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?


DixieYid (جنوب يهودي) said...

Shalom aleichem!

I'm trying to understand your point. You initially said that you reject the "compromise" position which you summarized as "there is a third option: of using the first approach initially (to fool one’s animal soul... and then proceeding to the second approach of learning how Torah connects a Jew to G-d."

You feel that this approach is also wrong I think. Although I might have said I could agree with that disagreement before, now that I have seen this Kedushas Levi, who says that one must focus on all of the "tovos olam hazeh" that will come to a person by keeping the Torah, when he is first starting his avodah. While again, like I said in my post, I think that, when it comes to others, one should use the "stage 1" approach with "stage 2" in mind as the ultimate goal, that does mean that one shouldn't use the "stage 1" at all.

In implementing "stage 1," to the extent that you won't lose people by talking about G-d's gift of everything good in olam hazeh, and relating it all back to G-d, yes that would be an even better way of doing it and should be done that way if it will be mekubal by people.

However, we can't underestimate the deep deep immersion in total olam hazeh that exists by people in the secular world today. Many people just are so not able to focus on the idea of creating a relationship with G-d, that talking about Yiddishkeit primarily as a way of getting closer to G-d will, initially, just not draw them. For people at this stage, it may be necessary to focus on all of the "tovos olam hazeh" that come from keeping the Torah, and then slowly work them up to the more ruchnius'dikeh side.

But as Menashe pointed out in the comment section back at Dixie Yid, there are some people who come from a secular background and are davka looking for the G-d centered approach, and for them you should not use the "Lincoln Square" aproach, albeit with the caveat that you should make sure that everything with such people is done in a balanced and healthy way.

By the way, what made you think that what I wrote might have been a guest post?

Kol tuv and a gut Shabbos, a gut chodesh and a lichtig Chanukah!

-Dixie Yid

DixieYid (جنوب يهودي) said...

Okay, here's a bit of a follow up post on this discussion:

Crawling Axe said...

Oops! I missed your first comment somehow (there was some pre-Shabbos craziness that might have contributed).

I can answer a bit more fully a little later, but briefly: I didn’t say we can never focus on the good that Hashem does for us in oilam ha’ze. In fact, I said that to begin with, this is what our kavanah should be (as long as it doesn’t stay only that). That, however, is different from being attracted Judaism strictly from the point of view of what Torah does to us, in a utilitarian, “wisdom of our nation” sort of way.

To think of Hashem as “giver of wisdom” and the one who gives every being what it needs is great. To start off learning Gemara with a lesson of how learning it will make you smarter and help in your business is something totally different.