The Contamination of Chassidus


By: Shlomo Chaim Kesselman

Chassidus is supposed to provide spirituality, inspiration and meaning for living a happy, holistic, and fulfilled life and evidently, something is amiss.

Instead of people finding the “answers” in Chassidus, they are turning more and more to “outside” sources for this inspiration, meaning and purpose.

This problem is not going away and if we don’t address it, people will continue to search in foreign pastures and could very well end up in another “COTS” like cult, or worse.

In order to provide a resolution for this issue we should first address why it came about. Obviously, there are many reasons for why this happened, but I want to suggest one and propose a solution.

People have begun looking into alternative methods of finding happiness and meaning because we have contaminated and diluted Chassidus. We’ve stopped treating it the way it’s meant to be treated and instead are viewing and learning it as a psychology.

It’s not uncommon for a weekly Dvar torah delivered by a Shliach / Rabbi to be just some pop psychology theory sprinkled with quotes and proofs from Chassidus. The more intertwined the Chassidic idea and the modern psychology become, the better the speech. Even in Yeshivos, this epidemic of watering down Chassidus is prevalent, how much more so everywhere else.

Not only is this wrong ideologically, demonstrating an utter lack of understanding of Chassidus, it is also very dangerous.

You see, turning Chassidus into simply a form of psychology is the top of a slippery slope.

When it’s just another self-help psychology book, albeit a very good one, we lose the very thing which makes it so powerful and open the door for all other philosophies and treatments. The litmus test of its usefulness now becomes, “how does this make me feel?”, or, “does it work?” instead of it being about immersing and losing oneself in the absolute truth of G-dliness.

This ultimately leads to ideologies that contradict absolutely everything the Rebbeim, Chassidus and the Torah stand for.

The reason this trend started is very understandable. Many people felt like Chassidus wasn’t talking to them and the concepts were too lofty. To solve that issue, we took it to the opposite extreme and watered it down too much. It’s become so diluted that it’s become difficult to distinguish the kernel of Chassidus buried under the heap of Goyishe, worldly ideas.

However, this perception is false. The notion that Chassidus is unpractical and lofty comes from a lack of knowledge and a disinterest with it to begin with. Chassidus is only too lofty when we stand outside and look in. However if we throw ourselves into it, learn it properly and follow the Rebbeim’s directives, Chassidus becomes practical and dynamic. After all, the Tanya, the “Torah Shebichsav” of Chassidus is based on the passuk, “Ki Karoiv Eilecha…” The Torah is very close to you etc..”

The claim that Chassidus is not practical almost always comes from people who never even bothered to take it seriously. Seriously enough to invest many hours into learning, or applying its tools. You will very rarely find an individual whose entire life is dedicated to the Rebbe and Chassidus who claims that Chassidus is not practical.

It’s not supposed to be simply “practical”, it’s supposed to be everything! Life itself!

The solution, therefore, is pure, unadulterated Chassidus. We need to go back to the books and start learning Chassidus in its most pristine form. When we do that we’ll experience the bliss of Chassidus in its purest form, without needing to clothe it or supplement it with foreign teachings or ideologies.

We won’t need to water it down because we will see how pure Chassidus provides us with all we are looking for. We need to start learning, Davening and being Misboinen, bearing in mind that like everything in life, nothing good comes easy.

Let’s stop running away from Chassidus and looking for everything else. Rather let us look into our own backyard, and begin to experience the truth of pure Chassidus and its practical application.

5 responses

  1. There is a fine line between”applying Chassidus” and losing the plot.
    Chassidus is about bittul and focusing on G-dliness. Instead we are obsessing over ourselves and our issues.
    The author is spot on.

  2. Great article. I see that “Yeshivas” makes an appearance in every article on this site. I learned in Yeshivas on four continents and never experienced any watering down of Chassidus in yeshiva. If anything, the opposite was true: whilst in yeshiva, Chassidus kept its glitter and sparkle. The watering down came later, while listening to speeches and lectures.

  3. Good stuff!
    I have long been saying: “we shouldn’t be applying Chassidus to our lives, we should be elevating our lives to Chassidus.”

  4. This reminds me of the story of the school janitor who found a genie. For his single wish, the janitor asked to “become a janitor in the White House!”

    The author articulates a real problem in that people perceive Chassidus as too lofty and not meaningful. And the solution? You didn’t learn enough Chassidus.
    It’s the height of irony, and also a little pretentious: It’s not working for you? Just do it more!

    It’s the same non-answer that we’ve been hearing from mashpi’im for decades, and is the very thing that got us into this problem in the first place.

    S. C., you had the honesty to ask a tough question, now have the honesty to come up with a good answer, instead of whitewashing the problem entirely.

  5. While the question is a very good one the solution and even the reason for the problem misses the point imho. The problem is not about the amount of time spent in study. It’s not even so much “watering” Chassidus down as a tool to help you psychologically and philosophically. When our Sages say “hafoch boh va’hafoch d’kuloh boh” it means Chassidus as well and it should be used both as a means to connecting with truth which automatically includes “self-help” as well.

    I believe the root of the problem goes back to the same problem we’re experiencing in general in so many ways, some of which have already been mentioned before. It’s an overall problem that touches every aspect of Chabad life, whether in “kahn tzeevah…” or “ohrei ha’sodeh” or even on Shlichus.

    The problem is twofold: 1) Leadership. It’s as simple as that. Lack of it and the inability to assert it filters down and into ever ventricle and vein throughout our collective body. It cools it down and ultimately settles into malaise and depression. And from there it ends up who knows where and “aleh shvartzyohr”.

    2) We don’t daven anymore. Chassidus is nothing without davening. If you can’t take a concept or a though of Chassidus just studied and immerse yourself into it when you daven and even cry a little bit Chassidus too becomes “contaminated” because it’s dead to the learner. For it to become fused we must teach our youth and even elders the meaning of davening and how to take it seriously.

    I remember one of my mashpi’im (a chassidisher yid, R’ Elichayim Roitblatt a”h) always knocking into my head “mehn darf nis’atzem verehn mit’n davenehn. Nisht Dovid HaMelech zogt nohr eech zohg eilecho Hashem nafshee esah…” While I’m far from anything something as simple as that helps. Can you imagine how it is when you don’t have even that?!

    Shame to say –and please don’t shoot the messenger– it seems what was once the purview of chassidim and the bane of misnagdim has been reversed. Perhaps even “b’cheetzoniyus” but it has happened and we’ve become cold.

    Bottom line as the Shpoler Zeideh said, ultimately it’s galus, G-d. Redeem your children or they won’t be there to be redeemed or care.

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