Interlude – On Spirituality outside Halacha
It has always been my intention to answer from time to time any questions that are addressed to me from the articles that I have written on my blog. It appears that Chaim Clorefene has read my last article and decided to comment: (https://www.chaimclorfene.com/new-blog/2017/10/30/what-do-i-hear-about-hashkafa)
He addressed certain issues, which I would like to address here. I do not expect that Chaim will be effected by anything I write, but I hope some of the Ger people will consider what I write. I am especially interested in what Rabbi David Katz has to say, since the views that Chaim has stated in his response, do not seem to be in accord with his. Certainly that is the impression I have from his talks and writings.
While many may be unfamiliar with the history of deviant ideas in Judaism, the ideas that Chaim is pushing are quite old and have led to assimilation and abandonment of HaShem and His Torah.
Basically Chaim is trying to separate Halacha, the practice of Torah, and Spirituality. His new age speak just covers over a distortion of Judaism and Torah that was shared by many dead end movements including the Reform in Germany, Shabbtzei Tzvi, and not surprising Christianity, which after all started as a Jewish movement but separated finally over the issue of Torah observance. This is the false path he preachers.
What makes it amusing to me is that he tries to dress it up in the language of Kabbalah while preaching actions and ideas that are at total variance to Kabbalah, which I shall shortly explain.
To understand where Chaim gets it wrong, I want to relate a true story. Being involved in kiruv for 20+ years I have met many people and I also have had to help them understand the answers to problems they have, or just simply things about Judaism that bothers them.
One day I received a call from a sweet fellow who was a recent convert to Judaism. He told me that he was happy but that there is one thing he missed. When he was a Christian and in church it all was so spiritual, the singing and dancing and all that. But he doesn’t see that in Judaism. So I asked him, ‘What do you mean by Spiritual?’ He was stumped. As a Christian he viewed these types of actions as a sign of spirituality in and of themselves.
I explained to him that in Judaism ‘spirituality’ is connected to a concept called ‘deveikus’. Deveikus means attachment (to God). In Kabbalah this is the idea of Yechidim (unifications), and in Chassidus it is called ‘avodah b’gashmiyos.’ (Service with physicality)
I do not intend to give a course on Kabbalah or the deeper ideas of Chassidus here, but the general idea is pretty easy to understand. Everything in the word is divided into one of three categories. Either it is intrinsically holy, like a sefer Torah or tephilin or things like that. Because they are by nature Holy, there is no need to do anything with them to add to their holiness.
The second are things that are intrinsically unholy, like the unclean animals that can never become holy unless they become totally nullified. (This is the sod of bitul etc.)
The rest are things that can go either way, depending on what a Jew does with them. If a Jew takes a kosher animal, and it is slaughtered according to Halacha. And then a Jew eats it and makes the proper blessing, it enters the domain of holiness. If not it falls to the other side.
The usual parable is to a nut. There is the inner nut itself which is edible, and the outer shell which is not edible, and a thin skin which can be eaten or not. Sometimes this thin skin is called the ‘klipot nogah’. This moving something to be holy, is like making a vessel, but it still is not complete. Deveikus is when we take this ‘holy’ vessel and through proper intentions (kavanot) we add a ‘soul’ to it, and give it life.
For example, when a Jewish man puts on Tephillin, even without a conscious thought he is attached to holiness. That is because even if he did not consciously think of it, unconsciously he does. If we ask him why he is putting on Tephillin, he will say because it says in the Torah. Similarly, when a non-Jew takes upon himself to keep the 7 mitzvos he takes himself from the unclean to the clean, although not on the same level as Jew does when he keeps his mitzvos.
The point is that Holiness in inseparable with following Halacha. You can’t begin to enter into holiness without it. There is no spirituality without Torah observance. On the other hand, you cannot reach the highest levels of holiness without proper intention.
All of our Holy Rabbis knew this and lived it in practice. For example the Vilna Gaon was both a strict follower of Halacha and a follower of Kabbalah. The same with his famous Talmud Rabbi Chaim of Volozyn, who wrote the work Nefesh Chaim. It is interesting to note that the primary reason for the Vilna Gaon being against the early Chassidim was that he was falsely told that the Chassidim DID NOT combine action/strict observance and spiritual practice.
Of course the Chassidim of any flavor all uphold the unity of the Halacha and the spiritual. This is not surprising because that was the way of the Ari HaKadosh and all the Kabbalists like the Remak and their Talmidim. They taught us that it is through the performance of the Halacha that we raise this world to levels of holiness. There is no way to achieve holiness without serious practice of halacha. Just look at a work like Sefer Chereidim, by one of the big Kabbalists from Sefad, which is all about the mitzvos we can do today. He was also the author of some deeply spiritual poems which are still said today.
No matter what your hashkafah is, Sefardic, Chassidic, Litvish etc; if it is authentic and Torah based, then they all see things the exact opposite of what Chaim wrote. He says that “I consider Rabbinic Judaism a false world” But that is not the case with the real spiritual giants of Judaism. I will just mention some examples from the Chassidic world which I am most familiar with:
Rebbe Nachman’s Talmid Rebbe Nason wrote a sefer based on the deeper meanings of performance of the Halacha. It is well known Reb Nachman suggested the completion of all the Talmud and the Shulchan Aruch on a yearly basis.
The founder of Chabad, under the instruction of his Rebbe, compiled his own Shulchan Aruch, which is still used and studied today.
I could also add that among the Rebbes of Ziditchov/Komarna and their offshoots, whose teachings are based on Kabbalah, we find Rebbe Isaac of Komarna who wrote his own Shulchan Aruch called Shulchan HaTahor, in addition to his many Kabbalistic and Chassidic works.
Many Rebbes were Torah giants in their own right, the Holy Rebbe of Tzanz, and the Sefas Emes come to mind among the many I could mention.
Do these remarks from Chaim sound like what we would find in the works of the Spiritual giants of the past: “my intent has been to go as far away from Orthodox Judaism as I can”.
The Ari Z’L teaches that by sweating during making the matzos for the mitzvah of Passover one’s sins are forgiven. And also that those who are scrupulous and avoid even the smallest amount of chametz (leaven) on Passover will be assured not to sin the whole year.
I could go on and on with examples. In that article Chaim is not talking about true spirituality, but new age touchy feelyism. If his views are not apikorsus (heretical) then they are so close one needs a magnifying glass to see where they end and apikorsus begins.
I need to add another point. He makes the following claim:
“Sloppy Six are worse than Ger because they do what they do to get Gentile money”
I will not speak for everyone who signed those letters but I can speak for myself: In 20+ years of kiruv I have never once asked for nor received money from any non-Jews I have taught or helped. I never ask to be paid for any work I do. But this same person who falsely accuses me of this says this:
“Support towards the production of the pilot podcast will be appreciated and certainly qualifies as tzedakah in support of a holy cause.”
Is that not hypocrisy? Is this the sign of a serious and honest desire for the truth? There is nothing wrong with him asking for help for what he feels (wrongly) is a valuable project. But to at the same time castigate (and in my case falsely) others for doing the same is a sign of poor character and total dishonesty.
As it is, I do not expect Chaim to change, but I do not understand how Rabbi Dovid Katz, who values his attachment to Brisk, which comes from Volozyn and Vilna could be quiet when Chaim attacks the derech that Brisk is built on. We know (Yavamos 87b) being silent is an indication of support. If Rabbi Katz does not clarify that he disagrees, than I must conclude he no longer considers himself Brisk.
As always, comments are always welcome, just no personal attacks please.