Posts Tagged ‘Chassidim’

Nusach Ashkenaz in the Center of Chasidic Davening: The Interesting Cases of Belz, Sanz, and Berdichev – נוסח אשכנז במרכז תפילות חסידים: נוסחאות בעלזא, צאנז, וברדיטשוב

September 20, 2018

As is well known, one of the major dividing lines between Chasidim and non-Chasidim, and a source of tension at times, is in the area of נוסח התפילה. While Chasidim (with some exceptions, as we have posted about in the past – see for example this post, as well as this post) overwhelmingly discarded the ancient נוסח אשכנז, adopting in its place a so-called “נוסח ספרד” or “נוסח אר”י”, those faithful to the holy מסורה of אשכנז emphatically rejected such change.

What is interesting and noteworthy, however, is that even among major Chasidic groups to the present day, there are major elements of nusach Ashkenaz still in use.

            Ashkenaz in the Nusach of Belzer Chasidim

The Chasidic group of Belz is one of the oldest (going back over two centuries) and largest Chasidic groups in the world, and has been a major force for a very long time. In Belz, the Shemoneh Esrei, the core of our tefillos, is basically a nusach Ashkenaz text (this can be personally witnessed by listening to חזרת הש”ץ at a Belzer minyan. For those not near one, a recent sefer from a Chasidic Rav in Europe, דברי פינחס, reports (top left), in the course of a responsum, “ומאחר שמנהג בעלזא עוד מימי כ”ק מרן השר שלום זצ”ל הוא להתפלל תפלת שמונה עשרה בנוסח אשכנז).

Historical Background

I had known of this phenomenon for some time, but lacked a full understanding of it. However, recently, I saw an explanation of the interesting background behind it. According to a recent release regarding the World of Belz website (paragraphs 8-10), way back in the early years of Belzer Chasidus, circa two centuries ago, the town of Belz was divided between the new Chasidim and the old townspeople that wanted to continue davening nusach Ashkenaz. They came up with a solution in which the Chasidim would lead the davening in the main Shul, however, certain parts of tefillah, including Shmoneh Esrei, the central part of our tefillah, would remain nusach Ashkenaz. The founding Belzer Rebbe himself, known as the Sar Shalom, approved of this arrangement (interestingly, a relatively recent encyclopedia article (first paragraph) described the first Belzer Rebbe, the שר שלום, as a Talmudist who maintained a close relationship with the non Hasidic Galician rabbinate of his time). So the story goes.

  Analysis

If this is all there is to this interesting phenomenon, however, one wonders why this arrangement has persisted for circa two centuries, long after the original principals to it passed on. It should have seemingly been just a temporary concession, an arrangement for a limited time (although perhaps Chasidim didn’t want to change what the first Rebbe did, and there were other people – non-Chasidim – who continued to daven nusach Ashkenaz in Galicia for many years, as even until the WWII period, there were significant numbers of people in Galicia, often in the large Shul of a town, that davened nusach Ashkenaz).

This leads one to suspect that there is more involved. Perhaps there is a recognition, a tacit admission by Chasidim, of the high level of nusach Ashkenaz, as well as persistent issues (textual and others) with Chasidic nusach Sfard.

Ashkenaz in the Nusach of Sanzer Chasidim

The fact that other important Chasidic groups with roots in Galicia also are said to have a nusach Ashkenaz, or mostly Ashkenaz, Shmoneh Esreh (the aforementioned דברי פינחס, mid-right column, states “בגליל צאנז ויתר מערב-גאליציא הי’ המנהג להתפלל שמונה עשרה רובו ככולו בנוסח אשכנז כמנהג קראקא), namely the large, important, and influential Sanzer Chasidim (e.g. the large groups of Sanz, Bobov, Klausenberg, and others), while they don’t seem to have such a story explaining why it is so, leads one to believe that they held that it was the nusach to use, and not just as a tactical concession.

Analysis 

Belzer and Sanzer Chasidim emphasize(d) traditional לימוד התורה, תורת הנגלה (as opposed to, for example, Kabbalistic study and practice for the masses, the המון עם) to a greater extent than some other Chasidic groups did. In Belz and Sanz the Rebbe was referred to as the Rav. He was someone who could pasken she’eilos in הלכה. They retained some אשכנז practices, as well as reverence for גדולי אשכנז, even those who opposed them strongly, such as the נודע ביהודה. Therefore they were not as rejectionist toward נוסח אשכנז as some other Chasidim.

