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Wednesday
Mar022016

HOW TO TEACH CHASSIDUS TO THE BROADER PUBLIC

How do you bridge the gap between the high levels and deep concepts being taught and the personal life of your audience? How are the concepts of tzaddik, beinoni, rasha found within each one of us? How do you title the class for marketing purposes? * Principles, advice and examples to promote Mivtza Hakhel when giving shiurim in Chassidus to theoutside”. * Fourth article in a series.

By Meir Arad

Chassidus is the bread and butter of a Chassid, but when teaching Chassidus to people who were not raised with it, you need to bridge the gaps.  When a person listens to a shiur in Chassidus and is learning ideas on a high spiritual level, he is liable to think that what is being spoken about has nothing to do with him but to special people from long ago, to tzaddikim.  This creates an inner block between him and what he is learning.

One of the most important things when learning Chassidus in general and especially when giving shiurim in Chassidus, is providing the tools and the possibility to the listener to connect the ideas to his inner world, and to show him how he can apply them to his own life.  Here is an example:

When learning in Tanya about the tzaddik, beinoni, and rasha, basic concepts which we encounter right away in the first chapter, and we learn how the Alter Rebbe defines them, we immediately conclude that none of us is a tzaddik.  Even the category of beinoni is a lofty ideal (as in the story with R’ Hillel of Paritch who first thought of himself as a tzaddik but then he began learning the first chapter of Tanya and he said, “I am definitely not a tsaddik; if only I were a beinoni.”).  We are all actually, as of now, reshaim.  We are consoled, and we console our audience that at least we are “rasha v’tov lo.”

Chassidim and Anash who grow up with these concepts since their childhood are used to this, but when an outsider hears that he is a rasha, he is not that willing to accept it.  After all, who wants to be designated a rasha?! The word rasha is a harsh term and when someone attends a Tanya shiur and the first thing he hears is that he is a rasha, although it is explained well with the proofs that the Alter Rebbe brings in the first chapter, it is hard to digest.

(When it comes to frum people learning this, even though it is also a chiddush and hard for them to digest, it can have a positive impact in shattering their preconceived notions so that they do not put themselves on a pedestal and imagine that they are already tzaddikim who deserve all the Gan Eden in the world… But when speaking to newcomers to Judaism, or those who are not yet frum, for whom it is essential to strengthen their innate inner goodness and encourage their progress, this topic can make a negative impression.)

It is important to explain that the concepts of tzaddik, beinoni and rasha, although speaking of three categories of people, are all actually within every one of us, not only in potential form (“and your people are all righteous” because of the neshama, which is also important to say and highlight), but also in terms of the actual levels as categorized by the Alter Rebbe in Tanya. (Note: since Tanya is called the Seifer of Beinonim, everything explained in it, including the levels of tzaddikim, pertain to every one of us.)

Each of us can find within ourselves that we have times and situations in which we fall into the category of tzaddik.  How is that? There can be areas of negativity that one has no connection with at all; he does not need to do iskafia in order to avoid them for they are abhorrent to him.  In other areas, he discovers the beinoni within him, the ability to struggle and prevail, and sometimes the rasha who fails and transgresses G-d’s will, G-d forbid.  At different times and situations we operate on one of these levels.

When you explain things in this way (not as a substitute for the usual explanation that these are categories of people but as an addition and expansion, we enable the listener, even if in his personal life he is far from being completely observant, to feel a connection even to those concepts which seem so distant according to the designations of the first chapter of Tanya.  This is because even he has those things or areas in which he feels whole and completely in touch with (like a tzaddik), as opposed to other areas in which he contends and battles (as a beinoni).

This rule of explaining things so that every person can relate to it, also applies when explaining about Geula and Yemos HaMoshiach and the era we are in.  When you are able to explain what a personal redemption is about and how Geula is about being liberated from all worries and pressures, and that when the Geula comes all personal problems are solved, since every person has things that bother him, problems with shalom bayis, difficulties with parnasa, chinuch of children, etc. it will be much easier to believe in and truly look forward to the collective Geula.

