Chasidism: Ways of the righteous
R. Yisroel Baal Shem Tov
R. Dov Ber
Succesor to Baal Shem Tov
R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi
R. Nachman's chair -
(R. Nachman founded Breslov)
Menachem Mendel Hager (Vizhnitz)
R. Aharon Rokeach
R. Naftali Tzvi Halberstam
R. Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam
R. Yoel Teitelbaum
|R. Pinchas Menachem Alter (Ger)||
R. Yakov Yosef Twersky
R. Menachem Mendel Schneerson
* There are a couple of hundred Chassidic leaders, worldwide. The Holy Rebbes, זי״ע ("may their merits be an inspiration for us"), shown here, either founded the movement or have large followings. See "All Dynasties."
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 Ramban.
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 (Mi-"drash"). 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)----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
First publications of Chasidus include:
Later publications include:
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 applies 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 (see Shabse Tzvi and Jacob Frank) . 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.
For example, the Talmud, particularly Mishnah, is known as the "Oral Torah." Well, as the name ("Oral") suggests, this was to be memorized, not written down, and that's the way it was for a long time. However, our sages realized that after we were exiled, its severity was so great that the "Oral Torah" was in danger of being forgotten. So, relying on a pasuk (verse) in (Tehillim 119:126- Psalms), "Eis laasos laHaShem hefeiru torasecha," which means, "It is the time to act for Hashem, void your Torah," it was written down.
Before Chasidus, Jews were on a level where they, kind of, lived Chasidus without the need for it to be explained to them. As the times got very harsh - massive Pogroms, economic hardship, internal conflicts, etc., this sensitivity eroded. Chasidus came on the scene in order to restore 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.
BUT, very important. Keep in mind that the purpose of Chasidus is not to add anything new or change the traditional meaning of PARDES. What it does is gives more clarity and life to each level of PARDES, so then it “lives’ in a completely different way – a new vitality, an “Essential life-force.” This new vitalizing approach greatly and deeply increases your understanding of the subject.
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 major revival.
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.
Okay, let's see some examples of Peshat, Remez, Drush, and Sod, then Chassidic interpretation:
Peshat (plain, simple meaning) -
So, let's begin with what we do at the very beginning of the day.
When we wake-up from sleep 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." One should know, upon awakening, that standing and watching over him is G-d, the King of all Kings, and arise with alacrity. This is a great general rule in Torah, and the esteemed way of the righteous people, who always go in the way of G-d, as it is written, “I place G-d before me, always.”
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 (an 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.
Chassidus on Peshat -
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.
So, according to Chassidus, we see as follows: 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, would be returned, he would not be happy about this to give thanks? 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.
You see, Jews are really royalty. As direct emissaries of G-d, we are expected to live like Monarchs. So, if G-d forbid, instead of being returned a Jewish soul, an animal soul is given instead, were you live in a stable - oh yes, it will give you physical life, but, nevertheless, you would not want to give thanks; you would actually despise such a "life."
Notice how Chasidus also agrees that the reason we give thanks, in Modeh Ani, is for "restoring my soul within me." So, we see from here that Chasidus does not add or change the Peshat (simple) interpretation already given over. Instead, Chasidus sheds light and clarity on the meaning of "my soul." What is the soul of a Jew that he gives thanks for? Same goes for Remez, Drush, and Sod.Remez (allusion) -
Proceeding to Remez , we see that the restoration of the soul every morning is an allusion to the Resurrection of the Dead. In fact, sleep is considered "one-sixtieth of death." So, when the soul is restored after waking up, this is comparable to the Resurrection.
In Modeh Ani, we give thanks for "restoring my soul within me... Great is your faithfulness." From this, we see that just as G-d restores our soul every morning, likewise, do we trust and have faith that G-d will also Resurrect the Dead.
Chassidus on Remez -
Before the Resurrection, the "Luz" bone (located behind the neck; different than the rest of the body) will be all that remains of the whole body. When the Resurrection comes, an entire new body will be crafted from this bone. Likewise, will the soul traverse many levels until it's "built" and enters the body.
Likewise, upon awakening, the restoration of the soul not only connects it back to the body, but the body and soul, both, are "renewed!" That's why our sages said that every morning, a person is a "new creation."Drush (homiletical) -
Through the morning restoration of the soul, they are new. When you sleep, you, kind of, deposit your soul to G-d, in his trust. Nevertheless, G-d still returns your soul, and does not refuse to do so because you "owe" him any "debts." Again, "Great is Your faithfulness."
From this we learn that we should, likewise, have such faith and trust - if someone entrusts you with something, we don't refuse to return it, even if the other owes you a debt.
Chassidus on Drush -
The life and clarity that Chasidus brings into the Drush of "Modeh Ani" is as follows:
If someone entrusts you with an article for safekeeping, it is forbidden to withhold it from the depositor, because the depositor owes you debt(s). But, why not? If the depositor owes the guardian money, and he has no other way of collecting it, then why can't he take advantage of this opportunity to keep the object, in lieu of whatever is owed him, anyway? In fact, if a victim of theft fails to recover the stolen item by the courts, he is allowed to have someone else buy it from the thief, and get it back that way. So, how is this different?
Let's preface the answer with a fundamental principle of all commandments, as Chasidus explains.
