Through The Eyes of a Woman
Yud-Tes Kislev: Chassidus
Once, when I was teaching a class, I said, "Chassidus explains..." and
I proceeded to explain something according to the chassidic viewpoint. But a woman
from the audience immediately jumped up and asked, "That's all very well, but what
does Judaism say about this?" So I told her that Chassidus and Judaism
are not two different philosophies. Chassidus is part and parcel of mainstream
Judaism; it's just an inner view of it; it's not another religion. In fact,
one of the greatest achievements of the Alter Rebbe was to show how nigleh,
the revealed parts of the Torah, such as Gemara (the Talmud) and
Shulchan Aruch (the Code of Jewish Law), and Chassidus, the inner
dimension of Torah, are not two different things.
Moreover, as mentioned on numerous occasions (see essay above), Chassidus
affects the destiny of the entire Jewish People.
The most famous mystical work written by the Alter Rebbe is his Tanya,
which takes the loftiest concepts in chassidic philosophy and brings them down to
a level at which everyone can understand something (each according to his level
and ability) and put it to use in his divine service. The Chumash (the Five
Books of Moses) can, and according to the Mishnah, should be taught
to even a five-year-old -- on his level, of course. At the same time it
is studied by the most erudite scholars, on the very highest of levels, including
the level of Sod -- the esoteric explanation of the Torah. The
same thing is true of Tanya, which is sometimes referred to as the Written
Law of Chassidus. Every individual can get something from the Tanya.
Interestingly, in regard to the Tanya, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev,
the famous Berditchever Rebbe, a friend and colleague of the Alter Rebbe, once asked
rhetorically: "How did Reb Shneur Zalman manage to put such a great G-d into such
a little book?"
The Alter Rebbe taught that there is no part of Torah, even the most esoteric,
which is not relevant to every Jew. Later on, the Rebbes who succeeded him expanded
the scope of this concept, making Chassidus available to those who speak
Yiddish, English, French, etc. Thus, the works of Chassidus have been translated
into almost every language that Jews speak, and even those that are not spoken,
such as books in braille for the blind. Chassidus is now accessible through
classes, tapes, videos, telephone, faxes [and now, via INTERNET as well --
Ed.]. The purpose of all this is to spread the teaching of Chassidus as widely
as possible, so that Mashiach will come as soon as possible.
The Rebbe points out that the Alter Rebbe's name, Shneur Zalman, reflects this idea.
First of all, Shneur (shnei or) means "dual light" -- the
light of the revealed dimensions of Torah, and the light of the hidden dimensions
of Torah. The name Zalman has the same letters as lizman --
"to time" -- indicating that the two [types of] light (shnei or)
must be made accessible to a world which is essentially time-bound. Before the world
was created, there was no time. The upper worlds do not run according to clocks.
Time is a feature of this world.
Of course, a Jew should never feel himself bound
by any limitation, including time, for the soul transcends all limitations. A practical
example: My sister's older son went about a month ago to Russia on shlichus.
He is twenty years old, has been through the regular yeshivah system, and
he's not married. He's sort of in-between yeshivah and kollel, so
he went to Russia for a few months. He just sent his mother a letter which she gave
me to read. It was just unbelievable. He describes all the things that the shluchim
(emissaries) in his city are doing, and the yeshivos which they have set
up. Everybody goes to classes on Sunday, and many at night after hours as well.
People are coming in to ask shaalos (questions regarding the Halachah
-- Jewish law). He just went on and on about the amazing changes
that have taken place there, and the intense interest people express and invest
in Yiddishkeit. My goodness, you begin to think, this is Russia?! Mashiach
hasn't come yet, but he must be on his way! The moral of the story is that we can
do anything. We do not have to be bound by time, place, or any other constraints.
These words "limitation" and "constraint" should not be part of a Jew's vocabulary.
Our souls are "part of G-d Above," as it says in Tanya, and we don't let
time and things like that bother us. A Jew can transcend the limitations of this
world by not taking them into account.
This is what is meant by bringing down shnei or -- the dual
light -- into the time-bound world. When the light of revealed Torah and
the light of hidden Torah are manifested in the world through us, then we transcend
the limitations of this world, making it a fit dwelling place for HaShem.