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Teachers of the Hidden Wisdom

Teachers of the Hidden Wisdom

Who gave permission to reveal the secrets of millennia?

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Adapted from Likkutei Sichot, vol. 30, pp. 170–175.

From Dawn to Sunrise

On the 18th day of the Jewish month of Elul, two great luminaries entered the world. In 1698, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov was born in Okup, a fortress town in the Ukraine.1 Forty-seven years later to the day, in 1745, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi was born near Liozna, a town in present-day Belarus.2

The Baal Shem Tov’s star began to illuminate the Jewish world primarily after he settled in Medzibuz in 1740. Rabbi Schneur Zalman composed the revolutionary work for which he is best known, the Tanya, fifty years later.

The timing is significant: Jewish tradition divides history into six one-thousand-year periods, taking a cue from a verse in Psalms, “For a thousand years are in Your eyes as a day that has passed.”3 The sixth millennium of the Hebrew calendar began in the fall of 1239 according to the secular calendar.

A day has its turning points—sunset, nightfall, midnight, dawn, sunrise, noon. Dawn is the focal point, when the sun’s light begins to overcome the darkness of its absence. It comes out that the Baal Shem Tov’s arrival in Medzibuz was smack at dawn.4

Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov taught that every person could serve G‑d out of humility, love and joy, The Baal Shem Tov arrived smack at dawn, Rabbi Schneur Zalman at sunrise. drawing upon the esoteric teachings of the Kabbalah. His ideas spread rapidly, igniting the hearts of both simple Jews and scholars. And indeed, we have a tradition that if a person is in a coma, you must whisper that person’s name into his ear. The core of his being will resonate with the call of his name and he will awaken. Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, then, was G‑d whispering our name, Israel, to awaken the entire Jewish nation from our slumber of centuries.

Halachah places dawn 72 minutes before sunrise. With a little more math, we discover that fifty years later corresponds to sunrise.

If so, the Baal Shem Tov’s light began to shine at dawn, while Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s began at sunrise.5 That’s significant. There must be some connection between the progression from dawn to sunrise and the succession of Rabbi Schneur Zalman to the Baal Shem Tov.6

The Prince and the Crown Jewel

To find this connection, let’s look at two key stories of R. Schneur Zalman that tell us much about his relationship to the Baal Shem Tov and his innovation.

The first story7 occurred during the lifetime of the Maggid of Mezeritch, the principal successor to the Baal Shem Tov. The Maggid was a master teacher, a genius in both Talmud and Kabbalah. He attracted an inner circle of tzaddikim whom he planted in positions of leadership throughout Eastern Europe—Rabbi Schneur Zalman being the youngest of them.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman himself told this story. The Maggid had called for him, along with his colleagues Rabbi Leib Cohen and Rabbi Zusia of Anipoli, asking, “Please tell me what occurred at the time I was sleeping.”

So Rabbi Schneur Zalman told him. A visitor had come to Mezeritch, one who had been a senior disciple of the Baal Shem Tov—the holy Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz. A strong difference of opinion divided the Maggid and Rabbi Pinchas. The Maggid taught all that he had received from the Baal Shem Tov openly, while Rabbi Pinchas was opposed to this practice, saying that such lofty matters must be treated with great caution.

That day, Rabbi Pinchas had found two sheets of paper tossed about by the wind in the courtyard. Upon them were written the teachings of the Maggid. To him this was an outrage, and he let that be known.

When Rabbi Schneur Zalman saw how seriously Rabbi Pinchas was taking the matter, he responded to him with a parable:

There was once a mighty king who had an only son. When the king desired that his son rise in his stature of wisdom and might, he sent him to a remote island in a distant land. There he would study the natures of various plants and animals, and learn to hunt wild beasts and birds in dangerous places.

There came a day when the news reached the king that his son, still off in this distant island, had contracted a serious illness for which the doctors could find no cure. The king decreed that it be announced throughout his kingdom that any person who had knowledge of medicine or knew of any cure for this terrible disease should come immediately to his palace.

But all the great healers and distinguished sages said not a word, for none knew of any cure for this illness of the prince.

Until there came a day when a certain man arrived at the palace to inform the king that he had a tried and tested cure for the prince. Carrying out this cure, however, was not so simple. It relied upon a rare and precious gem. That gem needed to be found, and then crushed and ground as fine as the finest sand. Only then could it be administered to the prince, mixed with fine wine. Yet he guaranteed that upon drinking this concoction, the prince would be cured.

