Hasidic Philosophy or Hasidus (Hebrew: חסידות, alternatively transliterated as Hassidism, Chassidut etc.) are the teachings, interpretations of Judaism, and philosophy underlying the modern Hasidic movement.
The word derives from the Hebrew "hesed"(kindness), and the appelation "hasid"(pious) has a history in Judaism for a person who has sincere motives in serving God and helping others. Some earlier Jewish movements were also called by this name, such as the Pietists of medieval Germany. However, today, the Hasidic philosophy and movement invariably refers to the mystical, populist revival of Judaism, initiated by Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer (The Baal Shem Tov) in 18th century Podolia (now Ukraine). His close disciples developed the philosophy in the early years of the movement. From the third generation, the select leadership took their different interpretations and dispersed across Eastern Europe, from Poland and Hungary to Lithuania and Russia.
Hasidic tradition and thought has gained admirers from outside its immediate following, and outside Orthodox Jewish belief, for its charismatic inspiration and insights. Distilling a culture of Jewish religious life that began before the arrival of modernity, its stories, anecdotes, and creative teachings have offered spiritual dimensions for people today. In its more systematic and intellectual articulations, however, it is also a form of traditional Jewish interpretation(exegesis) of Scriptual and Rabbinic texts, a new stage in the development of Jewish mysticism, and a philosophically illuminated system of theology that can be contrasted with earlier, mainsteam Jewish Philosophy. This quality can bridge and unite the different disciplines of philosophy and mysticism (In the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah, that was developed before Hasidism, experiential connection with spirituality takes place through a highly elaborate conceptual theology and textual interpretation. This contrasts with some common, more intuitive definitions of mysticism. In the Jewish tradition, new ideas derive authority from Scriptural interpretation. They therefore gain an intellectual organisation). Hasidic thought builds upon Kabbalah, and is sometimes called a new stage in its development. However, Kabbalah gives the complete structure of traditional Jewish metaphysics. Hasidus leaves aside the Kabbalistic focus on complicated metaphysical emanations, to look at the simple essence of Divinity that it sees as permeating and transcending all. This gives Hasidic thought its ability to be expressed in its spiritual stories, tangable teachings, and emotional practices, as well as the ability to pervade and illuminate other levels of Torah interpretation. Hasidus only utilises Kabbalistic terminollogy when it explains and enlivens the Kabbalistic level of Torah interpretation. This is only one of its characteristics.
The new interpretations of Judaism initiated by the Baal Shem Tov, and developed by his successors, took ideas from across Jewish tradition, and gave them new life and meaning. It especially built upon the mystical tradition of Kabbalah, and presented it in a way that was accessible for the first time by all Jews. Until then the Jewish mystical tradition had only been understandable and reserved for a scholarly elite. The soulful warmth of this new level of Torah captured the hearts of the masses, while the deep ideas underlying it also attracted great scholars. The Hasidic movement became one of the most successful revival movements in Jewish history. Its spirituality ensured the allegence of many followers to Jewish life, through the social, political, and intellectual upheavals of early modern history, and has also had some appeal to non-Orthodox Jewish movements till today (especially through the influence of Neo-Hasidism). The charismatic stories told about the Hasidic Masters, the emotional contributions it brought to Judaism, and the creative originality of some of its teachings, have become well known in the wider Jewish world. However, its outside admirers, as well as its detracters, have often not been as familiar with the philosophical depth and significance of its ideas, in the history of Jewish thought. The two dimensions are united in their origins, as the movement began on both levels. The Baal Shem Tov taught by means of parables and short, heartwarming Torah explanations that encapsulated profound interpretations of Jewish mysticism. The unlearned, downtrodden masses were captivated by this new soul and life breathed into Judaism, while the select group of great disciples around the Baal Shem Tov, could appreciate the scholarly and philosophical significance of these new ideas. The hagiography of wonder stories about the legendary figures of Hasidism, offered a vivid bridge between the intellectual ideas, and the spiritual, emotional enthusiasm they inspired. Implicit in Hasidic tales are the new doctrines of Hasidism, as the new interpretations of Torah taught by its leaders, were also lived in all facets of their life and leadership, and their new paths to serving God. This gave birth to new Jewish practices in the lives of their followers that also reflected the new teachings of the movement.
