Intellectual and Spiritual Fascination with (Chabad) Hasidism

Thought it's about four decades since I first took an interest in Judaism and about 12 years since I officially joined the club, it's only about a year ago that I became interested in Hasidism. I as a student in the school of life had to become ready so that my "teacher" might appear. In the meanwhile my interest in the teachings of Hasidism in general and of Chabad in particular has grown so much that I've decide to take a course in Chabad Hasidic psychology at a Jerusalem school (Torat Hanefesh School of Jewish Psychology) whose dean is Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, a leading world authority on Kabbalah and (Chabad) Hasidism. My fascination is intellectual and spiritually, and has nothing to do with any religious dogmatism or fanaticism.

Though I've only started having glimpses and a taste of (Chabad) Hasidism, my intellectual and spiritual appetite to know more only grows day by day. I'm witnessing the same familar patter of myself repeating itself - when I become really fascinated with something (and often someone, too), I have to know and learn everything possible about it. Some time ago I stopped buying print books, but since I started learning (Chabad) Hasidism systematically, one section of my library of print books has started growing.

What fascinates me in particular about Chabad Hasidism is Tanya. I was first introduced to this classic several years ago by one Chabad rabbi I had become acquainted with in the Jewish community of Kobe a year before when he took me to the "Ohel" during my visit to New York. When he invited me to read the beginning of the book in khavruse or a traditional Jewish manner of pair study, it was neither intelligible nor appealing to me at all. Now it's the book I devote more intellectual and spiritual energy of mine into than any other book not only for myself but for incorporating its teachings into my new, helping, profession I'm learning separately during this sabbatical. Next week I'm also starting to study Tanya in my weekly khavruse with my haredi rabbi-cum-mentor.


Transformation from Within vs. Transformation from Without

All of us experience external pressures such as persuations, preaches, reproaches, and mere requests for our transformation. I wonder if those who try to persuade, preach, reproach and/or request us to change our bad habits or negative character traits truly believe that they will be able to bring about the desired result in these manners.

My own experiences of observing other people as well as myself have convinced me that true transformation is possible only from within and not from without. But naturally, I can't change the belief of these people about the effectiveness of transformation through external pressures; they have to come to this realization by themselves.

Transformation, be it external or internal, from within may be triggered by some external factor, most notably some suffering or what is called "divine storm". But once you've realized that you can't go on like that and have to change something, your transformation continues from within though it may be accelerated by helping professions such as therapy, counseling, consulting, mentoring, and coaching.


Subtle Distractions in Life

"It's very easy when you've had success to buy into the ego world of safety and the status quo of doing what everyone around you is doing, calling that "normal," and to drop into a habitual life of doing and staying busy, raising a family, buying a house and decorating it, and changing cars. But once you've chosen a spirit-driven path at any time in your life, you may go to sleep for a while; even the modern-day mystics do, but there's no going back. Spirit will speak - no matter what!" - Kristine Carlson ("From Heartbreak to Wholeness")

Now I understand more clearly why I feel uncomfortable every time I hear a friend or a former colleague of mine wish me "success" in reply to my confession that I'm leaving academia. This is because what they seem to mean by "success" (in the materialistic world) is nothing but one of what I consider subtle distractions in life. I've even asked some of them and verified that the most suble distractions, or what they call "successes", are professional achievements, which in turn lead to power, status, fame, approval, recognitions, etc.

All these "successes" can only flatter our egos. I've heard quite a few spiritual sages I admire repeat that not only don't they make us truly happy but they also distract us subtly from looking inward, so to speak. Worse still, many people equate these subtle distractions in life as their life purpose while they aren't even means to the true purpose.

So it's so sad to see so many cognitively intelligent people brag about their illusions to get instant gratifications, which are illusions of the second order, in the social media, etc. It's even sadder to see that they don't even seem to be aware of all this.

I've learned the hard way that the so-called "failures" in the materialistic sense of the world can often lead to true successes in the spiritual sense of the world, helping us grow spiritually and raise the level of our consciousness. Unfortunately, few of those who live in their egoic illusions don't seem to understand what I mean, and some of them have even accused me of trying to preach what they - or to be more precise, their egos - consider utter nonsense (they confuse post-rationality with pre-rationality).


Three Different Reactions to an Announcement about Leaving Academia

Since I finally decided to leave academia in September 2020 and finished making the necessary bureaucratic arrangement several months ago, I've received the following three different reactions to an announcement I've made about this rather fateful decison of mine to my friends as well as those (former) colleagues of mine I remained in touch with not only purely professionally:

  1. Encouragement and support
  2. "Threatening"
  3. Silence or formulaic wish of success

Since I wasn't sure how many of my friends would understand my decision, I can't thank enough those friends of mine who have been encouraging and supporting me morally. As for my former colleagues, I didn't expect them to understand me and thought many of them would simply walk away from me silently or just by wishing me success rather formulaically, which is what has actually happened. I don't feel sorry for this, nor do I blame them. I even find this reaction very easy to cope with - thus they've done me a great favor in a sense - as I know now very clearly that we don't have a common language any longer. Those few former colleagues of mine who haven't walked away from me this way are real treasures for me.

What still keeps perplexing me is the "threatening" by some of those I considered my friends. I thought they understood my situation as my motives for this decision of mine, so I naively expected them to encourage and support me, even passively. But what I've heard from them are such insensitive words like "Are you 100% sure of your success in your new career?" or even "You have no chance of success in your new career".

How can I be 100% sure? Do they take no action until they are 100% sure of its outcome? If so, I don't want to follow them as my possible role models. Actually, the biggest risk in life is to take no risk. I can now say that we can maximize our soul lessons, so to speak, by facing fear and taking action anyway.

This doesn't mean that I've completely got over my fear of uncertainty etc. So I find it very difficult to understand those (few) "friends" of mine who have decided to "threaten" me by saying that I have no chance of success. I'm not talking about constructive advice to recheck and recalculate the possible risk of this fateful change, which I've already done. I've been wondering what they can gain by "threatening" me this way. The only possible explanation I've been able to think of so far is that this way they are trying to "neutralize" the threat they feel, at least intuitively, by my action they themselves have never dared to take. Anyway I've decided to stay away from these toxic "frenemies".