Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Torah Lishmah

Posted on A Simple Jew Received via e-mail from Bob Miller:

The concept of Torah Lishmah came up in discussion in my shul yesterday. I'd like the readers of "A Simple Jew", and any frequent contributors who are willing, to comment on this question:

To what degree does Torah study "lishmah" mean one or more of these?

1. Study to understand the subject matter as deeply as possible - YES

2. Study to become closer to HaShem - YES

3. Study for the sake of HaShem's glory - YES

4. Study to be able to practice mitzvot properly (or at least to know how, in the case of mitzvot that the Jew can't personally do because the Beis HaMikdash isn't operating, or he's not a Kohen, etc.) - YES

The Shela (Shnei Luchos HaBris) says all this: See Shela Maseches Shavous 34-35

Lishma means to fulfill what Hashem commanded us as in "And you shall teach them", and as we say in the Ahava Rabba (Ahavat Olam) Bracha LeHavin LeHaskim, Lilmod ulelamed, lishmor vela'asos ulekayem,
to understand and comprehend, to learn and teach, to safeguard and fulfill all the words of Your Torah!

The Shela's prayer - How great it would be if when we opned the sefer we would say:
"I wish to learn so that I will have Ma'ase, Midos Yehsaros, Yidiyus haTorah = the Talmud will cause me to act, and have positive character traits and knowledge of Torah and I am doing this Leshem Yichud Kudshab Brich Hu uShechintay - to unify the aspects of the Holy One B"H and the Shechina - Divine Presence."

"This is Torah liShma"

5. Study for any other reason (give details) -

The Chassidic / Kabbalastic answer is that Lishma stands for Le'shem H"a, for the sake of the final letter Hay in Hashem's four letter name in order to re-unite the name. See Patach Eliyahu from Tikkunei Zohar found in most Nusach Sefard siddurim before Shacharis. There are many quotes in Chassidic seforim for this. See for example Noam Elimelech to Parshas Mishpatim vechi yantizu anashim - which is also available as a free streaming MP3 audio class from us here.

What is Chassidus?

To best answer the complex question of what is Chassidus? Let us turn to one of the earliest masters (3rd generation after the Baal Shem Tov) and see what he, himself answered. We will try and post a selection each week so please come back and see more...

This collection of customs was hand written by dictation of the Rebbe Reb Melech of Lyzhansk (Lizansk) by his son Rabbi Elazar. It was sent in a letter to one of the Rebbe's followers admonishing him for believing that righteousness and piety was achieved by reciting certain psalms and through certain shallow actions.

The Rebbe Reb Melech had his son write these customs to serve as an example of what a Jew should due to attain the true path of sincere service of Hashem. As opposed to the Tzeital Katan, Hanhagos HaAdam contains many customs that are not distinctly Hasidic in nature. They have been translated to serve as a guide and as a glimpse into what the Rebbe expected of his followers.

(Again we stress that not all concepts and customs here are meant for today's generation. A person who wishes to act upon and take the Rebbes advice is urged to consult with his personal Rabbi before doing so.)

Hanhagos HaAdam (The customs of Man) from Rebbe Elimelech of Lyzhansk

These are the things that man shall do and live by.

1. The primary responsibility is to learn Gemara and the commentary Rashi and the Tosafos (The Talmud with the medieval commentaries of Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki and the Tosafist commentaries). Each one should learn according to his understanding. Afterwords learn the Jewish law from the poskim - the codifiers, beginning with the section Orach Chaim from the Shulchan Aruch, the section on daily living found in Rabbi Yosef Karo's set table, the primary code of Jewish law.

You should pray to Hashem blessed is he to come to the realization of truth. This is because the sins of Adam's youth blind the eyes from seeing, even if you can learn well and teach others the law, you yourself may forget and not live by the truth fulfilling these precepts. Therefore you should feel great sorrow over your sins and seclude yourself in meditation (hisbodedus) early before dawn, which is a time that is beneficial to pray and mourn the exile of the Divine presence the Shechinah.

Cry many innumerable times over this and shed tears. You should also seclude yourself meditating on your sins during the daytime as well. Remember your sins, iniquities and transgressions as if they were large hills and mountains as if you never imagined how terrible they really were. Do this not once, not twice, not one hundred times until there is Divine mercy and Hashem has pity on you. Pray to Hashem that He should guide you on the correct path of life so that your life not be wasted. He will enlighten your eyes with illuminating light of the holy Torah and you will truly understand it in order to live and fulfill these precepts.

Translation from my upcoming Noam Elimelech in English soon to be published by Targum Press. Copyright by the translator.

Sunday, June 3, 2007


How do we define chassidus? Is it piety, going beyond the letter of the law - lifnim mishuras ha'din? (le-havdil) Is it a philosophical movement like neo-platonism and existentialism? Is it a sub-culture like alternative rock? What is chassidus today? Has it changed since the Baal Shem Tov? What do I want from chassidism and what does it have to offer me? Is chassidus a new idea or an ancient one? What did the Baal Shem Tov add or change?
Food for thought we will try to explore some of these ideas in up-coming posts...