Thursday, December 25, 2008
Lincoln Square vs. Chabad seminary
Very nice post (although I do not agree with its conclusion fully) on Dixie Yid blog. The author of the post (I am not sure if it’s the Dixie Yid or a guest poster) talks about the difference between Modern Orthodox approach to attracting ba’alei teshuva (by focusing on the benefits in this world that one can reap from learning Torah) and the more “right-wing” approach of Chabad of explaining how one directly connects to G-d (and fulfills the essense of one’s existence) through Torah and mitzvos.
Although the author is more attracted to the second technique, there is a third option: of using the first approach initially (to fool one’s animal soul — as in the famous story when the horses driving a carriage were going fast because they wanted to get quickly to a warm place and food, and the sages in the carriage wanted to go fast because they needed to get to a place of learning) and then proceeding to the second approach of learning how Torah connects a Jew to G-d.
I disagree with this “compromise” (you can read my opinion in the comments), although I do admit that initially one needs to learn Torah on his “level”. We encounter the same idea in “Shuva Yisroel” the third ma’amor of Rebbe Rashab’s hemshech Ranat (Rabbi Paltiel’s first class on “Shuva Yisroel” is here), and the same is emphasized in Kuntres HaTefillo.
Before one prays to Hashem, one needs to reach the level where one “knows in front of whom [he is] standing”. It is very well to feel emotion and meaningfulness during davening, but are those directed towards G-d or towards you? To make sure it’s towards G-d, one needs to know what we mean by “G-d”. Of course, the essence of G-d cannot be grasped, but first of all, even this idea needs to be understood positively (there is a difference between a physicist saying he doesn’t know what happens inside a Black Hole — or a doctor saying he doesn’t know how to cure cancer — and an ignorant person saying that), and second, we need to understand the aspects of G-d’s revelation into the world.
During the first stages of one’s growth, however, it is of no use to think of the levels within Or Ein Sof lifnei ha’tzimtzum (G-dly Light as it exists before its contraction preceding creation) or meditate on all the vessels, lights and partzufim of the higher worlds. These things mean nothing to your nefesh ha’bahamis (animal soul), and the purpose of davening is for nefesh ha’Elokis (G-dly soul) to transform nefesh ha’bahamis. In order to do this, the former needs to talk on terms of the latter.
Therefore, until one has reached a higher level, one needs to think of Hashem as He is invested in seider hishtalshelus (creation — spiritual and physical) and specifically this world. Therefore, one needs to start with meditation of how G-d creates the whole world every second, enlivens the soul of all existence, and gives every creature what it needs and desires. How we completely depend on G-d, how He is merciful, and how He directs our lives with mercy and meaningfulness.
This, by the way, is why psukei d’zimra speak about physical things that Hashem does (there is a deeper explanation — that davka in the physical things is the Essence of G-d, but that’s for a more advanced level of hisboinenus). We need to make animal soul interested in what G-dly soul is talking about (and therefore, speake with it on its terms), so that G-dly soul can then fransform it in the process of davening.
The major difference between all of the above and Modern Orthodox “Lincoln Square” approach is that while thinking about G-d as source of our lives (and not about His Essence), we are still thinking about G-d! Sure, it’s the lowest “level” of G-dly Revelation, which is as nothing comparing to higher levels, which are as nothing comparing to His Essence — but this is still G-d! At the same time, in “Lincoln Square” approach one thinks not about G-d but about this world and himself — what tools to be successful in this life will Torah provide me with?