Dear Rabbi Gordimer,
Thank you for your well-written response to my article and your affirmation of some of its main points. While I strongly stand by everything I wrote and do not mean this letter as a retraction in any way, I regret that in using some of the expressions I chose to use, I opened myself to terrible misevaluation and misinterpretation. I now realize that parts of the article could have been written in a different way that would have prevented a lot of unpleasantness. This experience has definitely taught me a valuable lesson going forward.
Though many of the points you raise in your respectful article represent, to anyone who knows me, the exact opposite of my personal views (I never claimed to be the spokesperson for this movement, only one of its thousands of passionate proponents), there is one, in particular, that stands out. This particular misunderstanding of my words is not unique to your reading and thus prompted me to post a public clarification on Facebook which many found helpful. Since, from your article, it appears that you have not seen that follow-up post, I am taking to the same platform as my original article to publically correct what I feel is a devastating error.
You quote a line from my article in which I wrote:
“Friends, our generation is fed up with cold potato knishes. We are no longer satisfied with a page of Gemara or Mesillas Yesharim that doesn’t emit the most wondrous fragrance of Hashem’s presence.”
Along with some others, you understood this to mean that I and other “neo-Chassidim” (for lack of better term) feel that the study of Mesillas Yeshiarim or Gemara is devoid of Hashem’s presence. You felt that Neo-Chassidus, as I represented it, seeks to supplant these studies with others of a more perceptibly spiritual nature.
Not only is this an incorrect reading, it represents the exact opposite of my true intent. When writing this article, I assumed that an intellectually honest reader, taking this sentence in the context it was offered, would have realized what it was that I meant. I now realize that this assumption was a tremendous mistake.
My true intent was that specifically because Mesillas Yeshiarim and Gemara (along with every single word of Torah) is absolutely bursting with Hashem’s presence, many of the Jews in our generation feel a lack of satisfaction when they are unable to perceive that loving presence due to the way they have been taught to view (or not view) Mesillas Yeshiarim and Gemara. To claim Chassidus denies the presence of Hashem in learning Gemara “yeshiva-style”, or that it calls for the replacement of Gemara study and other areas of Torah is utterly ridiculous and patently false. The great masters of the Chassidic tradition such as the Maggid of Mezritch, R’ Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov, the Ba’al HaTanya, the B’nei Yisoschor, the Sefas Emes, the Hafla’ah, the Avnei Nezer, R’ Tzaddok Hakohen, and the Divrei Chaim, to name just a few, were giants of Nigleh as well as Nistar. Neither I, nor any of my fellow Jews who have experienced a reinvigoration of desire for all aspects of Torah through the study and consciousness of Chassidus would ever, in a million years, think to make such an assertion. In full disclosure, the fourth chapter in Tanya was the absolute turning point for me (and, as they have personally told me, so many others!) in terms of my relationship with the foundational studies of Halacha and Gemara. Historically, Chassidus never sought to supplant the rigorous study of Toras Hashem. It sought only to reinvigorate the study of Gemara and halacha (as well as all other aspects of yiddishkeit of where there are so many) with the light of p’nimiyus haTorah and a deeper understanding of our relationship with Hashem of which Torah study is a primary element. This was precisely the intended point of R’ Nosson’s parable of the k’nish, brought at the end of the article, (which those who misunderstood the sentence in question seems never to have gotten to), which confirmed that Chassidus is nothing “new”, and requires no practical change in the vehicles of one’s relationship with Hashem. There, I wrote: “Our generation doesn’t need any new ingredients. True Yiddishkeit, as it has always been, is ours for the taking; it is ready, willing, and able. All we need is a “toaster oven,” something which has the ability to draw out the true inner nature of the very same Torah and avodah we have always had throughout all the generations…”
While I felt that the latter statement would create the context within which my readers could properly understand the former, I now understand that I was sorely mistaken, and I, therefore, regret having included it in the article.
This mistaken understanding seems to have been the foundation for an earlier point in your article, where, in challenging my use of the term “Jews who really know what is going on”, you seem to suggest that “adherents of Neo-Chassidim” are “in contrast with Jews who are steeped in Talmud study and who learn traditional sifrei hashkafah and mussar (books of Jewish philosophy and self-improvement)”. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As my rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, pointed out in his public response to Rabbi Shafran, Chassidus has successfully provided many hundreds of teens with a new “cheishek” for those very studies of Talmud, sifrei hashkafa, and mussar. I myself was one of them. Still, I readily admit that using other words could have prevented the cementing of this inaccuracy, and, as I mentioned, I regret that I used the expressions I did.
The intended purpose of my article was to lend chizzuk to those who feel as I do, that the vision in which the Ba’al Shem Tov saw Chassidus spreading far and wide before the coming of Moshiach is indeed actualizing before our very eyes. It was not intended to present any “chiddush”, prove the worth of Chassidus, or explain why I believe that Chassidus contains the light of Moshiach. While I don’t feel the need to apologize for my consuming love of Chassidus or defend my staunch belief in its ability to solve many of the “terrible lack of connection and interest in Judaism” we both recognize to be a major issue of our generation, this doesn’t mean that I, or any like-minded Jews, view other streams of yiddishkeit as “second-rate” or as ineffective. One of the fundamental tenets of Chassidus is the recognition of the esteemed preciousness of every single Jew which accompanies the understanding of the lofty essence we share, regardless of affiliation or beliefs. Chassidus desires only one thing: to see every Jew on fire with the love of Hashem, the love of His Torah (all aspects) and the love of every single Jew. If Jews manage to get there without Chassidus (and I am not a complete fool to ignore that thousands of Jews all over the world do), then I am the happiest person in all of Chicago. The purpose of my article was merely to build on the accurate report of Mishpacha magazine that, for reasons beyond the scope of this article (and there are many deep and wonderous reasons that the tzaddikim have revealed in their seforim) Chassidus seems to be working for so many Jews where nothing else is. In so doing, I hoped to encourage our brothers and sisters to continue to open up to its messages for our generation and allow themselves the other-worldly delight of exploring that unique world of spirit.
There is so much more to be said, and there were a few other points in your article that I would like to analyze and respond to, but I feel that I have said enough. Iy”H, in the years to come, I hope to continue to learn, think, and write in an attempt to do my small part in helping other Jews grow closer to the Master of the world who loves all of His precious children more dearly than they could ever begin to imagine.
I hope I have clarified my intentions, even if I have not responded to every one of your points. I hope that there will be the occasion for you and me to meet, in person, and discuss this important topic with great love, friendship, humility, and the sense of a common purpose.
May we succeed in our shared goal, for, in reality, you and I desire the very same thing.
Respectfully, and with love,