Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Question & Answer With Rabbi Betsalel Edwards - Isbitzer Chassidus

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.


At August 27, 2008 at 4:55:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank You! I have long suspected that if I studied it, I would love Izhbitz...

At August 27, 2008 at 5:36:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. "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?'

The more accurate version has his brother, the Rebbe Reb Elimelech ZY"A, as his point of comparison.

2. When I hear an idea from Ishbitz it's typically counterintuitive. It that just me, or is this quality a known hallmark of their deep thought?

At August 28, 2008 at 12:13:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow, I am amazed to find myself being quoted by a scholar like Betslal. I am honored.

Its intersting, I honestly didn't think about what the study of Ishbitz could do to an observant person with a lot of doubt, but I would have to agree with you. It could lead to the breaking of law.

One last thing, it probably is incorrect to quote Professor Kimelman. He was my thesis advisor, but everything I wrote in my thesis was my own opinion.

At August 29, 2008 at 9:56:00 AM EDT, Blogger Unknown said...

Dear Bob Miller,

your counterintuitive response to Isbitz could be because
a.) you never learned gemara for a good period of time in Yeshiva
b.) you went to yeshiva and actually learned some Gemara but never connected to the novel insight of chassidus
c.) the ideas are enigmatic and take a long time to get, even for intelligent and soulful people.

A scholar of chassidus once wrote to me, "I have been learning the Isbitzer every day for the past ten years and am only starting to get an idea of what he is saying."
This man is now wanted in five states for light sex crimes, which he may or may not have actully commited. However, to make a connection between Isbitz and his alleged light abuses would be either artificial, or just grining an irisponsible axe.

Yechi Adonenu Mordechai Yosef, for the Righteous are called alive even after their bodies have died.
Shabbat Shalom

At August 31, 2008 at 1:40:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One needs to put Isbitz into the framework of Yehudi Hakkodosh, Pszycha and Kotsk. This entire derech of chassidus looked for the inner truth and individual path in Avodah.Some of the controversial ideas of R. Zadok Hakohen refer (or evolve) back to the same source.

If the authenticity lies in the self and not outside it, you end up with the paradoxes of Aveirah Lishmo etc

At January 27, 2009 at 9:09:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First I want to thank you for this article I got interested in izhbitz through shlomo carlebach z'l wich really followed the izhbitzer's vue on certain inyonim like everyone knows.
But I think I disagree on most people's understanding of this famous izhbitzer mahalach; I spoke to a famous rov from borough park,him self a big izhbitzer fan,about it and he agreed:
The izhbitzer never talk about someone who did a aveira and that god uses it for his great plan.
He only says that a "mistake in judgement"wich was done lishmo , bemadregat yehuda etc... Wich is only after being sure of not having any negios on the matter,and for that reason he says that a man should start his avoyda like yossef " investing in sure values" and not like yehuda.
I hope I made my self clear. All I said can be checked in the beis yaacov in the parshios at the end of Sefer bereishis.
the mei hashiloach can not be read without the beis yaacov.
I read that zalmen schachter, the sweetest and most attractive apikoros and sinner I have ever heard of also comes along with a false understanding of the heyliger Reb mordechai yossef in order to answer himself, wich is to much.Izhbitz needed some help, some protection, I hope my pshat is right.

At January 28, 2009 at 5:22:00 AM EST, Blogger Unknown said...

"The izhbitzer never talk about someone who did a aveira and that god uses it for his great plan."

Man will inevitably sin, some intentionally. Sinning on the belief that God wants me to is Amalek. But as we say, "Isbitz is for after the sin." In the present we have free choice and Gd tells us to choose life, which is the eytz Chaiim and the Torah. But the past is all God's.

"In the Aravah before Suf ..." (devarim, 1:1) (see Rashi) Why were the sins of Israel hinted at in the place names (rather than just being stated plainly,) or by mention of the time of the sin? This is a hint to teach us that they did not choose to sin, or had the free choice to refrain from sinning. This is why it mentions the place, as it was not possible for them to guard themselves from the sin and move to a different place."

When reflecting on a past error, no matter how severe, just say that Gd wanted it that way, for his own plans that we cannot understand, but the important thing is right now, what am I chosing, and am I making good holy choices.

Thanks for your comment, and I hope your study of Chassidus and Isbitz in particular only keeps you a good, honest Jew, strengthening your holy avodah and closeness to the One and Only.

At January 28, 2009 at 10:53:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for your blessings, may hashem really help me.
Let me just ask you if the big controversy and originality of izhbitz isn't davka about "before the sin"?
Regarding yaacov wich is called in the medrash "zivougo bo etzlo" he says that it is a "derech" wanted by god for the "birurim" called in the Zohar "alma deitkasia" wich means may be, that the man wants to do even more, but he is restricted by halachah,in such case, the me hashiloach explains in parshas chukas that he can do it and "betach lo yehune lo Avon ch"v".
About pinchos its even worse...

At January 28, 2009 at 1:15:00 PM EST, Blogger Unknown said...

Actaully, by Yitschak it says that his Zivvug just came to him, not Yaakov.

My job in life is not to defend Isbitz.

Lets keep it simple. First of all, The MHS never gives halachic advice. It is a book of hashkafa based on biblical charachters.

Zimri is a tough nut to crack. Lets say the Isbitzer is right, that Zimri really was a huge tsaddik, leading life of prishus. Then how does such a man fall for a Midianite princess if not by God's decree? The Arizal has already explained that anyone who says that Zimri was "parutz b'arayos" is an simpleton.

These are quite difficult matters, and what can I say, either avoid the Isbitzer like a burning fire, or find a Tsaddik who can explain it to you in the right way.

At December 11, 2013 at 9:08:00 AM EST, Anonymous Gershon George Wynschenk said...

Dear Rabbi
I am struggling with Breslov,let alone Ishbitz.


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