Rabbi Zvi Homnick, Beis Moshiach
Mommy finally got a chance, after almost two weeks of lockdown, to pick up a phone and call her sister in Israel. The two big girls were out shopping, Tatty had taken the younger set to the empty playground across the street, the baby was napping and ten year old Berel was reading quietly on the end of the couch. She settled on the other end of the couch and caught up with her sister seven hours ahead.
As the conversation ended, she mentioned one positive that came out of the family being together all of the time, that she and her husband realized how in many ways they were living two parallel lives, and now they could really focus on togetherness. She added in conclusion, “When each is off in their own world, a lot of imbalances can develop in the relationship and things can get pretty lopsided. What we now realize is that love is not enough, we also need balance.”
After she hung up the phone, Berel slid over to her side of the couch, snuggled up to her and said, “Mommy, I love you so much that I would give you the whole world and everything in it.” Mommy was very touched and she wrapped him in a big hug, “I love you too.” Berel then turned to her and said, “Mommy, can I have an ice cream?
Mommy: I’m sorry zeeskeit, but you know that Tatty and I hold very strongly that in a Chassidishe home, things like ice cream are only for Shabbos and Yom Tov or a seudas mitzva. You’re welcome to make a siyum on Mishnayos and then we can all have ice cream.
Berel: Talk about lopsided relationships. Here I am prepared to give you the whole world and everything in it and you won’t even give me one measly ice cream.
* * *
[Note: I did not forget we are in middle of presenting the Rebbe’s explanation of the differences between Section One and Section Two of Tanya, and why the Alter Rebbe ultimately chose to present them in that order. Understanding the differences between the approaches of the Baal Shem Tov and the Mezritcher Maggid is necessary to understand how the Alter Rebbe was presenting two aspects of the natural progression from their teachings and approaches. Chassidus frequently uses the language of Sefiros to explain the chain of progression, but for purposes of accessibility to a wider readership I will try to avoid direct references, although the more esoteric minded should be aware that those references are implicit.]
At the time that the Mezritcher Maggid ascended to leadership, the opposition to Chassidus had coalesced and the battle lines were more clearly drawn. Both the more spiritually inclined scholars and the simple Jews who followed the leaders of the Misnagdim with that same simplicity, were more difficult to reach. What was needed on the practical level was to build an infrastructure that would allow for the development of Chassidic communal life among the existing members, even as the work of drawing new adherents had to go more underground.
The spiritual challenges were also growing as the spiritual exile was continuing to become ever darker. Enlightenment was beginning to take hold in a number of countries, which drew many of the more scholarly inclined and even the simple Jews were becoming exposed to ideas that undermined their simple belief. A change in approach was needed, while remaining absolutely faithful to the original.
To appreciate the full extent of the challenge, we need to revisit the idea of super-love mentioned in the previous article. In the language of Chassidus, this is referred to as an ahava atzmis, often translated into English as an “essential love.” More correctly, it is a love that is a total expression of “self” to the point that it redefines one’s very sense of self. The closest example in the realm of human experience is a first-time father holding his newborn baby for the very first time. If he is a normal healthy human being, he is overcome with such an overpowering sense of love that is way beyond a simple feeling.
Nine months after doing little more than making a cellular contribution, his entire world shifts and his very sense of self is transformed. Every single faculty that serves to express self is altered instantaneously: what will give him the greatest pleasure in life, what are now his deepest desires, how he perceives and understands his world, what stirs his emotions and how they are affected, and his thoughts, speech and action. He will do things for this child that he would never do for anybody else except himself, and if called upon in exigent circumstances he will be ready to put his life on the line.
Does that mean that he will always feel the emotion of love, all day every day? Absolutely not. Emotions are always in flux, and require conscious focus to come to the fore. When he will busy himself with other activities and his mind is elsewhere, he will forget the child even exists, but the super-love will always be there since his very definition of self is inextricably entwined with the existence of his child. This child will over time annoy him, maybe even anger him, but even if he has times that he experiences negative feelings toward this child, if the child should suddenly be in danger he will forget all the annoyances as if they never happened and be ready to give up everything for him or her, as he would for his very own self and even beyond that.
The Baal Shem Tov revealed the super-love Hashem has for every Jew and the super-love every Jew has for Hashem, which is why the Torah of the Baal Shem Tov is about totality, everything and always. Everything is G-dliness. Hashem is constantly recreating everything. Hashem’s providence extends to everything. Everything a person sees or hears is a direct personal message from Hashem. Hashem loves every Jew totally. Everything a person does always needs to be focused on the service of Hashem. A Jew needs to always be in a state of simcha.
The simple uncluttered mind that houses a Jewish soul is receptive to the messages of everything, since the mind does not throw up interference. That is why little Jewish children are excited to sing that “Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is truly everywhere.” It is getting that child to retain that awareness when he is tempted to pull his little sister’s hair five minutes later, where it becomes challenging, because when that same uncluttered mind becomes entirely filled with a different thought, then the earlier awareness disappears. It is even more difficult for the fully developed and engaged mind to relate to everything, since the main function of intellect is to break things down, to categorize and define, in order to make sense of the world.
How can we transmit these messages while giving people the ability to hold on to them and live their lives this way, precluding any questions of “how is this relevant to my life?” How can we attract new people who have already been poisoned against these messages? How can we build our own families and communities according to these teachings? How can a father channel the complete reorientation of self he experienced when he held his child for the first time to the forefront of his consciousness, so that the totality of his love for the child is expressed in everything he does always?
This is what the Mezritcher Maggid set out to address.
(to be continued, G-d willing)
The magazine can be obtained in stores around Crown Heights. To purchase a subscription, please go to: bmoshiach.org