Each school of Hasidic thought adopted different approaches and interpretations of Hasidism. Some put primary emphasis on the new practices and customs ("Darkei Hasidus"-the Ways of Hasidus) that encouraged emotional enthusiasm, and attached the followers to the holy influence of their leaders, and some put their main emphasis on scholarly learning of the Hasidic teachings of their leaders ("Limmud Hasidus"-the Learning of Hasidus). Some groups have seen the Hasidic way as an added warmth to a more mainstream Jewish observance ("the icing on the cake" of Talmudic learning), while others have placed the learning of the writings of their school, on a more comparable level to learning the exoteric parts of Judaism. These differencies are reflected in different styles of Hasidic thought, that were shaped by original and innovative thinkers. Some articulated more emotional or poetic descriptions of Hasidic mysticism, that inspire practical encouragement in Jewish observance, or sensitise the hearts of their followers to transcendent levels of spirituality. Some charismatic leaders in Hasidic history personified particular qualities in their life, and centred their teachings around practical outcomes of this. Others explained a more intellectual analysis, aiming their followers to be able to more deeply internalise spiritual awareness and feeling, each person corresponding to their level of understanding.
This diversity mirrors the historic development of Hasidism. From late medieval times, Kabbalistic figures called Baal Shem encouraged the influence of Jewish mysticism, through groups of Nistarim(Hidden mystics). With the public teaching of the Baal Shem Tov(1698-1760) from 1734, the new ideas of Hasidism were conveyed initially in emotional forms. After his passing, his great disciples appointed Dov Ber of Mezeritch(1704/1710?-1772)(The Maggid of Mezeritch) to succeed him. Under the leadership of the Maggid, the new movement was consolidated, and the teachings explained and developed. The Baal Shem Tov was a leader for the people, travelling around with his saintly followers, bringing encouragement and comfort to the simple masses. Dov Ber, whose ill health prevented him from travel, devoted his main focus to developing around himself a close circle of great, scholarly followers (called the "Hevra Kaddisha"-Holy Society) who were to become the individual leaders of the next generation, appointed different territories across Jewish Eastern Europe to spread Hasidism to. They formed different interpretations of Hasidic thought, from developed emotional, to intellectual articulations. The more systematic versions required the preceding developments to prepare their ground. Similarly, in order to understand the philosophy of Hasidism, both approaches can be used. The new doctrines, schools of thought, and practical applications can be listed in the context of previous Jewish thought. Alternatively, the essential nature of Hasidic thought as a level of traditional commentary on Scripture, and as a form of Jewish philosophy, can be contrasted with other methods of Jewish interpretation of Biblical and Rabbinic texts, and other traditions in Jewish philosophy. Both approaches are united. This is only a practical way of describing the subject. However, it does reflect the variety of approaches within the Hasidic movement. Some schools and people prefer the former, working from the outside inward. Some prefer the latter, working from the theoretical to the practical. To use an analogy, there is in Judaism and Hasidus, breadth for creative "artistic" approaches, and philosophical "scientific" tendencies. This explains why some writers on Hasidism may emphasise emotional aspects, and some the intellectual roots.
Hasidic philosophy teaches that knowledge of God is the essence of the Torah and of everything in the world. Hasidic Philosophy (along with Kabbalah) is also known as Pnimiyut HaTorah, the Inner Dimension of the Torah. The first premise of Hasidic Philosophy is God and His unity: That God transcends everything and, yet, is found in everything. God transcends all forms and limitations, even the most sublime. To God all forms are equal, and so His intents can be discovered in all of them equally. All existence is an expression of His Being. In the Baal Shem Tov's words, "God is everything and everything is God."
(This is a very subtle and difficult subject, based on the idea of Tzimtzum, and different from both pantheism and panentheism.)
This premise means that everything is an infinite revelation of God, even the smallest and most trivial thing. This basic axiom leads to four points which are the pillars of the Ba'al Shem Tov's approach:
Other aspects of the Ba'al Shem Tov's approach: One should strive to permanently rectify negativity and not just suppress it. The effort in one's divine service is most important. If God wanted perfection, He would not have created us with faults and struggles. Rather, God desires our effort and struggle and challenges.
