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FACTIONS-----chasidus and their sefarim 2

MODERATOR Posted - 20 June 2001 22:39

Chassidus is different than let’s say Halachah, in that whereas the Halachah was meant for all of Klall Yisroel equally, each Chassidishe Rebbe taught his specific Talmidim according to the roots of their (the students’ and the rebbes’) souls, and each Rebbe had the approach that was custom tailored for his followers.

There were great Tzadikim and Rebbes, like the Chidushei HaRim, for instance, who did not even use any Chassidishe Seforim because he held that they were meant for the students of that particular Rebbe, and nobody else (with the exception of the Seforim of the Rebbi of Lublin, which he considered written for everyone).

And although others obviously did use Seforim of different Rebbes, they all took them in context, meaning, that the directions in the Seforim were said for a specific group of students at a specific time, and may or may not be what the Rebbe would tell us today, here. The Chasidishe Seforim are extremely valuable and enlightening, but they cannot be taken as a prescription for life designed for us, since the prescription was made for the specific Talmidim at the time, whose needs, souls, and situations were so different from ours.

More sources:

Degel Machanah Efraim V’aerah: “The Torah was given to Darshen according to the needs of each generation, their level, and their nature … and according to the specific soul of that specific generation.” He goes on to explain the same Posuk giving us two diff sets of instructions: One according to the generation of the Baal Shem Tov and then according to his own generation.

Butzinah D’Nehorah (R. Boruch Mezboz ZY”A) in the name of the Baal Shem Tov: Instructions that the Baal Shem Tov gave do not necessarily apply to us. He explains certain methods of Chasidus that are for great people, not plain people, even though the Baal Shem Tov stated these things generically. It is understood, however, that this is how Chasidus works.

Likutei Shoshanim – brings that when R. Moshe of Savaran ZY”A used to repeat the above statement of Rav Boruch, he would say that even what Rav Boruch wrote for “bainonim” is meant only for people on a high level and not for those beginning their Avodah”

Yosher Divrei Emes (I:16), this that the Rebbe Reb Dov Ber taught, that from illicit love a person can come to the love of Hashem, that is only referring to someone who is beyond material things. But for someone who is still connected to Gashmiyus, it does not apply [even though it was stated generically].

Vayoel Moshe p. 173: “So too it is with the Seforim of the students of the Baal Shem Tov. They did not write their Seforim to explain ways and means for everyone, rather, they were recordings of the particular influence that the Rebbe wanted to have on his particular students”.

The Tanya, too, was meant for the Chasidim in that place at that time, the holy students of Rav Schneur Zalman ZY”A. As it says in the introduction, ‘But [“ach” in Hebrew: “But” or “Only”] for those who I know and recognize I will speak, each one of our loyal people [“anash”] in our country and the neighboring ones, with whom loving speech was found between us, is directed my words and speech in this Sefer Likutei Amarim’.

Taking the Tanya – or any Chasidishe Sefer - and using it as the focal point of your Judaism is comparable to taking a certain medicine because you know that it worked for someone else. Maybe it will work for you, maybe not, but probably it will make you worse. What will help re-start a slowing heart will blow out an already healthy one. If let’s say a Rebbe saw that his Chasidim were very arrogant, he would maybe teach them a lot about humility, and emphasize the “dirt and ashes” part of a person. The same approach would be poison for Chasidim who are very downtrodden and persecuted. They would have to live emphasis on the Image of G-d part of a person, and the greatness of his soul.

That’s step one. Step two: All Chasidus is designed to be learned within the context of other parts of Torah. A person’s education is like a recipe: Salt and pepper are important, but if they are disproportionate to the meat and potatoes, it will kill the food.

So too Chasidishe Seforim were never ever meant for people who have zero background in Judaism. Chasidus was never meant to be a “stand alone” but rather as an addition, or enhancement, to a person’s already established Avodas Hashem. It can only be understood by someone who already has a decent background.

An example I once heard given was sunglasses. Chassidus is like sunglasses. It allows you to look directly at the sun, which you never would be able to see without it. But it makes the sun look green. If you intellectually know that the sun is really yellow, you will look into the glasses and understand exactly what the sun looks like based on the combination of what you see now and what you intellectually know. But if you don’t have the intellectual information, you will think the sun is really green or gray or purple.

That “intellectual information” is the background that is needed in Judaism. Without that, what you learn in Chassidus will not be understood, and you will come out with a distorted picture. Not only that, but even with a decent background, you still have to take the Chassidishe Seforim in context, as merely additions to the Torah meal, not the meat and potatoes of it.

