Hakhsharat Ha'Avreikhim--A Young Person's Spiritual Guide; Chapter Six, Part I: The tools to Make You a Person of Spiritual Feeling
by Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira (the Piaseszner Rebbe)
I interpolated a personal address to you in the preceding chapter. And now, even if you remember them, nevertheless, it is advisable that you review the earlier chapters, Chapters One through Four. Then skip Chapter Six and continue reading from here onward.
To sum up Chapters One to Four, your soul’s feelings and movements never cease—whether the fervor that your soul experiences in learning Torah, performing a mitzvah and being engaged in something holy, or its movements caused by its pain when you cut into it and strike it with your degraded thoughts, speech and actions. Those movements of your soul are within you constantly.
But either you are completely unaware of them or you do feel something, but you don’t know what it is—whether it is an impulse to go to the synagogue or the study hall, or an impulse to overeat and engage in other vanities of the world, And so you are drawn after these and engage in them.
And so I advised that you create an arena for intense focus and imagery for your feelings, where the sparks of your soul will be visible and be garbed, as a result of which they will maintain their existence. But do not begin by grasping at your small feelings, which you do not feel at all or only somewhat. Instead, begin with those that are large, and then the small ones as well will proceed from your soul to your mind and to your heart. They will coalesce and you will see them within you.
However much we explain and enumerate the necessity for empowered mindfulness and imagery of holiness in regard to spiritual feeling and sensitivity in general and in regard to divine worship in general, we will not fulfill our obligation. We can merely say, in brief, that without this worship of God is not possible—particular in the Hasidic manner. It is difficult for a person to rule over himself without such a powerful mental focus and holy feeling. A person cannot inspire himself with holy actions and to raise himself in a Hasidic manner if he lacks mental strength and imagery (or, as said above, mental strength, which is imagery).
I have previously cited the words of our tzaddikim who speak about powerful mindfulness and matters of devotion, that we can succeed in our devotion only when we have mental strength and holy imagery.
And now, having reached this point, I can add another point raised by Meor Veshemesh (Pinchas): “How can a person bring forth the sparks of his soul? By always giving himself over, body and soul, to God’s holiness—in performing a mitzvah or in learning Torah and praying, and in particular in the unification of Sh’ma Yisrael.
“And to clarify what this means: when a person is alive, he must eat and drink, but in truth he must direct all of his actions only for the sake of God, so that he may gaze on the pleasantness of Hashem, and his soul must thirst to taste that sweetness, that intimacy, that delight of divinity. And his entire life he must yearn: ‘When will I come to see the light of the countenance of the living King?’ And when a person is focused on that goal, when he is praying and removes his thought from this world, his soul tastes some sweetness, some delight form the supernal light, at that time. His soul yearns powerfully, with all its strength to cling to the supernal lights. And when he has such a driving desire, he cares nothing for his life, and if it were possible for him to leave his body behind and cling to the supernal light, he would be glad to do so. And his heart aches because his soul is connected to his body, which keeps him from rising and clinging to the supernal light. At tat time, his body too is purified because it yearns so greatly with a yearning that burns like a flaming fire to be like those supernal beings. His body too rises upward, and this does help him, even though when his prayers come to an end that yearning grows weaker—nevertheless, his body no longer tends toward any physicality. Instead, this person engages in devotion in all his actions—eating, and so forth. And if he constantly keeps an awareness of this desire, and every day strengthens himself to yearn to cling to God, then his body itself becomes spirit.”
You might say that such a level of devotion is beyond many of us. It is only for the tzaddikim of previous generations. But I said at the outset that we merely want to follow in their holy footsteps and roll in the dust of their feet, although we have not seen them nor their great holiness.
But keep this principle in devotion: when you read about or hear about some type of devotional service, and you tell yourself that this is beyond your capabilities, if you decline to engage in devotion because it is beyond you, you must be aware that this is your evil inclination that is trying to cast you away, heaven forbid. But if you say: This is beyond me. Therefore, I must seek some part of this devotional path so that I might have some connection to it and engage in it on my own level with all of my strength, no matter how diminutive, and may Hashem help me rise beyond my present state. That is from the good inclination and the path of serving God.
If anyone were to say that shofar blowing is beyond my spiritual capabilities, for it contains great mysteries that are much higher than my level and understanding, and so I won’t hear shofar blowing (heaven forbid)—yes, it is very great. Every mitzvah is very great. Nevertheless, everyone must do whatever he is capable of doing in thought, speech and deed. And the same applies to all manner of devotion.
