Category Archives: Bilvavi

Like iron to a magnet

Photo used with permission & text added by me

Last Shabbos Kodesh I is was learning Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh (vol 2, chapter 6) and Rav Shwartz explains a person who likes a particular food will eat it over and over again, never getting bored of it.  Likewise, he says, we might listen to the same song many times, because our neshama “connects to the song.” He brings up the question of why many people don’t experience this when it comes to Avodas Hashem? The answer can be found by checking out the link above to chapter 6, but the idea is that we need open ourselves up to “tasting” the goodness of Hashem. After the initial difficulty of working on this a person will be drawn after this “taste” of Hashem “like iron to a magnet.”

The phrase comes from the second to the last paragraph at the end of the first chapter of Mesillas Yesharim (found in Hebrew or English).  The Ramchal says that your every inclination be directed singularly towards our Creator and that all we do be for only one purpose- to draw close to Him and remove all the barriers that block you from your Maker, “until you are actually drawn after Him (may He be Blessed), like iron to a magnet.”  You really need to click the link(s) above and see what the Ramchal says inside. My few typed words really don’t give it over properly.

Rabbi Yaakov Feldman beautifully explains the idea of “iron to a magnet” follows in his own translation and commentary on The Path of the Just:

When metal is drawn to a magnet it becomes magnetized; when something is drawn to fire it is destroyed. In both cases, the object drawn in is nullified and changed.  But the metal nullified by the magnet benefits from the nullification, while the object nullified by the flame loses all.

So too, when one is drawn towards God, the become Godly. In fact, the faster he holds onto the “magnet,” the better, and the sooner the separation the sooner the loss. But the more one avoids contact with the “flame” (those things that separate us from God) the better off he is. (page 20)

Two realities

In an emailed newsletter from Beis Hamussar that I received today was the following:

If we were asked to encapsulate all of Rav Wolbe’s teachings in one sentence, the task would seem impossible. He wrote numerous seforim and gave thousands of discourses over the course of his life. How could one possibly summarize so much in one single sentence? However, Rav Wolbe himself did just that when he sat with a group of former talmidim.He asked them to relay what they understood to be the focal point of all the discourses that they had heard during the years they had studied in his Yeshiva. Each student offered an opinion, but Rav Wolbe was not satisfied. “The message I was trying to convey in all my discourses” he said, “is that we should realize that ruchnius (spirituality) is no less a reality than gashmius (physicality).”

For example, we must believe that just as eating something dangerous is detrimental to one’s body, transgressing a commandment is at least as detrimental to one’s soul. Conversely, performing a mitzvah does more for us (and the world around us) than the food we eat.

This yesod of acknowledging the reality of ruchnius might have been the basis for this idea found in the introduction to Da Es Atzmecha by Rav Itamar Shwartz (the mechaber of the Bilvavi seforim):

I have come to write this sefer  because of an inner mission – an awareness of a particular world that exists, which in reality, is more real than the world we sense, but is very hidden from people. The inner world is enchanting, it is a world of pleasure and connection, but it is not a world of delusions.  It is a world more real than the table.  It is clearer than the familiar world of the table, the chair, and the  lamp.  Sometimes, when we try to enter the inner world, there is a feeling that since it is unfamiliar, maybe it is just our imagination, maybe it is just delusions of people who want to experience all kinds of things, and so they create a whole structure out of all their fantasies.  But you must know that the inner world is more realistic than the world we live in.  However, just as a blind person doesn’t see what’s in front of him, and he might ask, “Are you certain this exists?” 

Both Rav Wolbe zt’l and R Shwartz are teaching us that there are two realities. Most of us want to see the results, peiros (fruits), or the carrot at the end of the stick (even if the carrot is imaginary) in our spiritual efforts. It doesn’t work like that. This idea, the reality that is referenced above, is something that isn’t on my mind enough. Try as I might to be passionate about living a life of Simchas HaChaim, I find it easy to be focused on the reality that is only preceived by my five senses.