Classic Jewish teachings interpret each verse of the Torah (and often, other Jewish Scriptures from the Tanach-the Hebrew Bible, that are held to be revealed by "Nevuah"-Prophecy or the lower level of "Ruach Hakodesh"-Divine Spirit, also occasionally applied to the Oral Tradition, liturgy etc.) on four levels. They are:
The first letters of these 4 words spell the word Pardes-"Orchard". Each successive level of exegesis gives a more esoteric and spiritual explanation of the Biblical text. The first 3 methods are used in the part of Judaism described as "Nigleh"-"Revealed", comprising many classic Bible commentaries, the Talmudic literature, Halachic works, Medieval Philosophy etc., that frames Jewish thought from man's perspective and intellectual terms. This was historically the main part of Jewish study. The 4th level is involved in the "Nistar"-"Hidden" aspect of Judaism, that is found in the books of Kabbalah and some other classic Bible commentators. This is a spiritually orientated study, explaining Judaism in metaphysical terms, "God's intellect" drawn progressively down into human comprehension. "Toras haHasidus", the teachings of Hasidus, are also considered part of Nistar, and often also utilise Kabbalistic terminology, but what is the true nature of Hasidic thought? Is it part of Sod, as is commonly thought? What is the difference between Kabbalah and Hasidus? Is it hidden in the way that Kabbalah can only truly be sensed by the most advanced student? Does not Hasidic thought have multiple forms of expression, from the principles inherent in legendary spiritual stories, to the analytical texts that speak to the soul? If a Hasidic parable or short explanation can avoid all words of Kabbalah, does Hasidus not also relate to Pshat, Remez and Drush?
After Biblical references to esoteric descriptions of the Divine, texts devoted to mysticism in Judaism first emerge in the "Merkavah" and "Heichalot" literature of the Second Temple period. The distinctive works of the Kabbalah first appear in 13th Century Spain and France. Kabbalists differ with the general view of secular scholarship, by holding that the source of the main Kabbalistic work, the Zohar, lies over a thousand years earlier with Shimon bar Yochai, and they believe the hidden transmission to continue further back to Mount Sinai, and beyond. The Medieval flowering of Kabbalah gained greater momentum after the expulsion from Spain in 1492, which encouraged greater mystical endeavour in response to the tragedy. With the 16th Century school of Safed, the Kabbalah reached its complete structure, with the successive Kabbalistic systems of Moses Cordovero and Isaac Luria. While reserved for the scholarly elite, it became mainstream to Jewish thought and religious life. It replaced the earlier Aristotelian school of Philosophy, as the authoritative and complete Jewish theology. Its concepts infused the prayerbook and folklore. In the Ashkenazi world of European Jewry, the distorted mysticism and apostasy of Shabbetai Zvi in 1665-6, brought about restrictions to the spread of Kabbalah, and its popularisers were looked on with suspicion. It was such concern that later informed the opposition from the Mitnagdim("Opposers"), to the mystical revivalism and revolution of Hasidism, that for a few generations split the world of Eastern European Jewry. More recently, after Hasidus had replaced Kabbalah as the predominant European Jewish mystical expression, the spread of the Haskalah("Intellectualism", reframing Judaism from the perspective of the secular Enlightenment) from Western Europe eastwards, became the second influence that restricted the mystical in Judaism. However, the new academic study of Jewish mysticism, and a new interest in Hasidism and Kabbalah across the spectrum of Jewish denominations in the 20th Century, have reversed the legacy of these trends today. The Sephardi world of Oriental Jewry was more remote from these challenges to mysticism, and so maintained on the whole, its tradition of Kabbalah in its mainstream life, even without the European input of Hasidism. Nonetheless, in the last two generations some Sephardi communities have come under the influence of Hasidism, especially the outreach movements of Habad and Breslav.
