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On Studying Chassidus: Chapter Eleven

On Studying Chassidus: Chapter Eleven

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Now for the second objection, viz., that mortals can never clearly grasp these concepts. In general, the argument “impossible” is feeble. No one dealing with ideas may say “impossible” at the outset; he would never attempt to learn. It is patently impossible for anyone with mediocre intellectual gifts to comprehend Talmud as did Rashi, the Tosafists, Maimonides, and Rosh.1 Is that a reason for not even attempting to study and understand as much as possible? It is unnecessary to elaborate so obvious a point. This irresponsible objection to Chasidus is trivial compared to the havoc wreaked on the superficial student subscribing to that policy. One could as logically declare, “I cannot be a Solomon, so why bother studying at all?”

Granted, Chasidus is a particularly profound study, concerned with intangible, delicate concepts. The subjects of Chasidus are of a spiritual, abstract nature, and even the illustrations and explanations are removed from the realm of tangible, sensory perception. Some are impossible of perception as the term is used in human understanding.

In Chasidus, as in the Revealed Torah,2 there are gradations. In addition, Chasidus has its own PaRDeS: under­standing through literal meaning, indication, homily, and esoteric meaning.3

Revealed Torah in general has two characteristics: 1) it is the exposition of individual precepts in all their particular ramifications, 2) in those portions that have no relevance to practical law, it possesses the distinctive quality of being G‑d’s Torah. Chasidus, the “Inner Torah,” also has two general characteristics:

1) Chasidus interprets the laws expounded in Revealed Torah according to their “inner” meaning, each topic and law as it is in essence. Hence Chasidus is called “Inner Torah,” the inner dimension of the Revealed Torah.

2) Chasidus has its own particular field of study, the systematic elucidation of such subjects as the purpose of the soul’s descent into the body, service of G‑d, etc.

In Talmud study, we find greater ease in mastering a complex and difficult practical law than a less involved theoretical discussion. Comprehension comes through tangible association; a law, though involved with the most complex reasoning, has tangible associations to seize upon. Theory, though perhaps in itself less complex, lacks tangible associations, and is therefore less accessible.

The most abstruse talmudic theory, be it concerned with purity or sacrificial practice or civil or festival law, has in its very subject (impurities, offerings, demands and counter-arguments, Shabbat property definitions) tangible associations. We are familiar with the physical existence of the subject. When Chasidus treats those subjects in its terms, then the very existence of the subject is not readily conceived. In Revealed Law, since the subject is palpable, we can grasp the detailed complicated law; in Chasidus, since the subjects are of an abstract nature lacking tangible associations, comprehension is more difficult.

Footnotes
1.
Commentators and codifiers of the Talmud.
2.
Cf. On the Teachings of Chasidus, ch. 1.
3.
[Four planes of understanding. PaRDeS is an acrostic for sux aurs znr yap pshat, remez, drush, and sod.]
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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