Reb Arele’s Derech Hashem

In my previous post I discussed the basics of the Sefer “Rebbe HaKadosh,” which chronicles the life of Reb Arele. One of the most interesting chapters in the book is the discussion of Reb Arele’s derech Hashem (his way of serving God).

Learning Reb Arele’s derech is crucial for understanding the Hasidic sects that stem from him (such as Shomrei Emunim and Toldos Aharon). Let’s understand the fundamentals of Reb Arele’s derech:

  • As I’ve previously discussed, more than anything, Reb Arele wanted to inspire his followers to daven with enthusiasm, fervor, and passion. In his view, a Jew could learn the Torah all day, but that learning would only be worth something if he davened with kavana as well. He explains that one could learn all day, yet at the same time be totally irreligious and even atheistic. Davening in his view, is vital for true Avodas Hashem (service of God).
  • Reb Arele believed that in order to daven properly one must struggle and be mesiros nefesh (sacrafice for the sake of God) with one’s entire might. Only through struggle and fervor can one “reveal the hidden.”
  • Reb Arele was known for fasting, denying himself simple pleasures, and other forms of self-created suffering in order to worship God. However, Reb Arele didn’t want his followers to have these practices and instead believed they could accomplish just as much by being totally focused and spirited during davening.
  • Reb Arele was known to daven very loudly and he would often scream parts of davening. This practice is continued by his followers today. For example, whenever I have davened at the Toldos Aharon beis medrash in Meah Shearim, I’ve noticed that the Hasidim daven very loudly and always scream their “Amens” and other selected parts of davening.
  • Eating is a big part of Reb Arele’s Avodas Hashem and he wrote a sefer on the subject called “Shulchan HaTahor,” which translates to “A Pure Table.” Instead of fasting, Reb Arele wanted his followers to turn eating, a physical experience, into a spiritual one.  I’ve only briefly studied the sefer, but it mainly discusses the importance of Kashrut, washing one’s hands before eating bread, saying brachot, and other spiritual aspects of eating.
  • Reb Arele advised his followers to study Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) but within limits. He recommended his older followers to read the Zohar on the Torah portion each week. However, he forbade his younger followers from studying Kabbalah. He didn’t want his followers learning Kabbalah until they were ready. A young student once asked Reb Arele if he could begin learning Kabbala. Reb Arele answered that by doing so the student would be acting on a “taivah” (wicked desire) and that he must wait until he has more Torah knowledge.
  • Politics were out of the question for Reb Arele and he constantly warned his followers to stay away from “machloket” (arguments). He directed his followers to stay neutral as much as possible and to love one another. “Politics” here refers to petty fights between Hasidic leaders over issues such as succession. The recent Satmar succession feud is a perfect example of the type of machloket Reb Arele opposed and warned his followers against involvement.

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