LIVING THE CONCEPT

Since we are talking about conveying Chassidic ideas and adapting them to the listeners, an important point needs to be emphasized which is often spoken of in maamarei Chassidus:

Adaptation of intellectual ideas to the level of the recipient is possible only when the one giving the shiur learned the concept in depth.  When learning any idea in Chassidus, especially when you want to teach it, you need to stop and think - what is the significance of this idea in my inner world? The more the one giving the shiur will review the idea for himself, contemplate it and bond with it, and try to live with it himself and contemplate its significance for his own life, the better he can convey it so that it will click internally for the other person.

When a person learns the idea only superficially, he cannot make it relatable for the other person.  At best, he can only repeat it or declare it to be so.  In order to successfully adapt and convey Chassidic concepts for listeners who are far from the world of these basic concepts, you need to experience the depth of the idea and only then can you find the means to convey it further.

People for the most part are not fools.  They perceive the level of genuine interest and connection of the one giving the shiur to the material being taught.  It is only when the idea truly interests and animates you that you can interest and animate others with it.

By learning before “giving over” to others, the one giving the shiur should take note of how by giving the shiur he himself will gain deeper understanding of the topic he is teaching, as it is explained in Chassidus at length about the depth of ideas that is revealed when giving over to another.  As the Sages say, “and from my students more than anyone else.”

MARKETING THE SHIUR

Starting new Chassidus classes for the public often requires a lot of effort.  People are busy with work, with all kinds of things, and the label “Chassidus shiur” does not always talk to them.

We are not going to address how to get people to come; in every location it has to be handled according to the local conditions.  I’ll just mention the usual ways: flyers, email lists, text messaging, WhatsApp, word of mouth, and most importantly – a personal connection with people.

It definitely pays to devote some thought to the marketing title of a shiur that we want to get people interested in.  Here are some examples:

A Tanya class can be marketed as a shiur or lecture in anatomy of the soul or self-knowledge.

A shiur in the Rebbe’s sichos can be marketed as real life lessons from the weekly sidra or “the parsha in our lives” and so on.

A shiur in maamarim can be marketed as a shiur in kabbala or Jewish mysticism.

It changes, of course, depending on the situation, the subject, and your target audience.  How you approach a frum audience, a yeshivish crowd, a traditional group, and a modern Orthodox, is different. 

In some instances, keeping it simple is what grabs people and speaks to them.  For example, the concept of Tanya today is so widespread that it itself is a successful draw.

There are many in the broader public (not of Anash) who have heard of Tanya and its importance, and for them it would be superfluous and perhaps even counterproductive to hide behind a title like a “class in self-knowledge,” when the market out there is saturated with that and it’s not a given that it will speak to people.  The same is true for the weekly parsha and so on.

So you need to examine everything according to your crowd and the conditions on the ground, and suit it to that audience and location.

Sometimes, despite great efforts made to attract people to a shiur, very few show up; sometimes only one person attends.

It’s natural, when there are few people, to have less motivation to give the shiur, especially if you expected many more people.  But when you think about every Jew being “literally a part of G-d above,” and an entire world, we will overcome that natural feeling and give a shiur with everything we’ve got.  You can never know the effect of a shiur in Chassidus or even a one-on-one learning partnership.  This is our shlichus and we should do it joyously.

This is what the Rebbe writes (Igros Kodesh, vol. 11, letter #3460):

I received your letter from Erev Shabbos Shmini, the 11th of this month, in which you write about the weakness in the shiurim that has developed now, and surely you are consulting among yourselves about how to strengthen them and more so how to increase them as compared to what you had in the past, as our Sages rule, that we ascend in holiness, and there is nothing that stands in the way of one’s will.

Especially since this is demanded of each and every one of us, spreading the wellsprings outward, surely we were given the abilities to actually carry out this demand.  Great is the merit of this involvement to draw down G-d’s blessings and His success in everything, especially in the health of those involved and their families …

***

Another point about few participants – from my experience I see that when the one giving the shiur invests in the planning and preparation, and the shiur is successful, even if few people come at first, it is almost certain that over time more people will attend who will hear about how good it is.  A shiur is not built in a day; it’s a process that takes months and even years.

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