On Mussar – Chassidus – a Kabbalistic explanation [#1741]


(1) What is the difference in concept between the approaches of “Mussar” and “Chassidus”?
(2) Is there a necessity to learn sefarim of Chassidus?
(3) Why was there opposition towards Chassidus?
(4) Is there still place today for opposition towards Chassidus?



(1) Mussar is rooted in the “left” line [in Kabbalistic terms]. The word “mussar” connotes gevurah, strength. It reflects the statement of the Sages, “The left hand pushes away”. On a subtler level, mussar is rooted in the number “5 gevuros (emanations of strength)” within the sphere of “daas”. The Gra states in the beginning of Mishlei that mussar is rooted in daas. Specifically, it is the “daas” that differentiates (daas ha-mavdeles) and decides (daas ha-machraas).

In contrast, Chassidus is rooted in the “right” line. The word “chassidus” is from the word “chessed”, kindness. It reflects the statement of the Sages “The right hand draws close.” Chassidus is also rooted in daas. On a subtler level, it is rooted in the number “5 chassadim (emanations of kindness)” within the sphere of “daas”, and specifically, its role is to connect different views together (daas hamechaberes).

Within Chassidus, the views of Chabad and Breslev specifically are a [different] daas ha-mis-hapeches, using daas to “overturn” knowledge [and uncovering an “opposite” or “inverted” view]. The view of Breslev specifically is rooted in the verse, “Wisdom, from where is it found?”, which refers to the aspect of chochmah-wisdom of the Rdl”a (the 231 sources of higher understanding), while the view of Chabad is binahunderstanding, represented by “Sefer shel Beinonim”, the “book of those in-between”, which is the aspect of binah-understanding of the Rdl”a.

Generally, all other views of Chassidus are rooted in the number “5 chassadim (emanations of kindness) that are within “daas”, which is the inner dimension of the middos character traits.

The root of the avodah of “mussar” is to rectify oneself as a proper “vessel” (kli), via self-purification. It entails purifying the character traits of the “animal soul” (nefesh hebehaimis). It is based on the teachings of the Remak [Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, author of sefer Tomer Devorah]. By contrast, the root of the avodah of “chassidus” is to increase spiritual light, as a means of purifying oneself to become a proper “vessel”. It reflects the statement, “A little light can banish much darkness.” It is the spiritual light of the neshamah (Divine soul) which purifies the body. It is rooted in the teachings of the Arizal. Even more so, it is rooted in the illuminations (ohros) of “tohu (emptiness)” through vessels (keilim) that bring about rectification (tikkun).

Mussar is the spiritual illumination of the 6,000 year era, corresponding to the six sections of the Mishnah. Chassidus is the spiritual illumination of the Next World within This World, a taste and resemblance of the World To Come available within This World. This is why the holiness of Shabbos is central to Chassidus, for Shabbos is a semblance of the Next World.

Mussar is rooted in “inner light” (ohr pnimi), corresponding to the “left ear”, “left nostril”, and the “left side of the mouth” of Primordial Man (Adam Kadmon), which also corresponds to the spiritual realms of Beriah (lit. “Creation”, which corresponds to the power of thought, Torah learning, and the “neshamah” level of the soul), Yetzirah (lit. “Formation”, corresponding to the character traits and emotions, and to the “ruach” level of the soul), and Asiyah (lit. “Action”, corresponding to deeds and mitzvos, and to the “nefesh” level of the soul). Whereas Chassidus is “enveloping light” (ohr makif), corresponding to the light of the Infinite (ohr EinSof), and also corresponding to the “right ear”, “right nostril” and “right side of the mouth” of Primordial Man (Adam Kadmon), and also corresponding to the spiritual realm of Atzilus (lit. “Emanation”, corresponding to attachment to G-d, emunah, and the “chayah” level of the soul).

Mussar is a path “from below to above” (m’sata l’eila), which entails effort and exertion to climb to higher spiritual levels. This is why the Vilna Gaon refused to hear Heavenly revelations, as Rav Chaim Volozhiner writes in the introduction to Sifra D’Tzniyusa. In contrast, Chassidus is a path “from above to below” (m’leila l’sata) - it is an approach of Heavenly revelation (giluy), and it is in the category of “gift” [attaining higher spiritual levels as a “gift” from Heaven, as opposed to effort and exertion to acquire higher levels].

(2) Yes- there is a necessity to learn Chassidus to achieve completion.

(3) [Chassidus was opposed] because it was a revelation of Heavenly light on This World that could not be properly contained within the “vessels” below [on This World]. At the root, this was really the “light of the Infinite, which nullifies all limitations”, as the Nefesh HaChaim writes about [in Shaar III]. It was a light which nullifies the normal definitions of “vessels”, and the result of this is “Great is love, for it destroys rules”, meaning that when a great spiritual revelation cannot be properly contained in a vessel, the light oversteps the limitations of the vessels, and sometimes it will even interfere with the bounds of halachah. That is why there was much opposition towards Chassidus: because the challengers of Chassidus wanted to make sure that the Heavenly revelations would remain within their proper boundaries of their respective vessels, so that the revelations could be kept at some restraint and not cause any ruination to the “vessels”.

(4) The secret of wholeness (shleimus) is when there is all-inclusiveness. However, each aspect must remain in its proper boundary. In every argument, each of the sides enters into the other side’s domain [resulting in strife]. Only when each person stands in his proper place [respecting the place of the other person’s view] can there be peace.