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To Be Chassidic

To Be Chassidic

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Iskafya - Suppressing Desires


There is a Chassidic dictum, "vos men tor nit, tor men nit, un vos men meg, darf men nit"; "what’s forbidden is forbidden, and what’s allowed isn’t necessary. This idea can be found in the Ramban’s commentary on VaYikra (19:2) where he explains the verse "holy shall you be", to teach a Jew that he must be holy in all matters. Otherwise, it is possible, according to the Ramban, to be "a ‘noval,’ a ‘degraded person,’ with the permission of the Torah". For example, he may indulge in food to the point of gluttony, based on the fact that the food is kosher and the Torah does not say exactly how much one should eat. Since he is using the Torah concept of Kosher, to justify his personal desires, he is called a degraded person; he is abusing the Torah. The Hebrew word for holiness, "kadosh," means "separated". A Chasid realizes that he doesn’t have to unite himself with everything. In simple English, just because Torah says something is not forbidden doesn’t give an automatic green light to indulge in it. If this item will be used for a divine purpose, fine. If its use is only for self gratification, then according to the Ramban, this violates the Torah’s command "Be Holy." The Sefer (book) Charedim, (Rabbi Elazar Azkari, Venice, 1601) counts this commandment as one of the 613 Mitzvos.


This concept is a central principle of paramount significance in Chassidic philosophy. Without it one cannot truly appreciate Chassidism. This principle is also known as "Iskafya", "suppression", to suppress the concealment of G-d caused by nature. By withholding himself from seeking physical pleasure, if not for a G-dly purpose, a Chosid demonstrates that nature is not the boss. He thus provides room for G-d to reveal himself. Simply put, to be a Chossid one needs to practice "Iskafya". One simple way of practicing Iskafya is, if presented, say, with a choice between two different portions of a certain food, to choose the one that looks less attractive. In this small way one makes an immediate separation between what is wanted and what is needed. In our generation, when it seems that the whole world is on a diet, the notion of "Iskafya" has developed further. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson, was once asked how the students in the Yeshiva should practice Iskafya. He answered that when they get up from their learning to go to the dining hall, they should continue to think about what they have just learned as they are walking, instead of suddenly regressing into "survival mode," and acting like children. It is necessary to eat, and perhaps to eat well, but there is no need to get involved in eating as a separate sphere of existence where the presence of the Torah is not felt. Through practices like this, Chasidism unifies life around a central purpose. Instead of the endless cycle of "working hard and playing hard," one is enabled to live a fully conscious, satisfying life.


    • Publisher : Jason Aronson, Inc. (November 1, 1996)
    • Language: English
    • Format: Paperback
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