Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Interesting and Illustrative Conversation on Openmindedness Between Mesorahs

I wanted to point out an interesting but somewhat frustrating conversation that has been going on under the radar. A fellow who identifies himself as "Noahidelaws," started a discussion thread at ChabadTalk, criticizing a post I put up a couple of months ago on the topic of exposing one's self to the teachings of different Tzaddikim, not only the ones from one's own minhag/group.

The majority modern Chabad opinion seems to be that one is supposed to only study the teachings of the Chabad Rebbes, (correct me if I'm misunderstanding this). This is based, in part at least, on the first sicha in Toras Sholom from the Rebbe Rashab. They won't say that one can't learn teachings from other Tzaddikim, but there is no active reason to do so. See the comment thread over there for a more substantive discussion on that by Noahidelaws (who identifies himself as "Netzach" here at Dixie Yid).

There seems to be a feeling over there that if one is Chabad and he feels that he can be enriched by studying Mei Hashiloach, Meor Einayim, Sfas Emes, Michtav Mei'Eliyahu, or Pachad Yitzchak, that this somehow implies that there is something lacking in Chabad Chassidus. Nothing could be further from the truth. Also, there seems to be a fear that if you believe that there is an inner unity between the ostensibly divergent teachings of Chabad and other types of Chassidus, that this will cause confusion and bilbul in one's avodas Hashem. Perhaps if one studies too much from non-Chabad Tzaddikim, he will stop keeping Chabad minhagim!

To give a mashal, one can be a musician who connects very deeply to the artistic and emotional side of music. However, it will not detract from his artistic and emotional music appreciation if he also studies the mathematics behind music, or the history and development of music. One can specialize in his special part of the world of music, and that is not lessened by enriching himself with an understanding of other aspects of music.

Similarly, if one is Chabad and thereby develops an intense connection to the Chochma of Divine understanding and avodah, that is his area of practice and specialty. For more on that, see my translation of Rav Itchie Mayer Morgenstern's section on the roots of Chabad and Breslov. If one practices his avoda in the world of Chabad, for example (although the same would apply to others in their own mesorahs as well), then that should be his primary focus in learning and avodah and there is nothing lacking per se in that avodah. However, that person only stands to gain by understanding the teachings of other Tzaddikim, who can illuminate the aspects of Bina, Chaga"s, or Nahi"m that they specialize in.

No one is suggesting that anyone mix and match their practical minhagim or derech avodah, like some sort of salad bar. The depiction of the approach of openness and enrichment as a "cholent" or bilbul of different ideas is a straw man and a red herring.

I encourage anyone here to register at ChabadTalk and put in your two cents. It's an interesting discussion though any way you slice it.

-Dixie Yid

(Picture of the Freidiker Lubavitcher Rebbe wearing a Shtreimel courtesy of ChabadLibrary)

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yitz.. said...

there is a lot of basis to disagree with you :)

personally i'm connecting to many different Torahs.. but this is a much more difficult path, and not necesarily a path with greater benefits than the path of sticking one chassiduth and plumbing its depths. (something that can literally take a lifetime)

i think to a large extent this depends on a person's neshama and their particular netiya. Most people, I think, have a basic desire to pursue something specific to its fullest extent. Others however, have a desire to see the unity in a very diverse collection of sources. This is more rare because it is a lot more error-prone.

for a simple kabbalistic example, since you already brought up hb"d/hg"t/nhy"m (חב"ד חג"ת נהי"ם) each sefira contains within it all the other sefiroth. So, truly _nothing is lacking_ (if you read R' Yitzhak Ginsburg's introduction to the kabbalah of the Ariz"l, he actually explains how everything in existence is rooted in hb"d) when you learn and stick with a particular Hassidut.

To make a case for mixing and matching is much more difficult-- you might end up getting only part of the picture, ie, even while connecting to "different sefiroth" you might end up not connecting them all up, like I said you might end up with an incomplete picture. This is much more dangerous than the opposite.

Of course, you should learn from the Torah your heart desire's for me it is the dangerous path of mixing and matching and puzzling together.

DixieYid said...

I don't think one is in danger of this happening if you have one primary derech and limud. I think that from the background of having one primary limud and derech in avodas Hashem, one can safely enrich one's understanding of his own primary derech by learning and understanding other perepectives on avodas Hashem as a compliment to his own primary derech.

