The Wings of Morning -
A Torah Review

Yaacov Dovid Shulman

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Volume VI, Issue 36

Nasso, May 2002

Unless otherwise noted, translations and original material copyright © 2002 by Yaacov Dovid Shulman (

--by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn

--by Avraham Stern

--by Yaacov Dovid Shulman

by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn

"One only stands up to pray with a ‘heavy head'" (Brachot).

In a well-known teaching, the Maggid of Mezeritch comments on this statement that a person must not pray for what he personally lacks but for what is lacking in the "head of all heads," as the Zohar puts it: for what God's Presence is lacking (so to speak). The Maggid states, "Even if a person makes a request on his own behalf, his intention must be that this matter not be lacking above (heaven forbid), for the soul is ‘a portion of divinity above,' one of the limbs of God's Presence. And the essence of a person's request is that God's Presence be fulfilled."

However, this is difficult to understand.

For those whose physical needs are of no consequence to them and who therefore feel no lack or at the very least do not feel a lack as being something central, it is understandable that their prayer will be on behalf of what is lacking above. But most Jews' physical needs are quite consequential to them, and their awareness of any such unmet need makes it difficult for them to learn Torah and keep the commandments. By praying to God that He meet that need, they perform a positive commandment.

But what does such a prayer have to do with the Maggid's teaching that "one only stands up to pray with a heavy head"–i.e., on behalf of what is lacking in the "head of all heads?"

An explanation–although a strained one–can be found in the revealed Torah, based on the halachic decision in the Shulchan Aruch Harav that "a person does not possess his own body at all," since it is not his but God's.

When a person's bodily need is unmet, this causes God, the true owner of the body, to suffer (so to speak). Thus there is no contradiction between a Jew praying that God take care of his bodily needs and "his intention must be that this matter not be lacking anything above." His intent in his prayer that his bodily needs be met is not so that he himself should not be lacking, but rather so that God's possession (his body) should not be lacking.

But this explanation is insufficient, for the Maggid's phrase indicates that he is speaking of a lack within the "head of all heads"itself–not merely in a possession of God.

It is axiomatic that since the revealed and mystical aspects of the Torah are one ("the soul of the Torah and the body of the Torah," in the Zohar's phrase), they do not contradict each other.

But here, it would seem that the revealed Torah's concept of prayer is the exact opposite of that of the Maggid. The revealed Torah tells us that when a person feels that he is lacking something, he must pray to God. If a person's unmet physical need affects him or is at the very least not a side issue, he must pray on his own behalf (whether or not he has in mind that his body is the possession of God).

In fact, the words in [the prayerbook], which are the essence of prayer, express that very meaning [of praying on one's own behalf]. And (as the commentators state) these words must be understood literally.

Even those who explain the prayers in terms of the Arizal's kabbalistic interpretations stress that those explanations are "meditative intents, allusions and mystical secrets"–[not the basic meaning of the words].

Yet according to the Maggid, the statement of our sages that "one only stands up to pray with a heavy head" means that prayer must be directed solely to seeing that "nothing be lacking above."

[To reconcile these two views,] we must conclude that even when a Jew is only thinking of his own needs, in an inner sense his prayer is also dealing with what is lacking in the "head of all heads."

This can be explained as follows:

An essential difference between the soul and body of a Jew is that whereas the soul is literally a "portion of divinity from above," the body is "similar in its physicality to the bodies of non-Jews" (Tanya). Thus the Alter Rebbe states that [God's choice of the Jews as His own people] is dependent upon their physicality (ibid.). One only makes a choice when choosing between two similar items that one desires. If two things are completely dissimilar, one cannot speak of choosing between them. One either wants one type of thing or another type of thing.

[There is no similarity between the soul of a Jew and the soul of a non-Jew.] Therefore, when God chose the Jews [rather than the non-Jews], what He was choosing was their physicality, since a Jew's body is "similar in its physicality to the bodies of non-Jews." Such a choice does not pertain to the soul.

In this, a Jew's body has an advantage over his soul. The soul is in essence connected to [spiritual] light and revelation. But a Jew's physicality, having been chosen by God, is literally bound up with God's Essence.

[This can be explained as follows.] True choice exists only in [God, Who is] the Essence and Being that was not preceded by any cause, heaven forbid. (This is unlike something outside that Essence, even on the highest levels of light. Light has its own characteristic, which affects any choice made on that level, thus obviating truly free will.)

Although this is a choice made by God and not that of the body that He has chosen, since free will is of God's Essence, that Essence becomes the being of the body as well (so to speak). Wherever God's essence is drawn down, there does not remain any place for something outside of Him (heaven forbid).

Therefore, when a Jew prays that his physical needs be met, this does not contradict the teaching of the Maggid that prayer must be on behalf of what is lacking in God's Presence, "the head of all heads." To the contrary, it is precisely what a Jew's physical body lacks that touches upon a lack in the true "head of all heads," God's essence and being (so to speak), He Who chose a Jew's physical body [and thus made it part of His essence]. (This goes beyond the level of revelation of divinity that occurs when the soul's spiritual needs are not met.)

And so when a Jew feels a lack in his bodily needs and prays to God, in an inner sense and in truth his inner being feels what it truly is: that his physical body is the choice of God's Essence.

Therefore, whatever state we may be on, every Jew is told that "one only stands up to pray with a heavy head": that we can and must have the conscious intent in our prayer when we ask God to fulfill our physical needs that we are asking God to literally fulfill that which is lacking above (so to speak): the Essence within us, so to speak.

addendum to Tzava'at Habesht

by Avraham Stern

A similar story about someone who ate a great deal was told by the Strelisker, who is known as the Seraph, R. Uri of Strelisk.

When he was still quite young, R. Uri sought a true path in serving God, [a way] to break free of the desires of the body and, in general to transform the physical into spirit.

(As is well-known, when in his later years great tzaddikim would come to him as disciples, he was told something wondrous about the Rizhiner rebbe, who at that time was still a young man and just beginning to become known. The Strelisker replied, "Why is that so unusual? The Rizhiner's father was R. Shlumke Probitshtsher; his grandfather was the Angel, R. Avraham; and his grandfather was R. Dov Ber. But me?" With these words, he rolled up farkatshet his sleeve, exhibited his arm, and said oysgefirt, "Before ??, I refined this thick piece of flesh").

R. Uri of Strelisk was informed from heaven that he should become a student of a hidden tzaddik who lived in a village as a shepherd.

But this shepherd did not want to reveal himself oysgebn to R. Uri. He treated R. Uri coarsely and even hit him several times with his shepherd's whip beitsh. But the Strelisker accepted this with love and said, "I was told from heaven to become your disciple." And then the shepherd accepted him.

When the time came for R. Uri to depart, the shepherd told him to become a disciple of one of the revealed tzaddikim of the students of the Baal Shem Tov–but only on condition that his new rebbe would keep him as a disciple for a full seven years. (to be continued...)
Chasidishe Maasiyos

by Yaacov Dovid Shulman

Let us take advantage of
This day to fish for red and for
Pastel souls. Back home, we will sit about the
Table with the family, we will be the human

Unit, we will be the cell
Of civilization. Do you
Remember civilization? Let us set
Aloft dragon kites and eagle kites in the wind of

Our spirit and of God's mind.
How everything runs together:
The child, the adolescent, the old person
And death. And because today there was no dirty bomb,

We are all these things, we are
The sacred boulder, the mayfly,
The blue air, a point of nothing, an ant, a
Presence in the night of shadows in the wind of God.

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