In the misnagdish1 world, the old question has now been revived: “What did Chassidus offer that Mussar didn’t already provide?”

In an earlier era, leading Torah scholars held that a person’s main obligation was to study Torah, and in order to make reparation for sins and to refine their character,2 people used to undertake various kinds of self-mortification and arduous, self-imposed exile.3 In those days, when a person studied a chapter of Chovos HaLevavos, a passage from Shaarei Teshuvah by Rabbeinu Yonah, or part of Reishis Chochmah,4 it affected him deeply. It left him with a contrite and humbled heart, and to a certain extent refined his character. So when the Alter Rebbe propagated his approach to Divine service – namely, the teachings of Chabad Chassidus – the leading Torah scholars of that time were preoccupied for about twenty years with a cosmic question: “With what does Chassidus improve on Mussar?”

However, within a few years, the Alter Rebbe’s Tanya was widely disseminated throughout all Jewish circles, from the foremost geonim to the plain Ein-Yaakov folk,5 and the same period saw the shameful failure of those who opposed the teachings and the approach of Chassidus. At that time, with G‑d-given power, the school of thought taught by the chassidic movement at large and by Chabad Chassidus in particular occupied center stage in the spiritual life of the Jewish world. It was then that the above question began to pale and fade away, except among the residual diehard6 misnagdim who occasionally released toxic phrases against Chassidus and chassidim. The Alter Rebbe’s Tanya, the Sefer shel Beinonim, with its explanations of how a Jew should live his physical and spiritual life, and its wide-ranging advice on how one can uncover his mortal failings and correct them, opened the eyes of tens of thousands of Jews throughout the Diaspora and in Eretz Yisrael. In the Tanya, great and small alike had a guide-book for life. It showed how a towering gaon is obligated to be an oved HaShem, a servant of G‑d, and how a very ordinary and unscholarly Jew can also be an oved HaShem, a servant of G‑d.

The original contribution of Chassidus, in a world that already had Mussar, was by then clear to everyone. The community of chassidim in general, and of Chabad chassidim in particular, grew in quantity and in quality, and this G‑d-given success sparked a suppressed enmity towards them.

* * *

According to a classic maxim,7 the only kind of hatred that cannot be remedied is hatred spawned by envy. Most regrettably, that pungent maxim included even the towering giants8 among the proponents of Mussar. My notes include a lengthy account of the journey made by my great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, to Minsk and Vilna,9 whose leading scholars received him with reverence. At one of the farbrengens that was attended by a select elite, one of the elder geonim of Minsk, who was a renowned mentor of Mussar, raised the old question anew: “In a world that already has Mussar, what original contribution does Chassidus have to offer?”

When the Tzemach Tzedek then asked him whether he had studied Tanya, and the answer was negative, the Tzemach Tzedek said: “On you, Chassidus in fact has had no effect. Moreover, I doubt whether Mussar likewise has had any effect on you…”

(That elder’s provocative question was used fifty or sixty years ago by that segment of the community of misnagdim who were ill-intentioned fomenters of controversy. The result of their guile, which misled the sound and innocent part of the community of misnagdim, was long-lasting disgrace.)

The Tzemach Tzedek concluded: “The original contribution of Chassidus is as follows. The approach of Mussar crushes a person, deflates him, and makes him poke around in his garbage. Chassidus explains; it raises him up; it uncovers the hidden faculties that enable him to heal mortal blemishes and to aspire to be higher and more refined.”

* * *

That was the situation almost a hundred years ago, and earlier. In the course of the period since that time, by virtue of G‑d’s kindness, our Rebbes – the Rebbes of Chassidus in general and of Chabad Chassidus – have expounded the teachings of Chassidus in a manner that portrays its face clearly and explicitly. Thus, there is no longer any room for the above old question. As to the approach of Musssar, it has also changed considerably in the course of this period, and it continues to change.

The emphasis of Chassidus on ahavas Yisrael, as propagated by the Baal Shem Tov, was further disseminated by the varied endeavors of his disciples, the members of the Holy Brotherhood, and in turn by their disciples. This approach sought to bring unlettered Jews closer to Torah observance and to eradicate ignorance, by relating to them lovingly and by calling forth Heaven’s blessings upon them. It was this brotherly approach that undermined the formerly widespread tradition of the itinerant preachers,10 who in their stern ethical sermons11 would constantly belittle and even curse their ignorant listeners.

