A Simple Jew asks:
How does the Isbitzer approach to Chassidus differ from the approach of other groups?Rabbi Betsalel Edwards answers:
Isbitz, like its parent courts of Kotzk and Pshisk, is an intellectual Chassidus, trying to create an elite of Torah scholars who are constantly re-evaluating the question, "where do I stand with God?"
Every kingdom of Chassidus stresses that which its community lacks. Chabad stresses the centrality of Ahavas Yisrael and Achdus, whereas Breslov is by and large about simple faith, Tikkun HaBris, and connecting to the Tzaddik. A Lubavitcher or Breslover Chassid may take issue with this statement. But still, we all agree that a Jew learns Chassidus in order to become whole, and I would only be insulting your intelligence if I added that that implies that we are lacking.
Isbitz stresses constantly re-evaluating the desires of God and His role in man's life. Isbitz also stresses trying to figure out what is really good and what is not as well as striving to know "your mitzva." Basically, all of the 613 Mitzvos are for every Jew at every time, in one way (action), or another, (speech-study, or thought). But really, are we all the same? Doesn't Chassidus teach the individual to find himself and actualize his true inner being? Didn't Rebbe Reb Zushia zt"l say, "When I get to Heaven, they won't ask me why I wasn't more like Moshe Rabbeinu, but they will ask me why I was not more like Zushia?"
To find "your own mitzva" is an idea that is originated with the Yehudi Hakadosh zt"l of Prshiska (See the first piece in Niflaos HaYehudi
). He advises Jews to find two mitzvahs, one commandment and one prohibition, and become the world's expert in them. (It has to be a mitzvah that you can in fact do, not one of the mitzvos that is only for the king or only for the kohen, for instance.) Isbitz, growing out of Prshiska, expands on this idea, suggesting that every Jew has one mitzva that he or she cannot live without, that is truly a part of the individual's soul-root. (See Mei HaShiloach
on sending away the mother bird in Parshas Ki Tetse) You would give over your life for this mitzva just as you would sooner die than worship idols, murder, or commit immoral sex acts. Before you know what your mitva is, you are asked to do all of them. And after you are convinced that, for instance, your mitzvah is not wearing shatnez, and that even though you still keep the other 612, but you are slightly annoyed by that little voice in your head that asks the question, "where you really born for this?" then you are mistaken in your convictions and are probably better off with Breslov, Chabad, and Piaceszna.
But if you know, you mammash know. How do you know? That is strictly between you and G0d, and even between you and yourself. Notwithstanding the inability to advise another person in this arena, I might add that if your enjoyment, taanug, of that mitzvah is not complete, then it is not your mitzvah.
And yet, if you truly know, then you keep the other 609 --
For the good of the community.
Because you don't want to lead someone who might imitate you away from his path
Because the Geulah has not yet come and we don”t want any misunderstandings
But not because you were born for it.
What would you give your life for? What is your life? Your life is also your reason for living.
Isbitz examines "aveira l'shmah" sinning for the sake of Heaven, in terms of bibical characters. The term "aveira l"shma" is not used even one time in the Mei HaShiloach
, the central text of Isbitz, but he does talk about how the misdeeds of Yehuda and Tamar, Tslofhchad, who gathered wood on shabbos, Korach, Miriam's loshon Hara, and the one who never sinned, King David, and of course, Zimri and Cosbi, where all a part of God's divine plan. This is why the Kotzers burned the Mei HaShiloach
and some frummers still keep it in the bathroom next to the Ladies Home Journal. If a man or woman has truly achieved purity and refinement in avodas Hashem, and is called upon God to do something that is outside of the law, then not doing it would be and aveira as long as the action is in no way connected to murder or adultery (See Mei HaShiloach, Chukos, "And the Bnei Yisroel camped at Ovos"). If it is connected to murder or adultery, then God is not to be blamed.
Isbitz goes deep into the Paradox.
Between Geula being right there in Galus. And of course, it focuses on the paradox of everything being determined and still having free choice (which was already in the Mishna). In many ways Isbitz is not just similar to other ways of Chassidus, but hides in the open spaces of the more difficult parts of the Talmud. The Piasetzner on Parshas Nachamu asks how a man could possess a Godly soul and simultaneously sin, and the Kedushas Levi … (machzir b’tshuva afilu derech chet.)
According to Getzel Davis and Professor Kimmelman, Isbitz is great for people who chucked Yiddishkeit and want to come back. It is for people who have a problem with halacha but want to still be included in Orthodoxy. I am not sure if it is good for conflicted types who never break halacha but are always wondering if they really have to keep halacha, as the paradoxes may intesify their conflited feelings. It is a good derech for finding your own voice in the Torah, perhaps stressing the value of the individual and being a maverik more than any other Chassidus. But like all chassidic courts, it's not for everyone.
Below are some quotes that I think sums up Isbitz nicely:"Anne Bolyn was the most beautiful woman of her day, and because she was so beautiful, no one ever stopped to notice that she had one green eye and one blue eye. That's Isbitz. The Mei HaShiloach is always talking about being a vessel for God's desires even if it takes you outside of the Law, and yet, no one ever once saw R. Mordechai Yosef zt"l do a single aveira."
- Rabbi Adin Even Yisrael, shlita."Without a doubt, The Mei HaShiloach was the most brilliant genius of his day, and if you look in his book you will not find a single sin."
- Rabbi Yehoshua Reich."Isbitz is for after the sin."
- Rabbi M. Lainer, Bait Vegan.