The king issued a command for all those who were expert in the field of gems to search for this special jewel among all the precious stones in the palace treasury, according to the description provided by this man.

So the experts gathered and examined all the royal gems, and to the joy of their hearts they managed to find just the precious jewel as described. There was just one problem: The jewel was the centerpiece of the king’s royal crown.

How could they rejoice? If the centerpiece of the king’s royal crown were to be removed, the crown would lose its beauty. Nevertheless, they were compelled to tell the king what they had found—and where.

To their surprise, when the king heard that they had found the precious gem that could save his only son’s life, he rejoiced greatly. He commanded that the gem be removed, crushed and ground, and rushed to his son to heal him.

Just at that moment, bad tidings arrived at the palace. The prince’s health had deteriorated to the point that his lips were locked tight. No food, not even liquids, could pass his lips.

Upon hearing this news, the sages who stood before the king immediately assumed that the king would halt the grinding of the precious gem. The beauty of his royal crown would be saved. And so you can imagine their surprise when they heard the proclamation of the king: “Rush to grind the gem and prepare the cure! It is worthwhile to grind the entire gem and pour the entire thing to waste on the chance that just a single drop may enter the mouth of my only son and he will be healed!”

The nobility, those who occupied the highest positions in the palace, were astonished at the king’s command. They advised him, “When at first the prince’s lips were open and he could accept some food or drink, then your sacrifice was reasonable. But now that his situation is extremely precarious, it is very doubtful he will ingest any of this concoction. On such a slim chance, is it truly worthwhile to to ruin the beauty of the king’s crown with which he was coronated on the day he first sat on his throne?”

But the king responded, “If, heaven forbid, my son does not live, what is the worth of my crown? And if my son is healed, then this will be the crown’s most magnificent glory: that my only son, who endangered his life to fulfill my command and rise in wisdom and might through great ordeals until he became deathly ill—with this crown jewel he was healed!”

When Rabbi Schneur Zalman completed his parable, Rabbi Pinchas began to laugh. He exclaimed, “What you say is right! You have provided a justification for this practice of teaching the inner secrets of Torah openly. How fortunate is the teacher who has such students!”

All this Rabbi Schneur Zalman related to the Maggid in brief. The Magid then told his student, “You saved me. For in my sleep, I saw that there was a great accusation against me in the heavens—against me and against the teachings of my master, the Baal Shem Tov. But then I saw that you were standing and arguing on my behalf, justifying my actions. Your words were accepted and you brought merit to my teachings and the teachings of our master, the Baal Shem Tov.”

The parable is deep and rich. Every detail alludes to something that a man with Rabbi Pinchas’s knowledge and wisdom would understand. The rest of us need it to be unpacked for us.

But before we do that, let’s first visit another story.

Visitors to the Prison Cell

Jail Hallway of the Petropavilovski Fortress Prison
Jail Hallway of the Petropavilovski Fortress Prison

Under the Maggid’s guidance, Rabbi Schneur Zalman took the responsibility to bring the teachings and spirit of the Baal Shem Tov to his native Belarus. More than any other chassidic leader of his time, he focused on spreading these teachings as openly as possible. Even other students of the Maggid protested that he was taking things too far.

These were politically turbulent times. Royal heads were rolling in the streets of Paris during the Reign of Terror that followed the French Revolution. The czarist regime was highly suspicious of anyone who might be inciting rebellion. In the fall of 1798, Rabbi Schneur Zalman was arrested on charges that his teachings and activities threatened the imperial authority of the czar. He was imprisoned in the Petropavlovski Fortress on an island in the Neva River in Petersburg. In his interrogations, he was compelled to present to the czar’s ministers the basic tenets of Judaism and explain various points of chassidic philosophy and practice. After 53 days, he was exonerated of all charges and released.

During this imprisonment, Rabbi Schneur Zalman received two visitors from the World of Truth: his teacher, the Maggid of Mezritch; and his teacher’s teacher, the Baal Shem Tov.

A long conversation ensued. The visitors provided their student answers to the questions of his interrogators and relieved him with the knowledge of his imminent release.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman understood that whatever was happening in this world was only a reflection of happenings in a higher world. If there were accusations against him here, even though they were false, it must be that there were accusations against him above, in the World of Truth. Now that he had visitors from that higher world, he wished to determine why he deserved this, what had he done wrong, and what should be corrected.

