Monday, October 01, 2007

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Sefer Review: Kav HaYashar

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

While at a seforim store a few days ago, the newly republished and translated Kav HaYashar was displayed prominently. Thumbing through it with my teenage son (who was with me), we both were struck with the unusual insights and found it very interesting.

Yep, I bought it. Not cheap ($45), with that I exceeded my Succos budget (hmm, mashka or sefer, mashka or sefer, mashka or sefer, both!)

The type is clear and large, larger than I'd expect (resulting in a book physically lengthier than need be, but one I'll be able to read without reading glasses when the time comes, b'ezrat Hashem, that I need such), the physical book quality is excellent. The translation is good, in a style I like where certain words are presented transliterated rather than translated (for example, sefirot).

However, this is a serious Mussar sefer (meaning every chapter is focusing on a negatively oriented lesson, as in "don't act negatively because of X consequences). Every chapter presents a pasuk (Chumash or Navi), a corresponding mystical source that relates at the sod level (such as Zohar and other works of kabbalah), and explains from the kabbalistic source how a persons improper actions have deep hidden negative impact on the world and/or ones soul at a spiritual level. Sometimes this includes practical segulot for avoiding or repairing the problem. For example, the end of chapter 1...

...a person needs protection when he exits the door of his home, to prevent the Side of Evil from clinging to him and causing him to sin... Therefore, when one places his hand on the mezuzah at the doorway of his home one should have in mind that the final letters of the expansion of the word yeitzer spell out the name Shaddai. In other words, the name has the power to protect one from the evil impulse. (and then concludes with a tefillah to recite upon exiting his home).

In the sample chapter I read in the store, it was discussing how one's mitzva or avera in a certain area results in a malach of a certain time or a sheid (G-d protect us) of a certain type, and the negative actions of this negative creation.

Net net, I really like the sefer but must beware of what I consider the inherent dangers of this type of mussar, that is: the feeling of dread at my averot and feeling the details of the positive heights being out of reach. In other words, the kind of depression that chassidus specifically avoids.

Many years ago I had a private study lesson together with a friend and a mekubal. He was discussing some pesukim from the Zohar about the release of malachim of destruction into the world from certain averot. While this may lead some to teshuva, I walked away in a state of terror. How could I ever recover from my numerous misdeeds, what horrible damage have I done to the world, and what horrible fate awaits my poor neshama. Better to sit at home in the dark paralyzed than to risk any further misdeed!!!!

Fortunately, the Alter Rebbe (the Baal HaTanya, the first grand rabbi of Lubavitch chassidus) teaches us achievable goals of the intermediate man (and once you get there, the doorways to the next level become possible), and Rebbe Nachman teaches us that if you can break it, you can fix it. Because if I didn't have those, I would never open Kav HaYashar.

Interestingly, the introduction notes the many rabbaim who wrote positively about learning this sefer (sometimes noting it for themselves, other times for their followers), and they include the Tzemach Tzedek (the 3rd Lubavitcher Rebbe), the Chasam Sofer, the Noam Elimelech, and the first Bezler Rebbe (among many others listed, though I'm pointing out the chassid ones).

There's a secondary sefer included at the end, Rova HaKav, a brief book where the author (of that book) extracted all of the segulot discussed in Kav HaYashar into a simple list of "segula for ... and is ....".

I would recommend this sefer only for the older and mature, and those who have passed beyond a beginner level in chassidus or kabbalah.

A Simple Jew commented to me on this sefer, "I found your comments to be very interesting since both Chabakuk Elisha and I have similar feelings about mussar. I recall seeing that Rebbe Nachman of Breslov held the mussar sefer, "Reishis Chochma", in great esteem. Commenting to one of his talmidim who had problems learning mussar, Reb Noson said that if you feel that you can not learn Reishis Chochma without being terrified or depressed should not learn it and rather learn something you feel is uplifting."

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