True Chasidic Joy
James Scott Trimm
In the Eighteenth Century Rabbi Yisrael (Israel) ben Eliezer (known as the Baal Shem Tov "Master of the Good Name" or simply “the Besht”) began an effort to restore Chasidic Judaism within Rabbinic Judaism. He taught that Judaism must be centered not simply around doing the Torah, but around feeling the Torah.
The Baal Shem Tov was once asked: "Why is it that chassidim burst into song and dance at the slightest provocation? Is this the behavior of a healthy, sane individual?"
The Baal Shem Tov responded with a story:
Once, a musician came to town—a musician of great but unknown talent. He stood on a street corner and began to play.
Those who stopped to listen could not tear themselves away, and soon a large crowd stood enthralled by the glorious music whose equal they had never heard. Before long they were moving to its rhythm, and the entire street was transformed into a dancing mass of humanity.
A deaf man walking by wondered: Has the world gone mad? Why are the townspeople jumping up and down, waving their arms and turning in circles in middle of the street?
"Chassidim," concluded the Baal Shem Tov, "are moved by the melody that issues forth from every creature in Elohim's creation. If this makes them appear mad to those with less sensitive ears, should they therefore cease to dance?"
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi was the first Rebbe of the Chabad movement. Rebbe Zalman was a student of Dovber of
Mezeritch who had in turn been a student of the Baal Shem Tov. In 1797 Rebbe Zalman wrote The Tanya, a work which came to be the foundation for Chabad Chassidic Judaism. The purpose of the Tanya is to give a rational basis for the outpouring of Chasidic joy which was itself the basis for the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. The purpose of the Tanya was to take the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and bring them into a logical focus, and thus create a logical basis for Chasidic joy.
The Tanya teaches:
So, allegorically speaking, have the souls of Jews risen in the [Divine] thought, as it is written, "My firstborn
son is Israel," (Ex. 4:22) and "Ye are children unto the YHWH your Elohim" (Deut. 14:1). That is to say, just as a
child is derived from his father's brain, so— to use an anthropomorphism— the soul of each Israelite is derived from Elohim's (blessed be He) thought and wisdom.
(Tanya; Likutei Amarim; Chapter 2)
This passage draws from two Torah passages:
Then you shall say to Pharaoh,
“Thus says YHWH:
‘Israel is my first-born son.
I have said to you, ‘Let My son go,
That he may worship Me,’
Yet you refuse to let him go.
Now I will slay your first-born son.’”
(Sh’mot (Ex.) 4:22-23 HRV)
You are the children of YHWH your Elohim.
You shall not cut yourselves,
nor make any baldness between your eyes, for the dead.
(Deut. 14:1 HRV))
The Tanya is speaking here of a "second soul" which each Jew has. Remember, in the Tanya a "Jew" is one whose religion is Judaism. This "second soul" is described in the Tanya as a spark of Elohim, and is identifiable with the Ruach HaKodesh which believers recieve. The Tanya is saying here that this second "soul" derives from the Wisdom, Knowledge and Understanding of YHWH.
Then in the next chapter the Tanya says:
Similarly is it with the human soul, which is divided in two— sechel (intellect) and middot (emotional attributes).
The intellect includes chochmah, binah and da'at (ChaBaD), whilst the middot [emotions] are love of Elohim, dread
and awe of Him, glorification of Him, and so forth. ChaBaD [the intellectual faculties] are called "mothers" and
source of the middot, for the latter are "offspring" of the former.
The explanation of the matter is as follows:
The intellect of the rational soul, which is the faculty that conceives any thing, is given the appellation of chochmah—כ"ח מ"ה— the "potentiality" of "what is." When one brings forth this power from the potential into the
actual, that is, when [a person] cogitates with his intellect in order to understand a thing truly and profoundly
as it evolves from the concept which he has conceived in his intellect, this is called binah. These [chochmah and
binah] are the very "father" and "mother" which give birth to love of Elohim, and awe and dread of Him....
Da'at (knowledge), the etymology of which is to be found in the verse: "And Adam knew (yada) Eve," implies attachment and union. That is, one binds his mind with a very firm and strong bond to, and firmly fixes his thought
on, the greatness of the blessed En sof, without diverting his mind [from Him]. For even one who is wise and
understanding of the greatness of the blessed En Sof, will not— unless he binds his knowledge and fixes his thought
with firmness and perseverence— produce in his soul true love and fear, but only vain fancies. Therefore da'at is the basis of the middot and the source of their vitality; it contains chesed and gevurah, that is to say, love with its offshoots and fear with its offshoots.