Chabad Chassidus in particular was identified by great Chassidishe Tzadikim as an approach that you need to be careful that “Maasav merubah m’chachmaso”, meaning, we always have to make sure that we are on the level of Yiras Shamayim to learn whatever it is that we are learning.

Chabad Chasidus is a high level learning and therefore you must be extra careful that those learning it should not be in the category of “their learning exceeds their actions” (see Likutei Amarim Vitebsk, letters of Rebbe of Kalisk ZY”A, Niflaos HaRebbi (Lublin) #237, Derech Tzadikim V:28, Ohr Olam 11 quoting the Saraf of Stralisk, Sur Merah V”Aseh Tov p. 59 quoting the Rebbe of Zidechov – all specifically discussing Chabad Chasidus).

Other Rebbes took steps to make sure that their Chassidim don’t overdo the recipe with Chasidishe Seforim, but rather maintain a main course of Gemora and Poskim, supplemented by Chasidus. Says the Rebbe Reb Melech of Lizensk:

“To reach true Avodas Hashem, first, you need to learn Gemora with Rashi and Tosfos with the Meforshim and Poskim, everybody according to their own level. At the beginning, you should learn also Shulchan Aruch Orech Chaim. You must also pray to Hashem to make you see the truth … and do teshuva … regret your sins … do this not once and not 100 times, but more … then hashem will open your eyes and you will be able to understand torah, and then you will understand the inside of what you are doing … learn some Mussar Sefer, such as Reishis Chochmah every day.” (Quoted by his son in a letter, Sefer Avreich on Tehillim p.38, and quoted many other places).

Also from the Noam Elimelech (Emor): “The posuk is teaching us to serve Hashem in steps. During the beginning stages, when a person is not yet on the level to accept holiness … he should busy himself with learning Gemora and Poskim with diligence.”

And from the Zera Kodesh (Terumah): “The main part of Chasidus is learning Torah with hasmodah.”

So far we have two traditional rules of Chasidus,

(a) That Chasidus needs to be viewed in context of the rest of torah and to learn Chassidishe Seforim you need a proportionate background in other areas of torah. If you learn Chassidishe Seforim without the proper background, you will likely misunderstand the concepts, take things way out of proportion, and come out with a totally distorted view of Chasidus. Chasidus is just one ingredient in a Torah-recipe for a Jew. Disproportioned ingredients in the recipe ruins the final dish.

(b) Chassidishe Seforim cannot be used as a direct guide for life except for those to whom the author of the Sefer was referring to – their time and their place. We can only use them for their Torah value and general ideas, but we cannot base our lives on the instructions therein.

Lubavitch changed this. For the first time in history of Chassidus, high-level Chassidus – Tanya - was taught to people who don’t even know the names of the 12 tribes or Moshe Rabbeinu’s brother, to people with zero background in the main parts of Judaism, the “meat and potatoes” of the Jewish soul, people who don’t even keep shabbos yet. The “salt and pepper” of the recipe of Chassidus was changed to the main ingredient. The place of Chassidus in the “food pyramid” of Torah was ripped out of its rightful place and re-emphasized with the wrong proportions. The structure of Ikar and Tofel was changed.

For the first time in history of Klall Yisroel, a Chasidishe Sefer was bound in the same volume as Chumash and Tehillim. “Chitas” – Chumash, tehillim, Tanya, is a common fixture in Lubavitch homes. Learn a little of each every day. Nobody in the history of Klall Yisroel ever dared to put any other Sefer together with the Tanach itself! Even Gemora would never be put in the same volume as a Chumash. They are not in the same category. To put the Tanya together with Chumash and tehillim in the same volume as a convenient way to get your daily dose of learning is to do a chain saw massacre job on the traditional proportions of ingredients to maintain our perspective of Ikar and Tofel.

The next step was for Tanya and Lubavitch philosophy to become synonymous with “Chasidus” instead of just one branch of it. It’s not “Lubavitch holds” but rather “Chasidus holds”. This, too, is unique in Lubavitch, that the refer to their own specific traditions generically as “Chassidus” says, as opposed to Lubavitch says. In the Hatekufa V’Hageulah, the index lists sources form Shas and Rambam, then it has “Seforim”, which include numerous Chassidic works, and then it lists “Seforim of Chasidus”, which only has Lubavitch Seforim in it. The edge was blurred between what generic Chassidus says versus what Lubavitch in particular says.

