Chovot Halevavot – Meaningful Actions #4

10 08 2012

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen

The Chovot Halevavot discusses the various marks of wisdom that a person can see in the world and the way Hashem is manifests in creation. He lists seven ways to see this.

The first mark is manifested in the four fundamental elements of the world: fire, water, air, and earth. In contemporary terms, these are energy, liquid, gas and solid matter. The earth is a ball, which by nature doesn’t stay stationary. Yet our world stays suspended in the middle of the universe. It is surrounded by water, above that air, and above that fire. Each element stays within its boundaries. Nature stays faithful to its Creator and doesn’t change. This shows the magnificent greatness of Hashem. David says, “You Hashem are the creator of heaven and earth, which exist eternally.” If there would be one slight deviance, the entire world would be destroyed.

The second mark is man himself. Every person is a small universe. The completion of this world is man. Without him there is no purpose. Humans are like a dot in comparison to the vast cosmos. Yet we see it is only man that can understand creation. In Tehilim David wrote, “Man is a little bit less than Hashem.” When Adam was created the angels wanted to say kadosh. They thought he was the Master of the world. Hashem is a perfectionist par excellence. He made man flawless and in whatever state he’s in his Divine Image remains.

The third mark is the amazing synthesis of soul and body. Hashem covered over spirituality with flesh and bones and formed Adam. Iyov said, “You made me as if someone poured milk into a bottle. You curdled me like cheese. Then you clothed me with bones, sinews, and ribs. You sheltered me, gave me life, favored me, and watched over my soul.”

The fourth mark is the animal kingdom which is made up of hundreds of different species. They swarm in the air, swim in water, and creep on the ground. Hashem created them all with a purpose and their daily existence is in His hands.

The fifth mark is the wisdom in the design of the plant world. There are myriad types of vegetation that have the ability to heal and provide nourishment.

The sixth mark is the wonders of Hashem that we see in industry and science. Hashem revealed different ways through which man can meet his needs in this world. Iyov said, “Who gave wisdom and understanding to the heart? Only Hashem.”

The seventh mark is the wisdom found in Torah. The Torah teaches us above and beyond what man could ever imagine or create. The oral Torah is not the work of man. The sages transmit concepts that were already accepted at Sinai. Through studying Torah a person can truly see the greatness of our Creator.

Chovot Halevovot: The Connection of Torah

15 05 2012

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen 

The Gemara says, “There are three keys that Hashem did not give over to agents.” They are, techiyat hameisim (resurrection of the dead), childbirth, and rain.

One can clearly see Hashem through rain. When there’s a drought, people realize that Hashem is in control. Rain is a direct blessing from Him. If it’s not coming down, it’s because of our sins.

Although Hashem does many miracles for us every day, the best proof that He exists is the Torah. In birchat hamazon we say, “Ki ein machsor l’rei’av.” If you fear Hashem, you have no deficiency. Torah brings us to yirat shamayim because Torah demonstrates the existence of the Hashem.

The Gemara says that at Har Sinai the Jews accepted the Torah out of fear. Years later after the Purim miracle they accepted the Torah out of love. Why wasn’t there a complete acceptance immediately at Har Sinai? The Torah is a part of creation. Just as we have no control over creation, initially the Torah too had to be against our will so that subsequently we would look at the world through the Torah lens and recognize Hashem on our own.



Chovot Halevovot: Using Ones Self #13

30 11 2011
Based on a shiur by Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen 

Community Kiddush #9

After the death of the two sons of Aharon, Hashem taught Aharon the laws of sacrifices. Rashi quotes Rav Elazar ben Azarya who tells a parable. A doctor once warned an ill person not to sleep in damp places or eat sharp vegetables, but he didn’t take the admonition seriously. When a second doctor told him he would die, he woke up sharply. Hashem taught Aharon the laws of sacrifices so that he would know Hashem’s will and not take matters in his own hands. Although Aharon was exceedingly righteous, the visual image of his sons’ death aroused him to understand the consequences if one doesn’t listen to Hashem.

The Chovot Halevovot mentions the significance of doing mitzvot with joy. This comes from feeling indebted to Hashem for all the gifts he showers upon us. What stimulates a person to have gratitude? When we recognize all the kindness Hashem does for us and when we study His Torah we come to realize how much we depend on Him. Logic is not enough to arouse feelings of gratitude. We have to thank Hashem by living the way he commanded us to. Just saying, ‘I love you Hashem,’ but not keeping the mitzvot leads to ingratitude. When good things happen, such a person won’t thank Hashem because the Creator doesn’t exist in his life. He has given Him nothing with his daily actions. Although we can logically understand that we need to thank Hashem, we need Torah to direct us. Aharon’s sons yearned to serve Hashem. They offered a sacrifice but it was on their own terms. It wasn’t Hashem‘s command. Therefore, they were punished.

