The Wings of Morning -
A Torah Review

Yaacov Dovid Shulman

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Korach 5758 / June 27, 1998


* The Wisdom of the Land of Israel
-by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook
* Rabbi Nachman as a Boy
-by Hillel Zeitlin
* When We Learn in Holiness
-by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook
* Midnight Prayers (story)
* Slowly, I (poem)
-by Yaacov Dovid Shulman

by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook

Exile and degradation are drawn into the world because we do not proclaim the worth and wisdom of the land of Israel. We do not rectify the sin of the spies who slandered the land. Measure for measure, we must tell and proclaim, across the entire world, its splendor and magnificence, its holiness and glory.

If we are worthy, after our most extravagant praises, we might express one ten-thousandths of the desirability of that desirable land, the magnificent light of its Torah, the glorious light of its wisdom, and the holy spirit effervescent within it.

Eretz Cheifetz, p. 38

by Hillel Zeitlin

To the same degree that the young Nachman was crafty and sharp in his learning and fear of heaven, so did he employ great simplicity in understanding the Torah and serving God. At the same time that he was learning the Kabbalistic Eitz Chaim and Pri Eitz Chaim and rising to the highest worlds, he also learned all the musar booklets that were in his father's house. At the same time that he was submerged in the most complex and profound Kabbalah prayer meditations, he would recite, like any simple, pious Jew, every supplication that he found in the thick prayerbooks. He did not even skip one prayer in Yiddish.

And Psalms were his constant companion. He would never part from his small book of Psalms.

In addition, besides the written prayers, every day he would pour out his heart to God in his own words, with his own prayers. He would speak to God in his mother tongue, Yiddish. For this purpose, he would hide in an attic or far outside the town: in the fields, a forest or a cave. As a child, his meditation spot was under the roof of his father's house, behind a flimsy little wall made of braided twigs, where hay and straw were stored.

In all his service of God, he acted quietly, walking modestly, hidden from adult eyes. To others, he was just a happy, mischievous, almost frivolous boy. When he reached bar mitzvah, his holy uncle, the Degel Machaneh Ephraim, reproved him, basing himself on the verse, "I today have brought you forth." It is already time, his uncle told him, to cast aside his childish mischief and to become somewhat respectable and mature.

Hidden from everyone, Nachman would sneak into the synagogue through a window and put coins into the charity box, reciting the Kabbalistic formula from the Shaarei Zion prayerbook for every coin that he put in. He would first change large coins for smaller denominations so that he would have more coins to put into the charity box and thus be able to repeat even more the "May it be Your will."

In his youth, Rabbi Nachman also fasted a great deal. There were times that he fasted from Shabbos to Shabbos: an entire week, excluding Shabbos. Although he was from birth a weak and delicate person, one year he fasted in this way eighteen times.

In the late evening hours, he would go to the gravesite of his great-grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov. From there, he would run to immerse himself in an uncovered, cold mikvah, whether it was summer or the greatest winter frost. When people would occasionally notice him wiping himself or combing his hair after he had gone to the mikvah in the winter, he would tell them that he had just washed his hair somewhere outside. People would be startled: Why is he washing his hair outside, on a freezing night? But go ask questions about a comedian....

More, he undertook to uproot every desire. But he did not war against all his desires at the same time. Were he to do so, they would rule over him, rather than he over them. What then did he do? He would lead an unremitting struggle with only one desire, and not engage any of his other desires. It was as if he were saying: "Evil inclination, I surrender to you all desires except for this one. For this one, you must capitulate. I am giving you so much, you must at least give me something in return." He would dedicate himself to vanquishing, breaking and uprooting that desire until he felt that he was completely free of it. Then he would grapple with a second desire. Again, he would not engage any of his other desires as he concentrated on breaking this one. Then he would deal with a third, a fourth, and so on.

In the same way that he conquered his desires, so did he conquer his bad character traits. Most of all, it was hard for him to conquer his anger. He was by nature a short-tempered person, and it cost him much toil until he came to the point where nothing in the world could anger him. His students tell that when he was in the land of Israel, he was at last able to attain the opposite of anger, complete goodness, so that nothing in the world could cause him the least irritation.

.... In addition to everything--the merit of his forefathers, the attention he received from the Baal Shem Tov's grandchildren and his mother, Feiga the prophetess, his in-born holiness, his unbelievable diligence, his superhuman work on himself and separation from the smallest desire--Rabbi Nachman still hoped for the pure mercy of God. He did not cease begging every day that only He, the Master of the world, should in His great mercy keep him from falling to the lowest depths.

Although he did everything humanly possible--if not more--in serving the Creator, it often seemed to him that he was being ignored and not heard, that he was being distanced from serving God, that he was not at all noticed and acknowledged.