His esteemed visitors explained to him, “An accusation was made in the heavenly court that you are publicly revealing secrets of Torah, the crown of the King.”

Rabbi Schneur Zalman then asked them, “How should I continue when I leave this place? Should I stop teaching Torah in this way? Or should I continue?”

“When you leave here,” they told him, “you must continue as you did before. On the contrary, you must go even further.”

“When you leave here,” they told him, “you must continue as you did before. On the contrary, you must go even further.”

Which is just what Rabbi Schneur Zalman did. After returning from Petersburg, his teachings became yet more open and accessible to the human mind. Everything now came with an explanation and a clear metaphor, so that even simple Jews could grasp the divine.

Telling Secrets

Yet the story raises a difficult question: How could Rabbi Schneur Zalman have had any doubts? How could he ask, “Should I continue or perhaps not?” This is the very same prodigy who had already defended his teacher, explaining why it was not only necessary but vital for the survival of the Jewish people to spread these teachings. With the passing of time, undoubtedly the situation of the prince of his parable had further deteriorated. If it was so vital back then to grind the crown jewels, how much more so now.

What had changed now that his original argument was no longer effective? And why was there a new accusation, after the previous one had long been put to rest?

To answer that, let’s go back to Rabbi Pinchas’s dispute with the Maggid. Let’s ask a simple question: Why should anyone have an issue with his teacher’s words being spread as widely as possible?

Indeed, we find the Talmud placing strong restrictions on teaching “the hidden wisdom.” Even among the great scholars of the Mishnah, there were those who never felt ready to approach these teachings. Maimonides summarizes the statements of the Talmud in his ruling:

The sages of the early generations commanded that these matters should be explained to only one individual at a time. He should be a wise man, who can reach understanding with his own mind. In such an instance he is given fundamental points, and an outline of the concepts is made known to him. He is expected to continue to contemplate until he reaches understanding with his own intellect, until he realizes the ultimate meaning and depth of the concept.

These concepts are extremely deep, and not every person has the intellect necessary to appreciate them. In his wisdom, Solomon described them with the metaphor: “Lambs for your clothing.”8 [The root keves—“lamb”—also has the meaning “hide.”] Thus, our sages interpreted this metaphor to mean: Matters which are the secrets of the world should be kept hidden under your cloak—meaning, they will be for you alone, and you should not discuss them in public.

Concerning them, it is written: “They shall be for you and not for others with you.”9 Similarly, it states: “Honey and milk will be under your tongue.”10 The sages of the early generations interpreted this as a metaphor: Subjects that are like honey and milk should be kept under your tongue.

And yet we find that the Ari, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, greatest of all the Kabbalists, told his students that now in these later generations—he lived in the 16th century—it is not only permissible but a responsibility to reveal these teachings.11 How can a halachah change to such a degree?

All of Torah

The answer is really quite simple: These teachings are Torah.

Every part of Torah, including its innermost secrets, belongs to every Jew.

All of Torah belongs to every Jew, and every Jew is obliged to learn the entirety of it. The first thing we teach a child, as soon as he or she begins to speak,12 is “The Torah that G‑d commanded Moses is an inheritance to all the Jewish community.”13 That includes every part of Torah, including its innermost secrets.

The issue with the “hidden wisdom” is not the teachings, but the person who will be studying them. After all, these are highly abstract concepts delivered in metaphor and delicate allusions—yet they deal with issues at the very core of Jewish belief. As Nachmanides writes,14 when a person approaches such lofty concepts without the proper guidance—or is not open to such—he inevitably makes his own distorted and fallacious conclusions. Not only does he lose all the benefit the teachings contain, but his distorted ideas are liable to be harmful—both to himself and to others.

Actually, this applies to the study of any part of Torah. The Talmud compares the Torah to a potion. What sort of potion? That depends. If a person merits, it is as a potion of life. But if he does not merit, G‑d forbid, then it is the opposite.

How could the Torah, a tree of life, be a poison? The Zohar, Rabbi Chaim Vital and others describe at length how people who study Torah to feed their own pride and to attain honor and fame are like those who eat the shell of a nut and discard the fruit. The fruit is the closeness to G‑d achieved when immersed in this Torah that He gives us. But this person sees the Torah only as a means to display his own intellectual prowess. The Torah that was meant to provide him a sense of awe and bond him with G‑d instead becomes a source of yet greater arrogance and self-centeredness.

