Sfas Emes – Chanuka – 5632 – 4th Night


לראות כי הכל מהשי”ת שזה עיקר עבודת איש ישראל – השגחה פרטית

For all you Sfas Emes aficionados out there, I’m curious if the words ” זה עיקר עבודת איש ישראל” are used elsewhere and if so, how often.

Since the Rebbe is pretty careful with his words, this may be the elusive silver bullet of God’s service. Although reaching this level of awareness is tough enough on its own…..

Sfas Emes – Nitzavim – 5631

Captureאחר היגיעה מתקרב עד שקרוב אליו שנראה שלא היה רחוק מעולם ממנו – קרבת אלוקים

Ah Reb Issac R’ Yekel’s story, of course. The say the Rebbe Reb Binem used to tell this to every rookie chasid the first time he came to him. The treasure’s not in Vienna (or Prague 🙂 ) it’s in Krooooke (Krakow). It’s by you, nowhere else.

The big pebble in my shoe about this story is this: what difference does it make? If I have to go to Vienna to discover that the loot is under my bed, then I might as well just get the loot in Vienna (less of a shlep though 😉 ).

Even the Rebbe says that we must be ready to go to Shomayim if need be. Then what good does it do that it’s “here on this earth” then?? For someone who can truly go to Shomayim then he’ll go. To the rest of us, knowing where it “really” is is useless (and cruel) since we still cannot access it!

As usual, the question is itself the road-map to the answer, and what an answer it is. Earth-shattering, life-changing, truly, truly inspiring, to me at least. Vos sheit da is a whole different “blick” into the nature of the treasure itself. It is not an external acquisition. In fact it is not an acquisition at all! It is a revelation that you (and I and all of us) ARE THE TREASURE ITSELF!!!!!

What follows from this awesome understanding is that the treasure we have found cannot ever be lost. Once it is uncovered, no matter where, what, when and how we find ourselves, the treasure is there. Because we have met the treasure, and he is us (The Rebbe begs to differ from this guy.….). We may need to work hard to come to this realization, but once we do, we are set for life, eternal life. Incredible. Thank you Hashem for the lights you put into this world to brighten our days.

Sfas Emes – Ki Savo – 5659


וכפי מה שמשתוקק האדם כל היום לקיים המצות כך יכול לעשותם באמת – הכנה למצוה

כן הוא בכל פרט כשעושין המצוה בשמחה נשאר כח המצוה באדם לעולם – שמחה של מצוה

When you think about it, there is a fundamental difference between doing a mitzvah and anything else we do. Actions we take are geared toward results; the actions themselves have no intrinsic value. We turn off the light because we want the room to be dark. We shlep packages to get them to their destination. We eat for health and for pleasure. The action involved is just an אמצאי, an intermediary. In fact, we would often prefer someone else do the action while still engendering the results we want. This is the underlying goal of technology in particular, more results for less work.

Mitzvahs are different. Besides for the results of the mitzvahs we do, which are way, way above the realm we reside in, there is significance to the action itself. On the contrary, from the words of the Rebbe it would appear that it is ONLY the action, the מעשה המצוה, that we can relate to. The results of our mitzvahs are too elevated to be compatible with our world, which is why שכר מצוה בהאי עלמא ליכא . They vibrate on a different frequency, one we don’t have access to (yet).

However, אנו עמלים ומקבלים שכר, we can tap into the action itself, separate and independent of what we are trying to achieve. Because in addition to the desired result, of which each mitzvah has it’s own unique goal to achieve and world to build, there is the overall goal of אמרתי ונעשית רצוני, Hashem commanded and we listened. And that has NOTHING to do with what ends up happening, but rather as to the action we took. Did we try to do God’s will? Then we have already won. Because whether or not the mitzvah ends up accomplishing its goal, indeed if it even ends up being done at all, is totally out of our hands. We don’t have a say in outcomes, only He does. We have a say in action alone. So that is where we must direct out efforts, that is where our growth comes from, and that is where the mark left on us by the mitzvahs we do lives on forever.

Sfas Emes – Ki Setzei – 5634(2)

Captureהצעקה שהוא בכח ולא נכנס בפועל נשמעת בכל מקום – תפלה

I’m learning this shtickel, and for the life of me I don’t get it: what does it mean that someone is unable to scream?? Perhaps they cannot be heard but they can surely scream? Is the Rebbe referring to someone who’s afraid to wake up the neighbors? Someone during the War, who cannot raise his voice above a whisper for fear of being caught?

