Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Are Jews required by Halacha to study Chassidus?
(Vilna Gaon thinks you should learn Chassidus. If you don’t believe this, listen to the Rabbi Zwecker’s shiur.)

Dixie Yid posted a link to a shiur by Rabbi Zal Zwecker, in which the latter brings down proofs from both Alter Rebbe and Vilna Gaon (the two great halachic and kabbalistic authorities) that a Jew nowadays is obligated to study Chassidus. Both say that it is required from all Jews to learn all levels of Torah, which includes the mystical level, Kabbalah. Each person is obligated to it, and if he cannot learn “straight” Kabbalah, he must learn teachings (like Chassidus) that explain Kabbalah and show its relevance in learning of Torah and a Jew’s service of G-d.

I really enjoyed the shiur and would like to thank Dixie Yid for posting. I do, however, want to note that Rabbi Zwecker did not bring all the reasons for learning Chassidus (besides the halachic one). I’d like to state the additional reasons I personally have heard:

1. Ramak (R’ Moishe Cardovero, a famous Kabbalist) says that someone who doesn’t learn pnimiyus haTorah (Kabbalah) is like a heretic. Why? What is meant (I forgot whose commentary it is — possibly by one of the Rebbeim Chabad) is if someone doesn’t learn Kabbalah, he has a good chance of becoming an apikoires, of looking at Torah from completely superficial point of view. Thinking that lulav and esrog are just fruits, tefillin are just boxes, Tehillim are magic words (something some contemporary rabbis worry about, apparently — see the comments in that post), and learning Gemara is an intellectual exercise. Learning Chassidus re-energizes a person with ability to see G-d behind Torah and Judaism.

2. Alter Rebbe says in one letter that whenever a chossid and a misnaged see some problem with an argument in a seifer of Torah, the chossid thinks the problem is with himself, and the misnaged thinks the problem is with the seifer. One person wrote an angry letter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, asking for explanation, and it was provided.

In order to successfully learn Torah, much less pasken according to it, one needs to have certain faith in his own intellectual abilities in understanding the Infinity of Torah. One needs a certain degree of ga’avah and chutzpah (arrogance) — healthy ones. If, however, this faith in one’s intellect is not balanced by understanding that this is Hashem’s Torah (which can be acquired most acutely through study of Chassidus), one can get caught up in his intellectual arrogance and eventually come to the point where Torah for him is an intellectual game to be solved, like (lehavdil) a Math problem — in which there can be right and wrong approaches, of course. Thus, Chassidus not only prevents one from having heretical view of Judaism (as in first reason provided above), but also prevents one from learning Torah incorrectly — from purely superficial point of view, with great intellectual arrogance.

3. Chassidus must be studied because it is not only the soid (level of secrets of Torah) of Pardes (the four levels of Torah), as Rabbi Zwecker explains in his shiur, but is also the essence of Torah. Chassidus is not just “Kabbalah for dummies”, nor is its role confined to “saving the king’s son”, Jews of our generation. Teaching of Chassidus by Baal Shem Tov, Maggid and Maggid’s students (each founding his own dynasty and school of Chassidus) was revelation of the deepest aspect of Torah, which is related to all four aspects of Pardes, just like Hashem’s Essence is related to all four worlds and just like the fifth level of a Jew’s soul (yechida) is the essence of the other four levels. It’s not the case that yechida is “above” chaya; rather, it is “inside” nefesh, ruach, neshama and chaya and thus is closer to nefesh than chaya is. Likewise, Chassidus is closer to pshat of Torah than remez iz, so it is erroneous to think of Chassidus as a commentary on Kabbalah — it’s a whole independent (and most essential) level in itself. So, not studying Chassidus in our times is like not studying Mishnah in the times of R’ Yehuda HaNasi.

4. The most important reason, however, for studying Chassidus is that it is the recipe for bringing Mashiach. In every generation, there was a particular avoida of bringing Mashiach. E.g., in Rabbi Akiva’s time, the avoida constituted defeating of Romans. In our times, which are closest to the coming of Mashiach, the avoida is to directly draw the essential change that will happen during geulah: gilui (pun intended) of achdus between Eibeshter and this world. During the times of Mashiach it will be revealed that ein od milvado (“There is nothing but Him”) — and all the physical changes that are simanim of geulah (gathering of Jews in Eretz Yisroel, rebuilding of Beis HaMikdosh, korbanos, end to wars, diseases, famine, etc.) will be the results of this internal change.

Just like a spark reveals in gasoline its “internal” nature (the fact that it — like the spark — is fire, energy), our behavior in this generation will reveal the essence of the Era of Mashiach. Just like in the Era of Mashiach, it will be b’gilui that ein od milvado, when we behave in such a way as to show that there is literally nothing but Hashem, we draw closer that Era. What does it mean behaving in such a way? That’s what Chassidus teaches one — each school of Chassidus in its own way. Therefore, since it is obligation of every Jew to attempt to do everything to bring Mashiach as soon as possible (since the Era of Mashiach is the essential reason why the world was created), it is necessary for every Jew to learn Chassidus and allow its teachings shape his life and service of G-d.


DixieYid said...

I wanted to pass this on to you but I don't have an e-mail address for you:

-Dixie Yid

limaan hoemes said...

Chassidus is not the same thing as Kabbalah. It may at times contain Kabbalah, but they are not one and the same thing.

To say that the Vilna Gaon holds that people should learn Chassidus when he strongly opposed the Chassidic movement, is a big stretch.

You could say that he held that people (who were appropriate and ready for it) should learn Kabbalah, but that is not that same as saying that he held that they should learn 'Chassidus'.

Crawling Axe said...

If you can find an area of Judaism that explains Kabbala in a more accessible (to most people today), applicable and organized way than Chabad Chassidus, please let me know.

If you are capable of learning Kabbala by itself, without Chassidus, gezunter heit. That still leaves all the other reasons I mentioned, but true, you would discharge your obligation of learning Kabbala this way.

Vilna Gaon’s opposition to Chassidus was inspired by erroneous information about Chassidim (supplied by slanderers) and by false expectations that Chassidus would lead people to abandon Halacha, limud of Talmud, and lead to heresy — none of which happened (quite the opposite). He also had some disagreements with Alter Rebbe about Kabbala, but I don’t think they were the reason of his opposition.

By the way, Alter Rebbe (who was respected in Litvishe community) made an attempt to meet with Vilna Gaon, but the latter avoided it. Some say that he knew he would have a hard time disagreeing with some of Alter Rebbe’s arguments (and at the same time in no position to publicly agree with them), but I don’t know validity of this opinion.

Elchanan Gross said...

At, we worked this out, hope you enjoy.

זאת חקת התורה "This is the Decree of the Torah" [Bamidbar 19:2]

In order to understand the wording of זאת חקת התורה "This is the Decree of the Torah" we will reveal the words embedded within these words as: זהר ארי'זל תניא חסידות קבלה תשובה

The Torah is hinting to us with the beginning letter ה in the word התורה meaning חמשה חומשי תורה "Five Books of Moshe". In conjunction with the last letter ה this encompasses the "Ten Commandments". This is what the Torah is decreeing to learn Chassidus and Kabbalah in order understand the inner Torah!!