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  • Chassidus 101: It’s All About Love

    Love is a tricky business. It is so subjective and so inconsistent. It is so easy to be fooled by it and so hard to determine when it is real and when it is illusory. And yet, the very definition of the term Chassid is someone who is motivated by love that transcends personal calculations • By Rabbi Zvi Homnick, Beis Moshiach MagazineFull Article

    Rabbi Zvi Homnick, Beis Moshiach

    The middle-aged couple walked into the therapist’s office for a marriage counseling session. The therapist could see right away that the wife looked very determined, whereas the husband mostly just seemed to be wondering what they were doing there.

    Therapist: So, how long are you married?

    Wife: Twenty-five years.

    Therapist: So, what is the concern that we would like to address?

    Wife: My husband doesn’t love me.

    Therapist: Is there anything negative that he says or does that indicates to you a lack of love?

    Wife: Oh no, he always says and does the right thing.

    Therapist (thinking, oy vey, they didn’t teach me this one in school): So, what are we talking about here?

    Wife: It is now 25 years straight that he does not stop complimenting my cooking effusively.

    Therapist (trying not to scratch his head): And?

    Wife: And? And my cooking is so awful that he has to be faking it!

    * * *

    Love is a tricky business. It is so subjective and so inconsistent. It is so easy to be fooled by it and so hard to determine when it is real and when it is illusory. And yet, the very definition of the term Chassid is someone who is motivated by love that transcends personal calculations. As the Rebbe Rayatz explained, all of Chassidus as revealed by the Baal Shem Tov is built upon the “three loves,” love of Hashem, love of Torah and love of Jews.

    The Rebbe’s “statement” that he issued at his “inaugural address” on 11 Shevat 5711, spoke of these “three loves” and explained that at their core essence they are really all one. The Rebbe then made it abundantly clear that all three are necessary, no one or two are enough, although he did make the distinction that when one starts with Ahavas Yisrael, this itself would help him in acquiring the other two.

    Also, if he really cares about another Jew he should help him acquire love of Hashem and love of the Torah. So if Chabad Chassidus is only about explaining and expanding upon the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, then somehow, every one of its teachings (even the most esoteric and abstruse) is all part of one grand treatise on love.

    This is not some mushy, pie-in-the-sky, new-age-y gobbledygook, but it is something that every one of the Rebbeim from the Alter Rebbe to our Rebbe, made clear up front (as inaugural statements are meant to do). So clear and so up front, that the Rebbe says that if you learn a piece of Tanya and the way that you understand it does not provide practical guidance in your avoda with your mind and heart to rework your natural emotions to love and fear Hashem (at least insofar as they drive your study of Torah and performance of mitzvos) and more particularly what the Zohar refers to as “there is no service like the service of love,” then clearly you did not learn it correctly.

    And he bases this on the few brief words that the Alter Rebbe put up front on the title page of Tanya, “…based upon the verse, ‘For this thing is exceedingly near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it’; explaining clearly how it is exceedingly near, in both a long and a short way, with the aid of the Holy One, blessed be He.”

    So, right about now, you should be thinking, like wow, that sounds like totally awesome, but like totally not the Chassidus that I was taught in school. So how do I know that this is like real? So let’s start all the way back at the beginning. Or at least the basic text of Chabad Chassidus; the Tanya.

    * * *

    [Note: Everything that follows is based on my understanding of the Rebbe’s teachings. As such, it is all “in the name of the one who said it,” unless of course I did not understand correctly, then please blame me.]

    There is a tradition, supported by some textual indications, that the Alter Rebbe originally thought to publish Sha’ar Ha’yichud V’ha’emuna as the first section of Tanya, and the 53 chapters that we know as Tanya, as the second section. Although we can’t truly know the calculations of such a lofty soul as the Alter Rebbe, we do need to try to extract the lesson there must be for us in even knowing about the existence of such a deliberation. In order to do that, we need to identify what is the main purpose each of these two sections is meant to serve, what they have in common and where they differ, and why one should come before the other. Once again, this is something that we could not speculate about on our own, but in this case the author himself was kind enough to lay out explicitly the purpose of each section. The purpose of Section One is presented on the title page, and the purpose of Section Two is presented in the introductory essay, Chanoch l’naar al pi darko.

    The purpose that both sections set out to achieve is to guide the reader in the proper way of acquiring love of Hashem according to the teachings of Chassidus. (Surprise! Seriously, if you did not expect that to be the answer, then we need to get back to some basics before any discussions on “relevance” or even on how to define that vague and ever-shifting term).

    We now know what they both have in common, but then what is the difference between them?

    The mission statement of Section Two is how to properly educate a child in acquiring the love of Hashem as part of the mitzva of chinuch to train him in the fulfillment of all positive commandments, including the mitzva to love Hashem, to the extent that this will serve as his bedrock foundation even for when he later becomes a Tzaddik. The mission statement of Section One is to address the person who did not receive such training in his childhood, and now needs to retrain his whole way of thinking and feeling in order to even consider love of Hashem according to Chassidus as something attainable, let alone “exceedingly near to you.”

    Why is that the case? Because love of Hashem according to Chassidus is very different than the way that the rest of the world defines love of Hashem. And growing up without the proper training in that love will definitely lead a person to the (entirely false) conclusion that it is so far beyond him or anybody else (except for a Tzaddik).

    The problem is that this involves a lot more than a mistaken conclusion, but is the product of a false self-perception formed in the context of an entirely false perception of reality. Undoing this is such a formidable task that only the Alter Rebbe could and did take it on and even turn the seemingly “impossible” into the “exceedingly near.”

    (to be continued, G-d willing)

    *

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