Rav Morgenstern on Komarno

For an earlier posting on Rav Morgenstern’s teaching of meditation –see here

The Komarno Rebbe has yet to merit a scholarly treatment or even a Wikipedia entry.
In the meantime you can read about his uncle Tzvi Hirsh of Zidichov or a general overview at the Komarno article. You can also read
Turn Aside from Evil and Do Good: An Introduction and a Way to the Tree of Life, by Zevi Hirsch Eichenstein, translation and introduction by Louis Jacobs,

I remember when Moshe Idel offered Komarno as an undergraduate seminar, there were only four of us in the room- two undergraduates, myself, and another YU grad. Idel spend most of his time showing how the autobiography-diary can be used to unpack discussions about experience. In the diary, he writes “I did” and in his theoretical writings he writes “One should” or “It was done by some.” Idel also pointed out that the three most erudite Kabbalists among Hasidic rebbes were the Komarno, Hayim of Chernowitz, and the Koznitzer.

The Komaro wrote dozens of works and at least ten of them major works, a commentary on the Zohar –Zohar Hai, a commentary on Humash- Heikhal Ha-Berachah, a mystical diary, commentaries on Mizvot, on mishneh, and much more. The Komarno Rebbe practiced the Lurianic-Vital Yihudim, actively sought the presence of the shekhinah, and had conversations with deceased saints. His introduction to Humash mentions how Moshe received an out of body ex-static experience. His was a Hasidism of doing, a religious life of performing yihudim, tikuniim, and segulot. He and his uncle had a special disdain for Chabad because they turned chasidus into a form of hakirah- philosophic investigation.

When I received two shiurim from Rav Morgenstern on Komarno I was pleased and looked forward to studying them. They are based on his shiur in Yiddish 8 pm on Tuesday nights – ohalei yosef #4. On other nights he gives shiur on Breslov, Ashlag, and Chabad. The shiurim are ostensively on Netiv Mitzvotekha by the Komarno rebbe. From the nature of shiur one gets a sense that it is to relative beginners who want a smattering of all things in Kabbalah. He reads a passage in Komarno and then proceeds to tell his listener what it means in the Ramak, Ramchal, Baal ha-Tanya, Rav Nahman, and Ashlag. Mostly, it is Chabad material- he turns Komarno sodot into theoretical discussions of the higher and lower unity, tzimzum, egul ve yosher. It is the very approach that Komarno warns against.

He does discuss how according to Komarno mitzvoth have deep secrets leading to devekus, but he connects it to theoretical discussions from Chabad rather than the hands -on Kabbalistic approach that uses Chayyim Vital’s Shaar Ha-Mizvot and Shaar Hakavvanot
Yihudah tataah is defined as sensing that nothing is random – all things that occur are part of Hashem’s plan. We need to feel God’s omnipresence in our lives and that everything is providence.
Rav Morgenstern repeatedly quotes Ramchal and Nefesh Hahayyim- that all of this is mashal and it is all from our human perspective. This is quite non-Komarno.

Shiur Two is on sweetening of judgment (hamtakat hadinim) Rav Morgenstern emphasizes our sins and less the cosmic judgments from the shvirah.
In this shiur he defines the path of the Besht as devekut, emunah, and yichud. The first is the secrets of the commandments, the second is see that all is providence, and the third is meditation. This is not the way most groups define the Besht. Compare any introduction to the Besht to see the difference.
The major new point here is the emphasis on working on Emunah – this places Rav Morgenstern in a set with Rav Moshe Wolfson, and Rabbi Itamar Schwartz –there are require emunah more than knowledge of kabbalah or religious experience . Not a quietist negation of the self and only think about God as usually taught in Hasidut rather a goal to believe that all is God and His providence.

I recommend as a baseline for understanding the recent material Benjamin Brown – Initial Faith and Final Faith – Three 20th Century Haredi Thinkers’ Concepts of Faith [1998] (Hebrew) Akdamot 4 where he deals with the Hazon Ish, the Rebbe Riyatz, Miktav MiEliyahu, Chofets Chaim and others.

Rav Morgenstern explains the Shema as teaching that God is an eyn sof; that is exactly the sort of Chabad approach avoided in the original call to follow the Arizal.
Rav Morgenstern explains yihudim as Letters of the divine name serving as a symbol or parable for Hashem. He then adds his own interest, “So too light…most ephemeral thing.” On p 15 we get one of his give aways that he has read a meditation manual when he writes that one needs to reign in one thoughts and stop them from flitting from one subject to another – one needs to learn to focus.

The Komarno states that he explained a topic fully in Notzer Hessed, but Rav Morgenstern’s shiur does not give the parallel material.
Rav Morgenstern’s message is that Those who learn deep secrets of the torah are confronted with trials and tribulations. We should see all suffering as divine providence (It is interesting that he is willing to return to this in a post holocaust world.)

The end of the second shiur has a full page based on Ashlag’s shamati. He quotes Ramchal Tikkunim Hadashim on the concept of providential mishpat – but does not discuss the counter balance of melukhah.
He concludes that our main worship is to reveal Divinity as taught by Tanya.
If one wants a shiur closer to the text of Komarno, I have been told that several of the einiklach give shiur including R. Netanel Safrin in J-M.

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

5 responses to “Rav Morgenstern on Komarno

  1. Kevin Rothman

    I do not have much knowledge of hasidut komarno, but I have studied quite a bit of hasidut habad. I dont know that the difference between the two is a matter of theory vs. praxis. kuntres hitpaalut (luis jacobs translated it) and shaar hayihud (a recent translation is available online) are essentially instruction manuals on hitbonenut. perhaps the difference is that hasidut habad conceives of hitbonenut as a reflection (in shaar hayihud this is a robust description of the whole concatenation of worlds) on a thematic subject…. whereas perhaps in komarno it was the use of the specific lurianic yihudim, which are non-thematic? but in any event, habad texts definitely emphasize praxis, so I think the difference is not in thinking v.s. doing but in what “doing” consists of.

  2. Your point is certainly well taken, Dr. Brill. You understand of course, though, that R’ Morgenstern has a couple of “agendas” for lack of a better term — teaching goals. First, to introduce his students to a plethora of spiritual material that wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to. And second, to have them experience the presence of God.
    He’s not an academic, though he’s certainly “scholarly”, i.e., learned. But at bottom he’s a rebbe, a guide and life-coach. While technically correct, accusing him of mis-reading the material is as unfair as accusing the earlier Chassidim of mis-reading Talmud, Midrash, Halacha, etc. Like R’ Morgenstern, they were using accepted material as bouncing-off points for their own insights which they needed to justify by citing earlier, dependable sources.
    I personally found his treatment of this material delicious.

    • I did not find he misread the material. He just taught what he wanted, especially Chabad, and was not seeking an explanation of Komarno. I would just not use it as an introduction to Komarno.
      My major point was the role of emunah in his thought – he is a rebbe and life-coach of emunah. Second, that he did not use Komarno for religious experience but pointed his reader to his writings on light meditations or to Chabad hitbonnenut.

      Here is a translated piece of real Komarno on the web- notice how different it is.

  3. avraham ROSENBLUM


  4. Blessings to all you wonderful holy people! What a joy to see others also drawing from the wellsprings of our holy tzaddikim! May each merit to rectify our individual soull-roots – as well as that of the collective! Perhaps the Torah of Komarno has only made its initial impression, but I suspect that a time is coming when his light will be so very relevent to the world. I pray that more will access his awesome teachings! Some nice translations are found by Baruch Emanuel Erdstein on Kabbalahline.org.

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