The hidden dimension of Judaism described in the Kabbalah is not separate from the revealed dimension of mainstrem tradition, but accompanies and explains it on a deeper and spiritual level. Looking at the reasons given in Judaism for the commandments of Jewish observance, and the purpose of Creation in general, can illustrate the significance of Nistar to the rest of Jewish thought. The Torah outlines the commandments of Jewish observance with occasional explanations, later Scriptures movingly encourage their observance in Prophetic admonishment and transfigured poetry, the Talmud codifies the law, and the Midrash imaginatively describes how Jewish observance affects God in human psychological terms. The Commentators, Philosophers, and Masters of Mussar give explanations for the commandments on various symbolic, psychological, and ethical levels as to their particular significances and reasons. With all this, the commandments are given many meanings, and the spiritual path of mainstream tradition awakens in the individual psychology, feelings of sensitivity and responsibility to their fellow man and to their Heavenly Father. Philosophically, however, for the person who only studies the revealed dimension of Judaism, ultimately the commandments are observed because they are Divine decrees, and the reasons given are not absolute. It is clear that this applies to the ritual commandments, where God could have asked for different practices, and reasons given for them in Nigleh are symbolic. But the ethical commandments encouraging caring behaviour, and forbidding cruel behaviour, would seem to have reason why God would instruct them. However, since God is infinite and has no needs, according to human intellect, then the purpose of the commandments is for the improvement and benefit of man. This is the usual view of Jewish Philosophy within the revealed part of Judaism, without the influence of Kabbalah. The hidden dimension of Nistar in Judaism, is a Divine aspect of intellect, and is not limited to boundaries of human logic. The Torah of Nistar is able to approach the limitless mystery of infinitude that is expressed in Divine paradox. In the mainstream philosophical view, the ethical commandments are given for man's benefit, to encourage him to resemble the goodness of God and rise in holiness. True goodness for man only lies in the superior life of the soul, rather than the temporary life of physicality. The ultimate attainment of this is the eternal reward of the hereafter, and Messianic era. So the greatest purpose of the commandments is their gift of a chance to earn this reward. As will be explained later, one of the characteristic qualities of Hasidic thought is that it brings the Hasid to a selfless nullification in serving God, where the idea of looking for reward is felt to be impure and repulsive. However, according to Nigleh without Kabbalistic thought, the greatest purpose why God commanded even the ethical laws is to give man a test, through which he can receive eternal reward. Nonetheless, according to this human perspective, where God has no needs, why should it inherently matter if man is good or not? It therefore seems that also the ethical precepts of Judaism depend on Divine decree. The complete mystical system depicted in Lurianic Kabbalah introduces new teachings (new revelations from the perspective of Jewish belief) that transform Jewish mysticism and its power of explanation. In the "Kabbalah of the Ari" (Isaac Luria), metaphysical reasons for the commandments are given that describe how the revelations in the upper, spiritual Worlds, and the messianic work of redemption in all levels of Creation, depends upon the sanctifying conduct of each individual in this World. The introduction of the cosmic event of the "Breaking of the Vessels" in the primordial World of "Tohu"(Chaos), before our order of Creation, gives rise to fallen sparks of holiness that infuse all matter. The spiritual service of separating and elevating the fallen sparks, through the present Worlds of "Tikkun"(Fixing), is accomplished by observance of the Jewish precepts that are taught in the revealed dimension of Judaism. Particular explanations of each commandment's metaphysical function are given, that are seen as deriving from the Scriptural words of their source. Where the Talmud interprets the verses of the Torah, according to its rules, to learn out details of law - in this study the same words are seen as offering spiritual explanations, derived by applying the esoteric textual rules of Kabbalah. This idea of the redemption of the fallen sparks of holiness, gives innovative sanctity to mundane reality, and yet is also traditionally conformative - the effect of redemption is achieved whether one is aware of it or not. This radical doctrine depends on, and is inseparable from the revealed dimension of Judaism, and the observance of daily Halacha (Jewish law). For the student of Kabbalah, the "soul" of the observance, its "kavanah"(intention) can be different. It remains a matter of opinion whether one's intention can be directed to achieving the Kabbalistic rectification of the commandment, the redemption of Divine manifestations throughout the levels of existence. Alternatively, the Kabbalistic scheme can open the door to greater "dveikus"(cleaving) to God Himself, the Divine essence. As this illustrates, the intricate explanations of Kabbalah, which describe the effect of man on the systems of Divine manifestation in the spiritual Worlds, are inseparable from the revealed aspects of Judaism.
