Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Feeling For Beauty

Now as to Chaikl Vilner- and it's about him that I've come here- he is not at all the sort of scholar you depicted. A singular danger lies in wait for him- the feeling for beauty. With his poetic fantasy he beautifully embellishes what he likes, or persuades himself that he likes, until he becomes intoxicated and seduced by it.

~Tsemakh Atlas in The Yeshiva, Volume 1, page 386


"The Talmud bids us drag the yetzer ha-ra into the beth medresh. If it's a stone, it will be worn away; if it's iron, it will crumble." Chaikl said, "But the whole street can't be dragged into the beth medresh. And what's more important, I like the plain people, and I don't want to run away from my street."

"A ben Torah cannot like the street which sinks into materiality and which doesn't observe Sabbath or keep kosher and has no respect for Torah scholars." Reb Avraham- Shaye did not take his nearsighted eyes from the book; he caressed the Rashi script with his beard as if consoling the Torah that it was not yet entirely abandoned. "And besides, I want to ask you- for a person doesn't simply roam the streets aimlessly- do you know where you're going or what you're looking for?"

"Of course I'm not roaming around aimlessly. I'm trying to get to know the people on my street. Torah scholars always talk about opposites, about good and evil, truth and falsehood, beautiful and disgusting. By so doing they think they're making good, true, and beautiful all one concept and bad, false and disgusting the other concept, on the other side of the fence. Actually the world is full of things- like the stars and the grass- that are neither good nor bad, not true or false, not smart or foolish. They live their own lives and astonish us with their eternal laws, to which they are always subjected. Even the concepts of good and evil can be looked at from another point of view than that of the Torah scholars. Torah scholars control everyone to see if his deeds are in accord with the law and his feelings with the Musar books- but they are blind and callous toward people themselves. There is also the way of the poet and philosopher, which doesn't judge man, an approach that teaches until we understand that bad traits and habits can't be pulled out like rotten teeth or like thorns from a garden. Heredity affects man from within and environment from without. And by showing the entire chain of cause and effect that dominates man, the poets and philosophers redeem man from the darkness within him. They fulfill the mitzva of redemption of captives by helping man to better understand himself and, indeed, to become better..."

"Fine, Chaikl." Reb Avraham-Shaye closed the book and stood up. "If you show me one person whom the books of your poets and philosophers have made a better person, I'll carry his laundry to the bathhouse. I understand you want to tell me before I go to the Land of Israel that you have completely abandoned the path of Torah."

"I wanted you to know that I am not the cow who kicks the milk pail and spills the milk because a rage or a passion sweeps over me, as you told my mother. I'm not one of those rebellious slaves who doesn't want to bear the yoke of Torah and mitzvas because he is happy when his burden is light. I have a different outlook on life. Religious functionaries always complain because they have to deal with ordinary, everyday Jews, while I consider the plain Jew who struggles to make a living the most noble and admirable one of the thirty-six saints for whose sake God does not destroy the world."

~The Yeshiva, Volume 2, pages 378-379


He who does not have the feeling for beauty cannot possibly understand how limited and darkened the world appears when limited only to the strict understanding of the law, with no room or wherewithal for those who cannot approach. This is, of course, why the Musarnik's approach is Chaikl's undoing; had he been trained in Hasidism, there is a far better chance he would have remained. The beauty he seeks is there, even within the simple people he so loves. The world of the Musarniks has no place for those who live within worlds of stories, poetry and imagination. They cannot even understand the battle the poet's soul wages. To find beauty in that which is not sanctified, to see it in decay and degradation? To them this is impossible. But assuming one is this way, the question must become how to channel it, and this can only take place within the realms of Hasidic thought. There, all can be sanctified; thus the beauty one recognizes and feels is attached to the spark that must be uplifted. The problem arises when one mistakes the dark beauty found in total ruin and decay for the sanctified kind; then one is lost. It is almost impossible to extricate oneself from those thorns and that path; once having tasted of desire, the world will burn in unquenched fire.


harry-er than them all said...

"...as a consequence of man's first sin- eating the fruit of the forbidden tree- he gained what the bible calls the intellectual perception of distiguishing between good and evil- something he was incapable of before transgressing. It appears that although he was severely punished for his transgression, yet in his respect he came away with an advantage.

Maimonides informed him that he was entirely mistaken- that Adam gained nothing whatsoever. He was confusing categories of the intellect with- let's call them, 'categories of general acceptance'.

Before he sinned, Adam percieved everything as either being or non-being- true or false. As a consequence of his sin a new category of perception came into being; he could now apprehend the irrational not as false, but as evil.."- With all My Heart, With All My Soul; (pp.42-44)

On a different note: try not to confuse sensitive individuals with Chassidus. Being sensitive to one who needs warmth has nothing to do with the individual.

There was a Chassidishe bochur who was down who once came to R' Shach his Rosh Hayeshiva. R' Shach took his hands and started dancing and singing with him. Being a great man, R' Shach recognized this bochur's need for warmth and song and provided it for him.

The Chazon Ish used to write poetry as well.

Here are two great litvaks we'll call them, who had a sensitivity to beauty, but still felt that their arbiter of how to live should be the word of G-d and their minds.

Chana said...


I do not think we are talking about the same thing. Sensitive individuals are all well and good for dealing with particular people, but I am referring to one who has a feeling for beauty himself. In this regard he must help himself; all the sensitive individuals in the world will not help him. He needs to be able to channel his desire for beauty and his appreciation for it into something permitted, as you mention. The halakhist's understanding of what is permitted and what he should do will be too strict for him. To tell him only to appreciate what the Torah deems beautiful and to find nothing else beautiful will not work. The Hasidic approach will allow him to appreciate beauty in all things without feeling that he is deviating from halakha in noting it. He will understand there is a spark of holiness in all things and that is why his apprecation for beauty is awakened. But he must follow the law in terms of how to allow this spark to become uplifted rather than creating law unto himself.

Anonymous said...

First you say "The halakhist's understanding of what is permitted and what he should do will be too strict for him."

Then you say " But he must follow the law in terms of how to allow this spark to become uplifted rather than creating law unto himself."

Why does this have anything to do with chassidut vs halakist? If it is not allowed by halacha, chassidut can't permit (that's what the original fight was about which mainline chassidut eventually gave in on) If it's an issue of where in the permitted range to end up, then it's a matter of personal choice and you can get guidance from wherever you want.

Joel Rich

Chana said...


By 'halakhist' I'm referring to the Rav's model of halakhic man as opposed to homo religiosus, not what is in the permitted range of halakha. A hasid would fit more into the homo religiosus range, I believe.

Anonymous said...

Keep in mind that the Rav was not halachic man-he wrote of his grandfather or father depending on who you ask.
Joel Rich