Chassidic Antinomianism

Again we copy a wrong-headed article as a foil and intersperse mean Hassagos. You know the drill by now.

Spiritual Schizophrenia

By J. Immanuel Schochet

This is not to attack the individual, but the truth needs saying. We said it about Mussar. Now it’s Chassidus’ turn. Note the Soviet-style diagnosis (like “Islamophobia”) in Rabbi Shochet’s chosen title.

An exclusive study of the “revealed” aspect of Torah, often referred to as “nigleh“, may provide one with Torah-knowledge. He may acquire profound scholarship. Nonetheless, it allows also the possibility that the student-scholar remain separate from the Torah itself.

On a crude level, it can reflect the Talmudic metaphor of the burglar who prays to G‑d and invokes divine blessing for his immoral activity (Berachot 63b). The criminal believes in G‑d. He believes in the principle and efficacy of prayer, yet he fails to apply that on the practical or personal level. He fails to sense the inherent contradiction in his pursuits, the radical dichotomy between his religious involvement and his personal life coexisting as two altogether separate and unrelated entities.

A more subtle and sophisticated dichotomy is seen in the following incident: There was a man who had studied halachot (the laws), Sifre, Sifra, and Tossefta, and died; R. Nachman was approached to eulogize him, but he said” “How can we eulogize him? Alas! A bag full of books has been lost!” (Megilla 28b, see Rashi ad loc) The man had studied the most difficult texts; he had become very erudite, yet he did not comprehend and absorb what he had learned. He could quote chapter and verse, yet he and his quotations remained distinct from one another.

It’s not so subtle it needs to be warped! To be polite, this Gemara refers to many of those who lose their edge in what some call “Nigleh”, on account of insufficient mental attention to that same body, occasionally in favor of other fields.

The Zohar notes that the Hebrew word for donkey,”chamor“, is an acronym for the phrase “a wondrous scholar and a rabbi’s rabbi”, “chacham mufla verav rabanan” (Zohar III; 275b). One can be known as the most wondrous scholar in the world, heading the most prominent academy to train rabbis and Torah-scholars – an expert in pilpulistic methodology; but if unaware of the soul of the Torah, if not touched and penetrated by the oil of the Torah, he remains an insensitive chamor, the proverbial “donkey loaded with books.”1 He carries a whole library on his back, has stupendous knowledge at his finger-tips, yet is not touched by what he has learned.

This is the Zohar mentioned by the esteemed rabbi:

אבל רבנן, ווי לאינון דאכלין תבן טבל דאורייתא, (חמו”ר דאורייתא, דאתחשיב ח’כם מ’ופלא ו’רב ר’בנן), ולא ידעי בסתרי דאורייתא, אלא קלין וחמורין דאורייתא, קלין תבן דאורייתא, חומרא דאורייתא, חטה, חט ה’, אילנא דטוב ורע…

To be polite: My policy is those who mention this quote without apologetic humility don’t deserve to be “enlightened”. As Chazal say in “Nigleh”: כל מי שאין בו דעה אסור לרחם עליו!

A person like that may conceivably fall into the category of “a scoundrel and rake within the domain of Torah”. He may know, observe and practice all the codified requirements of halacha, yet be and remain a reprobate, a lowlife. (Ramban on Leviticus 19:2)

This is a gross misunderstanding of the Ramban and Mitzvah, bipartisan to Mussar and Chassidus alike. The issue with a “scoundrel within the domain of Torah”, is that such a scoundrel is outside  the domain of real, Halachic Torah. There is a special verse teaching us of other generic cases, which means, after the verse was written, a sinner against the prohibitions of blood and Cheilev and the one designated a “Naval bereshus hatorah” are of the same status. The Naval does not “observe and practice all requirements of halacha”!

As proof, I reproduce the Ramban at length. My apologies if this shows his group in a poor light at reading comprehension; he left me with no other choice.

Ramban Vayikra 19:2:

קדושים תהיו, הוו פרושים מן העריות ומן העבירה, שכל מקום שאתה מוצא גדר ערוה אתה מוצא קדושה, לשון רש”י אבל בתורת כהנים ראיתי סתם, פרושים תהיו וכן שנו שם (שמיני פרק י”ב ג’), והתקדשתם והייתם קדושים כי קדוש אני, כשם שאני קדוש כך אתם תהיו קדושים, כשם שאני פרוש כך אתם תהיו פרושים…

והענין כי התורה הזהירה בעריות ובמאכלים האסורים והתירה הביאה איש באשתו ואכילת הבשר והיין, א”כ ימצא בעל התאוה מקום להיות שטוף בזמת אשתו או נשיו הרבות, ולהיות בסובאי יין בזוללי בשר למו, וידבר כרצונו בכל הנבלות, שלא הוזכר איסור זה בתורה, והנה יהיה נבל ברשות התורה.

