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Alone & Free

A Passover Message adopted from a letter by the Holy Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Schneerson), OBM, from 11th of Nissan 5722 (April 15, 1962). 

The Festival of Pesach, the Season of our Liberation, being a part of Torah, "Torah" in the sense of instruction and guidance, teaches us the true concept of freedom

Unlike other, often strange, interpretations of this concept, the Festival of Pesach reminds and teaches us that true freedom means total freedom; that is, full and complete freedom in all three aspects which constitute human life: (a) the realm of the soul, (b) the realm of the body, and (c) the surrounding world in which the individual lives — in each of the three areas individually, and in all of them together.

This means that a Jew must strive for true freedom in all of the said three aspects of his daily life, and in such a way that not only would they not be in conflict with one another, but, on the contrary, one would supplement and complete the other. Only this kind of freedom may be called true freedom.

It is self-evident that the said harmonious and total freedom cannot be achieved in a way of life whereby the soul, which is truly a part of G‑d (the G‑dliness in man), would be subordinated to the body, and both of them (body and soul) to the (material) world. The superior cannot serve the inferior and be content to do so. The highest aspect of human life, the soul, will never acquiesce in subservience to the body. The obvious conclusion, therefore, is that true freedom can be achieved only when the lower constituents of human life — the body and material environment — will be elevated to the highest possible, for them, degree of affinity, with the soul and its aspirations, while the soul, on its own level, will liberate itself from everything that hinders her fulfillment.

The enslavement in Egypt, and the subsequent liberation, reflect precisely the concept of freedom defined above:

The enslavement was complete and total in all three aforementioned aspects of human life; (a) spiritual enslavement in, and to, a country of the lowest moral depravity, for which reason Mitzraim (Egypt) was called the "abomination of the earth"; (b) extreme physical slavery of "hard labor"; (c) the fullest deprivation of their share of material world possessions to which they were entitled.

The Liberation, likewise was in all the three aspects, and in the fullest measure: (a) First and foremost, spiritual liberation — "Withdraw and take for yourselves lambs for the Passover sacrifice". Not only was it a withdrawal from worship of the Egyptian deity, but also an open demonstration of its nothingness; (b) the fullest physical liberation, by marching out of Egypt with a "high hand" (raised hand), with song and jubilation; (c) as for their share of material wealth, they went out "with great substance".

In seeking self-liberation, there are those who confine themselves solely to their soul.

There are others who recognize that freedom must include also the body, and that the gratification of the bodily needs should conform to the true Jewish way. However, they are Jews at home only; when they go outside and go about their business (what should be their business) they feel no responsibility to elevate their share in the material world; they are slaves to the "Mitzraim" environment.

Pesach reminds everyone that the Liberation from Mitzraim should be a daily experience: "Remember the day of your liberation from the land of Egypt all the days of your life".

We are reminded daily: You are free, liberated in soul and in body; and this personal liberation of body and soul makes it possible to convert the substance of “Egypt” into a great Jewish substance.

"I demand only according to their capacity" G‑d, the Creator of man, declares that what he requests and demands of us does not exceed their capacity and ability to fulfill; all that is needed is the firm determination to fulfill G‑d's request. And this is the way, indeed the only way, to our true freedom, freedom from the inner personal Golus (exile), and freedom also from the general Golus, through our Righteous Moshiach.

In memory of Shmuel ben Nisan O.B.M.- Samuel Stroum - Yartzeit March 9, 2001 / 14 Adar 5761  

Wishing everyone a happy and redemptive Pesach, and may the Almighty bless us with health and financial security.

With Love,
Rabbi Levitin 

P.S. In preparation for Pesach, click here for an assortment of videos and letters from the Holy Rebbe, of blessed memory.

Faith & Trust

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe


Bread from Heaven

One of the fundamental principles a person should continuously endeavor to cultivate is “[the belief] that his entire sustenance comes to him through Divine Providence.” For this reason, our Sages state that it is desirable to recite the passage concerning the  manna every day.