In the case of the “outer wisdom” of Torah, the ruling is that he should study nevertheless. He is capable, after all, of learning with the right attitude, and eventually the Torah itself will lead him to discover that the fruit is better than the shell. At that point, all that he has learned will be redeemed.

The same concern applies to the inner wisdom of Torah—but much more so, since he now prides himself on knowing the secrets of the cosmos when in truth he is spewing nonsense and even heresy. The difference is that in this territory there is no reason to believe that eventually he will have a change in attitude—in most cases, it is simply beyond his capacity to grasp the true meaning.

Yet, eventually, knowing these innermost secrets of Torah will be the principal occupation for all of us. Maimonides writes this explicitly,15 describing the times of Moshiach:

In that era there will be neither famine or war, envy or competition, for good will flow in abundance and all the delights will be freely available as dust. The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G‑d. Therefore, the Jews will be great sages and know the hidden matters, grasping the knowledge of their Creator according to the full extent of human potential, as it says: “The world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the ocean bed.”16

Quite clearly, at that time, knowing G‑d and all the hidden matters will take precedence over the study of the laws of Torah. If the entire world is filled with this knowledge as waters cover the ocean bed, obviously there will no longer be the restrictions of who can study and how many, etc.

Keep in mind that this is the same Maimonides who presented us earlier with all the restrictions on the study of this wisdom—and who also writes categorically that all rules of the Torah apply forever. Obviously then, he also holds that these restrictions are a phenomenon of our times, when most people do not have the mind to fathom these things. In the times of Moshiach, when we will be free of the distractions of “famine or war, envy or competition,” and when “good will flow in abundance," then everyone will be capable of putting their mind to understanding these matters in all their depth—and so that will become the occupation of the entire world.

But how about us? What makes it not only permissible but obligatory to publicize these teachings in our times?

Needs of the Time

There are two ways to answer this question:

The first is that it is a responsive, emergency measure.

Maimonides himself uses this rationale to justify his Guide for the Perplexed—containing what he himself calls “hidden matters.” In his preface, he writes that he is pressed to compose this work due to the number of Jews who have become confused and lost their path.

Maimonides has a precedent. Originally, the twenty-four books of the Hebrew Bible were meant to be studied exclusively from a written scroll, and their commentary and explanation was to be transmitted exclusively as an oral tradition. There were, and still are, many reasons why this had to be the case. The absence of a written text compels the student to review the material until he has gained complete fluency, and to come to a much deeper understanding than he could through book learning;17 it retains the unbounded nature of the oral tradition that is ever expanding through discussion and new applications18—and more.

But when the rabbis saw that Jews were spread throughout many lands, were unable to study with the same focus and clarity, and that these oral teachings were liable to be forgotten, they invoked the words of the Psalmist,19 “It is a time to do something for G‑d, they have made void Your Torah.”20 That certainly doesn’t mean that they overrode any prohibition. To paraphrase Rashi’s explanation: When the times warrant special measures for heaven’s sake, the rabbis will adapt the way we learn Torah. What was good for the student at one time is not what is good for the student at another time, and taking that into account preserves the integrity of Torah.

The same can be said about the restrictions on teaching esoteric matters of Torah: It is also a “time to do something for heaven’s sake.” The rabbis write of the tremendous descent of later generations. We are like a person in a deep slumber or coma, unaware of and unattuned to the holiness of G‑d and His Torah. Our environment—the world at large—has also descended into a much stronger spiritual darkness.

Under such conditions, the only antidote is to unleash the power of the inner light of Torah—the centerpiece of the crown jewels. The inner light of Torah has the power to awaken the inner, hidden powers of the human soul. That light alone has the power to awaken the inner, hidden powers of the human soul. It empowers us to overcome the increasing darkness of our environment and to ride above our personal challenges from within. And it awakens our innate love for G‑d and awe of Him, so that we can serve G‑d with a whole heart.

So at this point, the Baal Shem Tov arrived—a specially gifted soul who had tapped into the very core of the inner Torah, who had grasped the true meaning of the esoteric wisdom and saw how it applied to everyday life. He shared those insights in a manner that preserved their integrity while making them clear and accessible. As long as the messenger remained faithful to the Baal Shem Tov’s newly beaten path, to his explanations and metaphors, the danger of distorting the message was eliminated. And it was vital to spread this message as much as possible, to awaken the Jewish soul and to prevent spiritual disaster.

