Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - The Moral Of The Story
The Revach L'Neshama website contains the following story about the Yesod V'Shoresh HaAvodah:
Rav Aharon of Karlin traveled to Horodna to try to bring Rav Alexander Ziskind to Chassidus. His goal was to persuade him to come to the Maggid of Mezeritch the successor of the Baal Shem Tov for Shabbos. Successful in his mission, Rav Aharon returned to Mezeritch for Shabbos with Rav Alexander Ziskind. During the Friday night seudah the Maggid did not speak any Divrei Torah only Divrei Chol. This caused great pain to Rav Alexander Ziskind but he patiently waited for the morning seudah. The scene replayed itself again with an absence of Divrei Torah and only Divrei Chol. Sitting through Seudah Shlishis with the same results totally destroyed Rav Alexander Ziskind. As soon as Motza'ei Shabbos came he ran out of Mezeritch never to return again. When Rav Aharon of Karlin asked the Maggid why he spoke Divrei chol and not Divrei Torah he replied that he saw in Rav Alexander Ziskind a Tzaddik Tamim and did not want to influence him to change his ways in Avodas Hashem. He felt he would only detract from him and not improve him at all.
Well, I hope you'll forgive me, but I'm a little skeptical. In general, stories and legends abound, and it's never possible to know for sure about the origin of a story – but I do think that we should give most stories the benefit of the doubt. Yet, there are a couple criteria that I think are a fair way of vetting theses maysos – just to make sure they pass the "smell test":
1. Reliability of the source
3. How they fit into the agenda of the specific promoter
Even a true story can change drastically with a slight and subtle change, and the warning lights lit up on the dashboard of my brain when I read this one. Why? Well…
There is a view that maintains that "Chassidus has nothing essential to offer the Torah Jew – it's only because the old systems of Torah greatness and piety weren't reaching the masses that Chassidus needed to arrive – basically to serve the disenfranchised. And even today, it is not really all that needed, and it would be better if people could live without the stuff and just spend their day learning "real" Torah and Nigla and living in the pre-Chassidic traditions. Then we could finally put this embarrassment called Chassidus out to pasture."
On the other hand, there is another opinion that maintains that Chassidus is not only "another pshat," but that Chassidus is necessary, essential, and a revelation that one is obligated to study to be a religious Jew in our time – and without it one still stumbles in the dark in a world where we have been given a torch to see with.
And then there are those who find themselves somewhere in the middle. And all of that is fine; everyone is entitled to their views and opinions. But I'm just not convinced that the Maggid would have been of the opinion that, "Rav Alexander Ziskind was such a Tzaddik Tamim that he didn't want to influence him to change his ways in Avodas Hashem".
I guess that it's possible, anything is. But it doesn't seem likely that the Maggid would have felt that Derech HaBaal Shem Tov had nothing to offer him – I think the Maggid probably felt something along the lines of the second camp above. This story promotes the first view above, and I suspect that the agenda is being promoted through that story more than a factual attitude that the Maggid would have shared. So, perhaps:
1. The story is untrue
2. The story is generally true and the quote of the Maggid's reason is incorrectly retold
3. The story is true and the Maggid didn't share his true reason
There is a somewhat similar story, that I do believe, that expresses a very different idea:
I might have the identity wrong, but if I remember correctly the story is about the Baal HaTanya and Rabbi Pinchas Reizes's (an early Chabad Chossid) father, the Shklover Gaon. This man was a great Gaon in Torah, who belonged to the "Misnagdik" camp that eventually developed great respect for the Alter Rebbe. After some time he asked the Alter Rebbe to be his Rebbe and he would be his chossid. However, the Alter Rebbe quoted a line from yotzros that "he (the Gaon of Shklov) is not made from the dough from which chassidim are formed," and he told him to remain what he is.
The stories are somewhat similar, but the message is quite different.