Dear COLlive readers:
My son was challenged by a relative to call nine relatives and ask core questions that are critical for a bochur to know as he starts his journey in life.
Here are some loving and patiently written pearls of wisdom from the Mashpia Rabbi Yossi Paltiel to a 13 year old as he prepares for his Bar Mitzvah.
I received your letter, and, I must say, you know how to ask ‘em. In nine questions you included essentially all of Chassidus. I’m answering your question by speaking to a voice sensing machine that transcribes, so I’m going to avoid using Hebrew words the machine cannot understand.
1. How does a Lubavitcher Bochur get not caught up in gashmiyus, in materialism?
I think the answer to this question is by being very honest with yourself. I’ll tell you what I mean; some people think that a person should either be perfect or nothing. Either I should have absolutely nothing to do with materialism or if I cannot completely separate myself from materialism I might as well be materialistically indulgent with no constraints.
What a lot of young people find is that they cannot be perfect so they give up.
They say to themselves if I really mean this and I am really a Chassidisher person then I should be able to manage myself and control myself from any and all material involvement and temptation.
But this is completely unrealistic and results in depression and failure and despair and resignation.
For a person to manage materialism properly, they must first of all admit that they not only need physical things but that they actually want physical things and enjoy physical things.
Only after they admit this to themselves, should they tell themselves that they want to manage their involvement in physical things and limit it, both for religious purposes and psychological reasons.
After that, they will choose one (and only one) area of physical things where they [‘do Iskafia’-] will limit themselves or not allow themselves to have a physical pleasure, simply because it is pleasure. They will never take on all areas at once. They will limit or stop involving themselves in one thing and as time passes they will add additional things that they will manage.
No Chossid should ever feel that he is suffering because of his (Iskafia and) Chasidishkiet: it must always be something that they take on willingly and freely and happily.
They have chosen to do this and are not forced to do it and they can change it anytime.
Also, the moment you begin to feel burdened and depressed by the pressure you put on yourself, you have to back down; because the real test; whether you are managing materialism in a healthy way or in an unhealthy way, is whether it makes you happier or sadder.
Mastering and controlling yourself should make you very happy; it is the ultimate event of going out of Egypt, breaking out of limitations.
If this mastering and controlling yourself makes you unhappy, that is the greatest proof that it is wrong and needs to be stopped curtailed or changed.
You will only stop yourself from over indulgence in material things if you feel empowered by the challenge; and not forced, controlled or imprisoned by the need for Iskafia.
2. What is the diff between a frum Bochur and a Lubavitcher Bochur?
In one sentence the difference is chayos, Chassidus, adds to Yiddishkiet life and energy and positivity.
The meaning of the word Bochur is a young person.
Young people have a very big upside and a very big downside.
The upside is energy and freshness and enthusiasm and a trust and a hope.
The downside is inexperience an intensity that leads them to be too impulsive. Another frequency found flaw in young people is superficiality, this means they don’t deliberate enough, and though they get very excited initially, they may just as quickly lose interest.
In Chassidic terminology this means there is a Chitzoniyus and shitchiyus quality to everything they do.
The solution in young people is a faith and enthusiasm in their Yiddishkiet.
This is what is special about Chassidus for a Bochur, the life and excitement, acceptance and dedication more than compensate for this problem of youth.
This Chayos is a real Emuna in the truth of what he is so dedicated to, that motivates in the Bochur a lack of fear of Olom Hazeh.
A Chassidisher Bochur is very certain about what he believes because of the energy and the soul which defines him.
In other words, Yiddishkiet is always a combination of faith and reason, acceptance and work: commitment to something bigger than ourselves and personal obligation and work.
However, in Chassidus as a whole and to a Chassidisher bochur in particular, the first priority is the energy and faith; while the personal work and achievement, though very important, comes second.
3. How is a 13 year old Bochur supposed to daven?
1) Three times a day, 2) In a Shul, 3) with a Minyan 4) that doesn’t go too fast 5) or too slow. 6) You should have a regular place where you stand 7) and you should not pace while you daven 8) you should look in the siddur, 9) and you should slowly learn the meaning of the words, so that over the course of a few years you can know enough to daven with pirush hamilos.
