Haksharat Ha'avreikhim--A Young Adult's Spiritual Guide--Chapter Three: To Experience Feelings and to Be a Feeling Person
by Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira (the Piaseszner Rebbe)
Even if you have not yet attained hitlahavut (fervor), if you can fill yourself with feeling, that is the beginning of the manifestation of your soul upon which God’s light shines from above.
Your feelings of delight and holiness that occur when you pray, serve God and learn Torah, that flash of a spark of delight and those holy flames come from your portion in Gan Eden that you will feel then when you sing and learn Torah, yearning for God, and God will come to rejoice in Gan Eden with the tzaddikim and you.
The Hasidic masters found an allusion to this in the words, “You shall see your world in your lifetime” (Berachot 17). You can see your future world even while you are still alive. The feeling and delight that you experience as a result of serving God in this world is an illumination that comes from your upper world.
The Zohar teaches, “Rabbi Shimon said ... The food of the world to come exists in this world in a very small measure. And the power of that food of the world to come that exists in this world may be found in the sweetness of the Torah” (Zohar Chadash, B’har).
And we learn in Beit Aaron (Sh’lach), “Although this world and the world to come are diametrical opposites, they are connected to each other. As people, ‘If you have this world, then you have the world to come as well.’”
“Having this world” doesn’t refer to eating and drinking and other desires, but rather, when a person has the world to come even in this world, when he tastes the world to come in the mitzvot (coming to him through a hidden light), then he will experience the same thing in the world to come. But a person who does not have a taste of that in this world will not be able to taste it in the world-to-come.
If you are praying and serving God, yet your prayer and service do not rise in holy flames, if you want to be inspired so that at the very least you will be filled with feeling, so that you will not pray coldly and dryly but with vitality, yet you are not succeeding, do not stubbornly demand that you must grow inspired. It is human nature that when a person stubbornly tries to attain something, he can trigger the opposite of what he wants. If he wants to remove a bad thought, it begins to pursue him. If he wants to draw close a good thought, it grows hard for him to grasp, or he cannot hold on to it and it falls apart.
If you stubborn insist that your prayer and service of God must be inspired, must be fervent and filled with feeling, it is likely that your heart will grow so dulled that you will be astonished at yourself. “How can it be? Before I started praying, I felt sparks of inspiration. I imagined that flames of holy fire would take hold of me. But now that I have begun praying and performing mitzvot, there is no fire and no flame. I cannot even sense my heart.”
But you who yearn for God, do not be afraid. Do not be deterred by this, you who desire God’s holiness. This is human nature, and to overcome it we must make use of all sorts of stratagems.
When you are serving God simply, accompany your service with a simple thought. Have in mind the following: “I am a servant of God. My Torah learning, prayer and performance of mitzvot serving God are portions of the divine. I cling to God not only with the intellectual aspect and study of Torah, because the Torah is the knowledge of God and His will (cf. Chovat Hatalmidim, chapters 9 and 12). The actual performance of mitzvot and the words and letters of Torah and prayer are Divine Names, sefirot and holy angels from a supernal holiness. When I pronounce them, God and His holy chariots pass through me. And I am responsible to connect myself and cling to this supernal holiness, which grows tangible and is drawn down into me.”
When you believe this and bear it in mind with a simple faith and strong thought, from this itself you will receive vitality.
The holy text cited before states on Shabbat Shuvah: “When a Jew acts, he must feel in his deed a life-force and a flavor that lasts for a long time. Even if you are only like an ox to the yoke and a donkey to the burden, this too should be a source of pleasure to you: that you are able to do God’s will like an ox to the yoke and like a donkey to the burden. And when you derive pleasure from this, then you will taste it, with God’s help.”
With this you will understand that there is no contradiction in the words of our holy tzaddikim (heaven forbid) regarding something that may have already troubled you. On the one hand, the holy texts caution us at length that all divine service, Torah learning, prayer and mitzvot must be carried out only with vitality, feeling and passion, and that is one’s portion in Gan Eden. But in other places, the holy texts state that a person shouldn’t serve God in order to attain this passionate intensity. Instead, he should engage in simple service of God. In those holy texts, we learn about shavuot [?], “When you pray, do not seek passionate intensity. Just take care to put yourself into the words and service, and the intensity will come of itself.”