In the first edition of his  Shulchan Aruch, the  Alter Rebbe elaborates on the above teachings as follows: “One should… read the passage concerning the manna in order to fortify his faith that all his provisions are granted to him by Divine Providence. For the Holy One, blessed be He, specifically provided every man with an omer [of manna] for every member of his household; as it is written, ‘When they measured it by the omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little was lacking nothing.’ ”

In his revision of that text, however, the Alter  Rebbe gives a somewhat different rationale for the practice of reading the passage about the manna: “[It is proper to recite every day…] the passage concerning the manna, [to spur] one’s trust bitachon) in  G‑d Who provides one with his daily bread.”

There are two differences between these two passages:

(a) In the revised version, instead of placing the emphasis on faith ( emunah), the Alter Rebbe speaks of trust (bitachon).

(b) He does not focus on the fact that Divine Providence granted every man with “an omer [of manna] for every member of his household,” but that the ongoing provision of the manna, “every day its daily portion” should evoke one’s trust that G‑d will grant every man his daily bread.

These two distinctions appear to be dependent on each other. The concept that “the Holy One, blessed be He, specifically provided every man with an omer [of manna] for every member of his household — “he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little was lacking nothing” — strengthens a Jew’s faith that his sustenance does not come [from his individual strivings], from “my strength and the power of my hand,” but from G‑d’s Providence. The daily descent of the manna demonstrated clearly that a man’s activities had no effect on the quantity of food that G‑d ordained and granted him.

Trust,  by contrast, implies not only that a person believes that his sustenance comes from G‑d, but also that we rely on Him, with absolute certainty, to provide it. The concept of trust derives from the fact that G‑d granted people their daily portions of manna constantly and consistently, in a way that allowed them to rely on it utterly, with no tinge of anxiety.

Something, however, remains unexplained: Why does the Alter Rebbe initially focus on the concept of faith, but in his later work place the emphasis on “[spurring] one’s trust in G‑d Who provides every man with his daily bread”?

Faith is Constant, Trust is Immediate

One of the differences between emunah, faith, and bitachon, trust, is that emunah is a constant factor in one’s life. A believer accepts the axioms he believes in with absolute certainty, seeing them as givens. Therefore they are constant factors in his life.

This applies even when his emunah involves principles that do not immediately affect his actual life, e.g., the concept that “one’s provisions are granted to him by Divine Providence.” It is not appropriate to say that one believes this concept only during the time that he is involved with earning his livelihood. On the contrary, this emunah is a constant.

With regard to bitachon, by contrast, a person’s certainty and reliance on G‑d with regard to his livelihood is a feeling that is aroused when he is in need. When a person is involved in working to earn his livelihood, he trusts G‑d, confident that “G‑d your L‑rd will bless you in all that you do,” aiding his efforts so that they that they will bring him sustenance.

To cite another instance: When a person finds himself in a distressing situation and does not see any possibility of being saved by natural means, he does not wonder in despair, “From where will my help come?” Rather, by virtue of his bitachon, he trusts with certainty that G‑d, Who is the Master of nature and can alter any situation as He desires, will assuredly help him. He knows that “My assistance is from G‑d, Maker of heaven and earth.” Moreover, his bitachon itself serves as a medium that draws down the deliverance from G‑d and the satisfaction of his needs.

To Elicit Divine Blessing

This highlights one of the fundamental dimensions of the quality of bitachonBitachon means that a person relies on G‑d to bring him the kind of good that is manifestly and recognizably good. The intent is not only that G‑d knows that what the person is undergoing is for his good, but also that the person himself should be able to appreciate that his circumstances are good.

Seemingly, the person may have been placed in that distressing situation because his conduct was deficient and he is deserving of Divine retribution. If so, what foundation can there be for his bitachon that G‑d will certainly (not punish him, even though the punishment is ultimately for his own good, but instead) will grant him revealed and recognizable good? Moreover, how can his bitachon be absolute and genuine to the extent that his mind is at ease? How can he be certain beyond all doubt that he will not be punished (even though that, too, would be for his good), and instead is certain that he will be granted the kind of good that is recognizable as such?

