June 26, 2016
By Zev Garber
The Four Gateways of Nefesh HaChaim are introduced and discussed in Nefesh HaTzimzum, volume one. They speak respectfully of the power of human actions, speech/prayer, and thought in transforming self and world with metaphysical repercussions. Nefesh HaTzimtzum, volume two, is exclusively focused on sections of Gateway Three which discusses God’s Being (essence, existence, metaphysics) as developed in the Kabbalistic doctrine of Tzimtzum, that is, the contractions of the Infinite Being to create, penetrate, and sustain a finite universe. Doctrinal issues embrace experiential and transcendental response. Rationally, can an absolute Infinite Being be contracted to Finite Being; if God’s presence is everywhere in creation then in what way is creation an independent entity and Man’s function therein; if God as God does not contract does this embrace associated attributes, such as God’s Will and Glory, and so on. Read the rest of this entry »
March 22, 2016
By Rabbi Johnny Solomon
Nefesh HaChaim is the name of R’ Chaim Volozhin’s magnum opus – his ‘Shulchan Aruch of Hashkafa’ – whose small size does not do justice to its extraordinary depth and breadth.
Like many young men and women, I was introduced to the Nefesh HaChaim while in Yeshiva, and I recall the sense of wonderment when introduced to some of its most basic concepts. Nefesh HaChaim provides a roadmap towards living a life of spiritual exaltation, and there are parts in this work where one can catch a glimpse of the blueprint for creation. But like many of those same young men and women – and in contrast to most of my other sefarim – my copy of the Nefesh HaChaim has been opened on very few occasions since then – primarily because I did not feel confident that I had the necessary skills to grasp the depth of this great work. Like all areas of Jewish mysticism, true comprehension of the Nefesh HaChaim demands a guide – someone who has toiled in Torah study and who has pursued a life of Avodat Hashem; someone who is already using the roadmap and someone who has been able to fathom those parts of the blueprint that have been revealed to them.
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February 29, 2016
Bridging the Kabbalistic Gap
Nefesh HaTzimtzum by Avinoam Fraenkel
Vol. 1: Rabbi Chaim Volozhin’s Nefesh HaChaim with Translation and Commentary
Volume 2: Understanding Nefesh HaChaim through the Key Concept of Tzimtzum and Related Writings
(Jerusalem: Urim, 2015)
Reviewed by Bezalel Naor
Recently there has been a spate of English translations of the classic of Mitnagdic philosophy, Nefesh ha-Hayyimby Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin (1749-1821), eminent disciple of the Vilna Gaon. This is perhaps the most glorious—certainly the lengthiest—of the translations, one that attempts to rewrite the debate between Hasidim and Mitnagdim.
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January 25, 2016
By Alan Brill
The famed Yeshiva in Volozhin (founded 1803) stands as an emblem of complete devotion to Torah study. According to Prof. Imamnuel Etkes, the yeshiva had three principle qualities when administered by Rabbi Hayim (d.1821). First, the Yeshiva in Volozhin studied Torah round the clock in mishmarot (watches or shifts) of study because the study of Torah maintains the world. Second, they had an uncompromising approach to the true and simple meaning of the text of the Talmud, avoiding pilpul. Third, was the value of fear of God (yirat hashem) defined as control of one’s passions, Kabbalah, and devotion. Rabbi Hayim wrote his work Nefesh Hahayim The Living Soul presenting this path. Read the rest of this entry »
December 1, 2015
By Rabbi Ari Enkin,
I am at a loss for words to describe how blown away I am by the magnitude of Avinoam Fraenkel’s Nefesh Hatzimtzum.
Nefesh Hatzimtzum is a translation and study guide to R’ Chaim Volozhin’s Nefesh Hachaim. For those unfamiliar, Nefesh Hachaim is the “Shulchan Aruch” of hashkafa and philosophy. The concepts presented by R. Chaim are a basic platform to give us knowledge of the closest that is humanly achievable in relating to God and by extension, our ability to serve Him.
Nefesh Hatzimtzum is simply outstanding. It is a crisp and clear presentation of what has essentially been a closed book. Now Nefesh Hachaim is not only accessible, but in Fraenkel’s two volume set (over 1600 pages!), one also enjoys the benefits of a spoon fed education on the material. Read the rest of this entry »