I heard yesterday that according to Maharal, the most important mitzvos are the positive commandments, because they are the ones that actually transform the world into G-dliness. They actually accomplish something positive. The negative commandments are also important, of course, but their purpose is to keep us pure; they don’t actually positively improve the world (I am possibly butchering what I was told and what Maharal said himself, but that is the basic idea).
Upon hearing that, I thought that this contradicted what Chabad Chassidus seems to say. As a result, I am reposting the following (with the nasty parts taken out after being called a hater for including them l’hatchillo).
Recently, I heard a question: “What do you think is the biggest problem with Judaism today?” One of the answers was: “That in recent times [last few centuries], Judaism has become much more chumra-oriented than before.”
I have no idea what my opinion is on the matter. Yes, maybe that this is the trend. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it just appropriate? I have no idea. Certainly, to me there seems to be a problem in approaching everything in Judaism and our lives from chumra perspective. Certainly, to me there seems to be a (possibly even bigger) problem in doing whatever you want in life, and then making sure, b’dieved, that you haven’t violated Halacha. If barely...
(Also, I have read somewhere of a question which was asked to Tzemach Tzedek by a chossid who was troubled by the chumros instituted by the achroinim — does the fact that rishoinim did not adhere to these chumros mean that they were violating Torah? Tzemach Tzedek explained why the later generations were given more chumros than the earlier ones. When I find the exact answer, I will post it.)
I was listening to something today, however, which made me think about this question. Rabbi Paltiel was discussing in a shiur (third one) on the ma’amor “V’yishlach” (from hemshech Samech Vov) the idea of getting to Atzmus Eloikus, the Essence of G-dliness. Why, he said, can we not get to it? Because we are trying too hard. Every time we are trying to get somewhere or get something, we are only able to grasp some level of gilui, revelation. Atzmus cannot be b’gilui. Essence cannot be revealed. So, the harder you try, the more elusive it becomes. You will get to some level of G-dliness through a positive effort, but not the Essence.
So, how can you get to it? Through mitzvos loi ta’aseh, negative commandements forbidding us to do certain things. Because by following them, one is not actively doing something, reaching somewhere, but in fact he is just staying away from something. But — for the purpose of Hashem. (This, says, Rabbi Paltiel, is the difference between a Jew not trying to get to G-d and a sinner, or a cow, not trying to get to G-d.)
As an illustration of the idea, Rabbi Paltiel tells a story. After the passing of the Rebbetzin Nechama Dina, the Rebbe’s brother-in-law, Rashag, wanted the Rebbe to have a seider together with him. The Rebbe answered: “On Peisach I sit by myself.” So, Rashag asked him again several times and then sent a shliach: a chossid of the Rebbe, Rabbi Simson, who was older both than the Rebbe and the Rashag, and was a deep person. Rabbi Simson could not say “no” to Rashag, but could not ask the Rebbe to do something that the Rebbe didn’t want to do. So, he walked in into the Rebbe’s office, stood there without saying anything, and walked out.
Later, at the end of Adar, Rashag asked the Rebbe again about his plans for the seider. The Rebbe answered: “As I said, on Peisach I sit alone.” Rashag asked him if he talked to Rabbi Simpson. The Rebbe answered: “Yeah. He was here and stood silently. And his silence spoke.”
The other story is about something that happened to a very holy and deep Jew during the War of Independence in Israel. There were snipers everywhere, and it was impossible to go out. There was no food, and the man said he would go out to get the bread for his little daughter. His wife said: “You can’t go. They will shoot you.” The Jew answered: “I will go. I will not see them; they will not see me.” He went, got the bread and came back. How? Was he invisible? No, if a camera took a picture of the street, it would capture the man’s image. It’s just that he didn’t care about the world, and he made the world not care about him.
Hashem is not hiding. He is just not seen. Because we keep looking. But when a Jew does a mitzva loi ta’seh, he does something for Eibeshter, but he is not looking for Him. And thereby he reaches Hashem’s Essence.
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This all reminded me, lehavdil, of this master class, in which András Schiff says: “Silence is the most beautiful thing in music.” Which is reminiscent of, lehavdil, the message of the later chapters of Alter Rebbe’s Sha’ar HaYichud ve’ha’Emunoh (second book of Tanya), in which he explains that concealment of G-dly Light comes as much from G-d as the revelation of the Light. In fact, when the G-d reveals His Light, that’s not a big deal. That’s status quo. C’est normal, as the French say. When G-d conceals the Light — now, that’s a sign that takeh der Eibeshter is involved. Which is a very encouraging idea for us, when in our lives something negative happens, G-d forbid.
My pianist friend says: when some musicians play, silence is the most beautiful part of their music... :)