I have no idea if the spiritual reality is something that my kids have been taught about.  I know that they understand that each mitzvah we perform perfectly creates a malach that is our advocate in Shamayim.   It seems to me that our acknowledgment of the reality of ruchnius has to be as strong as our acknowledgement of the neshama.  We have a body and a soul, both are real.  This sort of gives a new spin to the phrase, “Keeping it real”.

"Building a Sanctuary in the Heart" vols 1 & 2

Photo from here

The English adaptation of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh volumes 1 and 2 was recently republished in English as parts 1 and 2 now in one complete volume.  It’s available here for online purchase and is currently available in Chicago at Kesher Stam.

From the website:

“Building A Sanctuary In The Heart” is the first in a series detailing practical steps on how to attain deveikus to Hashem at all times. The Hebrew title – Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh sums up the three elements of the method. The goal is to create in oneself a sanctuary within which the Divine Presence will rest. The method is “building” step by step in a concrete way that is both simple and profound. The tool is “my heart”. The author presents an outline of the way to achieve this deveikus, one step at a time in short paragraphs, so that each point can be absorbed independently, at a comfortable pace.

The author has associated himself with the tzadikim in our generation, from who he has received haskamos to his Hebrew sefarim. Using an eclectic approach, he has developed a method that speaks to the hearts of Jews from all walks of life. As a bookstore owner in Yerushalayim put it: “His sefarim are lapped up by the entire spectrum, from Modern Orthodox youths to Meah She’arim Chassidim!” His audiences on a lecture tour in the States last summer included Y.U. graduates, secular Israeli college students, yeshivaleit, Sephardim, seminary students and Chassidim.

The translation is presented in readable English, while being faithful to the style of the source text. It also includes additional paragraphs not included in either the original Hebrew or the Yiddish, Spanish or Russian editions. These were taken (with the author’s permission) from cassette recordings of the shiurim on which this sefer is based.

A thoughtful gift

In the sefer Da Es Atzmecha, the mechaber writes that the essence of giving is that you are aware of what a person really needs or is lacking.  To properly give someone a gift, you have to understand them.  You shouldn’t, for example, give someone a sweater because you think it looks good.  Since it was my birthday recently, my wife and son came up with an awesome gift for me.

Last year for my anniversary, my wife got me a digital photo frame and it’s been sitting in the box, unused.  Over the summer, while at someone’s home, I saw such a frame displaying family pictures and commented, “Wouldn’t it be cool to just load a frame with with photos of gedolim?”

Well, thanks to my wife and son, my living room is currently rockin’ a digital frame with photographs (culled from the web) of:

The Chofetz Chaim, Rav Dessler, Reb Moshe and Rav Hutner (talking together), Rav Gifter, Rav Hirsh (illustration), Rav Kalonymus Kalman Shapira (the Piaseczno Rebbe), Rav Freifeld, Rav Moshe Weinberger, Reb Yaakov and Rav Ruderman (walking), the Rav, Reb Aryeh Levin, Rav Kook, and the Alter of Slabodka

New Shiur starting in Chicago: Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh on Messilas Yesharim

Starting the Wednesday, December 14 at Ohel Shalom, 2949 West Touhy Ave, Chicago (SE corner of Touhy and Sacramento) at 8:30 is a new shiur given by Rabbi Daniel Raccah that I am very excited about.

Rabbi Raccah will be teaching Messilas Yesharim with the commentary of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh.  I’ve heard some shiurim from Rav Weinberger based on this sefer, but I am uber-happy to have an opportunity to actually learn it inside with a tremendous Rav like Rabbi Raccah.  I have been hearing about him since I came to Chicago and was zoche to hear him speak this past Shavuos.  This blurb was emailed to me:

Rabbi Daniel Raccah’s Wednesday Night Shiur has B”H completed the Maharal’s
Ner Mitzvah. The Shiur will BE”H begin the classic Misilat Yisharim viewed
primarily through the unique  and very practical lenses of the Bilvavi
Mishkan Evneh on Wed. Dec. 14th with an earlier start time of 8:30PM at Ohel
Shalom, 2949 W. Touhy. Please join us.