This may be explained as follows: When a person displays the above degree of utter bitachon in G‑d and — regardless of the outlook predicted by the workings of nature — has simple and absolute trust that G‑d will provide him with overt and revealed good, G‑d responds, characteristically, “measure for measure.” Though Divine beneficence would not be warranted according to ordinary calculations, the person’s bitachon itself serves as a medium to draw down positive influence from Above. G‑d grants such a person revealed good, without considering at all whether he is worthy of it.

A Meal from the King’s Hand

The degree of trust asked of man can be understood by considering the conduct of R. Yeissa the Elder. Every day, he would prepare his meal only after first having asked that his food come from G‑d. As he would say, “We will not prepare the meal until it is given by the King.”

Now, this calls for explanation. Since the food for the meal was already in his possession and only needed to be prepared (“He had food for that day”), what is the meaning of his request that G‑d grant him his food?

This could be understood as follows:

The Sages teach that  Yosef was punished for having requested of the chief butler, “Mention me to Pharaoh.” On this teaching,  Rabbeinu Bachaye comments: “Heaven forbid that Yosef the Righteous should make his trust depend on the chief butler; he trusted in G‑d alone. He only meant that G‑d had engineered his encounter with the chief butler so that He could perform a miracle through him.”

Why, then, was Yosef punished?

“Because in the chief butler he sought a medium, a causal link (through which G‑d would send him his salvation) — and it is not fitting that  tzaddikim of his stature should seek a causal link. This is why he was punished. He should have trusted only that the Holy One, blessed be He — the Cause of all causes — would provide him with the appropriate causal link, without his seeking it.”

This comment has been queried: Speaking of bitachon (trust),the author of Chovos HaLevavos writes that there is an obligation to be concerned with causal links, and he supports this claim with several proofs. Why, then, was Yosef punished?

In resolution, it has been explained that trust exists at two levels:

(a) The Natural Mode: Sometimes G‑d relates to [a person] in such a way that “things [such as Divinely-bestowed blessings] are elicited — and they proceed to descend — in an orderly manner according to the pattern of nature.” (As expressed in the language of  Chassidus, this mode of descent characterizes the flow of Divine energy that is called memaleh kol almin — Divinity that is immanent in all the worlds.) When G‑d relates to a person in such a way, he should seek an appropriate medium and create a natural vessel or conduit, because this particular mode ofDivine influence is reaching him in a way that is vested in nature.

(b) The Supernatural Mode: Sometimes a person perceives that G‑d is relating to him in such a way that “things [such as Divinely-bestowed blessings] are elicited and drawn downward in a manner that does not accord with the pattern of nature.”37 (As expressed in the language of Chassidus, this mode of descent characterizes the flow of Divine energy that is called  sovev kol almin — Divinity that transcends all the worlds.) When G‑d relates to a person in such a way, a higher level of trust is demanded of him. He is expected to “trust in G‑d’s direction alone and to take no steps whatever, only to trust that G‑d will certainly help him by arranging an appropriate medium.”

To revert to the above question as to why Yosef the Righteous should have been punished for seeking a natural medium through which his salvation should come: Since through his  avodah he was constantly connected with the latter, supernatural mode of Divine influence, he ought to have conducted himself at the loftier level of trust.

Working Within Nature and Stepping Above It

The distinction between the above two levels in the attribute of trust is also apparent while one is fashioning a medium.

Why, at the first level, is a person required to make a vessel? Because when G‑d relates to him in such a way that “[Divinely-bestowed blessings] are elicited… according to the pattern of nature,”37 nature and natural processes acquire a certain standing in his mind. This is why he must seek a conduit or a medium through which the Divine blessings will be conveyed.

This is not the case with a person who trusts at a loftier level — who needs “to take no steps whatever, only to trust in G‑d.” In his mind, the processes of nature are of no account. (This is why he needs no medium nor vessel.) Hence, even when a natural medium or conduit for his livelihood exists, he does not consider his livelihood to be any nearer to him than if it did not exist. Because the medium or vessel in their own right are of no account in his eyes, he knows only that he receives everything directly from G‑d — and indeed, the medium or vessel were created for him by G‑d, together with his livelihood.

