What exactly is Chassidus? A “supplement” to Torah observance? Or the essence of Jewish belief? The Avner Institute presents the Rebbe’s response to the role of Chassidus as a mere aid to religious study and practice – rather, the catalyst for spiritual force and a mind-altering world view. With special thanks to Rabbi Reuven Leigh, of Chabad of Cambridge, UK.
In Loving memory Hadassah bas Shneur Zalman
“A Deep-Felt Experience”
By the Grace of G-d
7 Adar 5731
Blessing and Greeting:
I am in receipt of your letter of Rosh Chodesh Adar, containing the good news that things are progressing satisfactorily. I trust you received my acknowledgment of your previous correspondence.
May G-d grant the fulfillment of your heart’s desires for good, especially that you should go from strength to strength, as you write.
In reply to the two points which you raise in your letter:
Regarding Chassidus, it is not correct to say that it is a “supplementary aid” to the proper fulfillment of the mitzvoth, for it is that element which permeates the fulfillment of all the mitzvoth. For example, it is possible to fulfill a mitzvah without any kavanah [inspiration] whatever, it is possible to fulfill a mitzvah with the general kavanah of fulfilling G-d’s command; and it is possible to fulfill a mitzvah with inspiration, enthusiasm and joy, as a deep-felt experience pervading one’s entire being, although the mitzvah is a part of one’s being.
By way of illustration: when taking challah, one can be permeated with a great, joyous feeling of dedicating the first part of the dough, even before partaking from it, to kedushah [holiness], although in our time it cannot be given to a kohen [priest], and must therefore be burned. At the same time, as explained in Chassidus (in Sha’ar Hayichud veha’Emunah), on the subject of the continuous renewal of Creation, one can realize that G-dliness is the actual reality of all things, except that it was G-d’s will that the spiritual should be hidden in a material frame.
But the Jew, by the capacity of his intellect, kavanah and knowledge, can reveal the spiritual through the predominance of form over matter, the spiritual over the material, the soul over the body, until he can see with the eyes of his intellect how the material is being constantly brought into existence as in the Six Days of Creation. Permeated with this knowledge, he realizes that the first of everything should be dedicated to G-d, and only then can he partake of all the things which G-d has given him.
In the light of the above, one can appreciate that Chassidus is not something supplementary, but the very soul of the mitzvah, or, as you also mention it, it creates a new dimension in the fulfillment of every mitzvah.
In the above, there is also a reply to those who claim that Chassidus looks askance on, or rejects, other Jews, chas veshalom [Heaven forbid]. This is not so, for basically the Jew who fulfills a mitzvah even without any kavanah, and even without knowing the original source of the commandment in the Torah, is nevertheless fulfilling the mitzvah, and has to make a bracha and so forth.
Similarly, the woman who does not know the posuk [verse] in the Torah which speaks of challah, and knows nothing of the deeper significance of the mitzvah, etc., is also fulfilling the mitzvah. On the other hand, it is indeed a very great pity if one does not try to learn and understand the deeper aspects of the mitzvoth. For very often even a minor detail in a mitzvah has profound significance and implication, and even in a small piece of dough taken as challah, there can be hidden a profound world outlook.
With regard to your other question, whether when talking to a person who knows nothing about Torah and mitzvoth, one should bring in Chassidus too, or only discuss the immediate matters – it is self-understood that if the person is capable of grasping the matter in the Chassidic way, there is the mitzvah of v’ahavta l’reacha komocha [loving your fellow Jew as yourself], to share a good thing with another person to the fullest extent. On the other hand, if that person is not yet capable of grasping the inner aspects of the mitzvah as explained in Chassidus, one can only talk to that person in basic terms and according to that person’s level of understanding.
This is what is meant by the verse “Instruct the lad according to his way,” as explained at length by the Moreh Nevuchim [Guide of the Perplexed], the true “guide” of all generations, namely the Rambam, in his introduction to his commentary on Mishnayoth. For, just as it is necessary to teach a child gradually, in accordance with his grasp and capacity, so it is necessary to teach adults who are “children” insofar as knowledge and understanding is concerned.
Wishing you a happy and inspiring Purim,
P.S. I trust that you have seen my talk to Jewish women on the subject of challah. No doubt it is available in the library of the Seminary.
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