Revach L'Neshama RSS feed for - Section: DAAS TORAH Category:POSTCARDS FROM KOTZK Copyright 2007, Revach L'Neshama en-US Revach L'Neshama Logo 144 31 Fri, 03 Dec 2021 03:00:00 +0000 240 Kotzker Rebbe On The Dormant Monster Within

The Yehudi HaKadosh MePishischa was a Chosid of the Chozeh of Lublin, until one day one of the elder statesmen in the Chozeh's court, whom the Chozeh held to be a big tzaddik, slandered the Yehudi HaKadosh to the Chozeh. The Chozeh relied on this saintly Chosid, and that was the end of the relationship between the Yehudi HaKadosh and the Chozeh. No explaining would rectify the matter, the Chozeh would not hear of it.

Commenting on this episode the Kotzker Rebbe marveled at the power of the Yetzer Hara. For sixty years the Yetzer Hara helped this Rasha do only mitzvos and maasim tovim and helped him steer clear of any aveira. Why? Because he was investing in him for the future. He knew that one day he will use this person as a vehicle with which to cause machlokes and therefore made sure to keep his reputation pristine in order that the Chozeh will rely on him and his "tzidkus".

Sounds like a crazy conspiracy theory but these sentiments are echoed by Rav Chatzkel Levenstein. Rav Chatzkel says that if someone displays a bad middah even at an advanced age, after never succumbing to this middah in the past, surely it was in him all along. It just never had any occasion to go on display until now.

A person is born with bad middos, says Rav Chatzkel. Either you fight them and rid yourself of them, or they will lfester quietly until the right moment presents itself. That moment is not a deviation of your otherwise excellent middos. Rather it is an indication of the monster within you, that was never vanquished.

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Who Cares About Olam Haba?

Reb Menachem Mendel of Kotzk once asked his friend Reb Yizchok Vorki, what is a person's purpose in this world? Reb Yitzchok answered to be MeTaken their Neshama. Reb Menachem Mendel thundered back, "Is this what we learned in Peshischa?" Our job in this world to serve our creator and further His interests not our own. Not our physical desires and not even our spiritual interests.

In Kotzk the ego is nonexistent. Reb Menachem Medel once read the pasuk "V'Ahavta L'Reiacha Kamocha", You must love your friend like yourself. Rav Menachem Medel paused and then asked bewilderedly "Like yourself??" Since when does one love himself?

Rav Aharon Fried a talmid of the Chassam Sofer asks in his sefer Tzel HaKesef, what is so great about someone willing to die Al Kiddush Hashem. The Kol Bo in Hilchos Teshuva says that someone whoever accepts to die Al Kiddush Hashem feels absolutely no pain whatsoever. Moreover he gets free passage straight into Olam Haba. So what great sacrifice has he made? He answers that Mesiras Nefesh means giving up your spirit and soul to the point of absolute nullification. To be willing to give up your olam habah for a heavenly cause.  Any remnants of your being ceases to exist for all of eternity in order to make Hashem's name great. Total nullification is the worst fate of all for your ego since it is, no longer.

That is what Reb Mendel strove for. Total nullification of the "I". Your whole being is dedicated to serving Hashem. You don't want or need anything because "You" simply aren't.  Total "true" Mesiras Nefesh. In Kotzk your level of existence is inversely proportional to the level of your ego. A person did not have his own agenda not even to achieve spiritual heights. A Kotzker's lifelong struggle was to become a transparent pawn on Hashem's chessboard. Only a person who didn't exist in his own right was considered a person.

Sun, 07 Feb 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Traveling A Long Way For A Nearby Treasure Rav Simcha Bunim M'Peshischa the Rebbe of Rav Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, told a story about a Yid named Reb Eizek.  One night Reb Eizek had a dream that he should travel to Prague.  upon his arrival he should dig under the bridge leading to the castle and there he will find a treasure.  The next morning without delay Reb Eizek set off on the long journey to Prague.  To his dismay when he got to the bridge he saw it was heavily guarded by the King's soldiers.