To the Medieval school of Jewish Philosophy, that framed Judaism in light of Greek thought and human intellect, God the Infinite has no needs. As the student of Torah ascends through the thought of the Pardes system, as the interpretations become more inward and spiritual, it becomes progressively understood that God desires man's observance of the Jewish precepts, so to speak. With the hidden dimension of "Penimiut haTorah"(the "Inner" mystical level of Nistar) the thought describes how, in the purpose of Creation that God chose to take upon Himself, man is needed to fulfil the redemption. So why ultimately, would God have set up such a system? Surely He had no needs to be met. Judaism gives various answers, and Nistar gives its own reasons and explanations. Explanations range from "it is in the nature of the good to do good", to Creation being a process of God knowing Himself, each answer reflecting a different aspect of Divinity. Hasidus focuses on the most essential reason, that most describes the infinite ability and unknowability of Divine paradox, beyond human grasp, reflected in the description of Nistar("hidden") for the mysical levels of Judaism. In this explanation the purpose of Creation is that "God desired a dwelling place in the lower realms" - it is man who transforms the mundane, lowest World into an abode for God's essence. In Jewish belief, it's fulfilment will be revealed in the cumulation of Creation, in the era of resurrection, in the physical World. The word "desire", best summarises the essential wish, because in Kabbalistic explanation this is desire rooted in God's essence, above rationality.
Hasidism, the most recent expression of the Jewish mystical tradition, is founded upon the earlier Kabbalah. In the 18th century the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Hasidic movement, reframed Jewish spirituality in a new paradigm, that described the Kabbalah in relation to man. This represented a profound change in the expression of Jewish mysticism, because it left aside the Heavenly focus of Kabbalistic understanding, which had required enormous intricacy and subtle esoteric cattegorisation, that had only been accessible to great scholars. The new path of the Baal Shem Tov related Kabbalistic ideas to human psychological experience, that was accessible to every person. The follower of the Baal Shem Tov, and later Hasidic Masters, was given the ability to perceive the Divine here in this world, through the sensitivity of their heart, and grasp of their mind to Godliness. Biblical and Rabbinic thought describes the two feelings of love and fear(awe) of God, as the basis of Jewish observance and the experience of holiness. In this quest of the spirit, various levels of both are described, and paths to develop them are given. The variety of Scriptural, practical and spiritual texts in the Jewish tradition can awaken in a sympathetic reader many responses, from poetical delight to intellectual reverence. If the reader feels through them an encounter with Divinity, they can inspire personal shades of love and awe, in proportion to each individual's understanding. To the Medieval school of intellectual Philosophy, additionally, considering the wonders of Creation offered another path to seeing Divine Providence. The spiritual teachings of the Hasidic Masters, that brought mysticism into tangible grasp, awakened soulful, innermost levels of the two main feelings of love and awe of God, and their derivatives. The teachings of Kabbalah include discussion of the Divine spark in the soul of man, and the unique embrace of God inherent in the commandments of the Torah. By referring the whole mystical tradition around this Godly essence, higher than the Heavenly emanations, the Hasidic path uncovered the inner simple essence of the Kabbalah. Because this approach was rooted in the essential unity of God rather than the elaborate Divine manifestations, it could be conveyed to the whole community of Israel, great and small alike. The teachings, stories and conduct of the Baal Shem Tov uncovered this essential holiness in sincerity to God and one's fellow man, which came naturally to the unlearned, who had previously been looked down to, by those more spiritually adept, and who now could learn from them lessons in serving God. The Baal Shem Tov reached out to two groups of people: the simple unlearned masses whom he encouraged and invigorated, and the great Torah scholars who formed a close circle of saintly mystics around him. He would teach both groups with short, mystical Torah explanations, parables and stories that alluded to the inner meaning of Kabbalistic ideas. To the simple masses this was the first time Jewish mysticism had been conveyed in a way they could grasp, while his close circle understood the profound nature of the ideas alluded to. This "Holy Society" of saintly followers would later go on to become Hasidic Masters themselves, in the second generation under the leadership of Dov Ber of Mezeritch, and in the third generation diversifying into many branches across Eastern Europe.
