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How does Chassidic philosophy view Torah?

by Rabbi Yossi Marcus

  

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The Torah in its present manifestation—as we know it—is a “descended” version of the original. In its original form, the Torah does not discuss earthly reality, but rather only describes physicality's metaphysical counterparts in the spiritual realm. This is what the Midrash means when it tells us that the Torah “preceded” the creation of the world—even the concept of a world—by “2,000 years.”1 Similarly, the Torah studied by the souls of the departed and the not-yet-born in the Garden of Eden does not address physical reality. The Torah we see is a dim reflection of that Torah, a translation of its sublimity in earthly terms.

Take, for example, the word “light.” It could mean different things on different levels: on the physical plane it means one thing, on the emotional and intellectual plane it means another. It’s the same dynamic being expressed on different levels of reality. The same with Torah. The way we see it is how the dynamic of Torah that exists on the most spiritual level is expressed on the earthly plane.

The advantage of the Torah being couched in physical terms is that we can understand it. The disadvantage is that because we perceive the Torah in its earthly form, we may find it difficult to internalize it, to assimilate its teachings into our spiritual bloodstream.

Chassidic philosophy emphasizes the importance of following the Torah in its earthly form through its physical laws, while simultaneously introducing us to the Torah's heavenly and sublime origins, teaching us how to use the "soul" of Torah to internalize the "body" of Torah into every fabric of our existence: body and soul.

Footnotes

  • 1. Talmud tractate Pesachim 54a

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COMMENTS

Plato inspired

Posted by: Travis, Savannah, GA on May 07, 2005

The idea of a more spiritual Torah predating a physical Torah seems to owe more to pagan Plato's concept of being and becoming than the evidence of G-d's Word. The preexistence of souls is right out of Plato's teachings as well. The Torah contains nothing that remotely alludes to a superior spiritual version that predates it.

Editor's Comment

The Torah, in general, is absent of any references to the spiritual or mystical. That part of Torah always was included in the Oral Tradition, and as with many other parts of Jewish though, ethics and philosophy, has often been borrowed (or plagiarized) by other religions and schools of thought.

this plato guy

Posted by: B. on Jan 18, 2006

I don't know whether Plato actually borrowed this stuff from us - he could have just as easily come up with it on his own (Jews have no monopoly on good ideas - Sefer T"D Eliyahu). But the Elevated Torah, being perfect, had no Oral counterpart - only when the Torah descended to earth did it become so incomprehensible to us that it was necessary to add the Oral Torah. The Torah, according to one midrash, was intentionally befuddled - 'had the (parshiyot) sections been arranged in their proper order, anyone who looked at it could create worlds. For this reason, the portions were mixed around.' Some medieval commentators whose names I will go look up say that only a few letters have been changed, others that the Elevated Torah was written in a different (or more complete) alphabet - says one 'the letter shin in our Toras has only 3 prongs, but in the Original Torah, and in the Torah in the Day To Come, it will have 4 prongs, like the one on our tefillin.'
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Chassidic
(Pl.: Chassidim; Adj.: Chassidic) A follower of the teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), the founder of "Chassidut." Chassidut emphasizes serving G-d with sincerity and joy, and the importance of connecting to a Rebbe (saintly mentor).
Midrash
(Pl. Midrashim). Non-legal material of anecdotal or allegorical nature, designed either to clarify historical material, or to teach a moral point. The Midrashim were compiled by the sages who authored the Mishna and Talmud (200 BCE-500 CE).