Friday, November 26, 2010

Uniqueness of Chabad Chassidus


[a re-post from a few years back]

On the last two days, I’ve been to four farbrengens (three last night and one tonight) and have a lot of thoughts and little time (what with starting new things in yiddishkeit and, lehavdil, science), so I will summarize the main point.

To quote myself:
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.
The question is: what is the uniqueness of Chassidus Chabad?

* * *

When Torah was given, most of it was given orally, and the main points of it were written down in the Chumash. Then, when there came a point when rabbis did not “see” as clearly in Torah, the mesorah of precedents in interpretation got started. Then, there came times when accuracy of transmission of Oral Torah was in danger, major points of it were written down in a form of Mishna. Then, the precedents in interpretation of Mishna were written down in Talmud. For a while, people intuitively understood Talmud (passing orally explanations and teachings of its meaning), but eventually came the time, when even this level of understanding diminished. In the words of Rambam, justifying his writing of Mishneh Torah in its introduction:
In our times, severe troubles come one after another, and all are in distress; the wisdom of our Torah scholars has disappeared, and the understanding of our discerning men is hidden. Thus, the commentaries, the responses to questions, and the settled laws that the Geonim wrote, which had once seemed clear, have in our times become hard to understand, so that only a few properly understand them. And one hardly needs to mention the Talmud itself — the Babylonian Talmud, the Jerusalem Talmud, the Sifra, the Sifre, and the Toseftot — which all require a broad mind, a wise soul, and considerable study, before one can correctly know from them what is forbidden or permitted and the other rules of the Torah.
For this reason, I, Moshe son of the Rav Maimon the Sephardi, found that the current situation is unbearable; and so, relying on the help of the Rock blessed be He, I intently studied all these books, for I saw fit to write what can be determined from all of these works in regard to what is forbidden and permitted, and unclean and clean, and the other rules of the Torah: Everything in clear language and terse style, so that the whole Oral Law would become thoroughly known to all; without bringing problems and solutions or differences of view, but rather clear, convincing, and correct statements, in accordance with the legal rules drawn from all of these works and commentaries that have appeared from the time of Our Holy Teacher to the present.
This is so that all the rules should be accessible to the small and to the great in the rules of each and every commandment and the rules of the legislations of the Torah scholars and prophets [...].
In other words, knowledge necessary for serving G-d that was intuitive, obvious and successfully taught orally, is not so anymore, and therefore, it is necessary to write it down. This pattern repeats itself in the Jewish history throughout generations.

* * *

What does this have to do with Chassidus? Well, Judaism is a way of connecting to G-d. Not a way for making sure that we are fed, clothed, have happy families, nice communities, good relationships between each other, success in business and so on. Sure, all these things can come from Torah one way or another, but they are not the reason why Torah was given. It was given to connect this world and ourselves to G-d.

For all the generations, the connection of a Jew to G-d was obvious, natural, intuitive and did not need to be taught explicitly. If a Jew was a part of Jewish community, Jewish tradition, the system of Jewish thought and learning, he was connected to G-d. He saw G-d in everyday events in the world, he saw G-d in blatt Gemara, he saw G-d in davening (although already he would have to say psukei d’zimra before kriyas Shma).

In the times of Baal Shem Tov, this started disappearing. People saw the world, but not G-d. People saw oxes goring cows and workers being paid on time and intellectual pleasure from the pilpul, but not G-d in those laws. People were having difficulty realizing in an obvious way — in theory and, especially, in practice — that ein od milvado, there is nothing but Him, and this fact should give us life, energy and special understanding of why we live our lives, learn Torah and keep mitzvos. And a neshama entered this world to rectify this.

Baal Shem Tov explained how there is nothing but Him, how one must serve G-d with joy and passion, how one must unconditionally love every Jew. The Maggid explained it. Talmidei Maggid explained it. The explanation was passed down from a tzaddik to his chassidim in a form of oral tradition.

Then came the upstart called Rav Shneur Zalman Boruchovich from Lyozhna and said: “Not enough”. Oral tradition is not enough. Customs, songs, culture, connection of a chossid to his Rebbe at the Rebbe’s table are not enough. What is needed is a written-down, organized, structured, accessible to simplest people teaching that will explain how exactly it is that “there is nothing but Him” — both in the world and in Torah — and how to apply it in practice, from day to day, in our lives. How, using this knowledge, in theory and in practice, we can bring Mashiach.

To which the rest of the Jewish world said: “Gevalt!..” To reveal the essence of Torah? Not in a form of customs, abstract stories, sayings, teachings, personall examples of chassidim from their rebbeim, but in a form of a teaching?! To distill most precious treasure into a book, for everyone, from a shoemaker to a talmid chochom, to study? (By the way, today, on the 20th of Kislev, is the anniversary of the first printing of Tanya.)

And there was a judgement, deciding who is right; in which Alter Rebbe won on Yud Tes Kislev. And the rest is history…

* * *

Two final things. Niggun “Podoh V’Sholom” can be listened to here (lyrics, translation and history behind the niggun, including its connection to Yud-Tes Kislev, are there too). Also, it finally snowed here.

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