10) If you are able and when you will be able you should attempt to think to Chassidus 5 minutes before davening in the morning, after putting on your Tefilin. There is a letter from the previous Rebbe, explaining 7 reasons why thinking Chassidus then is most appropriate and ideal.
11) What you should not do is ever stop davening with a Minyan and davening longer. This should not happen until you are much older or perhaps never at all.
I know there are many young boys doing this and it is wrong, very wrong. And the proof is that they don’t stay with it. After a while they stop, but they continue not davening with a Minyan using their former holiness as the justification for the current neglect of what davening is really supposed to be.
Now I’ll explain a little bit.
The most important thing to know about davening in general and especially the davening of a young person is that it must be normal.
In our tradition there are many examples of people davening for many hours. Some people imagine that people who did this were living disconnected spiritual lives; they then attempt to imitate them, by acting out the Mishuga’asen ahead of the serious work and Chassidus.
But this is not true at all: the greatest Chassid, who was the most serious daveners, if he wasn’t fooling himself, did what he did in a way that was very much connected to his regular life that gave integrity to his exercise.
Davening is not living in a fantasy; its working hard and serving the creator of the world. You must be very careful not to let hopefulness and fantasies cloud your objective sense of self in this area.
4. Teach me one Vort that you know from the Rebbe that’s important for me.
There was a young man who was learning in 770 who was brilliant, and he knew it, he was therefore quite arrogant with pretty good justification.
His friends who were raised in the tradition of ChaBaD, that one of the worst things one could be is arrogant, couldn’t stand his arrogance. They repeatedly reprimanded and teased him about it, telling him (in ways that only Bochurim can) how inappropriate for a Chassid this was.
Eventually he realized that he had a serious problem, and he actually went into the Rebbe to discuss it.
He expected to be given a method by which he could humble himself and crush his tendency towards arrogance.
But the Rebbe did nothing of the sort; he told him the following “nu, zul Chutch Zain mit vus”. This means: don’t worry about your arrogance, it’s actually a good thing or it could be a good thing, just make sure that whatever you think of yourself, you actually are.
If you think you’re a scholar, or a genius, or a very pious person, just be all those things.
Many people think that our tradition believes, in crushing people’s egos, but the Rebbe didn’t think so. The Rebbe understood that the greatest motivation for accomplishing great things in this world is ego.
Ga’ava can be a very good thing don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.
5. What’s the diff between how a Lubavitcher Bochur dresses compared to the rest of the world?
In short the answer is you must dress like a mentch but clothing must never be something which is very important to you.
In the world it is acceptable to be busy with how you look. According to Halacha for a man to be too busy with how he looks may actually problematic, but many people have found heterim (justifications and excuses) to explain why even men are allowed to do this.
In many of our Yeshivos today there are dress codes with standards for shoes, shirts, pants, hats and so on. All of this is symptomatic of our times, where young men are preoccupied with how they look. It’s unfortunate, because it would be far better if it was a non-issue, and there would be no need to create rules, because the values would be the way they’re supposed to be.
And those values again are: you have to be decent, you have to be presentable, but it’s never allowed to become that important.
6. Why is it so important to have a Rebbe?
The most basic answer to this question is because each one of us need somebody to tell us what we must do right now. The Torah is ancient and its truths timeless, but in each time, there’s a different emphasis and a different priority.
The Rebbe is the one who tells us what God wants from us specifically now.
This is very important and very serious, and unfortunately many people don’t think it is, because a lot of people think that Jews are always doing the same thing no matter what, and that is not the case.
Nothing about Judaism changes ever, but at the same time so much of the world changes, and accordingly, so much of what we must do in implementing Judaism changes.
In the last two generations the changes that have taken place in the Jewish world have been historic, and they require a leader of historic proportions.
It has been centuries since the need for such a leader has been so obvious and critical.
On this level the need for the Rebbe is very obvious: and not to understand this is very foolish and sad.
What this means to you, is, that the Rebbe tells us what we must do and we do it. Nothing is more important in the Chossid Rebbe relationship than doing what we’re told.
But this is only the basic and practical issue, and there’s more to the idea of a Rebbe, much more.
Judaism in general and Chassidus in particular believe in Souls, Neshamos.
We further believe in the interconnectedness of all souls (Tanya Ch. 2). We further believe that all the souls make up one body with some are the head, some are the eyes, others the nose or the mouth while others are the arms, legs, fingers, toes, hair, skin and nails.
