Friday, January 27, 2006

Guest Posting From Rabbi Naftali Citron - Faith vs. Mystical Understanding

I would like to respond to some of the misunderstandings and criticism by Rabbi Dovid Sears of my article, in which I contrast Chabad and Breslov.

I am sorry that Rabbi Sears was so critical of the article I wrote. The point of my article is not to give a comprehensve evaluation of Breslav and Chabad and defintly not to critisize Breslav. Rather it was to bring out some strong points of three of the Chassidic movements as relating to the Carlebach chevra.

Although I did quote the late Joseph Weiss, whose study on Mystical Hasidism and Hasidism of Faith should not just be rejected off hand because he "is a secular academic", I have been learning Likutei Maharan on a regular basis, for some time. Reb Shlomo ZL turned me on to Reb Nachman and although I may be more at home in Ishbitz or more familiar with Chabad, I try to learn Likkutai Maharan every week. I am in touch with Breslover Chassidim, some of whose orbit are connected to the Carlebach world.

Rabbi Sears further objects About my statement about the Alter Rebbe's philosophy of finding G-d in everything, he states that I should have started with the Bal Shem Tov, and included numerous Chassidic schools. Obviously this started with the Bal Shem and in fact even earlier, and Chabad is not the only school that developed this theme, however for the narrow focus of my article (I wrote it for my Shul's newsletter, where I can't go on and on), I felt it was better to keep it simple and focus on these two movements and not every possible school that has similar philosophies.

Furthermore I chose Chabad because Chabad Chassidus developed a much more articulated comprehensive philosophy in this area than any other Chassidic path, to represent the Mochin (intellect) and contemplative understanding that focuses on comprehension of the Divine. Choosing Chabad, in addition to narrowing the focus, is also a good representation of this type of Chassidus

I chose Breslav as the path that has more emotions, also realizing that to a certain extent, some characteristics I described in Breslav are contained within other Chassidic schools. All in all, Breslav has a unique texture that allows it to be singled out for this comparison. By the way, my article is based on a lecture I gave at the Second Annual Carlebach Conference and contains many more details, such as acknowledging that I am using Chabad and Breslav as an examples of these types of Chassidus (you can order the tape from Glen K audio if you are really interested in this subject)

In addition when I talk about the verse Ain Od Milvado (There is nothing but Him) and a mystical philosophy that comprehends G-d in everything, it is not merely a Pasuk which everyone agrees with (Chasidm in particular) or that G-d is everywhere, but rather a question of emphasis of how far the mind can take you in comprehending the Divine. Of course, both these schools acknowledge the importance of understanding the Divine and also the limitations of intellect. I am contrasting the degree and emphasis of Understanding vs. Faith. Does Reb Nachman have the same conceptualization of understanding Elokus (G-dliness) as something we can primarily get close to with our minds as Chabad does? I think not. I think faith and longing and therfore the awareness of how far we are from G-d that helps to create a longing to be closer are more emphasized than understanding and comprehension. I think Reb Nachman uses many tools to get us to bridge the gap, not just Hisbodedus or talking to G-d but also, most importantly connecting to a Tzaddik, forms of Vidui and the singing, dancing, clapping and on and on.

My point isn’t that Chabad and Breslov are diametrically opposed (which is closer to what Weiss says) but that in a many ways they emphasize different paths that start to diverge on higher levels. I will put it into simple words because Ailu Vaailu ... (Both are the words of the living G-d). When I want to know about G-d, I think Chabad is exceptionally qualified to take me there. If I need an emotional voice to deal with the crisis in my life, Reb Nachman is my master of prayer who I use to help me connect.

This is all a matter of course of emphasis, which Sears seems to not understand. There are many emotive Chabadnicks and many Maskil (intellectual) oriented Breslovers. I am rather talking about a general sense of differing emphasis. It would also seem that Rabbi Sears and I do agree on a lot of the distinctions between these two schools and a large part of his troubles boils down to semantics. I have seen writing where Reb Nachman sounds very similar to Tanya or Likkutai Torah, in terms of G-d pervading all of creation and that in a higher level of truth, only G-d exists. Nonetheless there is a distinct feeling that Sin is more real and the struggling with sadness is more of an issue, all pointing to the fact that Reb Nachman’s faith is in a G-d that we don’t understand, that stands way above us.

Reb Dovid Sears has an issue with how I seemed to say that Reb Shlomo only turned to Breslov when he wanted to reach out to an alienated generation and needed the emotional impact of Reb Nachman. I was not trying to imply that Reb Shlomo was not deeply involved with this approach. I was simply quoting Reb Shlomo's own words. Or maybe I should say that if you are not a Carlebach Chasid, you have no place to talk about Shlomo (just kidding, we don’t take ourselves so seriously). By the way the Mitzvah of studying Torah is part of the Mitzvah of teaching Torah and as the Carlebach Chevra say (echoed in the Mishnah), we learn more from our students then we teach them.

Last but not least, Rabbi Sears takes issue with my comparisons between of the Niggunim (songs) in these two great Chassidic ways. This was hard for me to write because in truth, a lot of the Breslover Niggunim that I know are not just the happy tunes of simply Tzfat. Nevertheless, in painting with broad strokes, I still feel that in a comparative way, more of the Chabbad Niggunim (with many exceptions) have a contemplative element and Breslov Niggunim (with many exceptions) have more of sense of the emotions.

In addition to the discussion on Chabad and Breslov, my article focused on the Chasidic school of Ishbitz and situating Carlebach in the Chasidic world. Unfortunately, this part was not posted with your response and I think it is important to understand this issue in the context of the whole article. You can find it at

In conclusion, I am inviting the top Breslov Teachers to talk about Reb Nachman for a Day of Breslov at the JCC in Manhattan. This was all just a marketing ploy that Reb Dovid and I concocted to get people ready for the catfight we might have on our panel discussion on Breslov and Chabad (just kidding !) But we will be having a Day of Learning in May and if this Blog or whatever you call it, increases awareness of the Light of Chassidus, it’s a good thing. I just want you to know that I don’t think I will have the time to write a rebuttal to the rebuttal of the rebuttal.

Reb Dovid, you too or invited to pack up your kids and spend a Shabbos at the Carlebach Shul and find out what type of learning of Reb Nachmans Torah's goes on here (My High Holiday Newsletter message was based mostly on Likkutai Moharan).


Brother Naftali


At January 29, 2006 at 7:36:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am happy to hear that Rabbi Citron learns Likkutei Moharan regularly, and that he appreciates that the "Chabad = intellect, Breslov = emotions" equation is inaccurate.

At the same time, I know that he meant no harm in his presentation, and trust that our dialogue will only promote greater understanding. Nothing I wrote should be taken as a personal attack on Rabbi Citron, but just as an attempt to be mevarer the emes... and a far from complete one at that!


Post a Comment

<< Home