Wednesday, April 2, 2014

‘We are thinking about God’

I don’t know how many Magpie readers pay any attention to the scores of links listed along the left side of the page, but one of them brings you to The Seforim Blog, a website concerning writings on Jewish faith, tradition, law, and related subjects. The blogger’s post yesterday addresses something near and dear to me: pipe smoking. His angle specifically is tobacco smoking as a spiritual aid, preparatory to prayer even.

Some of the wares available at the New York Pipe Club show last month.

The name of the old Craftsmen’s Calumet Club was selected, in part, because American Indians employed pipes (calumet) and tobacco in their faith and practice. I’m a member of a different tribe, and it delights me to no end to have found this information via The Seforim Blog. A copy of the book in question is destined to reach my reading chair – next to my smoking stand.

Here are a few excerpts. Read all about it here.

1)  References in literature to the use of tobacco by hasidic Jews are numerous. Although there is little direct evidence to indicate how widespread it was, the references suggest it was fairly extensive. Let us examine some of these. In his autobiography Solomon Maimon (d. 1800) describes a youthful visit to the court of Dov Ber of Mezhirech, the founder of the hasidic movement. Maimon remarks:

‘Some simple men of this sect, who saunter about idly the entire day, pipe in mouth, when asked what they were thinking about, replied, “We are thinking about God”.’

2)  There do not seem to be any references to tobacco in the classical hasidic works of doctrine, the hasidic Torah. Their absence from these sources may be because aids to contemplation (such as tobacco) were considered irrelevant to the ideal itself, although contemplation was clearly important in hasidic thought. Rabbi Phinehas of Koretz (Korzec) (1725-91), an associate of the Baal Shem Tov, reportedly observed:
These excerpts come
from this book.

With regard to imbibing tobacco, anything the body requires for it to be healthy is the same for all men. Therefore, since not everyone imbibes tobacco, it follows that it is not a permanent feature in creation, but only has healing powers for some. It has no healing power, and can do harm, to the majority of men, since it dries up the [bodily] fluid.

3)  Rabbi Abraham Judah Schwartz (1827-83), a prominent non-hasidic Hungarian rabbi, was eventually won over to Hasidism. In the biography written by Dov Beer Spitzer (Schwartzs grandson), we read:

From Pipe and Pouch.
My grandfather, of blessed memory, used to smoke tobacco (including cigars) to the extent that, occasionally, when he was engrossed in his studies and also when he taught his pupils in the beit midrash, it was as if he stood in the midst of a cloud so that it was impossible to come near to him. His son Naphtali Hakohen, of blessed memory, repeated in his name that the zaddikim intend great tikunim and have the following in mind. The pipe is made of clay, which is a mineral. The wood stem represents the plant. The bone mouthpiece comes from an animal. The smoker is a speaking creature [medaber, a human being, and fourth among the categories of mineral, plant, animal, and human] and he elevates all the stages beneath him (mineral, plant, and animal) to the stage of the speaking creature. For the zaddikim never carry out any empty act, Heaven forbid, but have their hearts concentrated on Heaven.

It is also reported that Rabbi Henikh of Olesko (1800-84), son-in-law of Rabbi Shalom Roke’ah of Belz (1779-1855), would take his snuff-box in his hand and inhale the snuff on Friday nights when he recited ‘Kegavna,’ the kabbalistic prayer. He would sing certain tones as he inhaled, and if any people were present who were ill or possessed by a dybbuk, a wandering soul which enters the body of a human being as a refuge from the demons which pursue it, they would begin to dance and move while the rabbi inhaled the snuff. Those close to him realized that it was an especially propitious time. Further, Rabbi Eliezer Zevi of Komarno (d. 1898) was reported to have said that the letters of the word tabak have the same numerical value (112) as those of the word yabok, which stands for yihud, berakhah, kedushah (‘unification,’ ‘blessing,’ and ‘holiness’) and also ya’anenu beyom korenu (‘He will answer us on the day we call’). Thus, he believed that tobacco helped the zaddik to achieve union, bestow blessings on his followers, and raise himself to greater heights of holiness, as well as predispose God to answer his prayers.

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