Hakhsharat Ha'avreikhim--A Young Adult's Spiritual Guide: Chapter Two: Passion and Feeling, and Why They Are Necessary
by Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira (the Aish Kodesh)
I already discussed in Chovat Hatalmidim the necessity for passion: the passion of our nefesh in serving God. And I said that in our generation we cannot wait until a person grows up, but we must begin with the youth.
Since there I spoke of and addressed young people, I discussed this only briefly. The main tenor of my words was about how important it is in simply serving God, and that when the nefesh is hidden and when a person is uninspired, he cannot overcome his evil inclination and physical desires. Only when a person transcends his sins (Bereishit Rabbah 22) when his nefesh is revealed [to him] can he take hold of himself (cf. Chovat Hatalmidim 8).
But I only alluded to how necessary such passion is in a higher service of God, when we can use it to rise to the paths of our tzaddikim, the path of Hasidism, and in this way come closer to God.
More than that, there I spoke in a general fashion and only discussed how necessary and very important inspiration is. But I only touched on the ways and means of how to inspire oneself.
But here and in my projected work, Chovat Ha’avreichim, which I hope God will assist me in completing [translator’s note: tragically, the rebbe was murdered by the Nazis before he could write more than an extended introduction], I wish to speak at greater length about all these things, about what Hasidic techniques we can use to simply serve God, of how we can take the reins of leadership over ourselves, with God’s help doing so just as a person controls his possessions—as long as he wants to.
And we will also discuss how a person can rise by following the heels of our tzaddikim upon the high road of Hasidism, which is the path of the prophets—everyone of us on his level.
And so I have to provide some more explanation about what passion is; the difference between passion and feeling; and how powerful it is in beginning the process of revealing the nefesh.
“What do the five repetitions of ‘bless, my soul’ in King David’s Psalms correspond to? They correspond to nothing but the Holy One, blessed be He, and to the soul... Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, sees yet is not seen, so does the soul see yet is not seen...” (Berachot 10a).
It is well-known that even though the Gemara compares the soul to the Holy One, blessed be He in five aspects, there is still a great gulf between the soul and the Holy One blessed be He. The principal difference is that the spirit is contained within the body, surrounded by it and affected by its circumstances, unlike God, Who is not contained within any world, and Whom the world does not surround. To the contrary, He surrounds the world, He is not affected by the world, and the world does not add anything to Him. Rather, He acts upon the world (cf. Zohar Pinchas 255a and other holy works). So when we want to speak of elevating the spirit and of its invisible aspect, as well as of its revelation and how it is revealed, and to explain this by reference to God’s concealment and revelation, we have to first make it very clear that not everything that is said about the spirit applies to God, heaven forbid, just as these five things that the Gemara cites as similarities are not equal in every regard.
“Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, sees and is not seen, so does the soul see yet is not seen.”
In order to understand how the spirit reveals itself, we should first look above. The Holy One, blessed be He said, “I am given names in accordance with My deeds” (Shemot Rabbah 3). God is hidden and He transcends all names. God Himself should not be referred to by holy names, because we can assign a name only to something that reveals itself. However, when God acts in His worlds, a spark and illumination of His divinity is revealed. And we call that illumination by His divine names. So “El” corresponds to lovingkindness, “Elokim” refers to might, and so forth—in accordance with God’s action (as is known from the holy books).
So we know that the spirit, which sees yet is not seen, is revealed through actions. In those actions, the spirit is completely different from God. The spirit can also be affected. In general, God brings things into being from nothingness unlike the spirit. And there are an endless number of other significant differences. But we are limiting our discussion to the revelation of the spirit and its actions.
First of all, the spirit is affected by the world through the medium of the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch. When we touch something and know that it is snow because it is cold, we are not sensing the cold within the snow. Rather, we are sensing the cold of our hand that touched the snow. A part of our hand was affected and grew cold. This reaction rises to the brain and to the spirit that rests on it. If the cold increases, we are more affected and he shivers.
Similarly, when we see, our brain and spirit do not sense something outside of ourselves. Rather they sense the form that is imaged within the eye on the retina.
In other words, our limbs, brain and spirit are affected by the world as a result of cold or an image. This is what we know. With this, we know about the things of the world outside of us that arouse this reaction. If a strong light shines in front of us, after it is removed, we continue to see its afterimage, because the effect on us remains for a while.
The same goes for the senses of hearing, taste and smell. In all of them, something is affected—the eardrum, the tastebuds—until they are apprehended by the brain and spirit.
Even though the Gemara states that only the soul and not the body gets any benefit from smell, no one can deny that if a person’s nose is damaged, he will not smell. The smell results from an effect on the nose that reaches its culmination in the spirit. What the Gemara means is that the body does not benefit from this reaction as it does from eating—only the soul is benefited.
