On the Hasidic festival of the 19th of Kislev (traditionally described in Habad as the New Year for the Torah of Hasidus) in 1965, the 7th leader of Habad, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, gave a discourse that gave a philosophical explanation of the nature of Hasidic thought. It was later published by Kehot Publication Society in a bilingual edition as "On the essence of Chassidus". In line with the aim of Habad to articulate the inner Torah with fullest intellectual explanation, each subsequent Rebbe of Lubavitch saw their task as to spread the "wellsprings" of Hasidus to new intellectual frontiers. Each Rebbe had their own style of thought, and this discourse is an example of the depth and clarity of the last Rebbe's thought. Like the common saying found in other contexts, "standing on the shoulders of the previous generations", the explanations and emphases of each successive Rebbe was made possible by the developing teachings of their predecessors. In this discourse, the Rebbe asks what is the nature of Hasidus, and how does it differ from those parts of Torah that had been revealed until then?
- To begin with, he gives four answers that have been given in earlier sources and manuscripts. Firstly, at the time of the Baal Shem Tov the Jewish world was in a state of faint, and common to the custom to arouse the soul of someone who has fainted by whispering their Jewish name in their ear, so the Baal Shem Tov, who shared his name Israel with all the Jewish people, awoke the people of Israel from this state. Secondly, commenting on the Talmudic dictum that "a Hasid (pious person) is one who goes beyond the letter of the law", Hasidic explanation of this sees in this idea an ability to serve God with true selflessness. While seeking personal spiritual revelations is commended in Torah, nonetheless, the motivation of a true Hasid is to sacrifice these goals to help another person, or serve God more sincerely. Thirdly, the main point of Hasidus is to change the nature of the emotional attributes in one's personality, including rectifying the instinctively good traits, so that they become intentionally holy ones. The fourth answer is that by explaining Kabbalistic ideas, Hasidus enables everyone to grasp Divinity, even those people without lofty souls, or who have not refined themselves.
- After this the Rebbe concludes that none of these answers captures the essence of Hasidus, but are characteristic aspects. Distinguishing between essence and manifestations, the Rebbe defines the essence of Hasidus as a new revelation in Torah directly from the highest possible Kabbalisic levels, corresponding to the 5th level of the soul, its essential "Yechida" (complete "singular unity" with God). While all of Torah is believed to derive from God's essence, the 4 levels of Pardes are seen to be affected by the ever increasing concealment of Tzimtzum (contractions of the Divine "light") as they descend through the Kabbalistic system of the 4 spiritual "Worlds". Each level of Torah relates to and is affected by each World, that also correspond to the 4 lower levels of the soul. Each of the 4 levels of Pardes become limited and fixed in the defining qualities of each of their particular natures, even the most lofty and abstract mysticism of the 4th level, Sod. Only a 5th level, the Hasidic explanation of Torah, remains unresricted and unaffected by Tzimtzum, which is why it is not listed among the 4 levels (similar to the way that a person's soul is not listed in relation to their head, or their foot). While the 4th level, the Kabbalistic interpretation, is called "the soul of the Torah", as it gives the metaphysical explanation of Torah, the 5th level of Hasidus is called the "soul of the soul", or "inner soul", the true infinite essence of Torah, that reveals the Divine origin of the lower 4 levels.
- To explain this, the Rebbe takes a line from Jewish liturgy (poigniantly the first words a Jew says upon awakening in the morning, "Modeh ani...", in line with the Rebbe's emphasis on action in serving God) and then proceeds to explain it on each of the 4 successive levels of Pardes interpretation. Afterwards the Rebbe gives the Hasidic meaning of Modeh ani, the 5th level of explanation. A soul has two qualities: it both transcends the body, and also descends into and permeates the body, being found from the highest faculty of the body (the head), even down into the limbs with the most simple function (the feet). In this way, the 5th explanation represents the soul in itself, as it transcends the 4 levels of Pardes. After this the Rebbe then goes on to show how now that we know the Hasidic interpretation of Modeh ani, each of the previous 4 explanations takes on a whole new meaning. We are now able to see the soul of Hasidus within each of the previous 4 levels. Each one now becomes alive and soulful, as we now understand each of the 4 levels of Pshat, Remez, Drush and Sod "in light of Hasidus". To demonstrate this the Rebbe goes through their 4 explanations, illuminating each in light of the 5th level. In each case their meaning is deepened and spiritualised. This represents the soul as it descends into and permeates the 4 levels of Pardes. To conclude, the Rebbe shows how it only the Hasidic explanation that unites each of the preceding 4 commentaries, by revealing the essential common thread that runs through them, as essence permeates all manifestations. For this reason, Hasidus is likened to olive oil, its concealment in the olive representing "secret of secrets", which analogously possesses the two qualities of an essence: it does not mix with other liquids, similar to the way that essence is separate, but permeates other substances, as essence infuses all its manifestations. This is contrasted with wine, whose concealment before pressing represents Kabbalistic "secrets", but whose ripening in the fruit improves its quality. Hasidus is above all boundaries of concealment and revelation, and so can reach and reveal the "innermost secret" soul of the most distant person to holiness.