Berdichev nusach

There is also a Chasidic nusach called nusach Berdichev, used by some, including members of the Bostoner Chasidus which is similar to the above. I don’t have much material on it at this time.

Conclusion

The adoption by the Chasidism of a new נוסח התפלה, in place of the traditional נוסח אשכנז, was apparently a later development in the movement, said to be from the time of the Maggid of Mezrich, rather than from R. Israel Baal Shem Tov, who is called its founder.

There is much difference of opinion and variation among Chasidim as to what the exact text of this nusach should be. Among many Chasidim, including very large and significant Chasidic groups, to this very day, important segments and elements of נוסח אשכנז surprisingly still persist, even at the heart of their תפילות.

א גוט געבענטשט יאהר און א גוט יום טוב

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Legendary Chassidic Rebbe Admits: The Noda BiYehudah Was Correct In His Opposition to Lisheim Yichud – אדמו”ר הדברי חיים מצאנז מודה: הנודע ביהודה צדק בהתנגדותו לאמירת לשם יחוד

April 10, 2018

We are now in the period of sefira, when ספירת העומר is recited nightly. Before the actual counting of sefira some recite לשם יחוד קוב”ה וכו, which many others deliberately omit, which sort of puts Lisheim Yichud in the spotlight in Shul.

Additionally, today, כ”ה ניסן, is the yahrzeit of the legendary דברי חיים, the Sanzer Rebbe, progenitor of many Chassidic Rebbes, dynasties and individuals.

So it is a good time to discuss the unique stance in the Chasidic world that the Divrei Chaim held, in terms of lisheim yichud (as well as other matters).

As is well known, the question of whether to say lisheim yichud before a mitzvoh is an old machlokes, with various גדולי אשכנז, most prominently the towering Rav of Prague, R. Yechezkel Landau, known as the נודע ביהודה, opposing the practice (שו”ת נודע ביהודה מהדו”ק יו”ד סימן צ”ג as well as מהדו”ת או”ח סימן ק”ז), and, מאידך גיסא, Chasidim supporting and saying it.

However, what is less well known, is that the Divrei Chaim, despite being a great Chasidic leader, actually said that the Noda BiYehuda was correct in the matter (as stated in שו”ת דברי יציב או”ח סימן ס”ה, in the last sentence on the linked page, as per commenter below), and, based on that, his followers do not say lisheim yichud before sefira (although they do say הנני מכון או הנני מוכן ומזומן וכו). That is the minhag to this day in Sanzer Chasidic circles, such as the large Chasidic dynasties of Sanz, Bobov, Klausenberg, etc.

Interestingly, we even have a report of a specific verbal formulation the Divrei Chaim used to express this iconoclastic (among Chasidim) opinion of his, supporting the Noda BiYehuda. The Klausenberger Rebbe, R. Y.Y. Halberstam, the דברי יציב, reported that he heard that from his father, that the Divrei Chaim remarked in Yiddish ‘Reb Chatzkele iz gerecht geven’ (R. Yechezkel Landau was correct – in his stance against lisheim yichud recitation). That was related (43:10-) in a shiur some months ago given by Rav Asher Weiss, a prominent Rav, who is the poseik of Shaarei Zedek hospital in Eretz Yisroel.

May we be zoche to be מודה על האמת if we err, and reach the proper conclusions in תורה ויראת שמים.

R. Israel Baal Shem Tov Davened Nusach Ashkenaz – ר’ ישראל בעל שם טוב התפלל נוסח אשכנז

May 28, 2017

On Shavuos is the yohrzeit of the founder of the Chasidic movement, R. Israel Baal Shem Tov.

It seems that there is significant evidence that he davened nusach Ashkenaz. A site devoted to him says as much.

See section ה. סידורי הבעש”ט, where the writer states וכידוע ומוכח שהבעש”ט הקדוש התפלל נוסח זה בלבד ולא שינה ממסורת אבות חסידי אשכנז (and as known, and is shown, that he davened that nusach alone and did not change from the tradition of his ancestors, the pious of Ashkenaz). Pretty strong words there (h/t).

