Monday, February 23, 2009

Knowing One's Self? Or Knowing One's Creator? Which Comes First?

Our friend Tuvia, the proprietor of the website, presented Leah Shaindel's question (included below) to Rav Shwartz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh seforim, regarding how to know whether to work on the avodah of knowing one's self or knowing Hashem, first.

I had been learning Bilvavi but was recommended to first learn da es atzmecha. although I feel I can really gain alot from da es atzmecha, it purposely doesnt focus on Hashem and I just kind of miss that alot. so I was wondering how a person can tell which mehalech is for him. Ultimately, Rav Shwartz says that either first a person comes to hacaras Boro and then through that finds hacares atzmo or vice versa.

Dixie Yid explained based on some things that Rav Weinberger says, that it would seem that Da Es is an important pre-cursor to Bilvavi since if you haven't seperated the external things that aren't really you from your understnding of who *you* are, then the "self" that you will be trying to connect to Hashem in the Bilvavi Avodah won't really be your "self." It would just be some image you have compiled of who you are. According to this, it is only after removing the noise and external affectations from your idea of who you are, that you can effectively work on getting your "self" closer to G-d.

Rav Shwartz explained in a shiur that it takes around 10 years to fully internalize da es atzmecha, and to fully identify with only the pnimiyus of who you are. Of course, it isn't an avodah that "ends" after 10 years- its a lifelong thing, but that a person will be able to work on the avodah of bilvavi after that time.

So lets say I fully go into da es atzmecha for 10 years or so- what does that mean about my relationship with Hashem- I can't really work on it? I mean the truth is that identifying more and more with one's neshama which is a chelek of Hashem draws me closer to Him, but Rav Shwartz makes it very clear not to directly connect the avoda of da es atzmecha to avodas haBorei such as bilvavi. Or does needing to learn Da es atzmecha from the start imply that since I never truly knew myself I never truly connected to Hashem from my neshama? Then how do I approach tefila while still in this limbo state?

Below is Rav Shwartz's answer typed and translated:

הכרת עצמו והכרת בוראו מה קודם למה?

עבודת האדם היא להכיר את עצמו ואת בוראו. אולם הכרת עצמו אינה תכלית אלא אמצעי- שביל בלבד להכרת הבורא, שהיא התכלית.
אולם איזה מהם קודם? בפשטות הכרת האדם את עצמו קודמת להכרת בוראו.
אולם בדרכי העבודה יש דרך להתחיל תחילה בהכרת עצמו, ויש דרך להתחיל תחילה בהכרת הבורא. ויש לכך פנים לכך ופנים לכך.
אם מקדים האדם את ידיעת עצמו לידיעת בוראו, הרי שעובד בדרך מיוסדת ובנויה, אולם מאידך כל זמן שעובד על הכרת עצמו חי בלי הכרת בוראו ואלו הם חיים ללא חיות פנימית אמיתית. זולת כך ישנו חשש שמא ימשך כל ימיו להכרת עצמו ולהכרת בוראו לעולם לא יגיע כפי שעינינו רואות אצל עובדים מסוימים. יתר על כן מי שכבר חש מעט את הכרת בוראו, מעט וכ"ש יתר על כן, נפשו תובעת להכיר את בוראו יותר ויותר ואינו מסוגל להניח זאת שנים עד שיכיר את עצמו היטב...
אולם צד שני למטבע שאילו יקדים האדם את הכרת בוראו להכרת עצמו הריהו כאדם הבונה קומה שניה ללא שיש לו קומה ראשונה... ופעמים רבות תולדת דרך זה שנעשה אדם בלתי מציאותי תלוש מגדרי המציאות הניכרת לעין הגשמית, ודרך זה מלבד שאינה מביאה להכרת הבורא אמיתית כי נחסרת היא את האמצעי- הכרת עצמו, יכולה להוליד תנודות קשות בנפש כי זהו אדם שחי עם שמים ללא ארץ עם דמיון ללא הויה.
דע את עצמך הוא דרך מקדים חשוב לבלבבי מאחר שאם עדיין לא הפרדת את הדברים החיצוניים שאינם באמת אתה, מההבנה שלך של מי אתה, אז ה"אתה" שתנסה לחבר אל השם בעבודת בלבבי לא תהיה באמת עצמך, אלא תהיה זו דמות שהרכבת בעצמך של מי אתה. לפיכך רק לאחר הסרת הרעש והעמדות הפנים החיצוניות מהתפיסה שלך של מי שאתה, אז תוכל להתחיל לעבוד ביעילות על קירוב עצמך לאלקים.
אשר על כן כל דרך יש בה מעלות וחסרונות כנ"ל. ועל כן אדם חייב להכיר מחד את המעלות והחסרונות שבכל דרך, ומאידך להכיר מעט את עצמו איזה דרך יותר קרובה לנפשו. והמחפש אמת באמת ינחהו בעל האמת לבחור איזה דרך להקדים ואיזה דרך לאחר. להקדים ולאחר דייקא כי השלמות מורכבת הן מידיעת עצמו והן מידיעת בוראו.
אדם שבחר להתחיל בהכרת עצמו, עליו להקדיש כמה דקות ביום להכרת בוראו, וכן להיפך, אדם שבחר להקדים את הכרת בוראו, עליו להקדיש כמה דקות ביום להכרת עצמו.
Your life's mission requires you to know your self as well as your Creator (acknowledgment of the Creator refers to a palpable sense of Hashem's presence in your life). The knowledge of the self is only an intermediate path for knowledge of the Creator, which is the goal.