And in Imrei Elimelech, the author writes in the name of his father the tzaddik of Maglenitza, who cited this in the name of his rebbe, the holy rebbe of Mezhibozh, that “whoever desires to serve God—at the very beginning of his journey, even though he is on a low level, he should have the thought that his devotion is necessary to raise God’s Presence from the dust. And he should not say, “who am I to come to such a high level?” In truth, it is every individual’s obligation to raise God’s Presence.”
We are not free of any type of devotion, but we must do what we can on our level, no matter how small.
And regarding the quotation from Meor Veshemesh, everyone knows that Hashem, the source of purity and holiness, transcending all names and titles, didn’t make him so that he could eat, drink and engage in physical activities, like a dog or a mouse—rather, that he should sanctify himself and grow closer to God—that is the purpose of his creation.
And when he considers the brief length of his days and that they will soon pass and the days of eternity will come, and he will remain in that world and that state that he had chosen in this world, whether like a lowly dog or mouse or on the highest of levels, in the vicinity of the Elevated and Holy One, amongst holy and pure souls and angels and seraphim.
When even a lowly person considers this, his entire body will tremble and his heart will burst.
But what counts is whether this person’s thought and imagery are powerful or not. If they are powerful, then his power thought and visualization that focus on and visualize this powerfully and with breadth influence his entire body to yearn at this moment at any rate to separate himself from the physical and to approach the divine and gaze upon the delight of Hashem, and his soul will thirst to taste sweetness, intimacy, the delight of the divine. And even if his yearning is not as great as that described in Meor Veshemesh, he at any rate is yearning, and his yearning affects him, and when he comes to pray his yearning grows, and little by little his body is refined and rises, to the degree that his thought and yearning are powerful.
But if his thought is weak, then even if he at first trembles, nevertheless even as he contemplates and trembles, the two are extinguished and are lost without any action or elevation.
When a person empowers his thought and visualization abilities for holiness and devotion, then in general all of his devotion from the very top plane to the lowest plane is completely transformed. For one thing, his ability is expanded and greater than that of another, for he can control himself more completely. He is able to sense the feelings of his soul. He is more capable of gaining a state of fervor to unveil his soul.
Even the simply devotion that everyone engages in—every word of prayer that he pronounces is different than that of someone else. For instance, don’t be like a person whose devotion is something abstract, something outside of himself and greater than he. Your devotion should exist right where you are. You are a tangible human being. And so your devotion must also be tangible within you around you and before you. If a person only engages in mental activity, using his mind to know God and to understand only the intellect Torah or kabbalah or Hasidism, than all of the service of his mind and heart are only in the realm of understanding. And when he says “Every knee bows to You,” or “Praise Hashem form the heavens, praise Him in the heights, praise Him all His angels ... all His host ... sun and moon .. All bright stars,” this only gives him understanding and knowledge. There are only words before him and he only understand what the words mean, since he has only used intellect and knowledge from his mind—meaning that his prayer and service remain merely on the level of knowledge and understanding, and so are beyond him, for he is in this tangible world of being, and his prayer is in the world of intellect and understanding, by itself.
However, that is not the case when you bring forth and strengthen your mind, visualization and feeling, so much that you can see them. Now your service is absorbed deeply into you, to become tangible, so that you can even see it. And when you say, “Every knee bows to You,” even if you only feel a slight emotion at this point, nevertheless, you will have a visual awareness of yourself together with the entire world bowing before God, and become totally subservient to Him. Similarly, when you recite “Praise Hashem from the heavens” with feeling, then you are standing and commanding the entire world, upper and lower beings who are literally before you: “Stand and praise and sing to Hashem together with us.”
This is not to say that you will see an image of angels before you, nor that you will see an image of the sun and moon if they are not there in front you in actuality, but your words, thoughts and feelings coalesce and become something tangible and you feel their tangibility so strongly until you see them. “To you, every knee bows”—how sweet is this phrase—you and all existence in the heavens and below on earth bow at this moment together to God.
