Maamarei Admur HaZakein,
, p. 335ff.;
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. X, p. 264ff.;
Inyono Shel Toras HaChassidus, sec. 3

Once a Reform Rabbi came to the Rebbe for yechidus. He told the Rebbe that he was impressed with the serenity and peace of mind that he had seen among the chassidim, and yet he wondered if it was not naiveté. Was it only because they were sequestered from the modern world that they were able to radiate such inner tranquillity?

The Rebbe responded: “It’s not naiveté. They don’t have a dichotomy.”

He continued to explain that most people are torn by a centrifugal conflict that separates their minds from their souls, their principles from their desires. Chassidim, by contrast, are characterized by integrity, and that produces the peace of mind so envied by the Rabbi.

A Perplexing Statement

The Ramak writes:1 “Whoever does not study [the teachings of the Kabbalah] is a heretic.” On the surface, this statement is difficult to understand, for throughout the centuries, many Jews, including even some of our Torah leaders, did not study this branch of wisdom. Can we legitimately say that all of these people are heretics?

We can resolve this question on the basis of the explanations given above2 that there are two dimensions to our faith:

a) belief that stems from the soul, the fundamental commitment a Jew has to G‑d because he is a Jew and his soul is an “actual part of G‑d from above.”

b) the efforts to internalize that belief through knowledge and intellect.

Every Jew whether or not he has studied Kabbalah believes, because that is the essence of his being. When, however, he attempts to probe intellectually and comprehend the fundamental principles on which that belief is based, errors can be made.

G‑d is G‑d. He is infinite and transcends any definitions that can be offered by the logical frameworks that mortals can conceive. As such, when we begin to try to explain how He is G‑dlike, we are going to encounter conceptual difficulties. Ultimately, as long as we rely on our own minds, we are bound to compromise on certain elements of His infinity. For try as we might to use abstraction, we understand things in our own terms, and a limited human being cannot understand G‑d.

The Limits of Mortal Wisdom

Take, for example, two basic concepts: the oneness of G‑d, the idea that He is unified with every created being, and the construct that He does not change.

Both are essential to our faith. If G‑d was not one with every entity in existence, there would be other gods. For that would imply that an entity that is not one with Him exists independently. And what is another god, if not an entity that exists independent of Him? Even if we would posit that He is more powerful than the independent entity and that independent entity is subservient to Him, we would still have a G‑d and a demigod. Judaism does not countenance such belief.

Similarly, the concept that G‑d cannot change is fundamental to the definition of G‑d. For change implies that the entity which is changed is influenced by the entity that changes it. If we say that another entity can influence G‑d, we return to the situation where G‑d, though more powerful, must share His authority with demigods who can affect Him and sway His decisions.

Now how can G‑d be one with every entity, control each one with careful providence, give reward and punishment, and yet not change?

Nor can we say that this is possible because there are multiple dimensions within G‑d that allow Him to do this. For G‑d must be an integral whole. Otherwise there would be many gods, for each of the separate elements of His being would be a god.

And so, the questions will lead to a quandary. That is the Ramak ’s intent in saying that without studying Kabbalah, a person will ultimate find himself within the borders of heresy. From the standpoint of faith, such a person will have no difficulty. But when a person operates from the perspective of intellect and he tries to resolve these questions based on mortal logic alone, he will come to heretical conclusions. For mortal wisdom cannot comprehend G‑dliness and the explanations the person will give will either compromise on G‑d’s oneness, allowing for the existence of entities that are separate from Him, or they will compromise on His integrity, either allowing for the possibility that He changes or viewing Him as a composite of several different qualities.

Spiritual Schizophrenia

Indeed for these reasons, there are certain approaches in Torah that advise their adherents to avoid the study of such issues. “You will not reach satisfactory answers,” they warn. “Accept the axioms on faith without probing deeper, and devote your intellectual energies to the study of the Talmud and its codes.”

Chassidus does not accept this approach. Firstly, as the Rambam writes:3 “One loves the Holy One, blessed be He, only through the knowledge one has of Him. The extent of one’s knowledge determines the degree of love.” And he writes:4

What is the path [to attain] love and fear of Him? When a person contemplates His wondrous and great deeds… and appreciates His infinite wisdom… he will immediately love, praise, and glorify Him….

When he [continues] to reflect on these same matters, he will immediately recoil in awe and fear.

Thus since our love and fear of G‑d is dependent on our comprehension of His greatness, and these are mitzvos that we are obligated to fulfill, we cannot avoid these issues. Instead, we must devote our energies to this endeavor, extending ourselves intellectually to approach these truths.

Moreover, if a person does not attain intellectual understanding of these issues, he will be functioning with an inner dichotomy. His mind and understanding will be at cross purposes with His belief and practice. This is undesirable. Instead, a person’s soul, mind, and heart should function in harmony, with the inner belief sparked by the soul being manifest in the person’s thoughts and feelings.

Understanding That Transcends Logic

The question arises: How is that possible? As stated above, there is no way in which ordinary mortal understanding can appreciate G‑d in His infinity. The question is real and, in truth, on his own, man can never do so. G‑d, however, gave man the Torah, His own wisdom. His wisdom is one with Him, and by studying the Torah, a person is in effect comprehending G‑dliness.5

Now, most of the dimensions of Torah study focus on subjects and disciplines other than G‑dliness. Simply put, when a child studies the Chumash, he is learning a chronicle of our people’s history. When a youth studies the Talmud, his mind is engrossed in a treatment of a subject of business law. Yes, he is comprehending G‑d and His wisdom, but in those disciplines, He and His wisdom are enclothed in a specific form, a codelike system that prevents us from appreciating the G‑dliness directly.6 Kabbalah, and to a greater extent Chassidus,7 focus on G‑dliness as He is, bringing spiritual concepts into a framework where we can grasp and comprehend them.

These Torah insights are not the products of man reaching out with his mortal intellect and trying to comprehend an unlimited G‑d. Instead, they are granted to us because G‑d since He is truly unlimited can also manifest Himself in intellect.8 This remakes the definition of intellect, allowing our minds to be shaped by G‑dliness that transcends any definition.9 We are given concepts that we can grasp with our powers of understanding and logic, yet they have as their source and indeed, through their comprehension, they connect the student to that source G‑dliness that transcends all boundaries.

A Well-Lit Path

Studying such teachings enables us to internalize our faith, for they provide us with an intellectual framework of reference through which to filter the fundamental relationship to G‑d that we all share. That said, even the concepts of Chassidus have to be studied with care. For Chassidus speaks in abstractions, using metaphors and analogies. We must carefully think over these ideas, appreciating that every metaphor has a fundamental concept that it is trying to communicate and an external form.10 We must be careful to “allow the flour-dust to pass through and retain the fine flour.”11

This is a delicate process where errors can be made. For that reason, Chassidus has always emphasized the importance of studying under a Rebbe and a mashpia, whose guidance will enable a student to appreciate concepts in the desired manner.

The intent is not to parrot the ideas as they are stated in the sources, but rather to internalize them and explain them in one’s own words and thoughts. This is the only way Chassidus can produce the integrity of soul, mind, and heart mentioned above. On the other hand, this individual endeavor should be guided by those who have already achieved these objectives. For their experience and guidance will keep a student focused on the essence of the spiritual concepts he is studying.