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See the Light Hear the Light
by Rabbi Zvi Homnick

LIGHTS WITHOUT VESSELS

 

Long before I encountered Chabad Chassidus in any kind of meaningful way, I was preoccupied with the issue of personal authenticity.  How does one know if one's own feelings and motives are real or illusory?  Motive and intent are a huge factor in Divine service as indicated by the ruling of the Sages that “One should engage in (the study of) Torah and (the performance of) Mitzvos even shelo lishmah [lit. not for its own sake] because through shelo lishmah, he will come to lishmah [lit. for its own sake].” 

 

This would seem to suggest that if not for the fact that it leads to the ultimate attainment of lishmah, one would not be permitted to learn Torah and do Mitzvos with less than pure motives.  Although there  is some debate as to the exact definition of lishmah, the Rishonim (early post-Talmudic era commentaries) pretty much all agree that it means for Hashem's sake, motivated by love and/or fear of  Hashem, with no ulterior motives, up to and including spiritual reward in the World to Come.  This of course, emphasizes the importance of feelings and emotions which figure prominently in many commandments as in the commandments to love and fear Hashem. 

 

How does one attain love and fear of Hashem?  Even if one experiences feelings that are akin to love and fear, how does he know if they are real and not imagined?  If they are real, then how do you hold on to them?  Why is it that they seem to dissipate in such a short time?  I found these and other questions ever more pressing as I discovered at an early age that I seemed to have a propensity for intense emotional, seemingly spiritual, experiences.  I also caught on pretty quickly that these were not necessarily universal experiences and if I actually articulated what I was feeling, most people would think I was weird (and those who didn't warned me to keep it to myself). 

 

An example would be when during mincha on Erev Yom Kippur at age sixteen, I decided to focus on the idea that the vidui said at this time is because one might choke on a bone during the pre-fast meal and as such it would be one's final chance to confess one's sins and express the appropriate regret.  This “meditation” led to extremely intense feelings of repentance, to the point that I found myself sobbing uncontrollably through that rather long recitation of sins.  Since I was in a large Beis Medrash surrounded by hundreds of fellow yeshiva students, I cried silently covering my face with the siddur and trying to restrain my body from visible heaving and shaking.  When I finished, I saw that I was getting weird looks from the few people still left and that the pages of the siddur were thoroughly soaked.  I made sure to hide the siddur and avoid people's eyes for the rest of Yom Kippur, hoping that over the two-week Yom Tov break they would forget, and stop looking at me as a freak.

 

Since the people at the top of the yeshiva environment that I grew up in were not addressing these questions and most of my contemporaries seemed blissfully unconcerned, I only found myself feeling that much more alone and even questioning the soundness of my own mind and feelings.  What was even more painful was that each “spiritual high” seemed to lead only to another “spiritual crash.”  Within a few days of that Yom Kippur, I felt more spiritually devoid than ever.  As much as most people I knew seemed to have no need for or interest in wrestling with these matters, I felt the need to stir things up a bit, even if just to reassure myself of my own sanity.  So, I would often drop bombshell questions out of nowhere on unsuspecting friends and acquaintances.  In most cases it would just make people squirm, but occasionally it would elicit some really mind-blowing answers.

 

One such question that I used frequently was, “Do you love Hashem with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might and/or money?  After all, you repeat this commandment at least three times a day in the Shema.”  As I said, most people would just squirm and mumble something and try to get away from me as quickly as possible.  However, there were always those intrepid souls that tried to face the question head on.  One such fellow offered me the following response, “Of course I do.  Otherwise, why would I be sitting in yeshiva and learning when my wealthy father has a good job waiting for me whenever I decide to take it?” 

 

When I pointed out that trying to prove emotional feelings and purity of motive with rational proofs was itself an indication that he was completely out of touch with his emotions and motives, he seemed genuinely shocked and hurt (the other people present ratcheted up their squirming in a way that seemed to reflect the fact that they got my point but were feeling sorry for him).  I didn't know it at the time, but I was getting a first hand demonstration of an axiom posited by the Rebbe Rashab, namely that “only a Misnaged would say that he is acting purely for the sake of Heaven.”

 

It was only when I discovered Chabad Chassidus and started to find the answers to the questions that had plagued me for years, including all those mentioned heretofore, that I realized that what I had been suffering from until then was that even when I had a “spiritual experience,”  it was a revelation of “lights without vessels.”  Only when you can channel the “lights” into “vessels” can you know when your emotions and motives are genuine and proper, and only then can they have a long lasting effect even if they are no longer as intense.

 

LIGHTS THAT TALK

 

The primary function of light is to illuminate, and thereby facilitate an accurate perception of your physical self and the world around you.  Spiritual light serves a similar function in that it illuminates the spiritual reality, providing a whole new perception of reality including your own inner reality.  Based on this, we readily understand that the function of the Chanuka lights is to channel spiritual light into our physical reality, since we may not use them to provide light for our material activities.  This brings us to a puzzling aphorism of the Previous Rebbe cited by the Rebbe on a number of occasions:

 

“We have to listen to what the lights – the Chanuka lights - are telling us.”

 

Although the Rebbe expounded upon the actual message being communicated by the lights on a few occasions (see talks at children's Chanuka rallies 5738 and 5739: appendices to Likkutei Sichos vol. 20), the question remains as to why is the message of the Chanuka lights presented as an aural one rather than a visual one?  In fact, Chassidus explains that what one takes in visually has a far greater impact, as well as unquestioned veracity, as opposed to what one hears from the outside.  Additionally, lights by definition exist to serve the faculty of sight and “we are not permitted to make use of them [the lights of the Menorah] but only to look at them,” so what does it mean when we say that the “lights are telling us” anything?

