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Monday, July 31, 2006

 

Simcha Ma Zeh Oseh – What Does Joy Do?




this is adapted and excerpted from Torah.org’s Hamaayan / The Torah Spring: Parshas Ki Seitzei 5760

Tonight and tomorrow, the 7th of Av, is the sixth yahrzeit of Rebbe Shalom Noach Brazovsky ZTUK”L, the Slonimer Rebbe. Through his voluminous writings, the Rebbe was among the most influential of contemporary Chassidic Rebbes, and his impact was felt among Chassidim and non-Chassidim alike. A leading Lithuanian (non-Chassidic) Rosh Yeshiva in Israel reportedly referred to R. Brazovsky's work Nesivos Shalom as the "Mesilas Yesharim of our times." (Mesilas Yesharim is a classic Mussar work written in the 18th century.)

In 1941, he opened the Slonimer yeshiva in Yerushalayim with five students. The yeshiva offered traditional Chassidic teachings alongside Talmudic lectures using the Lithuanian style of analysis. R. Brazovsky also could be found sitting with the students for hours on end, especially on Friday nights, teaching them the traditional Slonimer melodies.

R. Brazovsky's yeshiva served as the kernel for the rebirth of Slonimer Chassidus after the group's near-destruction in the Holocaust. The last pre-war Slonimer Rebbe, Rebbe Shlomo David Yehoshua Weinberg, was killed in 1944, and for ten years, no successor was named. In 1954, R. Brazovsky's father-in-law agreed to assume the mantle of the Rebbe. (His teachings are collected -- again, by R. Brazovsky -- in the work Birkas Avraham, and he is known by that name.)

With the exception of the Yesod Ha'Avoda [the first Slonimer Rebbe], none of the Slonimer Rebbes or their predecessors, the Rebbes of Lechovitch and Kobrin, had committed their teachings to writing. As part of his effort to rejuvenate Slonimer Chassidus, R. Brazovsky was responsible for collecting the oral traditions ascribed to these leaders in works such as Divrei Shmuel and Toras Avos (in addition to the works already mentioned). R. Brazovsky also authored many volumes of his own teachings, including the seven-volume Nesivos Shalom and many smaller works on educational issues, marital harmony and other issues. One distinguishing feature of those works is R. Brazovsky's practice of deriving practical moral and ethical teachings from verses using traditional Chassidic methods of interpretation.

R. Brazovsky served as the Slonimer Rebbe from his father-in-law's death in 1981 until his own passing in the year 2000. He was succeeded by his son, R. Shmuel.

***

this next part is part of an appreciation I wrote after the Rebbe ZT”L was niftar, six years ago:

In the early 1980's, a Rav whom I was close to showed a group of us a new sefer that had just been published. It was called Nesivos Shalom, by the Slonimer Rebbe. The Rav himself is quite a talented teacher and has a large following himself, but he told us how he was in awe of this sefer - that it spoke to him in the deepest way. He was kind enough to begin learning it with a group, every Shabbat morning before the Shacharit Tefilla. We were quite impressed at the Rebbe's eloquent style, and the depth of the matters that he touched on. We eagerly attended these shiurim, and reviewed the lessons on our own as well. As we progressed through the sefer, we were amazed to know that its author was a contemporary of ours, who lived in Yerushalayim, where he led a small group of Chassidim and a number of educational institutions. We thirstily longed for more - and when the next volume came out, about Shabbat and Moadim, the various festivals on the Jewish calendar, we quickly bought it and eagerly learned its contents. [Quite a few years later, more volumes came out - on the entire Chumash - portions of the Torah].

Shortly thereafter, I personally encountered a very difficult medical situation which needed spiritual guidance. I was advised to contact Rav Shach Zt"l in Bnei Brak, but being of Chassidic leanings, I was hesitant, and said I would prefer to see a Chassidic Rebbe like the Slonimer Rebbe.

It wasn't long before my wife, two doctors, a Rav and myself found ourselves in the Slonimer Rebbe's office, intent on asking his advice about this very difficult situation. He patiently listened to everyone, thought it over and responded with clarity and decisiveness. He assuaged everyone's fears, and acknowledged our deepest doubts. Baruch Hashem, I made it through that situation and made a point of visiting the Rebbe again and again, to inform him and to show him my appreciation. I was always received warmly.