Though the leading and influential scholars of the time opposed the rise of Chassidus, they witnessed the catastrophic failure of those harsh and grim maggidim. They therefore sought to uplift the approach of Mussar and to endow the Jewish multitudes with the valid view that Mussar arouses people to serve the Creator, and that all Jews, even the greatest geonim and tzaddikim, need the help of Mussar in their Divine service. Accordingly, they promoted the rise [of a new and milder mold] of ethical mentors who were known as mochichim, “admonishers.” These mochichim were characterized by refined conceptions and beautiful thoughts, as in the parables which the Maggid of Dubno12 brilliantly matched to the ethical lessons that he wanted to convey.

The approach of Mussar was highly regarded by the foremost scholars, especially after the Gaon of Vilna invited the Maggid of Dubno to come and rebuke him.13 Rebuke thus became the main ingredient of Divine service.

Some years later the approach of Mussar reverted to its former face, elaborating on the punishments awaiting the wicked and the rewards awaiting the righteous. Now, however, there were no curses and audiences were not humiliated. This aspect of Mussar was mainly promoted by the Maggid of Kelm,14 with his exceptional gift for eloquent rebuke. Whenever he portrayed the Seven Chambers of Gehenna and the range of punishments administered to its inmates, and especially when he described their excruciating pain and heartrending shrieks, his audiences were seized with terror and dread. They sobbed and lamented. Some even fainted. Likewise, when that same wordsmith portrayed the Seven Chambers of Gan Eden, with its diamond-studded thrones of gold in richly-plastered rooms, with a massive crown atop every head, and with its luxurious pleasures, his audiences basked in intense delight. This emotion peaked when he described the Banquet in the Future Era, at which the righteous are served the meat of the Leviathan and the Wild Ox, and savor richly-aged wine. His description aroused religious fervor and awe of Heaven.

Thus, generation after generation, the teachings of Mussar evolved step by step, to the point that some of its scholarly proponents began to borrow chassidic concepts. The Alter Rebbe’s Tanya was admitted to the cabinet that held the classics of Mussar. Over the last fifteen years in particular, when delivering their sermons and talks in the leading yeshivos, those scholars have made use of explanations and inspirational teachings borrowed from Chassidus.

Yet after all of that, people still ask, unabashed: “What does Chassidus accomplish that Mussar hasn’t accomplished?”

When a proponent of Mussar asks that question, this alone is an explicit indication of what Mussar has accomplished… When one sees what a student of Tomchei Temimim looks like, and observes his G‑d-fearing conduct, there is no further need to discuss what Chassidus accomplishes. Chassidus vitalizes a Jew’s genuine, iron-clad faith in G‑d, and it vitalizes his love of the Torah and his observance of the mitzvos. It vitalizes his supreme and sensitive love for his fellow Jew, and his obstinate insistence that “no matter what, I am a Jew – everywhere and always!”

The above question, “What does Chassidus accomplish that Mussar hasn’t accomplished?” has a newer version that I heard from a prominent American rabbi: “Why should one study Chassidus when Mussar exists?” To ask such questions in this generation is an outright expression (Please don’t take offense!) of brotherly hatred that sprouted from vestigial seeds found in an unwholesome well.

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Ten years elapsed from the time I left this country in Tammuz, 5690 (1930), until I returned here in Adar Sheni, 5700 (1940). During that time I was thinking about how Torah study in the spirit of the awe of Heaven could be built up in America. With G‑d’s help I built Chabad here, via the rabbanim and the alumni of Tomchei Temimim. My hope was that the students who had been educated by those elder rabbanim and alumni would become the conduits that would bring the life-giving waters of the teachings of Chassidus, and the spiritual lifestyle of chassidim, to the local bnei Torah, the fulltime Torah students. My hope was that those students in turn, who had absorbed the spirit of Tomchei Temimim, would themselves become beacons in their communities, lighting up Jewish homes by the observance of the practical mitzvos.

