What is Halachah?
The main thing is not interpretation but practical action. (Avot 1:17)
From the day the Temple was destroyed, the only thing the Holy One blessed be He has in His world is the four cubits of the Halachah. (Brachot 8a).
How do Biblical teachings actually apply in our daily lives?
The Halachah consists of rabbinic teachings about how to carry out the 613 commandments of the Torah in practice. Halachah is from the Hebrew root HoLeCH , "goes". The Halachah consists of innumerable individual halachot detailed laws or rules governing the path we should follow in each of the situations we face in all the diverse areas of our lives in order to "go" and advance spiritually.
The two primary Jewish rabbinical texts, the Mishneh (c. 200 C.E.) and its commentary, the Talmud (completed c. 500 C.E.) consist of detailed discussions of the Halachah and where individual halachot are rooted in the written Torah text and the oral tradition. However, because of the many often-opposing viewpoints in the Mishnah and Talmud and the great subtlety of their style of argument, it is impossible to derive practical Halachot for the modern age directly from these ancient texts.
Outstanding rabbinical authorities in later times therefore composed extensive codes of Torah law setting forth detailed halachic rulings. The most important codes are:
- Mishneh Torah "Copy of the Law", by RaMBaM (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, Maimonides 1135-1204) covering the entire spectrum of Torah laws including those that apply when the Temple is standing in Jerusalem
- Shulchan Aruch the "Set Table", by Rabbi Yosef Karo (1488-1575) with glosses by Rabbi Moshe Isserles (1520-72) dealing only with laws that apply during the period of exile when there is no Temple
The Shulchan Aruch has been accepted as the normative, binding code of Torah law by all observant Jewish communities. Together with its classic commentaries, it serves until today as the foundation for rulings made by orthodox rabbis on practical questions of halachah in contemporary circumstances.
The Shulchan Aruch is divided into four main sections:
- Orach Chayim the "Path of Life" (Proverbs 5:6) containing the laws of daily prayers and blessings, Sabbath and festivals
- Yoreh De'ah "He teaches knowledge" (Isaiah 28:9) dealing with permitted and forbidden foods, various ritual laws, family purity, death and mourning
- Even Ha'Ezer the "Rock of Support" (I Samuel 7:12) covering marriage and divorce
- Choshen Mishpat the "Breastplate of Justice" (Exodus 28:15) dealing with judicial procedure, loans, business and interpersonal relationships, damages, etc.
Anyone who wants to observe the Torah properly must learn what is the bottom line of the Halachah as it applies to our everyday lives, our prayers, Sabbath and festivals, eating pure ( kosher ) foods, in the home, in family and marital life, at work and in business, in our interpersonal relationships etc. These laws are collected in various concise, practical modern works explaining how to apply the Halachah in contemporary conditions.
It was taught in the academy of Elijah:
Everyone who studies halachot every day is assured
that he will be in the World to Come
It is very important to study Halachah. If you can, study all four sections of the Shulchan Aruch in order from beginning to end. Otherwise, study one of the concise guides that explain the laws of daily life.
The study of Halachah is a great spiritual remedy. When a person sins, good and evil become mixed up. Each individual Halachah is a legal decision that makes a clear separation between what is permitted and what is forbidden, what is clean and what is unclean. When you study Halachah, good is once again separated from evil, thereby rectifying the sin.
Every Jew should study Halachah every day. If you are under pressure and have no time, study at least one paragraph of Halachah on any subject, even if it is outside your regular study schedule. Learn at least one law every day of your life.
Rabbi Nachman, Sichot Haran #29
Can these bones live?
"And He said to me: Son of man, will these bones live?
Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Here, I will bring spirit into you and you shall live
With its many complex details, the Halachah is often regarded as a dry set of obligations with little perceptible meaning and purpose. Indeed, it is natural for books of law, tax regulations and the like to be somewhat dry and full of confusing details which apply under highly specific conditions but are irrelevant to the great majority of citizens. The law must be complete, and experts need to know how it applies not only to Mr. Average in normal life but also in rare and unusual cases.
What is the true meaning and purpose of the Halachah? How does observance of the Halachot bring us closer to God? What inner intentions should we have in mind when following the Halachot? What can inspire us to keep and practice this code? The Halachah is the "body" and "bones" of the Torah. Where is the soul and the spirit ???