"Making an empty space for new thought"

Photo from here

The sefer Da Es Nafshecha teaches the following:

When Hashem created the world, He first created an empty space to allow room for the world to exist.  This can be compared to making the preparations require to erect a building.  First, a large hole must be dug in order to lay a foundation; otherwise, the building won’t last.  In fact, the deeper the foundation, the more stable the building will be.  So too, when a person wants to access the foundation of his thought, he must first access the empty space that is the place for the foundations.  This empty space is the source of our thoughts.

Often in Jewish meditation writings (based on Torah-true sources) the phrase “empty tge mind” is used.  Base on this teaching, I think my own approach of mentally clearing out the garage or warehouse isn’t really the goal.  Looking below the surface and clearing out the foundation should be my starting point.

Sunday’s Salanter Selection

Photo from here

From Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh (vol 1):
Chazal have said (Sanhedrin 7a) that a judge must imagine that a sword is placed between his thighs (and a small error would be dangerous).  Rav Yisrael Salanter zt”l has said that this applies to each person, for everyone is a judge over himself.

What this means is that, IMHO, just like a dayan’s job is more than just saying that one person is right and one person is wrong.  The job is really becoming a k’li (vessel) for emes (truth).  Our job is to stick to the emes.  It is much easier to judge others.  That same scrutiny with which we view our neighbors has to be applied to ourselves.

Hot of the press: "Da Es Nafshecha" just released in English

The English translation of Rav Itamar Shwartz’s Da Es Nafshecha, Getting to Know Your Soul, was just released.  It’s a follow up to Getting to Know Yourself.

From the description:

The writings of our Sages, which reveal various faculties of the soul, help us to take a deeper look into ourselves. We can align our personalities with the will of Hashem through in-depth study and understanding of these faculties, which are common to all people. This sefer has two sections. The first explains the elements of fire, wind, water and earth which correspond to the four fundamental traits in the personality. The second section explains the 13 basic faculties of the soul.

The book is currently available online at Eichler’s.  In fact, my wife just bought a copy for me today in Brooklyn.  🙂

Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh on Novardok

One of the things that constantly amazes me about R Itamar Schwartz and his Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh seform is that he is willing to pull and blend Torah from a variety of sources and derechim.  Again, this is a major reason I humbly think his seforim speak to our generation.

For example, in the second volume (both in chapter 1 and 2) he brings down an important educational concept from the Alter of Novardok, Rav Yosef Yozel Hurwitz.  In the Alter’s sefer Madregos haAdom he explains that there is a difference between understanding and acknowledging something on an intellectual level and actually experiencing it.  The best example of this that comes to mind would be the difference between reading about the beauty of a traditional Shabbos meal and actually being part of an enjoying a Shabbos meal.

Rav Schwarz applies this teaching of the Alter of Novardok in regard to Emunah and D’vekus (faith and attachment) in relation to Hashem.  Later, in the same volume (chapter 18) the author writes this:

“…rare individuals would roll naked in the snow or break the ice to immerse in the ice cold water of a lake or pond.  Still others practiced a strong form of self-criticism…They might fall into constant bitterness.  This will damage their avodah, because without joy, there is nothing!”

The ikar, the main point, is that unless the end result (or the journey) is, in fact, simcha, joy, then you are not getting the whole picture…!כי כשאין שמחה – אין כלום   The question I often have is, “How do I get there”?  It’s the ability to extract different strengths from a particular derech that really the gadlus of Bilvavi.  In an information age, when many Torah observant Jews can have access to many different seforim, multiple shuls and schools in a community, different types of Jewish newspapers and weekly publications (I’m not even getting into what’s available onilne), it’s hard to distinguish between what might be substance and what might be filler.

While some argue that Novardok was a type of Mussar that was only applicable for a particular time in the world’s history, I’m glad that the Bilvavi is exposing aspects of it to a new generation.  Don’t worry, I’m jsut as happy when I see a quote from the Baal haTanya as well.  One way that I know I am listening to a true talmidei chachamim or a tzaddik (and I don’t throw around that term) is that when they quote sources it will be from a variety of sources.
“Ben (the son of) Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from all people, as it is said: ‘From all those who taught me I gained understanding’ (Psalms 119:99). -Pirkei Avos chapter 4 mishna 1

For other posts dealing with the Novardok Yeshiva and school of Mussar click here.