#BlogElul Day 2: Act

One of the elements of Chassidic thought of the Tanya that I appreciate the most is the philosophy of action. The idea is that there are many levels of reality, called “Olamos”.
(The word olam is usually translated as “worlds”, which is one of the worst things to happen to humanity in our current era. I say this because of two events of our era. The one event took place centuries ago; the advent of modern astronomy, which tells us that those stars are other suns, around which orbit other planets, other worlds. Once that happened, all kabbalistic thought went to mis-interpretation land. That’s why the Mormons think that their god lives on a planet, in outer space, with his wife and kids.

The second great disaster is the popularization of science fiction. Now, worlds are understood as planets with alien civilizations, green antennas etc. And all English translations of kabbala or chassidic teachings sound like something out of Star Trek, instead of the deep analysis of Divine and human thought, emotion, and behavior.)

Back to Olamos. In the classical kabbalistic cosmogony, reality is subdivided into 4 “olamos”, four levels of reality. I translate them as the levels of Nearness to God, Intellect, Emotion, and Action. God could have stopped creating at any of those steps. The world would have been a chorus of angels chanting their glorifications of their first cause. Or man could have been a brain in a jar, a la matrix. Or a brain and heart. Why bother with a physical dimension at all?

God desired to dwell in the lower worlds. That teaching from the medrash, turned into the slogan of Chabad philosophy, states that God created a world of physical action to be the ultimate repository of His creativity. You can think and feel and grock all you want. What matters is action.

Any impulse that is valuable should be channeled as quickly as possible into an act, in order to give it lasting value. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz, the late Rosh Yeshiva of the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem, said in a famous talk that even a powerful emotion like the revulsion one feels at seeing an adulteress magically explode before your very eyes is not enough to make you behave. It should fuel a vow to abstain from wine. It needs to change something in the world of action. The Talmud says that even the act of refraining from an activity is considered an activity.

Two changes take place in the world of action in Elul. Most communities begin reciting Psalm 27 at the end of Morning and Evening services. And many communities have the shofar blown at the end of morning services. They are minor changes in terms of the time they take. But something happens in the world of action.

The Kelm yeshiva in Lithuania had a five minute study session at the end of every Shabbos. A yeshiva that was accustomed to have sessions that lasted as long as four hours at a shot would consider five minutes to be a ridiculous length. The point that was being drilled into the students’ minds was that even five minutes is five minutes more than zero. It’s action. It’s the mouth moving, making sounds of Torah it would not have made otherwise.
Act.
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