This idea, that the new path begun by the Baal Shem Tov, opened up the mystical tradition to everyone, however is not the complete explanation of the relationship of Hasidus to the other parts of Torah. According to this characteristic quality, Hasidus gave every person a perception of the Divine, and made Kabbalistic explanations understandable. As its inner meaning, or "soul", the esoteric terminology of Kabbalah could now be made alive, and emotionally invigorating. In this way, Hasidus might be viewed as a vital commentary on Kabbalah. Indeed, during the secular Haskalah-Jewish Enlightenment, many scholars who were disparaging of mysticism saw the Baal Shem Tov only as a populariser of Kabbalah. However, there is a deeper explanation. One follower of Dov Ber, Shneur Zalman of Liadi, was the founder of Habad-a Kabbalistic acronym for the intellectual powers of the soul, that expressed the "wellsprings" of the Baal Shem Tov in systematic intellectual form. This approach was very different from the other schools of Hasidism, and at first glance looked to be the opposite of the path of the Baal Shem Tov, who had emphasised simple sincerity. Shneur Zalman's approach used an intellectual contemplation of understanding inner Torah concepts to achieve elevated states, as opposed to the mainstream aim to arouse the emotions by devotion in prayer. All approaches, however, aim to evoke the emotions of love and fear of God, which are the two 'wings' on which a person can elevate himself to the direct perception of the Divine. His main work, the Tanya became established as a classic, inspirational text, and was studied by other Hasidic paths even though they did not follow its methods. The approach of Habad, later to be called Lubavitch after its home town, developed over 7 generations of leaders, each Rebbe explaining the teachings of Hasidus in ever greater elucidation and clarity. If the inner dimension of Nistar describes Jewish thought from God's persective, then the increasing explanation of Hasidic philosophy through the teachings of the 7 leaders of Habad draws God's intellect down into man's comprehension. It would seem that the finite mind should not be able to grasp the infinite. However, true infinity should also find expression in the finite, a paradoxical achievement, similar to God's relation with Creation. Medieval Jewish Philosophy systematically studied Jewish thought in line with Ancient Greek methods, framing it from Man's Intellect. To some extent the abstract Kabbalistic systems of the 16th Century, elucidated a Divine immage of Judaism that the Human mind could grasp, but it was not a complete understanding from Man's perspectve. With the study of Habad Hasidic philosophy, that intellectually explained the inner soul of Judaism that the Baal Shem Tov and susequent leaders had conveyed, the Divine intellectual immage of Torah could be truly assimilated into Human thought. This intellectual explanation of "the Torah of the Baal Shem Tov" represents a study of the Divine - The fifth lubavitcher Rebbe Shalom Dov Ber said that Habad Hasidus enables the human mind to know God's essence. When the student contemplates deeply the concepts of Godliness delineated in Habad Hasidus, and senses emotionally the holiness, the inherent love and awe of God within the ideas, then he realises that within the idea he has grasped is true Divinity. This philosophy retains an aspect that is transcendent and beyond grasp, the Divine origin of the idea.
On the Hasidic festival of the 19th of Kislev (described in Habad as the New Year for the Torah of Hasidus) in 1965, the 7th leader of Habad, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, gave a discourse that explained the philosophical meaning of Hasidic thought. It was later published by Kehot Publication Society in a bilingual edition as "On the essence of Chassidus". In line with the aim of Habad to explain the inner Torah with complete explanation, each subsequent Rebbe of Lubavitch saw their task as to spread the "wellsprings" of Hasidus to new intellectual frontiers. Each Rebbe had their own style of thought, and this discourse is a prime example of the great depth and clarity of the last Rebbe's thought. Like the saying found in other disciplines, "standing on the shoulders of the previous generations", the explanations and singular emphases of each successive Rebbe was only made possible by the developments and advances of their predecessors. In this discourse, the Rebbe asks what is the nature of Hasidus, and how does it differ from those parts of Torah that had been revealed until then?