He couldn't believe his dream sent him all this way to dig in an area that he could never even get near.  He circled the site all day lost in deep thought.  That night he rented a room in a Hotel and the next day again he walked around the sight in a state of despair.  After doing this for a number of days, the captain of the force became curious about the sad Jew who keeps circling all day.  He decided to approach him to ask him what he is doing.

"Who are you waiting for and what are you doing", asked the captain?  R. Eizek poured out his heart and told his story to the captain.  The captain burst out laughing.  "How can you be so silly to come all the way to Prague because of a dream?"  The captain further told him that he himself had a dream that in Cracow under the oven of a Jew named Reb Eizek, there was a buried treasure.  "Do you think I am traveling to Cracow because of this silly dream?"  Without another word, Reb Eizek excitedly hurried home and started digging.  He found the hidden treasure buried under the stove just like the captain told him.  From his newly found fortune he built a Shul that stands until today and is called by his name.

Rav Bunim said the lesson we learn from here is that when we run to see a tzaddik we do not go to find a treasure buried by the tzaddik.  We go to learn the secret of how we to find the treasure buried right there beneath our own feet.  Armed with this secret, we just need to take out the shovel and start digging!  (Chaim SheYesh Bahem - Parshas Nitzavim)

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 03:00:00 +0000
The Miracles of Kotzk

Almost all of us at some point in our lives have had something no less than miraculous happen to us. We were surely moved and inspired at the time. Looking back today can you immediately remember what that was without having to think? Is there something good about the way you act today that you can attribute to this experience? What lasting impression did it make upon you?

If you are in search of miracles you had better try another town. Kotzk is that last bastion in the (chasiddishe, litvishe, or sefardic) world of good old emunah without tales of the Mofsim performed by the Rebbe. What did they have against miracles in Kotzk? What objection can there be to being eyewitness to the open hand of Hashem? In Shiras Hayam it says that after experiencing Krias Yam Suf, Bnei Yisroel believed in Hashem and his servant Moshe. Why didn't they believe after the 10 makkos and Yetzias Mitzrayim? Moreover if they finally became Ma'aminim after Krias Yam Suf, why did they continue to doubt Hashem almost immediately afterward in Marah, by Chet HaEgel, the Miraglim, etc?

In Kotzk everyone knows that Emunah acquired by witnessing miracles is short lived. Even Emunah acquired through contemplating the marvels of the natural world around us is frowned upon in Kotzk. The Mishna in Avos says someone who is walking on the road and involved in Torah study and stops to admire a tree it is as if he has forfeited his life. Wonders the Kotzker, why would someone who wants to recognize Hashem's greatness and make a bracha on the tree (according to the Bartenura's interpretation of the Mishna) be subject to death? The Kotzker answer is that to be involved in Torah study and to turn elsewhere to try to find emunah is pure rebellion. Finding Hashem in nature was for the pre-torah generations. The only acceptable route to emunah in Kotzk is through Torah.

Torah is not merely our rule book of do's and don'ts. It is the wellspring of life and the source of our emunah, albeit not on the surface. One must dig deep and toil over Torah to find his emunah. In Reb Menachem Mendel's unique interpretation of another well known chazal he says, Yogati U"Motzosi Taamin. If you toiled over Torah you will find belief. There is a machlokes in the Medrash if Avrohom recognized Hashem when he was three years old or 48 years old. The Kotzker explains that it is impossible that Avrohom sat around idly for 48 years. What happened was that he recognized Hashem at age 3 but it took him 45 years of toil to turn that spark of recognition into perfect emunah.

I once heard a story of a non religious Doctor in California who was trying to revive a man brought to the emergency room without a pulse. While the Doctor was moving about the room the patient sat up and said Moshe Ben Rephael (not his real name) you must do Tshuva. The patient then died. The Doctor was blown away and shaken to the core. He hadn't heard anyone call him by his Jewish name since his Bar Mitzva. Did he change because of this incredible event? No! He eventually became a Baal Tshuva but in the year following this incident he didn't change one iota from his old ways.

