Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Chossid or Zionist?

Reader Y followed up with this question…

I know that my neshama is rooted with the Baal Shem Tov (we even share a birthday), even though I have never planted a flag with any one of the derechs that came from his teachings. Maybe that's why I feel this way?

How did you become Lubavitch? And how in the world did you end up being a Lubavitcher that is so connected to Eretz Yisrael?

One of the things that always kept my wife and I away from committing to Chabad was their detachment to the Land. While we are fully aware of the Rebbe's commitment to Shlemus Haaretz (not giving away any of the Land of Israel), the idea of actually wanting to live here seems anathema to most Lubavitchers outside of Israel. They would often look at us as if we had two heads when we said that we were moving here. Rabbi Ginsburgh, shlita seems to be a bridge between these two worlds, but we are fully aware that he is far from mainstream.

Are you a BT? Did you ever experience this kind of torn feeling between Breslev, Chabad, etc...that people like myself experience? I'm sure it was very easy to get swept up with Chabad when the Rebbe was physically here, but a trip to Crown Heights these days can have the opposite affect.

I'm sure this is all part of the Redemption process, but it can be discouraging at moments such as when people ask us with perplexed faces, "wait a minute...so "what" are you guys?"

Reb Akiva responds…

Chabad continues to be focused on outreach via shlichus, going out and creating Chabad centers and programs around the world.  That goal follows the pattern put in place by the Rebbe, to return Jews to mitzvah observant Judaism.

In Israel the Rebbe established Kfar Chabad and a Chabad community in Tzfat.  In addition Chabad has a long history in Hebron and Jerusalem.  Regardless, aliyah is not one of the goals, though probably about 25% of Chabad houses are run by Israeli Chabadniks, especially those in India and Asian countries (though not in China).

I make my home in Chabad chassidus, and the Rebbe is my rebbe.  But buying in to the chassidus doesn't mean I have to buy into the organization.

Being we're talking chassidus, you have to focus on the pnimius, the inner or the core, and recognize the chitzonius, the exterior, the outside, the wrappings, for what they are. 

We live in a generation with a lot of wrappings and organizations that present or represent image over substance and goals for the organizations (rather than an emes) goal.

But the Torah is still there, the chassidus is still there and the teachings of the tzaddikim are still there.  Connect direct and avoid the organizations that are operating for their own benefit or their own goals.

As far as Breslev, I've learned some Likkutei Mohoran and find some items of definite benefit in Breslev.  I've also learned a bit of the teachings of Rav Shalom Arush, shlita.  There's items of value to enhance my avodat Hashem there, and those paths are right for some and certainly for my good friend Rabbi Nati, but they're not the full path for me.

My cholent is my own.  The base is Chabad, and I wear a kapatah and represent myself as a Chabad chossid (though I don't call myself that in my own name, but rather because a tzadik specifically referred to me that way).  But I spice my cholent with bits and flavors from where I find benefit.  And my cholent follows no organizational recipe.  Rather the opposite, I find myself challenging the organizations, calling them on their inconsistencies and self interest, regularly.

Learn chassidus, target the goals of the Rebbe or whichever tzadik connects with your neshama.  An associated culture can help bind you to a path and give you an identity, if you need it or want it or like it - but it's not required to make your connection.  And an organization can give you a place to fit in, if you're willing to play by their rules - which may or may not be 100% straight.

This doesn’t mean don’t be part of a community, shul or yeshiva.  All are important and critical to function well as a religious Jew.  But be careful about taking the whole package.  Go in with open eyes, see where there’s truth, chesed, and being straight AND where there’s not.  Take the Torah and the emes, avoid the klippos.

We don't live in a time of clarity.  Connect direct, avoid the baggage of our time that doesn't provide you direct value.

Reader Y replied

You are echoing what I have been telling myself lately....that we need to stay away from "image" as much as possible and focus on the pnimius (the inner), especially when looking at chassidus. However, don't you think it's almost impossible to separate one from the other?

A Jew can't be an island unto himself (or so they tell me). Like it or not, the Rebbe did set guidelines for his Chassidim. If I totally accept Chabad over Breslev, I would basically have to leave any minhagim that remain from my Moroccan heritage.

It was such a relief when I went to Uman and saw that I could pray to the tunes with which I was raised and still be a "chassid". This is symbolic of the hashkafic insularity vs relative openness.  This becomes especially apparent once you have kids...where do you send them to school, what hechsherim do you or don't you eat, do you raise them valuing living in the Land of Israel or going on shlichut, etc...

I'm sure you are aware of the much-publicized roller coaster of Matisyahu? In my personal conversations with him and many other people with similar inclinations, we all face the same issues. 

