Chassidism: Ways of the righteous
R. Dov Ber -
Succesor to Baal Shem Tov
R. Dov Ber -
P a R D e S Although Chasidus interprets all levels of PARDES, for now, let's see how So, according to Chasidus, we see as follows:
e e r o
s m u d
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Pardes (lit. "Orchard") is a metaphorical acronym, which refers to the traditional four levels of Torah interpretation, as follows:
Peshat - "simple", "plain" , ordinary or literal meaning.
Rabbi Shlomo Ben Yitzchak - Rashi (1040-1105), one of the most prolific
commentators on the Torah, Talmud and many other works, is best-known
for bringing out, usually, the P'shat. Other commentators include Sforno, Klei
Yakor, Ibn Ezra, Avi Ezra, Sifsei Chachamim, Ohr Chachayim, Rashbam and
Remez - "hint" or "allusion"; indirect references and/or hints.
Rabbi Ya'akov Ben Asher - known as the Baal HaTurim ("Master of the Turim
[Rows] ) - brings this out in his commentaries on the Chumash.
Drush - based on the Hebrew word "drash," which means to "seek", "inquire",
or "investigate"; allegories and anthologies. Many sefarim (books),called
Midrashim, (sing. Midrash), cover this extensively. Note the root word drash in
Midrash. There are so many books of Midrashim, so, here is an extensive, but
not complete list, as follows:
Mechilta, Sifra, Sifre, Braita (e.g. "Braita of Rabbi Yishmael," "Braita of the
49 rules," etc.), Midrash Rabba, Genesis Rabbah, Eicha Rabba,
Midrash Tanchuma, Yalkut Shimoni, Yalkut Makiri, Ein Yaakov, Targum,
Targum Onkelos, Targum Yonason, etc.
Sod - "secret”, “mystical", "esoteric" meaning - covered by works, best known
as Kabbalah, comprised of texts, such as:
Zohar, sefer Yetzirah, Raya Mehemna, Bahir, Eitz HaChayim, Pardes
Rimonim, Heichalos, and Raziel Hamalach)
Now comes Chasidus (or Chasidism) -
First publications of Chasidus include:
Likutei Amarim (Tanya), Toldos Yakov Yosef, Meor Einayim,
Magid Devarav L' Yakov, Noam Elimelech, and Kedushas Levi
Later publications include:
Likutei Moharan, Be'er Mayim Chaim,
Bnei Yissoschar (Tzvi Elimelech Spira of Dinov)
The development of Chasidus was originated by Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem Tov,
,ZT'L, ZY"A [1698-1760] ). This gave birth to, like an upheaval, a new way and era in Torah interpretation and practice. The traditional 4-level interpretation (PaRDeS) was, just by itself, no longer enough to satisfy the questions, inquiries and issues bothering the searching minds of scholar and layman alike; still apples nowadays.
A most famous account of the Baal Shem Tov: When he was at Shul on Rosh HaShanah, he was so into the prayers that his soul ascended on high. He asked
G-d, "When will the Moshiach (Messiah) come?" The answer was, "When the wellsprings of your teachings(Chasidus) spread out far and wide, so that all mankind will know this wisdom."
What is Chasidus?
This is not such a simple question. To really understand Chasidus may require lengthy and, at times, complex explanations. Simply put, Chasidus is a G-dly wisdom, which penetrates into the deep, inner dimensions of Torah. Then, you can understand Torah on a deeper level, and get answers to questions and difficult concepts, which may not be covered in PaRDeS.
What is the point of Chasidus?
The ultimate point of Chasidus is that by learning this wisdom and applying its way of life, you achieve a transformation of your natural characteristics (i.e. nature) - to such an extent that your "new", "replacement" nature is to serve G-d and do his will. You acquire a G-dly nature yourself ("Just as I, G-d, am benevolent, so you be benevolent; just as I am merciful, so you be merciful, etc.).
Many ask the following questions-
Kabbala also delves into deep levels of Torah, so what's the difference between
Kabbala and Chasidus?
Kabbala explains Divinity, esoteric and mystical concepts on such a high level that
only someone who is a Torah master (on all pre-Kabbala levels) and is over 40 (or
mature like that) can properly understand it. If not, he may misunderstand and apply
it inappropriately, which, in our history, had disastrous results. Basically, it explains
the various levels, like a "configuration" or "anatomy," how G-d manifests himself
throughout the universe.
