What is a Chassid? Tthe Talmud, askign this question over a thousand years before the Chassidic movement originated in Europe, defines a "Chossid" (Literally meaning pious person) as one who reviews his studies one hundred and one times. The implication being, that he/she is used to reviewing a teaching a certain number of times, and does one extra, going outside of their comfort zone. The Tanya, written by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, which cites this teachng, brings in another chapter of the book a set of prescriptions for one who is suffering from spiritual insensitivity. That is, the person has experienced a sudden period of dullness and lack of feeling towards Judaism. The Rabbi prescribes a series of meditations which are not at all typical to Chassidic thought, which is ordinarily consumed with the importance of ALWAYS STRIVING TO BE HAPPY. 

However, the person who is spiritually dull needs a form of shock therapy to break their inner complacency. That is, he/she should think about how everyone is better than themselves in some way. These thoughts, though not good to think about often, have the effect of humbling oneself and causing us to reevaluate our inner self-image, to the point that the person is ready to begin anew. Where once they had been stuck in a certain view of themselves, which is connected with a stagnation and apathy, true spirituality means constantly trying to improve. So Rabbi Shneur Zalman tells us to look at the most lowly of individuals and question our assumption that we are at all better than they are. Whereas we don't have to work so hard to generally follow the unwritten moral rules of society, such a person constantly experiences an inner turmoil. While we are "coasting," they are trying their hardest not to steal or cheat someone. 

All of this points to the centrality of judging others favorably. Instead of looking at someone's most external characteristics- the actions that that we see them perform, etc., we need to remember that we dont know the whole picture. In fact, we know next to nothing of that person's inner life-world, what biological factor and early experiences set them on a trajectory for adulthood. Who says that someone who volunteers constantly, and is always smiling, is trying harder than a seemingly more average person? 

Learning to become less judgemental is key to the lifeview portrated by the Torah's interpersonal commandments, which are designed to create a peaceful society. We need to learn to cut off negative perceptions of others at their source- an initial bad judgement of their character based upon some incident or other. Which, upon furter reflection, can usually be perceived in a number of positive ways if we only give them the benefit of the doubt. In turn, we will be much more open to letting others into our life, and be much less likely to speak negatively about others.

This is a simple cause and effect-from a person's speech and actions, we can tell something about the character of their thoughts; this is the order in which G-d created the world, with thought preceding speech. In Genesis, we learn how G-d created the world with ten utternaces, "Let there be light," and so forth. When a person speaks, they emanate a force that is external to themselves; after it's out there, there is no way to get it back. And it has a chain reaction to the world around them. Similarly, Chassidic teachings show us how the reason that we perceive ourselves as seperate entities from G-d (thereby disguising His presence contantly animating creation), is because the world came about through speech, as opposed to thought, which is still contained within the intellect of the speaker. 

On this Shabbat, may we take a golden opportunity to perceive the truth, that the world is not separate from G-d- that there is nothing other than Him. Indeed, Kabbalistic sources tell us that on Shabbat, the world, brought into existence by G-d's "speech," ascends to its source in G-d's "thought," at a level where they cannot be thought of as separate. May we all take a small, realistic resolution to enhance our observance of the laws of Shabbat, so that we can tap into this reality and view the world as it truly is. This will give us rest from the tribulations of the  work week, when all of the stress and struggles of existence make the world seem to exist on its own, with our prosperity dependant upon our own prowess and a series of natural laws. These laws are not separate from G-d; he created them when he said "Let there be a firmament," and "created the..luminaries" (sun and moon), to shine and orbit. Let us return the world to a state of oneness, with the coming of the Messiah speedily in our days. 

Much Love and let me know what you think!

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    Yaakov Grossman is a Jewish educator, author, private tutor/child care professional, and student in the Metro New York area. Professional inquiries should be addressed to jjgrossm@gmail.com

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    September 2011
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    Modern Orthodoxy