Reb Akiva responds

Don’t misunderstand.  I’m not recommending you make up your own minchagim (customs) or religious mix.  But you certainly can eat Chamim instead of Cholunt on Shabbos, and have Marak Teymani instead of Chicken Soup on Friday night and still be 100% Chabad or 100% Breslev.

I knew a Persian Jew, Rav and Mekubal who became a Chabad chossid and mashpia of the previous generation – who ran a Chabad yeshiva and was the rav of a sephardi synagogue!  Of course, Rav Shalom Arush, shlita, a leading Breslev tzadik and chossid of our generation is a Morrocan Jew!  So apparently family minchagim are NOT an impediment to becoming a chossid of Chabad or Breslev!

Will your children be confused?  The binder is the chassidus, derech haTorah and avodas Hashem.  A true chossid follows the goals, path and derech of his Rebbe or Tzadik.  Wearing the same clothes or eating the same style of food as his Rebbe is pure chitzoniyus! 

That’s not what the Rebbe wanted (he said so directly).  And I can tell you from seeing it directly, that’s not what Rav Arush wants either!  It’s all about the spiritual goals.  The rest is shtuss.


  1. If we only cared about what Hashem thinks as much as what others think about us.

    All of your worries stem from fear that others will challenge you, criticize you, and mock you.

    In the beginning they will. Why? Because you lack confidence which is rooted in Daas. You need Daas to be confident to know that the ultimate goal of creation is to connect to Hashem and reveal his existence in this world.

    There are many ways to connect to Hashem. Litvish, Sefardi, Mizrach, Chassidus of all sorts. Each one is a way to achieve this goal.

    What then is unique about Chabad? Chabad is the only derech that uses philosophical analysis to literally KNOW Hashem. The Rebbeim of Chabad has unbelievable mesiras nefesh to compile Chabad chassidus from an endless sea of Torah.

    All other derechs work off of oral tradition from father to son or teacher to student. The seforim for future generations are few, and most of the time the true depth is inaccessible to anyone who is not an intellectual elite.

    You can go through 10 pages of Gemara and not talk about Hashem once. How many people are able to decipher a derech for life from Noam Elimelech, Sfas Emes, or Mesilat Yesharim?

    Chabad Chassidus gives all Jews access to connecting to Hashem through meditation, prayer, Torah learning, performance of mitzvos.

    The Rebbe didnt want a world full of Chabad Chassidim, but he did want a world full of Jews learning Chabad Chassidus.

    My recommendation is that Reader Y learn Chabad Chassidus for awhile and get the Daas he needs to then decide what to do with the Chitzonius.

    My parents were mekaraved through Chabad and I rejected Chabad for 5 years and finally came back a little over a year ago. What brought me back? Actually learning in a serious way Chabad Chassidus.

    Kutnres HaTefillah from the Rebbe Rashab. This was the sefer that did it for me.

    After 3 months of learning Chabad Chassidus I spoke with a Chabad Mashpia and he told me then now that I see the pnimus I can decide if the chitonius also need to change.

    Not sure about Reader Y but my return wasn't easy. My wife and 2 young boys B"H were supportive of the roller coaster ride but after doing Hataras Nedarim for my Begdei Shabbos and Payos I went full fledged Lubavitcher.

    There are plenty of chassidim that the Rebbe said not to change dress. Before America there was no "Lubavitch Dress Code"

    Work on the Pneimius first.
    Rebbe Rashab
    Kuntres HaTefillah
    Kuntres HaAvoda
    Kuntres UMayoon
    The Rebbe calls the Mitteler Rebbe's Shaar HaYichid the "KEYS TO CHASSIDUS" and Shaarei Orah the "ABC's of Chassidus"

    Those last 2 seforim are very advanced but worth breaking your head over. The Previous Rebbe says in Lekutei Dibburim that young Chassidim were not admitted to hear a Maamar from the Rebbe until they knew the basic structure of Seder Histalshelus which is explained in Shaar HaYichud.

    Learning the Rebbe's Maamarim on the Parsha is also huge.

    Basically worrying about the minhagim and style of dress is pointless unless you are dedicating your time to learning what the Rebbe demanded (not asked but demanded)

    Chitas (Chumash w/ Rashi, Tanya, Tehillim)

    3 perakim or 1 perek at least of Mishneh Torah from the Rambam.

    In addition to that you should have a solid seder in learning Chassidus dependent on your work schedule.

    Learning 30min minimum a day seems possible for most people.

    Hatzlacha! Moshiach NOW!