This also explains why R. Yeissa the Elder would say, “We will not prepare the meal until it is given by the King,” even though “he had food for that day.” For his trust was such that he perceived every single activity not as his own doing, but as given by G‑d. Hence, even when the food was already in his home, in his possession, and needed only to be prepared, he felt that it was not his food — that he was taking his food and preparing it — but that “it was given by the King.” At this present moment, G‑d was giving it to him. This, too, he therefore had to request of G‑d, just as he would ask G‑d for his food when it was not in his possession.

Longing for His Kindness

The above concept enables us to understand another aspect of the conduct of R. Yeissa the Elder.

From the language of the  Zohar — “R. Yeissa the Elder would prepare his meal every day only after first having asked…” — it would appear that this was his practice even on  Shabbos. Now, Shabbos is not a timefor making one’s material requests. How, then, did this sage ask for food even on Shabbos?

In the light of the concept discussed above, the problem is solved. Requesting one’s material needs on Shabbos is out of place when the individual is focusing on himself, when he is requesting that his needs and wants be filled. Not so the prayer of R. Yeissa the Elder. What impelled his prayer was the very fact that he was utterly devoid of self-concern — to the extent that at every single step he felt that everything depended on G‑d, in the spirit of the verse, “[G‑d desires…] those who long for His kindness.” And, as the Zohar comments, “These are the people who yearn and wait every single day to ask the Holy One, blessed be He, for their provisions.” In other words, their prayer simply expresses the fact that they are “longing for His kindness.” Their prayer voices their feeling that everything comes only as an act of G‑d’s lovingkindness.

And praying for food in this manner is in place even on Shabbos.

Not Only for the Select Few

True, the above-described conduct of R. Yeissa the Elder is not equally appropriate to everyone. Nevertheless, a touch of it is applicable to everyone, at least at certain times.

And here, it could be suggested, lies the difference between weekdays and Shabbos. During the six weekdays, when a Jew lives his life as set out in the Shulchan Aruch — going about his affairs, doing his business honestly, preoccupied with his livelihood — he trusts in G‑d at the level at which one seeks a natural medium, because he cannot be expected to utterly transcend nature and to trust at the superior level. Shabbos, by contrast, is not a day of activity, and at that time a Jew is elevated above everyday work. On that day he is expected to attain, at least to some degree, the superior level of trust, the trust of “those who long for His kindness.”

On this basis, it is possible to explain the difference between the wording the Alter Rebbe originally chose and the wording that he employed in his later work with regard to the recitation of the passage concerning the manna. The Alter Rebbe originally composed his Shulchan Aruch according to the rulings of the  Talmud and the halachic authorities. On an apparent level (according to the revealed dimensions of  Torah Law), bitachon involves preparing a medium for G‑d’s blessings. Accordingly, were the Alter Rebbe to explain that the rationale for the recitation of the passage concerning the manna was “to spur one’s trust in G‑d,” the recitation of this passage would be appropriate only on weekdays.

Therefore in his original version, the Alter Rebbe states that the rationale for the recitation of the passage concerning the manna every day is “to fortify his faith that all his provisions are granted to him by Divine Providence.” For, as stated above, this faith is a constant, relevant at all times and places.

In his later version, the Alter Rebbe ruled according to the Kabbalists. Accordingly, he also includes a course of conduct that reflects higher levels of Divine service. He therefore cites the rationale, “[to spur] one’s trust in G‑d Who provides every man with his daily bread.” For according to the higher level of bitachon displayed by “those who long for His kindness,” it is appropriate to recite the passage concerning the manna every day — even on Shabbos.

Let us all maintain our faith and trust in Almighty G-d with devotion and sincerity as we navigate through these challenging times. The Passover Redemption experience is upon us. We should all be blessed that the ultimate redemption shall be realized.

Have a Good Shabbos.
With Love,
Rabbi Levitin


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