***

The Slonimer Rebbe on Joy, Song and Dance – a brief selection

The following passages are translations of the Slonimer Rebbe zt”l’s wonderful sefer, Nesivos Shalom [from the section on Avodas Hashem – Divine Service, subsection on Simcha – Joy], by Jonathan Glass

In light of what we have explained joy is not an “optional extra” to one’s divine service; it is a fundamental part of it. Through joy one comes to attain the highest spiritual levels. Concerning this the author of Kuzari writes as follows (2:50):


The general principle is this: Our holy Torah is divided up into awe, love, and joy. Each of these can bring you closer to G-d. Your submission to G-d on fast-days is not dearer to Him than your joy on Shabbat and festivals…You should rejoice in the mitzva because of your love of it. You should realize the good he has bestowed on you. It is as if you were invited to the King’s table and to partake of His bounty. You will then be grateful both inwardly and outwardly. If your joy moves you to sing and dance—this is an act of divine service and one of holding close to G-d.

Song and dance on Shabbat and festivals are part of the service of these holy days. Our holy teachers have said that a person who is melancholy on Shabbos is like one who comes to the king’s palace during the king’s celebration and remains melancholy. He will not be chosen to participate in the festivities even if he is of high rank. A simple country fellow who shares the king’s joy will be chosen to participate though. The parable here is understood. When a Jew experiences inner joy, he merits to be drawn to the innermost chambers of the King.

***

Even when a person is unable to attain the kind of joy we have described he should know that even simple joy—a joy that comes from positive thoughts—is considered acceptable and important. It is related that once on Rosh Hashana, the Baal Shem Tov would not join the congregation for the sounding of the shofar, for he was attempting to annul a severe decree and unable to do so. His disciples sat trembling with dread and anxiety. An ignorant bumpkin saw all the worry on the faces of the disciples. He went and dressed himself up as an animal in order to cheer the people up. When the people relaxed and laughed, the Baal Shem Tov emerged. He said that the only way to avert the decree was through joy but that all his worry and the anxiety of his disciples had prevented them from experiencing joy. When the bumpkin made the people laugh the decree was annulled. What does joy do? (Ecclesiastes 2). Even a superficial kind of joy can have a positive effect.

The holy Rabbi of Tchortkov once instructed a disciple of his who was greatly distressed over an impending trial that could lead to the disciple’s execution. It was after the festival and the Chassidim were dancing in great joy. The rabbi instructed the disciple to join the dancers and that salvation would result.

He related that once the holy Baal Shem Tov was informed on Yom Kippur that if the community would be unable to recite the blessing on seeing the moon following the holy day it would be an omen of severe decrees for the coming year. The holy day ended, the sky was filled with clouds and it poured with rain. There was no chance of seeing the moon, and all the Baal Shem Tov’s devotions were of no avail. His holy disciples knew nothing of this, and danced with great fervor as they always did following Yom Kippur. The joy exceeded all bounds; it spread throughout the town and the dancers—in their tremendous joy—asked the Baal Shem Tov to join them. When he agreed and began to dance with them the announcement came that the moon could now be seen!

The Chassidim say that there are two kinds of dance: There is a dance that originates in the mind and heart and spreads to the legs and body. There is another kind of dance where a person is unable to elevate his mind and heart; he simply lifts up his legs in dance and this arousal affects his mind and heart to the extent where all his bones exclaim, Hashem! Who is like You? Intent in prayer can be aroused through singing. How much more so when singing is accompanied by dance! These two together have the power to arouse a Jew from his spiritual slumber—to awaken the sleeping and arouse the slumbering—and to attain a state of inner joy.


Zechuso yagein Aleinu v'al Kol Yisrael!

Comments:
Thanks for sharing the story of your meeting with the Rebbe. Perhaps you cold elaborate a little more about his advice. You certainly have lots of good tales to relate.
 
Thank you for posting this. I really enjoyed reading it. I don't have time now but I am going to click on the link you sent to learn some of the Rebbes teachings in English. Do you know if there are any translations that are available in Seforim stores?
 
An exelent post!
 
Shalom. I am the publisher of Herut, blog in spanish. I invite you to visit Herut and to leaving your commentaries. Excuse me, but my English is very bad. The direction is:
www.herutx.blogspot.com

Congratulations for your blog.
 
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