What does it mean to be a Chabad Chossid?
Don’t ask me. I honestly don’t know.
But as I have grown up attending Chabad schools and being raised by Chabad parents, in a Chabad family, and living for the past five years in a predominantly Chabad Chassidic neighborhood, I guess I could say I have a pretty educated guess.
To me, the biggest thing about being a Chabad Chossid, is that there is no straight answer to what that is.
It’s something you have to identify for yourself. It’s something that you have to search for within and craft with your hands.
Since I was born, Chabad Chassidus has been a part of my life. Chabad Chassidus, in essence, is an extra layer of wisdom and meaning that the world was gifted with. When it was first revealed by Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (the Alter Rebbe), the world resented them out of fear. Chassidus was so intense in its depth, the secrets of Torah that had been hidden for so many years, and the people were not sure it was safe for the world to learn.
Today, in every Chabad school, you will find children as young as three years old learning Chassidus in some form. Incredibly deep concepts in Chassidus are deeply embedded in the minds of young children and teenagers. Concepts that were once seen as too intense for even the most experienced scholars to study.
I always took Chassidus for granted- it was just a part of my learning, a part of my education and life. I usually enjoyed those classes and learning what Chassidus shared on different stories in the Torah and the new perspective it shed on different Mitzvot. But it wasn’t exciting, or explosive, or an incredible experience every time I learned it. It was normal.
As I’ve grown and begun the transition from child to adult, Chassidus has transitioned with me. Once I left the safe four walls of an elementary and high school education, learning Chassidus was really up to me.
I can’t say that I was too good at it.
Randomly, I’d take a moment to try to learn something short, something simple and easy, but it never became a thing that I would do on a consistent basis.
Recently, though, the light in the world seemed to have gotten a little dimmer. Perhaps it is because I’ve grown older and more aware, or maybe truly the world has reached a place that the darkness is thicker, and it is truly more difficult to understand what is happening all around us.
With a deep desire to bring more light to the world, for darkness is only an absence of light, I approached two friends and asked them if they wanted to start a group together to learn Chassidus once a week.
They were in.
We did it, one, two, three times before our schedules got in the way.
But it was enough to ignite the fire inside of me, the sweet memories and feelings of learning Chassidus in school came rushing back.
I wanted Chassidus in my life, in a real way.
So I began to study the daily portion of Tanya. If something touched me more specifically, I would share it with my friends that I started the group with.
Chassidus began to become a more central part of my life, something I study every day, even for just a few minutes.
With every morsel of Chassidus that I take in, I am reminded again how lucky I am to have had this in my life for so long.
Because to me, Chassidus is depth. Chassidus is wealth.
Chassidus is not something you learn – Chassidus is a way of life.
For those of you who have learned Chassidus in the past, you know that Chassidus is deeply practical. It speaks endlessly about our souls, and therefore at times may appear to be utterly impractical – but making one’s soul practical and real, to me, is the ultimate gift.
Chassidus has given me my soul which until you learn Chassidus is mostly an abstract concept.
Chassidus reminds me that my soul is inside of me, at times crying, at times full of joy, always desiring more spirituality and always demanding more of my actions. It has taught me that my soul is not a separate being – it is more me than I am.
Chassidus has taught me that life is meant to be lived fully, and truly. To make the most of every moment. To laugh, and smile, and live joyously. To explore the beautiful world that was hand-crafted for us by G-d. To take normal, everyday objects and experiences in everyday life and take them to their fullest potential. To see the world with a perspective of Torah, and wisdom, and depth. To connect with and have an ongoing conversation with my Creator every single day.
Chassidus has taught me that there is always more to learn, that there is always more in life than I believe.
To me, the most amazing part of Chassidus, is that it demands from you more – but with love.
It shows you the beauty and exquisite wisdom found in Torah, and draws you to it – rather than forcing it on to you.
Chassidus has taught me that being kind and loving a fellow human is the most important thing.
Chassidus has taught me that the world is a place of potential – every stone, every blade of grass, every spider has a purpose.
Chassidus has taught me that every moment, every bad day, every wrong turn is a part of a bigger story, a bigger picture – and it all has a purpose.
Today, so, so, so many teenagers, adults, sometimes even children, struggle with purpose. In the darkness of this world, it is often difficult to believe that your life has meaning. When tragedy hits, it is near impossible to think about the big picture. When life loses focus, and one is in the depths of internal or external pain, it is easy to assume that there is no reason for one to live on this earth for another day.
The most important concept that Chassidus has inside of it is that there is no living thing on earth that does not have an important and very real purpose for being here. There is no one that is less important to the story.
When Chassidus first became something to study, this concept may not have been the most important one – at that point, they had to learn that Torah was supposed to be a source of joy, not pain.
Today, we are lucky that more and more people are understanding that.
Today though, beyond joy, we must learn that life is full of purpose.
What Chassidus has given me is the gift of knowing that even if I have no idea what it is, I don’t doubt even for a moment that my life has a rich, deep and invaluable purpose.
And that gift is not one I take for granted.
Today, on the Hebrew date of 19 Kislev, we celebrate the Alter Rebbe’s release from prison. He was imprisoned by fellow Jew’s who believed the spreading of Chabad Chassidus was something to be prevented at all costs. As the Alter Rebbe sat in prison, he wondered if he should halt his activities, if perhaps this was a sign from heaven that he should not continue to spread Chassidus.
It is told that his teachers, Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem Tov and the Maagid of Mezeritch, both who had begun to bring concepts of Chassidus to the world, appeared to him (they had both previously passed) and said that he must not stop. If anything, he should push past these obstacles and work harder.
Today, we celebrate the beginning of the true spreading of Chabad Chassidus, something that since that day has not stopped – it has only grown, going from a tiny spark to a roaring fire.
The spreading of Chabad Chassidus was born from pain and at a time that all hope seemed lost, and it continues to strengthen our hope and light at times that it seems the darkness has enveloped us.
If you have never read or learned any Chabad Chassidus before, click here for a short taste of what it is.
If you have learned Chabad Chassidus before, or are ready for something a little more intense, click here for a beautiful perspective on why we are here.
Blog Post: 12/52
Featured Photo by Anthony Rao on Unsplash