Miracles are not a foundation of emunah. It can be a wakeup call for someone to start to toil to acquire emunah but it doesn't actually get you there. The Kotzker captured this ideal in his typically cryptic style saying, "I can resurrect the dead but I prefer to resurrect the living." He was not interested in wowing simple minded people with super fantastic wonders. For that, one was able to go to many Chassidic courts throughout Poland. In Kotzk the Rebbe preferred to rehabilitate souls through real ideas and hard work and suffuse them with emunah earned the old fashioned way; through Torah. To turn a Jew into a real believer that is considered the biggest miracle of them all.

Mon, 16 Feb 2009 03:00:00 +0000
Do We Want Moshiach NOW?

A delegation was sent from Brisk to convince the Bais HaLevi to become their new Rav. After making their presentation, the Bais HaLevi refused to accept the position. No argument would persuade him until one member of the delegation said that 20,000 Jews are waiting for him in Brisk. When the Bais HaLevi heard this he said he cannot disappoint 20,000 Jews and immediately accepted the position. The Chofetz Chaim upon hearing this story burst into tears. He said if this is how a Tzaddik like the Bais HaLevi feels, certainly Moshiach would also come if 20,000 Jews were waiting for him. Apparently there aren't that many.

The Kotzker Rebbe tells a story of a King who banished his son from his palace as a punishment for improper behavior. The son wandered around the kingdom and it didn't take long until the prince turned into a homeless pauper. After a few months when word got back to the King about his son's struggles and his pathetic condition the King sent his trusted advisor to bring his son back to the palace but only if he really wanted to come back. After an exhaustive search the advisor tracked down the prince and when he met up with him he told the prince "your father misses you and loves you. He sent me to help you. What can I do for you?" The prince responded, "I am terribly hungry and cold. My clothes are worn out. Please ask my father to send some food and warm clothing."

When the King heard this he began to cry. "All he had to do was ask to come back to the palace and he would have had all the good in the world. Stupid fool, all he can think about is filling his tummy and warming himself?"

All our lives we struggle just to survive. We daven and plead with Hashem for health and sustenance. When we have financial difficulties we ask Hashem to help us find a way to the golden path. When we have health issues that the Doctors cannot cure we beg Hashem to intervene. When our children don't meet our expectations we cry our tears into a Tehilim. But what if Hashem was with us? There wouldn't be any sickness and poverty only bliss and cleaving to the Shechina. We would be princes in the King's palace.

So of course we want Moshiach why doesn't he come? Ask yourself this painfully honest Kotzker question. If you were waiting days, weeks, or months to participate in a particular event or activity that you enjoyed very much and just as this event is about to begin suddenly there is a commotion and you find out Moshiach has just arrived. What would be your first reaction? I don't know about you but I would probably say, "Moshiach waited 2000 years, can't he wait another two hours? Now out of all times he has to show up?!?" Are you just going to leave your car and home behind just like that? Do you have time to sell it? Should you make a pilot trip to Eretz Yisroel to make sure you can get a decent apartment?

Moshiach is not a superhero coming with suitcases of cash and medicine to bail us out of our troubles. Deep down we all know the truth. The days of Moshiach are about spirituality, about living the ideal torah lives, about yearning for Hashem and about ripping ourselves away from worldly pleasures. Sure when things are not going so good we'll gladly take a double dose of Moshiach just to get us out of our mess. But what about when the going is good, materialistically? Are we ready to give it up so fast? Maybe, but we prefer to get in our last licks, if only Moshiach can wait until the show is over.

On Tisha B'Av ask yourself, "Do you really want Moshiach NOW?"

Sun, 10 Aug 2008 03:00:00 +0000
Farewell Kotzk... Forever?

Although there is still so much more to learn here in Kotzk, the summer is over and it's time to go home for Rosh HaShana. We'd love to stay but since the Rebbe died the whole town has died as well. Before leaving we went to say good-bye and to thank our main tour guide Reb Chaim Feinberg zt"l (Leaping Souls). While we exchanged good wishes I asked him the one question that has been on my mind for a while. Is Kotzk still alive? The Rebbe's son did not really become the next Kotzker Rebbe, although he officially suceeded his father and was a great tzadik in his own right. His close talmid Rav Mordechai Yosef Josephy left Kotzk years earlier to found the Izhbitz Dynasty after a dispute with the Rebbe. His Talmid Chaver the Chidushei HaRim embarked on a milder path declaring Reb Simcha Bunim lead with love, the Kotzker led with fear, I will lead my flock with Torah. Sochotchov? That doesn't paly a prominent role today either. So is there a Kotzk today?