Clear explanations of the Kabbalistic terminology utilised by the Rebbe, in the discourse "On the Essence of Chassidus", can be found in the glossary at the website of Kabbalah and Hasidus Gal Einai
This discourse of the Rebbe systematically explains the nature of Hasidism innaugurated by the Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), and developed since then by the great Hasidic Masters, across the many different interpretations and schools of thought. The early great teachers of Hasidism, from the first few generations, are looked upon as legendary figures by many today, both within and beyond the Hasidic world. It is universally accepted, that the spiritual stature of Hasidic leadership in the later generations, gradually declined. However, the followers of Habad, with its singular path, believe in general that each of their 7 leaders filled the place of their predecessor. While the particular emphasis of each Rebbe differed, in accord with their personalities, so did the requirements of their generations, so that their leadership remained great. This discourse, typical of the 7th Rebbe's thought, itself represents a seminal contribution in the history of Hasidic thought. In this philosophical analysis of Hasidus, the Rebbe reveals, using the intellectual systematisation of the Habad methodollogy, the true loftiness of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, and his successors. At first glance the emotional emphasis of many schools of Hasidism, and the popular legendary stories and teachings of its leaders have often been seen by outside commentators through the prism of their own frames of reference, that don't always do justice to the implicit profundity of the thought. Sometimes, the "ways of Hasidus" have been hilighted with admiration by such figures, or sometimes denigrated by unsympathetic viewers, without their being fully aware of the depth of thought of the "learning of Hasidus", that can have something to offer to people today. The quality of Hasidus to permeate all levels of Torah, including the level of Pshat (the simple explanation of Torah), means that even someone on the level of initial learning in Judaism, can relate to the enlivening wellsprings of Hasidus, and so be connected to the highest levels too. The traditional, restrictive conditions placed upon the learning of Kabbalah, only accepted by some authorities, were enacted in the wake of the problematic episode of Shabbetai Zvi in 1665-6. They applied to the intricate study of the abstract Kabbalah, which it is possible to misinterpret. They certainly do not apply to Hasidic thought, even in the more Kabbalistic explanations of some advanced texts. There is such range of expression of ideas in Hasidism, from the spiritual stories of Hasidic Masters, to parables, sayings, and the wonder tales of Breslav, from informal talks offering the relevance of Hasidism to all of Torah and beyond, and to the classic and more Kabbalistic writings. When Kabbalistic terminollogy is utilised in Hasidism, it is illuminated and explained in relation to man, so that it becomes felt in the person's perception, that gives life and vitality in their daily life. There is no danger of abusing the mystical ideas in the way that Shabbetai Zvi did. The true explanation of Kabbalah into complete grasp is only given in Hasidism. Hasidus is also a great way to introduce oneself to the world of Kabbalah. Furthermore, in our time of assimilation in the Jewish world, there is great need to spread the mystical side of Judaism, including basic Kabbalistic concepts, so that the Torah becomes an enlivening inspiration. If the danger in the 17th Century was of misrepresenting ideas of Kabbalah, today the spiritual concerns are quite different. Alienation from the wonders of the Jewish heritage in a secular age, is the malaise of our times. The task each Jew is called to do, is to personify the Hasidic ideal of being a "lamplighter" of souls, each person in their own environment, and in whatever degree they can. Before the lamplighter can spread his or her flame, first they need to kindle their own soul with the light and warmth of Hasidus. Practices of Halachah offer a path in daily living to sanctify life. The wisdom of the Talmud, and the visions of the Bible enthuse a person in the ideas of Judaism. In Kabbalah, but especially in Hasidus you can learn about and perceive God, the giver of the Torah.
With the spread of Hasidism throughout Russia, Poland, and Hungary a number of divergent schools emerged within Hasidism.
From little more than a few individuals who survived the war, in the past two generations there has been a phenomenal growth in Hasidic communities, and there are currently several different large groups in the major centres of Israel and America.
Like any society, Hasidism has its share of social problems. However, it has succeeded in recreating a lifestyle and sense of community that many thought would never return.
