Saturday, November 28, 2015

How Halakha Works

A lot of people are confused about what is and isn't halakha. That isn't very surprising, since the whole subject of halakha and minhagh isn't really explained. Instead, many people are left with books and volumes of halakhic codes without much explanation of what has taken place for such a book to be written. However, when it comes to religious individuals either not knowing the difference in many important cases, or not properly distinguishing it themselves - this can be disheartening and problematic. Especially when someone tries to claim a halakhic monopoly by insisting that you must submit to what the majority of Jews customarily practice.

For me, it was disheartening to see the state of normative modern Judaism as I entered this new world years ago. It didn't always have to do with the subject of halakha, but it often times has been a direct result of the misconceptions about it.

Halakha is derived from the Mishna and Gemara. Halakhoth were always enacted by a Sanhedrin in a given generation, and the ability of the public to accept the enacted halakhot, which it seems they almost always accepted upon themselves in practice, determined whether the new halakhoth lasted.

An example is that Ezra's Sanhedrin enacted that a ba`al qeri could not recite words of Torah until he immersed. This was to distance talmidei hhakhamim from frequently visiting their wives. This ordinance doesn't apply anymore, because the people were unable to endure it. The Ramba"m specifies, then, in response to these facts, that it was a minhagh in Bavel, Sefarad, etc, that a ba`al qeri must clean off any damp qeri before praying or reciting words of Torah. If my memory serves steadfast, dry is of no consequence.

Another example is that tefilath `arvith was never enacted as a halakha, rather it was a minhagh that people accepted and made it into an almost-halakha, if you will. How interesting is that?

In our generation, which does not have a Sanhedrin enacting new decrees upon Israel and addressing necessary issues, we have no choice but to follow codes of halakha, posqim. What about modern issues that absolutely must be addressed? What can be done is that already enacted halakha and even differing halakhic opinions among Haza"l may be analyzed and conclusions may be reached based on what these things tell us about the modern issue.

That raises a question, though: what of those modern conclusions that some modern day rabbi 'enacted' based on the above stated analysis? Is it considered binding halakha? I'd say no, since no modern day rabbi has smikha, and there is no Sanhedrin, there cannot be newly enacted halakha. This is only on condition that the modern halakha isn't extremely obvious like that starting a car on Shabbat is a melakha since the ignition is a flame. Then all that means is, you're still doing the old deOraitha prohibition except merely in a new way.

What about the instruction and advice of the particular Sadiqim who were in the category of Moshe Rabenu? Or what about Kabbalah and/or instances in the Zohar where a practice is mentioned that is different than the halakha that Haza"l arrived to?

This is where this post really gets interesting and important. First of all, 'Kabbalah' is the secrets of inner workings of the Torah. Kabbalah explains the deeper reasons behind the sometimes seemingly tedious or particular halakhoth that we are expected to learn and do even without knowing the deeper meanings explained in the books of Kabbalah like the Zohar, Kithvei Ari z"l, and the books of Rabenu Nahman's Torah. The latter stated never to take his words outside of the context of halakha and taught his followers to study halakha daily. R' Nathan wrote Liquttei Halakhoth, an explanation of many halakhic subjects from Rabenu's Torahs in Liquttei Mohara"n - a work unparalleled.

Secondly, Rashb"i, the author of the Zohar was among Haza"l. The Ramba"m correctly interprets the halakha of birkath hashahar as many of the first brakhoth taking place on one's bed, presumably having not yet washed one's hands which is a prerequisite for making a brakha in the morning, according to the Zohar. Thank God, there is the solution of washing your hands by having a nattlan and bowl ready by your bedside, and doing so without opening your eyes even, so as not to spoil the brakha "poqeah ghiwrim" (since the Ramba"m accurately states that making a brakha unassociated with its specific action is a brakha levattala - a very serious mistake to make). However, the question remains - in cases where Haza"l's conclusions were different than those of the Zohar's - who do we follow?

Since Rashb"i and the other aforementined Sadiqim who embodied the soul of Moshe-Mashiah revealed new layers of Torah understanding to all of Israel, any seeming contradictions go into their favor. For those who feel this is a contradiction to following the Torah of Moshe which establishes the Sanhedrin - Moshe was only accepted on the same grounds that Rashb"i and the others are to be accepted: because they are the same recurring soul, which is a soul that is the head of all the Nevi'im. Not only that, believing the true Sadiqim is a prerequesite of leaving spiritual darkness defined by the word Misrayim. It is a miswa, a necessity, for it is tied into serving HaShem and doing His Torah. "And they believed in HaShem and Moshe His servant". If you do not believe in HaShem and His Moshe's, it means you have a problem and you'll automatically be sucked up into the many Qorahs that exist out there. It is either Malkhuth diQdhusha or Malkhuth deSittra Ahra - there is no in between. And that is why it is a must to learn Rabenu Nahman's Torah.

It is why learning Liquttei `Esoth (more standardly transliterated on my translation posts as Likutei Etzot, for simplicity's and familiarity's sake) is actually greater than learning halakha because while halakha is essential, this is even more essential since it is the source of halakha itself. It is the newest revelation of Torath Moshe where all halakha derives from in the first place.

However, coming back down, now, to the subject of halakha vs. minhagh - the two cannot be confused because then you don't know what renders you a sinner and what renders you simply different in minhagh. Think about that for a minute, how important it is and also how much of a no-brainer that is. Also, no minhagh can override a halakha. I have explained how the Torahs of the Sadiqim are in a whole classification of their own, and they don't truly conflict with finalized halakha, but they only serve to explain the Torah, including halakha, from their root source, which is from higher spiritual worlds.

R' Nahman said he could have written a halakhic code and cleared up any halakhic discrepancies (where the final halakha in the Gemara isn't clear, and thus different practices are formed). However, instead, he chose to give over the teachings recorded in Liquttei Mohara"n because they're much more important. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter necessarily which halakhic code you follow, or what the specific customs of your community are. What matters most is putting to practice the advice of the true Sadiqim, especially the latest and highest manifestation of the soul of Moshe-Mashiah, that being R' Nahman MeUman. A person's true test in this day and hour is not getting caught up in anything else besides striving to realize who the true Sadiq of this generation is, and following his Torah which is the latest revelation of Torah to mankind.

The person who seeks the ultimate truth in his heart and begs HaShem for it will get to the ultimate truth, as long as he nullifies his own ego which is the mark of truth in this regard. The hour is late and the days are becoming fewer, we have to do this now and do it with utmost seriousness, without any slacking at all.

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