Every aspiring עבד ה' appreciates the significance of the adage “קנה לך חבר”, and the terribly painful loneliness of או חברותא או מתותא. For years, I have desired to form a chaburah of individuals whose attempt to guide their life at achieve both יראת שמים and קרבת אלוקים. As members of such a chaburah, I hoped that together we could develop profound thoughts concerning avodas Hashem, both its theoretical as well as its practical elements. We would assist each other in developing the unique ideas and approaches of each member.

Over the years and in different stages of my life, I was fortunate enough to meet such individuals. With current technology, we are attempting to form this chaburah, despite the geographical distance that may separate us. We would like to invite others with whom our ideas may resonate to join us by reading, commenting, and ultimately sharing your thoughts with us. קנה לך חבר, says the Arizal, means that your pen (קנה) should be your friend – as you write, your thoughts become clearer.

The exact parameters of this blog will be defined as we develop our ideas. All entries are guided by five principles:

a) יראת שמים

b) desire for קרבת אלוקים and becoming a better עבד ה'

c) strict adherence to Halacha, including הלכות לשון הרע

d) belief in גדלות האדם, both in oneself and all other people

e) intellectual rigor
Anyone who does not feel passionately about these five principles is asked not to comment, since any comment that does not meet the above-mentioned criteria will not be posted.

About the name of the blog. “השגה” represents the intellectual grasp of any given idea, while “הויה” represents the incorporation of that idea into the person’s weltanschauung. Our goal is to merely discuss theoretical ideas and then return to our daily lives. We want to transform the ideas of the Torah into a living Torah, a תורת חיים.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Being vs Becoming

My apologies for being absent in the recent blog discussions. Yasher koach to all the contributors.

I used to believe that Chassidus’s main emphasis was on “being” and Mussar’s on “becoming.” By “being” am I referring to shedding one’s outer klipos and embracing the inner self as it is (call it the neshama if you would like). By “becoming” I mean looking towards the future, towards the development of potential, towards what could be. I have come to realize that this divide between Chassidus and Mussar does not exist; both approaches must embrace both concepts necessarily.

It seems that there are times when we must let ourselves simply be, and sit with who we are with a mindset of self-acceptance. However, remaining in this state for too long can lead one to complacency, that I am who I am and that is all I need to be. By contrast, there are times when we must focus on becoming, that the current state simply is not enough. However, an over-emphasis here can become reminiscent of a knight in full armor running forward into battle, completely unaware of where his enemy lies. It is a focus on moving forward without the insight of who is doing the moving. We must push ourselves, but we must make sure it is ourselves that we are pushing.

Indeed, the risk of falling off this tightrope in either direction is frightening. I would like to develop this idea further with the vaad. Comments are welcome.


  1. On the Piaczena's explanation on the main distinction of Chassidus, see my post here: http://dixieyid.blogspot.com/2009/10/chiddush-of-baal-shem-tov-translation.html

    And a related post here: http://dixieyid.blogspot.com/2009/10/fruit-and-peel.html

  2. I would have said the Chassidic focus is on experiencing -- entirely outside the being vs becoming paradigm. E-lokus is everywhere, just reach out and touch it!

    Mussar is more about becoming and emulating. Not so much experiencing G-dliness but ever struggling to embody more of it.

    Forming a contrast between the two requires not finding a key axis on which the two systems of thought differ, but actually realizing that they disagree about which axes are key.

    But if I really had to... Chassidus sees Derekh Hashem as the path TO G-d, and Litta as the path He "walks". Mussar than turns following that path into an end in itself, not a "and that's what mitzvos and talmud Torah do, even if we don't always know how".

    Mussar can thus be framed as a being -- "being as accurate a Tzelem E-lokim as possible". But it's because the axis isn't quite aligned with the topic.

  3. After learning in Yeshiva and getting acquainted with avodas hamussar, I found my subsequent interaction with Chabad Chassidus very frustrating. The point of frustration was exactly the point that Reb Dovid mentioned. There was a lot of talk of lofty states, but I saw little effort in trying to engage in avodah to reach those states. If I remember correctly, B'Ikvos Hayirah makes this point about Chassidus in general.
    Of course, like everything, we have to beware of oversimplification. There is much in Chassidus that discusses what Reb Dovid refers to as becoming. Much of Piacetzner sounds a lot like mussar. At the same time, many sforim that we could describe as sifrei mussar (Shiurei Daas, Michtav Meeliyahu, etc.) speak a lot about being. By the way, this discussion has a lot to do with the name of this blog.
    Reb Micha, I was unclear about your point. Do you mind elaborating?

  4. I think that the approach to avoda wich Rav Yisroel Salanter advises, namely maasim ktanim, addresses this point. It is not possible for ones entire self, his "I" (see alei shur chelk alef, daas atsmaino on "anochi") to sudddenly jump up to a darga beyond where he's holding, that creates the knight in full armor effect. Yet, when the avoda is broken up, it allows for all of ones self to have an aliyah beshlaimoos.