Through these five senses, we apprehend the world. Once we know about the world, we can act and speak in order to get what we need and want. If not for these fives senses that affect us so that we see, touch and smell and hear sound outside of ourselves, we would not know that there are such things in the world, and we would not be able to use them.
Not only do we learn about something in the world by being affected by it, but a spark of our spirit hidden within us becomes known and revealed to us in this way.
Our spirit is hidden not only from others, revealing itself only through its actions, but it is hidden from us as well. We only know that our spirit hears when it is affected by a sound. We only know that his spirit is revealed through the sense of touch when we touch something. All of our spirit in general is revealed to us only when it is acting.
The same holds true whether the spirit is influenced by the world or it influences the world: when we move something or learn something, then the power of our might or the wisdom of our spirit are revealed.
However, since the actions of our spirit are only directed to using the things of this world—whether in being affected by or affecting the world—the part of our spirit that is revealed matches the measure and form of that worldly thing. The whole point of our actions is some this-worldly matter: to feel something and to know whether it is snow or fire, to hear a voice and know who is speaking, to see something and to know whether it is a table or some other item. So people’s cognition about such activities does not deal with what is taking place within a person but about whatever it was in the world that brought about that activity: that he heard a voice or saw or touched snow and a table. Even the person involved doesn’t feel any movement within himself, but only the thing outside himself that caused the movement: the voice or the fire.
Perhaps because from our childhood we have directed and devoted our senses and activities to the goal of being in contact with the world, of knowing it and affecting it, our senses have grown accustomed from childhood to being overwhelmed by the things of this world, until their movement within us has grown weak, and we do not feel what is taking place within ourselves, but only what we are accomplishing on the outside: that we hear a voice or see a table—even though our spirit is being affected, and our spirit is the locus of our knowledge within that activity. It makes no difference whether we are being affected or doing the affecting: when we are acting, when we come to move a table, for instance, our only goal is the movement of the table. Our entire mind and desire are given over to that. Therefore, in our action we do not feel what is taking place at that moment within ourselves. Even if we engage in hard labor so that afterwards we feel that our spirit worked so hard that pat of its strength has left us, during the activity we didn’t feel our soul’s activity at all. Even afterwards, all we feel is a lack of our spirit’s strength, and nothing more.
However, emotions are different. When we feel desire, love or fear, then the emotion itself is not a means to attain a need or for engaging in action in the world outside ourselves. The feeling of love between a father and son, two brothers or two friends is not a means to bring them to give each other presents and help each other. They just love each other. Because of their love they will at times give each other gifts and help each other. But they always feel a love and yearning for each other, even without engaging in any activity. To the contrary, when they are far from each other, their love and yearning grows even greater. The same goes for fear, hatred and anger: they are actions in and of themselves. Sometimes that action draws some physical activity in its wake, and sometimes not. But principally their effect is on our own spirit.
If we ask someone, “What is happening inside you when you feel love for one person or hatred for another?” he will not reply that it is a means of giving the first one a gift and striking the second one. Rather, he feels love and yearning for the first person, and hatred, anger and revulsion for the second person.
This is true even for desire. It would seem that desire indicates our wanting something of this world—to do something or refrain from doing something. Nevertheless, desire is not limited to specific actions as are our senses. A person may desire much more than he works for. Often he may desire something that he doesn’t intend to pursue, because he realizes that it is an impossibility or something not worthy of him.
And so desire is also not merely a means of attaining some this-worldly activity.
I am not saying that emotion is a completely intangible action of the spirit, acting in and of itself, independent of the body and with no vestment whatsoever, because we cannot sense a completely intangible action of the spirit in and of itself. And there still needs to be discussion about to what extent the spirit can remove its vestment and still be sensed.
I am only saying the following: that when a person’s spirit acts, those actions are so mantled and clothed in some external this-worldly manifestation that even the person carrying out these actions of his spirit doesn’t notice them. And if the stimulus of this world that had caused the action is removed (such the object that he sees or the voice that he hears) then the part of the spirit that saw and heard also disappears from a person’s awareness.
We can in some way compare the manifestation of the parts of the spirit as they interact with the things of this world to a mirror. When we look in a mirror, we do not see the mirror itself but the reflection of something that is not in the mirror or a part of it. In the same way, all that we see in the parts of our spirit as it acts are images of the world, not our spirit itself. What is a person sensing in himself as he senses something in the world? He senses a voice, the coldness of snow, or whatever—but not his essence, not his spirit and its action.
