Ask the rabbi

  • Halacha
  • Mysticism and Ayin Hara



Rabbi Moshe Leib Halberstadt

Adar 6, 5770
Dear Rabbi, I am aware of Kabbalistic customs (Minhagim) in the Sefardi communities and of Kabbalists in those communities. I also am aware of the same for Chasidic communities. Do the Kabbalists in the Ashkenazi communities practice distinct Kabbalistic customs? If they do, may I ask what they are? Respectfully, Asher, a student in Jewish studies
The Ashkenazi non-Chasidic Mekubalim always conduct themselves according to Halachah. There are only a select few who have reached a very high level, and kept what the Tomer Devorah says; that a person should acquire Godly attributes and then he will be in secret of the upper Tzurah. They are the ones fitting to add special customs according to the Arizal. [תומר דבורה פרק א, אחי היקר רבי עקיבא בשם המקובל הגרי"א ויינטרוב שליט"א]. Their outlook on the hidden part of the Torah (Kabbala) is summarized in the words of Rabbi Chaim of Volozin: Whoever was merited by the Blessed will be His Name, to reach the hidden secrets of our holy Torah, that were blessedly left to us by highest holy people, the sages of the Talmud such as Rashbi and his colleagues and his students, and the one who the last generations are drinking from his fountain - the holy Rabbi a very godly person the Arizal who enlightened our eyes explaining to us a little of the reasoning and meanings of the Mitzvot. All this is only in order that everyone should recognize according to his perception and brain, how great every single detail of his actions, speech, thought, and everything else is in the upper and lower worlds, and he will be impressed and aroused to do and keep every Mitzvah and all aspects of worshiping his Creator Blessed will be His Name, with the ultimate meticulousness, with fear and owe and tremendous love, and with sanctity and purity of the heart. And through this he will cause greater Tikkunim in the worlds, than if he would fulfill the Mitzvah without the holiness and purity intention. Nevertheless the most important thing in all the Mitzvot are the details of their action, which if he does not do properly he does not fulfill his obligation. [נפש החיים שער א סוף פרק כב]. Rabbi Chaim of Volozin wrote in the name of his Rabbi the Vilna Gaon, in the introduction to Safra D’tzniuta, that one should not rely in practice on the many additions of the Arizal’s writings which were added by students other than Rabbi Chaim Vital Z”L, because they did not fully comprehend the depth and meaning of the holy Arizal’s teachings. Only Rabbi Chaim Vital Z”L himself would fully understand the inner depth and knew the sources of his teachings, as the Arizal himself testified. Nevertheless the students’ writings were greatly valued in his eyes. [באמצע הקדמת הגר"ח לספרא דצניעותא בד"ה גם]. Regarding the custom of the Kavanot (intentions) of prayer: The great Mekubal Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Chaver ZT”L writes in his book Magen V’tzinah: And we have a tradition from our great Rabbi, Rabbi of the whole Diaspora who is greater in this wisdom more than a few generations prior to him, the Vilna Gaon ZT”L, that we shall not intend the deep meanings in prayer, he said also that in every prayer and prayer there are other meanings, which were intended in the prayers that were composed for us by Anshei Knesset HaGedolah (Men of the Great Assembly). And one prayer is not similar to another but changes all the time according to the order of the combinations of His Blessed Great Name. [מגן וצינה פרק ט עמוד כ]. The Nefesh Hachaim quotes what the Magid had told the Beit Yosef in warning 2, in the beginning of the book Magid Meisharim; to be careful not to think during prayer any thoughts even of Torah and Mitzvot, but only of the actual words of prayer. We can see from his words that he did not say to think of the hidden intentions of the words, because the truth is that none of us know much as far as the inner depth of the meaning of prayer. Because even the few meanings of prayer that were revealed to us by our Rabbis, the great sacred Rishonim Z”L, until the last one, the sacred Rabbi, the awesome godly man, the Arizal who taught wondrous meanings, they are not considered as a drop in the ocean compared to the deep meaning of Anshei Knesset HaGedolah, who composed the prayers; they were 120 elders of whom a few were prophets. But the main thing in the work of prayer is that when a person mouths each word of prayer, he should picture in his mind that word with its letters in its shape and have intention to add through it the power of holiness which will bear fruit Above to increase their light and holiness. One who will get used to doing so, will add purity in his thought during prayer, and that is the literal meanings. [נפש החיים שער ב פרק יג]. Kabbalistic customs that have been accepted in Ashkenazi communities: There are various famous kabbalistic customs that have taken root among Ashkenazi communities; the custom of Kabbalat Shabbat prayer and the saying of Lechah Dodi. Its source is the Zefat Mekubalim of about 420 years ago; among them were Rabbi Moshe Kordovero and his Rabbi and brother-in-law Rabbi Shlomo Ben Moshe Halevi Elkabetz. It was accepted by the vast majority of the Ashkenazi communities. The custom of saying “Brich Shemayh” during the taking out of the Sefer Torah, which is from the Zohar according to the Arizal, was also accepted by many of the Ashkenazi communities. Also the custom of saying Tikkun Leil Shavuot was accepted among some of the Ashkenazi communities. [See some of the sources in Siddur Avodat Yisrael].
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