An Aspiring Mekubal

The confessions of a Rabbi and would be mystic

Rav Morgenshtern on the Parasha

Rav Morgenshtern

The Heights of Hesed: Rav Yaakov Hillel on the Parasha

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Nekudot HaKesef- Book Review

NekudotFor the past year I have been using a little known book called Sefer Nekudot HaKesef by Rabbi Yechezkel Bing.  It is a step by step introduction to the Kavvanot.  I had seen the book laying around on book shelves for years but I’ve never had more than a passing interest in it.  I had always figured that the method for learning Kavvanot that had been around until now was still the best, namely intense study with the Shaar Hakavvanot, Shemen Sasson and Petach Enayim.  All that changed when someone gave me a set of Nekudot HaKesef.

I was offered a set(a full five volumes) for ten shekel if I would agree to learn from them.  I agreed and initially started to learn through volume three(Erev Shabbat) with my Chavruta.  In very short order I was quite impressed.  First with the scholarship involved, it really is an immense work.  Secondly with how exhaustively it deals with the various Kavvanot.  For a single sefer(even a large multivolume set) it does a quite splendid job of reviewing most of the pertinent sources and presenting them in a logical and understandable way.

It should be noted that the sefer does not seek to be an iyun sefer.  You are not going to find within it a heavy dose of pilpul(dialectic).  Rather it presents the Kavvanot according to a single overall shita, namely that of Yeshivat Shaar HaShamayim.  Not surprising considering that the author(now a Rosh Yeshiva in his own right) was a Talmid Muvhak of the late Rosh Yeshiva of Shaar HaShamayim.  In that respect there are some places that deviate from typical minhag Beit El(I have found five to date) and even from the opinions of the Sadeh(four to date).  However if one studies it with Shaarei Rachamim, Peot HaSadeh or Petach Enayim they will be readily evident, and in truth they are rather minor.   More impressively I have learned through three volumes and have only found two(minor) mistakes.

I was even more impressed when I heard from a friend of mine who learns there that Yeshivat HaChaim VeHaShalom(Rabbi Attiah’s Yeshiva) has begun using them for their beginner course in Kavvanot.  In my opinion they really are written on that level.  Personally, having been to University, I look at them as more or less University text books on the Kavvanot.  That would be both their level of scholarship and their usefulness.  They lay out each Kavvana with it’s various sources and boil it down to how it appears in the siddur, while also giving a healthy dose of background information as to reasons behind the kavvana.

Overall I would say that is an incredibly good sefer to have and to use and it is very close to being in the category of a must have.

Rav Morgenshtern on the Parasha

Rav Morgenshtern

Perfection Through Milah: Rabbi Yaakov Hillel on the Parasha

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Kabbalah Vs Chassidut: From the Mail Bag

Open book magic on blackI got the following email, and I thought I would share it as I have heard this question several times, and there are probably others out there wondering the same thing:

How do I respond to a friend who favors “chasidut” and says that kavanot is just this fancy thing way out there.  He always likes to recite the story of the 2nd and 3rd Lubavitch Rebbes where one says I have kavana of child and the other says I had one of shtender during tefilah.  In other words, he claims simplicity is best.  He claims who ever discusses the “zip codes” to Hashem has gaavah.
 At same time I now make sure I don’t mention certain subjects around him ie taanit of shovavim or other non-chasidic matters.  (Funny thing is that a large portion of chasidim show up for the taanit at Rabbi X’s in Brooklyn during Shavavim).
First let me say that Kabbalah and Chassidut are not mutually exclusive paths.  Four Yeshivot that spring to mind that defy this dichotomy are Shaar HaShamayim founded by Rav Yehuda Leib Auerbach, then son of the Admur of Chernowitz-Chmielnik Chassidim and heir apparent to the dynasty.  Yeshivat Torat Chakham under Rav Morgenshtern, Yeshivat Divrei Shalom under Rav Bing and Yeshivat Magen Avot under Rav Elazar Mordechai Koenig leader of the Breslav community in Tzefat.  Also there is Rav Ginsburg, who if I am not mistaken has learned Kabbalah in depth and teaches the Kavvanot of the Rashash.  I am sure that there are others that I am not thinking about.  Therefore I would have to say that I believe that your friend’s understanding of both Chassidut and Kabbalah is quite immature, and he may have suffered some unqualified Rabbanim instructing him.
Regarding the stories of the two Admurim, one they are Admur stories…  they are not necessarily true.  However even if they are what they mean becomes a matter of interpretation.  I wish I had the Kavvana of a child.  My own young children will often get so engrossed in a book or a game that even shouting their name, they will not be disturbed.  Likewise I doubt that there is anything as single minded, so to speak, as a shtender.  So one could interpret the story as regarding simplicity or one can interpret it regarding single-mindedness.
He may claim that the Kavvanot are Gaavah.  In truth they can be, for some individuals they may very well be, however, I would say that to think that one knows better than centuries of Israel’s greatest sages is a far greater gaavah.  The Shovavim are also a very Chassidic thing.  All of the major Chassidic groups in Israel fast and do the tikkun of the Rashash throughout the Shovavim.

