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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.

 

Light and Time

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.[9] 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.

Good Yom-Tov!

Notes:

  1. (Back to text) As an emissary of the Rebbe, to spread Torah and mitzvos.
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