By Yochanan Gordon
I am the furthest thing possible from an economist. I have always despised math; my parents paid for that when I was a kid going through mesivta, and now I am paying for that with my kids who seem to have inherited the anti-math gene. After years of visiting a math tutor to the tune of thousands of dollars collectively, I recently met my high-school math tutor at the bagel store one morning (apparently, everything happens in the bagel store). She told me that my problem wasn’t math, but, more accurately, laziness. All I could do at that point was think about how much money my parents had paid her over all those years and how nice it was for her to tell me that now, all these years later.
But the truth is that I really do not like math. I am good at basic arithmetic and multiplication and division, but once you enter the areas of equations, pi, the Pythagorean theorem, and that fancy stuff (I’m impressed that I even remember those terms) I almost instinctively turn off. Having said that, even I understand that rising debt and the need to constantly print more currency in order to promote an extremely left-leaning, liberal agenda will land us with inflation rates that we haven’t seen as a country in many decades, and a currency that will continue to recede into oblivion in relation to the other world currencies vying for preeminence.
For those in the Biden administration promoting these illogical agendas, the good thing is that the math, like the logic, doesn’t have to compute, because the nature of today’s highly politicized environment is that if you disagree with their thinking, you are a bigot, misogynist, and homophobe, and you will wind up being canceled. If you dare point out to me that I misused the terms bigot, misogynist, and homophobe, you, too, may be eligible for cancellation according to their rulebooks, which are being scripted day by day.
All this would be extremely funny and great material for a comedian who is looking to steal the limelight from the currently canceled Dave Chappelle, if it didn’t have real-world ramifications. But like everything else in life, if we would just continue to probe deeper, we would arrive at what could constitute the soul of the conversation.
In its current iteration this is a discussion about currencies and the manner in which financial markets work, which, as I have already demonstrated, is a conversation I will never be a part of. However, currencies can manifest themselves on a multiplicity of realms, from the physical world up into the spiritual stratosphere. “Currency is a medium of exchange for goods and services. In short, it’s money, in the form of paper or coins, usually issued by a government and generally accepted at face value as a method of payment.” This is the definition for currency that I found on Investopedia, which seems straightforward. However, this is a working definition as it exists in the physical world. While money and business continue to drive productivity and fuel economies and allow for a healthy sense of stability within every realm of civilization, there are the realms of existence in which money cannot buy anything, and that is in the quest to access the light of G-d in its truest and most undiluted essence.
When we think about gaining access to the essence of G-d in this world, that is afforded by the world of penimiyus haTorah in general and specifically the world of Toras HaChassidus. Anybody who is familiar with the writings of the Zohar and various other sifrei Kabbalah v’Chassidus has seen terms such as “l’ashtava b’gufa d’malka,” or the notion that certain mitzvos—such as Shabbos, for instance, which is generally safeguarded by abstaining from work rather than something proactive as it is in many other mitzvos—give a person access to nachalah b’li meitzarim, which is a direct result of the revelation of the essence of G-d within a person’s life.
Today it seems that access to the secrets of Torah has become unobstructed and isn’t just allowed but it is stressed for someone whose soul feels a discontent that will be quieted by discovering the curative light of G-d within the words of Torah. Despite the notion that Kabbalah or Toras HaChassidus should be reserved for certain unique souls and people who have first filled themselves with the full gamut of the revealed elements of Torah, the Arizal in his days already wrote: “Mitzvah l’farsem zos ha’chochmah,” that it is a mitzvah to promulgate this study. Still, however, there was a big controversy in the early days of Chassidus whether or not this wisdom should remain concealed or if it should be disseminated freely among the common folk. While I am sure it engulfed many of the founding fathers of Chassidus, it particularly placed a wedge between the Alter Rebbe and Reb Avraham Kalisker. If I recall correctly, Reb Avraham Kalisker, who was vociferously opposed to the secrets of Torah rolling freely through the streets, was a colleague and chavrusa of the Gaon of Vilna before he drew close to the Maggid of Mezeritch where he was a contemporary of the Ba’al HaTanya. The Kalisker, as he was referred to, became so entrenched in the emotional brand of Chassidism that he was doing somersaults in the street, a practice that didn’t jive well with the Ba’al HaTanya, whose own system of chassidus placed an emphasis on Chabad—wisdom, understanding, and awareness—which emphasized that the emotions become aroused as a direct result of the mind that inspires the passion and excitement. The Kalisker, however, was of the strong opinion that the commonfolk didn’t have the capacity and were not meant to interface with the deep secrets of the Torah, which had the power to channel one’s emotions. Instead, the Kalisker promoted the path where the tzaddik’s devotion and understanding of the deep secrets of Torah was bequeathed to the chassidim as a result of their connection to him, which gave them the go-ahead to express their passion and excitement for Yiddishkeit as if they had achieved those lofty levels of awareness on their own.
