Inspired by Reb Kalonymos Kalman's ideal of a group of people coming together with the common goal of enhancing their service of God, increasing their sensitivity to all things spiritual, strengthening their love of acheinu kol beis Yisrael, and unlocking the enormous potential that we all have to cleave to the Almighty.

Interaction and discussion of practical ideas and concepts toward this end, culled from any Torah true source is welcome and appreciated.

Observations and personal experiences are also welcome; the point is to grow!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Reb Shmuel Strashun, author of the Hagahot RaSHaSH (a supercommentary on the Talmud Bavli) was known as a genius par excellence. Once, he was grappling with a difficult passage in the gemara when he met up with Reb Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (Rosh Yeshiva [dean] of the famed yeshiva in Volozhin, author of Ha'amek Davar and Ha'amek Sheila), to whom he posed his difficulty.

Immediately, the Netziv (as Rav Berlin was known; not only was it an acronym of his name, it also means "prince" in Hebrew) answered Reb Shmuel's question. His answer was so brilliant and true, Reb Shmuel was astonished by the Netziv's erudition; not only was the answer so obvious, the Netziv had even supplied the answer in Reb Shmuel's own stylistic approach! When he expressed his amazement, and queried as to how the Netziv had attained such a level of understanding, Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehuda looked him in the eyes and responded:

"Because while you studied in wealth, I studied in poverty!"

The RaShaSh was a renowned genius who displayed an uncanny mind even at a young age. He effortlessly mastered whole tractates of Talmud and volumes of Torah literature, and continued to progress through his adolescence.

The Netziv had far humbler beginnings. By his own admission, he was a mediocre student as a child, and only after nearly squandering his yeshiva career did he settle down and dedicate himself to the task of learning Torah. He sequestered himself in a room for thirteen years, toiling with great effort, spending weeks on a single folio of gemara until he knew everything in it.

The "wealth" and "poverty" that he referred to wasn't in monetary terms; it was in innate talent versus diligence and hard work.

There is much value in genius, and those who possess great cognitive abilities (and utilize them properly) deserve our respect.

But nothing - nothing - can beat hard work.

Adam l'ameil yulad - Man was born to toil, and this holds true for every aspect in life, especially when it comes to spiritual matters. Contrary to what the hagiographic biographies would have you believe, many of our gedolim were not wunderkind - they strove, and persevered, and sacrificed a lot to get to the level they ultimately reached.

And if they could do it...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Tzetel Katan

[T]here is another remarkable document, which Rabbi Elimelekh distributed to his followers as a devotional handbook. It is called the Tzetel Katan, literally the "Small Note," and it consists of a seventeen point program on how to be a good Jew. Highly popular even among contemporary Hasidim, it is still reviewed every day by many Hasidic yeshiva students. Although it seems to describe an almost impossible discipline, for many, it serves as a goal for which to strive... 
While the Ba'al Shem Tov preached the imminence and constant availability of God, Rabbi Elimelekh reminds us that even to achieve this, a constant state of vigilance must be maintained. God is everywhere, but sin separates man from God...In order to relate to God absolutely, one must be ready to renounce everything, whether it be his attachment to human relationships or to temporal matters...
Rabbi Elimelkh presents us with an exalted picture of human potential. Standing at its apex is the Tzaddik, who is as much a denizen of the spiritual worlds as he is of the physical universe. But through the program of the Tzetel Katan, every person can strive to attain an absolute relationship to God. - Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, The Chasidic Masters, (pg. 56-57; 1984)
Many contemporary siddurim do print the Tzetel Katan, either following Shacharis or in the back of the siddur as an appendix. Either way, it's certainly a laudable and useful tool for growth in avodah, even to just learn it daily. Of course, the ideal would be to incorporate the exercises into the daily routine...

For an English translation of the Tzetel, click here.