-Dixie Yid

maskil said...

Please don't take anything noahidelaws/netzach says as being representative of Chabad.

He is his own person, who in almost every post and thread and view he has held inclines to the harsh and unforgiving side. If you have taken a tour of chabadtalk, you will see that he is meoreir dinim kashim on every issue.

Yes, there is a "shpitz chabad" view which rejects all other viewpoints, even when they come from the talmidei habesht. But I remain comfortable in the knowledge that the Rebbe himself was not "shpitz chabad" and learned from different seforim. You said you have a rebbe. Ignore the taunts and silly questions regarding his level of tzidkus.

Dabbling in different hashkafos isn't the Chabad derech. But why should that matter to someone who isn't officially Chabad anyway? Should the time come that you choose Chabad, you will come to appreiciate how its approach is unique in an unoffensive way IY"H.

In the meantime, don't sweat it.

Anonymous said...

The fact that there is even a hint, nay, a shita, that Chabad could possibly look at other derachim with arrogant disdain is troubling.

Just goes to show you the roots of how the Moshiach-Rebbe craziness developed. Sad indeed how too much of Chabad has evolved into something we are all ashamed of.

noahidelaws said...

1. I find it odd that I asked specific questions on the thread there that you didn't see fit to respond to, and instead start a thread here asking others to go and post there.

2. You misunderstood me totally. My main criticism in the original post of that thread was not one of learning from other Tzaddikim, but of making one big mishkebabble of different derachim and contradictory ideas, without a Rebbe, thinking that one's very limited mind is capable of "unifying" everything, when gedoilim ve'toivim than us didn't do this sort of mass "unification."

3. It's really incorrect to infer a "majority" opinion from the posts of 1 person, anonymous to boot. Not that I don't believe what I'm saying, but that's conclusion doesn't follow.

4. My comment re not dwelling on learning other derachim (as opposed to practicing, an issue I and others raised but to which you have yet to respond) was not directed to you, i.e., I don't expect this of you. My point was directed at the Lubavitcher Chossid you quoted, who claimed that there is something *lacking* if one doesn't learn outside sources, and I simply said that this is simply contrary to the implication of the sicha in Toras Sholom. He can take it up with the Rebbe Rashab, I didn't invent it.

All this is really not relevant to non-Chabad Chasidim, whom the Rebbe Rashab was not addressing there. They should go on learning whatever they learn gezunterheit.

5. There was no implication whatsoever that feeling that one can be enriched by studying those works "implies that there is something lacking in Chabad Chassidus." Glad that's clarified now. By definition, any part of Torah one studies by any true Tzaddik enriches the person who studies it, because the Torah is dvar Hashem. G-d forbid to suggest otherwise. All I was suggesting is quite simply that if the Rebbeim of Chabad never placed an emphasis on studying a particular work, or on "unifying," but at the same time they overloaded their Chasidim with hundreds of volumes of advanced texts that they vigorously demanded be studied and disseminated widely, then for a Chabad Chosid, he's not "missing out" by not having a kevius in other sources. He has his mission, his orders, and that's all he needs to know. Again, if someone were to "diversify" of course he would be enriched, and I know several such people, but I do not agree that a Chabad Chosid is *lacking* something *vital* if he sticks to carrying out the orders of the Rebbeim of Chabad, which are enough to keep one busy for 25 hrs. a day.

6. You're comment that there is a fear that learning from non-Chabad Tzadikim will lead one to etc. ch"v is the product of your own imagination. Nothing I said implied that. I did ask a simple question, which was, how is one to know whether one is correctly "unifying" different texts.

7. As for Rav Morgenstein's characterisation of all Chabad Chasidus as Chochmah, I think it reveals tremendous ignorance in Chabad Chasidus. (Which perhaps also proves my point concerning the pitfalls of "unifying".) Indeed, the Alter Rebbe is identified with Chochmah, but his successor, the Mitteler Rebbe, is identified with bina, and so on, until the Rebbe is identified with Malchus. There are different ways of calculating how the Chabad Rebbeim correspond to the sefiros, but whatever the calculation is, it's something that the Rebbe spoke about many times. Also, it should be emphasised that the derech and chiddush of Chabad is davka the importance of reaching ahava v'yira in a more pnimiyus'dike and lasting way, because it is the result of lengthy hisbonenus. This is not leaving out middos and remaining with Chochmo, ch"v, as Rav Morgenstein's pigeon-holing of Chabad Chasidus implies, but on the contrary, it is reaching middos that are much more lasting and real than those aroused without lengthy hisbonenus.