There are three types of commandments dictated by the Torah, namely,"Mishpatim, Eydus, and Chukim." Mishpatim (known as judgments or ordinances) are laws dealing with human relations, that are quite logical (Editors comment: e.g. "What is hateful to you, do not do unto someone else..." - stealing, murder, etc.). Eydus (Testimonies) are laws that logic may not come up with at first, but after the fact, okay (e.g. a holiday commemorating freedom from bondage, going out of Egyptian slavery, known as Pesach)." Now comes Chukim (Statutes). These are laws which defy logic or just "make no sense" (e.g. kashrus, shatnez, etc.). We just do it, anyway, because we love and respect the one, G-d, who ordered us to do them.
So, in a nutshell, even those Mitzvos, which can be justified logically, must be fulfilled primarily because they are G-d's will, by way of "Kabbalas ol" ("accepting the yoke"), in much the same way that we do the Chukim, the "not so logical - higher than reason" commands. But, nevertheless, when it comes to Mitzvos which we do find "reasonable," which is why, as mentioned before, there is a category of Mitzvos known as "Mishpatim, they still need to be fulfilled because of intellectual reason too.
So, we see that the essence of all Mitzvos, is they are G-d's will. Going back to our subject, of returning an object given by a depositor for safekeeping: the purpose of this commandment is not only for the well-being of the depositor (that he should rightfully get his property back), but the restoration itself is the goal and purpose. The guardian is commanded by G-d (it is G-d's will) to return the item.
Editor's comment: This, that the guardian owes the depositor something is a separate issue. Just because the depositor sins by not paying back the debt, this does not give the guardian the right to sin, likewise, by refusing to return the object entrusted to him. In other words, "two wrongs don't make a right."Sod ("Secret," "Esoteric," "Hidden") -
As mentioned before, Kabbalah gives a "technical" description of the Divine revelations, how G-d influences all existence, be it spiritual and all the way down to our physical world (the one we live in, apprehended with our senses - seeing, hearing, feeling, etc.). It is, kind of, like a descriptive "anatomy of the Body of the King." So, Kabbala gives these Divine entities names, and describes how they interact with each other.
Now, in order to prevent a serious misconception, even though these Divine beings are spiritual and higher than the "reality" we live in, we do not pray to them any more than we would to a physical object (e.g. a stone). G-d is the absolute reality, infinitely higher than any revelations.
Basically, there are 10 spiritual "emanations," known as Sephiros, each level descending lower, degree by degree (known as "tzimtzum"), until the tenth Sephira, called "Malchus - Kingship, Royalty." It is from this Sephira that we have our physical universe (e.g. time [past, present and future], space, the planets [including Earth], stars, black-holes, subatomic particles, etc.) as we know it. Right above Malchus is the ninth Sephira,"Yesod - foundation," which blends the preceding 8 Sephiros; joins heaven and earth.
So, as far as what this has to do with "Modeh Ani" it is quite simple. The happenings and interactions in the spiritual realms has a ripple effect, and influences events in other realms, including our physical world. The restoration of the soul is dependent on one or more of these interactions.
Now, back to our subject:
According to the "Sod" of Torah, the words," Melech chai v'kayom - living and eternal King": the word Melech - King, refers to the Divine attribute of Malchus, and "chai v'kayom - living and eternal," refers to Yesod. So, the meaning of "living and eternal King who restores my soul to me" is that the restoration comes from the level of Malchus, as it is united with the level of Yesod.
Chassidus on Sod -
The attribute of Malchus is that part of Divinity that is relevant to the world: hence, from there come forth the confines of space and time. The Sephira (attribute) of Yesod, on the other hand, is a realm of G-dliness which is higher than the limitations of our world. So, in ALL the attributes which are higher than the Sephira of Malchus, the boundaries of space and time are not there – they are totally nullified out of existence. The idea of the union of Malchus (the realm of Divinity related to the world) and Yesod (Divinity above our world) is that the Light of the Ein Sof (“Or Ein Sof” - the infinite light, which refers to the Essence of G-d, as he manifests himself throughout all existence), which transcends the worlds is also revealed in this limited world.
Now, just as Chasidus brings vitality, and clarity, as was explained above (to Peshat, Remez and Drush), likewise does it sharpen the understanding of the Sod(“esoteric”) level that is in “Modeh Ani.”
As was mentioned already, the Kabbalistic explanation of “living and eternal King,” refers to rhe Sephira of Malchus (Kingship, Dominion) as it is united with the Sephira of Yesod (Foundation). It is from this level that the soul is restored. It is only through the clarifications and rational interpretations of Chasidus that Kabbalistic concepts can be understood. Additionally, through the elucidations of Chasidus, the inner content of the explanations are “felt,” and the idea lives on in a different manner altogether.
Now, back to "Modeh Ani" The restoration of the soul every morning comes from the level of "Melech chai v'kayom - living and eternal King": this means the making of a NEW being. This world is also renewed. It is created, and constantly re-created by way of "Ex-Nihilo - something from nothing" (Editor's remark: this contradicts science, which says that nothing is created or destroyed, just changed in form). Creation by way of "something from nothing" can only be accomplished through Malchus, because the attributes higher than Malchus cannot have worldly existence. Yet, the ability of Malchus to create Ex Nihilo is possible only from the Essence of the light of the Ein Sof, which transcends the limitations of the worlds. Hence, the Ein Sof is not confined to such entities as "nothing" and "something," therefore it is able to turn "nothing" into "something." The light that is relevant to the worlds, however, cannot so this because they are "restricted," so to say, by these world limitations.