Notable works of later periods include:
Hasidic Philosophy has four main goals:
In general, Hasidism claims to prepare the world for Moshiach, the Jewish Messiah, through these four achievements.
In a letter, the Ba'al Shem Tov describes how one Rosh Hashana his soul ascended to the chamber of Moshiach, where he asked Moshiach, "when will the master (Moshiach) come." Moshiach answered him, "when the wellsprings of your teachings, which I have taught you, will be spread out."
Musar helps a person to appreciate the intellectual and spiritual and Godly matters to decrease attachment to the bodily and physical things. Hasidism responds that as much as one will run from physical things, one can never truly succeed in this because we are found in a physical world. Hasidism teaches that, ultimately, one must have both the spiritual and the physical together to prosper in one's service of God. This is a two step process. First one must be able to appreciate the spiritual and Godly, but then one must connect this inspiration back to seeing Godliness in the mundane world. Therefore, physicality is not suppressed, but transformed, such that it is not differentiated from divinity but is filled with it, as it serves it.
Hasidism offers an analogy to explain the difference between learning Hasidism and other parts of the Torah. It was once asked: What is the difference between Rambam and Aristotle? Torah vs. Wisdom. Both are philosophers and scientists. The answer was that Aristotle is like a person trying to draw a circle and find its center. This is a difficult job. The Torah, by contrast, starts with the center then goes and can make a circle of any size around it, and it will always be in the center. Likewise, once one grasps Hasidism, it is believed that he will have the key to all the other aspects of the Torah because he will understand its underlying message. Once the inner point of the Torah is grasped (the middle of the circle) the only job is then to learn how to put it into practice in daily life which is what the other levels teach a person to do.
Hasidut is based on the concept that it is possible for the individual to achieve a direct perception of the Divine in this world. This idea is not original to Hasidut, being a basic goal of Judaism, but Hasidut emphasises that it is attainable even by the non scholar, using the simple techniques of joy and simplicity in prayer and study at all levels of expertise. Since the Messianic era is about the direct revelation of the Divine in all things, it is clear that Hasidut is offering a microcosm of the Messianic era in the present time.
Hasidism tries to find the good in everything. It does not say that the bad becomes good, but rather that in the bad itself—in the struggle—we find Godliness.
This is synonymous with the concept of the Jewish Messiah which is an era in which even things we saw as being bad we will see as being good. Life before the times of the Jewish Messiah and redemption are compared to characters living within the story. But with Moshiach we will see things from outside of the story and see how we are all like actors and God is directing the show. Outside the story, even the bad is good because the struggle is what makes the story worth reading.
We, like actors playing a role, can express freely, not trapped by the particular character we are playing. Really one can act freely with the mask. We make this self-image, thinking that we have our certain qualities and self-imposed limitations, and this stops us from expressing our true selves.
Hasidism wants us to get in touch with that essence so we are able to act in the world with whatever character is best at the time. In this way a person can come in touch with his real self and be free to choose how to act.
Hasidism tries to give us a taste of Moshiach-and bring this type of awareness into the world which itself will bring Moshiach by bringing a personal redemption to each person.
The Ba'al Shem Tov maintained that God is everything and everything is God. Torah is considered all the names of HaShem (God), not anything definite just the way you call them. So too Torah is considered infinite; one can always see more and more revealing an infinite God.
Hasidic philosophy also reemphasizes and expands upon the Jewish belief in Divine Providence. Before the Ba'al Shem Tov there was the general idea that God is watching over us. The Ba'al Shem Tov said that not only is God watching over everything, but even a feather in the wind and other seemingly minute details have infinite importance and are essential to the entire existence of creation.
Since, according to Hasidism, God is choosing everything that happens in the world without any external influences that he wants exactly like that, therefore everything that goes on is a unique expression of Him.
The purpose of Torah and Mitzvos is seen as only a revealing of that connection, not creating it (like father and son-the son may walk more or less in his father's footsteps, but this will never change the fact that he is his son. This is an essential connection).
Hasidic philosophy also stresses the concept of love of the fellow Jew. According to Hasidic philosophy, loving another fellow Jew is not just a good character trait but rather it should be one's whole life’s work to cultivate good character traits.