However, “There are many thoughts in the heart of man, but the counsel of G‑d will prevail.”15 Leaving Poland for Latvia16 was as difficult for me as leaving Russia.17 Just as I left Russia under coercion, I had likewise left Poland for Latvia under coercion. And Divine Providence has now brought me here, to America, to work on organizing endeavors for the dissemination of Torah study in the spirit of the awe of Heaven, and to buttress the observance of Yiddishkeit. At the first meeting held at my temporary address in the Greystone Hotel in New York, I discussed in broad terms the aims of my coming here. I explained that I came to this country on a mission of Divine Providence, just as Divine Providence leads every Jew to a particular location for a spiritual purpose. For thus it is written: “By G‑d are a man’s steps made firm.”18 I did not come here only in order to muster support for Torah students abroad, but also to broaden the tents of Torah study here in this country.

Ever since that first meeting, I have seen and experienced the displeasure and opposition of some people, but have overlooked it. Rather, with a heavy and bruised heart on account of the material predicament of our fellow Jews abroad and the spiritual predicament of our fellow Jews in this country, I prayed with tears. (Helping our fellow Jews stranded abroad is of course a veritable instance of pidyon shevuyim, the mitzvah of ransoming captives.) I begged my holy forebears to intercede and arouse Heaven’s mercies on their lone orphaned descendant, requesting that he not be swept along in the current of turbulent waters. I begged that those forebears should secure Heaven’s blessings of strength and success for him and for his co-workers in their wide-ranging efforts to propagate G‑d-fearing Torah study, and to fortify the observance of Yiddishkeit.

The toil invested in these efforts over the last two years has, thank G‑d, yielded rich fruit. My labors, both in speech and through various periodicals, have exploded the false slogan that “America is different!” That is, the argument that in America it is impossible to be the same kind of Jew, with the same kind of life and education, as in the Old Country. These not-quite two years, ever since those still-current periodicals were founded, have seen the collapse of that pillory – the shameful foothold of various American slogans, such as: “America is different”; “In America it’s permissible”; “In America, giving charity compensates for the lack of mitzvah-observance”; and so forth.

These two years of work have been blessed from Above with spiritual success, which everyone can see is not a mortal accomplishment. Without a doubt, it came about in the merit of the Divine compassion aroused by my holy forebears, the Rebbes. The work was carried out under harsh conditions, in the face of antagonism and active disruption, as you yourselves know. (This is all systematically recorded in my daily diary entries. All the co-workers are named there on the page of honor and merit, and all the disrupters are named on the pillory page.) Yet despite all that, everyone can see the Divine salvation which, both directly and indirectly, impacted the endeavors that were made in the cause of the Torah and Yiddishkeit.

* * *

I have now come to Chicago to ask the local Jews to co-operate with me in support of the Central Tomchei Temimim Lubavitcher Yeshivos. First of all, I would like to clarify my stance on the principles that guide my activity in all the areas that affect Jewry in general, both spiritually and materially. My work plans for the promotion of G‑d-fearing Torah study and Yiddishkeit are based on the principles that I received in the course of the twenty-five years during which I was privileged to be of service to my holy father, and to leading rabbanim, in activities for the public good.

The Alter Rebbe, author of the Tanya and the Shulchan Aruch, devotes a passage in one of his letters19 to explain that one should not feel anger or bear a grudge against one’s antagonists, because they are merely fulfilling a mission. In our case this means that one should not feel anger, but should deplore and pity those who have chosen such a mission – to oppose the dissemination of G‑d-fearing Torah study and the bolstering of mitzvah-observance in the same spirit as in the Old Country. I am grieved by those who oppose that style of disseminating devout Torah study in the spirit of Tomchei Temimim, who oppose endeavors to fortify the observance of Yiddishkeit in the spirit of Lubavitch. I feel pity for the state to which they have fallen, and for their pettiness. They are indeed to be pitied.

* * *

You, who are among America’s leading rabbanim, should – and must – be sensitive to the teaching of the Sages on the phrase, “and I shall appoint them as your heads.”20 Rabbanim in general and prominent rabbanim in particular ought to grasp how serious is the spiritual plight of American Jewry. They ought to undertake real work in the cause of Torah study and mitzvah observance, just as Torah leaders used to do in the Old Country.

