Shabbat Parashat Miketz | 5768
The Approaches of Chasidut, Hitnagdut, and the Mussar Movement - Part I - From Perakim B’Machshevet Yisrael, pp. 515-531
[In his work, Perakim B’Machshevet Yisrael, Rav Yisraeli set the foundations for the study of Machshevet Yisrael (Jewish Philosophy) in the Israeli religious high school system. Each chapter presents a short anthology of sources on the subject matter from great thinkers over the centuries up to modern times, followed by Rav Yisraeli’s summary and perspective on the material. Over the years, we have presented nearly all of the summaries. A chapter that consists entirely of Rav Yisraeli’s analysis (with quotations) is the treatment of a relatively modern topic, three movements of the last few centuries’ approach to the service of Hashem: Chasidut (Hasidism), Hitnagdut, and the Mussar Movement. We will deal with this matter over several weeks, beginning with Rav Yisraeli’s introductory remarks and followed by treatment of each movement.]
Two conceptual approaches have developed in [traditional] Judaism in the last centuries- the teachings of Chasidut and of Mussar. In their basic form, the concepts pre-date the movements, but their formulation and adoption as complete doctrines around which communities of followers with unique styles formed was accomplished only by their respective founders: the Ba’al Shem Tov, founder of Chasidut, and Rav Yisrael of Salant, the head of the Mussar Movement.
Both doctrines stand on two legs in the realm of Torah-true Judaism and rabbinic tradition, yet they are different from and opposed to each other. The differences relate to the choice of the central focus upon which the respective doctrines hinge, each being taken from among the many ideas that the Torah and the Rabbis expressed.
We are not to judge who is right and who grasped the spirit and intention of the Torah. This is not merely because we lack the authority to do so but actually because it is impossible to make such a determination. Each approach was born at its time based on personal and historical factors and was accepted by the group of people for which it was fit to function. In the place that Chasidut grew the Mussar Movement would not have been able to set its roots, and vice versa. Each approach influenced, in its own manner, the conditions of a community and created men of stature and a style of public life that brought blessing to the Jewish nation. Each was able to refresh the thinking and strengthen the dedication to Torah within the set framework of Torah and mitzvot. About such phenomena one can say: “These and those are the words of the living G-d.” Each approach has enriched Jewish philosophy, and the good they produced will be added to the treasury of permanent acquisitions of our nation.
Chasidut- Part I: Chasidut did not view itself as bringing something new to Judaism. The Ba’al Shem Tov is quoted as saying that his awakening of the desiring hearts is neither new nor an appendage but just reminded and strengthened the belief that was lost slowly over time. However, many viewed it as something new.
Chasidutplaces all of the Torah on one leg – love of Hashem. The mainstay of Chasidic thought is the kabbalistic concept: “There is no place that is bereft of His Presence.” Chasidut sees internalizing this concept and placing it at the center of man’s service of Hashem in keeping Torah and mitzvot as the main path of Judaism.
The Ba’al Hatanya uses this concept to explain the pasuk that one should contemplate that “Hashem is G-d, there is nothing besides Him.” The whole world contains nothing independent; all is only Divine Light. The word of Hashem that formed the world continues to sustain it every moment. “If we could only see the life and spirituality of every living thing as it flows from the utterances of “Hashem’s mouth” we would see that there is no physicality in the world. Understanding this concept is basic to the depth of the mitzva of believing in the unity of Hashem.
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