Thursday, February 28, 2008

Question & Answer With Rabbi Avraham Bloomenstiel - The Arizal, Chassidim, & Tzitzis

(Illustration by Rabbi Dovid Sears)

A Simple Jew asks:

It was the view of the Arizal that one should not to wear one's tzitzis exposed. Given the fact that the Arizal is the source of many Chassidic minhagim, to what would you attribute the phenomenon that Chassidim do not follow the Arizal's direction in this matter and allow their tzitzis to hang outside their clothes? Is there something particular about the symbolism of tzitzis that causes Chassidim to abide by the halacha in the Shulchan Aruch in this case instead of following the laws and minhagim of the Kabbalists, as they have done in many other cases?

Rabbi Avraham Bloomenstiel answers:

This is a good question and touches upon a knotty area: the relationship between Chassidus and Kabala. Unfortunately, I am a bit pressed for time, so please do consider this to all be al regel achas.

It is well known that the Ba’al ha-Tanya held that when Kabbala and Halakha conflict, a Chasid should follow the former. Yet, a survey of practices amongst various Chassidic orders reveals that this is not an absolute rule. As Chassidus has changed over the past 240 years, Chassidic practice has mostly come to base itself upon traditions evolved via dynastic transmission. The actions and teachings of the Rebbes have come to determine the particulars of practice for many groups much more so than the broader vision of the early Chassidic fathers. Apart from the hanhoga of the Ba’al ha-Tanya, I’m not certain that, nowadays, there is a natural expectation upon Chassidus to follow the Arizal in any particular inyan.

Practically, it seems that the question which determines if a Kabalistic custom is adapted by a particular Chassidus or not is: “Does the minhag or practice fit into the paradigm and expression of Torah Judaism fostered by that Chassidus?

It is only a hypothesis, but nireh li that the Mechaber’s opinion fits much better with one of primary emphases of Chassidus than does the Arizal’s.

The Arizal is quoted by R’Chaim Vital in the Eitz Chaim Shaar Tzitzit 1 as instructing that the tallis koton be worn under the clothing. Kabalistically, the tallis koton corresponds to certain oros that are covered over or hidden. Therefore, the tallis koton itself should also be covered over or hidden.

This custom, like many kabalistic practices, is essentially a mirroring below of a supernal structure/interaction above. Undoubtedly, it accomplishes many things for the wearer. However, these accomplishments, for most of us, are not so tangible or easily grasped.

The Mechaber’s requirement that the tzitzis be worn out is derived from the words of the posuk itself: “You shall see them and remember all the mitzvos of G-D,” Bamidbar 15:39. Specifically, when the tzitzis are seen one’s awareness of G-D’s mitzvos is heightened. This view of tzitzis as contributory to our active awareness of and connection to HaShem and his mitzvos is much more inline with the idea of deveyus, to constantly increase our awareness of and connection to ha-Kadosh Boruch Hu. For Chassidic ideology, this is may be the more attractive option.

However, according to those who base their practice upon the Ba’al ha-Tanya, we are left with a question. The Lubavitcher Rebbe in Likutei Sichos 33 (p. 95-103) was apparently bothered by this question. He proposed that the Ari actually wore a tallis gadol at all times over his clothing and an arba kanfos beneath his clothing (with the tzitzis fully concealed). The outer Tallis was the chitzonius of the peulos of a Jew, the simple actions of mitzvos and the avoidance of aveiros. The inner tallis was the pernimuis, the inner growth and development that resulted from the actions of the chitzonius. The Rebbe held that this was a practice unique to the Ari, but was not for public consumption. Therefore, he concludes that is enough for most Jews to wear the tallis koton under the shirt, yet leave the tzitzis exposed. In this way they are provided with a practical expression of the chitzonius and penimius.

This proposed configuration is not original, but is brought by the Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav and the Mogen Avraham (O.C. 8:13) as the appropriate way to wear tzitzis. Today, this looks to be the most widely followed arrangement. One may contend that the Chassidim who wear their tzitzis with the entire beged over their shirts are holding like the Mechaber (O.C. 8:11, 24:1) who states that not just the tzitzis but the entire begged should be worn out and over one’s clothing. However, even these Chassidim usually wear a vest over the beged. The Minhag Yisroel Torah O.C. 8:6 traces the custom of wearing a vest to concern for the practice of the Arizal to conceal the tzitzis.

Either way you parse it, it appears that concealing the beged and keeping the strings out is still somehow compliant with or, at least, a comprise with the opinion of the Arizal.

On a personal note –

I have always worn my beged over my shirt with a vest on top. However, after I got married and started sitting and learning, the pounds started accumulating about my waist and I found my vests getting, well… uncomfortably tight. So, I took off the vest and just went tzitzis-over-shirt. An alter tzaddik, the Brider Rebbe, Rav Amrom Taub ztz”l, noticed that I was not wearing vests anymore and, with utmost gentleness, said it is “not so good” to wear the beged exposed. I told him about the weight gain and he replied, with equal gentleness, that I should either get new vests or lose weight. However, in the mean-time, he suggested that I put the beged under my shirt “just in case.”

Embarrassingly, I am still wearing it that way a year later…


At February 28, 2008 at 7:37:00 PM EST, OpenID bahaltener said...

Many explain, that wearing a west fulfills the requrement of Ari za"l to wear tales koton under a garment. Some even understand under a garment meaning an upper garment - i.e. kapote, and not necessarily a shirt.

At February 29, 2008 at 12:53:00 PM EST, Blogger Long Beach Chasid said...

Another blog post while I'm going through the same thing in my life. Now I know its no coincidence.

Check out my blog

I linked you, and expounded a little more.

Good Shabbos!

At November 10, 2008 at 11:40:00 AM EST, Anonymous Andrew S C said...

So Avi, what have you been up to musically? Has your book published yet? We see that you've been very busy doing other things.
-Andy and Asha


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