8. Also, if you don't mind, I'd prefer conducting this conversation further on the thread there.

DixieYid said...


Thanks for the chizuk and the clarification. I'm not Chabad personally, so I just assumed that what Noahidelaws was saying was basically the Chabad position.


1. I did respond to them in this posting. :-)

2. If your main kasha was making a "mishkabable," then, since that wasn't what I was saying, we agree on that. Like I said above, the one should have his primary derech and limud, and compliment that limud and derech with broader teachings. That method prevents the mishkabable.

3. Point taken. As others pointed out here, what you say is not necessarily representative of the Chabad movement in general.

5. Glad to hear that clarification. I'm also glad to hear that you agree it can be enriching for even Chabad Chassidim to learn the writings of other Tzaddikim. It's also encouraging that you refer to non-Chabad Rebeeim as "Tzaddikim." Looks like there is less and less space diferentiating us as this discussion continues. :-)

6. Not imagination. You said that you were worried about mishkebable. I took that to mean that you were worried there wouldn't be clarity in one's own derech ha'avoda if one studied "other" things. Glad to hear that you agree that learning non-Chabad chassidim is not dangerous for one's Chabad identity. :-)

7. Again, as with the other seforim we were discussing, it seems that you are ignorant about Rav Morgenstern. If his identification of the sefira that Chabad is most connected to is different from yours or one of the Chabad Rebbes, that does not imply that he is ignorant of what they wrote! It means that he disagrees. Beis Hillel's disagreement with Beis Shamai doesn't imply that Beis Hillel didn't know Beis Shamai's position. It means they disagree!

-Dixie Yid

DixieYid said...

Check out this writing from the most recent Lubavitcher Rebbe, z"l, on the topic that someone linked to at Chabadtalk: http://www.chabadtalk.com/forum/attachment.php3?attachmentid=1224

-Dixie Yid

AF said...

" Anonymous said...

The fact that there is even a hint, nay, a shita, that Chabad could possibly look at other derachim with arrogant disdain is troubling.

Just goes to show you the roots of how the Moshiach-Rebbe craziness developed. Sad indeed how too much of Chabad has evolved into something we are all ashamed of."

Perhaps you should be ashamed of yourself for labeling a group of yidden and generalizing based on your messed up understanding of another person's somewhat messed up understanding of what a member of Chabad (not a Rebbe or a representative of a Lub. Rebbe) said. This is all besides the fact that you're all too quick to jump on Mashiach controversy (adding evidence to the theory that all those criticizing Chabad for M. issue have an ax to grind to begin with and just use the controversy as a scapegoat for whatever they don't like in Chabad) and the fact that Noahidelaws is not a Mashichist.

Chabad has always been somewhat elitist, but there is a reason for that -- and it has nothing to do with M. issue or any other imagined problem with Chabad.

AF said...

I think identification of Chabad with Chochmah and Breslov with Binah works most of all in a comparative form. Chabad's emphasis has always been on a more abstract (or pnimiyusdike), Chochmah-like, study, even of everyday avoidah-connected ("malchus") topics. On the other hand, Breslov is more focused on Binah-like approach. Similar to how Chochmah is abbah in the world of Atzilus (not to say that other sphiros don't exist there).

Anonymous said...

I just want to point out Its not a Shtreimiel its a spudik.

DixieYid said...

Anon 12:14,

Thanks for the correction!

-Dixie Yid

noahidelaws said...

"Not imagination. You said that you were worried about mishkebable. I took that to mean that you were worried there wouldn't be clarity in one's own derech ha'avoda if one studied "other" things. Glad to hear that you agree that learning non-Chabad chassidim is not dangerous for one's Chabad identity."

I think that the different ways that the ideas are explained may conflict, and the layman will either not notice the difference in the first place, or be completely at a loss to reconcile them. Also, the difference may not be reconcilable. This has nothing to do with relating to the derech as a whole per se, though it might also lead to confusion if the focus differs in terms of "avodah".