Rabbi Zvi Homnick, Beis Moshiach
Question: Why are intellectuals so miserable?
Answer: Intellectuals are convinced that everybody else is “missing the boat.” If you had to spend your whole life all alone on a boat, you would be miserable too.
FILLING IN THE DETAILS
We concluded the previous installment with the assertion: “Action is the main thing” is not meant to be a limiting statement, relegating the avoda of the mind and heart to some relic of the past, a fascinating footnote in the history of Chassidus. Actually, the opposite is true, it is meant to free your true self as a “son of G-d” to fully express your super-love and super-bittul in an unprecedented manner that could not be accomplished in earlier generations, or in the words of the Rebbe, “to start living Geula already now.”
In order to more fully lay out the basic ideas behind what it means to “start living Geula” according to the teachings of the Rebbe, the hope is to develop a new series to do just that. To conclude this series we need to circle back to the original question the series began with (besides for the “relevance question”), why did the Alter Rebbe originally intend 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, and then do the opposite?
As we wrote then: 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.”
So, why the switch?
Then there is what we wrote in a later installment: The Rebbe Rayatz cites numerous differences between the approach of the Alter Rebbe and the other disciples of the Maggid. Some of the differences include: ChaBaD (intellect) as opposed to ChaGaS (emotions); reaching out to Torah scholars of the opposing camp as opposed to just focusing on raising a new generation of Chassidim from childhood; and each person doing the work himself as opposed to relying on the Rebbe/Tzaddik. (The later articles until this point focused more on “what” is the approach of the Alter Rebbe.)
So, why the differences?
And of course there was the explanation in a later article that there is no such thing as “fake it till you make it” in the worldview of the Baal Shem Tov, but we only actually explained in some detail the ChaGaS approach.
So, why is saying “do it even if you don’t feel it” any different than saying “fake it till you make it”?
The answers are based on everything we have discussed until now; it’s just about seeing the larger ideas in the details.
G-D IS IN THE DETAILS
We know that the entire body of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov is based on the reality that nothing exists outside of and separate from Hashem and that this is the true meaning of the mitzva to believe in the Oneness of Hashem. In other words, he revealed the Oneness of Hashem in the world. He also revealed the super-love that Hashem has for every Jew and the corresponding super-love that is present within every Jewish soul, which comes from the level of the soul that is one with Hashem in a revealed way and therefore drives the Jew to want only to be connected to that Oneness. Since every spiritual revelation comes through Torah, he did so by revealing the level of the Torah that is one with Hashem in a revealed way, Chassidus-Pnimiyus HaTorah.
The Alter Rebbe revealed the Oneness of Hashem even within the concealment and multiplicity of the world, even within the levels of the soul that are affected by the cover-up of the body and animal soul, by revealing the Oneness of Hashem even within those aspects of Torah that seem to be governed by the rules of rational thought that only pertain to a finite created reality.
As we explained it in the context of the super-love of the soul, the Alter Rebbe revealed that the source of that super-love is the super-bittul of the very essence of the Jewish soul that does not even experience a desire to connect because it has no sense of existing except as a part of that Oneness. By enabling the finite human intellect (of a Jew) to objectively grasp its own non-existence (an expression of super-bittul) through the teachings of Chassidus, and employing the natural means of the mind ruling over the heart, or when necessary the ability to “if you can’t go under, go over,” it becomes “exceedingly near” to the human heart and emotions (of a Jew) that strongly feels its own existence to love G-d, “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.”
When love is a product of my own agenda, as lofty as that may be, it proclaims that I exist separately from my beloved. However, when love is a product of bittul, it proclaims that even my sense of existence is nothing more than another way of expressing our oneness. And Hashem wants His Oneness to be expressed by that world and those hearts and minds that seem to stand in direct contradiction to that Oneness. That is why it has to be ChaBaD and that is why you have to do the work yourself.
KIDS ARE FASCINATED BY THE DETAILS
In principle, the Alter Rebbe agreed with his fellow disciples that training children is a far more effective means of producing a new generation of Chassidim, even with his more rigorous intellectual approach. Since they are still in the process of intellectual and emotional development, neither of their competing instincts of self-love and super-love have become fixed as part of a general worldview of reality.
By exposing them to the true reality as explained in Sha’ar Ha’yichud V’ha’emuna, they can be trained to see the Oneness of Hashem and His act of creation as an expression of His super-love for each and every Jew in every detail of existence, and to reciprocate that love.
Adults, on the other hand, especially very learned adults, already have a more fixed sense of reality and a more fixed set of emotional responses. Unlike children who are fascinated by the smallest details and by new ideas, they are more drawn to big ideas even as they are more resistant to new ideas that force them to change the way they view the world. The true test of whether love of G-d according to Chassidus is “exceedingly near” is to develop a system of tools that can get them to “go out of themselves” and embrace a version of reality that contradicts everything they know and feel. That is why reaching out to Torah scholars is such a priority and why the Sefer shel Beinonim is the first section of Tanya, even though teaching and reaching children should be the first order of business and is more effective.
Another big difference is that because their emotions are not yet set in stone, kids tend to be able to access the full range of their emotions and to be very genuine in their feelings. But when you are already locked into a fixed sense of reality and a fixed set of emotional responses, actually changing those emotions for real requires traveling down the “long way.” However, that does not mean “fake it till you make it,” but rather to plug into “the short way” of kabbolas ol and mesirus nefesh and “do it even if you don’t feel it.”
The Rebbe stated clearly that even in our times children can and should be educated and trained to love G-d as laid out in Chinuch Katan and Sha’ar Ha’yichud V’ha’emuna, and that we are given this ability by the Alter Rebbe himself. He even indicated that nowadays it is easier since we are so close to the Geula, and the only problem is that the adults don’t relate. What the Rebbe said even more emphatically and repeatedly is that the “promise” of the Alter Rebbe that “it is exceedingly near to you” is in full force in our generation as well. The Rebbe even went so far as to include in the Twelve Pesukim for children the verse of “Ki karov” as a verse from Tanya! One that every Jewish child needs to know from the youngest ages!
The message to us should be pretty clear. The question is not “what relevance does Chassidus have to my life?” What we should be asking is how to get out of this deep galus where we don’t allow ourselves to see how every concept and detail in Chassidus is a blueprint for how to get in touch with the true reality and my true self, unleashing the super-bittul and super-love of the G-dly soul. The first step is to stop trying to make it “extremely far” and to see how it is all so “exceedingly near.”
If there is any educational malpractice going on in our schools and yeshivos, it is the calcified adults leaving their eager young students with the feeling that it is all so beyond them, in direct contradiction to what the Rebbe has been telling us throughout. We need to reaffirm for them (and for ourselves) the truth that they were taught from when they started talking: כי קרוב אליך הדבר מאד בפיך ובלבבך לעשותו.