared the text for publication. Nevertheless, there was never a sense of “I did this.” The focus was always on the project as a whole and the message it would communicate.

It is our hope that the study of the text will spur a similar thrust among our readers and unite them in the objective which lies at the heart of all the teachings of Chassidus: revealing how our world is G-d’s dwelling. May our efforts play a part in the achievement of this purpose, and help lead to the coming of Mashiach and the dawning of the Era of Redemption.

Pesach Sheni, 5758

   

Notes:

  1. (Back to text) The founding of the yeshivah was announced during the Sheva Berachos of the Previous Rebbe, the 16th of Elul, 5657 (1897). The yeshivah went through several growth stages in its first years. The name Tomchei Temimim was given Simchas Torah, 5659 (1898).

  2. (Back to text) See With Light and With Might (Kehot, N.Y. 5753).

  3. (Back to text) I Samuel 9:2, with regard to King Shaul, Israel’s first monarch.

  4. (Back to text) See Sichos Elul 29, 5741 which explain that anyone who has learned from a person educated in Tomchei Temimim shares a connection to the yeshivah.

  5. (Back to text) The printing in 5706 also included explanatory notes and references from the Rebbe, who as the Previous Rebbe’s son-in-law, headed Kehot Publications.

  6. (Back to text) Koheles Rabbah, beginning of ch. 2, 11:8.

  7. (Back to text) Berachos 28a.

  8. (Back to text) Talmud Yerushalmi, Avodah Zarah 3:1.

  9. (Back to text) Avos 1:1.


 Chapter I  
     Sichos In English -> Books -> Mysticism -> The Tree of Life — Kuntres Etz HaChayim

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