To explain: this passionate intensity is the core issue. Yet when you are praying do not seek it, do not focus stubbornly on it. Only serve God simply and then it will come of itself.
We do not comprehend and understand the heights of the meaning in the holy words of these masters. But on our level, it means as follows: when you pray, do not seek passionate intensity and the like. A person doesn’t always get what he stubbornly insists on, and sometimes he can even arouse the opposite of what he wanted. Rather, only serve God simply. Then the passionate intensity will come to you of itself.
And now you may ask: “What should I do if that passionate intensity doesn’t come of itself? At first, I thought that I should stubbornly insist on it, and, almost as if in spite, it remains hidden from me. Yet now that I am not stubborn about it, it still remains hidden. So is there nothing I can do, heaven forbid? Has God pushed me away from Him, heaven forbid, so that I cannot hear His words and I will serve Him be with a closed mind and a dulled heart?”
Here I will respond to you in brief. Shlomo Hamelech proclaims in his holiness, “The beginning of wisdom is to acquire wisdom” (Proverbs 4:7). The Torah is like a hammer that splits a rock, and a spark reaches every part of our limbs—every crevice and crack in his body and soul—and it illumines their darkness.
On our level, this verse simply teaches the following. A person can’t use some piece of intelligence without acquiring it. It must be his, so that he is intelligent. Even if it were possible to insert some particular intelligence into a boor, since it is not his and he is not intelligent, he only has this particular bit of knowledge, but he cannot act on it and use it. He cannot analyze this nor any other piece of intelligence in order to understand it. Only when he himself becomes intelligent can he make use of this intelligence, and only then can he gain intelligence so that at any moment he can comprehend any topic that he wants to understand.
What happens with our emotions is similar. We cannot feel any emotion, unless we are emotional, unless we are people who can experience feelings. Even when it comes to physical matters in which a person is almost totally immersed and which affect him a great deal, not everyone experiences them in the same way. One person responds emotionally to every little thing. Every slight concern makes him worried and frightened. Anything positive, even some slight positive assurance, makes him happy. Also, his worry and joy are intense. When he is worried, he is completely bitter and upset. And when he is happy, he is so filled with emotion that he practically jumps out of his skin. And the same holds for other emotions: he easily is angered and he easily feels compassion for others. Such a person cannot merely be called an angry person, a depressed person, a happy person or a compassionate person, because he gets emotional about anything and its opposite. We can call him an “emotional person” who is easily swept away by everything.
Then there is the opposite: a person with a cool spirit, hard as a rock, who doesn’t easily feel emotion, and even then only to a small extent.
Even the animal spirit of a Jew is a vehicle for his divine soul. The essence of that animal spirit comes from the level of the face of the ox upon the divine throne. When we serve God with energy and effort, these themselves are transformed into holiness (as we learn from the holy texts). So our service, a holy service of God, depends upon our animal spirit and human nature. Noam Elimelech teaches that we can even bring the heat of the evil inclination into holiness, whereas it is difficult to bring the evil inclination of coldness into holiness. Also (as I cited at the beginning of Chovat Hatalmidim, in addressing teachers and parents), R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi states in his commentary on the siddur that a person who is naturally volatile in his heart is susceptible to attaining a passionate intensity with fiery flames of yearning. It is difficult to arouse a degree of interest in someone for serving God unless his nature is prepared for it, but if it is not, his service of God is more difficult. And a volatile person is more liable to reach such a passionate intensity than a person with a cold spirit.
R. Shneur Zalman writes there only of yearning and of how it ascends so high: “the fiery flames of yearning.” Therefore, he speaks of the nature of a hot-tempered person, who is naturally inclined to come to [such an elevated state], for although a hot-tempered person’s heat leads to anger, he can also use that heat to rise to an elevated yearning that rises to God like a flaming fire.
But [I am not addressing] such a state. As I previously said, I wish to inspire at least the beginning of a movement of your spirit, an initial fluttering of its feathers, a beginning of feeling and emotion. Not only a particular fervor and elevated fiery inspiration, but everything—your will and traits—depend on [that beginning], so that you will not only realize intellectually that you have to desire being able to fear and love God, but that you will in fact be filled with emotion in your desire, awe and love.
And so I will not limit myself to speak only of the nature of a hot-tempered person, but of emotion in general: including anger and compassion, weeping and joy, for [such emotion] prepares you for [spiritual] inspiration.