Of course not! The continuation of a chasidic dynasty means that each generation sticks closely to the ideals, customs, mannerisms, and ways of their predecessor. The thought of this alone was an abomination to the Kotzker. He believed in searching within for your own path. He didn't want future generations to imitate him.

Rather explains Rabbi Feinberg the legacy of Kotzk is found in the Mussar movement founded a decade after the Kotzker's passing by Reb Yisroel Salanter. The ideals and their manifestations are eerily similar. As opposed to Chasidus they both believed that inwardness is the best way to serve Hashem to avoid publicity which destroys the entire mitzva. Being an exact replica of one's teacher is not acceptable in either of these worlds. They both agree that the only path to Hashem is through talmud study and not through exalted Kabala and mysticism. Perfecting one's character and ripping out your subconscious ego driven analysis is a prerequisite to growth. Neither the great Baalei Mussar nor Reb Mendel published seforim (A few seforim were printed that gather together some drashos posthumously). They both believed that Mussar is about being living books.

While everything about Reb Mendel's ideals seemed bizarre in the Chasidic courts that dominated the world of Poland and the Ukraine, Lithuania where Reb Yisroel Salanter preached, had the right mind set and was fertile ground to plant the movement. This is not surprising as Reb Mendel was the anti-Chasid who really wanted to bring Chasidus back full circle. His son-in-law the Sochatchaver would repeat in his name every Yom Tov that the best path to Hashem is through Torah. The Baal Shem forged a new path not because it was superior but because the generation no longer had the capability to grow close to Hashem by following that path. The Kotzker wanted to fix the path of Torah and help Chasidim tread on it once again in order to draw close to Hashem.

Thanks for coming with us to Kotzk. We hope that you enjoyed and that it has given you some food for thought. Wishing you all a Kesiva V'Chasima Tova!

Mon, 03 Sep 2007 03:00:00 +0000
Me and My Radio

A village Jew once cried to the Kotzker Rebbe that he lives in a remote village with unlearned low quality people and feels all alone. The Kotzker screamed" What? Alone? Avrohom Avinu was also alone. Is there Heaven in your village? Is there a gemara? It says in Koheles "Af Chochmosi Umdah Li"; the wisdom I gained in solitude is what stood by me. You received a gift like this from Heaven and you complain about it?"

Rav Shimshon Pincus asks why is it that people hate to be alone. Being in the car is torturous for us and we must be accompanied by the news or music or we'd go crazy. Why not just relax and enjoy it? What is wrong with being alone with our own thoughts? Are we scared of ourselves? Why must we passively sit back and be constantly entertained by outside stimulus. Are we totally devoid of inner thoughts?  Is mind numbing noise and trivial brain cluttering information our comfort in life?

The Kotzker was a unique Rebbe in the respect that he was a one man crusade against the zombie like Chasid/cult like Rebbe relationship. The popular notion of Chasidus is that the Chasid totally submits himself to the Rebbe who lifts each Chasid's soul to heights through the Rebbe's own greatness. This idea was totally repugnant to the Kotzker who demanded that each Chasid search within himself and forge a direct link to Hashem and not forgo a relationship with Hashem to gain a better one vicariously through the Rebbe. Once a Chasid came to the Kotzker crying for the Rebbe to daven for him. Reb Mendel replied "Are you too sick to wrap yourself in a Tallis and daven for yourself?"

The Kotzker himself spent the last few decades of his life in solitary confinement to both work on himself and because he could not deal with the idea that Chasidim wanted him to conduct himself as a typical Rebbe.