It was to provide detailed answers to these questions and breathe life into the body of the Halachah that Reb Nosson (=Nathan) of Breslov (1780-1844), the leading student and disciple of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810), wrote his multi-volume masterpiece, Likutey Halachot , "Collected Halachot". Here Reb Nosson explains the Halachot of the Shulchan Aruch subject by subject in the light of the Chassidic insights of his master, Rebbe Nachman.
Not only did Rebbe Nachman emphasize the primary importance of daily study of the Halachot of the Shulchan Aruch, which is the necessary foundation in order to keep the Torah. The Rebbe also instructed Reb Nosson to compose original Torah discourses discussing the meaning and purpose of the various halachot in the light of the insights of Chassidus as revealed in the Rebbe's own seminal discourses collected in his magnum opus, Likutey Moharan , the Collected Teachings of Morenu (=our teacher) HaRav Nachman.
Reb Nosson's method
As Reb Nosson followed his daily course of study of the halachot working systematically through the Shulchan Aruch from beginning to end, he would write a discourse on each subject. Individual discourses apply the concepts explained in one or other of Rebbe Nachman's lessons and teachings in Likutey Moharan , or sometimes in one of his stories, in order to elucidate the deeper meaning of the halachot of the Shulchan Aruch. When Reb Nosson reached the end of the Shulchan Aruch he would go back to the beginning again, starting another study cycle and again writing a discourse on each subject.
Reb Nosson started this in about 1804, during the lifetime of the Rebbe, and continued for forty years until literally the day before he died in 1844. It would appear that Reb Nosson went through Shulchan Aruch in this way at least seven times. While his earliest discourses (in cycle 1) are generally fairly short, his later discourses are often very lengthy and discursive, in some cases running to the length of what would come out in English translation as a 60-200 page book!
|For full biography of Reb Nosson see Through Fire and Water: The Life of Reb Nosson of Breslov by Rabbi Chaim Kramer edited by Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum, published by
Breslov Research Institute
Structure of Likutey Halachot
Likutey Halachot consists of these collected discourses, arranged subject by subject in exactly the same order as in the four sections of the Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim , Yoreh De'ah , Even Ha'Ezer and Choshen Mishpat . Just as the Shulchan Aruch was traditionally printed in eight volumes, so too Likutey Halachot was traditionally printed in eight corresponding volumes: Vols 1-3: Orach Chayim; Vols 4-5: Yoreh De'ah; Vol. 6: Even Ha'ezer; Vols 7-8: Choshen Mishpat.
On each subject in Shulchan Aruch (e.g. Tzitzith, Tefilin, Shema, Prayer, Reading of Torah etc. etc.) Reb Nosson wrote an average of 6-7 discourses. Each is based on a specified discourse in Likutey Moharan and discusses various aspects of the halachic subject in hand in the light of Rebbe Nachman's insights in his original lesson. As mentioned above, discourses 1 and 2 in each subject are generally fairly concise, while 3-5 tend to be longer and more discursive, with discourses 6-7 being even lengthier.
Each discourse begins by specifying the lesson (or sometimes story) of Rebbe Nachman on which it is based, normally providing a concise resume of the original lesson or those parts of it that are particularly relevant. Reb Nosson then begins to explain how the concepts in Rabbi Nachman's lesson illumine the deeper meaning of the halachic subject in hand and specific halachot in particular.
Reb Nosson's discussions draw in many different areas of the Torah, including numerous verses and sections from the Five Books of Moses, Prophets and Holy Writings, Talmudic passages and concepts, Midrashim and Kabbalistic ideas in the Zohar and the Writings of the ARI (Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-72).. Reb Nosson often discusses practical ways in which the Lurianic kavvanot (intentions in the prayers and performance of the commandments) can be understood and applied.
Faith and Truth
Reb Nosson's main purpose in Likutey Halachot is to inspire and encourage us to deepen our Emunah ("faith") and enhance our service of God through the practice of the halachot and the pursuit of the pathways of prayer, devotion and joy taught by Rebbe Nachman.
Likutey Halachot is a dazzling display of Torah genius covering a vast range of topics and plumbing unfathomable depths. No-one who studies it can fail to be deeply moved and inspired by Reb Nosson's honesty, sincerity and tireless search for the truth and only the truth.
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