And so now we come to learn how, with the help of He Who arouses the slumbering, we can become emotional people. 
Even if someone mistakenly claims that fervor in serving God is optional, something reserved for the elite, and even if you can persuade yourself that you can be a fine young Hasid without fervor (even though I personally can’t conceive how you could be a Hasid without fervor, which is the first step of Hasidism, the path of the prophets)—still, at least everyone understands that if you lack feeling—which signals the beginning of the arousal of your soul—you can’t be called a Hasid.
Not only that, even to be an ordinary pious person is impossible if you only invest your intellect: i.e., thinking, this is good and the other is bad, I should do “a,” I shouldn’t do “b.” If you serve God with your intellect alone, so that you know only intellectually that you are supposed to fear God and love Him as well as His Torah, His commandments and His children (the nation of Israel), but you don’t have any emotional connection to this, you are very much like a person trying to influence someone else who lacks intelligence and is attracted to everything mean and harmful. And not only does this other person (really, this other aspect of yourself) fail to feel anything when it comes to goodness and holiness, but to the contrary he is aroused by ugly things, by bestial physicality, and is drawn to them irresistibly.
Influencing yourself intellectually is like a father trying to control his unbalanced son. Can a father with a healthy mind supervise an insane son constantly, day and night, a son who at every moment is eager to destroy, and who, as soon as his father looks the other way for a moment, will turn the entire house into a shambles?
In the same way, there is no way that you can control yourself with your intellect alone, if you and your feelings have not yet entered the realm of holiness but remain as physical as a dog or a rodent. Even when you are sleeping and your intellect is at rest, don’t you have to be a Jew then too? And how can you control yourself then if even an alert person cannot control an insane person with constant vigilance?
Worse than that, if you try to control yourself through your intellect, in the end not only will your mind not rule over you and your physical feelings, to the contrary, they will rule your mind and pervert it so that it considers bad to be good and vice versa.
The verse states, “A man considers the way he acts as justified” (Proverbs 21:2). Why does a thief justify his evil ways? Why doesn’t he understand a simple thing that everyone understands? The reason is that his being and evil drives have perverted his clarity of mind.
The hairs of my head stood on end when I heard old Hasidim complaining that they cannot withstand their temptations, not even those that they had conquered in their youth. The reason is as stated: in their youth, they served God only intellectually. They didn’t propose to improve themselves and their feelings and to use them for good and holiness. Instead, they only restrained themselves, they only held themselves back from destructive passions. Once they grew old and weak, their ability to restrain themselves back weakened. They no longer suffered from passions that also grew weak due to their physical infirmity. But of those passions that have not been very much weakened, they continued to suffer and could barely withstand them.
Not every desire weakens when the body weakens—in this, every individual is different. Sometimes a person has a particular susceptibility to some desire—eating gourmet foods or drinking alcohol, speaking disparagingly of others, engaging in sexual misconduct—and when his body weakens with old age these actually intensify, just as a sensitive person is easily aroused or irritated. Now this desire gnaws at a person when he is weak and lacks the strength to restrain himself, and then, God save us, his life is evil and bitter indeed.
Even though only a minuscule percentage of Hasidim fall into this despond, still, who can guarantee that any one of us won’t be one of those who fall as he grows old? A person who hears of such things cries and is moved, and his whole body trembles.
Our entire goal and desire is to overcome the roar of our impulses more and more, to purify ourselves and sanctify ourselves, to add more purity and sanctity every day and every year, to take one step after another until we at last rise from this world to the purity of God’s holiness, and in the sweet flame of His holiness be absorbed like a burning wick into the flame of the torch.
But if it is possible that when we grow old we will just sully ourselves more, pollute ourselves more, then we are lost, then we will fall to the depths and remain there, heaven forbid—Have mercy, Hashem, protect us, oh God.
So the only conclusion to draw is that the only way to serve God is to sanctify ourselves and our feelings, becoming people who are moved by holiness. A person’s emotions determine who he is. If they pull him to the east, he’ll be dragged after them; if they pull him to the west or north or south, he will follow; if they pull him to the abyss, he will follow; and if they raise him to the firmament, again, he will follow....
