Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Chassidim, Misnagdim, and now Mussar

In response to the legitimate complaint that many made, that I neglected Mussar, I have expanded the table to include a third column:



Mussar Differences



Downplayed and underdeveloped theme; too elusive to define and too dangerous to use as a focus.

Similar to other Misnagdim

Central theme (although not much time is spent developing it); essential for Dveykus.

Achilah U'Shesiyah

A physical activity only moderately elevated by Torah and Zemiros.

Similar to other Misnagdim

An essential catalyst for Ahavah; for Ha'olas Nitzotzos. Meals with Toiroh and Niggunim are core experiences.

Emes Va”Sheker

Unrelenting focus on reality, to the detriment of possible ecstasy – is it for real?

If anything, even more so – but reality lies more in the character and personality than in the Blatt Gemara.

A little blurry at the edges: If the experience is uplifting, does it matter if it's “really real?”

Bushah V'Azus

Harbors doubt, sometimes lacks confidence.

Paradoxical trends toward doubt and boldness co-exist.

Bold and confident in the service of core values.


Hashem has his plans.

Could go either way.

Everything is Good!

Ga'avah V'Anavah

Takes pride in personal accomplishments, built on drive. Tool for aliyah.

Paradoxical trends toward ambition to achieve and negation of kavod (see below).

Bittul – negation of self; role in system more important than personal satisfaction.

Dveykus Ba'Hashem

Nice, but not essential

Similar to other Misnagdim.

It's Everything!

Dibbur U'Shesikah

Intellectual conversation most important.

Mussar b'Hispa'alus and shmuessen in Yirah and Middos also important,

Chassidic stories most important.

Derech Eretz, Nikayon, Seder

Essential to Mussar-refinement.

Critical, but even the non-Mussar school holds that these elementary characteristics enhance accomplishment.

Not inspirational, not particularly important.

Hakoras Tovah

A logic

A middah.

An emotion

Zerizus V'Atzlus

Is of greater value than more profound kavanah.

Similar to other Misnagdim.

Is of lesser value than profound kavanah.

Chaver, Shachen, Nosei B'Ol

About the same.

Much more important than either of the other derachim

About the same.

Chesed V'Rachamim

Only when not learning.

Only when not learning, but then a focus.

A legitimate option instead of learning.


Central theme. Mostly onesh, some romemus.

Similar to other Misnagdim.

Secondary theme. All romemus, little onesh.


Can be used as a shelo lishmah, major emphasis on Kavod HaTorah.

Eradicating Kavod is one of the most central of Mussar's themes

Preferable to eradicate, with the exception, obviously, of Rebbes.

Kavanah when performing Mitzvos

Nice, but tafel – not worth bending the rules.

Similar to other Misnagdim.

Important, an ikkar – worth bending the rules.

Ka'as, Refraining from

Very Important.

Very, Very important

Very Important.

Lev Tov

Very Important, but not as much as Torah.

If one does not accomplish a Lev Tov, then one has not accomplished anything.

Very important, but not as much as Dveykus.

Limud Torah


Similar to Chassidim.

Important – for some, very important, but not Everything.


Very Important.


Very Important.


Positive attitude, at least in theory.

Similar to other Misnagdim, but more l'ma'aseh.

Except for Chabad and Breslov, neutral or negative attitude

Shalom U'Machlokes

We pay lip service to shalom, but in reality...

More of an attempt to put principle into practice.

We pay lip service to shalom, but in reality...

Simchah V'Atzvus

Not much attention paid to these concepts. Some Misnagdim are pretty depressed.

Similar to other Misnagdim.

A lot of attention. In theory, and often in practice, Chassidim are happy, avoid sadness, and are more happy-go-lucky.

Tochachah, Kana'us, Chanufah

Not much attention.


Not much attention.


Very Important.


Very Important.

Avodas HaShem


A combination.



  1. Hi,

    From a chasidic perspective, the main thrust of the Torah, and therefore one's efforts, is to break through to d'vekus, as you have written. Chasidus does not see itself as innovating this, merely using a different approach to achieve it, since in the generations before the Baal Shem Tov most of those that were learning were not getting the required effect from their Torah. The Piasezno Rebbe writes ~in the 1920's that the misnagdim have forgotten that the purpose of learning is to achieve this shift of perception, so reducing learning to an intellectual activity as you document. Essentially, the misnagdim have fallen into the trap of the maskilim - thinking that there is no alternate reality out there to tap. Intellectual activity is the tehom of esov - you go endlessly around in logical circles.

