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On Studying Chassidus: Chapter Nine

On Studying Chassidus: Chapter Nine

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By this time the quarrelsome mitnagdim were all but repudiated; at any rate the animosity was limited to the hard-core of bitter foes. The second group (see above ch. 4)—those who dispassionately questioned the principles of Chasidus, believing that they were doing so sincerely, not maliciously—became active. Nonetheless, though presented calmly and rationally, their questions were still deprecatory of Chasidus. All their questions and observations revolved on two points: 1) the objection to engaging in “esoterics,” and 2) the incapacity of the human mind to understand such subjects clearly, leading to the possibility of misconception and consequent calamitous results.

Thank G‑d, none of these objections made any impression, for there were always chasidim of stature who completely dispelled every doubt and objection.

But all these debates took place more than fifty years ago. Then questions were posed1 regarding the need for Chasidus and the benefits of the chasidic lifestyle. The past fifty years have proven conclusively that Chasidus is indispensable in Jewish life.

Analogously, the study of Musar in yeshivot had been strenuously opposed by contemporary gaonim. Late in 1895, I was present at a meeting of the leading scholars of the day, including most of the Lithuanian yeshiva deans. The question of formal Musar study arose. Out of respect, I will refrain from mentioning the names of the opponents to this program and their outspoken opposition. Experience has vindicated Musar study. It is a verifiable fact that every yeshiva with a program of Musar study, especially those headed by a menahel ruchni (spiritual mentor), produced more righteous and G‑d-fearing pupils than those yeshivot without such Musar sessions.

The proof is evident and alive. A generation ago the necessity for the study and practice of Musar principles was recognized and so, with G‑d’s help, they succeeded in training pious students. In our own day we see that the study of Chasidus is critically necessary for most yeshiva students. With His help we shall soon see the bright day when all truly upright yeshivot will institute the study and practice of Chasidus.

Footnotes
1.
Cf. On the Teachings of Chasidus; Introduction to Kuntres Etz HaChayim, Brooklyn, 1946. [In reply to a letter about the necessity for Chasidus (for is not Musar study sufficient for piety, and besides, the study of Talmud and related works should be the student’s sole interest), Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn writes: “Whoever studies Torah without love and fear (of G‑d) cannot arrive at the true intent of the Giver of the Torah. . . . (After studying Chasidus according to the suggested program) you will be convinced that the Inner Torah alone can make an elixir of life of the revealed Torah, and that the study of Chasidus leads to fulfillment of the positive commandment of the Unity of the Creator, to love and revere. . . .” (p.13).]
Translated by Zalman I. Posner. Rabbi Posner (1927-2014) was a noted author and lecturer. He was rabbi of Congregation Sherith Israel of Nashville, Tennessee, for 53 years and co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Nashville.
A Chassidic discourse by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of Lubavitch.
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