But when you are open to your emotions—I mean to say, when your heart and feelings have softened, and with them you can feel what is good and what is bad, what is life and what is death—and you take this feeling to heart and it inspires you to choose goodness and life, and you recoil from evil and death, then even if you haven’t reached perfection, even if you have a great deal more to work on, you are no longer like the insane son mentioned earlier. You are more like a wise son who knows what is good and reacts profoundly to it, because he knows that he must fear God (and not just in his thoughts), and his heart trembles when he considers God’s infinite, endless greatness, rising beyond all worlds, where even the angels shiver before Him.
Let’s say that a person is alone at home and some evil thought or urge strikes him. Suddenly his body shakes violently from his head to his feet. His hairs stand on end, and he thinks, “God is standing before me and He watching me,” and his heart begins to yearn to come close to God, and he bitterly regrets his wrong thoughts and desires that had taken a hold of him.
He is so upset that words flow out of him of their own volition, “I am so low. Perhaps I am doomed to remain on this level forever in this world and the next world. Master of the universe, have pity on me and lift me out of this trash-heap. Purify me, help me serve You in a holy way.”
And when a person looks at himself in this way, he is like a sick person who recognizes his disease clearly and knows how low and ill he is—and this is the first entrance into himself and his soul.
But only if you can inspire yourself at will are you like the wise son who has integrated wisdom into his being. If sometimes you are filled with emotion, but it isn’t under your control, so that when it happens, it happens, and when it doesn’t happen, you remain as cold and heavy as a log, then although you are better than the completely insane son, you are not quite a wise son. You are like a son who has periods of lucidity and periods of illness. When he is well, he can distinguish between good and evil, and he wants the good—even though his knowledge of it is not as clear as that of the son who is healthy and always wise, and even though his will is not as clear and strong. But in his periods of insanity there is absolutely no difference between him and the insane son.
If this son could at least choose when his mind would be clear, his illness wouldn’t be so bad, but his problem is precisely that he cannot control it, and when an evil period arrives, a spirit seizes him, not the contrary. And who can at that point guarantee his deeds?
Also, a person who grows emotional but it is not under his control, who does not have the wherewithal to impel himself, he is better than the person who is entirely cold and dry, for he at any rate experiences occasional moments of emotion, but generally speaking the quality of his emotion is weak and meager within him and only has an effect in his heart and mind, but it lacks the power to affect and set afire his entire being—his body and his energy and his traits—but even more, what good will an emotional period do him if it occurs once a year, on Yom Kippur, or even twice or three times a year, in purifying and sanctifying his entire being all the days of the year, with their hours and minutes?
I do not make the mistake of thinking that I can find a strong and certain means to make it possible for every individual to hold the reins in his hand so that he is not moved by anything lowly, and to make it possible for him, at every hour that he wishes, to be moed by holiness, so that his thoughts are purified and his entire being will rise in a flame of fear and love.
Once, in the days of the holy Baal Shem Tov there was a great, well-known man, and the students asked the holy Baal Shem Tov how they can know whether he is truly great or not, for they wish to know his quality. And he told them in his holy manner to ask him for counsel on how to completely free oneself from thoughts, motives and confusions that are not good, and if he gives them that counsel they should know that this person is false, for there is no counsel to completely rid oneself of these. Rather, this is an on-going work all the days of one’s life, for each individual in his situation, and this constant work affects everyone in this world and it is the purpose of the existence of man in this world, for God created him for this purpose, for a constant work that is more precious than the service of the angels, who do not have an evil inclination and such work.
And see Tanya (Part One, Chapter 27), that only people who are completely righteous never have any evil thought arise in them, not those who are “middling” (benonim), [the latter] having the work to push away and reject every such thought that arises within them, heaven forbid, and every time that such a person pushes it away from his thought, the Other Side is subjugated, and in response to an “awakening from below” comes an “awakening from above,” so that the Other Side from above is subjugated (see there).
Thus, my goal here is only to make your work easier, and to “soften” you, with God’s help.
And with God’s help, you will be able to make your way much easier, for your spirit, which shall be aflame, shall penetrate into your emotions and the limbs of your body, so that they too will burn with flames of holiness, and as a result the quality of the thoughts that are not good will be blunted and weakened, they will not arise in you with as much strength and arrogance as at first, and their quantity too will diminish, and they will only arise on occasion.
