Chassidus Season

By: Jonah James  |  September 20, 2022

By Jonah James, Staff Writer

During Elul, many students on campus begin making new resolutions for Rosh Hashanah. We seek to deepen our commitment to Torah and our fellow man, and one may notice an array of customs cropping up, like daily shofar blowing, selichos for Sephardim, and reciting extra psalms.

Of these customs, perhaps the addition of the psalm L’Dovid Hashem Ori in the daily prayers passes most hurriedly. The Midrash describes Ori [my light], as a reference to Rosh Hashanah, and both kabbalistic and chassidic tradition emphasize reciting this psalm during Elul.

However, the fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber Schneersohn, opens a new portal into its profundity. The Rebbe Rashab, as he is known, extracts two verses from the psalm L’Dovid Hashem Ori in his 1910 treatise entitled Achas Shealti .

He identifies a seeming contradiction with one of the psalm’s verses, which states: “If war would beset me, still would I have trust.” If one’s trust in Hashem is secure, why would he ask Hashem to avoid war, instead of accepting the situation? From this point on, the Rebbe Rashab takes us on a journey that is both mystically enriching and arduously demanding, nurturing our consciousness while expecting tangible application.

He explains that the Divine energy enclothed in creation adapts to the created being, differing from the energy as it exists in its Source. Higher spiritual entities – like angels, for example – understand their creatio ex nihilo from a mere ray of Divinity, granting them intense spiritual excitement. This ray allows angels to see and feel their continuous creation and absorption in their Source, like sunlight as it still exists within the globe of the sun.

The Rebbe then outlines the general structure of chassidus Chabad. For our world to exist, Hashem allows a ray of His light, reduced in both quantity and quality, to be enclothed in creation. This light must break through spiritual curtains separating our world from the next, and when it finally reaches creation it is like darkness, or black fire. Similarly, a candle’s wick burns with a fire that simultaneously destroys the candle while shining white light. In our lives, both a white and black fire illuminate our soul, with white fire being a love for Hashem gifted to us from above, and black fire being a love that we must cultivate ourselves. To develop love for Hashem, says the Rebbe Rashab, one should contemplate during Pesukei d’Zimra (Songs of Praise) on how Hashem permeates everything and that all is nullified to His light, from the rocks Hashem enlivens to the flowers Hashem grows.

To engrave this message concretely, the Rebbe teaches that physicality is secondary to spirituality like the body is secondary to the soul, and so the soul drags the body to move it. When a person reflects deeply upon this, he will not desire pleasure from material pursuits in and of themselves, but rather will be wholly dedicated to revealing Hashem so He is seen and felt. This recognition allows one to abstain from permitted pleasures and engage only in the absolutely necessary. Even in necessary matters one’s sole focus will be the Godliness within them.

Next, the Rebbe synthesizes the concepts of Hashem’s transcendence and immanence. He learns from the repetitive description of Hashem as the “Life of life” that Hashem’s exaltedness above the world (the Life of life) and Hashem as the world relates to Him (the Life of our life) exist simultaneously. Our service requires these two perspectives fused within each other, as both are true.

We achieve a love of Hashem, as He fills the world, through contemplation; however, loving Hashem as He exists beyond any relationship with the universe is generally only accessed through faith for brief periods of time. The Rebbe stipulates that meditation upon God as the root and source of worlds is not for the sake of the Divine soul, but rather for refining the animalistic soul–the part of our psyche that looks out only for its own egotistical survival.

This, says the Rebbe, is the entire purpose of our soul’s descent into a body, so that the soul should be like black fire that brightens the darkness of the world. To affect our thought, speech, and action, Chassidus explains to the ego that our true desire is nullification to Hashem, so even the animal soul will seek to reveal Hashem.

With this elucidation, we can answer our initial question about averting war. War, says the Rebbe, refers to the war of our divine and animal souls. In this melee, “still would I have trust” in victory, through contemplating Godliness. Nevertheless, there are two ways of refinement, one through the war of prayer, and one through tranquility in Torah. If there is but “one thing I ask,” says King David in the next verse, it is to “sit in the house of Hashem” so that the letters of Torah illuminate our lives, allowing us to refine the world through peace.

Nowadays, says the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, the world’s refinement has been completed, and as we enter Rosh Hashanah, and all that remains is to open our eyes to the reality of Moshiach, “when the moon becomes like the sun and she no longer needs to receive His light.” May we see this speedily in our days.