Monday, January 26, 2009

Question & Answer With Michoel - Philosophy & Chassidus

A Simple Jew asks:

As someone who had a secular education growing up and later went to college, is it difficult for you intellectually when you are confronted with the anti-philosophical undertones contained in some Chassidishe seforim?

Michoel answers:

I have seen many college-educated, intellectually oriented people hung up on their "groiseh kashes". Baruch Hashem, I have been largely spared this nisayon. In fact, I would say that my (self-perceived) intellectual sophistication and depth was actually a great motivator in my accepting an emunah p'shuta approach.

Let me try to explain…

Back in my college DJ days, there used to be a very popular Reggae singer named Peter Tosh. In all likelihood, he was something of a m'nuvel but he sure could play! In any case, the refrain from his most famous song goes like this: "The harder they come, the harder they fall, one and all-l-l-l. The harder they come, the harder they fall, one and all-l-l-l." You have to sort of bop up and down when you sing that for it to have to proper effect.

When I began to become observant, I had a lot of questions. All the usual ones and plus plenty of others. Feminism, ethnocentrism, death penalty, ben sorer u'moreh, ishah y'fas to'ar, finger nails out of order etc etc. And with time I came to ask, "How does our mesora work? What does it really mean that the Avos kept the Torah before it was given? How can one Rishon say things that are seemingly k'firah according to another Rishon?" And other questions of that nature. And of course even more basic things, like B'chirah Chofshis vs Omniscience.

However, I always remembered that there were things that I had come to accept as emes that I previously would have sneered at. And thus I managed to force myself to have an open mind, even to concepts that seemed very strange. "If I could be so wrong about something so basic as the very existence of the Ribbono Shel Olam, then certainly I have to suspect myself being wrong about other things as well. If I, the big thinker, could think complete nonsense, that the world is just a fortuitous accident, then I must be very careful to not make an avodah zara of my own intellect. And also, I need to know that other very confident intellects can be just as wrong as I was.

I saw a Chasidishe Torah over Shabbos that I would like to mention in this context. Rashi brings down that Yosef Hatzaddik told all the Mitzrim, who were suffering from famine, that they should perform bris milah on themselves. So this is the type of medrash that could cause someone to pause. "Why would Yosef do that? Is this Chazal really to be taken literally?" But when one allows oneself to say, "Hey, I don't know everything. Chazal were a bit smarter than I am.", then sometimes they will be zoche to an understanding that is m'shushav al ha'leiv. And sometimes it takes dafka Chasidishe seforim to reveal those deeper p'shatim. So I saw in one likut sefer that Yosef saw that the Yidden would be coming down to Mitzrayim and wanted to set the tone, that there shouldn't be social pressure against milah. Another sefer mentions that only through removing the orlah is one zoche to parnassa. But Rav Zilberstein (a Litvak) brings from the "seforim hakedoshim" a very chasidishe p'shat which I found to be emesdik and deep. He mentions that Yosef understood that the Mitzriyim had to be nitzul (saved) in his z'chus. And that in order to be nitzul in the z'chus of a tzaddik, one must be misdameh and miskarev to the middos hakedoshos of that tzaddik. So since Yosef's midda was Yesod, he understood that for the Mitzriim (who were “shetufei zimah”,as Rashi mentions by Sarah Imenu) to be saved in his z'chus they needed to be drawn closer to that midda.

So, in conclusion, one must learn the Torah Hakedosha with open mind, not like he knows it all already. And to always remember that the Torah is infinitely deep, not just a story book about regular folks. Then one can hopefully find answers. Emunah P'shuta doesn't mean that one has to accept everything (and one shouldn't). But one should be makir es m'komo and know that far greater minds went forward with questions also.


At January 26, 2009 at 7:19:00 AM EST, Blogger humpbackwhale said...

That song is by Jimmy Cliff ;)

At January 26, 2009 at 8:18:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Taka. Thanks for the correction.

At January 26, 2009 at 10:43:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding the quote from the Me'or Einayim subsequent to this article, could you quote the context please. I don't own this sefer. The statement is difficult to understand outside of its context. Thank You

At January 26, 2009 at 11:59:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blast from the past! In the early 1970's I went to see Jimmy Cliff's reggae movie, The Harder They Come. It had English subtitles to help out the non-Jamaicans!