And the matter, young man, depends upon you, that the more you engage in the holy service in the revealing of your spirit, the quality and quantity of your thoughts that are not good will diminish.
Moreover, even when some such thought dares to tread across the threshold of your mind and heart, it will not have the opportunity to remain there for some period of time and sully, heaven forbid, as you are unaware, the vessels and nerves of your mind and heart, but at the moment that its filthy foot steps there, as though without your conscious awareness, someone will grab its dirty neck, and angrily and noisily cast it far from you, like an arrow shot forma bow, until its neck is broken.
And contrarily, pure thoughts will increase in you, in their quantity and strengthen in their quality, not only on rare occasions and not only as the shadow of an idea and weak thought, but that your mind and heart will be filled with strong, many and frequent thoughts, with a strong will that burns at times for a great love and an eternal love. And it will be good for you.
Some self-styled clever person may challenge you as follows:
“If feeling is a manifestation of a part of the soul, and this can be attained by an emotional person, then we will have to say that anyone who is very nervous, who gets very upset at everything and whose feelings are intense, is manifesting his soul to a great degree and is an elevated personality!”
And he may challenge you even more: “How can you claim that emotion is the result only of the activity of the soul and its manifestation? Actually, person is more affected by his nerves, [which cause] his heart to pound and his breath to deepen. Emotions are merely a physical phenomenon.”
Don’t be taken intimidated by this question and impressed by this analysis.
Instead, respond with a simple question: If [emotion] is no more than a physical phenomenon, why is it that when the soul leaves [the body], the nerves, heart and lungs no longer function? [Obviously, emotions are connected with the life force. Here] we are speaking of the vital soul (as cited earlier from the holy Zohar). This soul is close to the body. It nourishes the body and unites with it. Like all activities of the soul that appear to us, it works through the vehicle of the body. So also in feeling, the action of the soul is revealed. Nevertheless, it acts through the body and works through the nerves. The only difference between it and other activities that are closely bound with the body and action is that we can sense emotion in itself as coming from the soul, although we do not discern that our other activities come from our soul.
And since this vital soul is so close to the body, they influence each other. soul feels emotion as a result of some physical pain or something that our body loves. And when we think of something that we love or hate, even if we haven’t actuality dealt with it, our soul experiences emotion and our body is also affected, so that we are filled with feeling and our heart races and we breathe deeply, and so on.
One may ask another question.
At times the prophets and students of the prophets engaged in simple activities to make themselves happy, such as Elisha’s musician and the group of prophets that Saul met when he returned from the prophet Samuel, who were preceded by Aharp and tambourine and flute and harp, as they prophesied” (Samuel I 10:5).
Yet many people use music to cheer themselves up, but they act without restraint and sin. [Why doesn’t music affect them as it did the prophets?]
The difference is that from the very beginning, the prophet intended to manifest his soul (as stated earlier). To attain this manifestation, he needed joy, so that God’s Presence would rest upon him, since God’s Presence only dwells where there is joy.
We cannot say that whoever is joyful and manifests part of his soul [in joy] attains prophecy, no more than we could say that a person who is wise, mighty and wealthy—conditions for being a prophet—will prophesy.
Whenever a person is joyful, he reveals part of his soul. If he is pious, his service of God is elevated, since he is worshiping with a revealed soul. If not, then he misses the propitious moment and with a revealed spirit he goes and sins. This is due to flawed traits, as mentioned in the previous chapter.
If a person who serves God will work to make himself easily emotional, he will find it easier to uncover his soul, and his service will be more uplifted. But not everyone who is emotional is serving God, just as not everyone who is joyful prophesies.
But we can say this: the nature of Jews tends toward nervousness (in a talk that has been published, I discussed the particular acts that cause Jews to be nervous, and now speak of the general nature of a Jew towards nervousness] This is because they are fundamentally the children of the prophets. If they use this tendency of theirs for serving God, as a result they will reach an elevated worship, even divine inspiration. But if not, it like someone who was born with a keen mind. If he doesn’t use it for wisdom, he is in greater danger of becoming irrational than someone else.
A person’s emotion, which made him fit for an elevated worship, self-effacement, intensity and divine inspiration, can instead result in wildness and nervousness (heaven forbid). And with this you can understand to some degree the words of the verse, “when people came to mock the prophet, they called him crazy” (Kings II 9:11).
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Yaacov David Shulman