When we were doing our Neurology Residency in a major New York City teaching hospital, a Haredim religious figure was admitted to the ward after having had a serious Stroke that left him in a coma for many days. His close family members and friends liked to keep a vigil right outside the ward, and they often used our meeting room after hours to take turns to pray non-stop in Hebrew for his soul’s salvation.
All the residents and professors understood their deep grief and religious fervor. Except for one resident, who happened to be Jewish himself, but of secular views. One on call night, when we were in charge of the ward, together with an intern and two students, he accosted us in a tempestuous manner, holding a cup of coffee aloft.
-“Hey, why are letting these guys take over our room,” he told us, “Kick them out.”
Shocked by his unusually intolerant stance, we mumbled, “Er…They asked nicely.”
-“Who did, eh?”
-“A tall bearded old man came out and asked me if it was O.K….I said it was.”
-“What’s his f****** name?”
-“God Almighty, I believe he said.”
Fuming like a clogged steam locomotive’s chimney, he turned around and took off.
Note. This picture shows our son Gian Luca during his visit to Israel, on a hill overlooking Jerusalem.
David Biale et al explored in Hasidism: A New History multiple social, cultural, and religious aspects of one of the most influential movements in modern Judaism. They narrated the journey of Shlomo Halberstan, a Galician Jew, that arrived in 1945 to New York City, where at the time there were only 200-300 Hasidic Jews. He established the Hassidic Bobov community in Brooklyn that has more than 100,000 members at present. In the USA there are two more large Hasidic communities:
- Satmar: a Hungarian-born branch that is very zealous and insular.
- Chabad: a Russian-born branch that is more messianic and worldly.
These scholars point out the sheer irony of the fact that the resurrection of Hasidism occurred in the USA and the State of Israel, which has had a problematic relationship with these movements ever since the inception of the Zionist State in 1948. They said: “In its bitter polemical struggle with Zionism, the Hasidic leadership perceived modern Jewish nationalism as a secularizing movement offering an alternative national Jewish identity that would undermine loyalty to a traditional way of life.”
There are three dimensions of Hasidim’s mysticism that emphasize the here and now.
- God’s immanence.
- Worship in the Material World.
- Mystical State of Cleaving
The Jews that had resided in Central and Eastern Europe for centuries believed that there was a continuous tension between the material demands of the body and the ethereal demands of the spirit, which favored an ascetic life to achieve saintliness. On the contrary, Hasidim rejected that melancholic stance leading to depression, and promoted a more joyful and enthusiastic embrace of God’s presence in daily lives. During the darkest moments of the Ghetto of Warsaw, the Hasidim engaged in enthusiastic dancing in the streets, to the dismay of other suffering secular Jews.
Worship in the Material World
God’s presence in our desires and mental states will be readily transmitted to our dealings and tasks in the material world that surrounds us. The Hasidim do not believe in the ascetic retreat from the material world to meditate and pray but rather work assiduously in all the professional and business realms of a modern society. If God Almighty is everywhere, the use of a plow, hammer or lens is rightly allowed.
Mystical State of Cleaving
The esoteric teaching of the Kabbalistic traditions of the Middle Ages influenced the Lubavitcher; they claimed that: “the state of cleaving to God—devekut—is attained by wholehearted inner concentration that is attuned to God’s presence in all being. It is not dependent on or achieved by knowledge of a metaphysical system that is possessed by an esoteric elite.” Contrary to the centennial Talmudic traditions of patiently studying ancient legal and religious treaties in the seclusion of libraries, the Hasidim believe that the state of devekut is obtained by their worldly cleaving.
The Hasidim freed the religiously minded Jews from the burden of esoteric learning.
Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.
What do you think? Please tell us.
Don’t leave me alone.