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Section: Daas Torah   Category: Postcards From Kotzk
Sighting: Rav Chaim Kanievsky In a Kotzker Shtiebel

Have you ever davened in Lederman's Shul with Rav Chaim Kanievsky? Watching him daven he appears shockingly ordinary. His davening is not longer that yours or mine. You will not notice any enthusiasm.

The Kotzker Rebbe posed the following question. When Yonason be Uziel learned torah any bird flying overhead was burned to ashes. If that was the greatness of the talmid Yonason, what happened to birds flying over his great rebbi Hillel when he learned? Answers the Kotzker, when Hillel learned the birds were able to fly over safely without being affected. To be able to contain the fires within him without giving off outward expression, that was the greatness of Hillel!

The Kotzker philosophy is that outward expression is a tricky proposition. It takes service that is purely between you and Hashem and adds a dangerous element; the peering eyes of your neighbor. By adding this factor to the mix you run the risk of diverting your attention from your concentration on the mitzvah and focusing it on how your actions are being viewed by those around you. Outwardness, provides the perfect cover for the yetzer hara to penetrate the mitzvah and destroy it from within.

Another issue with a public display of outward performance of a mitzvah is that you run the risk of false imitation. Someone viewing a great Tzaddik performing a mitzvah with much vigor and flair can only see the surface. They are not privy to the inner avodah. In their excitement to perform mitzvos on a higher level the only thing they copy is the visible activity. Outward performance of a mitzvah leaves a trail of imitators performing mitzvos totally devoid of any inner meaning.

Rav Shimshon Pincus Zt"l gives a beautiful analogy. When a young child that cannot daven watches his father saying Shemona Esrei he will imitate him taking three steps back, bowing down, and beating his chest. While we think this is a cute performance, the child believes that he has davened Shemona Esrei, which in the mind entails doing a relatively simple a dance just like his father. In reality the child does not comprehend that we are speaking to the almighty ruler of the universe. He may not even know that we are saying words.

Rav Pincus compares this to our view of how a gadol davens. We think that he like us says the words albeit with more kavana. However in truth, we don't fathom the extent of a gadol's true awareness of Hashem's tangible presence and the awe he feels standing before him. We don't scratch the surface of his understanding the power of tefila and its importance in the grand scheme of things like the gadol does.

Surely if Rav Chaim Kanievsky put a little more rhythm and spunk into his davening we'd notice a lot more people doing their best rendition of the "kizatzka" during davening. But would we be better daveners? Would our tefilos become more attractive to the Ribono Shel Olam? No and No.

That was the praise that the Torah gives Aharon. He lit the Menorah exactly as commanded, says the pasuk. Rashi says that we see from here that he did not change anything he was told. "Not even adding an extra emotional outward movement", adds the Kotzker.


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Visitor Comments: 4

Pl, 2007-07-25 09:35:04
Your messages are pointed, compelling,intellectually honest and appealing. Perhaps they can be promoted through the use of original texts.Could you publish a reading list for Kotsker Machshava?Thank you,PH
au, 2007-07-25 11:37:04
Not too much original material since the Kotzker was against writing his thoughts. There are many sources for Kotzker quotes which is the legacy left from kotzk.You can check out Leaping Souls by Chaim Feinberg (who we mentioned in an early article), Sharp As A Needle by Eliyahu Kitov, Bein Peshischa L'Lublin by Zvi Meir Rabinowitz, and Emes MiKotzk Titzmach. If you have any other questions feel free to email us. We are always happy to talk about Kotzk!
Anonymous, 2007-11-05 14:40:06
Where can I get a copy of Emes MiKotzk Titzmach in Hebrew? Help!
Anonymous, 2007-11-05 20:58:03
My copy was published by Netzach in Eretz Yisroel 5754 arranged by Rabbi Moshe Shenfeld. Unfortunately there is no phone number. If I see it in a store I will let you know. You can also try virtualgeula com they find seforim for a fee

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