Rabbanim, prominent rabbanim! Fulfill your holy obligation to the G‑d of Israel, to the Torah of Israel, and to the people of Israel – with words and with action! For the last year and five months I have been urging rabbanim, and expecting of them, as ideological guides and leaders, to take a firm stand regarding kosher schooling. When it comes to checking the kosher status of what may be put into Jewish saucepans, there are plenty of supervisors and rabbanim who give their stamps of approval, but when it comes to checking what may be put into the heads of little Jewish children, there are no supervisors and no stamps of approval.21

On many occasions I have spoken out publicly about the uncourageous attitude of those rabbanim and shochtimwho are embarrassed by having a Jewish appearance, with beard and peyos and tzitzis. I have focused their attention on the issue of Jewish pride. I have not spoken – and am not speaking – about the halachic issue of whether the final ruling follows the more stringent authorities or the more lenient authorities. I have spoken only about the issue of Jewish pride. Why is Jewish pride22 being dishonored? Outside their synagogues, such rabbanim are ashamed of their office as the rabbis of the Jewish people. They want to merge inconspicuously with everyone else in the street. Their hairdo makes every effort to ensure that no one should recognize that they hold office as spiritual leaders of the Jewish people. A Jewish heart bleeds at the sight. Gentile spiritual leaders are proud of their vestments. They don’t seek to merge inconspicuously with everyone else in the street, but bear their spiritual duties in the street and in society at large exactly as in the church. The Jewish rabbi, by contrast,23 being deficient in courage and self-esteem, checks before he goes outside that his spiritual office should not be apparent. And by doing so he is profaning Jewish pride.

Not only does this lack of Jewish pride and courage (Begging their pardon!) indicate a petty underestimation of their spiritual office; it also exerts an undesirable influence on their communities and leads to the transgression of various Rabbinic and Scriptural prohibitions.24 There is obviously no logic in the common expression that “if the spiritual leader is allowed to do it, so am I,” because there is a vast difference between what the spiritual leader is doing and what the congregant is doing. The spiritual leader is acting according to the halachah and is following the ruling of the lenient authorities; his congregant, however, who in his ignorance sees only external appearances, can come to transgress a prohibition explicit in the Torah. For example: Whereas the rabbanim and Torah scholars who shave their beards do so in a manner that meets the requirements of the law, as defined by those who permit [the use of shaving machines], their congregants in their ignorance shave their beards more simply [i.e., by razor]. Thus, since doing so entails the transgression of five prohibitions, thousands of Scriptural prohibitions are transgressed as a result of their rabbi’s negligence.

Moreover, a number of men whom I have urged to observe the laws of family purity25 have told me that when the time comes for a visit to the mikveh, their wives ask: If the rabbi, the spiritual leader, is embarrassed by wearing a beard as in the Yiddishkeit of the Old World, why should they conduct their lives according to the Yiddishkeit of the Old World?

* * *

I am not going to apologize for confronting rabbanim with expectations of change. I have done so in the past, I am doing so now, and I shall continue to do so, more and more intensely – until the G‑d-fearing rabbanim will (with G‑d’s help) become more determined, and the rabbinic role will be restored to its proper height. I regard it as my duty and mission to address rabbanim and yeshivah heads and yeshivah students, and to expect them to commit to certain changes and to redirect their endeavors, particularly in the cause of kosher schooling. This duty and this mission I must (with G‑d’s help) fulfill, whatever the circumstances.

I am not daunted by hard work nor by being disrupted by antagonists. In the course of my work for the public good over the last 46 years, from Tammuz 5695 (1895) until Shvat 5702 (1942), I have experienced all kinds of times, antagonists, libels and imprisonments. Yet through all of that, G‑d has enabled me to succeed in carrying out the mission that was entrusted to me. I am certain that His help will enable my labors to influence the rabbanim and the yeshivos appropriately, and that within a year or two at most, the difference will be noticeable. The achievements of the past two years, in the merit of my holy forebears, the Rebbes, reinforce my hope that within a year or two the results will speak for themselves. And I am certain that the banner of the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah of Lubavitch, which has now been raised in America, too, will continue to flourish from month to month and from year to year.