Needs of the Future

Then there is a second reason: Moshiach doesn’t come without preparation.

Indeed, there is a widespread Jewish custom, cited in Shulchan Aruch, that aside from preparing all our food on the eve of Shabbat, we should taste a little of each dish.21 In this way we fulfill the words of the Shabbat Musaf prayer, “Those who taste of it will be privileged to life.” By tasting of the Shabbat before Shabbat, we are privileged to enjoy Shabbat. By tasting of the times of Moshiach before Moshiach’s times, we are privileged to enjoy life in those times.

Maimonides takes this very practically when he discusses the arrival of Elijah the prophet “to straighten up the Jewish people and prepare their hearts” for the times of Moshiach. Without preparation, the transition into the messianic era would require a drastic change to the natural order. That fits very much with his conception of Moshiach’s arrival—he is of the opinion that Moshiach can arrive without drastic change to the natural order. But for us to suddenly be thrown into a world of wisdom and divine revelation without preparation would certainly require a sudden and radical change of nature. Elijah’s arrival is then crucial, so as to create a transitional stage.

Certainly this applies to the most central element of the messianic era—total immersion of the entire human capacity in the divine knowledge. Again, as described by Maimonides:22

The sages and the prophets did not yearn for the messianic era in order to have dominion over the entire world, to rule over the gentiles, to be exalted by the nations, or to eat and drink and celebrate. Rather, they desired to be free to immerse themselves in Torah and wisdom without any pressures or disturbances . . .

Which means, as he proceeds to explain, that they will be able to immerse themselves in “grasping the hidden matters of the knowledge of their Creator.” For this, certainly there has to be some sort of transitional stage. And that is through openly teaching those aspects of the Torah’s innermost wisdom that have been revealed specifically in these later generations.

Two Reasons Make Two Modalities

Now, just as there are two reasons for this opening up of inner Torah in later generations, so there are two modalities by which it is to be delivered. Let’s compare these two modalities to two modalities of Torah study: Mishnah and Gemara.23

These two are not simply two different texts—they are two different ways of engaging the mind. Mishnah is composed of tight little packages of dense information. It’s mostly about knowledge and basic comprehension. Gemara unfolds that information at great length, taxing the human mind to see this knowledge from all angles and all possibilities. if you just memorize what the Gemara says, even if you comprehend its meaning, you can’t be really said to have learned Gemara. You need to engage higher intellectual skills of abstraction and critical thinking—all of your mind.

The same applies to the inner Torah. It too can be delivered in small, potent packages, or with extensive explanation that engages and nourishes the mind.

That’s the term the Zohar uses. In the Zohar, Elijah the prophet tells Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai that when the Jewish people will be nourished from his book, they will be taken out of their exile with compassion.24 Just as it is with food, so with Torah: In order to nourish the person, it has to be well prepared, chewed and digested. As Rabbi Schneur Zalman wrote in his classic work, the Tanya, when you learn Torah with such mental focus that your mind grasps it, bonds with it and becomes one with it, then the Torah becomes nourishment to the soul.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman introduced a way to fully digest, metabolize and bond with the inner wisdom using human intellect and intuition.

And just as the Baal Shem Tov had introduced a style of precision-aimed droplets that eliminated the hazards of spreading this wisdom, so Rabbi Schneur Zalman introduced his method of Chabad—a way to share the full understanding and depth of the most esoteric teachings so that we can fully digest, metabolize and bond with it using human intellect and intuition.

As for the original, raw texts of the Zohar and the Kabbalists, including the Arizal, these remain in their original status. The Baal Shem Tov himself warned against studying directly from them.25 Without the guidance of the teachings of chassidic masters, it is all too easy to grasp a superficial understanding alone—with all the hazards involved that we discussed above.

. . . With a Difference Between Them

Now if the whole point of opening the floodgates of inner Torah in our times is spiritual resuscitation of the Jewish people, to counter the progression of darkness and descent of the generations, then all that’s needed is to reveal the basic points, paraphrased as much as possible. Because these tiny points of light also reveal the inner luminary of Torah, and that luminary has the power to revive souls. And if that is enough, no more should be revealed.

But what if the inner Torah is being opened up in order to “to straighten up the Jewish people and prepare their hearts” for the revelations of the teachings of the messianic times—a time when we will have a complete grasp in knowledge of G‑d?

