In a faraway land lived three sisters whose mother had left them beautiful long and elegant dresses of fine and rare material. They cherished these dresses dearly until, one day, they heard that in America the style was to wear short skirts. Now their dresses no longer seemed so beautiful.

The youngest sister said, "I will be smart." And she took scissors and shortened all her dresses.

The middle sister said, "That is not so smart. That's not respectful to Mom, and besides, it doesn't even look like the real American stuff." So, instead, she left her dresses with a money lender as collateral and bought real American stuff with the borrowed money.

The oldest sister just kept on wearing the same old dresses. She usually wore a long overcoat or housecoat to hide them and stayed inside.

Eventually came the day when the news arrived: Short skirts were no longer in fashion in America . Now smart ladies were wearing long and elegant dresses of fine materials. The two younger sisters looked at themselves and at each other and their short skirts didn't look so good any more.

The middle sister thought that maybe her mother had given her dresses like the new fashion. They were somewhere, but she couldn't remember where. She didn't bother approaching her older sister, for what did she know about fashions? So she went to the house of her younger sister and asked, "Remember the beautiful dresses our mother left us?"

"Sure," was the reply. "I'm wearing them. You thought you were smart and threw them out, but I kept them."

The middle sister looked at the short skirts of her younger sister and was filled with doubts. Was this really all her mother had left her?

Before we end the story, let me tell you what it's about.

When a new wave of thought takes root in a society, a common strategy to discredit the old school is by "marginalizing" it. By stating and restating as often as possible—until people begin to take it for granted—that the old school is really just a fringe group. They are not mainstream. They never were. The new school is the logical extension of everything that ever was. The old school never really belonged to any stream of anything.

Never was such a fabrication so effective as with the marginalizing of Jewish spirituality. So effective that today, when a young Jew comes looking for meditation, mysticism, for food for the soul, he is told, innocently—by people who really believe what they are saying, "That's not what Judaism is about. You'll need to look elsewhere to find that."

Today we are finally beginning to take all the beautiful artifacts of our ancestors' spiritual wisdom and enlightenment out of the closet, dusting them off and donning them for all to see. Yet even now we perpetuate the myth of spiritual marginalism by touting all this as alternative Judaism. As though it were something that belonged to an isolated fringe of semi-heretics, only now discovered in some obscure genizah.

The 18th of the Hebrew month of Elul is the birthday, in 1698, of the founder of the Chassidic movement, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov. On that same date 47 years later was born Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of the Chabad branch of Chassidism. When we ask a Jew to come celebrate Elul 18 as the day that opened the way for the innermost secrets of the Torah to gush forth into the mind, heart and behavior of every person on the planet, he says, "But let me learn some mainstream Judaism first, before I get into all this spirituality and mysticism stuff." When we tell him that everything a Jew does is to purify the world and prepare it for a universal era of enlightenment, he says, "Oh, you must be one of those Lubavitch Chassidics."

Lets get this straight: Judaism always was and is a spiritual and mystic way of life. It is also a material, down-to-earth perspective of things. It is both, wondrously balancing the two in exquisite harmony. The same great sages who prayed with ecstasy to achieve mystic union, they were the ones who dealt with the nitty minutiae of practical halacha. The Talmud that deals with selling and buying, loans and property rights, is the Talmud that discusses spiritual purity and impurity, enlightenment and out-of-body survival. Often on the same page.

Chassidism is not a fringe group. It was the popular mode of Judaism for most Jews of Eastern Europe for a significant piece of history. If your grandparents lived in Poland or Russia or thereabouts, they were probably chassidim. And if they were not, their thought processes were nevertheless profoundly affected by the mystical teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.

An age of universal enlightenment is as mainstream as the final chapter of Maimonides Code, where it is discussed as the ultimate goal of Judaism. It is the major theme of all the prophets and sages and was the dream of your great-grandparents.

It's just that there came a time when the spiritual was no longer in vogue. It was an embarrassment. We didn't want to accept that our ancestors had ever believed in such unscientific notions as angels, life after death, other worlds, and so on. After all, these things had been debunked by modern science.

So we conveniently pretended they never were. And if they were, they came from somewhere else. And they were adopted only by an extreme, fanatic fringe. Not mainstream.

Today, modern science has been knocked to the ground off its pedestal, where it lies babbling to itself about multiple dimensions and worlds, folds in space, indeterminacy, acausality and a host of other counter-intuitive notions that throw into question everything we ever thought about the material universe about us. Now, the mystics view of the cosmos doesn't look so far off after all. Now it's possible to really understand how the material world we perceive is only a facade for something much greater. Now spirituality is back in vogue.

Middle sister comes to little sister looking for a clue as to where all that spirituality and mystic wisdom is hidden. Little sister continues living in her delusion, that her sterile, outdated life-view is the authentic article. But for middle sister there is still hope.

You finish the story.

Or better, go sit down with someone and learn chassidut together. Our Jewish Spiritual Heritage.