Being a chossid is about inner change
Rabbi Yehoishophot OliverThe Previous Rebbe once spoke very harshly against a trend toward superficiality that he observed:
Nowadays so-called young chassidic men (“chassidishe yungerleit”) are supposedly becoming chassidim on their own. They are educating themselves and guiding themselves, so alas, we can understand what sort of education it is, and what sort of guidance it is.In my own words, with explanation:
The young chassidic men of today have made peace with the enemies of Chassidus of old, such as hypocrisy, falsehood, talebearing, gossip, arrogance, insolence, and bad-heartedness. It is only that they wrap it up in superficial, supposedly chassidic garb.
Do not be offended that I describe all these things with their true names. Sometimes one must articulate the truth, and plead for divine compassion that [Hashem should help us to] have compassion upon ourselves, and see what sort of spiritually chaotic situation we are in.
The young chassidic men of today, and even those who learned in the chassidic Yeshivos, are also becoming dragged along by the trend toward the alien attitude of superficiality [“chitzoniyus”].
This is the attitude that one becomes a chossid through superficial Chassidic practices such as attending a farbrengen, participating in a Chassidic celebration, marking a Hillula [passing of a Rebbe], wearing Chassidic garb, and singing a Chassidic melody. This approach has, may G–d save us, destroyed many, many souls of Chabad chassidim, and caused many young chassidic men to unfortunately—it is bitter for me to say the sad truth—drown in the depths of evil.
It is difficult to speak and utter the truth, but nothing else will help; no matter how difficult it may be, the situation must be described as it is.
There are certain chassidic married men who were raised in a chassidic environment, in frum, chassidic homes, and were taught by chassidic teachers. This has brought their trappings to be chassidic; however, their inner selves are empty.
These men are empty of Torah, fear of Heaven, and fine character traits.
The reason for all this is the lack of obedience. From a very young age he did not accept the yoke of an educator and a guide. He educated himself and guided himself, and this “education” produced a wild fruit such as this, with a pleasant, shiny exterior, and a rotten interior.
Sefer HaSichos 5697, p. 182.
Being a Chabad chossid is about inner change.
This inner change consists of learning and understanding Hashem’s greatness as explained at great length in Chassidus Chabad, and bringing that awareness to permeate one’s emotions with love and fear of Hashem, love of one’s fellow Jew, fine character traits, and devotion to the observance of Mitzvos (on the last point, see here).
A part, and a necessary part, of effecting that inner change is engaging in “the ways of Chassidus,” such as singing a chassidishe niggun, attending a farbrengen, wearing the chassidishe garb, and so on. These are all surely vital practices for every chossid (see here). However, the reason that they are effective is that the makif (“encompassing light”) is a preparation for the pnimi (“inner light”) (for explanation of this concept, see here; for another explanation along similar lines, see here).
When one approaches these practices with full awareness that they are a means to an end—facilitating the inner change demanded of a Chabad chossid—then they are able to have their desired effect, and then they in fact enable one to reach heights of spiritual sensitivity and greatness otherwise unattainable.
However, even very holy ideas and practices can be abused and taken out of context, and this may lead to very unfortunate results, may Hashem save us.
For many it is “easier” to engage in these more external practices (although some have the opposite problem, but here is not the place to elaborate) that require relatively less effort.
However, being a chossid is a “package deal.” So when one deliberately ignores some of the demands of Chassidus and dwells upon others that one finds personally more exciting, one is left with nothing. Perhaps this is along the lines of the rabbinic statement: “What does it mean, ‘He who keeps company with harlots forfeits his wealth’? Whoever says, this topic is pleasing and this one isn't pleasing, loses the wealth of Torah.” (Eruvin 64a)
If one would regularly seek chassidishe guidance and direction from a mashpia and an asei lecha rav, this phenomenon would not occur, for they would point out this neglect and demand that it be corrected.
It is my belief that the vast majority of problems in today’s generation of chassidim stem from a lack of awareness of this point.
(For other posts of mine along these lines, see here and here.)