The Solution to the Problems of the Generation
Rabbi Y. Oliver
Recent news posts (see here and here) report that Rabbi Manis Friedman initiated an evening of discussion with bochurim with the goal of investigating the reason for the decline in communal standards in certain areas in today’s younger generation of Lubavitcher chassidim. He says:
We all know that Chassidus is the truth and has the answers to all questions and yet, some are not inspired. ... The bochurim. It’s like a bank account that you cannot make a withdrawal from. How can someone learn Chassidus and not be inspired? Where is the missing link? When you teach Chassidus to people who never learned it - they come alive, they ‘get it.’ In Crown Heights, bochurim don’t seem to respond. ... It’s not that the Yeshivos are failing. It’s that they are not enough. I don’t know if Yeshivos were ever enough. ... There is a lot of confusion and questions are not being answered. There is a gap between what we learn and practice in Yeshivos and what we are faced with on Shlichus. We know so much but don’t always know how to put it to practical use.To sum up, Rabbi Friedman observes that among the younger generation there is a not universal, but significantly widespread lack of connection with the teachings of Chassidus, a lack of implementation of these teachings, and low religious standards in general. Unfortunately I firmly agree with this assessment, and would even consider it (perhaps appropriately, or perhaps inappropriately) understated.
I would also assert that this phenomenon is not limited to the younger generation, but is also prevalent in the older generation, sometimes in a similar manifestation, and sometimes in a different manifestation. (If anything, it is even more prevalent in the older generation. However, Rabbi Friedman appears to be focusing on the youth because the chances of success are far higher with them than when dealing with the older generation, people who are set in their ways.)
I was not privileged to attend the session, so I do not know exactly what was said. However, I applaud the effort. As for the issue itself, it appears to me that the answer to this question lies in the following statement from the Previous Rebbe:
The essential light of the philosophy of Chassidus has the power to heal all spiritual plagues and sicknesses. However, in order for it to be effective, it is crucial that one imbibe the medicine according to the rules outlined in the works of the philosophy of Chassidus, which is to be found in the words of the Rebbeim [of Chabad].In order for a medicine to be effective, one must take all the medicine prescribed, and in the precise dosages and at the appropriate times.
Igros Kodesh Admur HaRayatz, Vol. 4, p. 30.
So it’s not enough to learn Chassidus (a pursuit that, by the way, also falls far short of what it ought to be, but that is beyond the scope of this post). Chassidus can only have its true impact on us if we treat it as a “package deal” and strive to fulfill all its directives faithfully. Or, as discussed here, being a chossid involves both the study of Chassidus and the “ways of Chassidus.”
There is much that could be said concerning improving communal adherence to various teachings and directives of the Rebbeim of Chabad, of which there are so many that span all aspects of life. However, here I wish to identify one such directive that to my mind is glaringly and painfully missing, and that in my humble opinion is the root cause of all the other areas of neglect in the various strata of the community.
What I refer to is nothing short of the underpinning of the entire derech of Chassidus Chabad. It has been so woefully neglected for so long that many chassidim no longer realize that anything is amiss in this area, thinking that surely “times have changed,” and such conduct must no longer be expected or even attainable. And then they are left scratching their heads in perplexity when the results of their Yeshivah education, or the education of their offspring, are not as they would have expected.
I am referring to Avodas HaTefillah, the uniquely Chabad discipline of prayer, which in a nutshell consists of the Chabad discipline of hisbonenus—lengthy, detailed, concentrated contemplation of profound concepts in Chassidus—followed by a passionate outpouring of the heart to Hashem in reciting the words of Tefillah.
As much as Chassidus Chabad demands in-depth study of Chassidus, it demands Avodas HaTefillah even more. In fact, the Rebbe Rashab writes unequivocally in Kuntres HaTefillah (p. 12) that the entire reason that all the teachings of Chassidus were revealed is that they be used as material for hisbonenus and lead one to become inspired to love and fear of Hashem in Tefillah:
All of these concepts [of Chassidus Chabad] have been laid out and arranged before you in many printed discourses and in manuscripts, all comprehensively explained. After all this, it now depends upon you to learn these concepts, understand them thoroughly, and reflect upon them in Tefillah, which is the main purpose [of all these teachings]. For all the study and knowledge is merely a preparation for the main thing, which is that one reflect upon [these teachings] in Tefillah, making a point to reflect upon them in detail.The Rebbe Rashab considered Avodas HaTefillah so crucial for chassidim that he instructed (Kuntres Etz Chayim p. 60) that students in Tomchei Temimim (the Yeshiva in which one trains to be a Chabad chossid) review Kuntres HaTefillah once every two or three months in a consistent fashion.
According to the teachings of Chabad Chassidus, it is only through Avodas HaTefillah that the intellect can penetrate the emotions, implanting in one’s heart true love and fear of Hashem, true love of Torah, and love of one’s fellow Jew, to the point that these feelings permeate every aspect of one’s life. However, if Avodas HaTefillah is lacking, then it is comes as no surprise that many are falling short in feeling the holy feelings that a Jew, and all the more so a chossid, ought to feel. And when one lacks inspiration, one’s actions will surely also fall short, and one is at a high risk of falling even further. Perhaps such a fall is even a fait accompli.
In the words of the Previous Rebbe ( Hayom Yom, 24 Iyar):
The beginning of the descent is the lack of toil in Tefillah. Everything becomes dry and cold. It even becomes difficult to perform Mitzvos mechanically. One hurries. One loses enjoyment in Torah. The atmosphere becomes coarse. And obviously, it is completely not possible to influence others.In conclusion, I submit that the solution to all the problems (may Hashem spare us) that plague the Chabad community is that we return to the Chabad tradition of toiling at self-refinement through Avodas HaTefillah.