However, the action of emotion is different. Although emotions also act through the agency of our body, mind and nerves, and are affected by external phenomena such as a desired object, a beloved or hated person and the like, we feel their action—meaning, the movement of our spirit—within ourselves.
If we ask a person about a sound, “What do you feel inside right now?,” he will answer, “I sense the sound—nothing more.” But if we ask him about a feeling of intense love that he feels, he won’t say, “I feel my friend Reuven.” Rather, he will reply, “I feel love.” Only when we ask him, “Whom do you love?” will he reply, “I feel love for Reuven.”
The essence of his feeling within him is his spirit expressing itself in the act and emotion of love. His spirit clings to something external to itself, such as Reuven, like a flame that clings to a log. It clings to the log, but it does not take on the appearance of the log. It has its own independent appearance.
This is what the Zohar was saying before: that inspiration—meaning, an emotion—even the lowest one could have, is a person’s spirit, because it is the beginning of the revelation of the spirit that a person feels when his spirit acts.
Now we can understand why our holy masters were so concerned about faulty character traits, citing the Gemara’s statement that “the heavenly punishment for bad character traits is worse than the punishment for forbidden sexual liaisons.” This is so because our spirit is revealed through the emotion of our character traits. When a person habituates his character traits from childhood to be aroused and brought to emotion by foolish and empty things of this world, he damages parts of his spirit, because he is forcing those parts against their will to deal with foolish things, to the point that they will of themselves have lowly emotions: love for degraded things, like the two angels who fell and were hurt in this world. (Cf. my Chovat Hatalmidim Chapter 10).
Simply put, this is why, when it comes to engaging in activities, we do not sense any part of our soul, whereas when it comes to emotions, we do have a greater awareness of our soul.
Action is lower than emotion. Therefore, only a small, barely noticeable part of our soul is revealed when we engage in action. But the spiritual root of our emotions is higher, and so a greater part of our soul is revealed through them. Therefore, we become aware of our soul.
Nevertheless, why don’t we at least sense something when we engage in activity, particularly if we do something formidable, using a great deal of strength? Ultimately, after all, some portion of our soul reveals itself this way—yet we sense nothing. But on the other hand, we sense even the slightest emotion.
More than that: the root of activity is lower than the root of emotion. But the root of the realm of the senses is higher than that of the emotions. (We learn in Eitz Chaim, chapters 74 and 75, that the root of emotions is in the divine name whose numerical value is 45, whereas the root of sight is in the divine name whose numerical value is 72, and hearing and smell are rooted in the name whose numerical value is 63 [and the latter two are higher than the former].)
Nevertheless, the part of our soul that comes forth via our activities and senses remains in concealment, whereas it is more revealed through emotion.
And now, having established that we access our soul through our emotions: Is it possible to imagine the greatness that we can reach when we sanctify our emotions and when all of our worship of God is accompanied by emotions?
We will then unveil our soul as we serve God. The fire of our soul will not cling to some foreign substance, like fire clinging to wood, but rather the fire of our soul will cling to the fire of our emotions, like a flame connected to a burning coal. This is because our emotions directed to God have been aroused, and our soul is aflame with love and fear of God.
The power of emotion is so great that all of our [other] abilities become subservient to it. When we feel a powerful urge toward love or fear, we do not even need to eat or sleep. This is the power of our soul unveiled, before which everything else falls away. The greater our emotion and feeling, the more our abilities and senses fall away. And if this grows until it rises in a flame like fiery, flaming coals, then our entire being falls away.
And that is hitlahavut: fiery passion.
There is a way of measuring our feeling to determine how much it is regesh (emotion) and how much it is hitlahavut (fiery passion).
We have no understanding of the hitlahavut of the tzaddikim of previous generations and are certainly unable to measure it. In fact, we grow abashed just to hear the fiery words with which they describe their hitlahavut.
At the end of Noam Elimelech, the first epistle states that “love brings a tzaddik close to madness.... When such tzaddikim learn the holy Gemara with great love and holiness, a fire literally consumes them.”
And the second epistle states, “When these tzaddikim learn Gemara, they clothe themselves in great dread, trembling, fright and fear of God, blessed be He, and their Torah shines in their faces ... The love of the Torah and its light burns in them unceasingly ... and a great love burns in their heart until the light is visible in their faces and their fear falls upon others, and sinners flee, seized by a great fear that comes from the great holiness and fear of heaven of these tzaddikim.”
And Meor Veshmesh by his student states (in Va’etchanan), “Holy books state, and I have also heard from the deeds of holy supernal people, that when a Jew learns Torah with great hitlahavut and clinging, then a fire flames around him and he sees everything as it was at the time of the giving of the Torah, when all seven heavens were opened for the Jews. When a Jew learns Torah in this way with so much hitlahavut, his prayer makes an impression above ... and brings down goodness to everyone in the world.”
