At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Thursday, March 30, 2006


Introductory note:
Even though I'm a cynic, there are times when I find myself inspired by a chassidische vort. One of the Chassidic masters whom I find particularly stimulating is the Sfas Emes. Today I had cause to mention him in an e-mail, and in the past I've also referred to his verter.
So, because I think that it is boffo stuff....., maybe you might too.
How then can I not share it?

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The Sfas Emes believed that learning is desirable, but is not for its own sake; it serves to accord us with the will of Hashem.

How so?
By being intelligent witnesses to the world that Hashem creates, by using our intellectual muscles to observe and consider the world, by acquiring knowledge, weighing and analyzing what we learn and experience, and striving in Torah – we will encounter the Presence wherever we are, and in everything we do. In other words, we gain knowledge so as to have the seichel to act consciously, and thus we may become aware of Hashem, despite the Hester Panim.

[Hester Panim = The veiling of the face, which refers to Hashem obscuring even the signs of his presence from our perception (the Rambam explains that we cannot describe Hashem, because Hashem is indefinable, and even describing attributes limits what we cannot limit). Were it not so, there would be no free will, the freedom to choose would not be ours, and we would not be zoche to choose wisely.]

The Sfas Emes, citing his heilige grandfather the Chiddushei HaRim, interprets psook 16:18 in Dvarim (parshas Shoftim) – "Shoftim ve shotrim titeinu-lecha, be chol sheariteicha, asher HaShem notein lach" (Judges and officers shall you appoint, in all the gateways (cities) which the Lord has given you), as a command to guard the gates to our awareness and monitor our senses, so that we do not see what we should not see, nor hear what we should not hear.

We have the ability and the intelligence to look the other way, as we standardly do when confronted with immodesty or something embarrassing.

B'yad achar, one's behaviour may at times demand discretion, but by the same token people should mind their own business - thus we shall not engage in lashon hara, nor be led astray by the example of others.

It is a matter of self-control, and such self-control also means self-knowledge.

The Sfas Emes opines that if you have learned much Torah, the insights thus gained will teach you to not take overmuch credit for yourself. Only one who knows a little pumps himself up over his accomplishments.

With that in mind, why should we fear what is new, or what contradicts our preconceived ideas?

Rather, with sound judgement, common sense, and a flexible mind, we should enthusiastically explore what we don't yet know.

As it says in Psalm 23, psook 23:4 "Gam kiyelech begei tzal movet, lo iro ra; ki Attah immodi, shivteika u mishanteika hemmoh yenachemuni" (Indeed, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for You are with me, Your rod and Your staff comfort me).

The Sfas Emes, again citing his grandfather the Chiddushei HaRim cautions that one should think before action (thus using judgement), and also afterwards (saying the appropriate blessings recalls the grace of the Hashem).

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The Medrash Rabba in discussing the first aliyah of Parshas Vaetchanan (And I Beseeched; Dvarim 3:23 - 7:11), quotes Rabbi Yochanan, who says "Torah uses ten different terms to describe prayer" – yet the term Tefillah is not one of them!

The Sfas Emes explains the ten terms that the Medrash lists as not being prayer itself, but the hachanos (preparations) for prayer – methods and advices (drachim va eitzos; paths and aids) with which one can reach a state of contact with Hashem.

Prayer is of two types: silent prayer, and prayer said aloud.

It says regarding Hannah in Shmuel (Samuel) 1:13 "Ve Chana hi medaveret al leiba rak, sfateiha na'ot, ve kola lo yishamea …" (And Hannah, that spoke in her heart, her lips moved, yet her voice could not be heard…). From this we learn that one may pray silently.

Eli, witnessing her thus, presumed her drunk, because he did not hear her speak, and was accustomed to spoken prayer, as was usual in that age (according to Rashi).

Many give voice when davening, but Chazal question whether one may even pray aloud, as loudness is equated with arrogance.
If the heart and the mind are both involved, what need is there for the tongue?
What matters is intent.
Tefillah, which does not involve an action affecting the world, is the one act which is absolutely pointless without kavanah.

Kler, nu?
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Sfas Emes = 'The Lips of Truth', so known after his magnum opus; Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter Ben Avraham Mordechai (b. 1847, d. 1905), second Gerrer Rebbe, grandson of the Chiddushei HaRim (Rabbi Yitzhak Meir), with whom he learned.

Aryeh Leib was a brilliant child, and when orphaned by the death of his father (Avraham Mordechai Alter), was raised and taught by his grandfather (the Chiddushei HaRim, first Rebbe of Ger), as is very evident in his commentaries, which often start with a thought from the Chiddushei HaRim.

His son, the Emrei Emes, escaped from the Nazis and rebuilt Gerrer Chassidus in Eretz Yisroel, where his descendants continue the tradition of their ancestor.

Chiddushei HaRim = 'The Innovativa of Rav Yitzhak Meir' (a bookname; the term chiddush means innovation); Rabbi Yitzhak "Feige" Meir Rothenburg Alter (1799 – 1866), the first Rebbe of Ger, who became a disciple of the Seraf of Kotsk (Rav Menachem Mendel of Kotsk, 1787 – 1859) while still very young. A descendant of Rashi and King David.
For more on the Sfas Emes visit and subscribe to the shiurim of Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff at:



  • At 10:20 AM, Blogger Balabusta in Blue Jeans said…

    "By being intelligent witnesses to the world that Hashem creates, by using our intellectual muscles to observe and consider the world, by acquiring knowledge, weighing and analyzing what we learn and experience, and striving in Torah – we will encounter the Presence wherever we are, and in everything we do."

    That's going up over my desk. Wow. Thank you!

  • At 4:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Shalom Lecholam

    My name is Lior Alafi, I'm from Israel and I live in Eindhoven. I'm working in ASML and that is the reason to my staying here.
    I what to pray whit you in the Beit-Kneset (synagogue). Please send me the address of the synagogue to my E-mail ""
    Toda-Raba for your cooperation.

  • At 10:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Appreaciate for the work you have put into this article, it helps clear up a few questions I had.


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