Another instructive Cliff song in the movie (and soundtrack album) was "You Can Get It if You Really Want":

You can get it if you really want
You can get it if you really want
You can get it if you really want
But you must try, try and try, try and try
You'll succeed at last

Persecution you must bear
Win or lose, you got to get your share
Got your mind set on a dream
You can get it though hard it may seem,

now (CHORUS)

I know it listen

Rome was not built in a day
Opposition will come your way
But the harder the battle you see
It's the sweeter the victory,

now (CHORUS)

At January 26, 2009 at 12:20:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see my reference to an old reggae tune was more comment worthy then the substance of the post! Oh well.

At January 26, 2009 at 12:59:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back on subject (maybe):

1. I doubt that many modern people who received a secular higher education have ever been exposed to the system of classical philosophy. However, they picked up ideas from their academic environment and peer group. The main such idea is typically that the only true/permissible thought pattern is modern liberalism. This idea is certainly a barrier to engaging Torah and Torah approaches (including Chassidus).

2. Chassidism may not have neatly packaged or neatly describable philosophies of its own, but that doesn't meet they don't exist. Chassidic thought contains very sophisticated systems to explain how we and our world work and interact with HaShem.

3. That said, the idea of emunah peshuta is that we should never be so arrogant as to think we know it all. With humility, we can learn Torah from the Tzaddikim, past and present, and begin to view life from the Torah's perspective.

At January 28, 2009 at 6:14:00 AM EST, Blogger Unknown said...

Rav Soloveichik used to use the phrase "intellectual integrity." meaning learn anything you want, but evaluate its worth and truth based on whether it is in agreement with the Torah.

If a person has a weak faith, and a big brain, then stay away from philosophy. The Radziner, who bent over backwards to bring the Guide for the Perplexed into the deep faith of the Zohar and Chassidus, reminds us that it was the intellectuals that became "marranos" and converted during the inquisition. THe simple Jews with simple faith chose kiddush Hashem and let themselves be killed rather that worshiping idols.

PS. In Pshiska, they learned both the Guide to the Perplexed and Likutei Moharan.

At January 28, 2009 at 9:08:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shalom Reb Betzlel,
Thanks for the comment.

I suppose Pshischa was a really minority approach as a "school of thought". But certainly there are many individuals that try to incorporate both philosophy and Chassidus. If I personally tried that, it would just be intellectual pretention. I am an emunah p'shutah person but also a rationalist. But not a philosopher. I feel that experiencing emunah is even more real than understanding emunah and the intellect is a stepping stool for the experience. I do take that stepping stool very seriously and if I would try to jump directly the experience of emunah I would fall on my face, just like a person trying to fly up a ladder. But the top of the ladder is the emunah tivis and not the intellectual understanding there of.

At January 28, 2009 at 12:50:00 PM EST, Blogger Unknown said...

Actaully, Pshiska is one of the leading movements of Chassidus, and had a great impact on chassidic thought and belief. Basically, in the 19th century, Polish Chassidus was basically either a branch of Lublin (the seer) or Pshiska, (The Hailige Yehudi). Pshiska gave birth to Kotsk, Isbitz, (of which there are hardly any chassidim today) and Ger and Biyale(of which there are tens of thousands).

Michael Rosen, Z"L, one of my dear Rabbis who passed away this year, wrote an excellent book on Pshiske called, "a quest for authenticity," but bear in mind that there is a big Reb Rosen filter.

I agree with you. David Hamelech's last words to Shlomo where -
"Know the God of your fathers and serve Him with a willing heart." You have to know about God in order to truly serve him. THis isn't me, its the Radziner, ZTS"L. If philosopy increases your ability to contemplate God, then go for it and you will be able to serve Him on a deeper level.

At January 28, 2009 at 2:25:00 PM EST, Blogger Shmerl said...

Izhbit and Radzin held that Chasidus blends together Kabolo and Chakiro. Chabad have similar ideas too.

The idea that Kabolo and Chakiro can blend is actually found amongst early mekubolim too. For example Rabbi Avrohom Abulafia, Rabbi Moyshe Butril and others.

At January 29, 2009 at 10:16:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Betzalel and Balehenter,
I never saw mentioned in Ger or Kotzker (including Sochachover) seforim that one should learn Moreh Nevuchim (I am no baki). So if that was a Pshiska musag, I don't know how well it filtered down.

In modern times, the use of the term chakira, is not necessarily what it was previously. Rationalism and philosophy are two different things (but please don't ask me to define either one). In Kotz (to my limited understanding) I see rationalism.


Post a Comment

<< Home