The Reason for the Kavvaont Part 1

qqxsgKabbalahMadonnaA common question is why the Kavvanot?  Why spend so much time learning how to pray and saying these really long prayers?  Isn’t the normal prayer service enough?  There are a couple of sources that beginners in the world of Kabbalah learn that answer those questions.  This first one is from the Zohar, Parashat Hukat 184a:

Rabbi Shimon said, here something needs to be revealed.  Come and see, every one that knows to order his deeds, meaning to arise, to relieve himself, to wash his hands, to put on talit and tefillin ect properly and his prayers properly, namely all four sections of the prayers, korbanot, pisukei d’zimra, yotzer and Amidah, he will certainly arouse the Holy One Blessed be He to send down supernal blessing and sustenance of which he is worthy, and if he does not know how then he is not worthy.

If this is so all the world knows how to arranger their actions and their prayers, what then is the importance of these tzadikim that know the essence and source of the prayers and mitzvot, and know how to focus their hear and will more than those who do not know how?

Rather those that do not know the essence and source of the mitzvot, rather they merely do them and nothing more, they draw down upon them a drawing from the back, so to speak, of the Holy Blessed be He it does not change the atmosphere, this is called hashgacha clallit which in itself is necessary for the continued sustenance of  the world.

Whereas these that know and focus their hearts and will, they bring forth blessings from the supernal mind, and they come forth in all the types and sources of light in a straight path as is fitting, until everything above and below is blessed, and the name of the Holy one is blessed by them.  Happy is their portion, for the Holy One Blessed is He is close to them and dwells among them.  When they call out to him He answers them, and when they are in trouble He is with them.  He honors them in this world and in the world to come.  This is what is written, “For he has yearned for Me and I will deliver him; I will elevate him because he knows My Name.”

So we see there is more than just a quantitative difference there is a qualitative difference as well.

From Yosef to Yosef…

Rav Ovadia Funderal 1There are events that happen in a person’s life that become like snapshots of time.  One will always remember where they were on 9/11, at least if they are American, as one instance.  I think I will always remember where I was when Rav Ovadia Yosef passed from this world.  I was providing after care for Brit.  We were quite happy, it was a Simcha, and the Brit was a complete success.

My normal morning routine had been interrupted by emergency prayers for Rav Ovadia.  Listening to the reports, I knew that we would need a miracle, however it was still unexpected.  I heard one news commentator say that Rav Ovadia was like a father and a grand father to all Israel.  That was what his passing reminded me of.  When my own ailing father passed from this world.  It wasn’t a surprise as much as it was a shock.  So long as there is life there is hope.  Then suddenly there is none.

I didn’t know Rav Ovadia personally, aside from the times that I pested him with questions, I never learned from him directly.  However most the Rabbanim I have had in my life, both Ashkenazi and Sephardi have learned from him.  Therefore in a certain extent he is a grandfather, in Torah, to me.  Several of my Rabbanim say that when Rav Ovadia granted them Semikha he would say, “I’m not giving you Semikha so that you can make chumrot, I am giving you Semikha so you can decide halakha, if you want to make chumrot give it back.”  Personally I think that pretty much sums up Rav Ovadia’s entire halakhic approach.  It was about making Torah, and more importantly Torah observance accessible to the people.  He was the people’s Rav.  Now the sun has set and we are left like orphans.

Dear Christian readers…

While I have been gone, you have been quite active.  I appreciate the sincerity of your concern of the state and fate of my immortal soul.  I appreciate that you apparently want me to spend eternity with you.  However, I would appreciate it if you would keep such concern kindly to yourselves.  A couple of cogent points on the matter.

First my blog is for discussing my own journey within a stream of mainstream Judaism.  It may be a path less followed but it is still within the realm of mainstream Judaism.  I really don’t want, and so will not allow topics, especially theological, that do not fit within those boundaries.

Second it is my comment policy to not discuss things that are outside the purview of the post, and the further outside the less likely they are to be considered at all.

Third I do not want a “Jerry Springer” blog on which people bitterly bicker and fight.  While I appreciate the depth of your convictions, I would also ask that you respect the depth of my convictions and those of my mainstream Jewish readership.  These kinds of discussions are the closest thing to an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object that you can find in dialogue, and I don’t want that kind of chaos on my blog.

Finally I understand that some of you may really enjoy those kinds of arguments.  May I thus suggest that you would be better served by visiting one of the many blogs dedicated to such discussion.  Take Jews for Judaism for example, I am sure that they would like to entertain your comments and proofs.  What’s more, if you manage to convince them I promise that I will blog about it.

Rabbi Yaakov Hillel Yom Kippur Drash

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