There’s been some debate recently in a magazine (see 1, 2, 3 & 4 ) regarding the unprecedented resurgence of chassidus in all walks of Orthodox Jewish life. The original article, which praised the renaissance, was subject to criticism by some that the movement is something new, dangerously looking to replace the old methods of strict Talmud learning. Of course, the proponents of this revival, led by Rav Moshe Weinberger, feel that learning chassidic works only enhance the old ways, giving them relevance in today’s day and age.
As an obvious supporter of learning chassidus, I’d like to present a unique angle in this discussion. In Torah 10, Rebbe Nachman explains how Jacob revealed more godliness in the world than his patriarch predecessors. While Abraham likened prayer to a mountain, Isaac saw it as a field. But only Jacob understood it to be close to home. Was Abraham wrong by seeing prayer as a mountain? Surely not. But Jacob revealed that prayer is more relatable. Prayer is not only for the courageous ascetics who can scale the mountain peaks, but it can be found right in one’s own home.
Says the Rebbe, “This matter of elevating prayer from a mountain and a field to a house can only be done by the tzaddikim of the generation. They are the only ones that truly know how to pray”, like the Talmud says (Bava Basra 116a), “If someone has a sick person in his household, he should go to a wise man to beg mercy on his behalf”. This practice of turning to the sages to pray for us was common throughout our history. Whether we appealed to Moses, the Judges, Samuel, the prophets or the Sages of the Talmud, we always sought-out our real leaders to help us with their prayers. But now, warns Rebbe Nachman, there are haughty leaders who prevent their followers from traveling to the tzaddikim. They claim there’s no need to go to tzaddikim, when you could learn and pray yourself. This ignorance, and I admit it’s mostly due to ignorance, is dangerous for our people. The tzaddik is “a man of spirit” (Numbers 27), and only his unique רוח (spirit) can diminish the haughtiness of idolatry and divine judgments in the world.
The Rebbe continues: What makes a tzaddik’s רוח unique? His mastery of Torah is in the revealed and in the hidden teachings. The revealed parts of Torah are compared to the hands, which are usually uncovered, and the hidden teachings are compared to the legs, which are generally covered (see Torah 10:7 for verse-proofs). If a sage is lacking the knowledge of the hidden or revealed parts of the Torah, then, in that sense, he is a cripple. This blemish tarnishes his רוח and his prayer isn’t effective enough to subjugate the side of evil.
This script plays out perfectly in the story of Purim. Haman’s denial of Hashem made him the idol of the time. He saw the 7th of Adar as a lucky day to wipe out the Jews, because it was the day of Moses’ death. Moses signifies the tzaddik that erases idolatry in the world, as we know he’s buried across from the idol of Pe’or. But standing in the way of the evil Haman’s plot was the dynamic duo, Mordechai and Esther. Mordechai symbolizes the revealed teachings of the Torah and Esther symbolizes the hidden teachings.
(If you’re interested how Mordechai and Esther symbolize the revealed and hidden teachings, see here. Otherwise skip to after the parentheses. The Talmud (Chullin 139b) says that the aramaic words in the Targum for מר דרור, the first ingredient in the Temple’s incense (see Exodus 30:23), is מרי דכי, the letters of Mordechai (מרדכי). The word דרור means free, another word for חרות, which also means to be etched, as in the letters that were etched on the Tablets. The Tablets are the symbol of the revealed Torah. Esther means to be hidden).
Mordechai and Esther together, the hands and the feet, are the two ingredients of the exceptional spirit necessary to diminish the haughtiness of Haman, who’s energized by the other side. As the Megilla writes, “ויהי אומן את הדסה”, Mordechai’s raising of Esther was called emuna, which in Rebbe Nachman’s world is synonymous to prayer. But the hands without the feet are insufficient. In fact, it’s mainly through Esther – and through the feet – that idolatry and harsh judgments are subdued. That’s why the Megilla is called “The Book of Esther” (not Mordechai). It’s true that the feet are closest to the side of impurity and need to be handled with care, as it says in Proverbs (5:5) “רגליה יורדות מות”, her feet go down to death – a reference to idolatry, but that’s no reason to ignore the deeper texts or, God forbid, scorn it.
The Ba’al Shem Tov revealed that it’s no longer enough to learn the revealed Torah. The hidden teachings are now essential to our redemption. To most of us it’s crystal clear how necessary those teachings are for our survival in this long exile. But anyone who attempts to discredit the role of the tzaddik, who masters the hidden and the revealed, and is essential in this battle against evil, is at best ignorant and negligent or worse, haughty and fully responsible, God forbid, for those spiritual casualties.
It’s not enough to clap our hands anymore. We need to dance with out feet. Don’t be scared to approach the dance floor. They’re playing your song…