Ask The Rabbi

Ask The Rabbi

category:  Chassidut

What is the guideline for choosing material for the shiur?

The Rav Name: Rabbi Yitzchak Arad

The rule of thumb is to adapt the shiur material to the target audience we intend to teach. The lecturer should identify the type of audience being addressed, the audience’s capabilities openness to accepting your message. This information is used to adjust the level of the material so that it can be understood and properly grasped. Nonetheless, it is worth emphasizing an important issue that is sometimes ignored: experience teaches us that we can create an intimate and long-lasting connection with most people when the ideas being taught are profound and innovative.

All too often, those presenting Hassidic shiurs look for “vorts” – short, light ideas, stories, and so on – thinking that everyone should be able to connect with those ideas, and wouldn’t feel it is beyond their level. However, the truth is that plain and simple material may work for a one-time shiur, but when we want to create a long-term series of shiurs, we will need to take into account that there are certain types of individuals who are generally serious and have a high level of comprehension. They won’t continue attending the shiurs if they don’t feel that this material is profound and innovative.

Even if the first shiur was captivating, and even if the audience seemed to have enjoyed it, if they leave it feeling that they hadn’t taken in anything profound, but rather just some light material that they could have learned at home or read in a book, it is less likely that those people will come back for another shiur.

Even if you have a good sense of humor and you have managed to get a laugh out of your audience, or even “crack them up”, remember that the ultimate goal of this session was not to make people laugh or enjoy a few jokes. They have plenty of opportunities to do just that elsewhere. That isn’t why they came to a shiur in chassidus, which is supposed to speak to their inner selves and touch their souls. In just a short while, they will perceive the experience as superfluous and unimaginative.

However, if they see that the material is serious and profound, even if they don’t always understand or fully grasp your ideas (either because the speaker is ineffective, or because they are unable to grasp these concepts), you will challenge your audience to keep attending, especially if you’ve used a respectful approach, as mentioned earlier.

Undoubtedly, the more serious and profound your material, the more effort you’ll have to expend in preparing it, so that you’ll truly be able to deliver the shuir clearly and properly. Still, the principle is not to shy away from teaching chassidus with a profound approach, and include concepts and abstract ideas, even when teaching people who, at first, may seem quite removed.

The very depth of the material and your ability to explain abstract concepts are what will create a serious study framework for serious people.

In this context, it is worthwhile mentioning a sicha by the Rebbe during Simchas Torah of 5711 (as related in Toras Menachem Hisvaduyos, 5711, Part 1, pp. 40 until the end):

Apparently, people could claim that we should be calling on people to lay tefillin, keep Shabbos, and so on, instead of talking about chassidus, especially the more profound ideas within the realm of chassidus, such as the concept of the eternal worlds above the world of atzilus, describing the difference between bitul (selflessness) in the world of atzilus and bitul in the eternal worlds above atzilus. The revelation of chassidus, they continue, occurred so that we could attain love and reverence (as the Rambam wrote: ‘What is the way to loving and revering [Him]? By contemplating Him.’). This is how the Torah and the mitzvos will merit to rise up [to heaven], since “Torah devoid of love and reverence does not rise up [to heaven]”. How, then, is the revelation of chassidus connected to the situation in which we need to call on others and take action regarding the performance of Torah and the mitzvos?

We know what the saintly Rebbe Rashav of blessed memory wrote in his well-known letter, which was printed in the preface to the Kuntres Umaayan: “Now is the time of the last commentaries of the end of the galus…no, there is now a set order in how the tikkunim and berurim (commentaries) are made. In any case we must discuss everything, since we don’t know what is in the sod of the berurim.

Furthermore, although the revelation of Chassidus was designed to lead to love and reverence, Chassidus was not revealed to the generations of the rishonim (which were more closely associated with issues of love and reverence). It was “was concealed during their days, and was unknown to all of the talmidey chachamim, except for certain exceptional individuals.” That is, except for the recent generations, immediately before the coming of mashiach. There are two reasons for this:

1. Since the darkest of the dark prevail during recent generations, there is a need to illuminate and cancel out this great darkness through the greatest light of all.
2. The closer we approach the days of mashiach, when the inner nature of Torah is completely revealed, we need this kind of preparation through spreading the wellsprings outward.

From this, we can understand that with regard to our discussion as well, when faced with a destitute time and situation, and when we need to call on others and take action to perform Torah and mitzvos, this action needs to come about through studying chassidus as well. To the contrary – since the study of chassidus is tied to the idea of supreme teshuva (teshuva ila’a), it is how one can advance to a state and situation that is incomparable to the state and situation one was in previously.

Shalom and thank you for turning to us. You raise some important points. Firstly, as you realize yourself, having a Jewish father or grandfather does not make you Jewish according to Jewish law. Secondly, you wish to rectify the gross injustice done to the Jewish nation (as well as other unlucky victims) during the Holocaust. (Not to mention the fact that there was not enough support for the survivors afterwards.) Your sensitivity is commendable!

You do not however, need to necessarily change your own religion in order to rectify the above-mentioned wrongs. There is a way to identify with the Jewish nation and indeed with the cause of justice and true human rights in the world while retaining your individual identity.

The Bible contains the account of the righteous Noah, who was saved from the flood of retribution by the Almighty G-d, together with his family. There are Seven Noahide Laws for non-Jews. Jews observe those laws also and more.

The Seven Noahide Laws are:

1. Not to worship idols. Today there are still some cultures where actual physical idols are worshipped,  but much more common idols are the ideological ones of wealth and external beauty. All mankind needs to assess whether or not their loyalties lie in good places and they are not given over to less than moral causes.

2. Not to curse G-d. Speech is a powerful tool we have been given. The power of speech should be used for good things, and should never be used against the Creator who gifts us with it.

3. Not to commit murder. We need to work on being positive, humble, loving and forgiving so that we move far away from a mindset that would allow such an action. There are also delicate areas where the line is difficult to draw, such as in medical situations. Advice should be sought (in general it is desirable to have a spiritual mentor,) if one finds oneself in such a quandary. Life is a precious gift, and a holy one. It is not ours to take.

4. Not to commit adultery or sexual immorality. There is room for a tremendous contribution to society by supporting the idea of marriage – to members of the opposite sex – and family unity. The institution of marriage and family has unfortunately plummeted downhill.

5. Not to steal. Most people may not wake up in the morning and formulate a plan to break into the bank. However thought needs to be given to whether or not we are behaving with integrity by not engaging in our private matters during our work hours for example, or to many other such mundane situations.

6. Not to eat flesh torn from a living animal. We can work with animals but must not  cause them unnecessary pain.

7. Establish courts of justice. Human nature being what it is, society must have a means of establishing boundaries and enforcing them. While some people may never need to go near a court, others unfortunately may have to deal with people or situations where laws have been broken.

It seems that working on the above-mentioned rules would be a great rectification of the wrongs committed by the Nazis. Someone who is careful with all the above principles is creating a spiritual ripple effect that makes the world a better place. A much better place!

Regarding conversion, if you study the Noahide Laws and their details and repercussions and try to practice them, and still feel like something is missing, you can of course study Judaism and see if it draws you. There six hundred and thirteen laws in Judaism, which means that it involves much study.

A person who shows the sensitivity you do does not come across as a fake of any kind! It is worthwhile embarking on a discovery tour of the Noahide Laws and perhaps a little bit about Jewish belief and practice. Give yourself some time to contemplate and digest what you learn.

The main thing is that you lead a life that finds favor in G-d’s eyes, and to do that, you need more knowledge.

Good luck with your search!