Much like the Kotzker, the great Slabodker Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Isaac Sher in his sichos on Elul says that Hashem did a wonderful Chesed for us by making Rosh Hashanah and the Yom HaDin once a year. He says that it is a person's responsibility to constantly monitor and review his actions. Unfortunately this is a chore we'd rather not do because we are afraid what honest analysis will tell us about ourselves. Furthermore we know before we start that it is a hopeless endeavor to try to reach the level that we know we should achieve so we avoid self analysis altogether and just go through our lives without thinking.

Fortunately Hashem in His kindness gave us a Chodesh Elul and a Yom HaDin every year. This leaves us with no choice but to prepare ourselves for judgment day by doing honest introspection of ourselves throughout the past year and to undertake real change in the hope of getting a favorable judgment for the upcoming year. Even a blind fool knows that in Elul when he gets into the car he must turn down the volume and fire up the heart.

Mon, 20 Aug 2007 03:00:00 +0000
Who Has An Appetite For Kavod?

When I was younger I remember my mother asking my father why some Rabbi's are such big "Kavod" mongerers. Why is it that such Torah driven people can't resist such a silly temptation that us ordinary people view as foolish and shallow. My father answered that these great people have overcome the Yetzer Hara in so many battlefields such as Torah, Tefilla, and Chesed that the Yetzer Hara has one battlefield remaining where he focuses all his energy. The War of Kavod. Us lay people are simply child's play for the Yetzer Hara as he beats us hands down in almost every challenge he poses without needing to wage the more refined and sophisticated battle of Kavod.

The Kotzker Rebbe said the Ga'ava (pride) in its most dangerous form occurs in a man who has cleansed himself of all other appetites. The greater you become the greater reason you have to feel pride. Kavod is the addictive drug that pacifies out Ga'ava. So strong is the Yetzer Hara for Kavod that the great Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz used to retell stories every year about his immense appetite for Kavod and his struggles to overcome it. When he was a young budding star in the Yeshiva world in Lithuania he gave Shiurim in Grodno in the Yeshiva of Rav Shimon Shkop the famed talmid of Rav Chaim Soloveitchik. Once a week, Rav Shimon would give a shiur to the entire Yeshiva, with Rav Chaim in attendance as well. Often Rav Shimon would ask a question or say something from "Rav Chaim". Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz says that although everyone knew that Rav Shimon was referring to his Rebbe, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, nevertheless he would enjoy hearing this hoping that maybe some uninformed student would erroneously think that Rav Shimon was referring to him!

In Maariv every night we ask Hashem to remove the Satan from in front of us and behind us. The Baalei Mussar explain that if the Satan cannot stop you from performing a mitzva in the first place then he tries to destroy it on the back end by planting thoughts of pride in your head after doing the mitzva. This is deadly trap since the aveira of Gaava on a macro level can cause more damage than anything else. How can one combat thoughts of pride, it seems to be a deadly unavoidable trap? If every mitzva heightens our risk for Ga'ava then the more we perfect ourselves the more susceptible we become.

The Mishna in Pirkei Avos suggests cure to the honor addiction. Run away! The Kotzker however says that running away from honor is a sign of a person who is infatuated with kavod. The Mishna says if you run from honor it runs after you. Why would it run after you if you don‘t want it? Reb Mendel explains that the Yetzer Hara of honor continues to stalk you because by running you show how much kavod means to you. When you run away from something you need to check over your shoulder to see if it is catching up and which direction it is going. You are afraid of it because you know what will do to you if it catches you. Only when you are oblivious to honor will it cease haunting you. If you can stand up in the face of honor and accept it without feeling an ounce of pride then you have slain the demon of honor inside of you.

The truth is that we love honor as much as a Rabbi only our opportunities to publicly make fools of ourselves are severely limited by the fact that we do not occupy center stage. Sadly our honor is shallower than that of a tzaddik. We want honor that is truly undeserved. When we do our token "chesed" such as driving someone to the hospital or distributing food to the poor do we wonder who knows about our kind heart? When the person collecting tzedoka flatters us do we really believe and enjoy it or are we smart enough to know it is only good salesmanship?

