Due to past criticism I’ll try to make this post less ‘notesy’ and more cleanly and reader-friendly.
So school has resumed and R. Gordon’s classes are back in session (check other posts for location and time). I guess there’s no further escaping these weekly write ups which I had intended on doing. I’m now calling this post ‘Incites from R. Gordon’ which is based on his discussion of ‘Nefesh Hachayim’. Any attempt at giving a thorough overview on portions of this text would be beyond my capabilities and would only be degrading to the text. So I figure if I simply throw in a few words of wisdom, if you will, from R. Gordon during his ‘Nefesh Hachayim’ shiur it will suffice for a jewniproj post.
Though for now I feel I should give a little more of an introduction to what R. Chayim Vilozhin’s ‘Nefesh Hachayim’ is:
In some circles I have heard of it described as a sort of Hassidus for the Litvish or other non-Hassidic orthodox. Elsewhere I have heard of a Rabbi in a yeshiva recommending that if a Jew were not to study the ‘Tanya’ of R. Shneur Zalman of Liada or other great works of Hassidus, they should at least study 'Nefesh Hachayim' because the vast majority of it unfolds essentially the same pearls of Torah as does the Tanya. (Mind you this claim should not be accepted as fact; I arrived upon it through hearsay-though it would be quite interesting to look into the conceptual similarities between the two sefarim). In any case the work contains a prodigious amount of explanatory Kaballah: covering the infinite nature of a Creator, a universe, life, man, the soul, Mitzvos, Tshuvah, the perfection of a physical realm, and it is all way beyond me. I can only reprocess the material and try to give some context.
Without further adieu… This was taken from a few weeks back:
Rabbi Gordon, in the process of reading and expounding upon Nefesh Hachayim, was relating the design of man and his correspondence with the design of the universe. He went on to say that when a person does a Mitzvah (a good deed/a commandment from the Torah) with a certain part of his body, it gives Kidushah (holiness) to that corresponding part of the universe (whatever that meant). The next stage in the process is that Kidushah bounces back (so to speak) from that part of the universe back to the person; the radiance of that light shines back and forth. When it bounces back at a person, the person is surrounded by the light of Kidushah and he’s in Gan Eidin (or “on cloud nine” as the Rabbi put it; elucidating the concept into secular terms so we could all relate). The opposite is also true: when someone does something not so good, negative energy bounces back on the person and he’s in Gohenim (hell).
Someone then raised the question: (in light of the fact that) we’re living after the sin of the golden calf… and now people are in an in-between state of being neither completely good nor completely bad (as we learned in a previous lesson), what happens? The Rabbi explained: “We’re (perpetually) living in mixture of Heaven and Hell.” He added jokingly, “You can be struck by radiation and infrared at same time.” Someone can therefore perform a Mitzvah or do anything, but it cannot be done with 100% perfect Kavanah or good intent (the Rabbi seemed to indicate, if I’m not mistaken).
Someone asked another question about the nature of a hell. The Rabbi answered: R. Aryeh Kaplan puts forward that Hell is a person standing before G-d with all his sins laid out before him-just that moment of unprecedented embarrassment is hell. Though Gohenim is a cleansing process and not meant to be eternal (like a Christian Hell which seems to view hell as an ultimate end where ‘sinners’ go in an afterlife) but rather something in the process to T’shuvah (repentance/return to a Creator).
This discussion of the state of mankind since the sin of the golden calf led me to recall something fascinating which the Rabbi had said in a previous lesson. R. Gordon was clarifying what it meant that mankind today is no longer in the same state of righteousness or purity as he was when he was in Gan Eidan (before the eating from the Tree of Knowledge) or as he was immediately after the receiving of the 10 Commandments (before building the golden calf). He went on to say that his Rebbe had taught him and the other yeshiva boys to never trust anyone who says they’re doing something “for the sake of Heaven.” If you ever confront someone who makes such a statement, the Rabbi explained in the words of his Rebbe, you should run as far away as you can from this person. It is known that such a person will just as quickly stab you to death “for the sake of Heaven.” The point was that in this current state Gallus (exile), good and evil are so intertwined within every person (every person harboring a Yetzer hatov and a Yetzer hara) that no one can claim they’re doing something purely for the sake of Heaven. (Sure there may be Tzadikim who can always oppose their Yetzer hara or perhaps even kill their yetzer hara, but still such a statement cannot be made in the current world.) There may have been some specific verses that allude to this concept, but I don’t remember them.
Something else which was also quite fascinating (something I personally had never noticed before) was the use of language which the Torah employs when it comes to the ‘Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.’ R. Gordon points out that the Hebrew for ‘Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil’ is ‘Etz Hada’at Tov V’rah’ and da’at in fact means more than just knowledge (as translated into English), but it actually implies the kind of intelligence that signifies a joining or unison. I guess this kind of intelligence can be compared and contrasted with binah and chachma which are the two other kinds branches of intelligence. So when we read it as a ‘Tree of the unification of good and evil’ it suddenly has a different effect. It is as if to say: with the consumption of a fruit from this tree man will gain an understanding of good and evil, but moreover he will also acquire a skewed view; a blend between the two. Before, I had thought of the Adam and Havah story in rather simplistic terms: once man didn’t know anything good from bad so he lived in complete purity: ignorant bliss. Then one day he gets this command and eats this apple (which according to most sources was not an apple, but some other kind of fruit) and he becomes informed about good and bad and from then on he’s constantly tempted and pressured to do one of the two. But now, in light of this ambiguity, if you will, the text takes on manifolds of new meaning, at least for me. It makes me question everything about the motives behind conventional man and his inherent inability to differentiate between things.