    My shver z'l told me that in Poland before the war there were 80 Rebbes with Ruach haKodesh. It seems to me that post-war chasidim have also forgotten that it is about getting somewhere, although there are still more than a few Rebbes who are clearly there. My feeling is that having succeeded in re-establishing themselves as a social force, the next task for chasidus is to produce a generation of chasidim that are also baalei hasogo.

  2. An extremely important comment.

    My Belzer chevrusa (we learn "Sidduro shel Shabbos" together) explained to me recently that the Chassidim themselves recognize that the primary role of Rebbes in our day is social cohesion as opposed to hadrachah in Avodas Hashem and in Dveykus. I do not see how the difficult change-over to the "next task" can be accomplished, but it will be truly wonderful if and when it does!

  3. I believe the change over will come when A) it becomes common knowledge that this sort of shift is what is intended and is possible, even in our times, and for average people. I once asked a mashgiach in a Gerrer yeshiva what the Beis Yisroel means when he says (in almost every piece) 'shabos/yomtov/etc helft zi, m'ken tzikimen' 'shabos/yomtov/almost anything helps, and one can arrive'. He didn't know.
    B) Information on concrete ways of going about it that are of practical use is widely available and socially accepted. In our generation this means imho an emphasis on emotional processing (cf Sedona method, Focusing and other emotional based therapies) which affect nefesh habehamis, which is the site of emotions. These approaches therefore need to be placed in a proper Torah context, as opposed to being 'free-standing'. Clearing up repressed negative emotions allows the heart to begin to open, and this opening of the heart - to the experience of (Divine) love - is what allows nefesh to hook up to the higher levels. 'Veata yodea sherefuas hanefesh hu tikkun hamidos' 'And you know that healing the soul is tikkun hamidos' Rambam Shmone Prokim 1

  4. From Avodah:

    > My Belzer chevrusa (we learn "Sidduro shel Shabbos" together) explained
    > to me recently that the Chassidim themselves recognize that the primary
    > role of Rebbes in our day is social cohesion as opposed to hadrachah in
    > Avodas Hashem and in Dveykus. I do not see how the difficult change-over
    > to the "next task" can be accomplished, but it will be truly wonderful
    > if and when it does!

    The Klausenberger Rebbe (Shefah Chaim volume 4 #248) wrote concerning this:
    "Our grandfather the Ateres Tzvi once said while fish were being
    prepared and they were flopping around after their heads had been cut
    off. "In this same manner will the chassidic rebbes dance and jump
    -- without a head -- before the coming of Moshiach." In my humble
    opinion in understanding the words of the sages and their mysteries
    -- that the intent of our grandfather was positive concerning our
    times. These times which we see the lowliness of the generation. A
    time when there are no great people to ask or seek counsel from. The
    question spontaneously wells up in the heart concerning the value
    of the chassidic movement which was founded by the Baal Shem Tov. I
    have personally said many time commented concerning the well known
    frightening letter that the Gra wrote erev Yom Kippur -- how could
    he speak so harshly against those great tzadikim? In fact the dispute
    between the Gra and the Chassidim was similar to the dispute between
    Yosef and his brothers... They asserted that offspring that are
    no good, severely diminish the forefathers retroactively for many
    generations. And surely it has a bad impact on the future. Perhaps
    then this was the reason for the strong opposition of the Gra and
    the misnagdim when they saw with ruach hakodesh up until the time of
    our generation. They wanted to reject chassidus because they knew how
    degenerate it would become in the generation just before the coming of
    Moshiach. In contrast the Baal Shem Tov and his followers -- despite
    the fact that they all foresaw the degeneration in chassidus which
    would develop -- but they also saw its benefits. In fact it is quite
    obvious that chassidus has in fact been the main factor in saving
    Yiddishkeit even in our generation -- even though we are well aware
    of its lowly state. In fact there would be little left of Yiddisheit
    if it weren't for chassidus with its special clothing and the close
    attachment of the chassidim to the community and their rebbe. This
    external social cohesion is the basis of the vital strength of
    chassidus. The strength of chassidus has significant influence
    on the non-chassidic world also. This then was the intent of our
    grandfather's statement. He wanted to indicate the tremendous value in
    chassidus even just before Moshiach and that we should not fall into
    despair when we see the lowliness of the generation. The rebbes --
    even though they are mindless creatures without heads -- nevetheless
    they jump about and still have some vitality and provide social
    cohesion. They retain the strong spirit that sustains Yiddishkeit."