Chasidus, by use of examples - esp. of human traits (e.g. soul powers such as
thought, speech, action, will. delight, etc.), analogies, parallels, etc., brings down
Divinity, esoteric and mystical concepts to such a level that someone of ordinary
intelligence (a layman) can grasp it.
Why Chasidus? Weren't other parts of Torah, revealed before, good enough? What
does it contribute?
Before we answer this, let's first bring up an important well-known principle.
All of Torah (both Written and Oral were given to Moshe Rabenu on Mt. Sinai. This
includes any discoveries or innovations in Torah study revealed afterwards, by
later Scholars (e.g. The Talmud, Rashi's commentary, Rambam, Ari-Zal, etc.). So,
you can ask the very same question: "Why were these not revealed before?" The
answer is because these had to come out at its most appropriate time, especially,
because there was a need for them. Same with Chasidus. It had to come out at the
most fitting time, because, then, there was a serious need for it.
May it be G-d's will that the next innovation will be Moshiach!
Answer (to Question 2):
As to what Chasidus contributes and its need, the Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rabbi
Menachem Mendel Schneerson, ZY"A), 1902 - 1994, best covers this in
his famous discourse, "Inyana shel Toras HaChasidus" (On the Essence of
Chasidus), originally given over on 19 Kislev 5726 (1965). It is also available in
English, from KEHOT Publication Society.
Before we begin, let's dispel a popular misconception that "Chasidus is an
explanation of Kabbala." Many make this mistake, very likely, because Chasidus,
often, utilizes terms and concepts from Kabbalah. But, Chasidus clarifies and
illuminates all levels of traditional Torah interpretation (PARDES), including, but not
limited to, Sod. It is actually an innovation, such that, it can be called the fifth level,
which gives life to the other four.
The need for Chasidus arose because:
In the times of the Baal Shem Tov, the Jews were despondent. Massive pogroms,
bad economic conditions, and false Messiahs left them dispirited. The love,
inspiration, and teachings (Chasidus) of the Baal Shem Tov, effected a major
Chasidus demands self-sacrifice; a Jew is expected to go beyond the letter of the
law in his observance. The Jews respected this expectation of them.
The outstanding feature of Chasidus is to effect such a profound change in a
person, such that one's natural characteristics are transformed into G-dly ones.
This means, it should be your "new" nature to serve G-d..
The teachings of Chasidus made it possible for an ordinary person - did not have
to be an outstanding scholar or a "high" soul - to understand the deep, mystical
levels of the Torah, which helps you understand G-dliness.
Example of Chassidic interpretation:
Chasidus clarifies a Peshat, from the Modeh Ani Prayer.
When we wake-up in the morning, immediately, then, we recite (using Hebrew
transliteration): "Modeh Ani Lefanecha, Melech, Chai VeKayum, Shehechezarta
Bi Nishmasi BeChemla, Rabba Emunasecha."- "I give thanks to you, living and
eternal King, that you have restored my soul within me, great is your faithfulness."
According to Peshat, we give thanks to G-d for returning our soul to us, which
enables us to wake-up. We must say this as soon as we awaken. Even though are
hands are impure (evil spirit still remains until ritual washing of the hands - known
as "negel vasser"), which ordinarily prohibits us from making a true blessing (i.e.
one which contains G-d's name), we can, still ,say Modeh Ani because it does not
contain any of G-d's names.
Now a little preface to the Chasidic interpretation. According to Chasidus, there
are 5 levels of the soul, namely 1) Nefesh, 2) Ruach, 3) Neshama, 4) Chaya, and
5) Yechida. The first four levels (acronym “NaRaNaCh”) can have impurities and
flaws. But Yechida of the soul is so close and united with G-d's essence that there
can be no imperfection, whatsoever.
Modeh Ani is from the level of Yechida. Why can we say this while the hands
are still impure? Because all impurities and defects cannot contaminate the Modeh
Ani (the Yechida, the impeccable and G-dly part) of a Jew!
Now, the part, where we say,"...Shehechezarta Bi Nishmasi ....," - " for
returning my soul..." What does it mean, "MY soul.?" If, G-d forbid, the soul of a
non-Jew, or, worse yet, an animal would be returned, would he give thanks? No!
This is because, even though a foreign soul will keep him physically alive, the
influence of Yechida makes him feel that 'life" is Jewish life only.
Although Chasidus interprets all levels of PARDES, for now, let's see how
So, according to Chasidus, we see as follows: