Friday, June 06, 2008

Chassidus Today

In honor of the Yartzeit of The Baal Shem Tov

The Baal Shem Tov was one of those mythical larger than life figures in our history. He is probably the single most influential figure in the past 500 years and the ripples of his teachings are very much alive today. And yet so little is known of him. He didn’t leave any writings, we only have what his students quote from him. And the tales told about him are so fantastical, they’re almost impossible to believe. This adds to his mystique.
Already 2 generations after The Baal Shem Chassidus was beginning to splinter into different groups. And while they can be as divergant as fierce and demanding Kotzk to laid back Breslov, there is a strain that runs through it all.
Chassidus simultaneously appeals to the peasantry thirsting for a taste of spirituality and joy and the elite searching for spiritual perfection.
That is the miracle of Chassidus.
That one philosophy can be so populist and at the same time so elitist.

The basics in Chassidus are

1. Putting an emphasis on the pnimius. The inner and deeper understandings of things we do. 2 examples of this is learning Torah L’shma and studying some form of Kabbala and Chassidus to understand the depth of the things we do and say.

2. Joy. Being far removed from deperession and stress. Finding an inner sense of peace by forging a “personal” connection to Hashem. Instead of an awe-inspiring connection. Chassidim tended to highlight the approachability of Hashem and the ability to connect with and communicate on a more personal level thus finding peace and joy.

3. Having a Rebbe. Attaching yourself to a Tzadik who you are entirely machnia yourself to. It is through the Tzaddik that one finds guidance and pathways to perfection.

4. Ahavas Yisroel. Loving each and every Jew in a profoud way. Love and respect for all humans and for all of nature in general.

So how is Chassidus doing today..300 years since it’s founding?

I’d say it’s alive and well in many corners of the world. One will find people clinging to these ideals and living it to the best of their ability.
I do find it ironic though that the one group that is so often the face of Chassidism is the most far removed from Chassidus. The modern Chassidic areas in New York for instance...while containing in its confines many true Chassidim are also inhabited by many that call themselves Chassidish or Heimish and are soooooo far removed.
You have this whole group of freeloaders that have no Rebbe that they truly follow and live a life of empty excess and stress...all the while looking condescedingly on others that may be different.
They took the joy in Chassidus and turned into a horrible caricature of laissez faire attitudes and spiritual laziness.
The Baal Shem looked to uplift the existing peasantry.
They look to create a new peasantry where there need not be one.

Please call yourselves something else...Heimish is fine... But don’t sully the name of the Holy Baal Shem Tov.