Which of these should come first? Logically, self-knowledge should precede knowledge of the Creator. Practically speaking, though, there is one approach that begins with self-knowledge, and another that begins with knowledge of the Creator, and each approach has its merits.

If one places self-knowledge before knowledge of the Creator, his method is sound and solid. On the other hand, as long as he is focused on self-knowledge, he lives without a relationship to his Creator, and his life lacks real inner vitality. In addition, there is a concern that he will spend his entire life on self-knowledge without ever attaining knowledge of the Creator, as we see with some people who engage in spiritual work. Furthermore, if one has already begun to attain a sense
of his Creator, even if occasionally, and certainly if it is more often, his soul will demand greater and greater knowledge of the Creator, and he will not be capable of setting that goal aside for years until he manages to know himself well.

On the other hand, if one gives precedence to attaining knowledge of the Creator, he is akin to one who builds a second floor before having a ground floor. A common result is that he loses touch with reality, and does not properly relate to the world we see with our physical eyes. Not only will he never achieve genuine knowledge of the Creator. Since he lacks the stepping stone of self-awareness, he is liable to suffer from emotional instability. He lives with only heaven, not earth; with delusion, not reality.

For this reason, Da et Atzmecha is an important prelude to the Bilvavi books. If, when you think about who you are, you have not yet learned to filter out the outer layers that are not really part of "you," then the "you" that you will try to connect to Hashem will not be the real self; it will just be some false self-image that you have combined from various elements. Only after removing all the inner "noise" and the facade that taints your self-concept can you effectively commence with the work of making that true self closer to Hashem.

Hence, each approach has its advantages and disadvantages. Each person must understand these advantages and disadvantages and also have an adequate measure of self-knowledge in order to sense which approach is most suited to his soul. One who truly seeks truth will be guided by the Master of Truth to choose which approach to adopt first and which later. Note that we said "first" and "later" because self-perfection requires both self-knowledge and knowledge of the Creator.

One who chooses to start with self-knowledge should also devote a few minutes daily to knowledge of the Creator; conversely, one who has chosen to start with knowledge of the Creator should also devote a few minutes daily to self-knowledge.
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Akiva Ben Canaan said...

I imagine that the way to choose which avodah to take on first depends upon each individual's personal inclinations and strengths.

Those who are naturally inclined to dwell upon their own actions, how they could have done A or B better, etc. should probably start with Da es Atzmecha - a natural strength - and then move on Bilvavi.

While those who cherish a walk alone outside, connecting to nature, and looking up at the sky - perhaps they should start with Bilvavi, and focusing on recognizing their creator.

Reb Yaakov said...

My chassidut chavrutah has started learning Da et Atzmecha and told me that he prefers it to what we are learning, Tzidkut HaTzaddik. After reading this post, I was reminded of a comparison between Chassidut and Mussar.

Do you have to purify yourself before you can begin to approach HaShem? (The Mussar approach) Do you approach HaShem first, in you sullied state, and purify yourself later? (The Chassidut approach)

I do not think that one approach is correct and one is wrong, but the Chassidut approach speaks to me more than the mussar approach. It is important to act, to learn Torah, to do mitzvot - even though they may not be done with shleimut, or done for the wrong motivations. I have learned mussar, but for the past number of years I have not found it to be as inspiring as I used to.

Anonymous said...

First of all it was a beautiful answer and I appreciated it very much. The one thing I wanted to know was that in Bilvavi in the 2nd chelek around the chapters that deal with T'filla, as well as in Bilvavi chelek 5 (Shni Tolaas)the Rav says that a person before talking to hashem must work though his recognition of Hashem, and then talk to HaShem. Meaning how you recognize that there is a G-d, a Creator, and Divine Providence on everything. Another words one first must speak about Hashem in third person and then he can move to 2nd person, one without the other, the person would be a "Baal Dimyone"

My question then is does that satisfy the need of focusing on his identity before focusing on the Boray?

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

My impression is that it wouldn't. It's two separate things. #1 would be knowing who you are. But even with that, it's still possible to fool one's self about whether he truly recognizes Hashem's presence. I think he's speaking at about whether's one is fooling himself about recognition of G-d at that level, which is already a level above self-knowledge. At least, nir'eh li l'fi aniyus da'ati.

Anonymous said...

i just wanted to say I don't think mussar vs chassidus is parallel to da et atzmecha vs bilvavi.

for example, da et atzmecha isnt exactly working on character flaws. its almost like the same derech chassidim have with avodas Hashem- "approach Hashem in your sullied state and precisely that connection will help you cleanse yourself". Da Et Atzmecha is, nomatter how much bad you do, or haw many flaws you have, you are still a neshama tehora. connect to your true self (your neshama) and then it will be alot easier to cleanse yourself of any bad midos and so on.

The entire sefer is rooted in one point: you are not your guf, you are a neshama that is only enclothed in a guf. who you really are is completely pure, completely tov. that means any flaws, any bad thoughts, actions or feelings you have arent really you but stem from the guf.

Rav Shwartz says once a person fully makes that distinction, they are able to "disengage" from the ra because they don't identify it as themselves anymore. (it still takes hard work, but its that much easier) and of course, that neshama you work on identifying yourself as is really a chelek Eloka mimaal mamesh, which brings us to G-d.

i feel slightly like I have no clue what I'm talking about I really have only a "basic shebibasic" understanding of chassidus and mussar. but hopefully its on target.