Some time ago, a girl named Basya commented on my blog, reacting to my notions about Chabad being “the truth.” Her questions inquired into my reasoning for promoting the Chabad way of life, and the learning of Chassidus.
While I can only say I try to live a Chabad life, and I wish I learned more of the Chassidus I so passionately preach, Basya pointed out that I may have had some experiences that can serve to answer her questions, which she says no one has ever properly addressed.
I have had brief interaction with her via e-mail, and have decided – especially by the demand of other Hilltop enthusiasts – to respond to Basya on my blog. This way, a larger audience can benefit from our interaction.
Basya’s question was personal. Therefore, so is my response.
The following is my second letter to Basya. Read the first one here.
I am going to ignore my instinct to apologize profusely for the lapse of time since our last dialogue (but hopefully this counts!).
Let’s just jump right back in.
So you’re demanding to know what Chassidus brings to Judaism.
You want to know how it’s different.
You ask, “What does Chassidus have that should lead me to its study?”
Today we celebrate the Alter Rebbe release from prison, 209 years ago. Known simply by its date Yud-Tes-Kislev, the day marks a renewed strength in the spreading of Chassidus. Considered the New Year of Chassidus, Yud-Tes-Kislev revives our personal obligation to live and spread its truth, light, and warmth.
So I’ll tell you, Basya.
I’ll tell you why my insides burn with regret when a day passes that I don’t learn Chassidus.
I’ll tell you why I consider all my talents to be null when not used for the spreading of its wellsprings.
I’ll tell you why I left a world of black-and-white Judaism to pursue the four-worlds.
I’ll tell you why I am here, writing to you.
Before my encounters with Chabad Chassidus, I was seeped in environments that either espoused a limited and cold Judaism devoid of an involved father or schools with teachers that believed in a “fully cooked” Jewess who earns the right to be stagnant (judging and preaching the less fortunate on the side).
After years in non-Chabad schools, my desire to take time to learn Chassidus came from a combination of family, distaste for zealous, black-and-white Judaism and a strong dose of inspiration coming from “nowhere.”
It only took one class in Chassidus to evaporate my years of uninformed Judaism.
It took a tiny dose of the Rebbe’s light to return me to dust.
While my previous learning had made me feel huge and satiated, all I had to do was learn one chapter of Tanya to shrink to the size of an ant. A starving little ant.
Unlike learning devoid of attention to Torah’s inner dimension, Chassidus didn’t teach me to get from point A to point B. It just proved to me that being a Jew means never staying at one point altogether, but to constantly move and search and find and search and move.
Chassidus forced me to view Torah as more than a guidebook or inspiring dictate. After learning Chassidus, the only appropriate relationship to Torah was a deep acknowledgment of its vastness, a struggle to approach its magnitude, and a fresh daily journey to begin integrating its purpose everyday.
With Chassidus, Torah isn’t just a lot to know, but a lot to live.
Basya, take a look around. There are people who are soaked in Torah learning but have yet to approach Judaism through the prism of this generation’s greatest treasure. Compare them to the Lubavitchers you say you have learned from. Tell me what you see. My own experiences have revealed a clear distinction.
Indeed, Chassidus plucked me from stagnation into a revolutionary journey that makes me feel like an ant. But being an ant with a meaningful – albeit eternal - journey is much better than sitting on a muddy watered plateau thinking I’m a goddess.
Chassidus saved me from the danger of being a “settled” Jew. Learning Torah’s inner dimension has shown me that Judaism is not something I can ever hold in my hand. It threw me into the recognition that G-d and His world are too great a treasure to merely hold, but enlivening forces that I must incessantly run after at every moment.
That is why I am here. I am here because truth is big. I am here because feeling my own smallness has given me the key to a personal relationship with G-d and a never-ending voyage with my soul.
This is why my insides burn with regret when a day passes that I don’t learn Chassidus.
This is why I consider all my talents to be null when not used for the spreading of its wellsprings.
This is why I left a world of black-and-white Judaism to pursue the four-worlds.
This is why I am here, writing to you.
While every level of Torah learning is profound and necessary, there is no excuse for avoiding Torah’s inner calling. Imagine a world where every Jew recognized that Yiddishkeit is immeasurable. Chassidus is today’s demand that enables this awareness, and dismissing its insights means robbing yourself of something so essential.
Basya, I write to you but am speaking to myself. If only I always felt like an ant. I can only hope to actively live the lessons of Chassidus I all-too-often admire from afar.
Thank you for providing me with the opportunity for renewed consciousness, while hopefully inspiring you and others along the way.
I suspect we will be in touch.
All my very best,