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
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, “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” 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
“From my flesh I see G‑d” 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 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.