All the souls are spiritually connected as are all limbs of the body.
But just as in a body, a head is far more important than any other limb, as it is the nerve center of the entire body, similarly in the collective body of the Jewish people the Rebbe is the head.
He Soul is 1) the source of all the souls of his generation, 2) he feels each and every one of our souls (and all of us collectively) 3) keeps us together and 4) is responsible to continue giving us life, both materially and spiritually.
In other words, most of a Rebbe does for Yidden, they simply don’t know, because it is spiritual and subliminal. The instructions he gives to his Chassidim and his generation are secondary to the inner soul connection he has with us.
What this means is quite involved, and for the purpose of this discussion, what I wrote will have to be enough.
7. What should a 13 Bochur learn in Chassidus?
Probably the most important things for you to learn right now would be the Sichos (talks) and Igros (letters) of the previous Rebbe. Because in his talks and letters, he teaches, in a very warm and living way, using many stories and classic short but fiery thoughts, what Chassidus is.
There is nothing like having a Rebbe for a teacher: or: there is nothing like having a warm personal Chassidisher Farbrengen with a Rebbe.
I would propose to you that there are three things you need to learn at this point.
Number one Tanya. Nothing is more important in the life of a Jew and especially in the life of a Chossid than Tanya.
If you could memorize some of it by heart so that you can carry it with you wherever you go, and use it as a way of keeping yourself busy and (therefore) protected from the environments you will be in, that is ideal.
But whether you can memorize it or you cannot, you must learn Tanya.
You need to know about the Godly Soul and Animal Soul, the war between them, and hear about the possibility of winning the realest war in our lives which is the war we have to fight with ourselves, to be people and not animals.
To learn about self-mastery and self-control, discipline, responsibility, consistency and hard work.
To learn about the possibility for a human being to own the one thing in the world he can actually possess: which is himself.
We do this by making good choices, teaching ourselves self-control and discipline, so that we have the strength to stop ourselves when the tests becomes severe, and the ability to make ourselves act when we’re really lazy.
All this you will learn from Tanya.
In addition you must learn Likutei Sichos for the purposes of establishing a connection with the Rebbe, and knowing the specific directions that he gives us for our generation.
You must learn at least 1 Sicha a week.
In addition to both of those you need to spend time learning the Sichos and Igros of the previous Rebbe as I mentioned before.
When I was a teenager I read these things in bed before going to bed, and it was a very important influence in my life.
If Yiddish as a language is not too difficult for you, I would advise you to do the same. If Yiddish is too difficult for you, then you must make a time every day to learn some of the Sichos with somebody who can help you with the language.
8. What does it mean for me to live with Moshiach?
It means to have a feeling that you personally miss him and need him. That Moshiach is not only an idea written about in holy books that holy people worry about, but something that is really necessary for you and your life.
This is impossible unless you understand what Moshiach means. You need to learn that this idea has practical significance and it’s practically achievable,
Even though only God can bring him we can set up the circumstances that will allow God Almighty to bring him down into this world. It has so much to do with our work on ourselves and on our environment.
We’re not big people we cannot change the world all by ourselves but each one of us can do something very significant in affecting the whole world: Jews and non-Jews, in a way that brings the idea and the reality of Moshiach closer
As you know the Rebbe would very often sight the RaMbaM who teaches each of us (from the Gemara) that we must see the world as balanced (50/50) and the one good deed we do is the one that will tip the scale for us personally and for the entire world a s a whole in the direction of good and bring down Moshiach.
9. How can I connect to the Rebbe?
This question has already been asked and answered in the HaYom Yom.
Learn his teachings, follow his directive that means do what he says to do in all aspect beginning with ChiTaS, RaMbaM, being a real Tumim, and then reaching out to others on Mivtzoyim etc.
Also to participate in Farbrengens where the warmth and joy in other words the soul of Chassidus can get inside you and then call out from within you your own soul, your own Chossid.
You asked me ‘only a few’ questions but these are far from ‘just a couple of questions’.
On the now passed occasion of your Bar Mitzvah my wife and I wish you your parents grand-parents etc. only health revealed good and much nachas from you.
And you, well you must toil, devote every ounce of strength God almighty gave you to grow in Torah and Mitzvos and eventually in Middos.
– Rabbi Yossi Paltiel