There was an important, extensive article on this topic a few years ago by רב יש”י כהן in the קולמוס special Torah supplement of משפחה magazine, which can be seen here (at a Lubavitcher website – where, although some try to obfuscate things, the essential facts remain).

So for those of the Chasidic persuasion who want to follow in his footsteps, now you know what nusach to daven.

יה”ר שנזכה לקבלת התורה באמת ובפנימיות ע”פ המסורה הקדושה הישנה שלנו

Arizal: Ashkenazim Should Follow The Way Of Ashkenaz – האריז”ל: אשכנזים ינהגו כמנהג אשכנז

August 9, 2016

Today, ה’ אב, is the 444th yohrzeit (יום השנה) of the renowned Arizal (מדת האר”י), one of the most influential figures in the Jewish world in recent centuries.

The Ari z”l was born to a Sepharadic mother and an Ashkenazic father. His father passed away when he was eight years old, however, and he grew up in a Sepharadic environment. To give some perspective timewise, he lived about two hundred years before the modern Chasidic movement of Eastern Europe, which views itself as connected to and influenced by him. One prominent way in which this relationship is seen, is with regard to נוסח התפלה, with almost all Chasidim having adopted a new nusach, referred to by some as nusach Sfard, and by others as nusach Ari.

Interestingly enough, however, the Arizal himself, hundreds of years ago, is recorded as having regularly stated that people should stick to their ancestral customs, and that Ashkenazim should stick to מנהג אשכנז.

That teaching of the אר”י is brought by the של”ה in sefer דרך חיים on the words איש על דגלו באותות לבית אבותם in במדבר ב:ב.

A good thing to know. The Arizal respected the way of Ashkenaz.

ובזכות הליכה בדרכי אבותינו ורבותינו הקדושים, יה”ר שנזכה לילך בפעמי אבותינו בארץ קדשנו, בדרך העולה בית א-ל, בנחמת ציון וירושלים בב”א

א גוטען חודש

How Reb Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev Learned to Respect Nusach Ashkenaz -איך ר’ לוי יצחק מברדיטשוב למד להחשיב נוסח אשכנז

June 30, 2016

In various sources, an interesting story regarding the famed Chasidic leader R. Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev is related, related to nusach hatefilloh, along the following lines.

Some years after the petira of the famed Rav Zvi Hirsch (Horowitz) of Czortkov, Reb Levi Yitzchok spent a Shabbos there and prayed in the Shul where R. Zvi Hirsch used to daven. The shul’s minhog was to daven nusach Ashkenaz, as R. Zvi Hirsch did. Reb Levi Yitzchok nevertheless led the prayers in nusach Sfard, as was his wont. All of a sudden, he fell deeply asleep, and dreamed that Rav Zvi Hirsch was standing over him, rebuking him in a vein of ‘How did you dare change the local accepted nusach after I worked so hard to make a path to heaven for the tefillos thus said’?

Upon this scathing rebuke, Reb Levi Yitzchok ceased leading the prayers in nusach Sfard.

The story can be seen in English in the book “Mamma Used to Say: Pearls of Wisdom from the World of Yiddish“, on page eighty seven (at times it can be seen online in the book preview via the attached link).

It can also be seen in Hebrew here (top of page twenty eight).

Reb Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev is one of the best known and loved Chasidic leaders of all time, a legendary and iconic figure. So this story is a מעשה רב, a story of a leader that is to be looked to for guidance by his followers. וממנו ילמדו אחרים וכן יעשו אי”ה, אכי”ר.

To our dear friends and supporters, א גוטען זומער!

Chasidic Leader Articulates Anti-Lag Baomer Bonfire Stance – אדמו”ר נגד מדורה בל”ג בעומר

May 25, 2016

Over twenty years ago, a leading Chasidic leader laid out a case against having a Lag Baomer bonfire in New York at his Yeshiva in a public address. It seems that some in his community wanted to make one, even though it wasn’t the tradition of the group, but he spoke out strongly against such an innovation.

Due to the time of the year we are in now, and the fact that many people are under the false impression that all Chasidim are for lighting bonfires on Lag Baomer, I feel it is timely to share from the address he gave (the address was in Yiddish. A partial recording is online, but is not ideal for sharing due to some problems with it. So I will share some excerpts from it, translated).

