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On Studying Chassidus: Chapter Thirteen

On Studying Chassidus: Chapter Thirteen


In these citations, as in all Torah law, the approach of Chasidus is of profound examination, on a completely different level than that of the Revealed Law. In the most complex of Revealed laws, affliction, sacrifice, loss, etc., the material existence of the matter around which all the intricacies of the abstract theories revolve, is tangible. Hence, the theories and principles leading to the final verdicts are relatively comprehensible. When these same laws, however, are examined by Chasidus (the obscuring of concept causing nega, the subjugation of man’s powers and senses in Sacrificial Law, the “finding” of the talit, the domains of Shabbat), then the central point, the subject proper, is spiritual; therefore, its comprehension is far more challenging.

The “laws” around which the theories of Chasidus revolve are spiritual; even the explanations, examples, and analogies are of an abstract nature. For example, the example (above ch. 12) of concept and comprehension illustrates that when the quality of matter associated with comprehension dominates the quality of form associated with concept, the nega is the result, the opposite of oneg, delight.

When the light of the concept-nucleus is greater than the expansiveness of comprehension, the result is delight. Though comprehension has its intrinsic advantage (it is a state of fuller grasp of the subject than is concept), still the ramifications and elaboration characteristic of comprehen­sion do solidify the thought. When the radiance of concept is greater than the expansiveness of comprehension, one experiences intellectual delight.

The reason for this is that concept is called ayin, nothingness. The revelation of concept in general, not only in the initial flash-revelation, comes as a “point.” The delight in concept, delight in intellectual creativity, lies in its power of abstraction. Comprehension is called yesh, existence. It is manifested in its general state with breadth and expansion, like a flowing river becoming ever broader and longer, through illustrations and elucidation. In its initial manifestation, before the formulation and materialization of the thought, comprehension must of necessity still be described as a state of expansion. The delight in comprehension lies in its ability to concretize, its power of embodiment [in contrast to] concept’s power of abstraction.

These two intellective powers are parental in their function of giving rise to emotion-attributes; the birth and revelation of emotion must be through the action of intellect. “According to his intellect is man [Hebrew ish] extolled.”1 Ish refers to emotional-man;2 “extolled” implies revelation. The manifes­ta­tion of emotions is in accordance with the intellect that gives birth to them.

Analogously, parents educate and guide their children, and they develop accordingly. Likewise, emotions, the “offspring” of intellect, develop in consonance with intellect. In the way that intellect is manifested (the direction it gives emotion) emotion will follow suit.

When intellect influences emotion in an orderly manner, i.e. when concept and comprehension are in proper proportion and complementary, then the emotions engendered are faultless. When the influence of intellect is disorderly and unsystematic, the emotions are correspondingly imperfect. There may be variations in the imperfection due to imbalance—whether concept is disproportionately dominant or comprehension.

This is an illustration of the approach of Chasidus to a law of afflictions. This method of interpretation is applied to all subjects of Revealed Law. Sacrificial law becomes the study of the subordination and accession of man’s faculties to G‑dliness; laws of found articles are examined as the service of purification of matter. Even the explanations and illustrations used in Chasidus are so abstract and spiritual as to transcend the scope of mortal intellect.

Cf. On the Teachings of Chasidus, ch. 7.
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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