That is the meaning of the Maimonides’ words, “according to the full extent of human potential.” His intent is not to limit the grasp we will achieve then, but to say that this grasp will envelop the entire human being with all his potentials and faculties. Similarly, the meaning of his words “as the waters cover the ocean bed” is that just as the ocean is the water that covers its bed, so the very reality of our world will be our comprehension of G‑d.

In that case, then certainly the preparation must be in the same modality—engaging and encompassing the entirety of human capacity. Which is what is accomplished with Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s method, which he called Chabad.

Back to the Stories

Now let’s get back to our question about the two stories: If Rabbi Schneur Zalman had already provided an effective rebuttal to the first accusation, why did he have to answer to another years later? And how could he question whether he had taken the right path?

The answer is that Rabbi Schneur Zalman had not just gone further than the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid, and their students—he had jumped to a whole new track, steam engine and locomotive included. This was sunrise, not just dawn. Not only was it time to awaken Jews from slumber, it was time to begin to greet the new day.

The earlier teachings had been fine, precision-aimed droplets. But now was time for a flood—for total immersion.

You can see this openly in their respective teachings. The content is much the same, but the mode of instruction is entirely different. The earlier teachings had been fine points of light, tightly focused and intense. Rabbi Schneur Zalman began Chabad—an acronym for Chochmah, Binah, Da’at (Conception, Comprehension and Consciousness), the three faculties of the mind. Everything was to be explained at length, looking from all sides and angles. Everything was to penetrate as fully possible into the realm of the human mind—not just the soul’s intuition, but a rigor of intellect to tax and penetrate the human brain.

This new direction brought with it a new opposition from heaven. The parable of crushing the crown jewel for the dying prince was no longer an effective retort.

Why? Because that parable is all about getting “just a drop” of the potion into the mouth of the prince to save his life. The teachings of the Baal Shem Tov were just that—the crown jewel of Torah, G‑d’s most precious gem. As we said, even a drop from this gem is enough to revive the prince.

And it worked: The chassidus of the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid, their students and their students’ students for generations revived the prince. It’s thanks to those teachings that there are thousands and tens of thousands of whole-hearted, G‑d fearing Jews.

So that was good. But now Rabbi Schneur Zalman began to reveal more than just droplets of chassidus. He opened up rivers. Now the protests in heaven were renewed. After all, revealing chassidus so expansively, to the degree of human comprehension that Chabad offers, goes far beyond what is necessary to save the life of the prince.

Now it makes sense that Rabbi Schneur Zalman should once again have some doubts. Perhaps he should not have gone so far. Perhaps this is a sign from heaven that he has to stop.

But his teachers told him otherwise. Through the self-sacrifice he showed sitting in prison, he had won his case Above. Now he could freely reveal chassidus yet more expansively. Because this would be the preparation to “straighten the Jewish people and prepare their hearts” for the revelation of the hidden reasoning and depths of Torah that would be revealed with the coming of Moshiach, “as the waters cover the ocean bed.”

Therefore:

As always, the main thing is how this translates into practice. The Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid instructed their student Rabbi Schneur Zalman that he shouldn’t stop teaching chassidus in his new, open style. Rather, he should take that even further. What does that mean for us?

We have to immerse ourselves now in this inner wisdom in a mode similar to the time to come.

For one thing, it’s a display of how vital it is for us to prepare ourselves for a time soon to come when the world’s entire occupation will be nothing else but the knowledge of G‑d. And the way to do that is through studying the inner Torah in a mode similar to those times—with understanding and comprehension.

If so, we could be speaking even of someone who feels no vital need to study this inner Torah—and certainly not to sink his teeth into it and be nourished by it. He claims he can live without it and be a good Jew. He has halachah, he has Talmud, he has mussar. He reads the chassidus of the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid, and their students. For him, that’s adequate to overcome the manifold darkness of the times immediately before Moshiach.

Even if he is correct, how will he answer to the clear, practical ruling in the Laws of Torah Study that every Jewish soul must learn the entire Torah, “both the basic halachot and the allusions, exegeses and secrets?”26 In another generation, at another time, he had an excuse—a good excuse. He would not have been able to learn it then. But now that it has been made accessible, studying it has become incumbent upon every Jew.

In a letter to his brother-in-law, the Baal Shem Tov told how he had ascended to the chamber of Moshiach in the heavens above, and asked him, “Master, when will you arrive?” The reply: “When your wellsprings will spread to the outside.”