    Rav Sternbuch's comment when shown this was - that the litvaks today
    are similar to the chassidim in their running after gedolim.

    Daniel Eidensohn

  5. From a not-so-old Avodah post:

    Date: Wed, 27 Oct 2004 08:52:07 -0400
    From: "Yosef Gavriel & Shoshanah M. Bechhofer"
    Subject: Dveykus vs. Shleymus, Parashas HaShavua

    The dveykus (Chassidim) vs. shleymus (Misngadim) debate is blatant in the
    respective interpretation of "Gedola Hachnasas Orchim yoser me'Kabbolas
    Pnei Shechinah (Shabbos 127a), cited by Rashi at the beginning of the
    parashah on "Be Adoni." The Alter from Kelm (Chochmah u'Mussar vol. 2 pp.
    191-192) expresses (what I think is) the simple interpretation: "Lo
    haMidrash ikkar elah ha'Ma'aseh" (Avos 1), and one therefore forsakes
    the tremendous spiritual Oneg of Nevuah and Yedias Elokus to imitate
    Hashem Yisborach and be meitiv, for this is the Ratzon Hashem.

    On the other hand, the Maor Eynayim, for example, here and in Parashas
    Vayakhel, explains that the reason that Hachnosas Orchim is greater
    is because it consists *both* of dveykus - since mitzvah is me'lashon
    tzavta and one therefore experiences Kabbolas Pnei Shechinah in the
    act of Hachnosas Orchim as well - *and* Ha'alo'as HaNitzotzos by kiruv
    tachas Kanfei ha'Shechinah (note that the kiruv is not explained by the
    principle of Chesed and Hatavah but by Ha'alo'as Nitzotzos).

    Moreover, interestingly, the Kol Mevaser here asks how Avraham Avinu knew
    this principle (from the Alter's perspective, of course, the question
    does not even begin!). He answers in the name of the Rebbe Reb Bunim
    that Avraham Avinu's limbs were all synchronized with and reflected
    Ratzon Hashem. Hence, if he felt the urge to run ("Va'ya'ar va'yaratz")
    at the time the Orchim were coming, his eivarim themselves taught him
    the principle of Gedola etc.


  6. From Avodah:

    Gershon Seif wrote:

    >>In response to the legitimate complaint that I neglected Mussar, I
    >>have expanded the table.
    >When I first looked at the table I assumed that the misnagdim column
    >was really explaining the yeshivish/mussar oriented view already.
    >I would love to see you add TIDE to the chart!

    From the first footnote of my "Forks" essay:

    A detailed treatment of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch’s philosophy as reflected in the writings of his grandson, Dr. Isaac Breuer, is presented in my essay: Dr. Yitzchok Breuer zt"l and World History. I believe it is accurate to state the following distinction: The schools of thought presented here focus on the Avodas Hashem that is the predominant aspect of life. Torah im Derech Eretz, on the other hand, focuses on the totality of life - of a person, of the nation, and of the world - and living that life in a manner consistent with what Torah im Derech Eretz understands to be Hashem’s will and purpose for the person, the nation and the world. Hence, it is entirely possible to not follow Rabbi Hirsch’s system of Avodas Hashem (as presented in Chorev and other works), following, instead, another approaches to Avodas Hashem, such as those presented here, and still be an adherent, on the more global or holistic level, of Torah im Derech Eretz. (Conversely, it is theoretically possible for someone to reject Torah im Derech Eretz yet adopt a Hirschian mode of Avodas Hashem.)

  7. To the anonymous commentor who mentioned the Sedona method -- I intuited some of the things you said and I would like to contact you. Can you e-mail offline to

  8. Rabbi Bechhofer,

    While it's true that one can ascribe other darchei avodas Hashem, such as the derech hamussar, and still maintain a Hirschian worldview, there still does exist a Hirschian derech Hashem, right? So wouldn't it be helpful to define that derech within your chart?

  9. OK, I will try, in a separate post.