If course not, that’s just silly.

Perhaps the שאינו יודע לשאול? How is that a “screaming” deficit? He’s got nothing to scream about as far as he knows!

It is shticklech such as these that show us the difficulty the holy Rebbe had in translating pure light into words. Indeed, the piece is itself more of a צעקה than a דיבור. The whole sefer perhaps is as well, which may explain its universal appeal. Bypassing the external, Sfas Emes reaches the core, where we all are one.

Back on track. Perhaps the Rebbe is referring to all those hidden pains we experience, pains we ourselves don’t understand. We don’t understand where they are coming from and we surely don’t understand what is wanted from us, meaning what we want from ourselves. Have you never had occasion to ask yourself. “What in the world do I want from myself already?” We are often hard on ourselves in ways we would never dream of inflicting on others. That we know the source is some deep root in our very core just makes it all the more excruciating.

How cruel can it feel to have a part of you, vus luzt nisht up, vus get nisht kan menicha, which allows for no respite, but nontheless stubbornly refuses to clarify exactly what it wants! There’s a scream inside of us, louder then the loudest shofar and longer then the longest tekia, but we cannot quiet it, because by it’s very nature we cannot wrap our minds around it. If we could, it would no longer be a scream, but a thought, feeling or perhaps even an “opinion”. It would no longer be crystalline pure, but instead co-opted by the mind, the ego and who knows what else we’ve got cooking inside.

This scream makes us mighty uncomfortable. So we do our best to drown it out. With pleasure, work and even Torah and Mitzvos perhaps.

But God hears this scream, and if we are zoiche, he allows the scream to fulfill it’s purpose, the purpose he put it there in the first place: to move us closer to Him.


Sfas Emes – Eikev – 5632(2)

CaptureHere is the possuk the Sfas Emes refers to:


Looking for a “nut” to extract from this shtikel is tough, you end up with almost the whole shtikel itself. Any suggestions are welcome.

What speaks to me is the radical idea the Rebbe is expressing here (וי”ל). He asks of us, “you have fears, you have worries”? You should! Don’t pooh-pooh them! There’s lots of bad stuff going on out there and we are not immune to them. Physical concerns and spiritual burdens abound. They are REAL and there is nothing you can do to defeat them, you are powerless. Frightening, terrifying. Just ask the Meraglim……..

Now then, you got that? You feel the fear permeating every part of you, every waking thought? Good. Now forget about it and leave it up to God. And stop worrying.

To top it all off, he calls this “פשוט”  🙂 .

Sfas Emes – Eikev – 5631(3)


אך מי שאינו זוכה להרגיש המנוחה צרוך להיות בדרך נדבה…….וע”י האמונה יזכה להיות נגלה אליו

Ahh, the classical dilemma faced by every thinking Jew nowadays: We don’t feel nuttin. The truth is, it’s quite understandable. We simply have too much invested in gashmius, in physicality, to be attuned to matters of the spirit. These two are mutually exclusive, as is well known. So considering that we live better then fartzatisher kings, how in the world are we supposed to feel and connect with Shabbos (kigel and chulent aside)?

Comes the holy Rebbe and says. “Never mind that”. On the contrary, we are quite lucky. We are able to practice a brand of Avoida that was for the most part unavailable throughout our history. We actually have something to give up for God. The ecstasy of a tentzel on Shabbos vs. stale bread and week old herring? Not much of a competition. Put Shabbos against what we have, now that’s another story altogether. Nisoyoin Hoishur and all that…..

The Steipler is reputed to have said that he doesn’t deserve credit for his hasmadah, in the village he came from it was either learning or milking the cows. Today………. well you know the drill. Even the idea of “entertainment” didn’t exist;  today it is often our raison d’etre.

Okay, so we now have the ability to connect with God in ways heretofore not achieved, fine. But that still leaves us with a problem: we may be doing great things, but we still feel nuttin! And if experience is a guide, it’s hard to maintain a level of behavior that doesn’t have some form of gratification, at least of the delayed sort (even the self-help books that plead with us to allow for delayed gratification, zei dervaginin zich nisht to ask for no gratification at all, what are we, gilgul sheleg’nikers?? 😉 ).

Again the Rebbe to the rescue: Give to Hashem and he will give back. But as usual, you gotta believe (always a catch 😦 ). When, how? No one knows but Him, but it will come. So we got both worlds, we get to do great things with the promise that we will be able connect with our deeds and our Father, eventually (ekev…….). So let’s get to it!