- During the demonstration of the 4th level of Kabbalah, as it is explained and lives in light of the 5th level of Hasidus, the Rebbe addresses a widely held misconception. It is commonly held that Hasidus came along to explain Kabbalah so that everyone could grasp ideas of Godliness. In this way, maybe Hasidus is a commentary on Kabbalah, and Kabbalah, with its hidden and complicated terminology mastered only by great Kabbalists, is more lofty? This accords with the misconception that Hasidus is just a part of the 4th level of Sod. Was the Baal Shem Tov merely a populariser of the Jewish mystical tradition, as many secular historians have depicted him? To answer, the Rebbe explains that just the reverse is true, Kabbalah is a commentary on Hasidus! In this discourse the Rebbe shows that Hasidus is not just part of the 4th level of Sod, but the true "Quintessetial" (the translator was excited that this word also indicates the concept of 5!) 5th level of Torah, the Divine source of the 4 manifestations. Each of the 4 levels of Pardes are limited commentaries, in their respective fashions, on the inner, infinite soul of Torah, that is only expressed in the 5th Hasidic level. The Hasidic illumination of Kabbalah is a characteristic manifestation of this essence, and is only one of the qualities of Hasidus. The reason that Kabbalah is abstract and complicated, while Hasidus is soulfull and simple, is because Hasidus alone is a reflection of the infinite simplicity of God. It takes a higher light of spirituality to unite multiplicity and division, so Hasidus derives from a higher source. As well as explaining concepts of Kabbalah, Hasidus interprets ideas from all 4 levels of Torah, in addition to the vitality with which it permeates the explanations themselves, of each of the 4 levels.
- In the rest of the discourse, the Rebbe explains the relationship of Hasidus, the Yechida of Torah, to the Messiah, the general Yechida soul of the community of Israel, and to the Messianic era he inaugurates, the Yechida of Creation. He also describes the relationship of Hasidus to Halachah (Jewish ritual and ethical law), which comprises the vehicle in Judaism by which man approaches God in his daily life. The Rebbe takes an example from Jewish law to illustrate this (the Rabbinic law of temporary acquisition of property in a person's vicinity). The "revealed", legal part of Judaism has its own methodollogy and logic from first principles to final rulings, independent of additional philosophical, ethical, or mystical meanings of the law. Nonetheless, the mystical tradition in Judaism sees itself as united, inseparable, and complimentary to the revealed tradition. Some great figures in Jewish history who expounded both dimensions, state that true decisions in Jewish law should only be made in light of Kabbalistic understanding.
While this connection with halachah is found in the esoteric explanations of Kabbalah, the simple Divine essence articulated through Hadidic philosophy brings a true, essential connection with the law. Using the example given in this discourse, the Rebbe demonstrates how the legal rulings gain new depth and clarity on their own terms, once their spiritual Hasidic explanations are understood. The mysticism of Hasidus, unlike Kabbalah, is able to descend and be revealed in all parts of Jewish thought, and gives new vitality to each level, within the style of thought of each one.
- Since, the Rebbe explains, Hasidus is the essence of Torah, and an infinite essence cannot be grasped itself, the nature of Hasidus is expressed only from its manifestations. The Jewish mystical text Sefer Yetzirah describes the dynamic process of spirituality with the words "the beginning is wedged in the end, and the end is wedged in the beginning". In Jewish mysticism, this flow of Divinity applies to the purpose of Creation: the true and initial desire of God was for a dwelling place in the lowest physical level of Creation. In the Kabbalistic description of Creation, the infinite "light" that emanates from God, descends through innumerable contractions, levels, and concealments until it reaches and continuously creates our physical Universe. The purpose is only found in the lowest level, where man mystically elevates the material world by using it to fulfill the will of God. When the process is complete, this world will become the dwelling place for God's essence. The same dynamic expressed by the Sefer Yetzirah applies to Hasidus. The true essence of Hasidus is expressed most when it extends to and revives the furthest places, reflecting the classic answer of the Messiah to the Baal Shem Tov on Rosh Hashanah of the year 5507 (1746) that he would come when "your wellsprings are spread to the furthest places". All parts of Torah have the ability to spiritually awaken people far from the Jewish tradition. However, often their estrangement from Jewish thought precludes them from feeling a connection to Jewish spirituality, that might inspire them to investigate further. Because Hasidic thought sees the hidden purity and goodness in everything, it can awaken those who feel most distant. Through understanding Hasidic thought, they can then identify themselves with the Hasidic dimension in their own consciousness, and become inspired to develop their Jewish connection to reflect this. In this way, the Baal Shem Tov revealed the unique spiritual connection with God that unlearned Jews possess, whereas the revealed levels of Jewish thought highlighted their distance. In similar fashion, the leaders of Habad, who articulated the greatest scholarly profundity of Hasidic thought, in the latter generations also sought to give Hasidus its greatest outreach beyond traditional boundaries of Jewish life (perhaps reflected in this tradition's other name of Lubavitch. "Habad" refers to the intellectual powers of the soul, while "Lubavitch" means the emotion of "town of love" in Russian). Hasidic thought seeks, and is most truly expressed, when it can spiritually revive a person most estranged from Judaism, who may not be awoken by other levels of Torah. In accord with the expression from the Tanya, that "from the reward of a commandment, one can know the true nature of the commandment" (Schneur Zalman's Hasidic explanation of the statement from Perkei Avos, "the reward of a Mitzvah is a Mitzvah"), the discourse explains that since the task of spreading Hasidus is the prerequisite to bringing the Messiah, so Hasidus itself is the Messianic level of the Torah, and a foretaste of the Messianic era when God's essence will be revealed.
Read more about this topic: Hasidic Philosophy, Definition and Relation To The Other Levels of Torah Interpretation, and To Mainstream Jewish Philos
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