לפיכך בא הכתוב, אחרי שפרט האיסורים שאסר אותם לגמרי, וצוה בדבר כללי שנהיה פרושים מן המותרות ימעט במשגל, כענין שאמרו שלא יהיו תלמידי חכמים מצויין אצל נשותיהן כתרנגולין, ולא ישמש אלא כפי הצריך בקיום המצוה ממנו ויקדש עצמו מן היין במיעוטו, כמו שקרא הכתוב (במדבר ו’ ה’) הנזיר קדוש, ויזכור הרעות הנזכרות ממנו בתורה בנח ובלוט וכן יפריש עצמו מן הטומאה, אע”פ שלא הוזהרנו ממנה בתורה, כענין שהזכירו (חגיגה י”ח ב’) בגדי עם הארץ מדרס לפרושים, וכמו שנקרא הנזיר קדוש (במדבר ו’ ח’) בשמרו מטומאת המת גם כן וגם ישמור פיו ולשונו מהתגאל ברבוי האכילה הגסה ומן הדבור הנמאס, כענין שהזכיר הכתוב (ישעיה ט’ ט”ז) וכל פה דובר נבלה, ויקדש עצמו בזה עד שיגיע לפרישות, כמה שאמרו על רבי חייא שלא שח שיחה בטלה מימיו.

באלו ובכיוצא בהן באה המצוה הזאת הכללית, אחרי שפרט כל העבירות שהן אסורות לגמרי, עד שיכנס בכלל זאת הצוואה הנקיות בידיו וגופו, כמו שאמרו (ברכות נ”ג ב’) והתקדשתם אלו מים ראשונים, והייתם קדושים אלו מים אחרונים, כי קדוש זה שמן ערב כי אע”פ שאלו מצות מדבריהם, עיקר הכתוב בכיוצא בזה יזהיר, שנהיה נקיים וטהורים ופרושים מהמון בני אדם שהם מלכלכים עצמם במותרות ובכיעורים.

וזה דרך התורה לפרוט ולכלול בכיוצא בזה, כי אחרי אזהרת פרטי הדינין בכל משא ומתן שבין בני אדם, לא תגנוב ולא תגזול ולא תונו ושאר האזהרות, אמר בכלל ועשית הישר והטוב (דברים ו’ י”ח), שיכניס בעשה היושר וההשויה וכל לפנים משורת הדין לרצון חבריו, כאשר אפרש (שם) בהגיעי למקומו ברצון הקב”ה וכן בענין השבת, אסר המלאכות בלאו והטרחים בעשה כללי שנאמר תשבות, ועוד אפרש זה (להלן כ”ג כ”ד) בע”ה.

Halacha is no less essential to the mystic than to anyone else. Where the kabbalist or chassid differs, however, is first and foremost in his approach, in his consciousness of the universal importance of halacha and its dynamic significance. To him the study of Torah is not only a mitzvah on its own, or just a precondition for observing all other mitzvot. It is also the means to become transformed, for himself to become a Torah, a personification of Torah.

“No less essential”? Sure it is! Values come in ordinal scales. “Kabbalist or Chassid”, says he, “innocently” conflating the two as Chassidim enjoy doing. Big difference! Kabbalah is ours

One of the great Chassidic masters, R. Leib Sarahs, thus said that he traveled far and wide to come to his master, the Maggid of Mezrich, “not to hear words of Torah from him, but to see how he laces and unlaces his shoes!” He saw in the Maggid that ideal personification of Torah, where every act and motion is an expression of the ideals of the Torah. (See J.I. Schochet, The Great Maggid, p. 148)

That’s the new/old idea of Deveikus. Do I need to say it?

You might.

Read Nefesh Hachayim!

