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FACTIONS-----GRA vs Baal Shem Tov

satinsword13 Posted - 16 June 2009 18:17
A question that bothered me for a while:

If the GRA was the gadol hador at the time of the baal shem tov, and he came out so absolutely strongly against chassidus, so much so that he wanted to put them in cherem, how come we can even consider going near it? I say this not out of spite, but out of a real sincere question?

Many have told me that R Chaim Volozhin never signed the cherem- I don’t now what that helps anything- it’s still clear the GRA was against. I mean, If he was the leader of Torah Jewry, at least Ashkenazik, and along comes the Baal Shem tov with his focus on different things, and the GRA says "Out!" then there shouldn’t be anything to talk about!

I’m actually scared to go against him? And who are we to go ahead and explain the GRA? "Well, really the GRA was only scared because of the historical context, Shabbtai Tzvi and everything.." That’s a scary thing to do - to explain away the GR"A, no?

I’ve seen a Chofetz chaim brought in kovetz maamarim, the second chelek that was printed, that says that the GRA thought chassidus was krum because Hashem had to make it look krum so the sitra achra would let it down, but time had shown that it was good for Klal Yisroel, but its mipi hashemua, and it makes me uneasy.

Am I asking a legitimate question here, do I have a legitimate concern, and are there e legitimate answers?

MODERATOR Posted - 05 July 2009 22:42
First, the Baal Shem Tov and the GRA really weren’t precisely at the same time, though they did overlap. The GRA was around 40 when the Baal Shem Tov was nifter.

You have nothing to be concerned about for many reasons, the simplest being that the GRA's cherrem is completely irrelevant nowadays, because in order for you to be concerned about Chasidim you need to define the term. Because someone wears a shtreimel and Bekishe certainly does not qualify him for anyone's cherem, and that certainly was not the GRA's intent. What did[/d] the GRA have against the Chasidim then, and who qualifies as possessing that characteristic today? The name "chosid" certainly isn’t the problem. But then..what is?

In other words, in whom do the characteristics of Chasidim that disturbed the GRA exist today, if at all?

Today, Chasidim aren’t what they were, and misnagdim aren’t what they were. The generations deteriorated so, that it’s all we can do to hopefully fulfill torah and mitzvos. As the moshol, attributed to various gedolim, goes, Chasidim used to eat milchigs and misnagdim fleishigs - so they had to have separate kitchens. Today neither can afford such luxuries and we're all eating bread and water.

There are no more Chasidim or misnagdim. Not in the derech-of-the-baal-shem-tov sense. You’re confusing what we call Chasidim today for what was called chasidus in those days. So the entire issue doesn’t apply.

And even if it would, because you have no idea what chasidus is or what it wanted, you would have no way of identifying who is in cherem anyway.

But besides that, for the record:

1) How did you assess that the GRA was bigger than the Baal Shem Tov? (Chasidim were also Ashkenazim)

2) The statement that you found in the name of the chofetz chaim is entirely reasonable and no need to be skeptical about it. You assume it is "explaining away" the GRA. It is not. It is simply "explaining" him. Many other similar explanations have been given by various Gedolim, in similar directions - such as the GRA saw the craziness that chasidus would lead to nowadays with his ruach hakodesh and wanted to stop the problem in its tracks before it leads to contemporary Lubavitch and Na-Nachers and Rebbes who give out shirayim yet have no idea how to learn a Tosfos.

And you have many similar instances where "historical context" as you call it motivated Gedolim to act in such ways - such as the opposition to Rav Yonason Eybushitz and the Ramchal. The Chofetz Chaim is saying that is the case here and more: Worse than in the case of Rav Yonason and the Ramchal, there was a real danger of Chasidus evolving into, well, what in some circles it in fact evolved into today.

And that's enough to try to slam the breaks on it back then.

Remember - Yaakov Avinu refused to bless his two of his own grandchildren because he saw that Yehu and Menashe were going to be descended from them.

It's not explaining away the GRA - it's actually a fine pshat.

But never mind all that. The thing that you’re missing most here is simply that whatever you know about the greatness of the GRA, the Divrei Chaim (for example) knew better; and whatever Yiras Shamayim you have to stay away from bad things, the Sfas Emes (for example) had more of.

And so, if these great Tzadikim and Geonim saw the same thing you see and decided there is not anything to be concerned about, it is clear that it makes no sense that you do.

At the very least, there's two shitos here.

Or were. Today there are zero.

As Rav Shach used to say, "someone who is more machmir than the chazon Ish, you have to be concerned about such a person."

So too someone who is more worried about bad hashkofos than the Satmar Rebbe, you should have to be concerned about such a person as well.

In short, leave the paskening to the poskim. And if so many great poskim paskened here differently than the GRA, you don’t need be concerned about those who follow them.

MODERATOR Posted - 05 July 2009 22:43
PS - The Baal Shem did not "focus on different things." Not at all.

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