Holy Sefarim and the 4 Elements [#2820]

Question:

Likvod haRav, Shlita,
1) I read the response of the Rav about the different ways of the sefarim according to the approaches of mussar and chassidus. The Rav has said elsewhere that a person needs to clarify what the main “element” is (from amongst the four elements of earth, water, wind or fire) of the particular sefer (of the particular author) that one is learning.  Can the Rav give a list of some well-known sefarim, in the categories of both mussar and chassidus, and what the main element of the author of the sefer was? For example, can we say that the main element of the author of Sfas Emes was “water”, since the Sfas Emes always talks about finding the “vitality”, (corresponding to the element of water) which can be found in each thing? Does this make sense, and can the Rav give some examples?

2) Also, if my main element is “fire”, does that mean that I mainly need to learn sefarim of an author whose main element was “fire”? Or do I need to balance myself out by learning a sefer whose author had the opposite element, which would be water or earth?

Answer:

  1. An example of a sefer whose author had a primary element of “earth” is the Rambam’s sefer Mishneh Torah. In this sefer – which was the primary sefer of the Rambam – the author establishes each halachah in its proper place and defines the boundaries of each halachah, which is a use of the element of “earth”: putting each thing in its proper place. This shows you that the root element of the Rambam’s soul was the element of earth. This is in contrast to the Rambam’s sefer Moreh Nevuchim, which is not written in any particular order.

An example of a sefer whose author had a primary element of “water” is sefer Chovos HaLevovos, for the central theme of this sefer is the idea of expressing gratitude, giving, love. It is a sefer which involves reflection and calm thinking, which is an outcome of a perfected element of “water” (i.e. calmly moving water). This is also because the element of water is rooted in the intellect, which is the ability of calm thinking and reflection.

The Ramchal’s sefarim show that his main element was wind, because the Ramchal’s sefarim are based upon the concept of yichud Hashem, which the root concept that “moves” all of the Creation to its purpose, reminiscent of the wind.

A sefer whose author’s main element is fire, is the sefer Yesod V’Shoresh H’Avodah, which gives a fiery, passionate approach that is meant to inspire and ignite a person to serve Hashem better. This “fiery” approach is manifest in the author’s other sefarim as well.

“Earth” is also the main element in the teachings of the Kotzker Rebbe, which reflect a constant demand for growth, not out of a fiery enthusiasm, but from clarifying the reality, to make reality very clear, which results in recognizing Hashem and serving Him. That is the element of “earth” – building upon a palpable reality.

“Water” is the main element of the Baal Shem Tov and his teachings, for the Baal Shem Tov’s underlying theme is to have a “calm love” to all Jews, even towards the wicked, and this calm kind of love is reminiscent of “calm waters”. Also, his teachings reflected a calm, pleasant form of d’veykus (attachment) in Hashem, which is like calm, pleasantly moving waters.

“Wind” is the main element of Reb Pinchos Koritzer’s teachings, which reflect the pursuit of emes, truth, because truth encompasses the beginning, middle and end of a matter – the “movement” which connects everything together, reminiscent of the wind, which moves. This is in contrast to the “movement” of falsity, which moves everything to the side.

“Fire” is reflected in the teachings of Breslev, for Rebbi Nachman of Breslev said, “A fire will burn within me, until Mashiach comes.” The teachings of Breslev are essentially a “fire” of bittul (self-nullification), the nullification of the intellect, which is temimus (simplicity), by which wisdom can be drawn from ayin (nothingness/the non-ego state).

  1. Yes, one should learn sefarim whose author shares his primary element. However, since each of the four elements contains aspects of all four, one’s “root element” subdivides into further divisions (i.e. one’s main element can be either earth-of-earth, water-of-earth, wind-of-earth, or earth-of-fire, water-of-fire, etc.). One needs to discover what his primary subdivision is, within his primary element [i.e. if his primary subdivision is earth-of-fire, or fire-of-water, etc.]. One should also try to discover further subdivisions of his primary element [i.e. earth-of-earth-of-fire, water-of-earth-of-fire, etc.].

There is also an additional clarification for one to make. There are four main divisions of souls: one category of souls is those who are more “action”-oriented, other souls are more “emotion”-oriented, other souls are more intellectual-oriented, and other souls are more spiritual. Since this is also a factor in self-discovery, one also needs to examine which of these divisions his particular soul is rooted in.

Besides studying sefarim whose author bears the same primary element as yours, you also need to study the sefarim authored by one who bears your opposing element. This is because in order to understand your main element [and the path of avodah which corresponds to it] you need to learn about it by studying its opposite element [and its corresponding way of avodah].

Finally, one should also attempt to learn different sefarim corresponding to all of the four elements, because a person doesn’t see clearly until he sees the “full picture” [hence one should try to learn sefarim in which the main approach is “earth”, as well as sefarim which are mainly “water”-based, “wind”-based, and “fire”-based].