 

A similar question arises regarding the role of the faculty of hearing in a statement made by Moshe Rabbeinu to the Jewish people after forty years in the desert as they were about to enter the land.  He informed them that Hashem would be less accommodating of their misdeeds than He was of their forbears, since “And Hashem did not give you a heart to know, eyes to see and ears to hear, until this very day.”  Rashi explains this in light of the Talmudic adage that a person does not fully apprehend the mind of his Rebbe, in this case an analogy for Hashem Himself, until after forty years have passed.  The Rebbe began citing this verse repeatedly in the year 5750, forty years from the passing of the Rebbe Rayatz, repeatedly driving the point that now we do have “a heart to know, eyes to see and ears to hear.” 

 

In the sicha of Vayeitzei 5752, the Rebbe says, “Now the only thing needed, as mentioned, is that we have to open 'the heart to know,' and open 'the eyes to see,' and open 'the ears to hear'...for the study of Pnimiyus HaTorah as it was revealed in Toras HaChassidus and fulfilling the directives of our Rebbeim, including – learning about matters of Geula, in a manner that it should open the heart, eyes and ears – so that we should understand, see and hear, simply and literally in the physicality of the world, the True and Complete Redemption in literal actuality...”  The question is, if you already understand and see, what can the ability to hear add to apprehending the “mind of your Rebbe/Hashem,” or to appreciating the Redemption in a way that comprehension and seeing cannot satisfy?

 

LIGHTS IN VESSELS 

 

The normal order of progression when acquiring information in the realm of ideas is first to “hear,” which means to become aware of a given idea, and then to “see,” to clarify if in fact it is correct, and only then to “know” or understand.  However, when internally processing a new idea, the order is reversed.  Only after you truly “know” and understand something can you then proceed to “see,” which means to alter your perception of reality based on this idea, and then proceed from there to “hear,” to make this new perception an integral part of your conscious awareness.

 

“You have been shown to know that the Lord is G-d; there is none else aside from Him.”  Moshe recounts for the people about to enter the land what transpired forty years earlier at the giving of the Torah.  The people went through the ultimate perception altering experience, seeing and knowing that there is no other reality outside of Hashem.  And yet, they are described as not having a heart to know, eyes to see and ears to hear until forty years later, because they were still in the student stage of learning, which is primarily the acquisition of information and ideas, and trying to properly understand what they were taught. 

 

It is only after a forty year process that one has the requisite tools to fully and properly process those ideas internally.  Thus, the earlier generation could be forgiven for such terrible things as constructing a golden calf a few weeks after the greatest Divine revelation ever, because it had not fully transformed their perception of reality nor become an inherent component of their consciousness.  The new generation, on the other hand, although most had not experienced the intense revelations of the Exodus and Mattan Torah firsthand (as souls in bodies), will be held to a higher standard of behavior since now Hashem has given you “a heart to know, eyes to see and ears to hear.”  You now have the means to channel the “lights” into your own internal “vessels.”

 

“The Alter Rebbe set up a system for Anash of avoda with the mind, and to seek out the emes, to critically examine one's every move that it be in accordance with the emes, and this comes through avoda” (HaYom Yom 20 Adar I).  In order to achieve true authenticity and genuineness in your inner, intellectual and emotional world, and have that translate itself into your every move, you must do the work of the mind to “know,” seek out the emes to “see,” and critically examine your every move to “hear.”  This is the work of a lifetime as he concludes there, “It is true that to achieve this calls for great and intense effort, meaning simply to study a great deal of Torah and to comprehend it – each according to his ability – and then Hashem will help him that he will be in accordance with the emes.”

 

The same is true of the lessons of Chanuka.  It is not enough to know and understand the inner significance of the events that transpired long ago, or even the lessons we can learn from them for our times such as the power of the pure light of the Jewish soul, and the pure light of Torah and Mitzvos, to overcome even the greatest darkness.  It is not even sufficient to internalize those lessons to the point that you successfully alter your perception of reality, so that you actually “see” how nothing and no one can stand against that light.  “We have to listen to what the lights – the Chanuka lights - are telling us.”  We need to “hear” it, to make it part of our very consciousness, so that it affects the way we experience and confront any and every challenge, and drives our conviction that we must continue to increase in light each and every day. 

 

Any parent or educator of a gifted child not living up to his potential can tell you that even if you have successfully conveyed to that child the extent of his talents so that he “knows” what he is capable of, and have successfully demonstrated it to him so that he “sees” what he is capable of; the hardest thing is to get him to “hear” it, to actually sense and experience himself in that way.  That is why there are so many adults who look back at their childhood years with regret, because “back then I couldn't 'hear' it.”

 

In our times, the Rebbe is telling us that after forty years we have the necessary tools and abilities to “apprehend the mind of the Rebbe,” and to “understand, see and hear, simply and literally in the physicality of the world, the True and Complete Redemption in literal actuality...”

 

“Now the only thing needed, as mentioned, is that we have to open 'the heart to know,' and open 'the eyes to see,' and open 'the ears to hear'...for the study of Pnimiyus HaTorah as it was revealed in Toras HaChassidus and fulfilling the directives of our Rebbeim, including – learning about matters of Geula, in a manner that it should open the heart, eyes and ears ...”

 

May we soon merit to “know,” “see” and “hear” the lights of the Menorah in the Third Beis HaMikdash, as well as the Torah of Moshiach with the True and Complete Redemption, immediately, NOW!

 

 


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