"Moshiach is ready to come now-our part is to increase in acts of goodness and kindness" -The Rebbe

Thursday, July 9, 2009

On Following Examples

On Following Examples

Rabbi Y. Oliver

It pains me to write the post below, but I believe that it needs to be said.

In the letter posted earlier 
here, the Mitteler Rebbe condemns the misconception widespread at the time amongst Chabad chassidim that walking back and forth during tefillah is conducive to better concentration and hisbonenus. May I suggest that this also teaches us another lesson.

Sometimes people will argue that “such-and-such a practice is correct, because it is widely followed amongst 

There is legitimacy to this claim. For example, see the Rebbe’s response (
Igros Kodesh, Vol. 17, p. 205; cf. Sefer HaMinhagim here) to whether a certain part of the nusach (prayer liturgy) should be said. The Rebbe writes: “It appears to me that Anash (i.e., Chabad chassidim) say it.” The implication is that there is such a thing as a “custom of chassidim”—that when we observe that in practice a certain thing is customarily said or done, that shows that the custom is proper. Likewise, our sages say of Jewish practices, 
“If [the Jewish people are not prophets, they are the children of prophets” (Pesachim 66a) and “Go out and see what regular people do” (Berachos 45a; Eruvin 14b, Rashi). 

However, in my humble opinion, at the same time, one must be wary. We see that even in the times of the Mitteler Rebbe, odd practices became widespread among otherwise sincere 
chassidim—practices that were in fact baseless, damaging, and the exact opposite of the true instructions of the Alter Rebbe and the Mitteler Rebbe. (See also Kuntres HaHispa’alus here, where the Mitteler Rebbe condemns another widespread misconception amongst his chassidim—the notion that all excitement and demonstrativeness in prayer is undesirable.)

If it could even happen then, it could surely happen nowadays, for we live in a world in which, like it or not, we are far more prone to being subconsciously swayed by foreign influences. And sadly, this is is all the more of a concern after Gimmel Tammuz, when we do not have the Rebbe keeping us in line by correcting us “from above,” along the lines of the above letter of the Mittele Rebbe.

Of course, if the Rebbe explicitly said something, then 
chassidim should certainly follow it. However, if the Rebbe didn’t, and it is just something that “people do, then perhaps one should think twice—especially if one senses that what is being promoted may be problematic. One should not automatically accept a claim that “in fact the Rebbe meant/wants” such-and-such without investigating it further and discussing it with a mashpia or a Rov, to see if perhaps this notion or practice being presented as proper does in fact contradict some idea in the teachings of our Rebbeim, or in our Torah in general.

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