And do not say, “If that is the case, this is merely the fruit of my imagination, that only in my imagination does it appear that all of us together, upper and lower beings, are bowing and prostrating ourselves, are singing and making melody together before Him, may He be blessed. But be silent and hear the words of the living God stated in the holy books, that a Jew, if he serves Hashem with the inspiration of love or another other trait, even if it only appears to him that he is inspired with genuine love, although it is not genuine, that is also good. Because the inner being of his holy spirit is truly aroused to Hashem, and only the bodily [spirit] hides it, and because the bodily [spirit] too is aroused, the concealment before it has already ceased, and [the arousal] is genuine from the aspect of the holy spirit within him. See Tanya part one chapter 44, and the introduction to Part Two of Shaarei Hayichud Veha’emunah, who brings in the name of the holy rabbi (may the memory of a holy tzaddik be for a blessing) on the verse, “my dove, my perfect one” (Song of Songs]), that the word for “dove,” yonah, is related to ona’ah, “imposition,” so that “every unification in serving Him, etc., even if imposed, is nevertheless perfect.” And so too in the above, it is not solely the fruit of your imagination, only that since indeed you see in your feeling and in your imagination that has been sanctified and strengthened, then it is truly, genuinely so, angels of God in the heights—all of them beloved, all of them clear, all of them holy, ophanim and holy chayot with great commotion, the sun and the moon, the earth and its fullness, and you in their midst say together and with one voice songs and praises to Hashem.
Also, the contemplation of giving one’s life to God during the recital of Sh’ma should not be merely a thought, but a tangible image and vision. The pyre burns before your eyes and you leap into it to sanctify God’s name. As we cited the holy words of Noam Elimelech’s Tzetl Hakatan earlier: “image and visualize...”—not only with a thought but with image and vision and that kind of willingness to give one’s all for God is considered to be actual, a tangible thought that fills your entire body with feeling, so that at times your body actually jumps as you mentally leap into the pyre.
When Hashem helps and you feel and you see, then you will realize that this is not a great level nor an elevation that is difficult to reach.
Be silent and take heed, and do not err. We have already cautioned you above that our intent is not that when you feel some feeling within yourself that you will then begin to soar in your mind and seek some image or another that fits this feeling of yours, heaven forbid. For as a result of this your feeling would change, and also because he images that come as a result of a search, are merely actions of the mind, but we want in this that Hashem will help us to the sight of the spirit that is higher than the mind. Only a sort of metaphor that the mind generates to compare one matter to another matter, a metaphor to the meaning of the metaphor, is what you imagine and generate in your mind. But we want to merit to reveal a spark of the sight of the students of the prophets within ourselves. And to this end, we must reveal and bring forth within ourselves a strong thought and image of holiness. We have quoted for you above holy texts how one must visualize holy sights as though they are before his eyes. A strong thought, not madichim illusions, and not empty illusions (fantasies) that have nothing to them, and that are far from the spirit of holiness will entice you, rather, visualizations of the spirit and sights of holiness will you arouse within yourself. And then when you are moved and your spirit hidden within you will be a little revealed, and extend a hand and foot into your mind and heard your heart, you will find the thought and holy visualization of the students of the prophets and you will see the sights of your emotions, even of your fervor.
For every person, in accordance with the power of his thought and his imagination, his feelings of themselves appear to him, whether at a time that he is frightened or at a time that he is joyful, when he is afraid, terrible thoughts and images appear to him, and when he is joyful, his thoughts and visions are merry. In every individual, in accordance with the measure of the strength of his thought, if it is great, then his thoughts are more clear and longer, and his visualizations are more numerous and more developed, and if his thought is weak, they too are weak and brief. And we already demonstrated above the relationship of thought to the actions of a person and how it [the thought] is revealed and developed by them [the actions], to the degree that old people, even when they cease engaging in their business activities and their crafts that they had been accustomed to, even then, every new feeling that occurs within themselves in the thoughts and visualizations of their actions that they had been accustomed to, do they see. That means that as a result of their previous actions, a commercial thought or craft-related, one or the other develops in them, until of themselves this thought and vision within them arises without any search after them. and how much more that you, who have a holy spirit within yourself, with a spark of the students of the prophets, that when you strengthen yourself, expand and spread out your holy thought, that all of the feelings of your holy spirit will appear and stand in thoughts and holy visions within you, and will, furthermore, increase to arouse you and to sanctify your body as well. And not only holy feelings, but there is also of the feelings of the mundane, your holy thought will awaken and show you visions of holiness, if you add and increase to strengthen it more, for the cohenet will not be like an innkeeper woman if the merchants and craftsmen in all feelings, even if they are not commercial and crafts-related absolutely, see the simple commercial and crafts-related visions of their spirit, how much more you in visions of holiness from every feeling that is sights of holiness will you see.
Yaacov David Shulman