The Rebbe said that a Lag Baomer bonfire was not seen or heard, not by their forefathers or Rebbes. Lag Baomer was observed for hundreds of years in Europe (where his Chasidic group originated), by Chasidishe Yidden, who were דבוק בתורת ר’ שמעון בר יוחאי (strongly attached to the teachings of R. Shimon bar Yochai), who celebrated and felt a special elevation on the day they held as his yahrzeit, but it was not with a bonfire that these feelings were manifested.

He then continues on to say that in Eretz Yisroel there is a bonfire custom, which started in Meron, and due to the fact that it was difficult for some people to go there, they did it in other locations there as well.

Lag Baomer, the Rebbe continued, is an Eretz Yisroel Yom tov. The velt says that Lag Baomer was given to Eretz Yisroel Yidden as a compensation for not having Yom tov sheini shel galuyos – יום טוב שני of the diaspora.

The Rebbe states that if we don’t know what to do, we go to the בית מדרש and study what our tradition is. He also points out that there are no ‘halachos’ regarding Lag Baomer bonfires, e.g. how large should it be – one story, two stories, עד לב השמים, how long should it burn, etc., which could bring to a situation of unhealthy competition among some to make a larger fire, add fuel, and so on. There is a danger in innovating customs, as who knows where it could lead in the future, היום אומר לו עשה כך, ולמחר אומר לו עשה כך, וכו, what might happen in future years. He then, warning of innovating practices seemingly under the guise of piety, of a יצה”ר המתלבש בגארטעל, not in accordance with tradition, cited the words from Tehillim  שמרה נפשי כי חסיד אני

The point of sharing this is to let people know (although we have touched on it before, see previous posts) that the Lag Baomer bonfire, especially, but not exclusively in the diaspora, is a point of major contention even among Chasidim, not practiced by certain major Chasidic groups (e.g. Gur, Satmar Williamsburg, Bobov, Lubavitch, etc.), and is by no means a universal practice. They should not be fooled by all the publicity, photos, videos, etc., to think that is a universal custom. All the more so among non-Chasidim, particularly Ashkenazim. No one should think that ‘everyone is doing it’, so they should ‘go along with the crowd’, because that is not the case.

When one adds to the equation the dangers of the fires – see e.g. multiple strong warnings in Eretz Yisroel this year warning of the dangers of the fires, e.g. this strong general warning, this warning specifically re eye danger, these guidelines from מד”א, and this directed to women, based on sad experience of injuries, ר”ל, from the past, the choice for us is clear – stick to your ancestral minhog, מנהג אבות, and stay away from the bonfire custom. The מצוה דאורייתא involving fire of the spring has already passed, a bit over a month ago, on erev Pesach, when the chometz was burned. Lag Baomer is a not a Pesach sheini for fire.

With wishes of a spiritually and physically healthy and safe Lag Baomer…..

P.S. Also noteworthy this year, for those who didn’t see it yet, is the strong statement from the ראשון לציון (echoed by his brother as well) against a mass pilgrimage to Meron. He urges his Sephardic brethren to emulate ליטאים שיושבים ולומדים בל”ג בעומר rather than those others who journey to Meron then.

Spring Mesorah Challenges – מסורה בשבוע אחר פסח

May 5, 2016

We have just finished Pesach, a יום טוב in which our traditions are shared and passed on to children and descendants.

Right afterward, however, we are already confronted with some challenges which test if we have sufficiently internalized the importance of מסורה.

The very evening of מוצאי פסח, some people try to impress upon us their custom of greetings others then with the words “א גוטען זומער” (“a gutten zummer” – “a good summer”). But we know that summer does not start in the month of ניסן, not even in the end of the month. We know that חז”ל comment, referencing the words מוציא אסירים בכושרות – that Hashem took us out of מצרים in a nice month, without extreme weather (not summer or winter, for example), in a time that was conducive to journeying. We also know that חודש ניסן is called by the Torah חודש האביב, the month of spring. In פרשת נח we are told of six seasons of the year, two months for each. It is clear then that Nissan is not the summer. שמור את חודש האביב – watch the month of Nissan – don’t call it something it isn’t, such as summer.