Reb Mendel said each person passes through three inns in this world; Kina, Ta'ava, and Kavod. In his case he says the first two posed little challenge to him but in the inn of Kavod he had a great deal of business to do. Of course he did, because of the high spiritual heights he reached. Next time we criticize a Talmid Chochom for a Kavod infraction we should stop and say to ourselves, hopefully one day we can reach his level and at least justify our feeling a sense of pride in our actions and if we get any honor at least it should at least be well deserved.

Tue, 31 Jul 2007 03:00:00 +0000
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.

Sun, 01 Jul 2007 03:00:00 +0000
My Rebbe, My Mekubal: Remaining Fools Forever

Rav Simcha Bunim MiPishischa tells a story of three men who were imprisoned by the king in a dark cell. Two were wise men and one was a fool. Every day the guards would lower down food packages for the three of them to eat. In their cruelty the guards would change utensils every day to keep the prisoners guessing how to eat without spilling. The wise men figured out in the darkness what were the utensils and what was the food and had no trouble eating. The fool however could not make heads and tails of his package and ended up spilling his meager rations every day. One of the wise men pitied him and showed the fool everyday what was what.

This went on for a few weeks until the wise man helping the fool asked his friend, "why is it that you never help the fool with his food? Do you not pity him?" The other wise man replied "I am truly helping him but you are wasting your time." He explained "Don't you understand that no matter how many times you teach the fool how to eat he will never get it. Every day you will need to teach him anew. While you labor for naught I am sitting here digging a hole in the wall to let in some light. With the light shining in even the fool will be able to eat without any trouble."

This Mashal from his Rebbe Rav Simcha Bunim epitomizes the attitude of the Kotzker Rebbe towards the Chassidic Rebbes and the throngs of followers that run to him to ask about every decision they need to make in life. The Kotzker fiercely believed in independent thinking.  In order to grow and equip yourself to face the daily challenges in life youmust think for yourself and not shift the responsibility for your actions to an outside source.

The Mishna in Pirkei Avos says "Asei Licha Rav". Everyone needs a Rav to guide them and teach them the ways of Hashem. In order to be truly independent one needs the proper foundation. If you do not have a Rav that can teach you Daas Torah, from where can you learn the truth and derive the emotional and intellectual tools to make proper decisions; popular culture? Newspapers? Television? Novels? The street?

A real Rebbe in the eyes of the Kotzker is not one who teaches you how to hold your fork or how and when to eat or when to quit your job or who to marry or advises you on medical issues without any medical knowledge simply by lifting his eyes to Heaven. A real Rebbe opens up your eyes and lets in the light. With this light you dig deep into your own unique soul and forge your own independent path to true service of Hashem.

Sun, 24 Jun 2007 03:00:00 +0000
Kotzker Lies

Today in Kotzk I found an answer to a question that has been bothering me for years. On Erev Rosh Hashana the day before Hashem will decide our fate for the upcoming year we wake up before dawn and we say selichos for hours to prepare ourselves and beg for mercy despite the terrible sins we have committed the past year. After davening we say Hatoras Nedarim. I understand that promises not kept are a terrible thing but what is the great significance on Erev Rosh Hashana. I don't know about you but I have long list of things I've done that trouble me more.

One of our esteemed hosts in Kotzk Reb Chaim Feinberg zt'l (Leaping Souls - Ktav 1993) retells this vort from The Kotzker Rebbe that can make your hair stand. The Midrash says when Hashem wanted to create man he asked the middos what it thought. Chesed said create man because he will perform acts of kindness. Emes said do not create man for man fills the world with lies and deceit. Tzedek said create man because he will give charity. Lastly Peace said absolutely not. People quarrel all day and there is no peace. To break the deadlock Hashem threw Emes to the ground and ruled two against one in favor of creation.

The Kotzker Rebbe asks why did he throw down Emes and not Shalom? In typical Kotzk fashion the Rebbe answers that if there is real Emes then one will see that our Chesed is not really Chesed and the Tzedek is not really Tzedek. Therefore the only solution is to get rid of Emes and only then will creation have a leg to stand on.

