Shabbat Parashat Shemot| 5768
The Approaches of Chasidut, Hitnagdut, and the Mussar Movement –part IV
(from Perakim B’Machshevet Yisrael, pp. 515-531)
Hitnagdut (Opposition [to Chasidism]) I
[After discussing Chasidut over the last three weeks, we now appropriately begin to discuss Hitnagdut (the approach of the Mitnagdim), which basically pre-dated Chasidut as normative Judaism but became labeled as a movement when it served to oppose Chasidut.]
Different streams of Chasidut that developed certain of its foundations to an exaggerated extreme aroused the zealous anger of many congregations. These were often people to whom Torah study was of primary importance and for whom Torah giants of moral greatness held a central place in their lives.
Chasidut’sdemand for extra concentration in tefilla caused preparations that dragged on past the time of tefilla. The demand for special concentration also encouraged the formation of special minyanim (shtiblach) and a change in the text of the prayers, from the accepted Ashkenaz version to that of the Ari. Even that was not firmly set, with many Chasidic courts feeling they could insert their own changes in textsthat had been sanctified by generations upon generations. The shtiblach served not only for prayer but also as meeting places for Chasidim.
The idea of serving Hashem with joy was at times bolstered artificially by drinking whiskey, etc. The belittling of Torah study and Torah scholars and the placing of stress mainly on service and concentration threatened to usher in a generation of ignorant people missing the influence of Torah. Finally, the unlimited belief in the tzaddik and his individual spiritual abilities irrespective of greatness in Torah raised the possibility that people of questionable authority to lead masses would serve without the prospect of criticism and review. Considering that the status of tzaddik passed by means of inheritance, combined with the lack of review of his actions, Mitnagdim viewed there to be too much room for abuses by leaders of unsuspecting people.
The main battle against Chasidut in the general sense was against the foundations that were viewed as dangerous: belittling of accepted laws, joy that contains even elements of light-headedness for the purpose of serving Hashem, and unbridled belief in the tzaddik. However, one should also mention that the very notions upon which Chasidut was based and in which it saw the main path of service of Hashem, also were viewed as misleading and incorrect to a significant degree.
Expression to the philosophy of Hitnagdut can be found in Nefesh Hachayim, the work of Rav Chayim of Volozhin, the Gra’s top disciple, who founded the famous Volozhiner Yeshiva based on the sketch provided in that book. Nefesh Hachayim does not reject the main Chasidic principle, which stems from the Kabbala, that there is no place bereft of the Divine. However, he does not agree to place this idea at the center of a person’s Divine service. He argued that occupying oneself with this idea should be reserved for the wise who can understand the full depth of this concept. When one understands this concept incorrectly, he can come to believe that sin and evil thoughts are also of Divine origin and thus need not be battled, which is a very destructive misconception. He points out that there is a great difference between absolute truth, from Hashem’s perspective, and truth from the perspective of His creations. From Hashem’s perspective, Hashem’s presence is pervasive and there is great unity in the world. However, in respect to the created, he was made as an individual being. This is how he sees himself in the world and sees the world as a whole, and this is how he must view things. Hashem was able to “limit Himself” so that reality is seen to us as it is seen, and “upon this aspect the order of the obligation of our behavior was built.”
Top of page
Print this page
Send to friend
This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated in loving memory of