To the Kabbalist or chassid, the mitzvot are not only categorical imperatives of formal morality, acts of obedience and submission to G‑d. The term “mitzvah” is an idiom of “tzavta“, a Hebrew term meaning “being joined together”.2 It implies being unified with the very act of the mitzvah and its contents, and thus also with the the One Who commanded it. Torah study and mitzvot thus become the ultimate cleaving and attachment to G‑d Himself, the unio mystica.

Unio Mystica? Please don’t get me started! I can’t ignore it entirely, though. It’s about “nullification”, or Bittul, through humble performance, not autonomously “for the sake of [personal spiritual pleasure]”, but religious Lishma – the opposite of his attempted thrust. And speaking of Kant, he called mysticism pseudo-philosophy.

The underlying premise of mysticism is the all-inclusive exhortation of “You shall be holy” (Leviticus 19:2. see RambamSefer Hamitzvotshoresh IV), a sanctification of one’s total being, of the totality of life and the world. This is a premise that precludes perfunctory study of Torah or observance of mitzvot.

Um, no. The underlying premise of mysticism, broadly understood, following the hermeneutic principle of “Stupid is as stupid does“, is ignoring the prior, publicly determined meaning of the words one excogitates. Case in point: refer to any dictionary on the word “perfunctory“, then do your best to reread the above paragraph so it conveys substance both correct and original (unless he means “hastily” praying on time, instead of studying “Chassidus” for a few hours first, then praying after the time). You cannot? Surprise! There is good reason for this. I continue in Hebrew (it won’t work in English):

“הכופרים ב’נסתר’ בנגלה, כופרים [אף] ב’נגלה’ בנסתר”, כך ידוע בשם החתם סופר. אבל דרכנו – ומכמה טעמים – להודות בנגלה בנגלה ובנסתר בנסתר.

It is the “oil of Torah” that penetrates, permeates and illuminates one’s whole being, and transforms man and Torah into a singular entity. Every action, therefore, becomes a vital reality. This consciousness is tested and verified by the concrete realization of the premise that the purpose of wisdom is that it inspire and lead to an application of teshuva (return to our divine roots) and the practice of good deeds.3

That is not what “oil of Torah” means (see the Gra). Whenever you hear “X is a tool for Y”, you know X is not the highest end…

The perorations:

The sterile type of life and “scholarship” of the “donkey loaded with books” unfortunately, is quite symptomatic of the modern age and its method of alleged rational inquiry, of “logical positivism” and its atomizing games of linguistic analysis. The mystical dimension forcefully counters this and bears a pervasive message of special relevance to modern man. With this message we are able to extricate ourselves from the contemporary mind-and soul-polluting forces that threaten to stifle us, and to find ourselves. For the mystical aspect of the Torah is the conduit connecting us to ultimate reality. It is the depth of man’s soul calling unto the profound depth of the Universal Soul to find and absorb itself therein.4 Thus it brings forth and establishes the ultimate ideal of unity, of oneness, on all levels.

Anytime a Lubavitcher writes a Capitalized “Universal”, I avert my eyes, lest he is writing of their theological corruptions (I’m still being polite). “To find and absorb itself therein” is correct, if the atom vanishes, not if he deifies himself; the very opposite (and most minds speedily confuse the two). And Wittgenstein is still correct: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”! There is a way “to ultimate reality; not gnosis but accepting the yoke of the commandments (stop calling them “Mitzvos” around certain people) “like a good soldier”, as Lubavitchers used to say.

[From “The Mystical Dimension”, (vol. I, p. 41- 45)]

1. Chovot HalevovotAvodat Elokim, ch. 4 – Yoma 72b provides another source for negative possibilities from an exclusive study of the exoteric part of Torah. On the other hand, a study of pnimiut Hatorah precludes that dichotomy, because the ma’or of the Torah restores to the right path and goodness (YerushalmiChagigah 1:7; Eichah RabbaPetichta:2). See R. Menachem M. Schneerson of Lubavitch, Likutei Sichot, vol. IV, pp. 1039 and 1118.
2. R. Eleazar Azkari, Sefer Chareidim, Mitzval Hateshuvah, ch.7; Or Hachayim on Numbers 27:23Likutei Torah, Bechukotai, p. 45c
3. Berachot 17a. Cr. Likutei Torah, Shemini Atzeret, p. 85a
4. See Psalms 42:8, interpreted in Sefer Halikutim al Tanach, Toldot (p.72) and Tissa (p. 197). Cf. Zohar III:73a, and Likutei Sichot, vol. V, p. 302.
I don’t like his footnotes either.

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