By Ben Yissachar Dov
The chareidi intelligentsia’s attention has been riveted, in recent weeks, to an ongoing debate between Woodmere’s Rabbi Moshe Weinberger and his chevrah of “neo-Chassidim” versus “old-guard” roshei yeshiva regarding the appropriate Torah curriculum for teenage boys and beyond.
As both a former talmid of a “traditional” yeshiva and a long-time follower of Rav Weinberger, I believe that many are completely missing Rabbi Weinberger’s essential point. His message has consistently been that we must frontally and tightly embrace our neshamos, and by extension, G-d, with complete honesty. Put differently, he has constantly stressed how our greatest joy occurs only when talking and transacting both candidly and lovingly, with ourselves, our family, our friends, and ultimately, with Hashem. He recognizes that while some accomplish this through brutal self-examination, others through selfless Torah learning, and even more of us from sifrei mussar or chassidus, any path is worthwhile if it reminds us who our true friend really is, and directly assaults the things that obscure us from Him: excessive physicality; narcissism; and yes, superficial Torah, tefillah, and mitzvah observance.
Superficiality is what Rav Weinberger has been attacking for decades, in all its forms, with love, humor, and fury. And the obligation to be real — honestly acknowledging one’s self-deceptions, asking the difficult questions, rejecting convenient but false answers, ripping off the band aids when necessary — this has been the prime directive behind everything he has taught us (witness, for example, his ongoing, searing campaign to raise consciousness about the massively uncomfortable subject of shmiras habris).
Unsurprisingly, his personal inspiration has come from sifrei chassidus and that is where he believes many may find their inspiration as well. Was this not the basic imperative of the original derech haBaal Shem, and all his subsequent chassidim? I am confident that if we all found a way to serve G-d with the simchah and ahavah that comes from complete honesty, without once opening Likutei Moharan or Rav Kook, he would dance with joy.
Rav Weinberger is certainly not promoting any radical change; anyone who listens carefully to his shiurim, whether online or in person (and especially in person), understands how conservative and mesorah-oriented he is. He is unwilling to accept any sort of radical change to our Yiddishkeit, whether in thought or in practice, versus what we have received from our parents and rebbeim. Nor does he have any issue with classic yeshiva learning — he has made clear countless times that it is essential to our avodah, that we base ourselves in all of Shas and revealed Torah. A cursory look at Aish Kodesh’s weekly schedule will also confirm this.
In all, I believe that, sadly, this debate about “neo-Chassidus” has, for many, obscured the Rav’s most important message. While some may have honestly misunderstood the ideas expressed in the Mishpacha article, I suspect that others, in a diversionary, self-defensive tactic, have shifted the discussion from the difficult avodah he has always advocated, to a superficial debate about whether or not we should dramatically revise our Gemara curriculum. Not taking Rav Weinberger’s message to heart would be a missed opportunity, resulting in business as usual and leaving some of our children without what they really need: Honesty with themselves and G-d.