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On The Contribution of Chasidus to Jewish Thought and To A Jew's Service of G-d

On The Contribution of Chasidus to Jewish Thought and To A Jew's Service of G-d

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By the Grace of G-d
Sivan 27, 5696, Otwock
(June 17, 1936)

In answer to your inquiry regarding the difference between Musar and Chasidus—does not Musar expound the vanity of the material world and the importance of Torah and religious living? What, then, does Chasidus add?

One G-d is the source of both teachings, Chasidus and Musar. Nonetheless there is a great difference between them. Here I will dwell on one aspect of the difference.

On the verse,1 “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” Rashi comments, “In our image—in our form; after our likeness—to understand and conceive [ideas].” What is meant here is that the manner of man’s creation differs from that of all other creatures. Moreover, man is essentially unique in that he is modeled after the Supreme. He is endowed with intellectual gifts which other creatures lack.

“Beloved is man for he was created in the image of G-d [i.e. he was patterned after G-d]; an especial love was accorded to man in that it [man’s uniqueness] was made known to him, that he was created in the image of G-d”2 Through his own makeup he is enabled to conceive and understand spiritual matters.

Besides his advantage over other creatures in his being the likeness and image of G-d and possessing the ability to study Torah and G-d, he is the “central creature” that includes within himself the higher and lower creatures.

“From my flesh I see G-d”3 From his own body and soul man can obtain a conception of G-dliness. Man is a composite of body and soul. The body in itself is called the “flesh of man”; the soul in itself is called the “soul of man”; the union of body and soul is called man. “All that G-d created in the world, He created in man,”4 therefore man is called a “small world,” a microcosm and the world is called a “large body,” a macrocosm.

In this composition of body and soul, the body is secondary and the soul primary. Just as in man, the microcosm, it is the soul that is essential, not the body, so too in the world, the macrocosm, the essential component is the Divine life-force that vivifies the universe and all creatures. The physical bodies of creatures and the corporeal existence of the material world—these are all secondary.

This idea, the relative importance of the body and physical existence on the one hand, and the soul and Divine life-force on the other, is copiously explained with elaborations and empirical proofs. With the above preface, numerous Biblical verses and Rabbinical statements can be understood.

However, this knowledge (the primacy of the soul and life-force over the material body and world) is not a single idea to be grasped in its positive and negative aspects as one. It is true that with the acceptance of the inferiority of the physical, the superiority of the spiritual follows naturally. Actually, though, they are two distinct concepts. One demonstrates the inferiority of the body, while the other discusses the soul and life-force as the essentials.

Musar and Chasidus both teach the vanity of the bodily world and the value of Torah and Torah living. The difference is that Musar devotes itself to the worthlessness of the physical, and Chasidus is concerned with the virtues of the spiritual. Besides, Chasidus expounds the Divine intention that physical creatures become vessels for G-dliness.

It is incumbent upon every individual to understand the importance of the Divine life-force. Every Jew must engage in this study to recognize “He Who spoke and the world came into being.” At every step one must perceive Divine Providence; all one’s worldly affairs must inspire his heart with love and fear of G-d, with a deep desire to fulfill G-d’s plan in physical creation, namely, to make the lower world a vessel for Him.

FOOTNOTES
1. Gen. 1:26.
2. Avot 3:18.
3. Job 19:26.
4. Avot d’Rabbi Natan 31:3.
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