For people such as we are, on our level, there is a means by which we may gauge when we are experiencing hitlahavut (a fiery passion), which is higher than hitragshut (emotion).
As long as your emotions of longing, love and fear of God are still accompanied by a desire for this world and its objects, then what you are experiencing is only emotion.
But it may be that your emotions burn so strongly that at least for the moment you spurn the entire world and its desires, and you only long and yearn for God, for His holiness and His Torah. At least for this moment your soul has lost its [other] desires and it burns for God. And in addition, your emotions are stronger and more powerful than you, so that for now you cannot contain them and keep yourself from being filled with love, fear, and so forth. If you are praying, even if you have not been aflame during the entire prayer from beginning to end, when you are aflame you cannot contain this emotion, you cannot pray coldly even if you would want to. On our level, this is considered the beginning of hitlahavut, and not just hitragshut.
Just think of shofar blowing on Rosh Hashanah or Kol Nidrei and Neilah on Yom Kippur, when your physical desires, yearnings and longings have ceased because you are so filled with feeling so that you have reached hitlahavut. At that point you cannot contain yourself and hold yourself in. You are entirely aflame, and your entire being is composed of the flames of your soul burning in the fire of God.
In this we have come somewhat close to our goal.
If an act is entirely emotionless, it is hard for a great light from above to rest upon it, because such a light needs a revealed spirit as its vehicle if it is to dwell in us.
But when we serve God with hitlahavut, since our soul is now revealed and our senses have somewhat fallen away, more from above can rest upon us.
This is not the entirety of Hasidism. But without this, Hasidism is not possible. Serving God with hitlahavut is the beginning of Hasidism. Hasidism without hitlahavut is an impossibility, because Hasidism proceeds in the path of the prophets, and to have such an influence from above, our soul must be revealed.
We do not dare to think that we could reach the heights of the holy, Godly tzaddikim in the Hasidic path. It is difficult for us even to immediately and regularly reach the hitlahavut (emotion to the point of lack of self-consciousness) pertinent to our level. So how do we begin?
We begin with emotion. And to feel emotion, we must be aroused. As the Zohar cited previously states, that is the beginning of hitlahavut and the movement of the soul. Then, with God’s help, we can reach hitlahavut.
In order that our emotions and hitlahavut will come to the fore and endure, we must serve God with our physical strength. If not, our emotions and hitlahavut will sink back down. Our emotions and hitlahavut do not only come from external causes. They are a revelation of part of our soul. And if the body and physical strength in which our soul is clothed do not join our soul in its work, then how can the heart of our soul be revealed through sustained hitlahavut?
When we come to arouse ourselves, we will find it easier if we vigorously engage in serving God. It may be difficult for us to force emotions. Unless they come of their own accord, we have to employ stratagems and techniques. But we can force ourselves to serve God with our physical vigor. Even if we do not want to do it, we can make ourselves do it.
This makes us firm in our service of God. Sometimes we are willing—but even if our evil inclination should burden our heart with laziness and dull our mind and heart, we can still force ourselves. We can learn Torah, we can pray, we can perform mitzvot. And in accordance with what has been said here, when we act vigorously, our soul is affected and comes forth a bit.
But when our soul is all by itself, when we feel no emotion, then our soul is so deeply immersed in our body and in our activities that we are no longer even aware of it. Our soul may do something and reach out, but we are totally unaware. And this is particularly true if our heart is steeped in foolishness and empty thoughts are running through our minds at the time that we are engaged in holy service of God.
But we can empty our thought of anything unclean and direct it to consider that we are standing before God and serving Him humbly and with a broken heart. Then, even if we do not do anything specific to arouse our emotions by serving God with our vigor and effort, we will be able to grasp our soul by its neck and even against its will pull it out of its hiding place. It would be most unlikely if at that point we didn’t sense a soul characteristic: at the very least, a feeling of love, fear and longing for God.
In Chovat Hatalmidim (2:2), I talked about a person who dances on Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah: because he is dancing vigorously, he shakes himself free of the dust somewhat, and his soul is uncovered. And the same goes for a person who prays vigorously and loudly.
If we dance feebly on Simchat Torah or just think about it, or if we just mumble the words of prayer, we have done nothing to arouse our soul. But when we dance vigorously and pray loudly and vigorously, then we will arouse our emotions.
As the holy texts say, “Our voice arouses our directed intent.” This is because, by acting with vigor, we bring our soul forth, even against its will.
Yaacov David Shulman