Another example comes a short time later, as the first Shabbos after Pesach approaches. Some of the same circles then are promoting a custom of ‘schlissel challah’ (שליסעל חלה), a practice from outside of מסורת אשכנז that has been questioned on various grounds. While its proponents would like you to believe that “everyone is doing it”, actually, not only it is not part of the mesorah of great segments of כלל ישראל, such as יהדות אשכנז, אובערלאנד, ליטא, ספרד, תימן, וכו, it is not even universally practiced in their own Chasidic camp (for example, אוצר מנהגי חב”ד, p.253, reports that it is not minhag Lubavitch).

No one should be ‘stampeded’ into adopting such practices foreign to their mesorah, in the mistaken belief that ‘everyone is doing it’. Because it just ain’t so. “Everyone” is not doing it. A mythical “everyone” is not our פוסק anyway.

In שיר השירים, which we read on Pesach, we are given guidelines for how we should conduct ourselves. We are told צאי לך בעקבי הצאן – go in the footsteps of your holy ancestors. Our ancestors were not fools, ח”ו. If they did not follow these new practices, we should not either.

In the זכות of going in the ways of our holy מסורה, may we be זוכה to a strengthening and intensifying of our connection with the תורה הקדושה, as we are taught in Pirkei Avos that מסורת סייג לתורה.

א גוטען שבת און א גוטען חודש

Oberlander Ashkenaz Rebbe: Rav Yochanan Schreiber-Sofer of Erlau zt”l – אדמו”ר נוסח אשכנז-אוברלנד: רב יוחנן סופר מערלוי זצ”ל

February 26, 2016

We wrote in the past about a Polish Rebbe that davened nusach Ashkenaz, but that was some time ago. In recent days the frum press has been writing about another “Rebbe” who davened nusach Ashkenaz as well, along with his kehillah. We are writing, of course, about אדמו”ר מערלוי, ר’ יוחנן סופר זצ”ל, who was niftar just a few days ago.  The Erlau (or Erloi) Rebbe, R. Sofer, like R. Shmuel Wosner zt”l, who’s lesser known Ashkenaz side was discussed here a while back, was actually from, and part of, the Oberlander Hungarian nusach Ashkenaz community, which is not so well known to outsiders, and is often confused with other groups.

For R. Sofer, this background, being a descendant of the great Chasam Sofer, towering iconic leader of Hungarian Jewry, particularly the Oberlander segment of it (after moving to Oberland from Germany), was very important, and he worked hard to make sure it continued. עד כדי כך, that not only did he issue many seforim of Torah from משפחת החתם סופר זצ”ל,  his kehillah faithfully kept the nusach hatefillah of the Chasam Sofer and Oberland, נוסח אשכנז. Even more so, Erlau even wears tefillin for morning davening on חול המועד openly, בפרהסיא, in ירושלים עיה”ק at their בית מדרש, as per their ancestral minhog (as is done in a number of other congregations in ארץ ישראל as well, contrary to popular belief). No gartel either. Interestingly, many people considered him a Chasidic Rebbe nevertheless, despite such ‘infractions’.

May the zechus of clinging to the מסורה of Oberland stand in his merit, and may his descendants and talmidim continue in that special path.

 

From Medieval Ashkenaz Techinah Supplication to Iconic Segulah: The Chasidic Transformation of G-d of Abraham – השינוי החסידית של גאט פון אברהם: מתחינה אשכנזית מימי הביניים לסגולה מפורסמת

September 18, 2015

In many siddurim and bentchers nowadays, one encounters a supplication at the conclusion of Shabbos called גאט פון אברהם (God of Abraham) (GFA).  It is often accompanied by words stating that it is from the Chasidic leader Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev (RLY), and that it is a great segulah for success (such as with פרנסה), and should be recited three times by men, women, and children.

While on the surface it seems a simple matter, it actually is quite a bit more complicated, as a number of questions may arise if one thinks about it, such as 1) why is a Yiddish prayer in the standard Hebrew (לשון קודש) siddur?, 2) why is it specifically promoted as a potent segulah?, 3) why the emphasis and detailed instruction that men, women, and children recite it?

