Thursday, July 31, 2008

Emphasizing the inner core of our Chabad identity

It needs to be stressed that Avodah Pnimis is not just another idea among countless others in the voluminous Chabad literature. It is the very core, the raison d'être for this derech.

Of course, there are also many beliefs that Chabad teachings and those of other Chasidic groups have in common. We are all talmidim of the Baal Shem Tov, after all, following his path. Here is not the place to elaborate.

However, the Alter Rebbe introduced a new, different Avodah from what was known until then among Chasidim: Alongside the intense emunah in the Tzaddik, in his Brochos, and in Hiskashrus to him, the Chossid must invest effort milmata lemaala, from below to above, to connect himself to Hashem through in-depth study of Chassidus followed by lengthy Avodas HaTefillah to bring that knowledge of Hashem to be felt internally and affect one’s character traits. This process of internal change is known as Avodah Pnimis, and this more than anything else is what distinguishes the derech of Chabad from that of other groups.

Chabad Chassidim should know what is special about their derech and koch in it and pride themselves on it. However, this pride cannot be meaningfully felt if one does not engage in the Avodah that is expected, even if for the moment that means working only at a beginner’s level. If you don’t do it, it’s not real for you no matter how much you read about it (just as a beginner to Torah observance cannot suffice with study, but must actually observe Shulchan Aruch for Yiddishkeit to be real). And it’s even less real if you don’t see others who do it.

Don’t misunderstand me, Chassidim have many precious, beautiful things to be proud of in their heritage, e.g., the most detailed, profound teachings concerning Hashem’s greatness that have ever been revealed (until Moshiach comes); stirring Chassidishe Niggunim; Mesiras Nefesh to keep Yiddishkeit; and Mesiras Nefesh to spread Yiddishkeit to other Yidden. However, all that and much more is peripheral vis-à-vis the core of what our derech represents. At the inner core of all the customs and the profound teachings lies Avodas HaTefillah. Im yirtzeh Hashem I will quote sources to demonstrate this in upcoming posts.