Which means that we must publicize and propagate the wellsprings of chassidus to every place, reaching even to the outside. And then we will soon be privileged with the coming of Moshiach and fulfillment of the prophecy, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the ocean bed.” May it be very soon in our days, mamash.

Footnotes
1.
This is the tradition received by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn from his father, Rabbi Shalom Dovber Schneersohn. See Sefer HaSichot 5703, p. 14.
2.
Ibid.
4.
See Sefer HaMaamarim 5663, pp. 142–145.
5.
Ibid.
7.
Told in Beis Rebbe (Yiddish), sec. 1, chapter 16. This version is from HaTamim, pp. 802ff.
11.
See Rabbi Chaim Vital, introduction to Etz Chaim.
12.
Talmud, Sukkah 42a; Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 245:5.
14.
At the end of his introduction to his commentary on Genesis. Remarkably, Nachmanides (Rabbi Nachman ben Moshe, known as Ramban) actually provides such Kabbalistic teachings, but he prefaces them with this caveat: “Now behold, I bring into a faithful covenant and give proper counsel to all who look into this book not to reason or entertain any thought concerning any of the mystical hints which I write regarding the hidden matters of the Torah, for I do hereby firmly make known to the reader that my words will not be comprehended nor known at all by any reasoning or contemplation, excepting from the mouth of a wise Kabbalist speaking into the ear of an understanding recipient. Reasoning about them is foolishness; any unrelated thought brings much damage and withholds the benefit.”
15.
Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 12:5.
17.
See Maharsha to Talmud, Gittin 60a.
18.
Gur Aryeh (Maharal) to Exodus 34.
20.
Talmud, Gittin 60a.
21.
Pri Etz Chaim 18:83, cited by Magen Avraham to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 250:1.
22.
Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 12:4.
23.
See Mishneh Torah,, Laws of Torah Study 1:11; Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Laws of Torah Study 1:1, 2:1–2.
24.
Tikkunei Zohar, end of tikkun 6.
25.
Cited by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (the Tzemach Tzedek) in Shoresh Mitzvat HaTefillah, end of chapter 2 (printed in Derech Mitzvotecha).
26.
R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Laws of Torah Study 1:4.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Anonymous September 7, 2015

Redundant comment.. Wish there was a way to like comments...
From the 'what can one say' subject line below

- 'To say thank you is a concentrated droplet' My sentiments exactly.. Thanks to Rabbi Freeman! Reply

Avraham West New York City September 2, 2015

Rabbi Freeman,
Thank you for making the subject matter so Geshmacht!
Lots to chew over and digest.
Looking forward to more of the webcasts in the future!

Kesivah Vechasima Tovah! Reply

Rob Mykoff Louisiana, USA September 2, 2015

i agree in this sense... It seems Holy teachings of advanced Spiritual knowledge is good & right in our time for 2 reasons>>
1) due to our massive-weapons & conflicts, the world might not have time to wait--we need the maturity to deal w/ deadly power & pollution,
and 2) our collective Spiritual & scientific knowledge has reached a point in which we are not growing enough--billions of people are overtaken by running-in-circles of saturated ego because good teaching **has been supplanted** by advertising & similar competitive-ego, rat-race mentality. Reply

Yitzchak Chaim September 2, 2015

"Always remember, Yosef Yitzchak," said my teacher, "that it is better to be on the outside looking in, than on the inside looking out..." Reply

Emil Vilnius September 2, 2015

Understanding Now everything from beginning and in russian language.

Please, make a present for russian speaking jews and post this material in russian on ru.chabad.org Reply

sunil subba India September 2, 2015

Thanks for the detailed explanations and the importance of knowing the secrets of Ball Shem Tov concerning chassidus, as it is now accessible.The photographs added an asthetic value and was superb. Reply

Anonymous Jerusalem, Israel September 2, 2015

What can one say? Reading this article makes the heart beat not only faster, but with a different rhythm! Not surprising - Rabbi Freeman embodies the teachings that he espouses. The article makes it possible for the reader to "sink his teeth" into chassidus, after first giving him an appetite to do so. To say "thank you" would be to send a concentrated droplet: we shall have to leave it to the Rav to develop the concept.....
Shannah tova...... Reply

Paul Bourgeois September 1, 2015

Compassion. Reply

Bernie Siegel Earth September 1, 2015

Tzvi Freeman you are a gift Reply