In Kotzk when they spoke about truth and lies they did not mean telling something not true. That was a foregone conclusion. Truth meant that their mitzvos should be mitzvos and not aveiros. A lie in Kotzk was someone who swayed during Shmoneh Esrei while his mind is elsewhere. A lie is someone who comes to daven in Shul in the morning because it is part of his morning routine. In Kotzk every act to be considered a mitzva needed to be analyzed to its core to know if you did it with a full heart to serve your creator or if there were possibly some other motive or worse yet no thought at all. In Kotzk they searched to make sure their so called "mitzvos" were not aveiros. They wanted to make sure there Chesed was Chesed and there Tzedek was indeed Tzedek.

When we arrive at Rosh Hashana we ask Hashem to look at our mitzvos and throw away our aveiros. In Hatoras Nedarim we ask three people to absolve us of any promises not kept and "forgive us for any mitzva that we have performed three times... and did not say "Bli Neder" that we have discontinued performing. This is a very powerful wake up call to examine not only our aveiros but our so called mitzvos as well. Do not take it for granted that your mitzvos will save you. They may harm you as well. We must ask forgiveness for performing a mitzva three times! and not continuing. In Kotzk there is no peace of mind. Not even for those who only do mitzvos.

Sun, 10 Jun 2007 03:00:00 +0000
Intro: Bright Lights, Small City

After years of hearing about the legendary place called Kotzk, I decided to take a journey there myself and see it firsthand. Although times have changed drastically since the first half of the 19th century, the message of Kotzk cuts so close to one's innermost personality that it is very relevant even today. The outside world would be unrecognizable to someone who travelled forward through time. Inwardly however we haven't changed one iota. In the piercing character analysis of Kotzk the outside is not relevant, therefore a Kotzker would not even notice any change.

Not surprisingly when I arrived at the gates of Kotzk only my inner self was allowed entry. My outer shell was sent home. Only deep and honest introspection is allowed in this town. Therefore I will be in contact with my outer self via mail.

The first thing I noticed about Kotzk is that I found it unusually hot. They say there is no separate place called heaven and hell. Once you reach the Olam HaEmes there is only truth; pure unadulterated truth. In this environment you live eternally with your lifetime of memories. Every action is remembered. Not even one off the cuff comment or thought is lost. Somehow during our life we manage to justify everything we do and say, however once the shield of falsehood is removed many of our memories turn out to be extremely painful. Each good memory gives us eternal pleasure while our bad deeds haunt us and cause us unimaginable pain. (see Nedarin 8b: Ein Gehinom L'Olam Haba)

They tell a story about a talmid in the Mir Yeshiva who wanted to travel to Warsaw to take care of some personal business. In order to leave the Yeshiva it was necessary to get permission from the Mashgiach, Reb Yeruchom. Knowing this wouldn't be easy he prepared his reasons and justifications very carefully. After a week of thinking it over he finally felt prepared to speak to the mashgiach. That evening he went to Reb Yeruchom's apartment. As he slowly and nervously walked up the steps he reviewed his reasons and arguments over and over in his head. Finally he reached the top step and knocked on the door. Soon enough the door opened and he found himself standing face to face with the Holy Reb Yeruchom and his shining countenance. Reb Yeruchom asked him what he came to discuss. At that point the boy replied "nothing" and ran back to Bais Medrash. What happened?

To fool ourselves is very easy. We are judge and jury and we unfortunately always side with ourselves. It is very easy to build a case for almost any activity or behavior we want to justify. As soon as we come to a situation where the real truth is demanded we quickly realize we have spent too much time selling ourselves nonsensical logic and ideas. This is the literal meaning of the phrase "the moment of truth". In Kotzk every moment is a moment of truth. Yet even in Kotzk truth comes only through toil. Sifting through our inner motives and tearing away our biases is ones lifelong goal in Kotzk.

Everyone is welcome to join us on our journey through Kotzk but keep in mind Kotzk is a tough town. If you are faint of heart forget Kotzk. Book yourself reservations to Disneyland this summer.


Mon, 28 May 2007 03:00:00 +0000