(Tanya; Likutei Amarim; Chapter 3)
Here the Tanya is telling us that Wisdom (chochmah) and Understaning (binah) are like a Father and Mother brought together in Knowledge (da'at) so as to bring forth a "Son" and that this "Son" is the second soul, which enters into a believer, bringing forth an outpouring of emotion in the form of Fear (repect) of YHWH and Love culminating in Chasidic Joy!
The Tanya presuposes that its readers are familiar with the Zohar which teaches.
The Shema says:
SH’MA YISRAEL YHWH ELOHEYNU YHWH ECHAD
“Hear O Israel, YHWH, our Elohim, YHWH is one (ECHAD)”
Now let us explore how this passage is understood by the Zohar:
The [profession of] unity that every day is [a profession of] unity
is to be understood and to be perceived. We have said in many places
that this prayer is a profession of Unity that is proclaimed:
”Hear O Yisrael, YHWH“ first, [then] “Eloheynu” [and] “YHWH” they are all One and thus He is called “One”.
Behold, these are three names, how can they be one? Is it because we call them one? (literally: And also concerning the proclamation that we call them one?). How these are one can only through the vision of the Holy Sprit be known. And these are through the vision of the closed eye (or the hidden eye) To make known that these three are one.
And this is the mystery of the voice that is heard. The voice is one. And is three GAUNIN: fire and air and water. And all these are one in the mystery of the voice.
And also here “YHWH, Eloheynu, YHWH” these are One. Three GAUNIN that are One. And this is the voice of the act of a son of man in [proclaiming] the Unity.
And to which he sees by the Unity of the “All” from Eyn Sof (the Inifinite One) to the end of the “All”. Because of the voice in which it is done, in these are three that are one.
And this is the [profession] of the daily profession of Unity that is revealed in the mystery of the Holy Spirit.
And there are many GAUNIN that are a Unity, and all of them are true, what the one does, that the other does, and what that one does, the other does.
(The Aramaic word GA’UN (sing.)/GAUNIN (plural) comes from the word for “color” and refer to an “aspect, element, substance, essence”. )
Thus the Zohar understands the Sh’ma to mean that YHWH, Elohim and YHWH are three GA’UNIN. This section of the Zohar also recalls a reading from the Sefer Yetzirah:
Three “mothers”: Alef; Mem and Shin
Their foundation is a pan of merit
a pan of liability
and the tongue of decree deciding between them.
(Sefer Yetzirah 3:1)
Three “mothers”, Alef, Mem, Shin
in the universe are air, water, fire…
(Sefer Yetzirah 3:4a)
(Note: The letter SHIN has a gematria (numerical value) of 300 which is the same as the gematria of the phrase ”Ruach Elohim” (the Spirit of Elohim).)
As it we will demonstrate the “tongue of decree deciding between them” is the Middle Pillar of the Godhead, which reconciles the two outer pillars of the Godhead, and through which flows the “offspring” of the love and fear of YHWH and their derivatives.
The Zohar also calls these three GAUNIN the three pillars of the Godhead. The Zohar teaches that the two outer pillars are reconciled by the middle pillar just as the “tongue of decree” decides between the two pans of the scale in the Sefer Yetzirah. The Zohar reads as follows:
Why, it may be asked, was it necessary to repeat the word “light”
in this verse? The answer is that the first “light” refers to the
primordial light which is of the Right Hand, and is destined for
the “end of days”; while the second “light” refers to the Left Hand,
which issues from the Right.
The next words, “And God saw the light that it was good” (Gen. 1:4),
refer to the pillar which standing midway between them,
writes both sides, and therefore when the unity of the three,
right, left, and middle, was complete, “it was good”, since there
could be no completion until the third had appeared to remove
the strife between Right and Left, as it is written, “And God separated
between the light and between the darkness.” …
This is the Middle Pillar: Ki Tov (that it was good) threw light
above and below and on all other sides, in virtue of YHWH,
the name which embraces all sides.