A story that demonstrates the objective that the Ba’al HaTanya sought to achieve in his unique system of avodah occurred with a chassid of the Ba’al HaTanya who observed a chassid of Reb Chaim Chaikel of Amdur davening day in and day out with such boundless passion, while he, the chassid of the Alter Rebbe, had trouble controlling his thoughts and combating the effects of rote during his tefillos every day. This chassid made a yechidus with the Alter Rebbe in which he began to lament the weariness of his soul and to express his desire to live with the excitement and passion of the Amdur chassid. For historical context, Reb Chaim Chaikel from Amdur was a disciple of the Gaon of Vilna who was later drawn to chassidus by Reb Ahron HaGadol m’Karlin. Ultimately he became a Rebbe who was known for his great hispa’alus that inspired his many disciples to follow in his path. Hearing the lamentations of his chassid, the Alter Rebbe responded: “The Amdur chassid isn’t on fire; the fire of his Rebbe is burning within him, and it is my wish that you light your own fire.”
It’s a very sensitive and sincere disagreement that the Alter Rebbe and the Kalisker had with each other. Ultimately, they were acting in what they saw as the path that will bring Yiddishkeit successfully to the finish line. While we haven’t yet reached the finish line, it seems clear that we are living through times that the Kalisker and the Ba’al HaTanya were looking towards when this disagreement was playing itself out. And although chassidus has continued to thrive and even expand to include blocs of Jews who were not born into chassidic families and were not even educated along its paths, while passion for G-d, Torah, and mitzvos is certainly of great importance in generating an enduring relationship with Hashem, the times we are living through clearly vindicate the position of the Alter Rebbe, whose wish it was that each person rise to the level of Rebbe and not need to rely on the avodah of anyone above him.
The prophetic verse describing the Messianic era states: “Everyone will possess an awareness of Me, from the small until the great. And no longer will there be a need for one man to teach his fellow, and another, his brother to say, ‘Be aware of Hashem.’”
In the philosophy of the Alter Rebbe, this world is a prelude to the World to Come wherein we need to toil today in gaining a deep awareness of Hashem that will grow much clearer in the World to Come. As the Chazal state: “Anyone who toils on the eve of Shabbos will eat on Shabbos.” The expectation of someone who latched onto the avodah of a Rebbe without himself plumbing the depths of the Ba’al Shem Tov’s philosophy to wake up one day and to be able to upload the information to the forefront of his consciousness didn’t compute in the mind of the Alter Rebbe. And from the way things are looking, with more and more young and old flocking to the words of the living G-d, there is a deep discontent in the hearts and minds of the commonfolk who realize that theirs is a thirst for the awareness of G-d that nobody other than they themselves can quench.
Although the endless printing of money doesn’t bode well for the stability of the world economy, the dissemination of Toras HaSod into the streets and in bitesize forms that its progenitors probably never envisioned is all a part of us taxiing into the gate of the Messianic era. I am reminded of the Gemara that states: “The son of David will not arrive until the perutah will have been emptied from one’s pocket.” There are many interpretations to that statement of Chazal. We pray that G-d should usher in the Messianic era amidst mercy and compassion. Until then, we could do our part in hastening his arrival by tasting his light and vivaciousness today.
Yochanan Gordon can be reached at email@example.com. Read more of Yochanan’s articles at 5TJT.com.