One thing saved him: his superhuman self-encouragement, his rock-hard belief that "despair does not exist," that no one, not even the lowest of the low, may give up no matter what the circumstances--for "even in the depths of hell, one can draw close to God." Nothing is ever lost: not the slightest movement of repentance, neither one true sigh nor one true tear. One must break through the gates of repentance even though they appear to be locked and it seems that one is being chased away. Every closure, every hindrance, every obstacle comes from heaven with the purpose that our desire to repent will flicker more brightly, that our will for goodness will be more strongly forged, that our thoughts will be more cleansed and purified.

Even as a very young person, Rabbi Nachman knew that one must be extremely stubborn in serving God. One must not abandon what one has worked for, even under fire. "Even if the ruler's spirit rises against you, do not abandon your place." Do what you must and allow no obstacles to hinder you. If you fall, pick yourself up and continue on your way. If you fall again, strengthen yourself and again begin your service of God--as though you were only now beginning.

That is the essence of serving God: to always be at the beginning. We must begin anew as if we were only now born, as if we were for the first time opening our eyes, for the first time recognizing that there is a God in the world who gives life to all, nourishes all and guides everyone with love and compassion. This is what Rabbi Nachman meant when he would constantly repeat, "It is forbidden to be old!" We must feel as though our heart is for the first time opened to the secret of the worlds, and that we are learning for the first time the primer of serving God.

from Chapter Two of Reb Nachman Braslaver

by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook

When we learn in holiness, our will and wisdom together grow more refined. A divine glow emerges from our soul's intrinsic source, filling all its being. Spiritual life courses to our soul's extremities, like blood coursing to the extremities of the body.

On the other hand, all secular learning, in whatever discipline it may be, merely enlivens the particular topic it is dealing with.

From a quantitative point of view, this is the elemental difference between the holy and the secular. In addition, there is a qualitative difference between the two, which is on a much more elevated, indeed, an incomparable, plane.

Oros Hakodesh 6:1


The tzaddik, Rabbi Hershele Ziditshover, told that when he was with his rebbe, the holy Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov, he once decided that he would study Rabbi Moshe Leib's Tikkun Chatzos (midnight lament for the exile), for which he was very famous. Rabbi Hershele Ziditshover hid in Rabbi Moshe Leib's room to see how he conducted himself.

One time, he saw his holy rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Leib, put on gentile clothing: a fur coat and a kitshme. He laid a log across his back, swung an ax over his shoulder, and set out with a lantern in his hand.

In this way, at twelve midnight, he went to engage in Tikkun Chatzos. His holy student, Rabbi Hershele Ziditshover, was very curious to know what the conclusion of this holy event would be. "A new Shaarei Zion prayerbook," he thought to himself, "has been written here, with a new version of Tikkun Chatzos."

He followed Rabbi Moshe Leib's footsteps. After a long period of time, he saw Rabbi Moshe Leib enter the house of a woman who had just given birth. The room was cold, mercilessly so. The blizzard frost had permeated the room because there was no firewood. The mother of the newborn child lay in bed, and her baby was blue with cold.

Rabbi Hershele heard Rabbi Moshe Leib speak to the new mother in the gentile tongue. He told her, "I have a good, thick log of wood. Buy it from me. Since it is night-time, I will sell it to you cheap."

The woman replied, "I need the wood very badly, but I don't have any money."

Rabbi Moshe Leib said, "Just take the wood, and you can pay me tomorrow."

"But what good will it do me?" the woman replied. "It has to be chopped up, and I don't have an ax in the house."

Rabbi Moshe Leib answered briskly, "That is not a problem. I have an ax with me. I will quickly chop the wood, and I will light it myself, so that you will see that I have not cheated you. You will see how well this wood burns--as dry as pepper."

Then Rabbi Hershele heard how, as he chopped the wood, Rabbi Moshe Leib recited the first half of Tikkun Chatzos: Tikkun Leah. And as Rabbi Moshe Leib lit the fire, Rabbi Hershele heard him recite the second half of Tikkun Chatzos: Tikkun Rachel.

And after that, Rabbi Moshe Leib returned home and changed his clothing.

After seeing Chatzos commemorated this new fashion, Rabbi Hershele applied to his teacher, Rabbi Moshe Leib, the verse, "Your path is in many waters, your heels are not known." That is to say: your path is in the deepest waters, and your footsteps are beyond understanding.
May their merit protect us.

Shivchei Ramal, pp. 7-8

by Yaacov Dovid Shulman

Slowly, I
Discover the forest
For myself.

When I danced
In Cote d'Azur,
You were there too.

On the surface of the sea,
Suffuse the spray
With kindness.

All translations and original material. Copyright 1998

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