According to the Zohar the Middle Pillar of the Godhead is the Son of Yah:
Better is a neighbor that is near, than a brother far off.
This neighbor is the Middle Pillar in the Godhead,
which is the Son of Yah.
The Zohar also says of the Son of YHWH:
The Holy One, blessed be He, has a son, whose glory (tifret)
shines from one end of the world to another. He is a great
and mighty tree, whose head reaches heaven, and whose roots
are set in the holy ground, and his name is “Mispar” and his
place is in the uppermost heaven… as it is written, “The heavens
declare (me-SaPRim) the glory (tifret) of Elohim” (Ps. 19:1).
Were it not for this “Mispar” there would be neither hosts
nor offspring in any of the worlds.
This Zohar passage is intended to recall a passage from the Bahir:
Why are they called Sephirot?
Because it is written (Ps. 19:2),
“The heavens declare (me-SaPRim) the glory (tifret) of God.”
The Zohar also says concerning the Son of Yah:
"We may also translate "he who withholds blessings
from the Son" (Prov. 11:26), whom the Father and Mother
have CROWNED and blessed with many blessings,
and concerning whom they commanded, "Kiss the SON
lest he be angry" (Ps. 2:12), since he is invested
with judgment (GEVURAH) and with mercy (CHESED)"
According to the first century Jewish writer Philo, this firstborn Son of Elohim is also known as “The Word. Philo Writes of the Word (Logos):
For there are, as it seems, two temples belonging to God; one being this world, in which the high priest is the divine word, his own firstborn son. The other is the rational soul, the priest of which is the real true man,
(On Dreams 215)
And if there be not as yet any one who is worthy to be called a son of God, neverthless let him labour earnestly to be adorned according to his Firstborn Word, the eldest of his angels, as the great archangel of many names; for He is called, "the Authority", and "the Name of God", and "the Word", and "man according to God's image", and "He who sees Israel". . . For even if we are not yet suitable to be called the sons of God, still we may deserve to be called the children of his eternal image, of his most sacred Word; for the image of God is his most ancient word.
( On the Confusion of Tongues XXVIII:146-147)
Thus, indeed, being a shepherd is a good thing, so that it is justly attributed, not only to kings, and to wise men, and to souls who are perfectly purified, but also to God, the ruler of all things; and he who confirms this is not any ordinary person, but a prophet, whom it is good to believe, he namely who wrote the psalms; for he speaks thus, "The Lord is my shepherd, and he shall cause me to lack Nothing;" (Ps. 23:1.) and let every one in his turn say the same thing,
for it is very becoming to every man who loves God to study such a song as this, but above all this world should sing it. For God, like a shepherd and a king, governs (as if they were a flock of sheep) the earth, and the water, and the air, and the fire, and all the plants, and living creatures that are in them, whether mortal or divine; and he regulates the nature of the heaven, and the periodical revolutions of the sun and moon, and the variations and harmonious movements of the other stars, ruling them according to law and justice; appointing, as their immediate superintendent, his own right reason, his first-born son, who is to receive the charge of this sacred company, as the lieutenant of the great king; for it is said somewhere, "Behold, I am he! I will send my messenger before thy face, who shall keep thee in the Road."(Ex. 23:20.)
(On Husbandry 50-51)
Furthermore Philo tells us that “The Word” (Logos) and the Messiah are one and the same:
"The head of all things is the eternal Word (Logos) of the eternal God, under which, as if it were his feet or other limbs, is placed the whole world, over which He passes and firmly stands. Now it is not because Messiah is Lord that He passes and sits over the whole world, for His seat with His Father and God but because for its perfect fullness the world is in need of the care and superintendence of the best ordered dispensation, and for its own complete piety, of the Divine Word (Logos), just as living creatures (need) a head, without which it is impossible to live."
(Q&A on Exodus, II, 117)
The Tanya is telling us that Wisdom (chochmah) and Understaning (binah) known in the Zohar as Father and Mother are brought together in Knowledge (da'at) so as to bring forth a "Son" and that this "Son" is the second soul, which enters into a believer and makes him part of Israel, bringing forth an outpouring of emotion in the form of Fear (respect) of YHWH and Love culminating in Chasidic Joy!
The true Chasidic Joy comes to Israel through the Messiah, the Son of Yah!
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