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On Studying Chassidus: Chapter Twelve

On Studying Chassidus: Chapter Twelve


Let us examine a Talmudic law in the light of Chasidus—the law of the nega, the “affliction” that is suspected leprosy.1

The moral attributes or emotions (kindness,2 severity, etc.) are lower than, and caused by, the intellect, a composite in turn of concept and comprehension—concept being antecedent to, and higher than, comprehension. When comprehension exceeds or overshadows the concept, the effect on the attributes, their derivative, is nega, the opposite of oneg,3 “delight.”

When the attributes are under the influence of the superior, concept, then the attributes coalesce; they act in cooperation, so to speak. They become modified, rather than operating without counter-balance. Severity is tempered with kindness, forming kindness-in-severity, and vice-versa.

When this superior light is absent, then each attribute possesses its particular character without modification and acts independently, without incorporating aspects from the other attributes. Not only do they not fortify one another, but they are exclusive and divided. The results are inevitably undesirable—nega, affliction, the antithesis of oneg, delight.

Only through the influence of concept (chochma) can there be oneg. The Talmud4 describes the countenance of R. Abahu as shining (with delight) when he discovered a new teaching. “The wisdom of man illumines his visage”5 with the discovery of a new thought. The absence of chochma is followed by nega.

The prescribed Torah procedure in the event of a nega is, “He shall be brought before the priest,”6 effort, strenuous effort, must be exerted to receive the enlightenment of concept, the higher influence.

An example from the laws of sacrifices:7 “When a man will bring of you an offering to G‑d..”8 The text should preferably have read, “When a man of you will bring.” The interpretation is, “When a man will bring” (note: the Hebrewyakriv also implies “approach”)—i.e., when one desires to approach the service of G‑d, “of you an offering to G‑d”—the initial step must be “of you,” of yourselves, the idea of approach and sacrifice being the offering of one’s abilities and faculties to Him.

Parenthetically, Reb Alter Yechiel, a Liozna teacher, once told my great-uncle Rabbi Boruch Sholom9 that he had taught Talmud to the Mitteler Rebbe on a profound level when his pupil was a lad of ten. Reb Alter Yechiel once asked him the meaning of the quoted verse with the observation noted. the Mitteler Rebbe replied, “When a man brings of you—when one offers to G‑d all he has, then he is an offering to G‑d (Havayeh)—higher than the nature He has endowed in time and space. This person is not merely an offering to Elokim, symbolic of Nature.”10

In civil law we find, “Two grasping a talit,” a garment,11 [each one claims, “I found it,” each one claims, “It is all mine”]. Talit refers to encompassing light, the spark of good implanted within material objects. When two grasp a talit, i.e. both perform a mitzvah with a physical object, they release and clarify the spark of good imprisoned within that object. They redeem the spark from “exile” in matter, and elevate the matter itself from its intrinsic crassness, since the material object was an instrument for fulfilling the Divine plan of creation.

Now, the souls of the two who performed the mitzvah, upon their ascent to the True World, seize the talit, the spark that had been in the physical object, the material having already been purified and the spark elevated through the performance of the mitzvah. “One says, I found it”; he insists that his efforts redeemed the spark. The other claims that it was through his endeavors that the material became purified, and that he transformed it into a vehicle for G‑dliness. Each demands, “It is all mine.” The ensuing discussion concerns the manner of purification to determine the reward due each disputant.

In the laws of Shabbat we find the principles of the private and public domain [in which carrying is permitted or prohibited]. According to the inner interpretation12 they correspond to the Four Worlds: the private domain—atzilut; the public domain—briya, yetzira asiya.

Zohar III, 49b; Etz Chaim, “Leah V’Rachel,” 7; Likutei Torah, “Tazria” and “Metzora”; Derech Mitzvotecha. “Tumas Hametzora”; Kuntres 18 Elul 5703, p.15.
[All terms used in these two paragraphs are discussed in the Translator’s Explanatory Notes.]
[The different combinations of the same letters, allude to their antithetical nature.]
Yerushalmi, Shabbat 8: 1.
Cf. Kuntres 43, “Ushavtem,” Succot 5701.
Son of Rabbi Mendel, the Tzemach Tzedek; cf. Sicha, Pesach 5703, sec. 63.
Pardes XII: 2; Tr. Expl. Notes.
Cf. Maamorim 5700-5702, “Rebbi Omer,” 5700. Based on Baba Metzia 2a.
See Likkutei Torah of Arizal, beginning of tractate Shabbat. Discourse of Mayim Rabbim (Torat Shmuel, Shaar 3) chapter 3.
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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