Medieval Ashkenaz Origin

Firstly, it should be mentioned that GFA is originally an old Ashkenaz תחינה (supplication) in the vernacular that goes back to hundreds of years before the time of RLY, who was in the early years of the Chasidic movement. See this interesting related discussion at the Musings of a Jewish Bookseller blog, which includes illustrations of the prayer in pre Hasidic printed works. A more clear rendering of an old Ashkenaz version can be seen in a recent siddur here.

However, as a vernacular (Judisch-Deutsch, or Yiddish) תחינה supplication, it is not as formal and set in stone, so to speak, as, for example, sections of the main body of the סידור התפלה. Therefore, there were numerous versions of the prayer extant in Europe in the past. The contemporary scholar and researcher ר’ יחיאל גולדהבר , in his fine work מנהגי הקהלות (v.1, p.267-8), has a discussion of it, in which he cites a work printed a little over a century ago in Warsaw with twenty two versions of it. In many places it was basically a women’s prayer seemingly.

To better understand this, we need some context. Centuries ago, the state of Jewish education for the masses was not at the high level it is at today for some, ב”ה . There were women (especially) that were not proficient in Hebrew. For them, a Yiddish-vernacular prayer was something they might better understand and relate to than one in Hebrew – לשון קודש. Men were typically better learned, so they were more connected to more standard Hebrew prayers, but even among them, due to various pressures, many were weak in Hebrew and Torah learning. So perhaps we could say that it was a supplication with a special connection and appeal to the less educated, who were more comfortable with the vernacular of Yiddish as opposed to Hebrew.

Chassidic Transformation of  Old Supplication

There are some additional discussions online of the topic, which shed much light on it. Firstly, is a page with information from a Rav Gershon Kitzis in לשון קודש, which is very helpful. Also helpful is a discussion at an online forum here. Both of them I credit for helping greatly in researching the topic, from which are drawn the understandings below.

The Yiddish composition of GFA gives it a folksy, informal, populist feel, which fit in well with the populist, anti-establishment, and anti-elitist aspects of the Chasidic movement, especially in its early years. RLY was one of the most popular Chasidic leaders, who spoke to G-d directly and in Yiddish, as seen in some of his other famous legacies, such as ‘א דין תורה מיט הקב”ה, דודאלע, וכו. Anyway, it seems that RLY  or someone else in early Hasidism, took the old GFA and transformed it, by adding aspects related to and stressed by the nascent, early Hasidic movement, such as אמונת חכמים, דבוק חברים טובים, ודביקות בהקב”ה. Though people nowadays may not realize it, those are themes very important, integral to, and stressed by the Chasidic movement, especially in its early days, when RLY lived, when it was under strong attack by its Rabbinic opponents. RLY suppposedly instructed that it should be recited 3x (something seen with some other recitations as well, especially with Chasidic or Kabbalistic connection), by not just women, but rather men, women, and children (‘everyone’). This could be seen as part of Chasidic outreach to the less educated masses, as well as an expression of Chasidic identification and solidarity. The term אמונת חכמים could be understood as referring to Chasidic leaders, while dveykus and dibbuk chaveirim are also well known major Chasidic themes.

Supplication to Segulah

Putting together the above pieces of the puzzle, the above background may solve the mystery of why specifically this prayer (the Chasidic version) was touted as a great segulah. Perhaps it was that basically switching over to (similar to Chasidim changing from נוסח אשכנז לנוסח ספרד perhaps), or saying the Chasidic version of the תחינה (rather than an Ashkenazic version, or not saying it at all) was a way of identifying with, expressing support for, and praying on behalf of the Chasidic movement, something very close to the heart of RLY. That is why he (or whoever it was) assured people that it would be a great segulah. On the other hand, non Chasidim who didn’t go along with that, were/are making a statement as well in terms of their allegiance religiously, as remaining faithful adherents of the great pre Chasidic Ashkenazic path.

As time passed, this background of the prayer became obscured and forgotten. Many Jews didn’t primarily speak Yiddish anymore, and some even translated it into other languages. But the appeal of a great segulah attached to the name of a famous personality still persisted to many.

The Ashkenazic, non-Chasidic versions also continue on as well. Rav Binyomin Shlomo Hamburger שליט”א has a tune for an old version that he sings with it.