So you can have a guy who owns a pizza store, knows almost zero about Torah, never opened a Gemora or Shulchan Aruch in his life, but learns Tanya and believes that he is following the “derech of the Baal Shem tov”. That he is a “chosid”.

But not only was Tanya – chasidus – used in a way that it never was intended to be used, a way that confuses our perception on Judaism in general, but on top of that, the Baal Shem Tov’s mission suddenly became ours. The “prescription” that the Baal Shem Tov and his students were given suddenly became our medicine as well, in opposition of Chassidic tradition.

Example: Because the Baal Shem Tov asked Moshiach when he is coming and Moshiach answered “When your wellsprings (i.e. Torahs) will be spread outside”, Lubavitch came up with a plan to fulfill the condition, by printing the Tanya in every city where Jews are to be found. They went form town to town with a printing press in the back of a truck, printing a new Tanya (or at least a shaar blaat) in each city. I have a Tanya at home with a pages-long list of all the places in the world where it was printed.

But is what the Baal Shem Tov was told by Moshiach he needs to do, is that what Moshiach would tell us to do as well? Because in the time and days of the Baal Shem Tov, Moshiach would have come with the spreading of Chasidus by the great Talmidei HaBaal Shem, means that if we go around spreading our understanding of Chasidus, that Moshiach will come too?

People with strong backgrounds in Gemora will point out an almost identical story not with the Baal Shem Tov but with Rebbi Yehuda, who once asked Moshiach when he is coming (L’aimas kaasi mar” he asked – the exact same words that the Baal Shem Tov used), to which Moshiach replied “today”.

The next day, Moshiach was asked why he didn’t come. “I meant, ‘today’ if you listen to Hashem’s voice” is what Moshiach answered.

In other words, even when Chazal are told by Moshiach when he is coming, it is only meant in certain ways, not across the board. Yet tons of time effort money and energy was spent having today’s “Chasidim” run around the world printing Tanyas because the Baal Shem Tov was told that if he and his Talmidim succeed in spreading Chasidus, Moshiach will come.

“There are fools”, wrote the Satmar Rebbe ZT”L, “who think that this answer, that was given to the Baal Shem Tov [that if his Torahs are disseminated Moshiach will come] applies today too. For we see even in the Gemora that such answers aren’t meant for all times and under all circumstances. By the Baal Shem Tov, too, there was then a time when if under those circumstances Chasidus would have been disseminated Moshiach would have come. But how can anybody say that the levels that the Baal Shem Tov and his holy students could not reach can be reached by us today?” (Divrei Yoel, Tzav).

The reason that otherwise reasonable people can have such a slanted perspective on Judaism – the same religion that everyone else in then world looks at so differently – is because they were taught a very different picture of what a Rebbe is, what Chasidus is, and what Chabad itself is, than the rest of the world. To people who have been taught this way all their lives, its no big deal if someone says the Rebbe is Moshiach, or perhaps even that the Rebbe is alive.

Even many in Chabad will agree that the Meshichistin are off their rocker. But the question is, why out of all the Orthodox Jewish groups in the entire world, did this stuff pop out of Chabad? The answer cannot be merely that “Chabad accepts everyone”, even people who are off their rocker, which is the answer I have heard more than once, because among the meshichistin are very respected Chabad rabbis, Roshei Yeshivas, and others considered authorities, not weirdos. Only in Chabad will you find so many Rabbonim espousing ideas that every high school kid can tell you is antithetical to Torah. How can this happen?

No, they did not all just go crazy together one day. If we understand the teachings they were given all their lives, we can understand how they can believe such a thing. Not everyone in Chabad, BH, fell victim to Meshichism, which is like many people crossing the street at a red light – only some will get hit. The misconstrued version of Chasidus that is unique to Chabad and nowhere else makes them vulnerable to such terrible mistakes.

And remember – much of Lubavitch are Balei Teshuva. Which means that they have – or had at one point – no background or little background in Judaism. Those who grew up in frum homes and saw the way their parents and grandparents referred to their Rebbes, their Chassidus, and Judaism in general would not be nearly so susceptible to the eccentric derech of contemporary Chabad.

It is much easier to confuse people with little background than it is with strong background. Baalei Teshuva who became frum through Chabad are much more likely to accept what they are taught as authentic because they have no background to contrast it with. This is not to say that all Meshichistin are Baalei Teshuva, but rather the great multitude of Jews with little or no background prior to their exposure to Chabad greatly raises the odds of them having so many Meshichistin among their ranks.

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