  2. Good answer, Reb Akiva.

    To Y: The Lubuvitcher Rebbe was balanced -- and I say that as a non-Chabadik and also as a resident of Eretz Yisrael. Yishuv Haaretz is a mitzvah, just like bikur cholim or mezuzah -- and it has to be done truly to the best of one's ability, just like any other mitzvah. Unfortunately, there are so many people here in Israel who passionately believe in yishuv haaretz, but are weak in other mitzvos such as shomer negiah, tsniut, tefillah, and so on. Due to generational trends, there is a lot of hype about the mitzvah of yishuv haaretz (like calling it "Zionism" rather than "yishuv haaretz"), but one needs to be balanced. Personally, I love living here (and I live like an Israeli; I do not try to emulate an American standard of living). So don't listen to people who deride the the rebbe about it; he just didn't join the hype. That's all.

  3. Y: Rabbi Tzvi Aryeh Rosenfeld was the leader of Breslov chassidut in America for much of the 20th century, yet he never had a long beard or peyot (he always wore a short beard or no beard at all). It is possible to be a true chasid of a certain Rebbe and not look the part at all. In fact, I think it would be beneficial for there to be some chassidim who stay within other communities (Modern Orthodox, Dati Leumi, Mizrachi, Yeshivish, etc.) and don't change their appearance yet openly identify as a chasid and try to teach people from these communities some Chassidut in a way they will accept it. I think a lot of Modern Orthodox, for example, have no interest in anything mystical largely because they see it as associated with people who they don't identify with. In fact, since Rebbe Nachman was very adamantly against stringencies, had no uniform, and was against some of the trappings of chassidut in his time (like hereditary rebbes) it's possible to argue that Modern Orthodoxy/Dati Leumi is more halachically suited to the Breslov derech.

    Mochin: It's surprising to hear you say that other paths of chassidut don't have the same amount of literature, because if you put Rebbe Nachman and Reb Noson's works together it amounts to thousands of pages. And much of it is very practical advice (see Likutei Eitzot). Just sayin'.

  4. Breslov has quite a bit of Chassidus published. I apologize for not giving the movement credit for this. My point is that while Chabad and Breslov, 2 groups out of many. No other group has more than 3 or 4 seforim.

    The Rebbe Maharash (4th Chabad Rebbe) has the smallest amount of published Chassidus and this still adds up to 20 volumes at around 100-200pages per volume.

    Chabad Chassidus amounts to at least 100,000 pages or more of Chassidus.

    Every single letter is practical and meant to be used in actual avodah.

    The other groups even Breslov just do not have this.

    Its not a discredit to those groups as those groups have no use for such a large libary of published work as their system of Avodah works off of connecting to the Tzaddik of their generation in the moment.

    Breslov is closer to Chabad in that it is philosophical in its approach but it is not on the level of Chochmah Binah Das but ont he level of Chesed Gevurah Tiferes as its main goal is to achieve Emunah Faith while Chabads goal is Knowledge.

  5. Mochin,
    While I appreciate the time you took to comment, I do not think you understand the difficulties that many people these days have in committing to one hashkafa.
    These difficulties have nothing to do with chitzoniut. I sincerely can identify with many strong points in different Chassidut.
    That being said, I think it is IMPOSSIBLE to totally separate the Chassidus from the community that it represents. Have you seen what's been happening in 770 this past month? Why would one want to raise their child in schools which are equally as messed up?
    @Yishai While initially, Breslov is MUCH more open than Chabad, once you become a "Chossid", that aspect disappears as well. Breslov schools are full of Moroccan kids that speak and dress like Polish people- their heritage forsaken.

  6. I am very aware of the struggle Jews experience while trying to connect with one Hashkafa and I think its a bigger issue in the actually groups especially Chabad and Breslov who are so open as to actually fulfilling the demands and requests of their Rebbe and the previous Rebbeim (for Chabad)

    What does 770 have to do with you? The Rebbe said so many times that being in 770 with him isn't this Ikkar

    Rabbi Shmuel Chefer from Kfar Chabad recalls a great story of this http://www.chabad.org/therebbe/livingtorah/player_cdo/aid/1775215/jewish/So-Far-Yet-So-Close.htm

    This Chosid travels to 770 and the Rebbe sends him to a random city in Iowa to read megillah for JEws who are married to non Jews and he is mad. He comes back and the Rebbe says at the Farbrengen.

    "A Chasid can be 2000 miles away from me in a city in Iowa and be right next to me, and a chasid can be sitting next to me and be 2000 miles away. "

    You don't need 770 to be a Chasid and have Hiskashrus to the Rebbe. You need to learn Chassidus and live Chassidus and follow the directives of the Rebbe. Not all schools are like 770 and such a blanket statement overgeneralization shows that you might not be ready yet. Hatzlacha.


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