Monday, December 17, 2007

סוּר מֵרָע, וַעֲשֵׂה-טוֹב - Chassidus vs. Mussar

Excerpt from Vedibarta Bam:

One approach is "Sur mei'ra" - "Turn away from - i.e. abandon" - evil, and the other is "Asei tov" - "Do good." The philosophy of "Sur mei'ra" is to vehemently fight evil until it is eradicated. The policy of "Asei tov" is to accentuate and intensify the doing of good until the evil is overpowered and eventually dissipates by itself.

The study of Chassidut emphasizes the "Asei tov" approach, unlike Mussar - study of ethics - which follows the "Sur mei'ra" philosophy.


At December 17, 2007 at 11:53:00 AM EST, OpenID bahaltener said...

This is not so simple. Both these approaches are found within Chasidus itself. Reb Pinchos Koritzer zy"o held sur meyra first, Mezheritcher Maggid zy"o held asey toyv first.

In the Rebbe we can see both approaches, and I'm not sure how he sets the priorities. I also saw in "Nesivoys Sholoym" from the Slonimer Rebbe ztz"l, that somehow these approaches have to be combined.

(A Yid).

(I'm using now my LJ ID, since it became available).

At December 17, 2007 at 12:36:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

A Yid: How did the Slonimer Rebbe suggest that these approaches be combined?

At December 17, 2007 at 3:29:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an offensive oversimplification of things (wow, even AY has trouble with it). Typical Chassidic propaganda.

ASJ, I thought that you were somewhat of an independent thinker, but when you just spit out Chassidic party line like this, it makes me wonder.

At December 17, 2007 at 7:24:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Anonymous: First of all you assume that I agree with what I posted. Sometimes I post ideas that I know people will take issue with as a way to generate further discussion.

At December 17, 2007 at 9:05:00 PM EST, Anonymous shoshana (bershad) said...

My research on R' Pinchas of Koretz supports what A Yid says. I'm not sure that it's a matter of combining the two approaches; rather, it seems to be a matter of emphasis. When my web site is ready, I'll have a number of quotations regarding R' Pinchas's views on this topic. For now, I'll give you two illustrative quotations.

Here is the explanation offered by R' Raphael of Bershad, his disciple:

“His disciple, R. Raphael, explained the differences in their approaches. There are two ways to serve G-d. The first way is to seize hold of one’s evil qualities and crush them, ‘for one who slays the beast reaches prayer and devekut.’ This was the way of R. Pinchas, and it is called, ‘Let Haman be cursed.’ The second way, which was that of R. Shneur Zalman and similar to that of the Maggid, was ever to contemplate the greatness of the Creator and to labor toward devekut, in which process evil would be nullified of itself. This way is called, ‘Let Mordecai be blessed.’” [From an unpublished manuscript, Ms. Cincinnati, fol. 87a, cited in The Circle of the Baal Shem Tov: Studies in Hasidism, by Abraham J. Heschel, p. 20]

And here is how Samuel Dresner describes Heschel's analysis:

“[Heschel’s] essay on Rabbi Pinhas of Korzec (Koretz) ... delineates the idealogical conflict that occurred early in the history of the movement, in which each side claimed that it possessed the true meaning of the Besht’s legacy. The Maggid of Miedzyrzecz (Mezeritch) had stressed the centrality of Kabbalah and established devekut (cleaving to G-d) as the highest goal. For him, the awareness that all is G-d would lead man to understand that this world is but so many veils that must be cast aside to enter into the divine embrace. His language is strongly Lurianic, with spiritual ascent beyond time and place the all-consuming goal. For Rabbi Pinhas, on the other hand, the stress is elsewhere. This world is no illusion. It is the place, and now is the time, that man must labor diligently and unremittingly to perfect himself. To escape the world is to violate the Psalmist’s admonition that one must first ‘turn from evil’ and only then ‘do good.’ Rabbi Pinhas, who had favored Rabbi Jacob Joseph and not the Maggid as successor to the Besht, emphasized moral virtue and simple faith.” [From Heschel, Hasidism, and Halakha, by Samuel H. Dresner, pp. 74−75]

At December 17, 2007 at 9:34:00 PM EST, Blogger Neil Harris said...

The Slabodka school of mussar was also into the aspect of Asei Tov and focused on the greatness of Man. The idea of of focusing on stengthening our good points, and by defealt, helping to eradicate our own weaknesses (as you quoted) is also found in the teachings of R Yeruchom Leibovitz, a talmud of the Alter of Kelm and the Chofetz Chaim, a mashgiach of the Mir.

Unlike the keys of a piano, this might not be so black and white.

At December 17, 2007 at 11:45:00 PM EST, Anonymous bahaltener said...

I found in "Nesivoys Sholoym", Taharas haMidoys 5:5, that Slonimer Rebe says, that even though the general order is as stated in Tehilim (sur meyro first) however it is not so rigid, and is different in different situations, and the neshomo of the person teaches him himself what to focus on in particular moment.

Also look "Nesivoys Sholoym", Taharas haMidoys 7:4, 7:7 where is explained that such kind of "asey toyv" that achieves "sur meyro" in itself is a high dveykus kind of avoydo.

At December 18, 2007 at 3:52:00 PM EST, Blogger Joshua said...

I'd view anything from Drs Dresner and Heschel with suspicion as they are Conservative spokespersons. Especially when Dresner, from what little I can gather from the quote, appears to imply that there is some sort of discontinuity or machlokes between the Ba'al Shem Tov and the Maggid.

It is quite clear that there is little disagreement between them on the key issues, and between the Toldos Ya'akov Yosef for that matter (from whom, along with the Degel, much of our knowledge of the Ba'al Shem Tov's Torahs comes). It does not seem clear to me that the Toldos opposed the Maggid, perhaps someone has sources for this? (Hopefully from original texts, I'd be happy to be corrected, but I have learned to be quite skeptical about the claims of academics and Conservative/Reform spokesmen who have an ideological interest in undermining the claim to a chain of transmission on the part of Judaism.)

At December 18, 2007 at 4:05:00 PM EST, Anonymous avakesh said...

It's a lot more complex than that. See, my post: Mussar and Chassidus: What separates, what unites,

At December 18, 2007 at 5:31:00 PM EST, OpenID bahaltener said...

I'd view anything from Drs Dresner and Heschel with suspicion

I agree. I didn't like the way the phrased it either. There were dichotomies. But not the way they wrote.

At December 18, 2007 at 8:44:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chedushei Rim said sur meyra how do you cast aside bad by asey tov doing good if you are always preoccupied doing good by defenition you will have removed yourself from bad. Every minute we engage in good we remove bad from our midst.

At December 18, 2007 at 9:34:00 PM EST, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

Both aspects, turning away from evil and doing good, are clearly necessary. While each group may have its own particular area of concentration, no group can neglect either aspect. Until real proof is brought, I don't accept that any Chassidic or Mussar group today does neglect one of these aspects. An end to cliches!

In conversation, Rabbi Yakov Horowitz (Monsey) once told me that the combination of Chassidus and Mussar in Breslov thought really impressed him.

At January 7, 2008 at 12:01:00 AM EST, Blogger ACG said...

I have just recently been introduced to Mussar and what I have taken away from the classes I have been to is not at all what you posted Although I am unfamiliar with Chassidus, I am sure to inquire about it at the next class.


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