There is a constant battle between the body and soul. The body has an advantage in that it precedes the development of the soul. It takes years for the soul to mature while the body begins functioning immediately after birth. Because a person is accustomed to materialism, it becomes difficult to part with it. Desires override the mind and makes it almost impossible to see the loftiness of Hashem. The only way to overcome this is through Torah. “Barati yetzer hara barati Torah tavlin.” (I created the evil inclination and I created the Torah as a spice.) Through Torah we can come to an understanding of the Creator.

The second advantage of the body over the soul is that the intellect is in essence spiritual. The body is at home in the physical world, but the soul is a stranger. With constant use, the body grows stronger, but coming to a recognition of Hashem doesn’t happen naturally. The only way to get there is through Torah. A small flame can pierce the thick darkness. With the brilliance of Torah, life becomes transformed. It enables us to win over the yetzer hara and purify our souls.

Becoming a true servant of Hashem hinges on one critical factor, submitting our will to His. This can be accomplished through yirat (fear) and ahavat (love and admiration) Hashem. Studying works of Mussar can help us attain these levels so that we can ultimately reach true sheleimut (perfection).

The Joy of Life

2 11 2010

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen from his series, Man’s Obligation: A Study in Chovot Halevavot

Chovot Halevovot #7: The Joy of Life

King David said, “Mibsari echze Elokai. From my flesh, I perceive Hashem.” The Chovot Halevavot notes that the physical part of man a wonder. Hashem also gave us wondrous intelligence and the powers of recollection, differentiation, and perception. Our intellect distinguishes us from other living creatures.

The Shemoneh Esrei is divided into three sections: praise, supplication, and thanks.  All the blessings associated with supplication begin directly with entreaty except for the bracha of daat, which begins ata chonen. Why is this so? On Shabbat we do not entreat Hashem for any personal requests before reciting Havdala. One needs daat to make havdala. Therefore, we first recite “Ata chonen l’adam daat.” In a sense, Ata Chonen is praise to Hashem. Intellect is a gift from our Master to us while all the other bakashot in Shemoneh Esrei involve things that are a part of us like health, sustenance, and redemption.

Sometimes we do not appreciate our intellect until we see people who do not have it. The Pat Lechem explains that life becomes insurmountably difficult for a person without sechel. This is manifest in the way a person eats, drinks, dresses himself, and conducts himself.  Hashem’s blessing of intelligence indicates to us that there is a Creator.

How can we use our sechel to emulate Hashem? Sechel shows itself in sensitivities and feelings, not only in knowledge. The power of intellect can bring a person to emuna.  The Alter of Kelm used to say that Hasem created whatever was necessary for man to survive in this world, free of charge.  Emuna is something we need to survive, and therefore Hashem implanted it within each of us regardless of our level of Torah knowledge or intelligence.

The prophet Yeshayahu says, “The ox knows his master and the donkey his owner’s manger, but My people do not know Me.”  If an animal knows who is in charge of him, shouldn’t a person with intellect see that? Rav Elya Lopian answers that this is the animal’s nature while man has free choice. What is the prophet really saying? An animal naturally sees his master. Similarly, faith in Hashem is a natural part of us.

What is emuna peshuta? If you ask an atheist, “How do you know that your father is really your father?” He will most likely answer, “I never had this question, I feel it in my heart.”  Simple faith is a natural part of us, we do not need proofs or reasons. How then can man come to deny his Creator? Arrogance and refusal to submit to obligations and a higher calling can blind a person to emuna.

We can perceive Hashem not only with our intellect but with our power of speech as well. Communication is the pen of the heart. Hashem gave us a means to express our thoughts through speaking and writing.  This can be abused through lashon hara, shaming others, and hurting someone with angry words.  In contrast, we can sanctify Hashem’s name with these very gifts. Greeting a friend with a friendly “Good morning!” offering an encouraging word, and penning a letter of condolence are all ways to do chesed with our power of communication.  This too manifests the greatness of our Creator.

There are so many barriers blocking our perception of Hashem’s remarkable kindness to us.  Let us open our eyes and see His greatness with the awesome gifts He has given us.