Conclusion 

I hope you found this exploration as fascinating as I did.

In the zechus of our following in the ways of our great ancestors, and the גדולי אשכנז זי”ע, may we be zoche that the G-d of our ancestors, אברהם, יצחק, ויעקב protect and bless us.

Thanks to my dear friends for their support.

חתימה טובה, א גוט געבענטשט יאהר

Soul Terminology, and Expressions of Love: Proper Frum Expression In The Lens of the Ashkenaz Tradition – Gleanings From Rav Shimon Schwab – התבטאות תורני בדברי רב שמעון שוואב זצ”ל

June 17, 2015

I recently came across a number of recordings of הרב שמעון שוואב זצ”ל online. Rav Schwab zt”l, whose twentieth yohrzeit was marked just a few months ago at קהל עדת ישורון – ‘Breuer’s’, where he served as Rav for many years, was a master expounder of Torah hashkofoh, as well as a general גדול בתורה and מנהיג ישראל (he was also a strong supporter of מכון מורשת אשכנז, see e.g. his הסכמה printed at the beginning of שרשי מנהג אשכנז חלק א, as well as his letter in the beginning of שרשי מנהג אשכנז חלק ד). His ספרים, many of which came out toward the end of his life, or after his petirah, have spread his greatness to people around the world. However, many, especially among the younger generations, even if they know of him, never heard him speak, בקול קדשו, thereby losing out on the special flavor this great godol imparted with his audial דברי אלקים חיים. Therefore, it is great to know that recordings of a number of major addresses that he made to mechanchim are accessible online.

While listening to Rav Schwab recently via these recordings, in addition to enjoying the general great Torah wisdom on the declared topics of the addresses, I also gleaned some important lessons from his careful diction, even if they were peripheral to the main subjects under discussion. With a תלמיד חכם of the stature of Rav Schwab, who did not utter words lightly, all the more so in his later years, when his Torah was in category of old wine (as per mishnah in מסכת אבות פרק ד), one can see and deduce important lessons from seemingly minor phraseology as well.

Following are two examples of what I mean.

There are expressions that are commonplace today, in various circles, that were not commonly used by the masses (if used at all) in previous generations. Which compels the thinking Yid to wonder, if they are according to our mesorah, or are in the category of חדשים מקרוב באו?

1) ?חלק א-לוה ממעל, או נשמת א-לוה ממעל

When Rav Schwab talked about the soul of a Yid (in “An Address on Tznius”, second section of this recording) (54:38), instead of using an expression for it often heard nowadays, namely חלק א-לוה ממעל, he used a different term, namely נשמת א-לוה ממעל. The relevant passage (just after 54:25) is

“The lack of tznius brings out the worst in the nefesh habehamis. And the tznius clothing inspires the very best of our Nishmas Elokah Mimaal.”

What is the difference one might ask? The former (Cheilek Elokah Mimaal) is a Kabbalistic term, used by some, which can be, and is (mis)understood by some as meaning that a neshomoh is literally a ‘piece of Hashem’, a notion at odds with traditional Jewish theology, which posits rather that the neshamah is a creation of Hashem. The latter term (Nishmas Elokah Mimaal) does not lend itself so easily to such misunderstanding.

I suspect (but don’t know with absolute certainty) that Rav Schwab may have deliberately used the term he used due to the above concern.

See discussions here, here, and here.

 2) הקב”ה אנחנו אוהבים אותך

Nowadays one at times witnesses public statements, in the form of songs, declarations, and even bumper stickers, proclaiming  הקב”ה אנחנו אוהבים אותך (Hashem, we love you), an expression that was not commonly heard shouted aloud in the past in our circles. Is that in consonance with our מסורה? Rav Schwab (in his address entitled Internalizing Eternity) states the following (after 33:20) “Since Ahavas Hashem is such a strictly personal matter, he who truly loves Hashem does not show his אהבה. He rather hides it. It is far too intimate to parade it in public. He is mekayeim והצנע לכת עם ה’ אלקיך. It is exclusively his private affair, between him and his Creator.”

In the zechus of following our holy mesorah of traditional Torah expression, may we be soon be zoche to the expression from הקב”ה of אני ה’ א-לקיכם.

א גוטען חודש

 


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