Hasidic Philosophy - Definition and Relation To The Other Levels of Torah Interpretation, and To Mainstream Jewish Philos - Current Thought

Current Thought

This discourse of the Rebbe gives a systematic explanation of the philosophical nature of Hasidism inaugurated by the Baal Shem Tov (1698–1760), and developed since then by the great Hasidic Masters, across the many different interpretations and schools of thought. The early great teachers of Hasidism, from the first few generations, are depicted through their teachings and stories as legendary figures. The later generations of the Hasidic movement, traditionally regard the spiritual stature of their leadership to have gradually declined. As the charismatic inspirations of the initial teachers receded, and with the changing social circumstances, so the spiritual ideals began to diminish. However, in the tradition of Habad, which developed separately from mainstream Hasidic paths, the followers tend to believe that their leadership avoided this decline. This derives from the differences of their approach, where the task of each leader was to communicate and explain the systematic teaching of Hasidus. The charismatic appeal to emotions was placed secondary. The dynasty of the 7 Habad leaders sought, in each generation, to broaden the articulation of the teachings, so that it could appeal to, and reach, further audiences. From this derives the view that each leader filled the place of their predecessor. While the particular emphasis of each Rebbe differed, in accord with their times and personalities, their leadership remained great. This discourse, typical of the 7th Rebbe's thought, itself represents a major contribution to Hasidic thought. In this description of Hasidus, the Rebbe teaches, using the intellectual expression of the Habad method, the loftiness of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, and his successors. The emotional enthusiasm of Hasidism, and the popular stories and teachings of its leaders have often been emphasised by outside commentators, through the prism of their own frames of reference, that do not always do justice to the profound dimensions of Hasidic thought. These two aspects reflect the two sides of conduct ("the Ways of Hasidus"), and study ("the Learning of Hasidus"), with some Hasidic traditions emphasising one, or the other. The learning itself has often been depicted as a folk popularisarion of Kabbalah. According to the discourse "On the essence of Chassidus", implicit in the practices of Hasidism, are the profound contributions of Hasidic thought, which give a special emphasis to action. In turn, the essential meaning of the teachings is a new spiritual, and inner contribution to all levels of previous Jewish thought. This new contribution may take more poetic forms, that retain an appeal to faith. Or in other approaches, especially Habad, fullest intellectual articulation is sought.

The quality of Hasidus to permeate other levels of Torah, including the level of Pshat (the simple explanation of Torah), means that even someone on their initial stages in discovering Judaism, can relate to the enlivening wellsprings of Hasidus, and so be connected to the highest levels too. The traditional, restrictive conditions placed upon the learning of Kabbalah, were enacted in the wake of the problematic episode of Shabbetai Zvi in 1665-6. They applied to the intricate study of the abstract Kabbalah, which it is possible to misinterpret. They do not apply to Hasidic thought, even in the more Kabbalistic explanations of some texts, where the ideas are brought into personal grasp. There is such range of expression of ideas in Hasidism, from the spiritual stories of Hasidic Masters, to parables, sayings, and the wonder tales of Breslav, from informal talks offering the relevance of Hasidism to all of Torah and beyond, and to the classic and more Kabbalistic writings. When Kabbalistic terminollogy is used in Hasidic writings, it is illuminated and explained in relation to man, so that it becomes felt in the person's perception, that gives life and vitality in their daily life. This avoids the danger of misinterpretating the mystical ideas in the way that Shabbetai Zvi did. The explanation of Kabbalah into complete grasp is only given in Hasidism. Hasidus gives a way to introduce oneself to the world of Kabbalah. Furthermore, in our time of assimilation in the Jewish world, there is a need to encourage the mystical side of Judaism, including basic Kabbalistic concepts, so that the Torah becomes an enlivening inspiration. If the danger in the 17th Century was of misrepresenting ideas of Kabbalah, today the spiritual concerns are different. Alienation from the wonders of the Jewish heritage in a secular age, characterises our times. This gives each Jew the task and ability, to personify the Hasidic ideal of being a "lamplighter" to others, each person in their own environment, and to whatever degree they can. Before the lamplighter can spread their flame to another, they need to light their own soul with the warmth and contribution of Hasidus. In Judaism, observance of Halachah offers a path in daily living to sanctify life. The wisdom of the Talmud, and the visions of the Bible enthuse a person in the ideas of Judaism. In Kabbalah, but especially in Hasidus one can learn about and perceive God, the giver of the Torah.

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