Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Chassid-Misnagid Barrier is Melting

What differentiates a "Misnagid" from a "Chassid"?

Both Jews can be G-d-fearing, careful in observing even the minute requirements of law. Both can sit and learn Torah day and night. And both can open their hearts to do good deeds and charity. If so, at what point do their paths diverge?

The answer relates to what King Solomon said (Koheles 3, 11), "He [G-d] made everything perfect for its times...". That is, whatever G-d reveals, He reveals at its appropriate moment in history.

For example, no raw material we have today went missing in the times of our forefather Abraham. Had he been privy to technological knowhow we have today, he too could have built a motor car. But G-d did not reveal this knowledge then. He preferred, for His own reasons, people then commute by camels and mules.

Similarly with all sorts of knowledge. Each has its own time and place for discovery and application.

The 6 sets of Mishna appeared during the era of the Tana'im. Why? Because their predecessors had no need for them. Two hundred years later, the Bavli and Yerushalmi Gemoras came into existence - something the earlier Tana'im initimately understood and had no need for in print. But once this knowledge surfaced as literature, no man could claim he knew as much as his predecessors without availing himself to Mishna or Gemora. For surely, were one to study this way, he'd be left wanting or lacking something he'd otherwise never know.

Similarly with Chassidus. Until 1732, when it was publicly first revealed, those who learned Torah missed nothing in the course of their studies. But those who came thereafter, no matter what aspect of Torah they would study without this new light, would overlook the important Chassidic contribution.

Chassidus is where the Chassid and Misnagid part their ways. The Misnagid rejects this new revelation. He prefers to remain in the same place as his predecessors; Just as they did without Chassidus, he too, he asserts, can delve into all aspects of Torah without Chassidus. Why should he go on a foray on a path his forefathers never took?

But here is his mistake. He does not realize he is missing what his predecessors did not miss.

There's another issue to be reckoned with. As sure as a body needs a head to function, so too the Jewish people require a Moses to be at the helm in every generation. There is no Jewish people without a head. And every Jewish leader has a unique agenda to fulfil, which may well be quite different from that of his predecessor (See Rashi, Deut. 31, 7). Chassidus intimately understands the concept of a "Moses in every generation", although the Misnagid may not appreciate it. By fixating in the past, he spurns the directives of the leaders of current generations, as well as the Torah light they divulge.

Originally, Misnagdim had good reason to reject Chassidus (although their hostile behavior was unwarranted). They suspected Chassidus diverted Judaism towards false illusions, such as did the sordid Shabtai Tzvi affair. But today they certainly can have no such suspicion. If anything, those who keep Judaism as it should be, like not shaving, like drinking milk and bread from Jewish producers, like donning Rabbeinu Tam tefillin - are Chassidim. So they have no good reason today to bear antagonism to Chassidus.

So, in a sentence, why did Chassidus arise in recent history? To shine a new light into the world - to elevate it, to remove the anti-Messianic trance it was in, so as to permit the Jewish people to usher in Moshiach's soon-to-be-revealed new utopic era. From what I see about me, it seems even non-Chassidim sound more and more like Chassidim because Moshiach's imminent arrival seems to be anticipated also by them. We have to greet Moshiach as one, close family.

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