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what Chassidim or Chassidut are?

Friday, 19 June, 2020 - 5:52 am

If you ask the average person in the street what Chassidim or Chassidut are, he or she will probably say that “they are people who are happy, people who dance and sing.” Others might say that they are “Lebedike Yidden” – lively Jews. Even among intelligent, knowledgeable people, I often find that many don’t really have much of an idea as to what Chassidim are, and what Chassidut means.

Joy and dancing are wonderful things. As a Torah-observant Jew I think that these simply have to be an integral part of Jewish life. But the joyousness is merely the result of the teachings of Chassidut. Through them, one can access a rich inner world. A person who learns Chassidut acquires a new, different outlook, a deep and hidden one, on almost everything in his life – and first and foremost, on Torah and Mitzvot.

The books “Likutei Torah” and “Torah Or”, and, of course, the Tanya, open the door to a deeper meaning of one’s life and one’s goals in this world, giving a different perspective on prayers, the Torah, the Mitzvot, the holidays and Shabbat. Every Biblical personality acquires a new aspect – a different, internal one, sometimes the complete opposite of what the simple revealed text seems to imply. For one who learns Chassidut, Moshe Rabbeinu (our teacher) is a completely different person from the Moshe Rabbeinu of the non-Chassidic learner. And the same is true of the forefathers – Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, and so on.

Why am I mentioning this this particular week? Because in this week’s Parasha, Shelach, the difference between the revealed Torah and the hidden Torah peaks. In the Parasha, we read about the “spies” – twelve princes who were sent to check out the land. And when they returned after 40 days, ten of them spoke negatively about it, decided on their own that there is no chance of conquering it, and even incited the people against Moshe Rabbeinu! This act of theirs is never forgotten – and the poor Children of Israel had to roam the desert for 40 years because of it.

According to the Inner Torah – Chassidut – the spies are viewed as elevated, pure and holy people. All they wanted in life was to cleave to Hashem and His Torah, to ascend in their holiness and Torah observance. But they understood very well, that once they settled in the Land of Israel, they would be dealing with the realities of cattle, fields and trees, wheat and bread – the everyday life familiar to us all.

It might be a good life, but would not be easy under such circumstances to engage only in matters of purity and holiness, the Torah and the Mitzvot. Especially when one compares it to their situation in the desert, where they received the “Man” from heaven every morning, and water from Miriam’s well. The spies made a simple calculation that spiritually it would be better for the nation to remain in the desert and not enter the Promised Land.

Their mistake, according to the teachings of Chassidut, was that in the end the goal is to live spiritual Jewish lives within the framework of this material world. For, unlike other religions, Judaism believes in connecting the material and the spiritual. And therefore, the desert might be a nice place for spiritual endeavors, but the main thing is to enter a settled land, to plow and to sow, to work and to earn a living, and in the midst of this demanding everyday life to be a proud and upright Jew, who finds time to attend a Torah class during the week.

Someone once said to me in yiddish: “Es is shver zu sein a Yid, aber es loint sich – it’s hard to be a Jew, but it pays…”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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